My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another Thank You

I'm still taking a break until Wednesday (at which point I have two posts a day planned, so you should still get a week's worth of Writing About Writing, just....all at once–I just badly needed a break).

However, in the meantime, as absolute and total filler, I thought I would share with you another thank you note we've gotten from one of the recipients of the funds from Blogust's fund raiser. You all were amazing.

I also found out that it was W.A.W.'s donation that tipped them over the edge and fully funded this particular project. So that's always an extra awesome feeling.

The full bit from the web page.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Quickie for the following

Just me. Not shaving and hanging in there.
Hi folks,

Chris here. Not the Writing About Writing Chris persona. Not joking superhero realism Chris. Not fun runs the compound at WAW Chris and has guest bloggers who mostly beat him up and an octopus person for a personal assistant.   

Just me. The person behind all those people.

The one who's been trying to keep up with life and since last Monday or so despite a week that just kept getting worse and worse.

Some stories are mine to tell, but many are not.  Some I tell anyway after a lot of cosmetic surgery, and call fiction, but it would be unethical for me to just dive in. And a few of my readers know enough about my life that if I tried to be vague about deets, they would just use their decoder rings.

Hi boys and GHOULS! I'm the only one around here who should be cryptic.
But trust me if you knew what was going on, you'd forgive me.

I'm going to keep working on these thank-you notes (a few more are going out today), and Wednesday the posts should start coming on our regular schedule. But I need to do some self care today and tomorrow. I'll run a concentrated week from Wed-Fri with a lot of brunch posts. And thank you all for reading. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

On The Stories We Tell

There's a story our society tells when an atrocity is committed (and "atrocity" is the right word, not "tragedy"). As we grab for the answer, if we find something strange and different like a religion or an ethnicity that doesn't belong, then we blame that.  Code words pop up like "domestic terrorism," "immigration," "thug," and tell us exactly who has committed these atrocities.

When the offender is more like us though, these ways of slipping them quietly into other groups that explain their penchant for committing terrible actions breaks down. And that is when we turn to mental illness as the story we tell. "Mental illness," or whatever euphemism ("deeply troubled" "crazy" "insane") you might prefer. The problem is that even when these things are true, they are still irrelevant and focusing on them both harms others and pulls the scrutiny from where it belongs.

It is actually a good and wonderful thing to lament the deplorable state of mental health treatment in this country and culture. The lack of easy access to affordable care is revolting, and the stigma is huge. Most people are still trying to tell folks with mental illness to eat right and exercise and just try NOT having that chronic disease. And those are the ones not simply recoiling in fear. Ten lifetimes of focused activism would be badly needed and on point.

However, when people tell the story of mental health ONLY after someone has committed an atrocity, or care about the mental health failings of our culture ONLY after someone has committed an atrocity they're actually making things a lot worse, not better. They are only being harmful, not empathetic.

First of all, they are usually using "mental health" as a shibboleth for "people who do terrible things." The suggestion is that no one who does something like this COULD be sane. Let me be absolutely clear about this: that is, by every psychological bellwether, completely inaccurate. People who commit atrocities are diagnosed clinically sane ALL THE TIME. And the vast majority of people with mental illness are victims of violence not perpetrators. By a huge margin.

I know it hurts to think that humans are capable of violence without something being fundamentally wrong with their mental processes, and that the capacity to do violence indicates that something MUST be wrong, but that simply isn't true. (Or maybe it is true but what we should be looking at is our culture, not the functionality of specific brains.) We can all be monsters under the right circumstances. Some of us are. And I'm sorry if that's scary, but many are as sound of mind as you or I. The things that make us monsters are not always bits working incorrectly. Sometimes it's the culture that tells us the "other" isn't worth living. Sometimes it's an expression of the hate we are taught every day. Sometimes it's the bits working a little too well.

When people DO this–when they say that "of course he had mental illness because no one who didn't could have done such a thing"–it's not only sloppy and uncritical thinking, devoid of logic and the slightest psychological accuracy, but it also perpetuates the stigma that the mentally ill are dangerous. They equate the two in a way that is not only inaccurate, but also causes a lot of splash damage to those who suffer from mental illness.

But mentally ill people ARE violent. You're not saying they're never violent are you? That's ridiculous. Of course some mentally ill people are violent. Some vegetarians are violent. Some mathematicians are violent. Even if this weren't a post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy right out of a Freshman textbook, the correlation is so low as to make the comparison actually disingenuous and not simply fallacious. By significant margins, mentally ill people are more likely to harm themselves than others when compared to the general population. And certainly compared to groups like young white men. When we go digging for it, like it's the cause, and nothing more need be said, that's the problem.

Even, as in the case with the Oregon community college shooter, when the presumption turns out to be accurate, it is a red herring or at best a mcguffin. We might as well turn up proof of athlete's foot or tooth decay for all the causation that is indicated by a diagnosis like Aspergers or "psychological problems." People with far worse "psychological problems" aren't violent at all, and most on the Autism spectrum are extraordinarily non-violent. So that's clearly not actually the cause even though that's what the media tries to dig up. And even if such a condition increases a predisposition, ignoring the underlying cause would be a little like doctors shrugging when an immune compromised person gets an infection instead of finding out what the infection is.

Because here's the other problem: they are using "crazy" to circumvent a lot of relevant social analysis that could and should go into the calculus of such an event. Everything from the absurdly simplistic and unregulated access to instantly-lethal, multi-lethal, ranged weaponry to the effect of toxic masculinity on young men, to racial inequality to a sense of white, male entitlement, to tribalism and othering is simply swept under the rug in one swoop because that person was "obvs crazy." We dismiss dozens (hundreds?) of conversations about the culture these minds were marinating in to simply write it all off as being about mental illness. "Oh well, what can we do. Just another disturbed mind. Hope it doesn't happen again...or again...or again..."

Mental illness affects a certain percentage of people all across the Earth–why do these atrocities so often happen in the U.S.? And why are they so often done BY white males? These are the things we should be digging into–not finding out every person in a shooter's past who ever said they were troubled.

Mental illness is not homologous to "evil." And people really should either bang that drum all the time or think hard before they give it a whack after a highly visible event.

Because the stories we choose to tell might just be making things worse for a group that is already erased, marginalized, and stigmatized.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Three Points on Process

I’m just over 8300 words today on the first draft of Book Three of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series.  I know where I’m going for the next 8,000 or so and I’m tickled. Now, it’s much easier. Even when, as the fox-woman did today, the characters take over and lead me somewhere else, it all falls together. I see the scenes scroll though my mind. I know I’m in draft mode because I write pages of dialogue and almost no description, though I see the scene. When I rewrite, I will expand on character action and reaction, insert setting, scenery, season and specifics, adding a very necessary layer. Too, that will add to the word count in a useful fashion. There will be massive cuts — there always are — so it will even out. I don’t have to worry about word count for its own sake now. More scenes and words will appear as the story develops. It will grow and change almost organically under my hands. It’s a magical feeling. Oh, I sense a potential continuity problem that will need tweaking, and I do have a practical paradox looming in 10,000 words or so. It’s tough being a legend in a world that doesn’t believe in you!

I am having fun.

The days I spend wandering around crankily thinking about "what happens next" are the harder ones. Mostly it’s my subconscious working, which means forcing it isn’t possible. "What happens next" has to simmer on the back burner, like a chili or soup working away on a wood cookstove. Those are days to walk, to bake, to boat, to ski, and talk to nobody human. This is when I start reading cookbooks and re-reading mystery series I know almost by heart. Those are days to let the mental silence reign, so my mind can work in ways I don’t consciously perceive, though I can feel them bubbling along underneath. Finally, at last, the light dawns. I know where the next scene starts, and the general direction in which I am going. I can play my keyboard like a musical instrument, as the words fly out of my brain and onto the page. When this happens, I can’t wait to get to my computer. I can’t lose this. I have to get it out and down to make room for the rest that’s just waiting to flow. My writing, like my workout (which I won’t do unless it’s fun), is a task I often schedule as a reward for getting my chores done. I did that yesterday, spending the morning cleaning the house, writing blog posts, and so forth. I’m always excited at this point, so chores go quickly. There’s no procrastinating now.

Yesterday, I happily settled down, chores done, to work on Book Three. I’d barely opened the file when Aaron Cat brought in a bird and let it loose. I am pathologically afraid of birds flying into my face, so you can imagine my reaction. Yes, clinging to the ceiling by my fingernails just about covers it. I tossed the cat outside, closed the door, and called a neighbor. The bird was loudly alive and sounded uninjured. Aaron is not that great a hunter. When he catches something, it’s mostly alive and healthy so it can be rescued. My neighbor came over but the bird was silent. We looked everywhere. No bird found. I blocked off the room as much as possible and opened the front door. I took Sally, the dog, out. On our return, she, true to her poodle heritage — they are water retrievers — located the bird hiding in the stacked firewood. The bird vocalized, probably telling her to get lost. I now knew exactly where it was. My neighbor returned and dismantled the wood pile, actually getting a sighting. A single layer of firewood covered my newly cleaned floor. But we saw no bird. This saga continued through two more attempts, the rebuilding of the firewood stack, and three other neighbors. Sally focused on a particular potential hiding place enough to rouse human suspicion, but no bird. Telly, the Shiba Inu next door, focused on getting to Sally’s food. No bird. Was it possible it actually left on its own? Eventually, I had to bring Aaron, the cat responsible for all this turmoil, in for the night. I had to to close the outside door. I retreated to my bedroom, door closed, expecting to wake to carnage.

Nothing. Perhaps the bird really did leave on its own. There’s no sign of it and neither Aaron nor Sally are interested in looking for it. I have cleaned the floors anew. Unstacked firewood makes a huge mess. The bird doesn’t seem to be anywhere in this house. I hope it’s outside, happily being a bird again, albeit one that’s a little more careful of large black cats.

The take-away points are three. First, don’t worry about having a short word-count at the end of your first draft. NaNo aims for 50,000 words. An adult novel is half again as long, at minimum. First draft is a time to plow through and get the story down, to turn the ephemeral into the physical. Don’t go for perfect, go for the line from the beginning through the middle to the end.

Second, while I strongly believe in writing consistently once I begin a first draft, sometimes writing isn’t in front of the keyboard. It’s silencing your mind and letting the process flow. Just make sure you’re doing that, and not drowning the process in conversation, drugs, liquor, sex, a new book, a new band or any other distraction, or bashing yourself because you’re not at your desk with words pouring out. Honor this part of the process; give it a chance to work. When you recognize that this is part of the creative process, it’s possible to plan for it.

Third, except when it isn’t. Life happens. Life gets in the way. The absolutely only way to deal with this is to recognize your art, your writing, is your priority and step back on the metaphorical horse and ride on.

And best of luck to that little blackbird.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MOAR MUSES (And Miscellany)

I'm beginning to learn that any hope for a "meaty" article going up on Wednesday is predicated on having a productive weekend, and not one spent running around Southern California putting out familial fires.  One of these days I'm going to have a "normal" week, I swear.

But that's okay since I have some important announcements to make, and I'm behind on various other clean up efforts. And of course I'm starting to send out thank you notes.


While we literally couldn't do everything we do here at Writing About Writing (whether it's take a night off to focus on writing, get a babysitter tag in for a few hours a week to focus on writing, posting daily–sometimes even twice–on weekdays, getting up more than one "meaty" article a week, or giving really nice donations to children's literacy programs), some of our donors and supporters go far above and beyond our average donation of about $15.  The patron muses have donated lump sums to Writing About Writing that make me gasp in horror and check to make sure that they are going to be able to afford rent, set up substantial monthly donations, were my "biggest fan" and encouraged me back before anyone (but them) really even knew I was writing at all, help me by beta reading and pointing out my mistakes so posts aren't even worse, and sometimes who just like and share so much stuff on W.A.W.'s Facebook Page that I know over the years, I've been seen by probably tens of thousands more people because of their influence on the FB algorithm. And of course my impeccable sense of decorum prevents me from going into detail about any hawt groupie action that may have inspired me.

So today I am breathlessly honored to add Ginger and Anna to our list of patron muses, bringing the total to eight: Ginger, Anna, Laura, Gillian, Alisha, Kelly, Terra, and Tracesea.

Don't forget there's always room for one more!

Still grinding out some thank you notes. The first of them should start going out today. (They have kind of a "core" similarity, but each one is actually written to each donor because I just can't stand to send form letters.)

Lastly, we got the first of our "Blogust" fund raiser feedback back. After trying for hours and even waiting a couple of days for an e-mail to get back to me, I gave up on trying to send that money to the overall Oakland Reads org, and just went into their "Classes in need" section and gave to those.

Mrs. Solly got the tail end of our $535, so she still has $339 if anyone wants to help her out.

The other $500 got spread around a bit, and I will share those thank you notes with you as they come in, since they are essentially thank you notes to all of YOU!

Thank you all so much!