Statement of Intent

Oh my GOD I need to start getting things done again.

Around the end of last year, I was getting close to having panic attacks around the very idea of going out into the world and looking for a job. Thanks again, social anxiety. Thus I have been on a sickness benefit for the past few months, and while anxiety has definitely been easier to manage as a result, shit gets pretty stagnant when you don’t have to do anything. I’d also love to not be on a sickness benefit and actually be able to have the capacity to deal with reality on a daily basis, something that my unschooling background didn’t exactly prepare me for. Unfortunately, getting help dealing with these lifelong issue means a lot of paperwork and emails and phone calls, all of which are kind of hard to do when you have social anxiety. Funny old world. What I’m saying is that, while I more or less know what the process of getting out of this slump should be, it doesn’t make it any easier to actually do it.

But it’s okay. I have a plan. Sort of a belated New Year’s Resolution, but it’s still a good plan. And my plans always work. So sayeth the Ubermensch!

While working towards getting financial and contractual stuff regarding finding a therapist over and done with, which is my main short-term goal, I have some long-term goals that need taking care of as well, and those are what I’m planning to work on. For starters, I’ve been waking up later and later for the past couple of months, and that needs to change. The last time I successfully changed my waking-up point was by gradually setting my alarm clock earlier and earlier until I reached my limit of earliness, which was around 10 a.m. I’d like to push that up to 7:30 a.m. so that I can eat and shower and then settle in to write for a long-ass time, like until 3 or 4 p.m. There will be an hour-long-ish break in there on most days for exercise around noon, which I haven’t exactly been slacking on in big-picture terms but has definitely dropped off a bit specifically for the past two weeks. And I need to get back into walking regularly, because I’ve been substituting it with going to the gym and, while gym is definitely good, they’re different kinds of exercise and I think I need both. Also exercise helps with sleeping better and holy shit I need to sleep better.

This is the long-term goal: better sleeping habits, getting back on-track with exercise, and starting to treat writing like a job in lieu of actually having a job, while I have the opportunity. And who knows, it might one day turn into something. I know what I’m writing, and it’s my D&D-inspired high fantasy thing that doesn’t quite work yet but is still a fun enough premise that I want to do something with it. I think I need to indulge in a little high fantasy of my own, rather than reading the stuff other people write that I generally don’t like. But another part of this plan is to get shit done that is not just working, and I have a massive backlog of books and computer games that I haven’t even started, let alone finished. I’m thinking about keeping journals for each, because I miss journal-keeping, and I think it would be good to write about things that I’ve actually done, rather than writing about all the things I feel like I’m missing out on. But regardless of said journals, reading and gaming is going to get done.

And World of Warcraft is not going to be one of them.

My subscription runs out in 2 days, the day before my birthday, and that’s too conspicuous for me to pass up – and even if it wasn’t, I think sticking with it for three years is about enough. I came back at a weird time in the game’s history, and while Legion is supposedly a sorely-needed return to form, at the end of the day it’s grindy as hell, and there’s the more general issue of WOW being, at its core, a social game, and having social anxiety keeps me from really getting into it the way it’s meant to be enjoyed: with other people. Also, I’ve gotten to the point with WOW where I’ll actually feel anxious about playing other games. I don’t think I need a therapist to tell me that shit isn’t healthy. So yes, definitely time to kick the habit. Again. I don’t need more of this experience, and I could probably have done with quite a bit less.

Also, WOW is very much the kind of high fantasy that I’m not really into. If it were a book series, I would not have stayed with it for as long as I have. Although I may well have made it up myself, and enjoyed it just because it was mine. That’s something else I’m finding recently, most notably after having written my shitty YA werewolf novel: I’m quite content, and even excited, to write things that I would never actually choose to read, just because I’m the one writing them. I wonder how much of a universal mindset this is for writers, because if it’s not just me then it explains a few things.

Indulging in my own high fantasy world is only one part of my writing plan, however. That’s just to get used to writing my ideas while I have them, even if in this case I’ve been holding onto them for a little too long already. The other part of my writing plan is that whole get-a-book-ready-for-publishing thing I talked about a little while ago. And it’s Tallulah, and I’ve finally worked out the super-obvious solution that was staring me in the face since before I even started writing it, and I just need to fucking finish something. Like, properly finish, the way I’ve been fantasising about for the past 17 years, my god I have been trying to Be A Writer for a long time. I don’t know if it’ll result in Tallulah actually getting published, but going through the process, I imagine, will be valuable experience for its own sake. As for working this into my new-year-new-me plan as outlined thus far … weekends? And it’ll just be reading to start off with anyway, reading and note-making as opposed to actually writing, so it should be easy enough to work in.

Okay. It’s written down, which means … I don’t know. Sometimes it means it’s more likely I’m going to do something; sometimes it means I’ll never get it done. But I’ve set my alarm, I’m uninstalling WOW tomorrow, and I have the manuscript for Tallulah sitting beside my bed. I’m about as ready as I’m ever going to be.

I say it’s getting done. Ubermensch out.

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… but I don’t *want* to.

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone.

It’s that time when many of us start thinking of resolutions to take forward into the new year. Sometimes we stick with them, most of the time we don’t, but it’s a fun little ritual nonetheless. I assume it’s fun at least, otherwise why the fuck does everybody try and pump themselves up to do it every year?

I do have some resolutions. One of them is to continue taking risks. I took some big risks this year and they all paid off in spades; I’m trying to get myself to be more open to risk-taking, not least for the fact that what I perceive as the threshold across which “riskiness” lies may not actually be accurate. It may be a lot further out than I think it is, and in fact I’m counting on it. But, of course, even if I do end up accidentally taking an actual risk – great! Learning to deal with risks and the inevitability of failure that comes with them is an important part of life; I haven’t gotten to that part of life yet, even at the dire age of 28, so I’d better get cracking.

Another: force myself to do things that I’d like to do. Sort of in the same vein as the first one, but something that I’ve learnt through writing my shitty YA werewolf Nano novel this year: it’s actually quite hard for me to follow my feelings without being hindered by my inner critic, but it’s something that I’m slowly loosening up about. My big rant last night about how I didn’t know what direction to go in with my novel really came down to the fact that there was no idea that really grabbed me, not even a cliche, problematic idea that I would secretly enjoy indulging in. Nothing. And when it comes to the first draft, nothing is always, always worse than bad. In fact nothing is as bad as it gets. Bad isn’t even bad, because the first draft is destined to turn into the second draft at some point, and even then that’s not where it ends; eventually it becomes the final draft, and that’s where you start worrying about good and bad, not before. Before that, it’s all just words, and words are all you need. And what I’ve learnt through writing this novel is that if I make myself write what I actually want to write, it works out pretty well. The problem I now face is that I actually don’t want anything, which is a new problem for me to face, but it’s a sign that at least I’ve progressed and am getting stuck further down the road than previously. This resolution doesn’t only concern writing, but writing is the safest example of it that I have to hand, so that’s where I’m going to start.

Yet another: seriously, keep on top of academic stuff. I had this huge resolution about not ever pulling an all-nighter again after the last one, and it looks like I’m setting myself for the third in as many months, and I don’t like it. It occurs to me that all the wisdom I’ve spouted over the years regarding how to get things done, at least in the academic world, is a pile of crap, and I might actually need outside help. Which is something I’ve actually never seriously considered. I guess I can file that away under “take more risks”. But more to the point is that, goddammit, I like academia. I enjoy academia. I really do. I love the feeling of finding a great piece of research and contemplating how it relates to my argument; I love finding an argument and grappling with it until we come to an intimate understanding of how to go forward together. Because, at the end of the day, it’s just another form of storytelling. And I want to remember how much I enjoy it. So my third resolution is less “keep on top of study workload” and more “allow myself to enjoy academia”. Because I’m allowed to enjoy it, even to the detriment of my creative writing projects. And that’s something I want to get used to the idea of.

Which brings me to the next resolution: seriously, remember that I’m not a Writer. I gave up that mantle last year and gained a whole world full of possibilities, and in the 12 months between then and now I’ve just filled it up again with Writing, and I don’t like it. All the other resolutions I’ve outlined above are really just ways to force that space to remain open so that I can fill it with other things, and even to let myself not write for extended periods of time, because I’m doing other stuff. Other stuff that I like. Because I do actually like to do things that aren’t writing. Or, rather, I’d like to try them out. I was exactly at this point last year when I had this big revelation, and I didn’t take advantage of it. Well, I’m going to take advantage of it. The day is long; the day is also hot because this is New Zealand and we’re getting to the beginning of Summer while the rest of the world is in the middle of Winter and also we don’t have an ozone layer, fun times for all. That is at least a small part of why I haven’t been as diligently working on my MA as I should have been.

Next up is probably the hardest one: make myself do things that I know I will regret not doing.

And yes, this would, in fact, cover things like “getting an early start on revising that MA chapter so that I don’t end up destroying my immune system from lack of sleep once a month”. But also things like making that terrible pun or joke that pops into my head, as soon as it pops into my head. Things like saying what I mean, or doing what I mean, instead of writing it off as pointless. And doing things that I’m obliged to do. Having said that, I’ve got to get better at declining to be obliged to do certain things more often. But that’s a very specific sphere of things that I want to stop feeling like I have to do. There’s another specific sphere of things that I do have to do, and that I want to prove to myself – and others – that I can, in fact, reliably get them done.

I guess, really, this resolution is “become a person that people can depend on”. Where “people” includes me. I don’t think I trust myself as much as I can afford to, and as a result of that I end up keeping myself from doing or trying to do certain things, because I think I’ll just fuck it up. Like this final batch of chapters for my Nano novel, or the time it’ll take to revise my MA chapter before submitting it to my supervisor on the evening of the 5th (or morning of the 6th, but let’s be optimistic). I want to discover that I’m actually someone who is capable of getting that shit done. So I’d better start discovering.

I always feel the urge to do something profound and insightful for big anniversary or milestone posts, like New Year’s, Christmas, my birthday, anniversaries of this blog, that sort of thing. I always feel inadequate when I can’t manage it. But at the end of the day, much as I like having this blog around to vent into and share some writing experiences through, it’s just a blog. I’m not some internet mogul whose every word is pored over and analysed for depth and nuance; I’m a part of the vocal fandom of the internet, the “prosumer” that media studies scholars (of which I am one, which is weird to think about) are wont to champion. And so, at last, I come to the final resolution for the new year, the 6th resolution of 2016.

Make this blog the blog I want it to be.

I don’t know what that is, but I know that I’d like it to be more considered, less insular; I’d like to feel like I’m a part of something, rather than just sharing the space. A little romantic perhaps, but why the hell not? I spend most of my time on the internet and isolated, and as a result I end up making resolutions like these all the time: responses to my own habituated lack of engagement with the wider world. I want to be more conscientious, and I think that’s what I want this blog to be, too: conscientious. A considered, intentional effort. I mean I’ll still vent like an exhaust pipe, because I’m still me, but woven between those typical posts I’d like to start seeing something a bit cleaner, and a bit more like the welcoming ritual of the Hero’s Journey that I wax lyrical about every so often, and the fact that what I love about it is that it feels inclusive.

I guess overall, my resolution is to do things that make me feel included, and I think the first step there is to start being inclusive.

And yes, that does include my writing.

Of which I aim to do a lot of in the new year, and every year after that. But not only writing. I think I’m done with only writing; I’ve had more than enough of that for one lifetime, and one lifetime is all I’ve got.

Happy New Year, everyone.

 

Goalposting

Goalposting! What is this? Is it a new initiative on my behalf to start a themed series of posts regarding goals? Is it some new category I have created for my readers to click on in the hopes of finding something interesting? Is it because I’ve spent the day feeling unproductive with regard to my creative endeavours and simultaneously exhausted and restless and thus utterly unmotivated to do anything about it?

!

I have three goals for today, and one of them I’m going to go and do now and then come back and finish the rest of this post. That goal is exercise. I hate doing exercise not because it’s hard but because the warming up and warming down each take about ten minutes and it feels like a lifetime, and then the “actual” exercise is like 3 minutes in between. And yeah I mean baby steps and all that but still, frustrating.

But I’m gonna go do it, because I promised myself that I’d run through my checklist of New Year Resolutions every day and mark off at least two of them every day for the rest of the year. I can do this first one, annoying and disproportionately time-consuming as it feels. And after the second one, I can go to bed by midnight.

The second one is writing, and that’s what I’m going to write about after the break.

*

Well, that’s taken care of. On to writing.

I tried a couple of times to write about my most recent story-brainstorming experience, in which I finally came to appreciate the education you get out of letting yourself come up with bad ideas – or, more specifically, formulaic ideas. I was gripped with a desire to recreate the atmosphere of an ’80s fantasy movie, but couldn’t think of where to start. It didn’t occur to me that all of my ideas were too self-conscious to make contact with this ideal I had in mind and arouse the feeling of “classic” adventure fantasy that I so wanted to capture and recreate, until I decided that the story would center around a 12-year-old boy who is picked on at school, has an emotionally distant father and discovers that he’s the Chosen One who must save the world (the boy, not the father). Iterative, uninspired and sexist? Most definitely; but it was also solid, and much as that’s a shame it was also the beginning of a five-minute brainstorm that ended up with me having constructed, in broad strokes, an entire three-act narrative that held together better than the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years. It had solid pieces that fit together intuitively, because they were pieces I knew how to place on the story-board, as it were.

Once that solid structure was in place, it was easy enough to go back and start deconstructing and renovating the problematic elements, of which there were a lot: there was a Token Girl character who had to undergo an obligatory damsel in distress phase and served as the primary emotional support whose main goal was to help the main character grow as a person; there was the kindly but ineffectual mother who might also have had a damsel in distress moment and most certainly did not get involved in the adventure proper; there was the collection of coded-non-white supernatural sidekicks (all courtesy of the Jim Henson Creature Shop, of course); there was the unambiguous heteronormative framing that gave symbolic meaning to the eventual defeat of the coded-queer main villain … you get the picture. And through this process, I learnt the valuable lesson that just because certain characters and plots that we consider “classic” are culturally intertwined with elements that we now recognise as problematic does not mean that you can’t separate the two. You don’t need to have the main character be a straight white cis able neurotypical English-speaking male in order to have a “classic” hero; you need the structure and progression of a classic hero’s journey. If that’s what you’re after. Obviously you don’t need the hero’s journey at all if you don’t want to tell that kind of story; and given that the hero’s journey is perhaps more of a marketing ploy than anything else, that’s certainly understandable. That “classic” veneer is by no means politically or culturally neutral, nor is it objective or essential.

But it is part of my cultural storytelling legacy, and thus for me it does come with that “classic” vibe. Being able to re-create it while undoing some of the most problematic elements often bundled together with it was an exercise in restoring my faith in humanity; by no means am I saying that I’ve done a fantastic job, but I think that the theory is sound, and that “classic” does not have to also mean “exclusionary”.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, it got me to thinking about the way I go about creating stories, and have done for some time. One of the biggest hang-ups for me, from around the age of 16, was an anxiety about not being original or clever enough to be Good. If that sounds like an impossible standard to hold yourself to as an artist because Good has no objective metric by which to be measured, you would be correct. I didn’t think about it like that, though, because I had a metric by which to measure it, and that was the metric of being as original and clever as I thought my at-the-time-best-friend Wickham was with his stories – and though I’d never have said it, even to myself, that metric could actually only ever be measured by him, his approval or disapproval, and funnily enough he seemed to prefer his own stories over mine. What a dick.

Well he was a dick, but that’s not why.

It took me until I was almost twenty to start creating stories that I felt had the kind of creative integrity that I was hoping for, and what I didn’t understand at the time was that it was because they had my approval, and I didn’t give a flying fuck about what Wickham or anybody else thought of them. I had confidence in these stories and ideas, and one thing that they all had in common, looking back at them, was that I had allowed myself to get a bit formulaic with them. That certainly does mean that there were problematic ideological issues with them, more of an implicit than explicit nature along the lines of representation and whatnot (which obviously still counts), but I was beginning to enjoy my own stories again – and for the first time in about five years, they were stories that felt like they were distinctly my stories, that took on the forms that they took because I wanted them to, not because I wanted to prove how clever I could be.

I have managed to keep that to some extent all throughout university, though academia and studying arts most definitely had an impact – now I had a formula for being clever, and it was pretty addictive. It was also an incredibly self-conscious time in my life that I am only now beginning to wind down from; there was far more to my anxiety than just the liberal arts curriculum, but it played a big part, particularly where storytelling was concerned. This was sort of a renaissance of my “never do anything anybody else has done before” adolescent writer phase, only now I was making myself use formula, so that I could cleverly deconstruct, subvert and defeat it, and in the process show off how clever and progressive I was.

I remember being a teenager and seeing movies that had that smug air of superiority to them, that “look at how self-aware I am” velvety greasiness, and it took me a while to recognise that I’d started crafting stories that my younger self would have had the exact same reaction to. I had started telling stories for political reasons, not because I liked the stories themselves.

The biggest test for myself in terms of confronting this new storytelling agenda of mine was when I decided to write Tallulah. I’ve ranted about Tallulah a lot on this blog, which is not surprising when you consider that I created this blog more or less for the express purpose of ranting about Tallulah. It is the book that I have come the farthest with, the book that I had the strongest commitment to in terms of the way I managed and invested my time in writing it and how long I did it for. It is also the most self-conscious, politically swayed piece of writing I have ever produced outside of an academic assignment; it is, I think, a prime example of a writer trying their damnedest to avoid conventional storytelling at all costs.

And the reason that this writer tried to avoid convention at all costs was because this writer had not yet learnt first-hand that it was, in fact, possible to tell a “classic” story without it having to be a festering, problematic mess.

I’ve written before about my huge anxiety in writing Tallulah because I was a dude trying to write a credible teenage girl character. Over the past three years I lost a lot of my assumptions about how one goes about writing characters, particularly assumptions about gender and identity – to this day I predict that the revelation that women are, in fact, people and not a hive mind will go ignored by many – but still didn’t quite feel confident that I could tell the kind of story that I wanted to tell and not, in the process, make that story run counter to my moral values. So instead I tried to pre-empt my more problematic urges and ended up with a sprawling, ranting blob that I managed to shape into an inconsistent and forgetful narrative story, albeit a narrative story that I wasn’t actually interested in telling. But hey, I avoided being really sexist, possibly, so that’s a win?

And so my plan now is that I’ll go back to Tallulah and let myself get really formulaic with it – if need be. Forcing formula is just as bad as avoiding it, but the option is one I’ll allow. I think it’ll go a long way to fixing not just the problems with the narrative structure as it currently stands, but also my anxiety about “getting it wrong” – taking risks 2k15 and all that – and thus empower me to actually get back around to working on it again.

And with all of that said, I did not do any creative writing, nor did I go to bed at midnight. But I made a plan, and I did some writing – I guess maybe blogging counts as creative writing, I really have no idea. And 1am is still better than, like 4am. Now to wake up in the morning and go from there.