Much like with people in real life, character dynamics can get… messy. Especially when we’re suddenly forced to look at them through the eyes of an outsider.
I ran into this in the scene I’m currently writing for the second book in the series. I’ve spent more than an entire book with my core cast by this point; I know their quirks and foibles, I know how they feel about themselves and each other, and I know what brought them to this point in the story. I love them and understand them as rich, complex people.
And then I bring a new character in, and she’s seeing their household for the first time. Suddenly, I’m seeing my beloved characters through the eyes of a stranger, and I see a middle-aged man living in a one-bedroom apartment with a much younger man, and a woman half his age who wears a collar and calls him Master. And it feels awkward when I put it that way.
On the other hand, if life were straight-forward and simple, our stories would be, too. But our stories are complex, messy, and more than a little awkward because that’s what life is like, and we tell stories as a way of making sense of life.
So I will continue to write my beloved characters in all their messy complexity. I will do everything in my power to make them as real to my readers as they are to me so that they will see past the awkward exterior to the (hopefully) inspiring story beneath.
I brought it on myself really. There’s no denying it. After all, I’m the one who chose the number for the latest writing challenge sent out by Danni… how was I to know that it would turn out to be so, well, challenging?
Here’s what I apparently chose:
“A Twist of Truth”
Tell us a story from your past.
1) It must be a true story, but it can be any story that you want to tell.
2) It does not have to be completely accurate. Think of this more as a dramatization rather than a biography.
3) The story cannot be from your POV. In other words, it’s your memory, and your story, but it should be from the POV of someone else who was there. (This could even be the family pet, if you’d like)
Ignoring–or perhaps allowing for–the fact that rule 2 offers some leniency, I’m faced with a dilemma. In any story of mine with actual conflict told from the other persons point of view I either a) come off as looking like a terrible person, b) look like I’m trying to be sensationalist, or c) both. A corollary to b is that I’m afraid that anything interesting about me will come off as trying to make a political point somehow.
If I’m completely honest with myself, I’m a little afraid of the soul-bearing involved in this. That sounds weird coming from me, I know. After all, I tweet and blog pretty freely about my trans experience, my ADHD, and to some extent even my faith(though I still hold back there sometimes for fear of being too ‘evangelical’.) On top of that, my short story for the previous exercise was nothing if not a morality story that pretty much came down to ‘good Christians don’t throw their kids out of the house for being trans*’ and Fallen Things is nothing if not my soul refracted into a multitude of characters. I have no issues sharing these with the group, so why am I so hesitant now?
Partly, revealing myself through my characters is safe because it’s not ‘really me’. I can hide myself in the bit that are pure invention. And on the other side, revealing myself through my own perspective is authentic. I know how I feel or think I feel about the things I’ve experienced and the things I’ve done, but I can’t be certain how others perceived me in the same event. I’m terrified enough of getting my sister ‘wrong’ that I won’t even give a character her name. Actually, most close friends and family are off limits for names, for just about the same reason. I don’t want to get into their minds and get it ‘wrong’.
All of this of course just underlines why I have to write this. If it makes me uncomfortable, that’s just one more emotion to tap into for my writing. It’s one more thing I need to face so I can grow in my craft, and thus become a stronger writer. I may have to drag myself through this story kicking and screaming, but I will do it.
Is this something you’d have trouble with too, or would you have no problem with it? What other sorts of topic or situations are challenging for you to write? Don’t be shy, tells us all about it in the comments.
So, this week I got hit with a cold. Still being hit with it actually, which is why I’m at home blogging and not wrapping up Youth Church right now. While I’m here, I thought I’d give you all a breakdown of the week that brought me here in the form of easy to follow, step-by-step instructions.
Tuesday: You start feeling poorly, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Besides, it’s poker night! You can’t miss poker night! You’ve tried. They wouldn’t let you. And you can’t let anyone else miss it either, so you really really have to be there! So you hang out in a Tim Hortons for two hours after work (only noticing the ’20 minute time limit’ sign you’ve been sitting under as you get up to leave) and grab some cough syrup on the way to meet everyone so you don’t end up coughing on all your friends. Easy.
Wednesday: Get up bright and early, get dressed and polished because you have a résumé to drop off and you want to make a good impression. Make sure everything’s sorted out with your worker, print off the best copy of your résumé, and head out. Pick up some mint flavoured cough drops on the way so you can speak and make a good impression at the mini-interview. Ace it.
Realize that it’s Wednesday, another friends evening that you can’t miss. Find out that for some reason we’re making pancakes tonight rather than ordering pizza, so you have to go out and get some buttermilk and no sugar added jam. Pick up some honey for your tea while you’re at it. Have a good time with friends and a surprise visit from your sister, help out by proof-reading a letter, and collapse into bed far later than you intended to.
Thursday: Drag yourself out of bed and go to work. Have absolutely no energy or voice for the interview workshop, but muscle through it anyway. You’re learning good things, and you have plenty of cough drops, right? At the end of the day, decide that maybe you shouldn’t go to that thing at the book store after all. Stay home watching My Little Pony, and collapse into bed at 8pm without writing a blog post like you meant to.
Friday: Drag yourself out of bed and go to work again. Spend the morning drained. Have several people tell you that you don’t look so good. Take a look in the mirror and realize that they’re right. At lunch, decided that maybe you should go home after all.
Go home, watch even more My Little Pony. Try to work on critiques and stay up for #FNTWP (Friday Night Twitter Writer Party) but collapse into bed at 7:30 instead. Turn off your alarm because clearly you’re going to sleep as long as you need to.
Saturday: Wake up possibly twelve hours later, maybe more. Who knows. Decide that you need food, but don’t want anything in the house. You’re not feeling that bad now, so maybe going to Smitty’s would be a good idea. Three hours later, leave the house. Arrive at the restaurant half-dead, order and eat. Get an email asking if you can put together a lesson plan for Youth Church tomorrow. You’re really tempted to say, ‘Sure! No problem!’ but you remember that episode where Apple Jack tried to do everything herself and made a mess of things, so you reluctantly let them know you can’t. Grab a bag of oranges and some lemon and ginger tea on the way home.
Sunday: Vow not to leave the house this time until you’re actually feeling better, and pray that this will happen before the official interview. Wish that you’d thought to pick up some cans of soup last time you were out of the house.
One way or another, food has been on my mind a lot this past month. The reality-hammer hit me in the face pretty early on when I came face-to-face with being broke, out of work, and having to wait until the 25th before getting any sort of income support.
Strangely, coming down with a cold right around the New Year made the first week a lot easier in some ways. I didn’t have much of an appetite, so I could ignore the food question for a while. My aunt gave me some leftovers from New Year’s day dinner (which I froze to avoid spoilage while I worked on getting my appetite back,) so that fuelled the next week or so quite nicely, especially when the roast beef became soup. I had to scape the bottom of my spare change jar for the vegetables I needed, but I made it. All I can say is thank God for self-checkouts. It was bad enough feeling like I was feeding pennies into some mad vending machine; I would have been mortified having to stand there counting them out for the cashier.
After that, I had to start playing with whatever staples I had on hand. This meant finding out what I could do with pizza dough, because I couldn’t afford the milk for bread dough. And again, thank God my mom left me with a freezer full of ground beef. Having meat on hand has been an absolute life saver. Outside of some meals subsidized by friends, I’ve been subsisting on whatever I could throw together from the staples in my kitchen.
Now, I’m in a work experience/employment program, which means I’m that much closer to being properly employed again. I also got my support check yesterday, and after taking care of some necessary bills, I splurged. I went to Smitty’s for dinner today and got myself properly gorged. It felt so good, and so indulgent, and it was such a relief to be able to treat myself like that.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am. Grateful for the ability to cook, grateful for the staples already in my kitchen, and grateful for the people in my life who have helped me out during this rough patch. But most of all I’m grateful that I’m coming into the up-swing. Not everyone is that lucky.
1) I don’t feel like I’ve truly visited a city until I’ve taken public transit there
2) I’m an urban creature with no love for suburbia.
I am now, and suspect that I will always be, a transit junkie. Not only am I dependant on public transit to get around my own city, it’s the only mode of transportation I truly feel at home with. True, having a car would make some things easier and more convenient, up to and including finding a job, but the reasons for me not to drive outweigh the potential benefits by a wide margin.
With transit, I can make my way around independent of of the plans of friends and family. If I want to do something on my own I don’t have to ask for a ride or wait until someone is going in the same direction, I can just look up the bus route and go. It’s actually a lot easier on me, though I have a hard time convincing my be-vehicled friends that no, I don’t need to be picked up, I can meet you there. (A ride home however, is a different story. We’re leaving at the same time, from the same place, therefore there’s less stress around coordinating timing.)
With transit, I can pull out my MS and work while travelling. If I tried doing that while driving a car, Bad Things would happen. We’ll put that under ‘reasons Eric shouldn’t drive even if he could afford to.’ I love the ability to squeeze that extra bit of work time into my schedule, which is why I ironically prefer a longer commute to the day job. I also don’t have to deal with navigating rush hour traffic; that’s the bus driver’s job.
With transit, I can get into downtown, any downtown, ridiculously easily, and can either take transit elsewhere from there, or walk anywhere within the city core. Or a combination of the above. My choices are endless. If were trying to drive however, and I’ve seen this more than enough times trying to direct people driving downtown, I’d have to worry about one-way streets, finding and then paying for parking, and worrying about having to move the car or plug the meter to avoid getting a parking ticket. Driving to a downtown destination is at best stressful, and at worst, impossible.
Which brings me to my second discovery of the day, my distinct preference for the urban core over suburbia.
With the convenience and accessibility of downtown, I have no use for suburbia (except maybe as a temporary place to store my parents.) The houses really do look the same, as do the neighbourhoods. You could take a house from New Brighton in Calgary and move it to Riverside South in Ottawa, or vice versa, and no one would know the difference. (Seriously, you should try it. It would be a great prank, except that no one would notice.)
The sprawl is not only uninspiring, it’s an economical and ecological nightmare. Suburbia is pretty much cut off from every sector of life outside of sleeping and, I dunno, watching TV. Maybe there’s a mega block of outlet stores with giant parking lots within walking distance, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a leisure centre or even a library nearby. You’ll have a couple of playgrounds for the younger kids, but any teen without a car is SOL. I don’t know about you, but I’d be bored to tears if I had to live there.
From my suite just outside of the downtown core, I can walk to my nearest grocery store. The core itself is maybe 15 minutes away by transit, and that’s only if the rush hour traffic is particularly bad. It’ll be even faster once the new train line is complete. I can walk to 17th Ave with all its boutiques and cafés if I don’t feel like taking the bus, and I can even walk to the downtown core itself if the weather’s nice and I have the time. I’m right by the Bow River, with parks nearby if I want to escape the City for a short while. It’s beautiful.
Rather than one bus from my neighbourhood into the core, I have my choice of buses both to the core and elsewhere. Grab the Circle Route in one direction, and I can get to Chinook mall, and beyond that to my friend’s house. In the other direction, I can get to my pharmacy in Brentwood, right next to a used record store where I can find such gems as 16 Hits of the Gay Nineties for a dollar a pop. (There are pharmacies closer, but a good pharmacy is worth travelling to. The record store is just a bonus.) The whole variety and vibrancy of the City is on my doorstep, and it doesn’t even have to cost me anything to see it.
And I don’t just feel this way about Calgary. I learned that today when I took the bus to the Byward Market in Ottawa. Taking transit, I felt so much more immersed in the City than I did being driven around by my Dad or my Step-Mom. I got to explore a part of Ottawa that was unique and vibrant in its own right, with elaborate murals in narrow back lanes:
store fronts with sidewalk displays to take advantage of pedestrian traffic:
and wrapped it all up with a pot of specialty tea at the Tea Store:
And that’s just a small sampling of what I saw and experienced in a couple of hours. I could spend a week, a month, a year there and never be bored. And if by some chance I did, I could hop a bus to Gatineau in Quebec for a new, more francophone experience. Or else visit Librairie du soleil right there in the Market and pick up some books in French. Whichever.
The point is, I had a variety of activities to choose from downtown, and the freedom to get around easily. I felt at home there because I am an urban creature and a transit junkie, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Am I the only transit junkie out there, or are there others who proudly ride the bus? Do you have a favourite downtown destination or experience? Alternately, is anyone willing to try to defend suburbia as a viable, sustainable option? Devil’s advocates welcome.
Wow, but it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, hasn’t it? Apparently I haven’t been doing so well on the work-life balance thing lately, but I’m back, and ready to rock this cyber party! And what better way to do this than to celebrate the various joys and challenges of family visits over the Christmas holidays.
Since my parents split up and my Dad moved to Ottawa oh, twelve years ago, I’ve spent most Christmases with my Mom and her side of the family at my Grandma’s house in Edmonton. These were usually squeezed in around my school or retail schedule, with many a drive up from Calgary in the dark on Christmas Eve. This year however, I decided to do something different. I decided that it was high time I visit my Dad.
Between a far more flexible work schedule in construction and a desire to make the most of my trip across the country, I figured two weeks would be ideal. Not only that, but I could keep working on my writing and graphics work at the same time, so there was no reason for that part of my life to slow down, right?
Apparently visiting people actually takes time out of the day. If I actually want to talk to people, catch up on everything and enjoy each other’s company, I can’t go straight from my bed to my computer, work for a few hours and emerge some time in the early afternoon like I can at home. Who knew?
On the other hand, it turns out there’s only so long I can ignore my work before going completely batty. As much as I want to visit and do and explore, two weeks solid would be too much. Even running at about half the pace my Step-Mom has tried to set in terms of hikes, ski-trips and museums, at a week and a half I’m ready to crawl into the computer and hide from direct human contact for a while. It’s been good, every minute has been a joy, but I’m exhausted. I need some work time so I can recover from my vacation.
On the whole however, I think the balance has been pretty good. I had to shift some priorities, but I got my visiting in, my critiques done for my critique group and even managed to meet up with said group over Skype, I got some mock-ups sent to a graphic design client, and made some tourist-y excursions in the area to round it all out. When I fly back home, I expect it will be with a mix of relief at returning to a familiar setting and routine, and sadness at leaving loved ones behind once more.
I’m excited to get the momentum going on my work again, to put plans and ideas that have been gestating these past few months into action. I’m ready to face the New Year with verve and vigour, to make 2012 The Year Where Things Happen. I’m ready to make my dreams a reality.
I’m ready to go home, but I’m glad for the chance to visit and to reconnect with family.
And now, because it wouldn’t be a proper holiday greeting without pictures no one else is interested in, here are some obligatory family photos:
I am having so many issues in this area, it’s not even funny. Having all these miscommunications come to light on the same day? I’m not sure if that’s a blessing (because I could get them all dealt with at once) or a curse.
Some days I don’t know why my mom even has a cell phone, but that’s not the whole issue. The larger part of it is that the two of us have the most anti-social telephone habits when it comes to talking to each other that is only exacerbated by cell service that is, to put it lightly, shoddy. Here’s how it typically goes: she calls my phone and leaves me a voicemail because for some reason, calls from her phone to mine don’t go through (she’s no the only one who can’t call me; I’ve had this issue more than a few times.) I listen to said voicemail, but because I a) don’t like calling anyone at the best of times and b) am probably doing something else with friends, I send her a text message in return. For whatever reason, she is able to receive my texts, but I can’t receive hers (I don’t have this issue with anyone else) so I don’t expect a reply.
So, Saturday night she left a message saying that she’ll be heading to church early, so if I’m getting a ride I should be at the station early. I sent back a text saying I’d be there, and left it at that. Sunday morning I was running a bit late, but thought nothing of it since I told her I’d be there. After about 15 minutes, I started to worry about where she was. I called her cell, but not only did I get no answer, I got a ‘customer unavailable’ message. Ok, no big deal, it could be that she was running late, too. Around the half hour mark, I tried again. Same result.
About twenty minutes before the service was going to start, she still hadn’t shown up. What I did have however, was a bus headed in the right direction. Giving up on the ride, I took the bus to church instead.
It turns out that my mom’s phone had died the day before, and she’d left her charger at work. She didn’t get my message. When she didn’t see me waiting, she thought I had decided not to go this week, and went ahead on her own. This also explains why I couldn’t get a hold of her on her phone to ask, “Um, where the hell are you?” So much for that system.
Later that day, my sister had joined us and we were having a nice, relatively drama-free family dinner. When my mom asked me, “Do you need a ride to Edmonton this weekend?” my response was, “There’s something happening this weekend?”
It was my grandma’s birthday, as it turns out. Everyone swore that not only had I been told about this, but that I had written it down. I swore that I had no idea what they were talking about. Looking at my phone confirmed both our stories: I had Grandma’s birth date marked, falling in the middle of the week I might add, but not the birthday celebration that everyone was talking about. So maybe I had been told. I just hadn’t parsed the right part of the information. After a certain amount of ranting(whining) and charging my family members to check what I’m putting in my phone next time we’re scheduling something like this, I made travel arrangements with my mom (and made sure I got it all down properly.)
Not that I’m the only one not parsing all this verbal scheduling; my sister swears I didn’t tell her I wanted to go to her convocation while I’m certain that yes, in fact, I did. Come to think of it, I should probably make sure we’re still on the same page there, shouldn’t I?