The Importance of Being Ambiguous (On Purpose)

Dear Readers, in case you were unaware, I am in the Supernatural fandom; a Supernaturalyte, if you will.* This week’s episode, aside from destroying my feelings and burying one of my favorite characters, had a small, key moment of ambiguity that complicated an important moment in Dean Winchester’s character arc. So, let’s take this moment to explore this moment and how deliberate ambiguity can enhance a reader’s experience and complicate how they feel about their hero’s actions. Beware the spoilers, sweetie, below.

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How to Suck at Being an Adult (& Why It’s Important – Not Necessarily in that Order)

I will start out with the following statement in order to put my parents at ease: I don’t totally suck at being an adult. I pay my rent and bills (on time even), I have a post-law school job lined up, I do things like cook and exercise and vote. I can adult all over that.

But I am talking about that outer kind of adulting. The kind that tells you that you have to adult the way your parents (or some previous generation) adult. And holy chuck does that look clausterphobic. [insert assurance that this is not judge people that choose to adult this way] I remember looking my thirties down the line and just waiting for the sensible clothing and predicatable days to decend upon me. Terrifying.

My life until then had been something of an adventure. Tragic often, but the kind where you are sucking the marrow of life until you choke on the bone. I had moved far away from my family, which kept their unconscious demands for perfection away from my daily life, which freed me to be ridiculous. Freed me to try on different kinds of me.

But adulthood was coming. Right? I mean, it didn’t really seem like you could avoid it. Better to get all that partying and bad life choices in before it happened. A collection of stories to remind yourself that your life wasn’t always this boring.

For me, Thirty was the marker. That was the day that adulthood would settle in and take over. But as it approached, nothing was changing that hadn’t already changed in me. (Actually my 30th birthday was spent in a vet emergency clinic asking whatever orders this universe to please keep my cat alive — but that is another blog post entirely.) My adult life was my own.

So, I’ve been enjoying it. I realized that as an adult, you can act immature with impunity. When you are silly or run off to Peru for a week, those that love you just say “Oh, that’s just CJ.” It’s not a phase anymore. I am just better at stopping before things get out of hand now. I don’t choke on the bone (most of the time).

Why is it important? Aside from being yourself and loving yourself more than the haters hate on you, as writers we need stories, we need experience. We need different perspectives on everyday life. We need the extra-ordinary. And while we are all capable of imagining and empathizing these kinds of experiences, pulling them from our core and from our own story can keep you connected to that place of heightened reality.

So, the how-to part. Practice being silly. Silliness implies a kind of joy and fun that will help to breakdown the serious barriers a lot of us put up so that other people will believe in or be impressed by us. One simple step is saying the silly thing that comes into your head before you censor yourself. But, I know that can be terrifying, so if you are person that likes or has children, they are the best source of silliness. Kids, especially like 3-8 year olds, are basically pure imagination. Go play with them. When they create things, say yes and play, don’t just play along. Laugh while you do it.

Once you’ve mastered silliness, bring it into places where it would not be inappropriate and discover which of your friends and family want to join you in changing adulthood. Let them say “Oh that’s just <you>.”

Or we all have those things that we do that are not so adult. My dad on car trips would pretend to be all kinds of characters (my fav being the old man driving). Find yours and let that be more than simply a quirk.

What are your favorite not adult things to do? What do you wish you could do? How do you use your quirks in your writing?

Review: Gathering Blue

I recently reread The Giver, and then realized it was part of a quartet (which was not the case when I read it in middle school). I loved that book, and figured, why not see where it went after that? So, I dropped Gathering Blue onto my kindle app where it gathered digital dust for a few months while I finished some other books. And then finally I read it. I would totally read this series with my nephews when they are older if they want to, but for myself, I am going to let it go.

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The Unfulfilled Promise of Later

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me. Time is the ever-present non-renewable resource that I constantly struggle to manage. And time has been getting away from me lately in the face of the on-coming finals season, end of law school, and beginning of bar stress. My commitment to my writing, as measured in consistency and hours, definitely took a hit. And like we learn in physics: bodies at rest, stay at rest. In this blog post, let’s talk strategies and experiments to get that writing-body back to one in motion.

I don’t believe there is any one way to get back to that place your writer self remembers from last week, last month, last year, where finding time for writing was easy, and the writing itself was ready when you were. For me, it is always a matter of seeing what is going to work for me now that does not involve totally abandoning my WIP even though that is the thought itching at the base of my brain. (Look, Brain, it just needs work and some TLC and is *not* a POS, whatever you think right now. Back off.) 

But this is about strategies. What have I been doing to get back into my writer flow?

  1. Forgive myself. I am REALLY good at beating myself up for not living up to my own (often ridiculous) expectations of what I should be accomplishing all the time. Right now, I am taking note of these thoughts and not beating myself up about them like I usually do (double whammy!) and taking the time to talk myself through them in a postive light. What does this look like? Something along the lines of’ “Okay, so you haven’t been editing your WIP everyday and you are sort of scared of engaging with it. Okay. That is where you are. You have a lot on my plate right now, and you have been doing a read-through and making notes and edits. It is okay that it is not everyday. When you are not inspired, you can work, and that is what you are doing right now. Good for you.” Rinse, repeat until all the mental dirt is cleared until the next time.
  2. Work on something else. I am a person that needs multiple projects going at once. My problem is making sure it is not too many multiple projects. But I feel stuck if I have only one thing going on at a time. My brain needs distractions to work through things and make connections that would not have happened if I was focused in on a single WIP. So, I have some short stories brewing, some in editing, some in drafting. I am engaging with these, so that my WIP can have that break when I am on the verge of abandoning it. The fact that these other projects are in different stages also helps, because I can assess what kind of creation I need right now. Do I need to generate? Do I need to feel like I checked something off of my to do list? Do I need to read other works and interesting facts related to a story? All of these options are available to me in my Dropbox.
  3. Walk away (as in, walk). Physical activity is key to my creativity. When option 2 is not doing it for me, I put on my running or walking shoes and get moving. I know a lot of people have their best ideas in the shower; I have mine on a run or on a walk. I go by myself and let my mind wander. Even if I end up back at my apartment with no new insights or ideas or what-have-yous, I am clearer. Much like the self-care in option 1, letting go of conscious direction of my thoughts helps to clear out mental obstacles and stresses that block me from moving forward. 
  4. Journal. This option is a relatively new one for me.  Journal about the struggle. Journal about things that happened in your day. Journal the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual experiences of your day. My life feels incredibly limited at the moment, because law schools seems like all I ever do. Journaling gets me out of that mindset. My bike rides, lunches, walks, classes, everything all have individualized and specific relevance to my life and to my writing. I can write and write creatively without the pressure of creating something. The story is there; it needs words. And at the end, even if it does not jump start me back into my writing flow, I have a record of experience for future works. 
  5. Schedule. Scheduling for me is not the “I write from 7 am until 9 am” kind. That limits me (kuddos if that works for you; I am totes jealous!). I schedule writing in more of a where does this go in my day kind of way. If I try to say “I will write before I go to bed,” I am not going to write (tired + only accountable to myself = excuses). Mornings work for me. I am not a morning person, but I am good at getting things done in the morning (because I hate everyone until I have been sufficiently caffeinated). I write after breakfast, before I go to school. It is not an exact time, but I can make it consistent so long as I keep it there. Once I start working on law school stuff, my brain switches over and writing is a struggle. In the morning, before law school, after breakfast. And if I miss a day to get some extra sleep, see option 1.

That’s the experiment right now. How do you approach your own loss of writer flow? What other kinds of approaches do you think are effective? Drop your thoughts in the comments, and let’s get a conversation going!

Reading Beloved

I read Beloved by Toni Morrison probably a month or so ago, and I have been struggling with writing a blog about it. My experience of it defies my usual, quick reviews. The experience was a jumble of many different things, and because I think struggling through these experiences, especially difficult ones, is necessary both for my writing but more importantly for my own personal growth, I am going to (imperfectly) capture my experience of it. But before I do that, I want to first point you to someone else’s experience of it, because (as I will discuss) this book was not written for my white self with an ancestry free of enslaved people, so I hope you take a moment to go read crunkadelic’s experience of it as a sacred text at the Crunk Feminist Collective (and if you wrote or know of other blogs by African-Americans discussing the book, drop links in the comments!). If you only have time for one blog post, choose theirs.

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Boys Just Wanna Not Be Lab Rats: The Maze Runner et al.

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In the continuing theme of “Oh, shit, I meant to do that by now” I present to you my review of the Maze Runner trilogy. Although I read them in December during winter break, I was wise enough to take down a few notes to refresh what was lovely and what was … not so great about these books. Thar be spoilers below. Continue reading

Billy Budd (Or How I Learned That I Do Not Actually Hate Melville)

I get that it is a good idea to have kids read books they would otherwise not have read. I get that the classics are important to a well-rounded, quality education, even accounting for the narrow and kyriarchal way “classic” is defined. But man, can you turn off a kid from reading an author when they are set loose with an obscure text and no guide to at least rise to the level of appreciation. That is exactly how I came to loathe Melville. But I have been redeemed! Continue reading