Change is the constant

Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix

[Warning: What follows is a heavy, introspective post broken up with humorous gifs, because that’s how I roll. I’ve been writing this post over the past few weeks, as I am wont to do, but it got harder to resolve myself to its spirit yesterday, when I lost the feline companion who has been my best friend since I was thirteen years old. But then I remember her royal sassiness looking at me, those beautiful yellow-green eyes seeming to say, “I love you, but get it together, woman.” And so I think I must do even better than I promised myself, for her.]

In the summer of 2012, I launched something that I called the Bold New Me Initiative. It was two years after the end of an abusive relationship, though it had taken me most of those two years to stop mourning for it and instead to realize that what had happened had been abuse. And, having realized it, I was mad as hell and determined to refashion myself into someone who could never have “let herself” be treated that way. I had finished drafting and doing initial edits on what would become From Unseen Fire. I was going to go to a convention and pitch it, and then I was going to query, and by the gods I was going to be the novelist I’d always said I would be, come hell or high water. I was going to glitter and glow as I knew I was meant to. I was going to recreate myself as something astonishing.

It almost worked.

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My intentions were certainly good, but there were still things in my life I was blind to. Those things held me back from managing to evolve entirely into the sort of person I wanted to be.

It’s rough to look at yourself and know you have been susceptible to toxic people. To know that you still have that susceptibility, that that weakness will always be in you, however strong and independent-minded you want to think yourself. To know you will have to learn to vigilantly guard against it.

It’s only a little mollifying to know you’re not alone, but the internet does occasionally help in that regard. I don’t know what reasons other people have that give birth to that vulnerability, but for me, it’s entirely because of how badly I want to be liked. Gods, I wish I didn’t. Life would be so much better if I gave as few fucks as I sometimes pretend I have to spare. But that’s just not who I am.

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I want to be liked, to be loved, to belong. And it makes me horrifyingly susceptible to the love-bombing that toxic people open and often sustain damaging relationships with. In 2012, I had freed myself from one poison but didn’t realize I was drinking another on a daily basis. And that would lead to… a whole lot of bad. It would keep me from living up to the image I have of myself. It would trap me and encourage me to make myself small in ways I wouldn’t be able to see clearly for years. It would cause me to isolate myself more than I realized, ignoring opportunities for fulfilling friendships and letting slip some of those I already had. It would dial my anxiety disorder up to 11 on an almost-constant basis.

Living like that… the center cannot hold.

Last year, I tried again. I left the city I’d lived in for close to a decade, the stable job I’d gotten right out of grad school. It all felt right, at the time — cleansing. So many things happened all at the same time — the car I’d had since I was 16, for example, finally gave up the ghost. It seemed like a sign. Yes, move out and move on. Let go of everything that has so ill-defined you these past few years. Start over, entirely fresh.

I still think the time was right for it. I very clearly needed to make some changes, or I was going to lose my grip on sanity entirely.

But I didn’t stick the landing.

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In a few weeks, I’m going to be going back to my high school to talk about careers and adulting. I’m likely to be a bit too honest about it. One of the things I’m going to stress? Don’t make decisions in crisis mode. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Because that’s really what I can trace this past Lost Year to. I had let myself get so knotted up that the only way I saw to get out was hacking through everything with a sword. And, I mean, that works… but then you’re left with a bunch of frayed ends that don’t do anyone any good.

I spent the dark of the year in a very dark place (literally as much as figuratively). I started my self-imposed exile a few weeks before the autumn equinox; I returned to a familiar home a few weeks before the vernal. The symbolism is too much for a pagan to ignore. A cold, lonely hibernation. Everything folding in on itself, unfed by the sun, blasted by icy winds. A journey to the Underworld, bleak and grey.

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But spring always comes. Snows always melt.

As miserable as it was, I’m starting to think this year nonetheless had Purpose. Perhaps I had to go through this year in order to really and truly strip away all those things I don’t want to be. I think I had to die a little in order to figure out how I want to live.

The phoenix, after all, has to reduce herself entirely to ash before she can blaze again.

So from here on out, I blaze. (And if I say it to all of you, perhaps that will force me to be accountable to myself and actually land on my feet this time.) No more excuses. No more ducking my head. No more making myself small. From Unseen Fire comes out in a few weeks, and I think I have a few lessons to learn from my own heroine. Starting now, I walk with my head up and my core tight and my hips under me, rather than slouching my way through the world. (You know, like this). I’m going to go back to wearing clothes that say “pay attention to me” rather than “please ignore me”. I’m going to start wearing high heels again. I will be the lioness, not the mouse. I will take what is mine — with fire and blood, should that prove necessary.

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I will live up to the image I want to have of myself — and I will live up to the image that those who love me have of me, because bless them, that my friends can still think me worthy of affection seems a miracle, some days. I don’t want to let them down any longer. I will spend more time nurturing those friendships. I will remember that I am an extrovert, that avoiding people makes me unhappy, and so I will engage with the world rather than shutting it out.

And wherever I land next, I am going to summon every ounce of regality in me, and I will own that place.

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Bold New Me Initiative, v2.0.

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And, as is appropriate, an accompanying 2.0 playlist:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1270613493/playlist/4Kk5oVSgDDLaIl9qf6KIho

No Matter How Your Heart is Grieving: Some thoughts for #WorldMentalHealthDay

When I was a kid, Cinderella would never have made my list of top five Princesses. I loved Jasmine and Belle and Nala, because they were independent and fierce and they wanted things. Cinderella had a nice singing voice and I liked the mice, but she was never a fave.

It took me a long time to appreciate Cinderella.

And honestly, it hit me out of nowhere, on a trip to Disney World in 2014, when the Cinderella at the Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom brought me to tears. I was 10000% unprepared for the experience.

She started off my complimenting my hair (the princesses all loved my hair) and asked if my mice friends had helped me braid it. I told her no, I don’t have mice friends, but I do have a cat friend — but a nice cat friend, not an evil one like Lucifer. And we chatted about how she’s let Elsa redecorate her castle for the winter, though it does mean some mopping up when the ice melts, and how Prince Charming is helpful around the house (moreso, I got the impression, than some of the other Princes). We had a lot of time to talk, because the non-Frozen side of Fairytale Hall was practically deserted first thing in the morning.

And then, for some reason, I told her how much I’ve always liked her song, and how much it’s meant to me, because I’d been through some rough times, but “no matter how your heart is grieving” – and for no readily identifiable reason I started to get a little choked up. So she finished for me, “If you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.”

Then she gave me a big hug, pulled back, squeezed my hands and looked me right in the eyes and said, quietly and just for me, “I’ve always said that if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. But you can do it. I know you can.”

And then I somehow managed to get through the posed pictures and around the corner before dissolving into tears entirely, because Cinderella believes in me and my dreams.

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Seriously, in this picture I’m about 4 nanoseconds from Losing It. And I’m definitely not almost in tears now just from retelling the story.

When you’re broken — when your brain tells lies, when depression says you’ll never be good enough or brave enough or strong enough, when anxiety has you certain that no one actually likes you and even your friends are just pretending, when let-downs and betrayals occasionally hammer that message home, when toxic influences have magnified everything bad you think about yourself — just hearing words like those is… well, magic. I will forever be grateful to that actress, who somehow looked in my eyes and intuited that I needed a message of hope.

I went to see the live action Cinderella the next year with way more enthusiasm than I would’ve had without that experience in the Magic Kingdom, I think, and if you’ve seen it, you know it’s a more emotionally nuanced version of the story. I wasn’t the only woman who took away a different message than “marry up if at all possible”. Cinderella had become a story about surviving abuse and managing not to let it destroy the core of who you are.

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A lot of what I’ve had to learn in dealing with my anxiety and depression is remembering things like I am not my pain; I am not the fear and anger that pain causes me. I am more than the bad things that have happened to me. I am worthy of being treated well. I deserve to trust and be trusted. I deserve to feel safe. I deserve to be loved.

I haven’t dealt with it all as gracefully as Cinderella, I know. But I try to remember to Have courage, and be kind.

And there are worse things to think about on World Mental Health Day.

 

Writing as an Extravert

My agent, Connor, took part in a video panel today for #talkwriting, focused on the question of personality type when it comes to careers in the writing and publishing world. It’s a topic I find super-interesting, and the conversation pinged a couple of things for me, so — I blog!

A lot of the panel dealt with the stereotype versus the reality. It’s one of those things that I feel like everyone knows, and yet the internet still perpetuates the worst case scenario. (The internet is, admittedly, good at that). There’s this prevalent idea that introverts are gentle fragile flowers who must be sheltered from the harshness of the world, and extraverts are shallow drunken party-crazed egomaniacs — and people reblog cartoons to this effect and lol all over the place, and it makes you wonder what’s going on in their heads. For example, one of the introverts on the panel gave voice to the prevalent idea that extraverts are extraverted because they’re “not afraid of people”. Which just sort of makes me laugh. I’m an extravert, and I also have some social anxiety issues. These things are not mutually exclusive, as I think the stereotype would render them. In a lot of ways, I have the issues because I’m extraverted. Because I want to be around people and because that’s where I get my energy, I also worry tremendously about what people think about me. I don’t just desire but require positive feedback in order to function optimally. It’s not a crippling problem, and I tend to master it well (by now, through years and years of practice), but it does exist. I don’t know if I’d call that “afraid of people”, exactly, but I maintain a constant awareness about how I’m presenting myself and how that presentation is being received.

I also know what I was like when I was living by myself at the beach during the off-season. It was not pretty. That’s the most secluded I’ve ever been in my life. I was by myself on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during a time of year when there was no one on the island. I was working at a bookstore and lucky if I saw two customers in a day. The isolation was staggering. By the end of my time there, I was talking to my cats a lot more than is appropriate even for someone who talks to her cats anyway. I once went eight days without physically touching another human being, and I was in a really despairing mental place by the end of that.

I live alone in Staunton now, and have done for about three and a half years, but it’s tolerable mostly because I do see people every day at work, I get plenty of physical contact, and I have friends I can go see almost whenever I want. I do wish, though, that I had even more of that. I tend to see the same people under the same circumstances, and I wish those circles were larger. I have a lot of internet friends, or real life friends who are now long-distance, and I’m very active on social media. That acts as a sort of placebo, but it isn’t the same.

I wish there were more parties in my life. I miss there being lots of parties in my life. It’s part of why I love going to cons so much — I know what I’m like at cons versus what I’m like in my usual, more secluded daily life. It’s not just about it being a party, as the stereotype would have it. I’m way, way happier when I have more engagement with more people. I feel more myself that way. I love to talk. I love to teach. I love to play games. I like organizing events — which is how I ended up in charge of so many social clubs in high school and college. I like finding new friends. I’m almost literally incapable of keeping my life to myself — I can keep other people’s secrets, but not my own. I have to share what’s going on in my world and in my heart, even if it’s just with a select few people. I look outside myself for help and for feedback. I don’t feel comfortable making major decisions unless I’ve talked them out with at least one other person.

I do hit a point where I need time alone, and that’s been the case since I was a small child, as my parents can attest. But until I hit that point of overstimulation, I want to be around people (and I tend to hit that point of overstimulation because I’m not always great at knowing when to pull myself away from festivities until it’s too late).

And no one’s 100% one thing or another, really. This is a point both of the extraverts on the panel made — it’s not that you want to be around people 100% of the time, any more than introverts want to be alone 100% of the time. There’s a spectrum. When I take the personality tests, I definitely skew extraverted, but it’s a moderate skew, not an extreme. But I more easily get energy from people than from being alone. Being alone tends to make me sluggish and lethargic, whereas being around people pumps me up. I’m more productive the more I have to do and the busier my schedule is — otherwise I just loaf. I tend to end nights of partying more energized as opposed to more tired (which is why if I’m having a good time and getting good positive feedback, I can cheerfully stay up and out until 4am). The exception is tied to the social anxiety — if I’m in a situation where I feel like I’m not wanted, like I can’t contribute, or where I’ve been awkward, then it all crashes.

So what does this mean for me as a writer? I… don’t know, exactly. I know I don’t fit the stereotype of the secluded introvert writer who spends all of her time staring off into the middle distance, wearing pajamas and drinking tea. It’s nice to get affirmation that there are plenty of other writers who also don’t fit that mold. I don’t write around other people much, but that’s more because I can’t afford to drink the number of lattes it would take to keep me in coffee shops for extended periods of time. I do need noise while I’m working. Silence disagrees with me. I like talking about my work — though I like to have things down first, because I sometimes feel like talking about it can bleed out the energy that fuels the impulse to actually write it. But I’m not shy at all about telling my stories out loud to people.

Does the extroversion come through in my writing? I think so. When I look at what I write, both Aven and other projects, I know that I definitely do not write loners for my main characters. The Vitelliae enjoy a lively and varied social life — the dinner parties and afternoon outings that they host and attend form large portions of the plot. Other characters in other stories leave that sort of structured social life behind — but it’s to join up with some new group of people that they then spend all of their time with, for some reason or other. All of my heroines, whatever the challenges they face, learn and grow through their interactions with other people, not through introspection. So I guess my own personality comes out in that way.

The #talkwriting panel wrapped up their conversation by discussing Myers-Briggs types, and whatever you think of that test in particular or personality testing on the whole… it’s a nice shorthand. I’m an ENFJ — which is a shift. I used to be an ENFP, but I’ve drifted over that P/J line in the past few years. Definitely an NF, though, and stronger E preference than J preference. For what that’s worth. 😉