Like everybody else, I’ve been watching everything happening with Twitter with a curious eye. I don’t think I’ve been particularly secretive about my dislike for the platform, which goes beyond the owner and into how I feel that the site incentives anger, pile-ons, and lack of nuance. None of this is synonymous with Twitter or social media as a whole, but, in my opinion, enabled by it. As a writer, as the editor of a website, as a person who enjoys interacting with other people, I’m frustrated and bummed that the site so many of us used to build our careers, platforms, and friendships, seems to be disintegrating before us.
I think a lot about what it means to be sentimental or, heaven forbid, corny. I suspect that I am often both. No doubt, some people see the things I say and do and cringe; I’m openly emotional, sentimental marketing does, honestly, sometimes make me feel better, and I cry at every single wedding video even though I don’t actually like weddings all that much. I cringe at myself, too, because maybe all those things are signs of my internal weakness. Maybe I should stop, because it’s embarrassing to be so affected by everything.
There are lots of ways to be in the world. Not all of them are good. I don’t think that either side of this internal struggle I have about my own sentimentality is wrong; yes, I am too susceptible to marketing, but no, I will not stop believing wholeheartedly in the possibilities of radical empathy. I am trying as hard as I can to let myself embrace this conflict, to let myself be vulnerable not only to the terror of letting my emotions be known but also to the resulting embarrassment.
For a long time, my writing was dry and distant. Describing things was purple prose. Metaphors were cagey. Be honest, but not too honest, or you’ll risk turning readers off with the stink of your earnestness. I am trying as hard as I can, again, to let those hesitations go. My favorite writer is Angela Carter, maybe in part because she did so many things I would be petrified to do. But that’s because I don’t see the internal struggle. Maybe she wondered if her writing was too sentimental. Maybe she didn’t—maybe she was always confident that she was doing things in the exact way they ought to be done. I’m not there yet and maybe I won’t ever be, but it’s worth being embarrassed sometimes, I think, if that is the consequence of growing.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
I’ve had a fear of mirrors since I was a kid and a girl on my bus told me you could summon Bloody Mary by repeating her name three times. She said the ghost would appear and scratch you, and showed me her arms to prove it. She was a purveyor of eerie urban legends—she said the worry dolls my family had given me to help me cope with some difficult life stuff would come to life and make my worries come true, that the houses on our bus ride home were haunted, and so on—and I bought into every one of them. Of course, I’d never say Bloody Mary aloud, but would it count if I thought it? Did they have to be said altogether, or would three times spread out over a lifetime still summon her?
Aside from one brief dabble into Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, I was always too scared to try any of the creepy sleepover rituals we whispered about. In high school, my friends went walking through a graveyard on Halloween—I crossed the street, saying I’d rather walk home in the dark by myself than through a graveyard.
I’ve eased up a bit since then, but even while writing this, I wondered if Bloody Mary would know that I’d written her name three times in one blog post, that I’m seated in front of a window and that it’s so dark outside I can see my reflection in it. The scratches on that girl’s arms left such an impression on me that I can’t shake the fear decades later.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
I maintain that the only thing more important to improving your writing ability than actually writing is reading. There’s something to learn from every novel or non-fiction work you pick up, even if it’s that infodumping is not a great way to handle exposition, or that starting too big makes it impossible to increase drama as you go. More importantly, good fiction, the kind that makes you envious that you didn’t write it, can teach you valuable lessons even when you’re not looking for them.
I recently read through Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief for the first time. It came out ages ago, but Z is last in the alphabet and I’ve been working my way through my bookshelf from start to finish for a couple of years. It’s the kind of book you want to savor, in part because it’s beautifully written and emotional, in part because it’s intense. I had nightmares reading it, and finished the book off with ill-contained, physically painful sobs.
There’s a lot to learn from it, too, not just from a human perspective, but from a writing one. I don’t want to diminish the importance of the emotional narrative, especially given our current climate, but I don’t think that to focus on The Book Thief‘s technical success is to detract from its emotional impact. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they’re inextricable.
At the risk of being navel-gazey, the end of the year has made me think a lot about my growth and, conversely, the lack thereof.
I didn’t accomplish every goal I set out for this year. I’m not surprised by that; in the past couple months, I’ve left one of my stable sources of income behind for the wild unknown. I worked a lot for too little money, spending precious time that I could have used to pursue my real goals.
I listened to a horror story over the weekend so bleak and graphic that I felt a little sick afterward.
It wasn’t a bad story by any stretch of the imagination. It was well written and poignant, with great thematic depth alongside its disturbing and grotesque elements. The things that scare us are often unpleasant, but the story didn’t sit well with me, regardless.
What I like about horror is not the reminder that the world sucks and I have to live in it. I am all too aware of the fact that life is difficult and often full of shadows and fear. I like horror that turns those shadows inside out, like sock puppets, and makes them dance for us.
There’s a lot to be afraid of, but I prefer my horror to be a triumph in the end, the heroine stumbling, bloody and wild-eyed, from whatever carnage she’s survived. It doesn’t always work out that way, and that’s fine–there’s enough other elements of horror to satisfy me, like exploring the world’s darkness through fictions and myth. Horror is powerful because fear is powerful, but I’m a sucker for happy endings.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
Memories are weird. The fact that I can forget things that have happened to me and not remember them when they’re pointed out is disconcerting, to say the least. Where do my thoughts go when I’m no longer having them? How is it that swaths of my past can just disappear?
Dreams drift off shortly after you’ve had them; I get that, I’m used to it. But memories ought to stay put, pinned like butterflies to cards, ready for viewing and indexing and scrutiny.
Not to be a downer, but how is it that someday, everything inside my head will just vanish altogether? I better start writing it down now, before I forget.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but being asked what I do is a source of unrepentant dread.
I write. I write here and I write on a couple of different websites, including Women Write About Comics, which you should be reading. I also do a podcast on geek culture. When I tell people these things, they always want to know what they’re about.
And I appreciate that enthusiasm and interest, but I can never seem to find a good answer. As much as nerdy stuff is popular right now, saying I take it seriously enough to critique it still feels like I’m asking to be shoved in a locker. It’s one thing to enjoy, say, Game of Thrones, and it’s another to discuss the implications of lily-white Daenerys’ subjects all being poor brown folks, right? Like, who cares? It’s a television show. Can’t we just turn off our brains and stop being offended by things for two minutes?
(No. Well, yes, but I believe the question is not can we, but should we. I’ll get there.)
And the writing–more than once, I’ve had the reception to my answer of “fantasy” for what I write about be…less than enthusiastic. It has put me in more than one uncomfortable position where I wriggle around in my seat and try to dodge the question to avoid the stares of well-meaning but skeptical family members.
Which inevitably leads me down a sad and well-populated road full of questions–most important, does what I do matter?
My first memory of reading something scary was my cousin locking me in the bathroom and forcing me to read a glow-in-the-dark book of ghost stories with her by flashlight. I did not enjoy the experience.
But then, at a formative age (I can’t remember precisely when, only that I was of just the right age), I read Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Headless Cupid. The book concerns, among other things, a young girl trying to impose some order on the world through witchcraft and studying the occult. She also happens to be of poltergeisting age–which, if you’re not familiar, is puberty.
Organization is hard. I say this as a person who now keeps a detailed planner, cleans house daily, and has no greater satisfaction in life than checking something off a to-do list. I haven’t always been this way; in fact, I still struggle sometimes with thinking about all the work staring me in the face. I freeze up, particularly when that work is an invitation to rejection.
But I have to eat. To eat, I have to work. To work, I have to organize my time and not let myself be paralyzed with fear. Organization is a work in progress for me. I’m getting better at it, and the system I have now seems to be working for me. Even so, I’m always looking for more ways to streamline my work process.
I can’t promise that my organizational methods will work for everybody, but because freezing up is not actually a sustainable method of dealing with your problems, work, or social life, I thought I might as well share them with the world. Think of it as a series of potential tools, not a cure-all tonic; what works for me and my quirks might just be annoyances to you.