Friday, June 24, 2016

Years and Goals

When I was 26 years old, a lot happened. I got my first "grownup" job (meaning a full-time permanent position that I could potentially keep for a long time, as opposed to a summer job, part-time job, or temp job). I also got my first apartment and started living on my own. While I don't actually do chores or take care of any grownup responsibilities around the house, I do pay my own bills, and anyone who hadn't seen what I wrote on Facebook during this time would have viewed me as a good responsible successful adult because I had a job and lived on my own and was supporting myself. And I do not appreciate that one bit.

I knew that I wanted to be a princess divastar hedonist - basically, not do any work and just go around having lots of fun and being all glamorous and feeling special - as early as I can remember. I'm estimating age 3 for when I would have been consciously aware of wanting this. I had not achieved that lifestyle at age 26.

26 - 3 = 23 years

I wanted to drop out of school since I began school at age 4. I had not achieved that goal at age 26. I had in fact lost my opportunity to quit school because I graduated, which is not the same thing.

26 - 4 = 22 years

I wanted to be a professional writer since I was 6. I am very close to achieving this now, but I had not reached this goal by age 26.

26 - 6 = 20 years

I wanted to be a Broadway star since I was 14. I had not achieved this goal by age 26.

26 - 14 = 12 years

I wanted to get major revenge on my college since I was 18. I made significant progress at this goal by writing The Unencrypted Truth, but I will not feel like I've achieved it until I publish a book about the school, so I had not achieved this goal by age 26.

26 - 18 = 8 years

The goals I have just listed are all goals that I still wanted at age 26, even the ones that were a bit out of my grasp. I did not list any goals that I truly lost interest in.

I wanted to move out of my parents' house and live on my own and support myself when I was 24. And I don't mean that I didn't want to move out when I was 10 because 10-year-olds don't move out - I mean that as a child, I saw myself doing a lot of different things when I was a grownup, mostly being a writer and an actress and a general superstar - but I never pictured myself moving out. I never wanted to get married or have kids, and I honestly was planning to just live with my parents forever. I was 24 years old by the time I had a true desire to move out.

26 - 24 = 2 years

If you refer back to the math problems above, you could hardly call me successful at age 26 for having a job and an apartment, if you add up the years of dreams that I hadn't achieved, and consider that I had only wanted to get a job and support myself for about 2 years before I did it.

I'm very, very close to being successful now and achieving some of my life-long goals. I just want to remind everyone that people have other dreams that have nothing to do with acting grownup and responsible and being good productive citizens, and it really hurts me to know that most of the people who gave me approval for getting a job and an apartment (and I'm not talking about my close friends who were psyched about my apartment - I'm talking about people who *approved* of my getting a job and an apartment because that was what I *should* be doing at age 26) would *not* have been supportive at all if I had managed to achieve all of my other life goals without having a job and being financially independent and living on my own. (And yes, this would have been possible because I could get paid to write without necessarily being paid enough to live on, and I could be between shows long enough that I need to live with my parents in the meantime). Remember to support people in what they truly want out of life, not just in what you think they're supposed to do.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Blurring the Lines of Fiction and Reality: When It's Okay and Not Okay

When It's Okay to Blur the Lines of Fiction and Reality:

1. When you are producing your own works of fiction. It's fine to use all of the real material you want in your work. It's fine to write an entirely true story and present it as fictional. I think it's also okay to apply some poetic license when you're presenting stories as true, as long as they are in the form of a creative work, such as a memoir or personal essay, as opposed to embellishing the truth when you are talking to people directly.

2. When you want to use fictional works to assess whether you can trust a person about a real-life issue. For example, if you want to share with someone that you have an anxiety disorder, but you are not sure how they will react, so you write a fictional story about a character who experiences the same anxiety disorder as you do, and see how they react to the story. That's fine. It's perfectly fine to use fiction to assess how someone might react to you in real life, to avoid getting hurt. This is also a good way to bring up topics that you want to discuss with someone but are scared to mention. If someone is validating toward your fictional character's experience, you can segue into the fact that it's based on your real experience.

[If you really want to assess how someone will react to something without them knowing that it's about you, it's actually more effective if you can see how a person reacts to something not written by you - for instance, a blog post or article written by someone else who has an anxiety disorder similar to yours. This is more effective because people are often hesitant to say what they really think of your writing because they don't want to to hurt your feelings, so they are more likely to be honest with you about someone else's work.

Even more effective than actually sharing someone else's work with them directly would be observing how the person reacts to someone else's blog post on an anxiety disorder when you aren't the one who shared the post.]

When It's Not Okay to Blur the Lines of Fiction and Reality:

1. When you assume that something presented as fiction is true, especially when it could get someone into trouble.

If you truly suspect that someone is using a fictional story to communicate real information to you, such as a close friend sharing a fictional story about a character who has depression when you have a feeling that your friend might also have depression, the best thing you can do is validate the character in the story, say something like, "Wow, I learned a lot about depression from reading your story. What Anna went through was really hard," and let your friend decide if they want to share anything with you.

But in cases where someone has to share the story with you because you are their writing teacher, you should not be assuming that the student necessarily is trying to share true information with you. It is absolutely NOT OKAY to report anything or get anyone into trouble for something that they presented as fiction, no matter much you suspect that it might be real.

2. When you are a writing teacher and a student comes to you with a non-writing problem. Everything isn't about writing. Writing a story or poem is not the solution to every problem. If you were a math teacher and a student came to talk to you because their grandfather died or their parents were getting a divorce or they were being bullied in school, you would (hopefully!) not try to convert the conversation back to something math-related. You would understand that the student was coming to you because they trust you, not because their problem has anything to do with math.

But for some reason, writing teachers (not all of them, but several that I've met), feel the need to turn everything into a writing project. When I have gone to my writing professors with personal problems because they seemed understanding and I trusted them, they turned everything I said into a writing project. Now, it would be bad enough if their response was, "Let's see how we can convert these feelings into a story/poem." But this was worse. They actually started talking to me about how I *shouldn't* be putting these feelings into my writing because they didn't belong there. Just to be clear, I didn't even start the conversation about writing - I was telling them about REAL problems, seeking REAL support, which, by the way, is not the same as writing advice. In addition to getting zero real support, I had all my channels blocked by being told I couldn't write about what mattered to me, then these professors shifted the conversation from my personal crisis to how I could get better at writing. Yes, I'm serious. This happened every single time.

The other day, I was noticing how nice it is not be surrounded by writing professors, to be around people who understand that every situation isn't about writing.

If you are a writing teacher you need to know that:
1. Everyone has the right to tell their story and use whatever real inspirations they want in their writing. You have absolutely no business telling anyone what real life events they can and can't use. That's super invasive and not okay.
2. You don't have the right to assume anything fictional is real and get anyone into trouble over it.
3. Your students should be able to talk to you as a human being who cares about them and not just as their writing teacher. Don't convert every personal conversation a student has with you into a writing issue, unless your student specifically tells you that they want to write about something.

And keep in mind that good writing is effective writing. If your student hates their new stepparent and wants to write a story about how horrible that person is, a "good story" would be one which makes the reader feel their pain, makes the reader angry, and makes the reader hate this person as much as they do. THAT is good writing. Teaching students to "edit" the story in a way that cuts the stepparent more slack and paints them in more of a positive light is invalidating and is horrible writing advice, and you shouldn't get to keep your job as a writing teacher if that's the kind of advice you're going to give.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

June Season

It's one of those mornings when I wake up feeling like I really miss having my book to work on. I'm gonna try some normal blogging to see if that helps.

First of all, things have been going much, much better at my job lately, and I've been developing much better relationships with people. I wish I could write more about them, but I'm still a little uncomfortable writing about specific work stuff on my blog. But this story is pretty innocuous:

So, it's June, which means it's graduation season. Lots of my coworkers have had graduations to go to in the past week. My boss just had two nieces graduating this week, and my coworker has a niece graduating this weekend as well. They were both talking about their nieces and how they were so proud of them, and I was proud of their nieces too.

Sometime when I got home last night, I realized something: for the first time since college, I could actually talk about graduation and not cringe. For years, I used to cringe and feel sick to my stomach anytime that people talked about high school or college graduations because it made me think a lot about college and about how all the praise I got at my own high school graduation ended up hurting me (this only happened when people talked about high school and college graduations; younger graduations never bothered me). This time I didn't cringe at all. I just felt happy for their nieces, the same way that I would if their nieces had made it to dance team nationals or gotten their dream jobs or anything else not related to graduation. Here are the reasons I think this happened:

1. Enough time has passed. And no, I don't believe that time heals everything, but I think enough time has passed that I don't automatically cringe when someone mentions graduation. And it's not so much a matter of time passing as it is about that space being filled with lots of things unrelated to college, that it actually feels like a long time ago, not something that's currently on my mind. And just to be clear, if I ever hear anything that sounds coercive or not 100 percent consensual, like people saying that college will be "good" for someone when that someone doesn't seem so thrilled about it, I will still cringe and will absolutely say something to the person about it, but I think I'm at a point where just the general mention of graduation doesn't upset me. Which brings me to...

2. (And this is much more important): My boss and my coworker strike me as non-coercive people who would not be trying to push someone into something that they did not want to do. I've done a lot of observing and listening in on conversations before I shared a lot with them, and I don't suspect that their nieces are going to go through what I went through, based on how they talked about their nieces, and just based on the way they are. This is an important point. I know there was a time when I was just so upset about what happened to me that any mention at all of a graduation was upsetting, no matter what the circumstances. (my ex dragged me to two graduations in 2011 and both of them set me into weeks of depression and flashbacks, but he didn't give a fuck). But there were also times when I think that people around me (meaning my ex) tried to attribute my pain to my past alone, when the truth was that their behavior was coercive. I think that my ex's parents' behavior toward his sister was always coercive, that they were trying to push her into things whether she wanted to do them or not. I think a lot of the times that I was upset about graduations, it was because actual bad things were happening in the present - it wasn't *just* because of my past. And that's not happening this time. I'm finally with non-coercive people whom I trust to not push people.

Now, after thinking this over, I wondered if I was jumping the gun a bit. After all, it's June, not September. What's going to happen come September, when everyone at work is talking about everyone going off to college? Well, I think I can handle it this time because I trust these people, and because I have a plan:

1. I'm going to only talk about what makes people happy. If someone is proud of their niece starting college, I will ask, "Is your niece excited to go to college?" I will keep the focus 100 percent on how it's great that people are getting to do things that they really want to do and things that make them happy, rather than talking about college being an objectively good thing. I've been in enough environments where people talk about school stuff as objectively good and it's an uphill battle trying to push "Is this person going to be happy?" but my coworkers are people that I trust not to do that, they seem like they would be way more focused on what makes the person happy anyway, so this won't be hard for me to do.

2. If anything comes up where it seems like someone is hesitant to go to college and people are saying that they'll get used to it or anything like that, I'm going to say to the person whose niece it is, (in a helpful, non-accusatory tone), "At some point, you should probably let your niece know that you support her decisions no matter what. Make sure she knows that if it doesn't work out, if for any reason she decides that she doesn't like it there and wants to come home, that you'll be there for her and support her choice and not pressure her to stay. I would definitely mention that because that's something that I needed someone in my family to say to me." I'll say it with the built-in assumption that they would be supportive, and I'm just suggesting that they mention it. The important thing to remember is that this would actually be effective with this group, it won't be an uphill battle, because I have a great group.

And you know something else? I think they will actually respect where I come from. I think when I say that I needed someone to do it for me, they'll respect that and take it seriously.

When September rolls around, if I can stay in my good group and avoid being around anyone who is coercive, I'll be fine. I won't be feeling sick. I'll feel good that I've potentially helped these nieces whom I'll never meet by advising their aunts to do something that I needed someone to do for me.