Current Writing Maxim: BEAR

Scene: A wild hillside battle.  Forces of opposing colors and ideologies clash under the burning sun in a riot of tiny victories and failures.  One side begins to falter, its defenders giving way beneath the strength of their enemies.

And their leader bellows over the sound, the battle cry of their people:  “I REALLY HATE ASPARAGUS!”

The army responds, swelling with pride and fierce loyalty to their united hatred of an evil green vegetable.  On the other side, courage dwindles.

The opposing leader responds:  “FOR THE BUS DRIVERS!”

The hordes of bus drivers and bus-driver-adjacent warriors respond with their own passion reignited.

And the two sides meet once more to commence their battle.

Okay.  Yeah, silly.  But whether you’re engaged in the strangest of strange confrontations or just trying to defeat yourself, it helps to have something to hold onto, some phrase or reminder or statement of a goal.  If you know what you’re aiming for, be it victory for the Horde or freedom from King Edward’s rule of wearing pants, it helps you get there.  Right?

Well, it does for me.

About every 18 months, I create for myself a little maxim, a set idea that will guide my writing until I change it again.  It’s not a rule and it isn’t fandom- or lack-thereof-specific, but more broadly it serves as a reminder of that which I strive to achieve in all writing, from a oneshot to a publishable novel.  I stick it right in front of my monitor and look at it every day.

My current maxim is the Rule of BEAR.

Be Reckless:  Don’t tell the ‘safe’ story.  Tell the story that needs telling.  Take the chances.  Make mistakes and fix them on the way down.  Challenge the rules at the root of the world.  Question all assumptions.  Don’t hold back.

Empty the Well:  Don’t settle for ‘good enough.’  If it needs more, give it more.  Wring the story and the characters dry.  Seek out the meaning, the absolutes, the sharpest edges.  Rip out a lung if necessary.  Leave nothing on the table.  Leave nothing unrealized.  Give until it hurts, then give until it bleeds, then give until it runs dry.  Then give again.

Art Harder:  (There is an optional “motherf*cker” at the end of this line, per Chuck Wendig’s awesomeness.)  Craft every line like it is a safety harness dangling you over the Grand Canyon.  Write every day like the bank account will empty without words to fill it up.  Feeling uninspired, uninterested, frustrated?  Tough.  Create or die.  Bulldoze through blocks like a toddler mowing down a sandcastle.

Regret Nothing:  Let the failure of the previous day die with the sunset.  If it sucks, fix it.  If it was hard to do, relish in it.  If it felt strange, celebrate it.  Step forward and write.  If it’s the wrong story, it will be a lesson in wrongness for next time.  Apologize for nothing, not even the mistakes, because they still lend blood and wisdom to the whole.

For myself, I need a battle cry like this.  It’s too easy for my self-doubt to crawl in and whisper that I should tell the story that everyone else tells, with the language and the twists that are ‘normal.’  It’s too easy for me to lose days dithering about whether X or Y decision was a mistake, or whether I should just give up and not challenge it to be better than it is.  It’s too easy for me half-ass a story.

Stories, shockingly, need a full ass to sit well.

Thus, this maxim.  The last set was kinda similar and it had the “Be Reckless” in it, and I was glad of that because it was me giving myself permission to take risks.  Now I’m giving myself permission to push harder than ever, to drive forward with all the force of will I can summon on a daily basis.  I’m giving myself permission to experiment, to dry myself out, and to forge on without doubt.

We’ll see how it works out.

Incidentally, a very useful post on something quite similar was written by the ever-awesome Chuck Wending HERE.

And, in honor of that, a friend of mine made this:

Art Harder pic

You heard the man.  Get to work.

Lastly, another author friend of mine, the amazing Eric Zawadzki, wrote this post a long time ago whose ending was all about hunting down the muse and hanging her head on the wall — on not waiting for inspiration but instead creating it.  It motivated me when I read it and helped me find a lot of agency in myself I didn’t know I possessed.

Well, no offense to Eric — he IS right, by the way — but I’m not equipping myself for muse-hunting anymore.

I’m loaded for BEAR.

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In My Skin

(AKA: Why I avoid makeup like it was chasing me with a knife made of hepatitis and hand-grenades)

This weekend I will be performing in a vocal recital along with several of my favorite people in the world.  It’s not my recital but I’ve got several pieces to contribute and I’ve been looking forward to it all summer.

And you know what makes me the most nervous?  It isn’t the singing, even though I’ll be singing some very exposed parts in front of some people whose opinion I probably value too much.

It’s how I look.

How I look in the dress and how I look in my own skin.  And since I don’t feel like tackling issues about women and body-image in the sense of physical shape, I’m going to focus on the latter.

I don’t wear makeup.  EVER.

I can count on both hands and a few toes the number of times I have worn any form of makeup in my life.  One dance recital, age 4.  One day at summer camp, age 12.  Four drama performances, two at age 14, two at 17.  Two gigs in a band competition, age 24.  Two job interviews and one first day, age 24.  One wedding, age 24.  Two choir concerts, age 24.

That is literally it.

Now, when I say “makeup” I mean EVERYTHING.  Lipstick, eyeliner, blush, foundation, anything and everything one might paint upon oneself for the purpose of changing one’s appearance.

Of course, the question is — why?

If you’ve ever seen a picture of me, or if you watch our videos, you’ll note that I do not have perfect skin.  I don’t even have nice skin.  I have the skin of a 14-year-old whose hormones have been turned up to 100 and have been this way since puberty began.  I have blemishes you couldn’t cover with a hubcap and scarring besides.

But then, wouldn’t that be the perfect reason for makeup?  To cover that stuff?

I’m so glad you asked.

Yes.  But no.

One of those makeup-wearing days up there was the one from summer camp.  It’s a good story and it informs most of what came after.

I attended a week or two at the same summer camp for 9 years of my childhood, and it was one of the best and most formative things I ever did in the summer.  In a cabin of 12 girls, though, you start to see the years take effect as little girls begin the steps to adulthood.  Girls I had known for years started showing up with bikinis and put on makeup to go to the beach.

I was never into that stuff.  I never wanted to be.  But one of the girls who had always been kind and friendly offered to do a bunch of makeup for me so I wouldn’t feel left out and soon the whole cabin was in on it, on giving me a makeover.  I sat and let them do as they wished and they put on my makeup and braided my hair and lent me a dress (because who brings a dress to summer camp when you’re playing sports and climbing in trees and swimming all day long? Not me, apparently.).

When they were finished, they called over our cabin’s head counselor and asked what she thought.

And her answer stayed with me forever.  “You look very nice, but you don’t look like yourself.”

I remember that the horn blew for afternoon ballfield right then and we all headed out to go play, but I went to the bathroom first.  I remember looking at myself in the mirror.  I looked…polished.  Feminine.

I smiled at myself.

And it tore a hole in me.  Because that was NOT me.  Not really.

At age 12, almost 13, I realized that that stuff on my face wasn’t for me.  It was for other people that it made feel good and happy.  For me, it was me bowing to expectations and becoming the girl that girls were supposed to be since it certainly didn’t apply to boys.  It was me looking like a “better” version of myself.

And I decided then and there that I would rather be the true version of myself no matter what.  That the only “better” me would be the me who lived fearlessly and shamelessly.  Also — I decided that ANY standard applied to boys or men could just as well apply to me too and who cared that I was a girl?  I’m a person first.  And I’m a person who didn’t care about being the right-looking girl.

So I washed it off, ran and changed, and got out to ballfield in my shorts and sneakers and threw balls around with everyone.  And I never tried it voluntarily again.

Now, if you look at my history, you can forgive me wearing it a few times when I was in a play — theater people will tell you that you need makeup to look normal under the lights.  I kinda disagree, but when you’re in school, eh.  I always looked orange, but we were all orange and it was only slimy for a few hours.

But at age 24, well, I had a crisis of faith.  Faith in myself.

Sarah and I were performing as a different band then, and we were in a competition — and the judges didn’t like us without makeup because we were girls.  (It took us a while to figure out that the whole competition was rigged against us anyway because even though we weren’t “out” to them, we were clearly out to one another.)

At the same time, I had to change jobs and I was incredibly nervous.  I wanted to be paid more and I thought I needed to dress and look more like the women who were paid more in order to get through the interview process and actually land a job.

Also a friend asked me to wear makeup at her wedding “so the pictures would look nice.”  I guess I should have figured then that maybe a friend who thought I needed to look different to look nice wasn’t quite as kind of a friend as I wanted for myself.

And the choir we sang in wanted people to wear something on stage, too, for the lights.

They all conspired against me, but really, it was me that fell down on the job.  Because I thought, “eh, I don’t like it, and it makes me uncomfortable physically and emotionally, but the reason to wear it makes sense and I can deal with it for a little while, right?”

But you’ll note that there’s nothing at age 25.  Or ever since.

I broke under convention for a little while, but it never manages to hold me for long.

Because what was true at 12 is still true.  I like who I am.  I like who I am and I don’t want to look different from myself.  Even when that means major skin issues or unfashionably mascara-less eyes.  And while it becomes more acceptable for men to wear makeup if they choose — which is great for them — they still don’t have to.  And I still don’t have to.  I am a person long, LONG before I am a woman.

And, actually, it makes for a really good test of people.

Because someone who won’t give a woman respect because she’s not wearing makeup probably won’t give her respect anyway.  Someone who decides based on a woman’s looks whether or not she is smart enough for a job is probably not going to pay her fairly or recognize her full contributions.  Someone who looks at a woman without makeup and a man with makeup and thinks they’re WRONG is not someone I need in my life.  Ever.

This is who I am.  I am me.  I am that person over there with that face and that skin and that smile.  And no, I won’t ever look like a gorgeous model or Hollywood star.

But I could.

The thing about a life without makeup is you figure out that EVERYONE could be beautiful with enough paint and work.  Look at the pictures of celebrities without their hours of makeup and hair-dressing.  They look like regular people — perhaps lovely regular people, but no more and no less.  If everyone could be heart-stoppingly beautiful after some hours in a makeup chair, then we are all just fine right now, today, without an instant of effort.

(Also — there’s a whole argument to be made about this weird preconception that women are supposed to be beautiful, and the reason for that is that they are supposed to be beautiful FOR MEN.  That women are SUPPOSED to be attractive and…well, it comes down to gender politics and sexual dynamics — and me?  I am NOT INTERESTED.  And not just because I married a woman.  I am not interested in being ANY man’s object of…whatever.  My worth is inherent to me, and I’m not going to play by archaic rules of society that reinforce an inherent inequality between men and women.  NO WAY.)

So, getting back to this upcoming weekend.

The friend holding the recital  will be wearing makeup which she’s having professionally done.  But she is fine if nobody else bothers.  She would be fine with us all up there in jeans and sneakers performing with her because she is awesome like that and just doesn’t care how we look — she loves us, no matter what.

But I do care.  I hate that I care.

I hate that I’m going to be wearing one of the few dresses I love and I’m going to wonder if people are looking at the inevitable blemishes that are scattered across my skin like raging birdshot.  I hate that I have to remind myself that my outside has nothing on my inside and that I could look like a sack of hockey equipment but the point is that I’m there to sing beautifully alongside people I really love.

The thing is that a person can decide that on the course they’re going to follow and still wonder about it, still doubt, still have insecurities.  And that’s me and makeup.  I know, in my soul, that I would rather go without and hold up my ideals than wear it and reinforce my insecurities while hiding my skin’s flaws.  Because for me, to bend to the insecurity and the pressure would be a greater betrayal than to perform as I am, splotches and all.

However.

Even if it hurts, even if it leaves me shaking apart inside OR outside, I don’t bend on my ideals.  No matter what.

Would it be easier to cover the marks of life and bad skin?  Would I be more confident in my dress and in my smile?

No.  It wouldn’t be easier and I wouldn’t be more confident.

Because it would mean I had put the bad opinions ahead of the good ones.  The bad opinions of those who would judge my skin ahead of the good opinions of the people who love me and don’t see it at all.  The bad opinions that rattle around my brain telling me that beauty is about flawlessness and I need to aspire to it ahead of the good opinions that tell me beauty is what I do and how I live and even perfect skin couldn’t make me beautiful.

Just because I’ve decided to face the world with bare, awful skin doesn’t mean I don’t feel the judgment and the ill opinions.  They’re there.  They sink into me and they add to the shouting that makes it hard to breathe some days.

But I’ll bear their shouting with my skin showing anyway.

Because I had it right at age 12.

Fears or no fears, insecurities or no insecurities, acne or no acne, this is who I am.  This is the life I live.  And for me to live it wholly, without shame, with integrity, I have to live it exactly as I am.  Frizzy hair and imperfect skin and awkwardness and brash courage.

The better me, the BEST me, is the me who lives in my skin.  Just the way it is.  And faces the world without flinching away.  The me who lives with the integrity of knowing that I am not afraid to be myself and I am not afraid of my flaws and scars.  That I am defined not by how I look or how I am seen, but by the choices I make and the ideals I hold.

And even if it makes me nervous or uncomfortable, even if I can’t help but wonder if people are staring, I won’t back down.  I won’t compromise.  A person should never compromise that in which they truly believe.

No matter how hard it is, I choose to believe in myself.  Now and forever.
See you at the recital.

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A Friday smile

Since I’m trying to get in the habit of posting weekly around the same time I upload chapters online, I thought this was the right week to leave this here.  We’ve been watching (and yelling at) a lot of Olympics in my house.

By the way — the BEST way to watch the NBC nightly Olympics is by pre-recording it and fast-forwarding.  800m races go a lot faster at double-time.  And also?  The backstroke and the breast-stroke look hilarious at high speed.  And you get to skip the gratuitous commercials and the filler!

Anyway.  In the spirit of the world coming together, I’m going to post this video.  It’s one of my favorites.  Matt Harding started just doing his goofy dances for his friends and wound up on a world-tour connecting people by the thousands.  I’ve even danced with him in one of his videos, though you can’t exactly see me in the crowd.

There are so many things that divide us as people.  But sometimes something very, very simple can unite us.

(You should check out all the videos and see how they developed over the years.  But this is the one that means the most to me.)

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Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony

In the great tradition of me being me, here’s me liveblogging the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics 2016.  I’m not going to weigh in at this point on anything political surrounding the Olympics, not now, anyway.  I just want to enjoy the opening ceremony as it is presented.

So, here we go!

How many words start with ‘C’ that Matt Lauer can squeeze into one opening line? Let’s find out!

Can’t even get through the opening monologue without referencing shit in the water.  Going to be one of THOSE nights.

Running Jesus Tally (how many times have we seen the statue?) = 4

Commentary about the copy being read by whoever it is that should clearly be narrating a Nat Geo special on hippos and whales living in harmony or something.

Running Jesus Tally = 6 7 8

Eagle on your hat, huh?  Way to represent, USA.

Michael Phelps is adorable.  He just is.  Also, ears.

Marina: I never watched Olympic swimming until he (Michael Phelps) made a splash.
*Throws everything*

Okay, photobombing the interviews is EXCELLENT.  Good job, bored US athletes.

Running Jesus Tally = 9

Dude.  Costas.  What the fuck is on your table?  Mutated ashtrays?  A blue cabbage run amok?  The fuck?

Kinda digging the song for the opening here.  Though getting dizzy from all this top-down filming.

Running Jesus Tally = 10.  Also, top-down Jesus looks a little phallic.  Or a big phallic?

The metal sheets doing patterns are nifty.  I don’t know what they are supposed to symbolize, but they’re neat.  The costumes are probably murderously hot, though.  Go dedicated volunteers.

I LOVE THE ANTHEM.  HOLY CRAP.  BEAUTIFUL.

But how many verses does it have?  Just asking.

Also, I am NEVER watching the Olympics without being able to fast-forward the commercials ever again.  Seriously.

The water…the sand…the music…the greatest puppet crab thing ever…I have no words.  Beautiful.

Shiny green thing.  Totally mesmerized.

First Nations performers.  Wow.

Those ships are beautiful.  But Sarah has to make a “Mysterious Cities of Gold” joke and ruins the gravitas of the moment.  She’s good at that.  So am I, if I’m being honest.

Portrayal of the slave trade gets me kind of choked up.  The sound of the whip…yeah.

Also the transformation of the land.  Scars on the soul, scars on the Earth.

But also blending.  Building a new pattern out of different histories and cultures.  And representing them in waves and sets and song.  Gods we humans are a strange species.  We invade and we destroy and then we also create new worlds from the pieces we put together in new ways.  We can’t walk through the land without changing it, and then we change each other as we walk.

This is what happens when I’m left to this art and slightly psychedelic theater.

HOLY CRAP FORCED PERSPECTIVE.  HO. LY. CRAP.

Choreographer from cirque du soleil.  Yeah, that explains a lot.

Me: That is the steampunk-iest kite plane I’ve ever seen.
Sarah: It would fly.

Running Jesus Tally = 11 12 13 14

Honestly, the song outshines the supermodel.

Sarah: Can it be an Olympic sport to walk in those heels?
Geoff: No, it’s a super-power.  That’s why they call them SUPERmodels.*Enter discussion of 400m races in heels*

DANCING.  COLORS.  IMPRESSIVE.

Tiny go-carts!!!  I WANT ONE!!!

I like the passing back and forth of the music style.  The guys look like they’re enjoying themselves and the dancers are keeping both styles together.  And the lights keep…punching?  Do lights punch?  These ones on the floor do.

Fire!

This visualization of the divide between people and the conflict within politics and society in Brazil is really, really apt.  Chaotic and demarcated and always in motion.

Oh I don’t want to have to dance in that tinsel suit, though.  Warm.  And not cool.

During the dancing, we degenerate into a discussion of selfies during the ceremonies and the athletes entering which ends with a discussion of luge with a GoPro.  Someday the Olympics will not be on NBC; it’ll just be a bunch of live feeds from people’s helmets.

Nice fireworks, team.

Me: Michael Phelps and the USA Pips is not a good team name.
Eric: But it might be a good band name.

Statement on climate change.  HELL YES.

I’m having a very Wall-E moment here.  And Eve is voiced by Judi Dench.

Running Jesus Tally = 15

Looking at all the fruit, all I can think is the granadilla from Ecuador which we loved and I still miss.  I would pay anybody anything for a crate of those.  Seriously.  The fruit looks like fish eyes and tastes like heaven.  And I don’t believe in heaven.  Except in the form of granadillas.

Time for cake.

Running Jesus Tally = 16

The US gymnastics ladies looked like they were having fun.

MORE COMMERCIALS.  FAST FORWARD GO.

Parade of nations!

And first sign of a selfie stick.

Olympic glasses.  WHY?

And I don’t know about those arrow people.  Yes, it’s good for getting people going in the right direction, but…

Also, no egregious outfits so far.  That won’t last.

Barbados has a cool flag.

Hey!  I didn’t know Neil Patrick Harris was from Belarus!

The Benin outfits are nice, too.  I love the style.

Bermuda shorts.  Sigh.  But not surprised.

I dunno what that thing is, but it looks like a huge cheese grater.  Seriously.  What’s it for?

What the HELL was that weird shot of icky things in somebody’s green glove?  Looked like slugs or bird poop.  The hell?

One of the Colombians looks like Bill Nye.  Any other celebrities competing?

COSTA RICA YAY!

(I was an exchange student and lived in Costa Rica for a short time in high school.  It’s in my bones now and always will be, I think.)

I wanna know what’s up with the umbrella full of hats.  Seriously.  It’s in the background.  What is that thing?  Why is it there?  Are they confiscating hats?

Enter a heated debate about who will win gold when baseball is in the Olympics if the non-US players in the MLB played for their home countries.  I know next to nothing about baseball so I’m not involved.

The Spain delegation is clearly having a blast.  I’m glad.

New tune just before the US, huh?  Here we come.

Learning javelin-throwing from YouTube?  Yup, it’s a modern era.

Sarah: It looks like this is the year of fencing flag-bearers.
Geoff: I think some threats were made.  At the point of something sharp.

Indonesia…the hats.  Folded napkin things.  I…hope they mean something specific to that nation.  They don’t mean anything good to me.

The Italian flag-bearer has her birthday today.  Sarah cheers for someone having her birthday.

Oh.  Happy birthday, Sarah.  BEST WIFE EVAR!

Back to the parade of nations.

The talk about the Japanese population in Brazil sends Sarah on a hunt for details about why there is such a large Japanese population there.  This is how we fill up commercial breaks.  Except that I can fast-forward.  So I fast-forward and then pause.  It’s not exactly efficient.  But now we know about Japanese emigration to Brazil.

Mongolian flag-bearer uniform is super neat.

TIME TO SING THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD BY YAKKO.

FUCK.  I got stuck at Madagascar AGAIN.

Good job on the uniforms, Pakistan.  Norway, go learn from them.

And…cue the awkward silence as North Korea comes in.  The announcers literally don’t want to say anything.

And…cue the even more awkward Russian entrance.

It starts so slowly.  Now everybody has the ‘Nations of the World’ song in their heads and are very, very annoyed with me.  3 of the 4 people here have cursed at me in some capacity.  Good thing I like them all.

Syria.  Hell.  There’s the teariness.  We knew it wouldn’t take long.

Ah, that’s what those cheese graters are.  They’re for the seeds people will be depositing.  That makes slightly more sense.

Turkmenistan, that hat looks hot.  I’m sorry, flag-bearer.  Don’t die of heat, okay?

Turkey.  Fuck.

One of the things that matters most about the Olympics that has nothing to do with sports is the fact that we can come together as a single race of humanity regardless of our national origin and can celebrate that togetherness.  We can march with peace and excitement and joy and we can stand in a room with those who are our political or social or religious opposites.  We can face those we make war against and we can stand beside those we have failed.  It matters.  It’s just a symbol, but it’s also a truth.  A hope.  A future we may never reach but we must never stop trying to attain.

You can feel it if you close your eyes and let it find you.  It doesn’t matter if you’re ten thousand miles from the torch — you can feel the unity.  You can feel the hope.  You can feel the pride.  The tapestry of humanity at its shining best.  You can feel it and you can share in it.

And this is why we must never lose it.  We must never forget that we can come together and celebrate art and sport and diversity and effort and drive and courage.  We must hang onto this.

Because here comes the refugee team.  For them and for everyone like them.  They deserve a world like this, a world of togetherness.

And to you, refugees.  I am so sorry.

Okay, Brazil.  Let’s get this show on the road.

They still look like cheese graters, guys.  Or, as Geoff says, Daleks.  Dalek refrigerators, maybe.

Yeah.  You got me with the leafy rings thing.  You got me.

Running Jesus Tally = 17

Time for the IOC speech.  This guy is a lot more animated than the one 4 years ago.  Though Sarah notes the funny mumbly thing he does.  Hey, I’m not gonna judge.  If it were me, I’d be shaking too hard to hold onto the podium.

“We are living in a world of…mistrust, uncertainties. Here is our Olympic answer…living peacefully together, sharing their meals and their emotions.  In this Olympic world, there is one universal law.  We are all equal…we see that the values of our shared humanity are stronger than the forces which want to divide us.”  (As close as I could get typing along with sniffling)

“Dear refugee athletes.  You are sending a message of hope to all the millions of refugees around the world…You had to flee because of violence, hunger, or just because you were different…You are making a great contribution to society…We do not just tolerate diversity.  In this Olympic world, we welcome you as an enrichment to our unity in diversity.”

“We came into this world with nothing.  We will leave this world with nothing.  All we need is peace, love, and unity.” — Kip Kano

If you had any doubts about what really matters…well, now you know.

I feel like I should know the Olympic song words, but they never stay with me.  That children’s choir was great, though.

Well…those are some dancing things.  Squid?  Uh…seaweed?  I just…I have no idea.  What am I even looking at?  Some kind of foam Teletubbies that met up with the wrong end of a lawnmower?

Aw, who cares?  Dancing!

And the flame.  There’s magic in that, you know.  The fire carried from so far away that does not go out.  And yeah, I know that sometimes the touring torch goes out, but they bring a backup so that they can relight it from the source.  There’s power there.  And unity.  And continuity.  Eternity.  Even in something as fleeting as one small flame.

And here it is.

AND THAT SCULPTURE IS FUCKING AWESOME.  FUCKING BEAUTIFUL.

Running Jesus Tally = 18

Sarah says we have to close with the Jesus tally and fireworks.  Sounds like a good deal to me.

Good night all, and may the light and flame be with you always.

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