My brother came over to mess around with tarot cards today.
It was a weird day, okay?
The point is, this got me thinking about theory in writing. What would happen if I threw one of my characters under the tarot card bus? What if I asked a question concerning an imaginary person? If tarot cards are real, would an imaginary person be able to be read?
If you're a writer, you know that writers think weird stuff sometimes.
And like I said, I started thinking about the philosophies out there on such a topic. Michelangelo thought the statue was already in the block of material, he just had to find it. Rowling thought differently; she and her editor saw Harry Potter as a shape-able, shifting piece of work that she was completely in control of.
So are we as writers in control of what happens in our world, or do we actually just follow along with whatever the character decides to do?
This may sound completely insane, and it probably is, but what if, by creating a fictional yet comparable world full of living, breathing fictional yet comparable people with a world that is also fleshed out, we are creating an environment that if followed with trust, can lead to realistic, independent decisions? If I make a character who hates water, it is to be assumed that this character will not go on a cruise. That is a given set of circumstances that lead to a realistic choice that we as the author must follow.
If the craft is done correctly, it is to be thought that once we create and establish the world and its perimeters, the people and their personalities, then the story has been written to its end. We just have to follow it to its inevitable conclusion.
Anyway, I got the ten of swords, so I've had a lot of time to think about my impending doom. I then ate a s'mores and wrote on the book, because impending doom takes its time and drives like an old lady. How was your day?
Before we talk about writing today, let's just look at these two kids up here. Because this is what I've been doing for most of the day, juxtaposing these little rascals' lives in photographs. The one to the left is me, and the one to the right is my husband. And this is one slide of many slides in our wedding slideshow.
Now I'm going to tie this into writing. I promise.
These two kids don't know each other when this photo is taken. I think the thing I was thinking was, "My dress is itchy, but I did a damn good job not scratching my face in the last week. My bow is pulling my head. I want my promised Happy Meal."
I have no idea what Alex is thinking. He probably liked that bow tie.
But regardless of what thoughts were rushing through our heads, there was no way of knowing that these pics were going to end up displayed at a wedding that brought us together with a virtual stranger (at the time). There was absolutely no way of understanding who the person was who we were going to marry, or what our lives were going to be like when we hit the age that we are in the current day.
But how can we, as readers of these photographs, even attempt to detach our connotations with these two and their futures? You can't just look at a picture of the little girl and think, "Oh she knows she's cute," or look at the little boy and think, "What a swank bow tie," or even look at them both and think, "I bet they enjoy x,y, and z at this age." Maybe you could before I told you they were going to get married. But now you know how this ends.
It's sort of the same thing when I look at a photograph like this:
Her death was painful. She didn't go gently. At one point, my mother and I had to force her back onto her death bed. She didn't deserve it.
Her funeral was nice. It was short. I sang a song. My cousin did a nice eulogy. She was buried next to my grandpa.
But is there any way to look at this picture that my mother gave me on the anniversary of her passing, and not think about my mother singing "Nearer my God to Thee" to her in the hospice? Of course I can remember this day in first grade and how her hairspray smelled and how excited I was to show off my classroom. But I know how our story ends.
Which brings me to character arcs.
I've got all these characters who end in certain places at the end of the story, and as of late, I've had a hard time decided where exactly they are at the current age at which I'm writing them. Our leading man is seventeen when the book starts, and he's much older when the series ends. Our leading lady is twenty. How do these two grow from strangers to where they end up? How do they mature? When do they hit their beats? How can I divorce myself from their futures when looking at them in a scene in the past?
And where exactly do writers live within their work? Is everything we write the past, because we've already thought it up? Is it all the future, because we're still parsing out exactly what is going to happen in the final draft?
I'd like to think that the best place to be for a writer is in the present.
If I want to write my life set in a specific moment in the most honest voice, I have to rid myself of the moments that happen afterwards. In that picture of my grandmother and me, anything could have still happened after it was taken. What happened didn't have to happen, and so that possibility still pulses in our echoed shadows. Those two children up above didn't have to meet. I didn't have to become a writer, he didn't have to be a lawyer. When you're a kid, anything is still up for grabs.
So when writing our characters, as easy as it is to look ahead and force them to their destinies, their destinies are still being written. Let them choose. Let them win. Let them lose. Let them grow as they will grow. Live in the present of your piece.
Now here is another adorable picture of me.
I parked the car and went downtown. I'm on my third stop of the writer crawl. The woman in blue above is Kaitlin. She too is working on her stuff.
It's actually been very helpful. I started off at Scooter's, where I wrote about 3,000 words. I then moved to Old Chicago to have lunch with Alex, where I wrote another chapter. Then I took a walk, thinking through my story problems, and came here to Urban Abbey, which has a wonderful setting.
The coolest thing to happen so far is my discovery of a song. It was playing over the intercom at Old Chicago just as I was about to lose steam.
Get up. Save face.
Find your way back to the grave.
You'll never find your way back home.
I'm still parsing out the importance of this idea, but it is haunting, isn't it?
I think it has to do with my characters and how they're realizing things aren't going to be the same.
The important take-away of today is this: if you stay in your apartment, you will not gain any input. Walking down the street and watching a family meet up with their overworked dad on his lunch break is input. Listening to a song over the radio at a restaurant is input. The sun is input. The kindness of a barista. The deliciousness of a Scooters cookie. The weight of a backpack as you trek to your next location.
If you're stuck, please do go outside. You'll thank me.
Also, the cool thing about being out of the house, is that you cannot go to sleep. I have such a bad habit of getting frustrated and collapsing in bed to take a nap. I then end up on some phone game, and I don't ever recover.
When that frustration hit this morning, I couldn't do much other than keep writing, and I wrote some cool stuff.
I love having the world open to me, getting to decide where I go at what time. It's a freedom I don't think I'll really comprehend or appreciate until I don't have it again.
I have placed my new rubber duck here for you, because he has helped me out the last few days. Mom brought him back from Sturgis. He wears a helmet. Like a smart duck.
I wanted to talk about anxiety today. It keeps coming up in my newsfeed, people trying to find ways to make people understand what they're going through, and it seems like there are a lot more of us out there than I thought that are struggling with this particular problem. It's odd that there are so many who are, because you don't hear about it very often.
I don't know if that's because people just assume that anxious people are high-strung or have some sort of personality defect, but you don't see it in movies, you don't hear people talk about it out loud, and you constantly feel like you're the only person on the planet who knows what it is to suffer from a brain that constantly thinks it's going to fall off the edge of the world.
But it seems, at least in my writing circles, there are many of us who understand. Who get it.
Here's how it goes for me.
When I was in high school, I wrote a Harry Potter fanfiction that revolved around the Marauders. One of the things that readers have loved the most (and I enjoyed writing the most) was Lupin's wolf. I personified his werewolf affliction by giving him a wolf ghost thing that followed him around, always jeering him on, always reminding him that at the end of the month, he was going to lose it again.
I didn't make the connection at the time, but I was writing about my own experiences in some subliminal way, because every time I go to explain to Alex what it's like to have anxiety, I bring up the wolf in this story.
My anxiety comes in waves. There are "good days," which is such a cliche, but a writer writing a blog about their mental afflictions is also a cliche, so why not go the whole way? On good days, my anxiety sits in the corner and naps. I can hear it breathing, I can feel its presence, but I can also get caught up in a good time or an awesome movie or a great song, and I can forget it exists. On so-so days, I can hear it wake up from time to time, and it shouts out some things like, "Heyo, when's that bill due? Are you sure that bill is due then? By the way, about bills. Your student loans, amirite? We haven't thought about those for a while. They're coming, and you can't get away from them!"
But it's a so-so day, so I turn away from it, and it goes back to sleep, grumbling to itself.
But then there are the bad days. On the bad days, it just keeps going, and I'm too tired or too sick or too overwhelmed to ignore it. "So those student loans. How are you going to pay for them? Like seriously. That is a lot of money. So here's the deal, you write the great American novel and ... oh wait, no you can't, because you suck. You aren't going to write anything, are you? Just like yesterday. Oh wait, the day before you wrote something, but it was absolutely dumb. Who do you think you are? Such-n-Such back in 2007 was right, you're a fraud. Remember how your ex liked Lauren's writing more? He liked her because she was pretty and skinny and talented, and now neither of them talk to you. Because you suck. You suck so much. Hey, so back to those student loans, how are you going to pay for them? Probably by living way under your means and never going on another trip again. You both will be miserable. And you won't be able to have children, will you? How can you afford them? You know that's coming up. You're not nineteen anymore. That is, if you can have children. I mean, there's always that possibility you can't. And remember, you've had a tumor, haven't you? Ha, you're going to die. You're going to die and leave Alex all alone. Worse off, Alex is going to die one day in a car wreck on the way home from work and leave you all alone. And what will you do then, huh? How will you function? You won't be able to function, will you? Because you're pathetic. So very pathe ---"
This goes on for some time. And I curl up in a ball and attempt to function. Attempt not to knock any walls that will agitate a thought from the anxiety. Don't listen to NPR, they'll talk about Bernie Sanders and anxiety just went back to sleeping and it'll hear about Bernie's plan to make education free, and it'll wake up, bright and bushy-tailed. Don't read that book by that author, because it will remind you that the author published her first book when she was younger than you. Don't don't don't. Just sit. Just sit.
Of course, writing doesn't happen when you just sit, does it? I used to curl up, I used to let it get the best of me, but now I know I still need to get on the computer, turn on some music, and do something that doesn't include staring at a wall.
But then there are the really bad days.
Really bad days come about once a month now. They used to come more, they used to come less.
Really bad days mean that no matter what I try to not touch, no matter what I try to not think about, no matter how many things I "take it easy" on, the anxiety will be wide awake, screaming in its corner, rushing at me, until it's pounced right on my skull and has started to gnaw on my ear. These are the days only Alex sees. They are the days I make sure no one else can be near. Because like Remus, I don't trust people to be around.
And if you don't have anxiety, then please don't think that the only symptom is thinking uncomfortable thoughts really fast. It's not. It's the grand scale of those thoughts. All of a sudden, I'm not just thinking about Alex dying in a car crash, I feel like he actually has already died in a car crash that afternoon. I'm not just suggesting that perhaps I may die of cancer someday, but I am very certain that I already have a tumor growing in me, and it's only inevitable until my ignorant healthy world is shattered. Cavities exist where they don't exist. People who don't even remember who I am are actively sitting in their homes and thinking, "Damn, she was awful." The world is bum-rushing my door with a battering ram, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
No one's actually there. But try telling that to someone with anxiety.
But fear not. Because recently, I've discovered one simple truth:
It's not going away. There will never be only good days. And the world expects me to perform just as well on the really bad days. After a really bad day, I can either wake up the next morning with two pages or three pages written, or I can wake up with a crippling guilt that I did nothing.
I do not want to be the person who is paralyzed by my shadow. I do not want to be the one who did not become who she could have been if she hadn't had a mental illness. I do not want to be a victim.
At the end of the fanfiction, Remus Lupin is alone in a cabin his parents left him. His parents are dead. James and Lily are dead. Peter is supposedly dead. And Sirius is locked away for their murders. Remus, for the first time in his life, is actually alone.
The wolf comes out to play.
And Remus turns from it, gets up, and accomplishes a chore of chopping wood. He chops the hell out of that wood, and when he looks back, the wolf is still there, but Lupin smiles all the same as he slices into the last log.
I wrote this when I was fifteen, and I had no idea what this scene meant. I could tell it was significant, but how weird that we write significant things that we as the authors don't even get.
I get it now.
My anxiety is never going to go away. It may never get better. I can't wait until it does. Life is going to walk right on by. Is it fair that I have to sometimes work twice as hard to do what is easy for others? Absolutely not. But other people have other things that bring them down, too. I can either not do it, or I can do it. I can either learn to live with the sleeping dragon in the corner, or I can wait for it to die, and dragons live for a long time.
Now bringing it back around to the duck, my parents are awesome. Because they went to Sturgis.
I am going to go write now.
Above, you see my hectic attempt to hit the ground running, a week after returning from Europe.
To the left, we have my laptop with a little Nancy Holder sailboat (compliments of Stonecoast workshop) that has about a billion tabs open, everything from the Disney Brides message board, templates for programs, my manuscript, the Stonecoast handbook regarding third semester projects, and my email accounts that are telling me bills are due this week.
To the right, we have the programs I bought from Hobby Lobby a year and a half ago, and the templates are no longer on the Hobby Lobby website. Yet another reason to hate Hobby Lobby.
In the background, we have the slip of plastic that came with the Hobby Lobby programs, giving me a defunct web address that would have directed me to my template, and a Taco Bell cup from a lunch I should not have bought.
In the foreground (not pictured), we have a cell phone held by a crazed twentysomething writer who is wondering how exactly she's supposed to get everything done in a timely manner.
I have been awful about writing. After dropping Alex off at work, I came home and I found my place in the book, and I attempted to take it back up. And by that, I mean I stared at it for about ten minutes, decided if I touched it, I would ruin it ... and then further decided that I hated the next portion that I would have to write, and if I hated it and did not want to write it, it meant that most people would not want to read it, and maybe I should sleep instead.
But I read some books for my third semester project instead ... and then I napped for fifteen minutes.
I feel awful. Today when I dropped off Alex, I realized just how hard he's working, and how hard I should be working on this book. I'm going to try to punch at least something out today, even if it's absolute crap.
Good news, though. After a successful PT session, I turned on Fall Out Boy and did some mental character work on the guy I write to Fall Out Boy. You can imagine what sort of a person he is. But I realized he needed to be more prevalent in the protagonist's cognitive thought, and that was some sort of progress forward, even if it wasn't putting things to paper.
Now to just canon-ball into the water and do the next flipping chapter.
What is this?
Dawson is a writer. This is her blog. In it, you shall read about reading. And writing. And cheeseburgers. Sometimes there are tangents. Huzzah.