When the Right Words Don’t Come

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I can tell you right now what the biggest hinderance to my productivity (at least when it comes to writing) is.

No, it’s not my attention span, though that’s definitely what I complain about most loudly and most often (mainly because it’s so pervasive, even in other aspects of my life).

And it’s not lack of time either, though Lord knows I could use about three or four extra hours in my day just to get the basic neccessities taken care of.

No – even when I have the time to sit down, and I have the focus to brainstorm ideas and formulate imagery and characters and plot arcs, there’s still something that keeps me from actually commiting words to the page, and part of it involved being overly attached to my premises.

Whether it’s a poem or a short story, I tend to agonize over whatever my idea is; when I have an idea that I deem really good (which is not super often these days), I get tangibly excited, and ruminate (read: perseverate) on this idea for hours, days, weeks, building it up to the point where it becomes sacrosanct, and I’m afraid that if I actually try to write it, I will tarnish it in some way.

Suddenly, this idea that I came up with, that sprang from my mind, from my creative brain, is something that I, as a writer, do not feel equiped to handle; suddenly, I’m not good enough for it.  It is beyond my abilities to do it justice.

But, seeing that I also don’t trust anyone else to do it justice, I instead become fixated on writing it “right.”  On finding and committing only the “right” words to the page.

By this point, however, I’ve placed this idea on such a lofty pedestal that none of the words committed to paper feel right; none of them seem to really capture the depth and feeling and higher meaning of this idea. The paradox of being arrogant enough to consider any idea I generated to be such genius, and yet being self-depricating enough to feel wholly inadequate in my ability to translate that idea into the appropriate words, is exhausting.

And it is a surefire way to make sure that this “brilliant idea” never actually sees the light of day.

As I mentioned in my last post, my goals for this year include patience and perseverance, and above that, not conflating patience with procrastination.

It doesn’t mean waiting for the right words to come – the right words are the words that get it written. It means the quiet fortitude to work through my writer’s block and slog through the drudgery of a first draft. It means affording myself tenderness and compassion as I allow myself to write poetry and prose that feels stiff and stilted. It means not conflating constructive criticism with validation of my fears of not being good enough. It means allowing myself to rest when I’m genuinely running on empty, without feeling guilty, without presuming myself to be a failure.

It means making a repeated, conscious effort to remember that, yes, writing takes time, but the bulk of that time should be spent actually writing, not waiting for some sort of divine inspiration to guide my hand.

This is true for anyone reading this; anyone whose creativity is constantly at war with their self-doubt, and with the romanticized notion that art of any stripe springs forth fully formed.

Forget about the “right” words. The right words are the words that get your story told. They might feel wrong – it doesn’t matter. Put the “wrong” ones down. And then rewrite it. An rewrite it. And you will get closer and closer to the “right” words, every time.


Judging a Book by Its Cover (Literally)


I am awful at picking out books to read.

For probably about a year now, my husband and I have been making it a point to make weekly trips to the library, primarily for the benefit of my son.  We have a modest library of children’s books at home, and come through the children’s section of every thirft store, library sale, and used book store we come across to build a nice collection of stories for him, but let’s face it: books can be expensive.  And until he is able to articulate his literary preferences (and has an adequate history of reading to have even really developed any), basically every book we pick for him is a roll of the dice.  If we can give him a revolving door of literature that allows him to experience a variety of authors and topics without having to dole out cash on what can be a pretty big gamble, then why not?  When we find an author he loves, we make note of it and add some of their books to his shopping cart for Christmas or some other anytime “special” occasion.

Recently, I’ve considered my own reading habits, particularly how I choose the books I read, when thinking about our next trip to the library (tomorrow, as I write this).  Specifically, I was thinking about how I “never know” what I want to read when I head into the stacks, and as a result, almost always leave empty handed (“I don’t have my book list on me,” ”Pinterest/Goodreads/Librarything won’t load,” etc.)  Meanwhile, I dive blindly into the Children’s section and often surface with enough viable finds that I have to pare down my selections to a manageable six or seven.  Why the disparity?

I mean, of course there are obvious differences between the two of us.  I have a lifetime of exposure to literature, while for him, literally everything is fresh and new; I’ve had time to develop strong preferences for particular genres, particular authors, particular themes or subjects.  He’s still discovering what he likes or what he finds funny, or exciting, or interesting.  He is open to new experiences, and literally everything, to him, is new.

This is true.  It’s also completely ridiculous as an excuse.

If my “lifetime of exposure” to literature has left me with such strong, specific, and rigid “preferences” that I am literally stagnating, there’s a problem.

If I am incapable of curiosity beyond my developed interests, there’s a problem.

If I am so blindly devoted to certain genres and authors that I can’t find something worthwhile to read beyond their shelves, there’s a problem.

If I need to pull titles from a curated list, as though I need to have someone else tell me that a book is worth my time before I read it, there’s a problem.

There’s nothing wrong with preferences; nothing wrong with reading comfortable authors in familiar genres, and there is nothing wrong with keeping a list of books others have recommended because you may find them interesting.

But none of these things should be paralyzing.  None of these things should be making it harder for you to find something to read.

I’m going to try something over the next couple of months.  On our library trips, I am going to find at least two books on the new release shelf that I will choose using the same criteria I use to pick my son’s books:

  1. Interesting cover
  2. Interesting title

I know, doesn’t that sound refreshingly random and arbitrary?  It flies entirely in the face of how you are told to judge books!But it works for my son, because as I said, everything is new to him – I’ll sometimes choose a particular book because it has a special message I want to share, or teaches a lesson we’ve been working on or something, but really – if all we want to do, ultimately, is instill a love of words (and let him develop his own tastes), then there’s nothing wrong with random selection, is there?

And if I’ve gotten too stagnant and stuck in my ways when it comes to what books/author/subjects/genres I’ll read, then going in blindly and picking something by some arbitrary criteria should, at the very least, get me unstuck.

This week I’ve grabbed (based solely on title and cover) Hanna Who Fell from the Sky, by Christopher Meades and Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, by Ruth Emmie Lang.

I will report back soon to see if this week’s gamble has paid off.

LadiesCon and My Creative Self

This past weekend I went to a new-to-me (and over-all relatively new) con called LadiesCon, held by The Ladies of Comicazi at the Sommerville Armoury.  It’s lamentable the first con I’ve managed to make it to since Arisia this past January, despite my best intentions to get to Boston ComicCon (I almost, almost, almost made it this year!  It fell a week after Friendcation, though, which ate up a sizeable chunk of my budget, so I thought it’d be best to hold off on BCC one more year.  But, I digress).

LadiesCon had the effect that every convention in my con-going life has had on me, and that was the overwhemling desire to be more active in both the fannish and creative communities, and the overlap between the two.

The focus of LadiesCon was on female, LGBTQ, non-binary, and POC creators and indie artists.  As someone who falls at the crossroads of a few of those labels, I was thrilled to be among people who have been able to make a commitment that I am still working towards – a commitment to being their authentic artistic selves.  The variety – stylistically, thematically – of media present was a testement to the diversity within our communities.  There were sprawling space operas comix series, supernatural feminist steampunk novels, Lovecraftian-inspired jewelry, chainmail, knitting, handprinted micro-zines about growing up queer, and standalone visual novels about lesbain mermaid superheros.   Art styles varied dramatically, as did production values, but it was clear that every piece present was a true passion project, and choosing what to purchase (on a super tight budget) was an over-whelming experience that manifested intself in a legitimate anxiety headache.

I set out at the start of this blog – now almost a year ago – with the intention of track goals and chronicling the progress of my ambitions.  This has not turned out exactly as I had hoped.  I’ve been busy this year, and more social than typical (which was a goal in and of itself, and which I can’t actually complain about), but I have accomplished far less than I had intended to at the start of this year.  In the last few weeks, I have gotten better at this, but I have so, so far yet to go.

I need to find what I love to create, and I need to accept the fact that it doesn’t have to be any number of pre-conceived notions I have of art.

It doesn’t have to have a “deeper meaning.” It can be silly and kitschy and exist solely for it’s own aesthetic sake.

It doesn’t have to be thrilling and bombastic.  The best graphic novels I read in the last few years focused of very quiet slice-of-life and coming-of-age moments.

It doesn’t have to be polished.  People were snatching up those handprinted zines because of the the ideas inside of them, not because they hade really glossy covers or nice binding.

It doesn’t have to sound/look/feel like what everyone else is doing.  People will consume what I create if I create something that resonates with them.  There are billions of people in the world.  I don’t have to speak to all of them.  I need only speak of myself, and someone out there is bound to say, “hey, me too.”

This was LadiesCon’s second year, and I already eagerly await their third – hopefully including more panels (and a second day, which I know is really asking a lot, but I can hope??)  The next con I’m attending is the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo on October 22nd, and then nothing, lamentably, until Arisia in January.  

Hopefully I can that one, at the very least, as someone already immersed in the culture of creation.

I May Have a Dollar Tree Problem

There are two things you should know about me right off the bat:

1.  I have elevated the act of on-line procrastination to a high art, and

2.  I have a borderline pathological obsession with the Dollar Tree.

These are essential points to understanding how I have wasted a sizeable chunk of my allotted monthly budget and most of my waking hours over the last two weeks watching Dollar Tree haul videos and making “little stops” at Dollar Tree.

Since our move in the Spring of 2016, I am now a three minute drive away from our local Dollar Tree, and honestly this has been both the best and the worst thing that has happened to my life.  I grew up more or less without money; my parents worked to put us through school (putting three kids through private prep school costs just as much as you’d imagine), so I grew up with a deep respect for good bargains.  I never quite understood friends – and there were quite a few of them – who turned their noses up at flea markets, thrift stores, dollar stores, and their ilk.  Meanwhile, I trawled clearance racks and secondhand stores to cultivate whatever look I was currently into, and was smug but silent at their inevitable compliments.  It made me love my little hobby even more, knowing I could be the envy of my friends while spending nearly nothing.

I’ve got friends breathing envious sighs at one day hoping to furnish their homes at Anthropologie.  I dream of the day where I purchase and upcycle all my decor from Dollar Tree and the local thrift shop.

So, it was inevitable that I eventually stumble upon Dollar Tree haul videos.  I dont even know where I found my first one – I’m a member of a Dollar Tree craft group on Facebook, so there’s a decent chance someone posted it there – but I’ve been watching them obsessively ever since.  They combine a few of my favorite things – the strangely voyeuristic pleasure of essentially looking in someone else’s shopping cart, the thrill of finding good bargains, and the challenge and reward of buying something cheap and tranforming it into something that looks like it cost a premium.  My favorite channel so far is Bargain Bethany (I think she’s cute as hell, has a good sense of humor, and I like a lot of her aesthetic (even the super “girly” ones, which might not be for be, but are things I could gift to friends and family), but I’m trying to find some other worthy channels to subscribe to (I know they’re out there, I’ve just spent too much time watching all of Bethany’s videos to do any real digging).

The problem with the Dollar Tree addiction is, “only a dollar” is “still a dollar,” and even those singular dollars add up.  It’s taking more will power than I’d care to admit not to go there and blow through half my monthly budget on the first day, but I’m doing my best.  As far as vices go, it’s probably less costly than most.  And it leaves you with a lovely tableu for your corner table.

I’m always on the lookout for good DIYs to tweak and incorporate into my home.  Anyone have any videos or websites to recommend?

Crowdsourcing a Bucket List

And just like that, I’ve missed all of July and half of August.

Logging onto social media lately is increasingly an exercise in controlling my escalating panic, and turning on the news is a pretty surefire way to elevate my blood pressure (which, really, does not need any help in the regard).

So, I’ve been away, as much as a person whose main connection to society is via the internet can be “away.”  Strangely, while blogging is the one social media outlet that doesn’t heighten my anxiety, it’s also the one I’ve been neglecting the most.

Maybe it’s because introspection is difficult in difficult times, both because it’s physically harder to sit still and write when anxiety is running high, and because the sort of navel-gazing I do on here seems trivial when placed in a larger context.

But I have to keep living my life.  Keeping a routine and carrying on doesn’t mean I don’t care about things beyond myself, it just means in order to continue being a functional human being and contributing to society at large, I need to take time to also indulge in myself.

And, in a lot of ways, indulge I have.  This has been the sort of summer I used to dream about when I was a poor college kid whose social life consisted of staying up until 4 am and having Halo parties with my siblings and a few friends who took turns practically living at our house back in those days.  I worked a five week program this summer, and the weekends have been full of cookouts, aquarium trips, movies, kayaking, hiking, swimming, pool parties, and dinners out with friends.  It’s been great, and I’ve enjoyed it…

…but I’m feeling weirdly unfulfilled.

I’m not complaining about the experiences I had, by any means – I got to do some things I’ve been meaning to do for a long time (kayaking! Socializing with new friends! Travelling!) and I am happy for the experiences.  I just feel like, I don’t know.  Like during my downtime, when I’m not doing these big social things (and trust me, even with Bear, there is plenty of downtime), I could be more productive in more personal ways.  Like I could learn more, make more, be more creative.

I turned 35 at the end of July.  That’s cool, that’s fine, whatever – the older I get, the younger 40 feels, honestly – but since turning 30, I’ve already watched one close friend, one acquaintance, and one former co-worker pass away, and they were all my age. Combine that with my overall existential anxiety these days, and, I don’t know, I guess I’m starting to think that maybe it’s time to make a conscious effort to get some stuff done while I have the chance?

I revived my DayZeroProject, which is a social bucket list, and I’m looking for suggestions of things to put on it.  I know bucket lists are, in some ways, inherently personal, but I also know (from experience) that there are things out there I would never have done because I didn’t realize they were even “a thing.”  Like, maybe you all can fill me in on experiences I’m not even aware it’s possible to have.  The one caveat is that money is a concern (it may not be in the near future; more on that pending), but right now it is.  I had a mutual on Twitter offer up “Visit Thailand!” and that’s a wonderful idea, but as it stands we’re scrimping and saving to visit family in Florida next year, and we’d be staying with them.  International airfares, ground transit, lodging and meals are a little outside of our budget at the moment.  But if you think it’s really a must visit, be specific about what/where it is, and we can, I don’t know, look out for a Groupon travel deal or something.

Also, if you are a listmaker, I totally recommend DayZeroProject, and if you have/make a list there, I’d love to follow it!

Queer Creators and Creative Decisions

This is a mostly personal blog; I write about my life, my opinions, my experiences.  I sometimes use sweeping, expansive language – “you” and “we” – but in the end, I really only speak for myself.

I’m not the sole representative of my identities.  I can’t speak for.  

But I can speak as.

So I say this as a queer creator: stop calling queer creators “homophobic” for not creating or canonizing a queer relationship.

A lot of this comes down to nuance: I fully believe that media is something to be critiqued and analyzed.  And if a queer creator puts forth a particularly unflattering depiction of an LGBT character, then that is perfectly acceptable fodder for discussion and critique (is he well-rounded but unlikable?  Is he a villian whose “depravity” is accentuated by a “deviant” sexuality?  Is he a generally likable but “camp” and stereotypical gay character? How do such portrayals affect mainstream perception of queer lifestyles?  Can an unlikable but realistic queer character be a humanizing and positive thing?  All things worthy of analysis and criticism).

Also, if a queer creator has NEVER had a queer character or relationship represented in their work, that is also worthy of discussion – why might that be?  Internalized homophobia is a real thing, and heteronormativity is pervasive in our culture, which does impact and influence what even queer creators put forth.  Those influences and circumstances are likewise worth talking about, analyzing, and critiquing.

But here, I’m speaking of critiques of social trends, individual decisions, particular portrayals.  To lay a blanket statement over a person, and to affix them a label as hefty as “homophobe” – especially a queer person – based on a creative decision is invalidating an disrespectful to them, both as a queer person and as a creator.

I write a lot of queer characters.  Like, a lot of queer characters.  My first stories written with any dedication were transformative fiction based on the musical/book Les Miserables, and they played with the idea of Grantaire and Enjolras as gay characters.  Since then, most of my poetry is written in a queer voice, and about half of my prose fiction (more in the most recent years) have protagonists who are queer or trans.

But that does not mean I owe my readers solely queer characters into perpetuity.  That does not mean if a character comes to me, as they sometimes do, more or less fully concieved, that I am going to shoehorn in an LGBTQ identity solely in the name of representation.  Sometimes I will write a story, and the main character will be a cishet woman who falls in love with a cishet man.  This does not diminish my identity as a bisexual genderqueer person.  This does not devalue my previous contribution to queer literature (…in so much as any of my doggrel can be construed as “literature”).

Be critical of creative choices, that’s fine.  Be analytical regarding media portrayals of your identities, of how heteronormative culture affects the media we consume (and how the media we then consume feeds back into heteronormative culture).  Question why creators make the choices they make.  Even call the choices offensive, if they strike you that way.

But the choice of an LGBT author to not to include an LGBT character or relationship in a particular work is not by itself an act of homophobia, it is a creative choice.  We are entitled to those.  And you are entitled to be critical of them, of course.

But be careful when leveling accusations of homophobia at other queer creators.  That is not a critique of our work, that is a accusation leveled against our ethos and our identity, and that’s not a weight we carry lightly.

NB:  A queer person can certainly portray a queer identity poorly, especially one they do not share.  I have heard some nasty things from gay men abput lesbians, about bi folk from monosexual queer folk, about trans people from cis queer people, etc.  It’s not that queer folks can’t make choices that are, in some way, divisive or anti-queer.  Just that  the act of writing about not queer people isn’t itself “anti-queer.”

Delayed Adulthood

Friendship Together Bonding Unity Youth Culture ConceptMy job recently found me on a local college campus for the day, giving some rising freshman a hands-on campus tour.  The school was beautiful, and finding myself walking the quads and sitting in on classes made me miss my own college life – the thrill of learning new things about my passions, about the world, and about myself.  

It was while I was happily indulging in a potent mix of nostalgia and general feel-good vibes that a girl walked by with a backpack adorned with buttons for various media franchises and social causes.  I immediately perked up; I’d always used buttons as a beacon for like-minded individuals, and she and I apparently shared several of the same likes and beliefs.  I started to turn towards her, to open my mouth and say something about her tastes, and then —

— I realized that I was a stranger twice her age there on business with her organization, and that maybe it would be more professionally appropriate to keep to myself this time.

The reaction was extreme, I admit – I’m positive that it wouldn’t have been an actual problem especially since my commentary was going to be a fairly innocuous, “Hey, I love your [X] pin, I think it’s awesome!”  But the initial realization of, “I’m an adult twice her age” effectively silenced me, and I missed what would have been the appropriate moment to comment, anyway.

Twice her age.  Twice the age of someone old enough to be attending college.  I had to rethink the math more than once, because it didn’t seem possible, but there it was – I’m 35, and the average college freshman in 18.  Holy shit.  When did that happen?

I don’t feel like a kid.  I’m married, I own a house, I’m a parent, I work full time.  I’ve seen my friends through some hefty, heavy life changes, and gone through several myself.  And yet, when I think about college kids – kids in their early to mid-20s, let’s say – my first instinct is to think of them as peers.  As someone “my age.”

Is this something anyone else of my generation is experiencing?  I’m one of the “old millennials,” literally coming of age at the turn of the millennium, and mine was the first generation where the phrase “extended adolescence” really became applicable.  Looking at the generally accepted “adulthood” criteria (financial independence, living on one’s own, being finished with school, being married, having kids):  I lived at home until I was 25, married at 27, still in graduate studies until I was 30, not a parent until I was 32.  From that perspective, I suppose you could argue that my move to become an independent person didn’t really start until I was 25, when maybe with the generation before me, it would have started at 18.  

I have some deep, deep issues with the whole model of what it means to be an “adult” (i.e., it’s classist, ableist, heteronormative, and makes no mention of intangible milestones, such as diplomacy, discretion, resilience, emotional intelligence, etc.),** but it makes a sort of sense when you look at it just in the sense of shared experience.  A single 25-year-old living at home would have, on the surface, more in common with an 18-year-old than a 25-year-old with a house and a spouse would.

But that still doesn’t explain me.  It would have, ten years ago – 25-year-old me was in a place (financially, emotionally, socially) similar to a lot of college-aged kids – but doesn’t go a long way to explaining my experience now.  I’ve hit all the major milestones (even those I have issues with), I’m a married, home-owning parent with a degree.  Why do I feel more at home on a college campus than in an office?

Arguably, I guess you could say that my interests skew towards the more youthful, but by the same token, my special interests and obsessions fall in line with a number of other “geeky” individuals – the creators of the properties I love are geeks, but they are adults… I mean, technically.  Right?  Do they feel that way?  Do all my fellow geeky and nerdy brethren feel a similar disconnect – living an adult life (fairly successful, I might add), but still feeling an underlying sense of Imposter Syndrome?

Or, not even that, since I definitely feel that I have earned and deserve what I have accomplished.  It’s more like I feel like a very responsible child.  Or, an especially accomplished adolescent?

I don’t feel “five years from 40” (which is where I am), is the point.  And I’m wondering if anyone feels the same way, and can hypothesize as to why that might be?

**In addition to the factor I already mentioned, it also ignores the changing world in which we live in, where jobs are expecting more advanced degrees from their workers, necessitating we spend more time in school; school costs are rising, meaning we need to take out more loans, and subsequently go further into debt; no one can afford to wait for their dream job, but it can be incredibly hard to break out of the menial jobs that you intended as just a stop-gap, especially after a certain age, etc.