Sunday, November 30, 2014
I was not familiar with the term "tone-policing" in college. If I was, I might have understood why the "editing" advice I was being given was totally wrong. But I didn't, so I soaked in the advice like a sponge because I was hearing from professional published writers and I wanted to be professional too.
The first time I learned about tone-policing was on a Tumblr blog about thin privilege. The blog shows lots of examples of thin privilege and discrimination against fat people. The blog authors also get a lot of hate mail, and sometimes they get these innocent-sounding questions which they will post and respond to, telling the people who wrote the questions to fuck off. At first, I was a little put off by this tactic. I thought that they were giving rude responses to polite questions, and that this was no way to gain followers. There were other readers who thought like I did and wrote in advising them to be more polite, and the blog authors responded that they were not going to tone-police what they said. I read more about tone-policing on this website and in other places, and it is very common for members of a privileged group to tone-police people who are speaking out about discrimination by telling them to sound nicer or less angry. This is horrible and extremely invalidating! This tells people that they do not have the right to feel how they feel.
When I looked more closely at the "polite" questions that got "rude" responses on the thin privilege blog, I realized that the questions were really not respectful at all. Even though the tone and word choice might have sounded polite, the actual content of the questions was discriminating against fat people, automatically implying that being thin was "better" than being fat, that there must be at least "some" circumstances in which it was okay to be disrespectful or non-inclusive to someone because of their size, or that it should be okay to treat people like shit if you somehow know that they are not healthy. Some of the "polite" questions asked things that were in the FAQ. Now, I have nothing bad to say about people who ask questions that are already in the FAQ in *most* circumstances, like calling customer service to find out why your computer doesn't work or something like that. But the questions on this website were sort of worded like, "I'm normal and you're different, so you *owe* it to me to explain this." And then there were lots of "polite" questions like, "Why don't you be a body-positive site instead of only talking about negative stuff," in response to lots of posts about really horrible discrimination that is *happening* to people for real. So, yeah. Those "polite" questions don't seem so innocent anymore, and the harsh responses don't seem so unfair anymore.
It was at least a year or two ago when I learned about tone-policing, but I still had not made the connection to my own writing. I had not realized that the kind of "editing" I tried to do was actually tone-policing. The main writing advice I got when I was in fiction and poetry writing class was that I needed to write about stuff that I was not emotionally close to. I didn't listen and kept finding ways to squeeze things that were important to me into my stories and poems because I had a lot to say and I wanted to express myself through writing. But I always felt like I was doing something wrong and that to be a "good" writer I had to write about stuff that I was not emotionally invested in at all. I went into my writing classes looking for channels to express myself and had all of my channels blocked. The same thing happened a bit when I tried to express myself through the dances I choreographed. The first time I showed my dance, the club officers were signaling to us to smile without even listening to the music and watching the dance and at least being *open* to the idea that this might not be a smiley piece of art. They told me that my dancers needed to smile, I told them that the story of the dance was very serious and did not involve smiling, and they told me that maybe I could squeeze in *some* smiling somewhere. (Good advice in this case would have been to make our facial expressions stronger to better communicate the emotions that we were expressing).
Outside of college, the only people I got feedback from on my stories and poems were my parents. This was not good because my parents are not into angst stories at all and are more likely than the average person to complain that a story is to whiny. Some of my favorite books are books that my parents don't like because they think they are too whiny. I should have never taken their feedback on my stories so seriously because I know that they have this preference and I know that some of the books that they dismiss as too whiny are extremely popular. But I did not have feedback from anyone else.
I majored in psychology, so I learned how to write psychology papers using a the neutral tone of an outside observer. I attempted to use this same tone when I first began this blog. I wrote angry things on Facebook, but I wanted to keep this blog "nice." I thought "nice" meant well-written. I was actually censoring and tone-policing myself because I thought that was the only way I would get readers and be taken seriously as a writer.
When my ex broke up with me, I said, "I'm not a suck it up and deal kind of person, so you can expect a major drop in writing quality from here on out." And I stopped editing and started writing straight from my heart. And the people closest to me have said that I sound better this way, that I always sounded like I was trying to be neutral before.
I had confused good writing with censored, tone-policed writing, and I'm not going to do that anymore. Good writing is effective writing that communicates what you are saying to the reader. If what I want to communicate is, "This is a major problem that fucked up my life and it needs to STOP!" I am not going to achieve that goal by saying, "This is my nice passive observation of human behavior which I have no emotional investment in. It would probably be a teensy bit better if we maybe did things a little bit differently."
Your ideas are your own. Your experience is your own. When someone advises you on how to edit something, the editing should involve getting your original point across in a more effective way. If you find that your true message is lost or getting buried beneath polite language, you are not making your writing "better," you are tone-policing.
I will never tone police myself again. My goal is to scream louder.
These were the only quizzes that involved coloring in a pattern, but I'm thinking now that I should make pictures to go with some of the quizzes I've written, because it's a fun way to look at the results. Or maybe I'll write my new quizzes with pictures instead of letter choices. I'm curious if I would end up wording the questions differently, and if that wording might be better. I'll need to experiment.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
|I got these in Vegas - hottest sneakers ever!|
It's been a long time since I've shopped for the perfect winter coat or sneakers like I did when I was younger. Aside from these awesome sneakers I found in Vegas (in the picture) back in 2008, I haven't been wearing shoes that flaunt my style. I have a classic black winter coat that's really warm and goes with everything, and I like it just fine even though I never wear black otherwise. I started wondering at what point I stopped caring so much about sneakers and coats. When did I get over the idea that these things had to flaunt my style so perfectly?
The answer to that is simple: I never "got over" these things because I grew up and matured and decided that it didn't matter. The reason I cared so much about sneakers and coats when I was younger was because I had to wear a uniform to school. We wore plaid jumpers or skirts four days a week with school shoes, which you could pick out yourself but they had to be black or navy blue. One day a week we wore our gym uniform with sneakers. Sneakers were the one part of our uniform that we could choose for ourselves with no regulations. And outdoor clothing like coats, hats, gloves, and boots were also entirely our choice. The reason it was so important for me to find the perfect sneakers and the perfect winter coat was that these were the only pieces of clothing I got to choose for school and my only opportunity to show off my style. My outdoor winter outfit of ski pants, boots, a winter coat, a hat, and gloves or mittens had to be bright-colored and make me stand out in the crowd because it was the only school outfit that I ever got to choose.
My first few years of high school, I still spent a lot of time hunting for the perfect shoes and the perfect coat, mostly out of habit, but once I got used to the fact that I could wear whatever I wanted, even jewelry and nail polish, shoes and coats just didn't matter as much. Not that I would get these things in colors I didn't like, but I was fine wearing plain, solid-colored shoes I liked without stripes or polka dots or sparkles.
People often talk about maturing, and that when you're older, certain things won't matter to you like they do now. But what I've found for the most part is that I don't really outgrow things. I only change because my situation has changed. Because honestly, if I were back in that school uniform situation again where the majority of my social life took place at that school, you can bet I'd out there right now searching every store for a hot pink glitter-covered winter coat.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
So, I think I've internalized a bunch of icky school stuff that I need to purge out of my system, and the first is the idea of needing any kind of structure in my life. From this moment on, I intend to run wild and free, doing what I want when I want, and not have one ounce of structure in my life.
I something HUGE that I internalized from my writing classes, but wasn't true, was that the reason I didn't finish any of the cool things I was writing when I was younger was because I didn't have a structured schedule, and now that I was writing stories for "real" in a graded class with deadlines, I could finish what I started and do a better job. BULLSHIT!!!!! I cannot believe that I ever believed this lie. I'm glad I took writing classes because they were fun at the time and helped me get back into the routine of writing (which I would not have gotten out of if I hadn't gone to college in the first place!), but there is no way in hell that the structure and grades made anything better, and the grading part forced me to change cool-topic stories into ordinary stories about the three "universal" "only-stuff-worth-writing-about," themes of love, sex, and death. (Nothing against these themes, but they are not universal and not the only things worth writing about).
Something very important that I realize now about the things I wrote when I was younger, on my own, in a completely unstructured way: I never had a serious goal of finishing any of them. Writing was a just-for-fun activity for me. If I'm reading a book, and I get bored with it or more interested in other things and decide not to finish, I don't consider that to be "failing" because I never had a serious goal of finishing the book in the first place. I get interest in new things all the time, and get bored with old things, so I end up having a lot of unfinished projects. This is not a problem unless I seriously want to finish something, and when I was younger, I didn't want to. I was perfectly happy working on projects for fun and then moving on when they got boring and something else became more fun. I had a really fun time with all of the cool projects I worked on when I was younger, and having fun was what wanted to do, so I did accomplish that goal.
What I realize now about finishing stories because I had deadlines in a structured class is that I should have never thought that this was the *only* way for me to get things done because I had never really set a goal of finishing anything completely on my own unstructured schedule. I hadn't failed to do that, I had just never tried. When I wrote The Unencrypted Truth (100 pages long), I had a serious goal of finishing it, but I did not have a deadline or schedule. I finished in about three months. This taught me two things: that I am perfectly capable of finishing what I start when I want to without having any kind of externally-imposed deadline or structure, and that I have a natural, comfortable pace of about 10,000 words a month, and I should use that as my guideline for writing goals rather than trying to copy what "real" writers do. I am a real writer and this is my pace. Most books nowadays are between 50,000-100,000 words. That means I'd be finishing the bulk of a book in 5-10 months. That is perfectly awesome and nothing that I should feel bad about!
I've also learned that I don't like the imposed structure of having a to write a certain word count per day. I've always felt like that was the "right" way to do it because in school we were always supposed to break projects down into pieces and use time management and stuff like that. I realize now that this doesn't work for me, and what does work for me is having a monthly goal rather than a daily goal. That way I have a lot of freedom within that month. I can have times when I'm really engaged and times when I'm less engaged, and it comes out the same in the end.
I am never willing to put more time, effort, and energy into something that I don't care about than I put into something I do care about. (Work is different since I get paid, but there's still a limit). What this meant for me back when I was a student was that, because I was burning myself out, losing sleep, and missing out on fun things I wanted to do because of my schoolwork, I basically had to do the same thing with whatever mattered to me. I was forced to care about school and treat it like a priority when it was nowhere near the top of my list. I never felt like I had a choice about that. So the only way I could fight back, fight for what I truly cared about, was to treat what I really cared about the same way I treated school. I needed to drink caffeine, pull all-nighters, and miss out on other fun things I felt like doing in order to spend a ton of time writing.
Sometimes people saw that I was stressed out and recommended that I ease up a bit, but I thought that was bullshit because if I had a big test coming up, I don't think I would be advised to just study when I was in the mood or felt "inspired." If I had a paper due on Friday, I don't think anyone would suggest that I just decide to spend a certain amount of time on the paper each night and not worry about how many pages I produced. I was given advice like this with stuff I did care about, and it just showed me how little anyone accepted that my personal goals were more important than school. I do write when I'm not in the mood and I do keep track of quantity rather than time spent. I'm not going to treat what matters most to me like it's just a hobby or something I do on the side.
But here's what I have learned from not being a student anymore: I am not a fast lane kind of person. I like my life to go at leisurely pace without any pressure. When I think about the sleep-deprived zombie I was during midterms and finals in college, I realize there were two things wrong with that: One was that I was putting in all that effort for something I never really cared about, and the second was that I was doing that at all! I do not ever want to be sleep-deprived or missing out on fun things for any reason. If I need caffeine to keep me going, that means that something is wrong with my life because I do not want the kind of lifestyle where I need caffeine. Back when I was a student, the only way I could fight back against school was to treat everything else the same way, but now that I'm out, I can finally say that no, I'm not going to burn myself out over writing a book because I do not want to burn myself out for anything.
Other important thing I learned: What really motivated me about fiction writing class, what made me want to do the best I could on my stories, had nothing to do with grades or structure. What I cared about was the attention. Everyone had a workshop for each of their stories. When it was your turn, everyone spent an entire half of the class talking about your story. It was like a performance to look forward to. I got to be a superstar. That is what I really liked best about fiction writing class and why the class motivated me to do a better job. My writing classes taught me just how important it is for me to have a performance type of event to look forward to when I'm doing something on my own. When I finished my first novel, I was absolutely craving a big party or celebration afterwards and didn't really have one. I was also craving a celebration after writing The Unencrypted Truth and didn't have one. This time is different. As soon as I finish writing this book, as soon as I've done my absolute best with it and I'm ready to get feedback from my friends before sending it off to a publisher, I'm going to have a celebration! I'm going to invite all my friends over and have a reading! (The reading was my friend's idea, and it sounds awesome!) Now that I understand just how important this big performance event is to me, I can be sure to always have one planned when I'm trying to finish a book.
I also know that I'm an instant gratification person, not the delayed gratification type. Schools always pushed me to be more of a delayed gratification and long-term oriented person, but that was never for me. The way to accomplish long-term goals when you're more short-term oriented is to give yourself lots of short-term gratification along the way. Now, when I say short-term gratification, I'm not talking about external rewards that are unrelated to writing, such as buying something special for myself if I complete a certain number of pages. This tells my brain (and often rightfully so) that I must not really want to do whatever I am doing if I need to bribe myself, and I start to lose any genuine interest I had in the activity. The short-term gratification I need has to come straight from what I'm doing. Basically, I need a chance to show off what I've accomplished before the big final performance. Kind of like when I was in plays, and I'd look forward to going to rehearsals and showing everyone how much I'd practiced. I don't like to work on personal projects in total isolation - I need those "rehearsals" leading up to the performance. So I've read sections of the book to my friends and I've been sending drafts to a friend who is going to help me edit. Sharing parts of the book ahead of time has really helped me to stay motivated and engaged.
And I should mention that I don't think there's anything wrong with showing off as long as you're not arrogant or putting other people down. I love to show people what I've done and feel like a superstar, but I don't think I'm better than other people, and I love to see my friends be superstars and showcase their talents as well.
So there you have it. This is what I'm learning about how to do stuff my way, as the unschooler I am at heart. Don't listen to anyone who tells you there's only one right way of doing something. Find what works for you, even it's nothing like what you've been told.
Monday, November 17, 2014
I should probably clarify that this is not a widely held belief in theatre, as far as I know. This director is the only person I've met who talked this way, and evidence shows that doing theatre can help people develop confidence and self-esteem. But I was fairly new to theatre at the time - too new to recognize that this was just one person's opinion rather than a fact about the theatre world. And yet, I knew she was wrong. Not because I had read studies about theatre and self-esteem, not because I had heard different opinions from professionals, but because I was extremely passionate about theatre and also cared deeply about self esteem. I knew she was wrong to claim that these values could not coexist, because they coexisted in me.
I was a bit taken aback by what this director said, but I immediately starting thinking about how this was not true for me, how I was definitely a theatre person who cared a lot about self-esteem. I started thinking about contrasting values, and how it must somehow be okay to have them. (I know now that theatre and self-esteem are not contrasting, and that theatre is not a "value," but this was how I thought of the issue at the time). I starting writing an essay called "Blue in the Orange Club," where everyone is a color, and each color has a club, and someone who is blue has no interest in the blue club and instead wants to join the orange club, which is the opposite of blue on the color wheel. I don't remember exactly where this essay was going or how it ended because I only have the beginning written down in my journal.
But what really gets me is this: when our director said that there was no room for caring about self-esteem in theatre, even though I was very new to theatre and in a position to believe whatever she said, I never once considered the fact that I did not belong in theatre because I cared about self esteem. I knew that I belonged in theatre, and therefore I knew that my director was wrong.
I just want to be that way again. I want the world to feel smaller again, where I feel like I can stand up to anyone, no matter how much more talented or experienced they are than me, and say that the "universal" statements they've made are wrong because they do not include me and my experience. I know I say this kind of stuff all the time, but I don't feel it as often as I say it. I don't feel it instinctively the way I did at the time of this theatre incident. I don't have this inherent, subconscious sense that my own experience is rock-solid and that if someone makes a "general" statement that doesn't include my experience, then that is wrong just like it's wrong to say today is Monday when it's Tuesday. That's how I used to feel, and I'm tired of feeling like the whole world is bigger than me and that other people can decide stuff about what I am. I may write a long essay about why a piece of advice that's supposedly good for everyone is actually really bad for some people including myself, but I don't believe myself the way I did back when I was a teenager. I still feel less adequate inside. And I am so sick of it. I just want to be the teenager who would say, "That's not true because it's not true for me!" and sincerely believe it.
Friday, November 14, 2014
1. Saying that you or someone else is an adult in certain contexts can imply that children are less deserving of respect, privacy, freedom, or whatever you are talking about. Of course there are some things that children can't do on their own, and it is understandable to use the "I'm an adult!" argument with your parents/guardians to mean, "I'm now capable of doing something that I couldn't when I was younger, so I should be allowed to do it," but there are also plenty of times when people say that it should be okay to eat what you want, dress the way you like, keep your living space the way you want, and basically make your own choices because you are an adult. This is not okay because it implies that children shouldn't also get to do these things. You should be able to do these things regardless of your age - there is no reason that being an adult needs to be a part of it.
2. Saying that someone should be able to handle something because they are an adult is not okay because it puts pressure on someone to "handle" or be okay with things that they might not be okay with at all and might not be willing to do. It imposes standards on the person because of something they didn't even choose (you don't get to decide how old you are). "Act your age," is commonly used to pressure people to behave differently than they want to behave. There is also an implication in such statements that children are not as good as adults, because saying, "If you act this way, you are not really an adult," clearly implies that you should behave like an adult and that it would be bad to behave more like a child.
3. I don't like using the word "adult" or "mature" in place of what we really mean to say, because these words are full of social standards and discriminate against children. I would much prefer to say what I really mean, such as, "We are all respectful enough to listen to this talk without making fun of the speaker," "We all have enough knowledge of the situation to make our own choices," or "We are all able to give consent because we have an equal, trusting, consent-conscious relationship without twisted power dynamics that would make us feel like one of us has to obey the other when we don't want to." There are plenty of adults who would not be respectful, there are plenty of peer-relationships that do have messed up power dynamics, and that last description makes it clear that consent is not about being "mature" but about not having other people in power over you.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Random thought: I think I was talking like an outside investigator before, like I was studying tree frogs in their natural habitat or something, taking notes and observing the behavior of another species. Except I was talking that way about people, about situations I was directly involved in, but talking like some outside researcher. Part of this probably came from being a psych major and all the psych papers I wrote, which doesn't bother me at all. I became fluent in that language, so it makes sense that it would leak into my other writing. I'm a non-code-switcher after all. But I know that wasn't all that was going on, I know that I was purposely using psych-writing to sound like a neutral outside observer, like, "You humans are so fascinating." Not anymore. Now I talk like I'm part of what I'm part of and include real emotions in everything and I don't have any goal of sounding different unless I'm actually writing a psych paper.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Saturday, November 1, 2014
I was recently listing some guidelines I have for the book I'm currently writing - things like being clear and easy to understand, and what I want the overall tone and message of the book to be. One component I listed was that I'd like the book to be entertaining, fun, light and fluffy, and an easy read, even though the topic is serious. I want the book to sound non-accusatory, non-confrontational, and basically treat everyone like they have good intentions and might just not know what to do in certain situations. I don't want to make the reader feel bad about themself. (This may happen anyway, but I don't want the tone of the book to make people feel bad). I want this to basically be a fun and pleasant book to read.
This can absolutely be done - I've read lots of fun books that give good advice for serious things (mostly American Girl books). But when I wrote this quality down on my list, I did question whether or not this was the right way to go. Was I lessening the importance of the message? Was I turning something essential into something optional? Was I tone-policing myself because I didn't think people would listen to me any other way?
Well, the last one is definitely true. But there's more to it than that. Making sure my book is enjoyable to read is not just about appealing to the masses - it's actually an integral part of the book itself. One of the issues I focus on in this book is that thinking something is good for someone does not make it okay to pressure the person to do it when they don't want to. I discuss how we often don't recognize outright bullying and harassment when it comes in the form of pushing someone to do something "positive." I can almost guarantee you that if my ex-college had a discussion about affirmative consent, there would be just as much pressure to go to the event, just as much pressure to drag along people who don't want to go, and just as much shaming of people who don't feel like going as there is at all the Important Issue events at Colby. I just don't see the students hosting the event actually applying affirmative consent to the way they treat the event itself.
I understand that it is a person's choice to read my book, that they can always put it down if they don't like it, but that doesn't mean that I don't have the power to make them feel bad about themselves. I once read a blog post which claimed that there were only five types of blog posts "worth writing," and one of those types was a post that pushes people to make lifestyle changes. The blog author explained that this kind of post should make people feel guilty about whatever they are currently doing and shame them into making changes. And I'm sitting here thinking, okay, I can see how this might be alright for a blog that is about a specific kind of lifestyle change and is marketed towards people who both want to make this specific change and are motivated by this particular tactic. Otherwise, this is a direct attack on both people who do not want to make this lifestyle change, and people who do want to make it but are struggling and find this type of post berating. It was funny that this blogger was claiming that everyone should be writing posts like this, when the entire premise of my blog is about NOT doing all of the bad things that this post does.
If I'm writing a book about not pushing people, I need to not be pushing people in the book. I know that's not entirely possible with the kind of book I'm writing, but I want to be the least pushy that I can be while still maintaining the importance of the topics. People may end up feeling bad because they realize thing that they haven't been as validating or consent-conscious as they could have been (this has happened to me a lot), but I want this to be a personal realization that comes from the information presented in the book, not from me saying, "You've done this horrible thing - now feel bad about it!" (I will say this regarding specific people in my life, but I don't want to put it in a book marketed to people I don't know).
You probably know by now that I've been in countless situations at Colby where I was shamed for not doing stuff I didn't want to do - joining clubs, going to events, reading what other people wanted me to read, knowing what other people thought I should know, etc. Being part of a bunch of pretentiously-less-elite subcultures within that elitist culture taught me something about myself: I am your "average" reader. I'm the average reader who only wants entertainment and not information. I'm the average reader who only wants to feel good and doesn't want to read stuff that makes me feel bad about myself. I'm the average reader who knows nothing about the topic, who would only take an interest if it were really exciting and fun. I am the reader that everyone complains about having to appeal to. And you know what? I WANT to appeal to the average reader. Because I do NOT support telling people that they have to care about learning, read stuff that they "should" read, be okay with being called out and not feeling good, or anything like that. I am the average reader and I do not want people pushing me to be anything else. I do not want to push my readers to be anything else. I want to appeal to them because I support people's right to like what they like and to avoid things that make them feel bad. And if I'm not going to push people, then I need to appeal to them.
Easier said than done of course. If I tell people to let others do what they like and not push them to do things they "should" do, that statement itself is a "should" statement. So...I'm not exactly sure how to mix the gentle and fun appeal with the actual content of the book. All I know is that keeping the book entertaining and fun and non-pushy does not compromise the integrity of the message - it is part of the integrity of the message.