I WRITE THINGS: Things I’ve learned so far in trying to write a novel and Toni Morrison

I knew when I started this website that, ultimately, I would want to eventually get to a point where I was able to produce something that was at an acceptable length for publication. After all, that is typically what writers want – to put what they have made out into the world for public consumption. What I have found immediately is that an extended piece of writing is a lot harder to produce.

 

When I first started writing seriously at the age of 19, I used to have idea after idea after idea present itself to me. Like apples on the proverbial idea tree, they were all just as delightful and engaging as the last. Then one day, I stopped getting ideas. This happened right around the time I finished writing my second full length novel and promptly decided it was unreadable garbage.

 

In the painful process of having to become the person I am 4 years later, I didn’t have the capacity to even think about writing. As I mentioned in my other post of a similar topic, for the past four years I’ve been drawing a blank. Especially going into my first full time job in an intellectually and emotionally demanding field, it’s hard to be distracted enough to imagine these ideas.

 

And so, moving ahead and taking the first step to write a novel is difficult. To date I have two half-baked first drafts that require far more planning and forethought. These were products of feverish discovery writing, where I took a character and went with it. These will require work. Hard work. They will take time, because I do not have all day to write. They will take a commitment to writing, even when I don’t feel like doing it.

 

Luckily, I have more of patience with my writing, and more of a tolerance for the fact that, frankly, ideas don’t just pop into my head. I may be lucky enough to be given a scene, or the portrait of a person, or even a desire to write about a particular theme or topic, but for the most part I’m on the front line alone while the ever elusive muse is off in another field.

 

Perhaps my patience comes from the knowledge that if I don’t just sit myself down and start writing, I’m going to blink and have missed all the time I could’ve spent on something I am so passionate about.

 

For what it’s worth, I don’t put a lot of stock into the idea that I don’t have any ideas. Of an evening, I may only have 2-3 hours to write stuff, and that is not time I can spend feeling sorry for myself that I haven’t had a whole story jump out in front of me ready for my willing hands. One very important lesson I’ve learned in these four years is that if you want something, you have to work for it. This can be applied to writing, too.

 

And so, I watch YouTube videos interviewing my favourite authors to see what they have to say about the topic or motivating yourself as a writer.

 

Tonight I watched an interview with Toni Morrison, who is arguably my favourite literary fiction author. Morrison writes about the plight of African American women navigating their lives as the least privileged members of society. Her intent was to make people feel that hurt experienced by the group she belonged to, and time and time again she has achieved this tenfold. Hurt is a word she uses quite a lot, and it is a powerful one at that.

 

She reflects on the African American literature of the time when she was first coming up, about how focussed on being empowering it was, and how she saw a gap. Morrison stated to the interviewer, “They’re going to skip over something. And no one’s going to remember that it wasn’t always beautiful.”

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August Whip Around

This is more of a traditional “blog post” as opposed to an article or piece of creative writing. My main purpose of this post is to outline some things going on for me with my writing, and just to break up the routine a little bit.

So, first and foremost, I am writing an extended length piece of writing at the moment. I went to a great conference over the weekend where I got to see Nick Earls speaking about his series on novellas – what I’m writing will probably be around that length.

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and, while I’ve finished the first draft of another extended writing idea, I’ve moved straight onto a second project. This is mostly what I’m like when I’m at the “peak” of my writing – I usually have two projects going at once: one that needs editing, one that needs creating in the first place.

I’ve both missed and feared this part of my writing journey. The last time I was writing, I was studying and could handle staying up all night writing between studying. With my job in education, there’s a little more demand on me and my energy levels are noticeably more diminished by the end of the day compared to when I was at university. However, as daunting as it may at first be, I’m just glad to be back.

What this means for you as the reader is basically that I won’t be posting short stories as routinely, though I definitely will still be posting them.

Secondly, I’ve submitted one of my short stories to a more public forum which I will hopefully be able to share with you soon! This is really exciting for me because it’s another one of the scary steps towards sharing my writing with people. I’ve always been pretty scared to share my writing publicly. Step one was starting this website, step two is submitting my work to other forums, and I suppose step three will eventually be seeking publication, or some yet to be gleaned facet of writing.

Anyway, last but certainly not least, I want to take this opportunity to thank anyone who reads my work, gives me feedback on it, or just follows me. Being a writer is something I’ve always wanted to be, but it’s pretty hard to be that without an audience. So thank you.

 

 

I WRITE THINGS: Representation and Me Talk

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In my last blog post about Mission Impossible: Fallout I touched on something that I haven’t ever really engaged with before, mostly because in the immortal words of Rick Springsteen, the point was probably moot. By which, I of course mean, contrary to what Springsteen thinks he is singing, there is almost too much to say on this particular topic. I don’t feel that I am able to adequately address it in a way that I’m comfortable with in a 500 word blog post.

 

The topic is, of course, representation.

 

Representation is one of my favourite words and concepts to unpack. As an English teacher, much of what my students and I engage in is discussion of how groups or people are being represented and why it matters. As I alluded to in my prior post, representation does matter to me, and it does have an impact on my life day to day.

 

The reality of my situation isn’t lost on me. I am fortunate enough to not only have a functional literacy level to the point where I am able to write prose and enjoy myself, but also to have the means to do so. That’s a level of privilege many people are not afforded. Even as someone technically a part of a minority, I have never personally faced direct persecution or disadvantage (to my knowledge) for the fact that I am gay.

 

At the end of the day, I am a 20 something year old who writes stories for personal enjoyment and shares them on the internet. It matters to me, I love doing it, but I’m not on the precipice of some astronomical discovery.

 

However, the reason I wanted to discuss the concept of representation, and specifically heteronormativity and writing, was because something sort of funny happened to me this week. I finished a first draft of a novel (yay!) and began thinking about what sort of story I want to write next. For me personally, story almost always starts with character – I find characters more compelling than plot.

 

As I started to plan who my next story would be centred around, I had a moment of hesitation. The question that crossed in my mind was, “if I keep writing stories about lgbtq+ characters, are people going to criticise me for it? Am I being predictable?”

 

Of course, when it comes to writing I do write for myself first and foremost, but reader enjoyment plays into the equation. I was stumped by my own question, not knowing the answer. There is of course the argument that authors like Stephen King typically write about relatively similar characters in terms of those basic features – that is, many of King’s characters are straight white middle aged men.

 

I’m still genuinely stumped on where I stand on this, and whether or not it is an issue at all or if I’m overthinking it entirely.

 

So I throw the question back to you, dear reader – what do you think? What does any of this mean? Am I over thinking the value of representation? Did I leave the stove on?

I WATCH MOVIES: I lived it: I take issue with Mission Impossible: Fallout but still enjoyed the film

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In many instances of my life, I find myself towing a very frustrating line. Film is one of the greatest joys in my life – from a very young age it has been a place of refuge and entertainment alike. As a part of the human condition, I seek myself in film, trying to find the parts that I can relate to, and the parts that help me to not only understand myself but also those around me. However, in loving film, I am also faced with the parts of film that I do not like. The parts that make me question whether it is okay to like a film, even if it has parts that are not agreeable to me.

 

From around the same age, I have been abundantly aware of the inequalities between men and women as a result of being the poster child of gender confusion (credit for that title: The L Word). Many, many times as a child, I was faced with situations where I thought to myself, wait a minute, so boys can do that but I can’t? This is some bullshit. In being a tomboy, the double standards that girls face on a daily basis were especially grating for me.

 

As a result, I was hyper critical of all media between the ages of 17 – 21, before throwing in the towel to try and enjoy certain films just for being fun. It isn’t so much that I didn’t see the issues; it is more that I am emotionally exhausted. It is 2018 and I still see an abundance of misrepresentation (or complete late of representation) for women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other people who belong to minority groups.

It is tiring to have to explain to people time and time again why it matters to me to see LGBTQ+ characters. It is tiring to have to explain why I take issue with misrepresentation of women. It is tiring to have to explain to people that I don’t take issue with representation of men; it is just that I want to see other representations too. Simply put, I am tired and more often than not misunderstood by people who don’t wish to understand.

 

The fact of the matter of this: I had a lot of fun watching Mission Impossible: Fallout (MI:F herein) and enjoyed the film for exactly what it was – a thrill ride. It was entertaining, tapping into our primal love of violence, sex, and an underdog story. There’s no getting past that fact. It was a fun movie.

 

MI:F didn’t sit quite right with me, still. I’m not blind to the fact that I only really consume media with guaranteed representations of the groups I belong to, and I’m also understanding of the fact that it is the job of the media to tell many stories, not only my stories.

 

Still, MI:F came as somewhat of a shock to me – and it reminded me of why I started paying attention to representation in the media in the first place. MI:F is essentially the story of a straight white man saving the world and getting his pick of women. Perhaps this is why I take such issue with this film – the seeming lack of emotional fallout that would be an issue in any other film.

 

Within the film, we see the main character (Ethan Hunt, an unfortunate moniker) with his first love interest, Elsa, then the second, the White Widow, and the third, Julie. I actually found myself laughing at something I wasn’t supposed to, that I’m not sure the filmmakers caught; Elsa and Julie essentially look and act like the same person. They are both the saviour for Ethan – the female character there to lick his wounds, love him unconditionally, and act as a prize at the end of the film.

 

I suppose this takes me to the crux of why the film didn’t sit right with me; why, despite the fact I was enjoying it, I had a bad taste in my mouth. Women in this film are footnotes and are interchangeable. They’re simply objects that Ethan has access to at whim. They are essentially all the same character with different hair colours to indicate easily to the audience what kind of person they are based on familiar tropes. The brunette love interests (Elsa and Julie) = caring loving figures who are madly in love with Ethan. The blonde love interest (The White Widow) = the girl who just wants to bang Ethan, who acts as the femme fatale element and the sexually charged figure of the film.

 

These female characters are a call back to the Madonna/Whore dichotomy that I haven’t had to overtly consume for quite some time. The fact is that all of these characters serve to act as a two dimensional love interest for Ethan. We see all of the typical tropes of female representation in films that I had assumed were extinct.

 

The only outlier in this film is the White Widow, but she still has the same behaviour when it comes to Ethan Hunt. She kisses Ethan, but then when it serves the plot, disappears and her behaviour has no consequence. And because she is the character with arguably the most sexual encounter with Ethan, she does not qualify for his love, because we all know that women who want sex are not proper women and, therefore, do not get the man.

 

Ethan has intimate moments with these women, with no emotional repercussions from any of them. He quite literally flicks between them at will, and none of them seem to care. Ethan himself never indicates interest in them overtly either, and none of them care.

 

The issue I see here is this representation of women as being at a man’s whim. There are all strong, intelligent women, who seem unaffected by the fact that Ethan comes and goes as he pleases in their lives. Even when they see moments of intimacy shared between Ethan and a woman, they are completely nonplussed. Their lack of emotional reaction renders them objects of desire for Ethan, and represents a toxic model that I thought was no longer in vogue: the model of a man being in complete control of the women around him, being allowed to do as he pleases, while the women wait for their turn.

 

Look, again, I liked the film. It was fun. And maybe I’m just sour grapes because there realistically weren’t any characters that I could identify with aside from Benji. But what I got from this experience is that ignoring the problematic parts of the media I consume doesn’t serve any purpose for me, and in being able to acknowledge the problematic parts of MI:F I’m able to once again get in touch with why it is important to be critical of media.

 

We can’t be mindless consumers, for the same reason we can’t be passive bystanders when we see bad things happening. Unless we are critical of our media, even when we enjoy it, things don’t change, and we don’t learn anything.

I WATCH TELEVISION: My half-baked conspiracy theory on the literary value of Sex and the City

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Seriously Carrie, wtf

I have been watching Sex and the City since the ripe old age of 14. Watching Sex and the City was always something that made me feel very grown up (I was and am not), as if I were getting ahead of the game in terms of maturity and understanding of the way the world worked (I still don’t get it). I have watched the series at least 4 times over by now – the only program I have watched more times is Seinfeld.

 

Blindly, for ten years, I have followed the dating advice of a television show that at one point ran out of bizarre sexual fetishes to showcase. As a fourteen year old, watching Carrie Bradshaw bumble through terrible relationships, I thought to myself, I understand this entirely and I am an adult, and also, this is real love that I am seeing. Watching Sex and the City has simultaneously been one of the straightest and gayest activities I have ever engaged in, and is probably in some part responsible for the fact that I have always wanted to be a writer.

 

But this afternoon as I tried to wash out the violet pigment shampoo that stained my hands and hair time after time, I couldn’t help but wonder – why did Carrie find it so easy to rinse and remove her stains before going right back into making the same mistake over and over again?

 

I present to you my case in point: Carrie Bradshaw exists in a state of purgatory for the entirety of the series, including the films. She is doomed to continue repeating her mistakes, and cannot move on to heaven or hell.

 

Exhibit A: Kurt Harrington

 

Right from the get-go of the series, Carrie sets the stage for us with Kurt Harrington. In the very first episode, upon seeing Kurt, she allows the audience into her past follies and fallacies.

 

“It was Kurt Harrington. A mistake I made when I was 26, 29, and 31.”

 

So, Carrie is self-aware – she has made the mistake before. This first episode sets up a premise that we are lead to believe is the truth. Carrie seizes her power, has sex without emotion with Kurt, and goes on her merry way. She is done with repeating her mistakes – she’s ready for real love.

 

Except that she walks right into her next mistake – Big.

 

Exhibit B: Mr. Big

 

I consider Mr. Big to be the worst of the worst. With the benefit of 20+ years since the original airing of Sex and the City, it’s clear to the audience that Mr. Big is a serial user who doesn’t really care about anything or anyone. I hold Mr. Big, at least in part, responsible for a generational acceptance and endurance of subhuman treatment, because that’s what you do for real love, isn’t it?

 

No Carrie Bradshaw.

 

And yet, I was promised by Carrie in an unspoken contract that she was done with the mistakes of her past. She liberated herself from Kurt, didn’t she? Hadn’t she learned her lesson, that once a relationship is done, it’s done? Didn’t Nick Carraway tell us we can’t repeat the past?

 

Not Carrie “Gatsby” Bradshaw. Repeat the past? Why, of course you can.

 

Throughout the entire series, Mr. Big is held up as representative of everything that Carrie wants. No matter how many times they leave each other, no matter how many times she asserts that she’s learned how to be strong now and that she was a different person, she keeps going back. She reverts to being the same person, waiting on Big to call and be ready for her.

 

Exhibit C: Sweet Cinnamon Roll Aidan

 

I have no complaints for Aidan. I always told myself that he was the kind of man I would grow up to marry, something that I still laugh gently to myself about today.

 

But even when graced with the chance to date Aidan (yadda yadda yadda if it’s not right it’s not right I gET IT that’s not my point), Carrie fucks her shit up by going back to Big. Then she goes back to Aidan. Then back to Big.
So not only is Carrie repeating the pattern, but she’s now repeating the pattern two-fold.

 

Exhibit D: Burger

 

Seriously, I think I’ve said enough.

 

You know, literature is supposed to teach us something about the human condition, and when it’s done well it achieves this. I always thought Sex and the City was a television show about how no matter what, true love finds a way. I bought into the Big and Carrie narrative, because we’re conditioned to accept less from people when it comes to dating. Lack of communication is a labour of love, and you should accept it if your significant other drops off the face of the planet without explanation. If they leave you, they’re just not ready, and so you should wait for them to be ready.

 

The same messages about what real love is that I brought into have been flipped on their head. Carrie and Big aren’t a success story; they’re a cautionary tale. No matter what happens, Carrie continues to circle purgatory, unable to stop making the mistakes of lovers past and move forward to get what she deserves. Carrie tells us,

 

“I am someone who is looking for real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t live without each other love.”

 

But time and time again, she accepts less and less. And so, dear audience, I argue that we have been watching Sex and the City wrong – that we must learn from Carrie’s mistakes when she can’t.

 

And as I sat here, sitting alone in my apartment writing another article for my website, I couldn’t help but wonder – why was this life never enough for Carrie?