Writer’s Block

Funny how initiating serious publication research sparks writer’s block.

It’s actually not funny. It’s annoying.

But it’s understandable—stress and all that. The feelings of overwhelmedness arising from all the things I need—or want—to accomplish in the three weeks of near complete freedom of Christmas break. Things pertaining to publication for my first novel, writing the second, preparing myself professionally–both in general and for my artistic career–and preparing my portfolio, resume, and statement of intent for application to art school.

But what is good enough? Or not just good enough–exceptional. How can I find exceptional in three weeks?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited. This is an awesome season to be in.

Still, I feel like I’m wasting a lot of time, freezing up, sleeping in too late, succumbing to lack of motivation. And I’m supposed to be resting, aren’t I? This is Christmas break. I’m going to be graduating in four months.

But how can I rest? How can I not use these open-ended days to get ahead and make life easier for myself when I have considerably less time at my disposal?

And then there’s Christmas. Figuring out presents for X number of people has often been a daunting prospect for me. I would love to make everything by hand, or have it all deep and meaningful and show that I care like I want to.

But…but everything.

I’m finding the counterproductive nature of having too much time. There’s none of the structured pockets of time that usually keeps me in line.

I’m putting along though, whittling away at things, staying on top of writer’s block by writing whatever scenes or concepts or conversations come to mind regarding the novel in progress. It seems to be helping.

But there’s definitely a more restful way I could be going about this.

Still trying to figure that out.

So I made myself dinner tonight. I think that’s a start.

Character Analysis ft. The Insecurity that Probably Insults My Friends Sometimes

Eight-year-old me was surprised.

I had just found out that my two friends called each other’s moms “Mom,” and that they referred to each other as sisters. They were already super close by the time I entered the picture, painfully shy and fresh out of homeschooling. I remember just standing there, looking up at my friend’s mom, who worked in the cafeteria at the small private Christian school I had entered probably two months before. She was smiling. My friends hugged each other, and I stood by, trying to smile or something—to take part in the moment, pretend I was amused or that my heart was warmed as I sought to ignore the implications of what was taking place here. They didn’t call my mom “Mom.” No one but my sisters had ever called me “sister”, and I got the feeling this nickname was reserved for just the two of them. Something I might never earn because I had been tacked on after the bond between them had already crystallized.

Later that school year, it was twin day. My friends and I decided to be triplets, and we had coordinated what we were going to wear over phone conversations and everything. I don’t remember the whole outfit, but we were going to wear a pink long-sleeved shirt and black pants, and I was so excited because I knew just what I was going to wear. My shirt was a deep magenta, with a few pink jewels around the collar. I was convinced it would be perfect.

But when I showed up to school, my heart sank. My two friends had the same exact shirt. They were perfectly coordinated, and I guess one could tell I was supposed to be a part of the group, but I still didn’t quite fit. I tried to brush this off too. I had simply missed the fact that they had the same shirt (which I didn’t have anyway so it didn’t matter). It was an innocent coincidence and my friends never meant me any harm. But the memory stuck. I still have bits of visual information from that day, but I remember most clearly what I felt enduring the rest of it, playing with them—more like following them around because I was really shy and didn’t talk or engage much—in a non-matching shirt, feeling like the third-wheel—again. And the response deep inside of me was a strange, sort of smothered sensation, like I simultaneously tried to ignore or rationalize my exasperation, and also that I didn’t quite understand that I was feeling hurt.

I didn’t have a large friend group at school (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Most people played “bump” in the gym, or jumped rope. I was more interested in playing exciting pretend games and climbing things. But when my few friends were absent, I was alone. This trend continued throughout grade school.

In junior high, I was highly insecure about being the third wheel, and it caused problems in my friend group. By high school, I had friends, but I was relatively closed off. As far as everything related to the school sphere, academics were all that mattered to me. I was on a different level—or something. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism, perhaps I was just perfectionistic and arrogant. Probably a combination of the two. I was very driven, and I considered friends a luxury, not vital to survival.

I didn’t realize much of this until my senior year in high school, when I began to look back and analyze what specific wounds I carried and possibly why. And it seemed all these random little instances of me standing by, feeling left out, looked over, forgotten, had built up and found their mark. Growing up, I never had any huge, catastrophic event that tore my heart open—it was these little thorns. Like constant, dripping water wearing away a hole in my sense of identity and how I related to other people.

Ultimately, it ended up with an intense self-reliance and persistent feelings of unimportance and loneliness, the scars of which I still feel from time to time—not out of any sort of grudge-holding, but just that they’re very deep and perhaps rooted in more than simple circumstance.

My first couple of years at college, I had to tackle these voices head on and force myself to fight them, to shake their hold, and to expose them for what they were. I had to look around me and have the audacity to admit that I have not been left to fade into the background. It was a key turning point in my sense of identity.

I thought this victory was final.

But every now and then, the pain shows up again. The hurt, the self-reliance, the ungrounded feelings of loneliness and of being forgotten. Thirteen years later, I feel like, deep down, I’m still that soft-hearted little girl with a mop of brown hair, a thumb-shaped overbite, and a pink graphic t-shirt, just standing and watching from a distance, being too shy to step forward or say anything. Persistently unpopular and more than a little self-righteous, who never felt she truly fit even when she knew she had people who cared about her.

I think even if I had led a perfect life, I would still carry these insecurities. Because fallenness does not obliterate our capacity to excel in our strengths, but enables the very aspects that drive those strengths to unearth weaknesses on the opposite side. My drive for creativity, connection and communication, for example, is plagued by an underlying terror of mediocrity and unimportance in the lives of those I care about most. My aversion to unnecessary conflict or forcing my own desires on someone else easily results in passivity in group decision making. And the list goes on.

Speculating about factors of my own personal character development fascinates me. I find it therapeutic to pick apart a flaw, insecurity, or disinclination, trace it to its origins, figure out what it’s associated with, and try to extrapolate if or how it might sabotage things if I let it go unchecked.

I do this all the time with fictional characters. I guess it’s only natural to do it with my own personality. With myself, it’s sort of like a systems check, blowing out dust, eradicating bugs, making sure I continue moving forward. It’s ultimately part of my ever ongoing pursuit to understand and accept myself and learn to be a safe place for people to embrace who they are as well.

Kitten

The screech of tires interrupted us. I exchanged a glance with my mom, my face going cold.

“Oh no…”

We hurried to the door to look out the window.

An orange cat writhed wildly on the road.

“No,” the word slipped from my mouth as I opened the door and ran numbly down the walkway, across the gravel and into the grass up to the road. “No no no no…”

Ferachur means “very dear one” in Gaelic. We found him as a kitten, drenched, scraped up, badly burned, meowing desperately under a bush beside the road. My sisters and I nursed him back to health. My older sister Emily and I unknowingly contracted ringworm from him. He was intelligent, wild, loveable. One of those pets that leaves their mark. Emily had done the most work, having watched and monitored and doctored our dear kitten most carefully.

But Emily wasn’t home that day.

I forgot to look closely for traffic coming as I rushed out to attend to his flailing body. Fortunately, no other vehicles appeared.

“Ferachur no…” I breathed. That was all I could say. “No no no…Ferachur…” I felt as if I pleaded with something that wouldn’t listen to me. The deed had been done. Fate had spoken. Whatever small amount of time we had would not be enough.

Ferachur should have known to stay away. He was a smart cat, and his rough encounter with the asphalt early in his life discouraged the expectation that something like this could ever happen.

Knots twisted my insides as I finally managed to move him off the road and carry him into the grass. Emily didn’t know. I would have to tell her. There had to be something I could do to stop it. Ferachur couldn’t die like this. There had to be something.

But I knew there wasn’t.

Blood oozed from Ferachur’s open mouth, his fiery eyes distant. He was bleeding internally. He was suffering, and as he lay dying, I knelt beside him, helpless, futile.

“Ferachur no…” I said again, a breathless whimper. I petted him gently, assuring him I was there. As the agony persisted, I could at least make sure he knew that he wasn’t alone. He was away from the road now. We had found him. We loved him. We were there for him.

But we couldn’t save him.

Minutes after the screech, Ferachur died. Quickly, quietly, his life slipped through my fingers. Finally, excruciatingly numb, I looked up at my mom who stood over us.

I don’t remember what I said then.

We told Emily. She took it hard. And as she and my mom reacted emotionally to Ferachur’s death, I didn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to cry.

I wanted to cry, to grieve for our kitten. Because I had watched the entire thing. And as much as I wanted the weight to leave my chest, the tears just wouldn’t come. Like that portion of my heart had turned to stone.

It was so sudden, so surreal that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to think, what to feel.

I only understood that Ferachur, our very dear one, was gone.

Draft 6 / The Neural Network

Last night, I finished Draft 6 of my novel! The draft before, I printed out the entire 500+ page novel and edited it all by hand, and then Draft 6 was retyping the entire thing, incorporating Draft 5 edits and adjusting/editing more things. So 6 was a time-intensive one, but I’m so glad I did it.

Now, I’m gearing up for another round of peer editing, which I can hopefully get underway by Christmas break.

I’m expecting another couple of drafts, but the pursuit of publication will be happening soon, and I’m so freakin’ excited.

So, in celebration, I decided to share a scene!: 

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By Friday night, James had torn apart the old prototype of the neural network and had constructed and programmed a completely new one. Its original data capacity sat at about two gigabytes, which would be all too easy to max out.

Stifling a yawn, he plugged the small, segmented device marbled with wire into his computer with a modified sync cord. He watched with a prick of relief as the network’s program materialized on the desktop.

A promising start, at least.

When he clicked on the icon, a window came up and partitioned into a variety of different areas simulating the memory centers of the brain. Each compartment had a short capacity bar at its core. He located his prolific documents folder, highlighted everything, and pulled it all over into the window.

Then he waited.

The transfer lagged a bit, but the capacity bars of a couple centers began to fill. Then it froze, immobilizing the rest of his computer screen.

He waited in breathless silence, staring steadily at the screen. When nothing else happened, he groaned and lowered his forehead to the counter.

Another failure.

And this was only a part of the interlacing network of programs needed for the project. His fruitlessness with this component froze the entire project until the program could be straightened out.

After all that time spent studying the brain and its electrical processes, and all the feverish planning of how to convert it to an electrical model—he thought he had finally figured it out. He tried to be patient and keep a hold on his confidence, but he couldn’t ignore the nagging fear. What if he worked to the end of his strength and sanity and still ran out of time?

James stared at the floor, the counter cold against his forehead. His eyebrows lowered in a glare as he closed his eyes.

I’m really proud of you, son. His father’s words had repeated constantly in his mind since the evening they were uttered.

Jonathan had lied. Dying or not, his father wasn’t satisfied. James would know when his father was truly proud of him because the plaguing, goading weight would life from James’ existence and he would finally be at peace. But after his father had supposedly released him from obligation, the pressure had only increased.

James was tired of suffocating. If he could successfully defy the boundaries of modern science for his father, Jonathan wouldn’t have to lie to him anymore. He would be truly proud of him, and James would finally be free.

And perhaps, when James didn’t have anything else to prove, he and his parents could start over.

But the odds of realizing such a future looked bleak that night.

James could have fallen asleep slumped over the counter, utter exhaustion imminent.

Then his computer made a strange, makeshift beep. James lifted his face, squinting at the bright light of the screen for a moment before his gaze fell on the capacity bars.

Sixteen gigabytes of free space existed wherever a transfer had been made.

“Transfer complete…” he read slowly, hardly believing his own voice. As the full meaning of the words took hold, he leapt into activity with mouth agape, dumping whatever else he could onto the device. Each round of information transfer occurred a little more quickly than the last, and the device accepted all of it, each time reporting more and more available space. He sifted through the device’s archives, finding it had correctly sorted various types of information into the appropriate memory centers.

He stood up and turned from the computer, both hands flying to his head in incredulity.

“It works,” he laughed. “It works!”

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Science major revived

This weekend, I traveled with a bunch of my fellow science majors to Vancouver, WA, where we attended an undergraduate research conference.

I was excited because I’d have the opportunity to get off campus for a few days and try something I’d never done before.

But then I was really nervous. Practicing my poster with my lab mates didn’t go well and I found a dreaded typo in the second word of my poster title. We were going to be presenting one day earlier than everyone had been telling me, and I was starting to think I would just look like an idiot. I wanted to bail, but—faulty poster and lack of confidence aside—I was committed.

Even though the beds were soft at the hotel, I kept waking up all throughout the night, and when my alarm rang in the dark at 6am, I opened my eyes with an emotional state best illustrated by the distant sounds of a crying baby.

The day had come far too quickly. And it promised to be very long.

Still, the poster session actually went well. I only had to stand by it for an 1hr 45 min. People came by and I gave the spiel, they asked questions, one lady critiqued a stylistic preference. My throat got really dry. But then I got to walk around the next session and look at other students’ projects. And I got a nap sometime soon after that.

I listened to quite a few students’ talks on projects within the life sciences, and throughout the 20-minute presentations, I was able to story-plan, which gave me a happy multitasking medium. Friday night, a biophysicist talked about the fascinating work in her lab artificially constructing microtubule aggregates and interactions. (Microtubules are one of the key structural components of cells). My roommate and I were nerding out. I would have nerded out more if I wasn’t so tired.

As exhausting as it was, it was fun. And as I sat through the presentations, and stood talking about my own research, I could feel something stitching back together.

This conference, this celebration of science and all the work involved, helped remind me of why I loved the discipline. Why I became a science major.

Science had begun to lose my favor as I got bogged down with cramming information in my head and reading academic journal articles and writing lab reports. But science is more than that.

Undergraduate biology major is a foundation. It has taught me how to think, to reason, to look at data and draw conclusions. It has given me introductory information with which I can gravitate toward whatever concentration takes my interest, and understand a wide variety of biological subjects and techniques.

I may not have a career in science specifically, but I’m still glad I’m a science major. It still fits. It still speaks to my heart in some way that I thought I was losing. After graduation, this scientific foundation’s role will be different than I expected, but it will still be very important.

Inevitably

Part of the terror of forging and cultivating relationships is that we are flawed. Hopelessly, agonizingly flawed. To care very deeply about someone else is to open yourself up to being hurt by them.

But even more terrifying, at least for me, is the knowledge that to whomever I allow and encourage to get close to me, whoever has given me a piece of their heart, as they hold a piece of mine—I am inevitably human. I am flawed.

And sometime along the line, I will hurt them.

A misplaced word, a thoughtless action, a lost temper, neglecting to communicate, conflicting interests, failure to support them well enough when they need me. As hard as I try to keep my faults self-contained, I will fail those I care about. Somehow, some way, I will hurt them.

My only hope is that those I have chosen to surround myself with trust me enough to know my overall intentions are good, to know that I am trying, even when I fall short, and to be willing to be open and honest with me, continuing to love me even when they see the cracks, the blemishes, the scars. Even when my mistakes end up burning them directly.

If it were up to me, I would shoulder all the hurt of my mistakes. I would make it so that no one else had to be affected when I fall. But to be connected to someone else is to impact them. For better or for worse.

Still, in the midst of this fearful give-and-take, I have realized something. I have come close enough to my dear ones that I see, at least in part, their weaknesses, their barbed insecurities—the hurts and fears that have the potential to sabotage their relations with other people (and me, by association). I see where we clash. Pet peeves committed and tolerated in return, frustrating habits, things that sometimes make me worry we’ll drift apart.

But even as I see this, I find I still love them.

For their flaws, in spite of their flaws. For the people they are and the people they want to be. For their innermost selves, in seeing the things that set their hearts on fire. For the sacrifices they have made. For the ways they have sought to connect and leave an impact on this earth. All of it.

My dear ones are imperfect and dangerous, just as I am. But they are so much more than their faults. So I trust them, I support them, I risk connecting with them.

Because I love them dearly.

Lovely Science Burnout

My roommate and I are not science majors.

I mean, we are, technically. But we’re kind of strange science majors.

We both became embroiled in this facet of academia with the idea that we wanted to go into the medical field. She into nursing and myself into physical therapy. I had always been a science nerd, and biology was a good fit.

But as life and college and classes went on, we realized that studying and facts and research for extended periods of time were not for us.

At least not for right now. My roommate may or may not study nursing further down the line, but me—after college, I’m jumping ship.

And as we have a particular distaste for studying, easily illustrated by my degeneration to a whining immature puddle of nope the night before an invertebrate zoology exam, the burnout is hitting us hard. It’s week 11 of fall semester. Regardless of the fact that we have lost all motivation for academia, we’re in the beginning of the windup for this semester, and we have a good six months left before we graduate.

My roommate has a heart for people, fellowship, connection, and mine is for words, color, communication. And these come into play in the science world—but currently not in the ways we need in order to stay sane.

So most of our time is spent with our minds elsewhere.

But sometimes we have to be dragged kicking and screaming back to our responsibilities, because supposedly we want to graduate. At this point, that goal is a do-or-die. I have to pass my classes because if I don’t, I might just peace out.

If we make it, my roommate’s thinking of going to work for a non-profit after graduation and, God willing, I’ll be going on to art school and book writing.

But for now, we are science majors, hanging onto our interest in the discipline for dear life.

And I have to force myself to remember that no matter what happens, even when I feel like I should be able to do better, I am doing the best I can right now. And that’s all I can do. And that’s ok.

I find I like that word a lot: Ok.

All right.

Enough.

Functioning.

Sufficient.

As a recovering perfectionist, I need such words.

Antagonist Wednesday

MethicsfordummiesIf you happen to spend much time around me, you’ve likely experienced my turning to you with a smile and saying, “Guess what!” After a pause, in which you wait for me to continue, I say. “It’s Antagonist Wednesday!” And you may or may not have been confused at what random context I pulled that from and why the heck I feel the need to mention it every week.

Allow me to explain:

It began with a blog I follow on tumblr about writing and story/character development. They have themed days of the week, in which people can send in situation prompts for character scenarios. Wednesday is “Antagonist Wednesday,” in which the prompts center around character development for antagonists.

And I love antagonists. Always have.

The misunderstood, the misguided, the overzealous, or perhaps the little insane.

Many villains end up being INTJ’s, which is my personality type—so perhaps that’s another point of identification. We plan, we analyze, we devote our full energies and attentions to what we believe in…even if it might be wrong. As protagonists, this personality type is rather underrepresented. (But the protagonist of my first book is an INTJ! *muffled sounds of heralding paradigm shift* So if you’re curious about what a non-evil INTJ looks like in fiction…I’m doing it…)

The scientists, the strategists, those who ask “Why not?”—who can’t deal with social norms and adherence to tradition for its own sake, who analyze even emotional needs as a puzzle to be solved. (That’s me.)

Growing up, my sister (also an INTJ) and I played pretend most of the time. Usually, she, being older, claimed the villain of whatever movie or show we were obsessed with at the time, and I was most often either the accomplice or the best friend/relative of said villain. Sometimes I was the “good guy,” but we more often ended up having to work together than being pitted against each other.

Even when we were working against each other, such as in the spy/superhero games we played with our friends, I enjoyed being the villains as much as the organization trying to keep the peace.

I’ve grown up humanizing the antagonist. Thinking about what they would do in embarrassing situations, what they’re uncomfortable with, what they think is funny, and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Of course, I’ve come into contact with some antagonists that I really didn’t like. They’re fascinating, yes, or have tragic stories and I can understand at least in part where they’re coming from, but when they utterly lose their humanity, that’s when I start to disconnect. Or the plain faceless army of evil that could all die and nobody cares because they’re the bad guy. The book I’m writing right now actually deals with this faceless aspect.

But really, I love seeking to identify with the one no one else is rooting for.

Which is why the antagonist of the book I’m editing is a twisted, misguided jerk who has a lot of baggage to work through, but he’s also my precious baby and I have enjoyed developing him about as much as my protagonist. I don’t have the time or energy to treat every Antagonist Wednesday like a holiday, but it does make me smile.

And by Wednesday, I often need more than an “almost there day.”

So on Antagonist Wednesday, I may draw a picture, or wear black eyeliner and something dark and brooding, or wear my glasses…which, admittedly, I got with my antagonist in mind because I’m just that cool.

And I mention the occasion. If my schedule doesn’t plow over me—or particularly if life is plowing over me—I can entertain myself in the knowledge that it’s Antagonist Wednesday.

Mprocrastinator

Ace Awareness Week!!

So I learned yesterday afternoon that this week (Oct 26th-Nov 1st) is Ace Awareness Week!

asexual-flag-5070-pAce is a popular nickname for “asexual.” When applied to our well-known Homo sapiens, this means someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Asexuality is a spectrum, within the larger overarching spectrum of human sexuality in general.

And as an asexual myself, I wanted to write something. I’ve been meaning to broach this subject on my blog, but never found a good opportunity. I suppose this is as good a time as any.

If not better, actually—because this week is about awareness!

Spreading awareness is very important. If a dear friend of mine hadn’t started talking about asexuality several months ago, I’d still be waiting for my sexuality to “click.”—when I would finally understand why sex was so desirable to everyone when I myself had never struggled with lust or felt any desire to engage another person that way. Why I never even got true crushes. I thought I was a late bloomer. At 21 years old, I figured I could safely assume I was sexually mature. So whatever absence of sensation or desire was probably representative of my sexual identity. And it was a relief to come to that conclusion.

The day just two months ago when all the pieces—memories, impressions, personal research—finally fell into place and I realized I could call myself asexual…I was actually extremely depressed. I couldn’t stop thinking that I’ve been different my entire life but had just now realized it. But I also felt free. Because I could finally stop waiting, stop wondering. Stop forcing myself to play along and pretend I understood the appeal of our highly sexualized culture.

Turns out I don’t connect with the world that way. It’s just another piece that makes me who I am, and it’s a beautiful thing.

And when I come into contact with other aces, I get really excited. Because we seem to be such a rare breed, there are people who don’t believe we exist. A common response is, “You just haven’t met the right person.” But that’s not it. Too many factors from my current life experience point to something different, something more fundamental.

Many people haven’t yet heard of asexuality, and they might think they’re broken or strange in a society full of more sexual individuals. Awareness combats that in showing them that their experience is valid and there’s nothing wrong or strange about it, and also by assuring them that there are other people like them.

Because it’s comforting and inspiring to know there are people who understand and share similar experiences. Not just on this topic.

But it is Ace Awareness Week!
So spread the word, familiarize yourself with terms and such, hug an ace if you know any. (But just be careful you don’t inadvertently out people who haven’t made their orientation public!)