Category Archives: personal

On art snobbery

I like to say I try not to be an art snob. I’m sure people have laughed at me for that, as unfortunately I have a problem with coming off as snobby in life in general. But what I mean by that is that I try to judge art by its own merits, rather than by features that are measures of nature rather than quality. Genre, medium, and audience all create their own standards, and I make an effort to judge a piece by the standards it was designed to exist within. I’m not perfect about this; unfortunately I have my biases. I have zero interest in gross-out comedies, for example, and would be hard pressed to believe you can create a truly artful example of one. But I hate when people say that something is automatically a lesser piece of art just because it was, for example, aimed at children, or because it’s in a particular form. I think you can make powerful and technically accomplished macaroni art if you do it right.

By that same token, I try not to deify any particular form. I don’t think this is a big problem for most people or for most art forms, but occasionally you get somebody who sticks up for a much-maligned form by talking about it as if it has an inherent value that it automatically grants to any work in that medium. The best example I can think of that is fan fiction. Fan fiction is so often an so unfairly a whipping boy that a lot of people say its inherent populist and community-building features are automatically elevating. Personally I think it’s possible to both approve of the spirit a concept fosters even if you don’t really like the resulting examples it generates. I love that fan fiction has things like a lower barrier to creativity and a way of inspiring people to personal expression, but honestly I don’t really have the taste for the kinds of fanwork that avenue tends to produce. But I think you need to be able to separate quality from personal taste. Something can be good even if you don’t like it, and you can like something that isn’t good.

Art, man. It’s complicated.

Counting my fan chickens before they’re hatched

I want to journal again. I hate that I’ve written so little recently, and I want to get back to my previous five or so times a week. And not just about my writing, though I want to talk a lot about that. I want to get my life and my thoughts back in here. But for the moment, I’m probably going to talk a lot about writing.

If I ever become truly successful as a writer, with a significantly large fanbase, one thing I’d like to be able to do is hire an intern whose sole job is to take in the reactions of fans. They would then distill this reaction down to the important upshots, filtering out the noise from the signal. This distilllate they would finally pass on to me, so that I would be aware of what fans were thinking and feelings, but not necessarily have to be steeped into all the bullshit that often comes of a throng of many different voices with many different opinions and many ways of expressing those opinions. Not to say that fans are inherently nasty, or that dissention is inherently wrong, but everyone’s seen instances of fans getting mean and taking things to extremes. As I mentioned, I would want to keep abreast of reactions and possible criticisms to my work, but having that intern person to filter the important information out from the nastiness or extremity would help keep me sane. I have a feeling I would stress out inordinately about my inability to please everyone enough without having to hear the meanness on top of it.

In related news, I am taking an extended break from Tumblr. The negativity has just been too much lately. I’m not deleting my blogs or anything, but I don’t want to go back to it anytime soon. It’s time to break the habit.

Two fans, these opinions

In my rare free moments in the last few weeks, I’ve been checking out TV Tropes. It’s a really addictive website, easy to get lost on, but I always find myself most drawn to reading not the pages about in-story tropes, but rather the ones about the creative process. I’ve always been fascinated by process, the ways people go about making stories, so I’ve been reading the pages about how authors went about making their work, the influences that factored into the story design, even the way fans and critics reacted and what effect that had.

Fans are wonderful; I’d like to develop a following of them myself. But because of their plural nature, they often have many disparate opinions. I believe it’s important to consider outside assessments of your work, as new sets of eyes can see things you haven’t. But it can be confusing and frustrating when they’re telling you all sorts of conflicting things that you could not possibly reconcile with any quality. I have a tendency to imagine what I would do if I were experiencing a certain situation, so I have found myself preoccupied with how I would respond if I have a large fanbase that had multiple incompatible opinions of my work. It’s rather putting the cart before the horse in my case, as I’m still building my fanbase, but I hope to get there someday, and I’d like to deal with it well when I do.

On one hand, you have to stand up for the things in your work you believe in. A good writer has a certain expertise, and that usually includes good instincts on what makes the most dramatic action. Fans sometimes more out of emotional connection to a work– which is by no means a criticism, as their emotional connection is the most satifying thing a writer can achieve –but a lot of the time they like, want, or criticize things out of sentimentality, rather than what makes for the highest-stakes story.

At the same times, an author’s perspective is inherently limited by the fact that they are one person and they are humanly imperfect. Fans, by virtue of the fact that they are different people and they may be myriad, will have perspectives that are beyond the author. Therefore they may be able to point out problems the writer isn’t necessarily aware of. The ability to take criticism and incorporate other perspectives is how a serious writer improves their art, and you want to show respect to the people who have been good enough to invest their time and emotional resources in your work.

The key, I think, would be to not let yourself lose sight of the idea of that you cannot please everybody. I can see myself getting too wrapped up in the fact that some people weren’t happy. You can only do the best work you possibly can, which means listening to what people have to say in good faith, and using your own good judgment as to what to take to heart and what to let go. Of course the solution is, as always, balance. But God knows how hard balance can be to attain.

A moving and humbling message

So this weekend has been full of surprises for me. I will speak about each on them in turn soon, but I’ve been meaning to post about this since I got it the other day, so I’ll start with that.

I got a message in the inbox of my Tumblr. I was confused at first because it showed up in my messages but didn’t look like an Ask; in fact, it had my username banner on it even though it wasn’t a post made by me. A little research into how Tumblr works suggests that it was a Submission made anonymously. Apparently that’s how anonymous submissions show up in your box. When I actually read it, I was kind of blown away. I will not reproduce it in its entirety, but I will show you the first paragraph:

“Hey. So I don’t know how to say this any other way so I’m sending you this anonymously so I can just say it. I read your Adonis script. I read you were cool with other people reading your stuff so I did. First of all it’s really good. You probably already know that. But I wanted to tell you that it meant alot to me how you portrayed Aiden as a straight male rape victim who got assaulted by a woman. Cause I’m one too.”

I really want to talk about this, as I’m really feeling overwhelmed at the idea that somebody could have that response to something I wrote. I do want to respect this person’s feelings and privacy, as this person sent this to me anonymously in a private forum. It suggests they don’t want everyone to see it. I am not quoting any more than this– much as I’d like to share it with people, that’s probably not appropriate. But maybe it’s not too far to say in general terms that the writer described an experience of sexual assault, and how reading our screenplay was the first time he’d seen any situation even vaguely like his represented in storytelling, and that was meaningful to him.

I want to talk about it because I’m really moved. It’s a really important part of the script that we represent Aidan as a rape survivor in an emotionally honest way. Somebody who actually experienced something along the lines of what he experienced was touched by it in a significant way. It felt genuine and affecting to somebody who understood better than I do what it feels like to be in that situation. That’s amazing for me.

I also feel really sad for this person. As good as I feel that I reached him in this way, I feel bad that he has this wound such that he could be reached. I can’t begin to guess who this is– clearly he wants it that way –but I can’t help but be curious. Especially since I thought I knew all the straight guys who’d read the script, and I’m not sure how this person would have gotten a hold of it. It does seem to be somebody I know, given that they’re concerned about their anonymity and know that I have a Tumblr. I really should leave it at that and not press any further– again, clearly they want their privacy to be respected, and I don’t want to be an asshole even though I’m curious –but it makes me sad to think I have a friend or even an acquaintance that had such a terrible thing happen to them.

Anyway, this was pretty mind-blowing for me. And it makes me more certain than ever that we’re ON TO SOMETHING with this script.

Sex in my writing

I don’t write about sex much. I don’t know if those of you who have read much of my work have noticed that, but I tend not to deal with it very often. To be frank, I think there’s something approaching a prudishness in a lot of my writing— not a lot of exploration of sexuality, not much drug use, few truly crude behaviors. I don’t even like my characters too swear too much. A lot of it’s just taste. I think dialogue’s more interesting when people don’t swear all the time, I’m a bit put off by human grossness. Those are just things I am not all that interested in exploring in my writing.

But I get a bit funny when it comes to writing about sex and sexuality. I have no DISTASTE for it the way I do with that other stuff. I feel like it’s an interesting and important part of most characters, something that could really add drama and dimension and intensity to stories. I can talk about sex with friends in person. But for some reason– maybe it’s an immaturity, a silly hangup –I get nervous, even embarrassed, when I trying to write about it.

I have a weird impulse to worry, “What would my parents think if they saw this?” Which is stupid, for several reasons— not least of which because I only have one parent anymore —a silly thing for an adult to be concerned over. I also worry that the way I try to depict it won’t work the way I intend it to. Like somebody will read it and think I’m a freak for thinking that’s how you depict sexuality and eroticism. “What the hell was that?” “It was supposed to be sexy.” “That’s not sexy. That’s weird. And you’re weird.”

I ran into that challenge with Bernie and my Adonis screenplay. I don’t think sexuality ever played a bigger part in my work than in this story. A major theme is flipping the typical hetero power dynamic, and a big goal for that was to write a romantic relationship with a slowly growing sexual dimension to it that people would actually find hot. And with my nervousness that was challenging. It was made worse for the fact that I was using a lot of things I personally find hot to accomplish it. My muse for much of the project was Chris Evans, given my extreme attraction to him with the Captain America presentation— blond, smooth, and huge with muscle. So writing my lead character Aidan, the titular Adonis, to be played by him was a starting point. And naturally when I was looking for ways to express my characters’ attraction to him, I referenced how I experienced my own.

Sex is personal and idiosyncratic. Even when there’s nothing really wrong with how you relate to or experience sex, it’s not always something you want everybody to know about. People might not get it if it’s too different from their own way. This made me feel particularly vulnerable— like, what if you thought I was a weirdo for things that were actually representative of me? Or what if I just didn’t get the job done as an artist depicting sexiness and it came off as clunky and awkward and now you knew way more about me than you wanted to for your trouble? A lot of the time I would feel shy as I was writing and then sort of pull back from the depiction for fear that if I got too specific, or too detailed, or too whatever, it would just be uncomfortable rather than sexy or furthering to the story. Or what if you read too much into a lot of the ways in which sexuality plays out in the story, particularly the problematic ones, and got uncomfortable because you suspected those things were representative of me? That one was particularly worrisome to me. You might find something a little disturbing in the fact that the man I modeled to be my physical ideal I wrote to be a multiple sexual trauma victim, which in certain instances plays out onscreen. I want that to be a circumstance driving the emotional arc of my story, not to come off like the author’s weird rape kink.

The truth is, if you care, what I mostly drew from myself for the various depictions of sexuality in Adonis is how I experience intense physical attraction. In this story I wanted to both celebrate and elevate the female gaze, as well as highlight the dangers of investing too much power into the mere concept of gaze. When it came to the former, I tried to depict the way I feel awe of extreme beauty, the somewhat fallacious but poetic attribution of some great deeper meaning to that beauty, the indulgent, rhapsodic cherishing of each quality in turn. When it came to the latter, I worked in the threat of that attraction to push out rational thought, the tipping over from appreciation into objectification, and the encroachment of a possessiveness that comes from the impulse to self-aggrandizement. Female gaze is my pet feminist issue, so I’ve given a lot of thought to deconstructing it, particularly how it expresses in myself. I joked a lot about how awesome it was to be able to claim looking at hot photos of Chris Evans as research. But I am being a hundred percent serious when I say that when I felt blocked, experiencing what my attraction to him felt like would help me figure out the right words to embody such a reaction for the story. I flatter myself that I think it gave the exploration of female gaze some real power.

It can be scary to put too much of yourself into your art. When people criticize it or don’t like it, it feels like a personal attack. But oftentimes that personal element can make something more complete, genuine, or powerful. So you have to be willing to open yourself up to that vulnerability. I hope it improved my work here, though it was definitely not an easy thing to do.

Strengths and weaknesses as a writer

It’s residency week for my grad school, and as alums are allowed to attend certain seminars, I’ve been back a bit. I also wanted to be there to hear the readings of some of my colleagues’ plays. I was particularly struck this time around by “The Deep Purple,” by Andy Landis, because even without any tech and just words, she utilized effects like light, sound, and music, as well as a non-literal dreamlike quality to portray a very internal, emotional experience. Most people in my program, myself included, tend to take a really intellectual approach to writing, so it was very striking and special to see somebody create something that worked on an almost purely visceral level. I was very impressed. It’s actually pretty to neat to see how varied our strengths and weaknesses as writers are across the program. It got me thinking about my personal strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I think I’ll go over what I think they are here.

Let’s start with the positives for a change. My strengths:

Plot. I am quite good, I think, at coming up with engaging and logical series of events to drive the story. Interesting stuff happens in my pieces, and it tends to make sense! Nobody ever says, “Nothing happens in this story!”

Characters. Everybody thinks they’re good at creating characters, but I would say I come up with interesting people with complexities who behave in consistent, understandable ways. I also think I’m pretty good at balancing flaws and strengths in genuinely human ways.

Unity of theme. I pick compelling themes for my stories to explore and interweave them into the happenings with decent skill.

Active protagonists. My characters have clear desires and take definite action to achieve them, which moves the story and keeps the conflict high.

Narrative integrity. My stories make dramatic choices rather than taking the easy way out. My actions have consequences. My characters stay in character. I never I work very hard to never cop out in these ways just to be more comfortable or serve personal pleasure.

And now for my weaknesses:

Subtext. I am pretty lousy at conveying my meaning non-literally; I can never do those conversations where they’re talking about one thing but the audience can tell they really mean another thing. I tend to have people come out and say the things they mean, which can make things inelegant. This is currently the thing I’m working on.

Efficiency. In scriptwriting terms, this means using words of dialogue economically and making them serve the story in as many ways as possible—to move the plot, to develop the characters, to express the theme, etc. That’s very hard for me.

Balance. I struggle with interweaving multiple important developmental story elements together. I tend to only be able to make one thing happen at a time– all plot in this scene, all character in this scene, that sort of thing.

Subtlety. I am so afraid that if people don’t pick up on the themes/ideas in my piece, they’ll think there was nothing really there. So in fear of being too subtle and having my points missed, I tend to hammer them too hard. When I do try to be subtle, I think it tends not to come through at all. This is related to my inability to make subtext come through.

Diversity. I write about white straight people way too fucking much. Working on doing better. Puzzle House Blues is my current effort toward making progress in that direction, and it’s coming out well.

Now for things I’m not sure about:

Pacing. When it comes to plot movement, I think those aforementioned interesting events unfold at the right rate to keep you both hungry for more but without giving away the goods too early. But, related to the balance issue, I’m shit at picking the right moments to step away from the plot and focus on character development instead. Like, the plot alone unfolds at the right speed, but it tends to be all plot, without really any breath for pure character, and if I don’t manage to weave enough character in incidentally, it feels less fleshed-out.

Dialogue. I feel like my ability to make dialogue sound natural, like something somebody would actually say, is variable. I’m good at dialects and voice, though. But, related to the efficiency and subtext things, I know people don’t always come out and say the things they mean/want to talk about, and it increases the drama if they don’t, but I am bad at representing that.

Trope use/avoidance. I make an effort to be aware of narrative tropes– particularly ones about gender roles –in order to not fall into limiting traps. Ideally I would avoid problematic implications from avoiding them at certain times, and at other times deploying them to serve a purpose. But I think I fall into them without realizing more than I know. And I probably don’t always use them to best effect.

Interesting to think about! There’s probably more, but those are the ones that jump out at me. 

The eulogy I gave for my mother

I could talk for ages about the woman who was my mother. Things you probably already know. Her kindness, her grace, her intelligence, her talents. I could go on forever. But standing up here now at her memorial, you know what I can’t get out of my head?

This isn’t fair.

We shouldn’t have to be here. We shouldn’t have to be mourning her loss so soon, from a sickness that made her suffer so much. When talking of cancer, there’s no such thing as deserts, but God, there was no one who deserved to go through that less than she did.

Because she was so good. Every thing I try to be, I try as an unformed imitation of my mother. From the way she threw a party or baked a pie, to the way she picked up a new skill seemingly without effort, to the ceaseless kindness and forgiveness she had for the world. Anytime someone notices that I’ve managed some small effort in what she taught me, I can only think, that’s nothing. You should see how my mom does it.

We were blessed in many ways, and one way that we were a close family. There were no old wounds between us, nor any important words left unsaid. But there was so much more life for us to have together.

For my part, I haven’t yet done all the things I’m going to do, things I wanted her to see, and be proud of me. I wanted her to see me get married, and help me raise my children. I wanted to learn how to be the kind of mother she was, because who else in the world could teach me that?

I know that her passing came as the end of her suffering, and she’s with God as she was always meant to be. But she should have had it all—she should have had that, and the rest of her life. And I am so angry that she didn’t get it.

But such is life. Such is the world God made for us. And we are not children, who may hurl ourselves in rage against the things we do not like.

So what then? What do we do? In times like this, people often encourage us to find the good that can be taken. As if, no matter how dark circumstances have become, there’s just some good that’s just there, and all we have to do is see it.

But I believe that in times like this, there is no grace or blessing that’s handed us to. If there’s any good to be taken at all from being eaten alive by cancer before your time, it’s up to you to make it. Because you don’t find it— you make it. And my mother did.

The burden laid on her was enormous. It would have been an easy thing for her to lapse into self-pity and despair, or to just give up. But she never did. She still took my calls ever day and listened to me go on about the silly details of my life. She still used her many creative talents to help me with my projects whenever I asked. She stayed the person that she was always was, as selfless, as giving, and as strong. She stayed my mother.

She loved to say to me, “You don’t know what you can do until you have to.” But every day, she had a choice. And every day, she chose to carry on rather than give up and let it make her less than she was. She didn’t allow her suffering to be the end of all joy and hope and goodness in our lives. Because she loved us. She held on to that for us.

That is the good she made of this. She allowed us, her family and friends, to see what that kind of strength and grace and love looked like. What a gift that was! I cannot doubt it, can never believe that it’s not possible, because I saw it with my own eyes.

It isn’t often that we get the chance to really show our quality. There aren’t many chances given to be a hero. To show just how deeply you love. But in times like these… it reveals you.

So I will look to that in the years to come, in the darkest moments when I won’t have her here to turn to. I will think of my mother, and how much she endured to show me what real love was. I will think of my father, who took better care of her than anyone had ever seen, all because he loved her. There is Christ in those things. And that will be what carries me through the sadness and unfairness of having lost her. It has put iron inside me, which I hope one day will be forged into my mother’s steel. That’s the good I’ll make of this.

I write about babies a lot

I remember when I ran the plot of my latest full-length play by Morethings5. His response was, “That’s such a Phoebe story.” And the reason for that was that it prominently dealt with issues around babies.

I write a lot of things that have babies in them. Pregnancies, new babies, lost babies. Babies that change things, that very seriously matter. If I ever become famous and get an author page on TV Tropes, this thing about babies will get listed. I didn’t realize I did it until recently, but I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. Because issues about babies are such a huge thing in my head.

I am a mess of contradicting feelings about them, a miasma of conflicting desires. On one hand… I love them. On at hand, I think they’re the most important thing in the world, babies, children, your children. I feel a strong compulsion to be a mother someday. And while not everybody has the urge for children, I feel like if you do have it, it is a singular thing that is not comparable or equivalent to any other need you have in your life.

A baby is never negligible, never an insignificant thing to be disposed of lightly, even when should you decide that pregnancy or parenthood is not for you. While I acknowledge that abortions have to exist for the good of society, and that they can absolutely be the right choice in many situations, the idea of them makes me hurt in my guts. There are childless couples who would KILL for a baby of their own and can’t have one, and their pain is enormous. Again, I respect a woman’s right to do whatever she feels is appropriate for her own body, but it makes me ache to think that people who want babies can’t just connect with women who don’t want to keep their babies.

But at the same time… pregnancy terrifies me. Frankly TERRIFIES me. I just have this knowledge in my gut that it would be an awful experience for me, unpleasant at best and completely miserable at worst. I’m already prone to nausea, I would probably have it constantly if I were pregnant. My hips are very narrow, carrying and birthing a baby could just not work. And God forgive me for being so shallow and vain… but I think of what it would do to my body and I just freeze. During it, the thought of being big and ungainly, of taking up so much space, of everything being a gross swollen mess due to the hormones and the physical changes… and after, the stress put on everything by the birth, being bloated or stretched out or sagging or scarred… I shudder. And the body never really comes back. Not for most people, who don’t have a dietician and a physical trainer constantly at their disposal. And that scares me more than I can convey.

I feel disgusting and small for caring that much about it. For wanting a baby, but being too vain to want to go through one of the most fundamental experiences of life that’s part of it. And there is a season to all things in life, nobody gets to be beautiful forever– especially if its my kind of beauty which is of the particularly ephemeral sort. I am fortunate that things worked out for me in such a way as I got to experience what it’s like to be that lean and strong and firm kind of beautiful for a while. But still, the thought of losing it for inevitable reasons is hard enough without thinking that pregnancy might make it hit all the harder.

People have said I’m a prime candidate for adoption. I don’t want to be pregnant, and I couldn’t give a damn about biological connection to my baby. Don’t care the lineage, the gender, the color. Just want a baby. But I get scared to think of that because it’s so difficult to adopt. Expensive, so vastly advantageous to the rich, and often heartbreaking since you could for any number of reasons lose the right to the child before the adoption is legally finalized. Again, no moral condemnation of abortion here, but if it came down to my needing to BEG some woman to please let me adopt her baby instead of abort it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Of course, if pregnancy seems so terrible to me, I can’t say I don’t understand why somebody would rather abort than go through it even if they don’t have to keep the baby.

But still… but still… I can’t shake that part of me that says that your child is too important. The Most Important. And if you have to go through painful difficult undesirable things for the sake of your child, that’s part of what it is to be a parent. The love and responsibility that is so strong that you sacrifice your well being for theirs. That notion feels right to me in my guts. Because that is what grows out of the nature of the bond between parent and child.

Here is what makes me believe in that bond. It leads into my other fear related to having a baby– the fear that one’s self is subsumed into it. How often do we hear about parents– usually mothers –who’s entire life revolves around their children? That they lose their own interests and even their personality to being Mommy? That is chilling to me. I would HATE that. As much compulsion as I feel toward being a mother, that seems awful and terrifying to me. But I would want to be a good parent– to be the kind of parent that is everything their child needs. I am a pretty self-absorbed person. Am I too selfish a person to be as selfless as that would require? Am I too selfish to be happy making the shift that motherhood would require?

And yet. And yet. This comes back to the thing that makes me believe in the enormous power of that parent child bond. As much as kids take over their parents lives– as much as they demand and necessitate and impose on their parents– their parents LOVE THEM. Are madly, crazily, IN LOVE WITH THEM. Would do ANYTHING for them, WOULD DIE for them. No matter how much of a pain having kids is, it is rare indeed to find a parent who doesn’t love their kids more than anything.

That gives me hope. That maybe I can be a parent, despite my vanity and selfishness. That my love for them would be greater than my love for myself. And that I don’t have to choose between being a miserable parent and having that part of me go unfulfilled.

I keep taking about “in my guts.” That’s where my desire to someday be a mother comes from. And so that’s where a lot of my feelings around children come from. Maybe they’re not totally reasonable or fair from an intellectual standpoint. But I can’t shake them.