The thing is . . .

. . . while I know that I am responsible for my own media consumption, for policing what I can and cannot consume lest it set off a bomb in my brain (thank you, mental illness), while I never hold anyone else responsible for the task of policing my media and keeping me safe, it’s exhausting.

It’s also isolating.

So, hi, I’m gonna talk about something that frequently gets skipped over in the debate about trigger warnings, and that is how much fucking work those of us who have triggers–especially those like me who have a shittily unfair number of them thanks to craptastic life experiences–have to put into policing our own media. And how hard that job can be. And, also, how unfair it is to tell us “just don’t watch/read that!” if we DO consume something that winds up being triggering.

Because here’s the thing: when you have triggers, you have to be careful of every single piece of new media. You have to look up spoilers, or ask friends who’ve already seen/read the thing if it’s safe territory for you. You have to avoid outings with friends to the theatre unless you’ve researched ahead of time, you have to decline starting a new TV series or watching an old film you haven’t researched if you’re staying in, and, if you’re as sensitive as I am, there are some topics and media that can’t even be talked about, never mind consumed.

Over time, you stop watching trailers. You stop reading about new media coming out. Chances are, you won’t be able to enjoy it anyway–not with how dark, gorey, rapey, dystopian, and all-around angsty mainstream media has gotten in the last several years.

And, I get it. Fiction is the safe place to explore the things that scare and fascinate and haunt us. But when you’ve already lived through horrors, large or small, that exploration ceases to be entertainment. Some things are only fun to read/watch if you’ve never had to live through them.

So, yeah. Sometimes, that means we read or watch something we shouldn’t, or regret. Because we’re tired of always saying “no”, of putting in the time to research, of having to avoid common social activities for the sake of our mental health. Because we think that, hey, if my best friend likes it, I probably will too, this should be fine. Because we’re tired of trying to dig for “safe” media to consume, because maybe we want to feel normal, just this once.

So, no–I don’t expect anyone to police my media consumption for me. But I do wish that there was more media I could enjoy without risking my sanity, because entertainment is everywhere and is a common topic people bond over. Because it stings, just a little, every time someone mentions a TV or book series, a movie they have watched and loved, and I can’t discuss it with them, can’t let them share that love with me; every time someone asks “Have you seen [y]?” and I tell them, “Just assume I haven’t seen anything you’re talking about.” Because it’s one more obstacle my mental illness creates for me, one more barrier between me and finding positive common ground with the people I care about.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

The Trouble With “Safe Spaces”

Most of the people who have stumbled their way to my blog have probably heard the term “safe space” before. The concept is relatively simple — a safe, inclusive space without discrimination that provides support to those who need it most. But while it sounds great in theory, it is endlessly problematic in practise.

I have never seen a safe space work as intended. My experience has been with safe spaces for LGBTQ people, and those who struggle with disability, mental illness, and/or trauma. In many cases, there has been overlap between these categories.

Safe spaces are riddled with logistical problems, starting with the fact that everyone’s idea of what constitutes a “safe space” will be different. The way the space is moderated or run is another issue, and one that frequently sounds the death knell for the effort, as hosts lean more towards a model that establishes them as authority figures rather than leaders, and creates an uneven power differential among a group of people who, often, have suffered poor treatment or even abuse at the hands of those in power. For a safe space to function properly, everyone must be treated as an equal, and conflicts need to be managed and resolved from a place of mutual respect — otherwise, one or more members walk away feeling like a scolded child, which leads to resentment and distrust.

The other major issue safe spaces face is trying to balance the individual needs of members with the safety of the group as a whole. This gets harder to do the larger a group grows — but no one wants to turn away someone seeking a safe space. As a result, they often buckle under their own weight as interpersonal conflicts simmer, and those who feel wronged have to be civil and make nice with people they want nothing to do with.

Individuals seeking safe spaces walk in with a number of needs, behavioural quirks, and issues unique to them. This can make them tricky to accommodate, and even downright frustrating at times. No one wants to violate the premise of a safe space by asking them to stop doing that thing that’s annoying everyone, but at the same time, truly disruptive or distressing behaviour has to be addressed. The fact that someone is working at a disadvantage does not give them the right to upset or harm others without second thought. Managing those kinds of situations is difficult, and is when respect and a lack of judgement become invaluable.

No talk of safe spaces would be complete without mentioning triggers. Triggers are topics, experiences, memories, and/or words/phrases that cause deep distress to the person encountering them. Distress severe enough that it impacts their ability to function. Those of us who have them have to deal with accusations of “oversensitivity” often, which is profoundly unfair. No one wants to live their worst memories over and over again, and wishing to avoid being forced to do so is understandable, not oversensitive.

The trouble with triggers comes in when you have a moderate to large group of people who have a various assortment of them. Trying to keep everyone safe becomes a priority, but is one I have never seen achieved. One of three things tends to happen:

  1. Someone is told that they cannot speak about their experiences/ seek support or must leave the safe space because they are triggering others. While avoiding hurting others is important, there is an undertone of shame to this approach that defeats the purpose of a safe space, because it requires censorship. It also sends the message that your emotions and experiences are so ugly that they should not be spoken of, which is not only problematic, but deeply painful, possibly even (re-)traumatizing
  2. Someone has to leave to protect themselves, because they are constantly being exposed to triggering material/talk
  3. Infighting over the validity of triggers and individuals’ right to speak about their experiences and seek support cause the group to fracture into smaller subgroups, or for the safe space to cease existing altogether

I don’t have any neat, tidy solutions to this problem, probably because any effective solution will need to be multifaceted. What I do know is that identifying the issues with safe spaces is the first step towards working out how to solve them. And, really, it’s important that we do. People need to be able to share what their lives are and have been, and seek needed support in a way that isn’t strictly clinical (counselling, therapy). A support network made up of friends and/or family is absolutely vital when dealing with any number of issues that might drive someone to seek a safe space, because the goal is not to stay in counselling/therapy forever. Ideally, there are people in our lives who can and will help us if we tell them how.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

A New Year

So, it’s 2017. I didn’t start this year with any resolutions, because I think the concept is ridiculous — if I have something to accomplish, I’m not going to wait for a specific date on the calendar to start working toward it.

But, that being said, New Year’s Eve does tend to make me reflective. This year I had a lot to reflect on. I know this post is kind of late, in that regard, but today is important to me — because one year ago today, on January 15th 2016, I started writing my novel. A year ago I started down the path that led to launching a career in publishing before I’d even had my 25th birthday. My novel still isn’t published, but that’s okay. I still accomplished a lot.

And a lot of that a lot was writing. I haven’t finished totalling up the poetry yet, because it’s scattered in different notebooks and scrap bits of paper and .rtf files on my computer, but I have already compiled 15 poems — one of which was published — as ones that I will polish and keep as finished products. I still have pages to dig through, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that number reached 25.

I was even more prolific in my fiction writing. I produced 137, 896 words of fiction this year. 53k of that was my novel, and about 11-12k was short original fiction. 73.5k was in fanfiction.

That’s a lot of writing. When I added up my totals, I couldn’t believe it. How could I have produced so much, when on a day-to-day basis I was always disappointed in how little I’d managed to produce? When I wasn’t writing every day?

I think part of it is that every bit matters. It all counts. I think the other important factor is that this was the first calendar year I didn’t have any scholastic responsibilities to fulfil. I was able to devote my primary focus in 2016 to my writing.

As much as I want to be able to do the same this year, to meet and even exceed the output I managed last year, I don’t know if that will be possible. I suspect it won’t, for a number of reasons. The primary one being that I enter 2017 only to leave my family home. It’s a big change, but one I’m looking forward to. That does not mean, however, that it comes without it’s anxieties or time-consuming tasks. It’s a major life change, and those always make it harder to write.

I’m also embracing some other changes in 2017, small shifts that have already had a big impact on how I experience life. Little things, like deciding that I don’t have to “earn” the after-dinner cookie, or the really good loose leaf tea, that I can just have them because they make me feel good. Making the decision to take the odd night off dish duty to just relax, and catch up the next day. Putting effort into getting good sleep not only because it’s important to my health or medication schedule or grades, but because I deserve to wake up feeling rested and alert, and to not feel the deep-muscle aches that come with too little sleep for too long. I’ve stopped pushing myself to do more than I should — decided that, even though I could, technically, do [x] chore before bed, it would leave me aching and struggling to sleep, so it can wait until tomorrow.

I seem to be in the minority of people for whom 2016 was not a raging garbage fire. In all honesty, I broke even last year, with the good balancing out the bad. This the first time I can remember that being true. But in 2017, I’m aiming higher than “even”. I have a lot of hope for this year, and I’m going to do what I can to make it a good one.

I wish all of you the best of luck in 2017, too.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

Commentary on “Writing Advice”

Most of the writing advice I see coming from the so-called experts or prolific writers makes me so mad I could breathe fire. It’s things like, “a writer writes”, “you have to write every day”, “there’s no such thing as writer’s block”, “it’s all about butt-in-chair dedication”, “don’t ever look back on the earlier stages of what you’ve written, just keep moving forward” etc. And what all of these pieces of advice have in common is that they are trying to tell other people what their creative process should look like.

Newsflash: it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve talked to a lot of writers about their processes. And what I have found is that no two of them are alike, because no two people are exactly alike. One writer I know is able to produce two thousand words per day, every day, which is tremendously productive and also highly intimidating. Another writer I know writes long-hand, in a notebook, and types her stories out afterward. Another writer I know is able to write in coffee shops, secluded corners, libraries, you name it. One writer lets the story run away with them, while another has to plot everything out carefully, in another document. The method and process that produces a particular writer’s best work will vary by the person, which makes trying to give generalized advice to aspiring authors useless. More than that, it can be incredibly discouraging.

Because you know what else a lot of this advice doesn’t take into account? That not everyone is perfectly healthy in mind and body. One writer I know has bouts of crippling anxiety over words—and not just in fiction, but in emails and informal communication. Another writer lives in chronic pain, and sometimes that pain is so bad that they cannot write, or go to work, or even get out of bed. And then there’s me. If I have a PTSD event, it can take a couple of days for my brain to settle and go back to functioning as close to normal as it’s capable of, and I don’t have the focus or emotional resources to write during that time.

And that isn’t my fault, or something I should be shamed for. Writing is individual, like every other art. Sure, you can go to school for it—but that doesn’t automatically make you good. Just like practising and self-teaching doesn’t automatically make you bad or inferior to someone who got the formal education. Every writer will have a unique method or combination of them for getting their best stories out—because it’s not really about how fast you write or how many words you get out in a day. It’s about the quality of the story you’re telling.
~
I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

PSA:

If your cookware says “non-stick” on it, that isn’t a challenge.

If you treat it as a challenge, you are being an asshole to your cookware, who never did anything to deserve being ruined, and also to the person who washes your dishes, who just might do something to you. You will have it coming if they do.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

Confession #83:

I don’t like chess. I learned how to play as a child, and played a lot for a couple of years, but other people ruined it for me. Chess—for whatever reason—was seen as THE measuring stick for intelligence, and I was a baby genius, so the assumption was that I’d be an amazing chess player. Truth is, I was and am a decent player, but it’s not hard to be better than me. I’m a reactionary player. In my family, Fatherbot and Will are the chess whizzes, the ones with the heads for strategy, and I’ll always play a game with them if they ask, because I know I can count on them to not be dicks about it. I’ve never had an issue with losing a game to someone—my problem was when my opponent rubbed my face in my loss, mocking me, deriding my intelligence, and screaming across the playground and/or classroom to get the other kids (and sometimes the teacher) to join them in shitting on me. My other problem was in winning against anyone who wasn’t in my family or my babysitter—because if I won, I was a stuck-up bitch who thought she was better than everyone else. You can see how that would be shitty for an eight-year-old.

Chess is, first and last, a GAME. It’s supposed to be fun. But when losing came with a serving of three days’ bullying, and winning brought on mass cold-shouldering, it quickly lost its appeal.
~
I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

Hello, September

This is the first August I can remember where I haven’t spent the last half of the month gearing up for a new school year.

No restocking pens, paperclips, highlighters and sticky notes. No scrambling to buy textbooks. No having to reorganize my desk, taking it from Creative Mode to Academic Mode. No recalibrating my sleep schedule. No class conflicts and grad requirements to work with and around. No bad-professor-dodging. No cancelling my birthday because of exams. No pre-emptive stress over reading lists and assignment deadlines.

It feels strange. Good, in a way. Light. But hollow, too. Because this was my life’s primary structure and mode of organization for years and years. It was never easy, but there was something reassuring in having a definite measuring stick for success, in being able to know exactly what was required of me. It didn’t make it any easier to do what was required, didn’t lessen the toll on my mind or body, but at least I didn’t have the stress/fear of the unknown to deal with, too.

I’m trying to find a new way to structure my life. I know that, for a lot of people, that’s work. I’ve gotten news that I’m being published (OMG!!!) so my writing career is taking off, but I know that won’t pay the bills right now (and might not ever). I have some other opportunities that I’m looking into, and have gotten stuck playing the waiting game on, but there are things to consider on the work front that scare me.

Things like: How will I be able to hold a job when my health, physical and mental, is still unstable? How will I find a job that I can do with my limitations, and how do I hold onto it? What if I can’t work full-time? How will I support myself? What if I can’t ever work full-time?

And, because our culture is so, so bad about tying your identity to your work, your ability to be productive, I have to battle self-doubt on top of all those other things. Even knowing logically that I have worth as a person whether I can work or not doesn’t stop the emotional part of me from whispering that no one will want to be with, love, or be friends with a useless, disabled lesbian. It doesn’t stop the nagging questions of “How dependent will I have to be on others? How dependent am I allowed to be before I’m a burden? Who would be willing to shoulder that burden? How could I possibly be okay with being a burden on my loved ones?” from creeping up on me.

That kind of thought process is toxic, and I know it. It is also, unfortunately, incredibly difficult to root out. Knowing that it’s utter bullshit, that it’s capitalism telling me I have to be a successful, economically-productive individual to have worth; that it’s the decades of abuse undercutting my sense of self; that it’s my anxiety and mental illness trying to tear me down doesn’t make it go away or hurt any less.

All I can do in those moments is remind myself that:
1) I have people who love me so, so much, and in a variety of ways;
2) I have been working towards better health and stability for about 2 years now, and my efforts have started to pay off;
3) I am trying to pursue work, but have to wait and see if things fall into place—and it’s not my fault if they don’t;
4) My limits are not my fault;
5) Human beings are inherently social creatures, and we all need to be taken care of sometimes, no matter our age or level of ability;
6) I am trying, and that counts;
7) My limits are still not my fault.
~
I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.