Lessons from The Worst Idea of All Time (Podcast)

Around Christmas I was introduced to the podcast The Worst Idea of All Time and pretty much immediately glommed all extant episodes and caught up in plenty of time to finish out the 52nd and last episode the day it went public this week. If the podcast hasn’t crossed your radar yet, all you need to know about it for our purposes here is that two friends (Tim and Guy) watch the same bad movie (Grown-Ups 2) every week for a year and then discuss it after each viewing. In hot Kiwi accents liberally sprinkled with cursing, existential despair, and a pretty epic bromance. I had a wonderful time.

In listening to all 52+ episodes, I found not only barrels of laughs but also occasional moments of brilliant insight for an author (sometimes any creative type) – and some insights that might only be brilliant to the particular writer that I am. I thought I’d share them.

1. If you look at any given project too long you lose all sense of perspective. There were so many moments in the course of the discussions where Guy and Tim would heap praise on some tiny aspect of the film merely because it was mediocre (instead of bad) or good (instead of mediocre). But those compliments would NEVER have appeared without the insane scrutiny they were putting on the film. Writers in particular struggle with maintaining perspective on a project, because for some of us writing 100,000 words takes years, or because some people revise so many times they lose track of the actual story they are trying to tell.

2. If you look closely enough at anything you can find hidden meanings. It sort of makes a mockery of the whole institution of English as a university major, listening to some of the profundities Tim and Guy projected onto this film. Serves as a reminder that all art interpretation/criticism really is is an externalized version of the critic’s own ethos (or pathos, as the case may be).

3. A text can change solely based on the mood of the consumer. What might strike you as funny in one mood can seem tragic in another. Some days you might relate to one character but relate to a different character entirely on a different day. As readers/viewers/consumers of art, in any medium, we bring with us our moods, our frustrations, our education, our cultural context, and all of them influence how we connect with a particular piece of art on a particular day. How does this affect me as a writer? It doesn’t. But it’s good for any kind of artist to remember that all art is interactive, and the audience is not entirely passive nor a tabula rossa. You can’t control what they bring to your work with them – but it might influence what they get out of it all the same.

4. Simply having a full-length project does not mean you have a story. Probably the biggest criticism the guys have of Grown-Ups 2 is its lack of an overarching plot. There is no theme; there are no stakes; there is no climax and concomitant emotional payout. There is simply a string of things that happen, some of which the characters respond to and some of which are dropped as quickly as they are brought up, and the whole is an unsatisfying waste of time.

5. Putting care into the details is not enough to make the whole thing good. Tim and Guy frequently praise the efforts of the production team – great lighting, great set design and dressing, great wardrobe choices, great sound mixing, good camera work, etc., and yet having great production values did not make the movie good. The writing equivalent would be someone who has a perfectly polished, error-free and easily readable narrative wherein the story is nonexistent and the characters bland and shallow. It doesn’t matter how well something is written, technically, if the subject is boring. Conversely, poorly written books can sell in record numbers because they include a story or character that readers find compelling (looking at you, Fifty Shades, my objet d’haine du jour).

6. Conversations are shockingly unpredictable. One of my favorite episodes – perhaps my very favorite? Certainly my favorite from a writing perspective! – was around 43.5, the one titled “Coal.” It consists of Tim basically talking to his imaginary friend about this movie, because the two were Skyping the discussion and recording two audio files to mix, only Guy’s didn’t record. The one-sided conversation is a masterful lesson in how actual conversations between two actual individuals work. Tim attempts to make points, and is, more often than not, sent off on a tangential quest that never leads back to the original point. Sometimes he is the one making leaps away from Guy’s unheard path. But it shows in a really profound way how unpredictable interactive speech is, and how what makes a conversation interesting is the give-and-take of competing perspectives and thought processes. It also shows just how much we play off of one another in conversation, how much we use the fact that we can’t predict what is about to be said to spur our own creativity in responding. Conversation is a lot like dreaming: it’s an act of simultaneous reaction and creation. What allows us to create so freely, though, is the purely reactive state we are in. One of the hardest things to do is have a conversation with an imaginary friend that actually progresses like  a real conversation would. God knows when my son is babbling at me, I struggle to find responses that can keep me talking, because I don’t have any words or ideas to play off of, just his squeals and burbling. And as much as most of the dialogue in my books comes from inspiration rather than brow-sweat (seriously, the voices in my head…they just talk), I still know that the conversations my characters have are a little too on-point. Real conversations almost never stay on one course or even conclude any topic.

7. One of the clearest signs of friendship/emotional bonding with a fellow human being is having a shared “language” with them, basically layers of callbacks and references to prior meetings/conversations/shared experiences. Listening to Guy and Tim go from friendly acquaintances to close mates over the course of this project was both heartwarming and an amazing lesson in how friendships progress. The injection of callbacks is definitely one of the key ways to track the shift, until, by the end, the two of them are having two simultaneous conversations, one with words and one with the history embedded in the words and phrases they choose that is, essentially a code they share. In this case, of course, the listening audience shares it, too, but that’s a rare occurrence.

8. Friends do not talk to one another the same way acquaintances do. There is a marked difference in how Tim and Guy speak to each other between the first episode and the last. By the end, they offer a hilariously awesome example of how best friends talk to each other. It’s a dynamic I’ve been between my husband and his friends, between my first boyfriend and his best friend (which I remember mainly because it made me think the friend was way more interesting, which made me realize I probably shouldn’t be dating that guy), between my brother and his friends. Somehow, though, hearing it between two strangers – or maybe hearing it develop in the compressed, time-lapse nature of a weekly podcast that I listened to in the course of 8 weeks instead of 52 – really struck me. Perhaps it was really just my brain leaping onto the a trigger at the right time for the revelation. I’ve been struggling with the personality of a couple heroes in books I’m slowly starting to write. One of them – the one from the first romance I ever tried to write – has always been a bit of a cipher in terms of his own personality. I know why he reacts to and behaves toward the heroine like he does; I know how and why he redeems himself for asshatery. But I couldn’t figure out what actually made him an interesting or special person…a worthy hero. The one starting place I had thought of was his best friend, who is immediately and obviously awesome. So what does his friend see in him? What does his friend value that he provides? Listening to Guy and Tim didn’t offer a specific answer, but it did provide a great look at how male friendship expresses itself and gave me some great ideas as to how the hero and his bestie treat one another. Being able to organically explore his character in such a way is the first step to unearthing the things about him that are most special.

I guess that means I should add a quick 9: inspiration truly can be found wherever you aren’t looking for it. :)

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Confessions of a Romance Writer: I don’t defend my genre

It’s Friday the thirteenth again, the day The Honest Courtesan asks non-sex-workers who support the decriminalization of prostitution to publicly say so. I do.

The most lauded article this week amongst my various news feeds was Emma Green’s piece in The Atlantic that rambles through the cultural subtext of Fifty Shades of Grey’s popularity and the intersectionality (heh) of desire, consent, and immaturity, as well as why the BDSM depicted in the book and film is an unhealthy example of such sexual predilections. If you haven’t seen it, you can find the piece here.

What struck me most about this article, aside from the fact that I have seen the titular theme multiple times in romance circles starting 2 years ago and so often since that it feels trite, is how damned ugly Ms. Green is toward the romance genre. You can quite clearly picture her sneer as she discusses “those books” and distills the genre in a reducto ad absurdum sense to “good woman reforms rake” – and then blames us for Shades. No, sorry, romance doesn’t have to take the fall for that one. We might be “trashy” and full of “those cheap books” and heteronormative cisgender-reinforcing bourgeois morality tales, but that atrocity? DID NOT SPRING FROM OUR LOINS. (Nor fully formed from our head, for that matter.) Pretty much every romance reader I know or have seen talk about the book agree it fails to meet our standards. So, sorry not sorry, Emma, but that one’s not on us. (She even implicitly admits this when discussing the phenomenon as millions of women discovering sex in a book for the first time. Yeah, romance readers knew about that 40 years ago and are able to set standards for craft and characterization.)

I felt compelled to defend romance against the spurious accusation of spawning Shades on a Facebook link to the article; I have said it in a conversation at work.

Yet, these denials are the first such defenses I have offered to my genre outside of spaces devoted to it. I have myself made comments equating romance to trash, even though I don’t believe it is – not all of it, anyway. For a long time I would pretend to my family that I wasn’t working on a book rather than tell them about the romance novel I was writing.

Why? Why should I allow the judgments and dismissals of people who haven’t the slightest idea about the genre to dictate my behavior toward it?

Obviously some of it is driven by shame or shyness about admitting both that I enjoy reading books that sometimes fit the bill of pornography and books that focus on the finding of one’s life mate. Truly intimate sex, and sentimentality, two things our culture still finds uncomfortable.

In today’s sex-saturated era, the discomfort our culture still has with the former is almost incomprehensible. Yet every tawdry display of T&A at the Superbowl halftime show, every glimpse of Lena Dunham’s naked ass on Girls, every reference in an editorial to sexual deviances (and, yes, the kink du jour is BDSM), really only serves to create more of a barrier between our cultural representation of sex and our actual experience with it – or perhaps the divide is between the experience we actually have and the one we yearn for. Most of what we pass around in our culture about sex is a front. It’s inauthentic or impersonal, and ultimately unsatisfying. Certainly the depictions I see in television and popular culture of liberated, sex-positive women who have one-night stands on a regular basis and brag about it feel hollow. In such depictions there is this utter separation of sex and intimacy, with no alternative source of intimacy offered to fill that void.

I don’t want to sound like I think sex requires emotional or spiritual intimacy to occur or even to be “good” sex, assuming orgasmic and good to be interchangeable (it obviously does not), or even that using it as an act of intimacy should be the ideal (although for me personally it is). What troubles me, however, is that our sex-everwhere-all-the-time culture has removed intimacy from human connections by making sex common and not replaced it with a different way to foster trust and emotional connection to our lovers. All we are shown is empty encounters, where the female orgasm has become the goal the same as the male’s.

Romance is different from erotica and modern popular culture both because it contextualizes sex around trust, intimacy, emotions. Not every encounter in every book; sometimes the journey of the book is moving from empty physical friction to spiritual conflagration. But overall, as a genre and as an individual journey within it, romance novels still treat sex as personal, private, and capable of revealing our truest selves. And that’s beautiful.

Middle-class though it might be, I want the dialogue we have about sex as a culture to acknowledge that it can be a powerful means of bonding, and that satisfying sex and orgasmic sex are not always the same thing.

The most intimate sex scene I’ve ever put in a book was the one I didn’t actually write. At the end of Courtship, when Piers is wondering if he’ll need more than 6 minutes to have sex with Catherine for the first time: he realizes that it doesn’t matter. The satisfaction to be had in the act is not from the physical release but the emotional bonding, the exchange of trust offered and validated that occurs with emotionally engaged intercourse.

Perhaps it has taken the current levels of soulless sexuality for me to stop being embarrassed by my sentimental notions; perhaps it is simply crossing the 30 year bridge. But for me, for the kind of sex that I value, romance is the only voice in our cultural dialogue whose perspective I relate to. Feminists and social justice warriors are free to hate it because it is generally male-positive; the pearl-clutchers who ate up Fifty Shades but would never dream of reading “those books” are welcome to their naive hypocrisy. But I’m tired of hearing that my genre is responsible for reckless depictions of abusive relationships and unsafe BDSM. No. We got that out of our system by the late 1980s. It’s everyone else who hasn’t caught up yet.

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The Epic Editorial Hit-List (List Edition)

This is a post I promised long ago and never delivered. Even though the novel in question is still not finished – it’s the one I’m rewriting the beginning of right now – the list is as complete as it’s going to get. I’ve been through it on a different novel in the meantime; it’s both comprehensive and actionable.

Here it is, then, my epic editorial list. These are all the dimensions that I am examining as I edit one of my rough drafts. I’ve separated it into what I consider the different layers of editing.

Macro Level Editorializing

Storyboarding

Does every scene advance the story or character development?

Is every scene from the best point of view for that development?

Does every scene begin and end where it should?

Are all the threads that weave together by the end introduced early enough to seed the idea and in the proper succession?

Are the characterizations consistent (or believably shifting from one point to another)? Do the characters come across to readers the way they really are (basically, do the thoughts/behaviors/actions the reader SEES add up to the person I know the character to be)?

**This is also where I would consider whether and how to address complaints/critiques from beta readers

General revisions passes (to make up for the fact that I write characters even deeper in their own heads than I am)

Physical grounding – make sure the scene and world are at least referenced, and preferably described at least impressionistically.

Add in sexual tension/physical awareness between them.

Review the dialogue – does it sound natural? Is there any difference between their “voices”? Add in slang from the era where appropriate.

Don’t belabor the point – I overexplain thought processes; minimize it. I like to add a cute little summary after I say something perfectly adequately; delete them.

How does the character think about the world? AKA the INTJ test.

Finally look up any research details I left until the end (which roads might have been taken, for example, or the specific steps of a dance).

Sentence Level Editing

Line edit – AKA, where I make it good

Tightening – can I say it with fewer words?

Clarity – do the words say what I intend them to say? Do they say it in a way that readers can instantly comprehend? Are there too many complex words in a string?

Punch – is the idea presented in the way that is most impactful? Does each sentence have the correct subject or would rearranging the concept order create a stronger reaction?

Sentence structure comparison – have I used too many of the same type of sentence (simple, compound, complex, compound-complex, fragment, or just short/long) too close together?

Long sentence/semi-colon analysis – Do all those ideas really belong in that one long sentence, or would punch and/or clarity be served by splitting them up?

Was the passive voice used? Only save it if it was intentional

Ensure all parallel constructions are, in fact, parallelisms

Do I really need that that? – I pretty much want to use one any time I can. Only about half are necessary.

Do I really need that adverb? – most of the time I either need to change the verb, or let the verb say what it needs to say. But sometimes adverbs are either necessary information or a part of the character’s internal voice.

Oops, that’s a cliché/inappropriate colloquialism!

Copyedit – AKA, where I make it right

The hunt for typos: missing words, homonyms*, words that do not mean what you think they mean

*the usual suspects get special scrutiny: its/it’s, there/their/they’re, vise/vice, two/to/too, four/fore/for, etc., etc.

Antecedent check – pronouns refer to whom I intend them to? No ideas starting with an unexplained “it”?

Dangling modifiers check – are all leading modifiers followed by the noun I intend them to modify?

Identify echoes – where a certain word or phrase is used too closely to itself and creates an unintended callback, or where two characters think about the same thing/use the same logic

Settle on a word, in all the places I put brackets around an idea because I couldn’t figure out the exact word for what I wanted to say

Name spelling consistency for all characters, places, and other proper nouns – make sure it’s always Sebastian, not Sebastian on page 2 and Sebastion on page 122

Consistency across details such as physical descriptions, the timeline of events (you can’t go to church and then declare the next day to be Tuesday), and the blocking/prop action within a scene (make sure no one takes off a shirt twice)

Capitalizing consistency (Season vs. season, Society vs. society, etc.)

Italicizing consistency (ton or ton, modiste or modiste, etc.)

Apostrophe consistency (St. James’ vs. St. James’s, etc.)

Tense and mood agreements; subject verb agreements

Pick a number style and apply it consistently! – whether it’s using numerals for anything more than one digit, or for numbers that would be more than three words to write out

No comma splices (run-on sentences where a comma is being used to connect two sentences instead of either a comma and conjunction or a semi-colon)

Confirm all semi-colons are either joining two sentences in lieu of a comma/conjunction or separating complex items in a list

Make sure there is a comma before all conjunctions forming a compound sentence

Oxford commas! Because I want to party with the strippers, JFK, and Stalin, not the strippers, JFK and Stalin.

All asides set off with commas on both ends

Check every use of “only” – is it in the right place, modifying what I intend it to modify? The lesson: how many different ideas can you get by moving “only” around in the following sentence? “The thief stole my pants yesterday.” Lily’s answer is seven. There are seven discrete ideas to be had based on which word “only” is modifying.

Proofreading

Names/titles capitalized as they should be

Quotes around dialogue, punctuation before/after as necessary

Smart quotes in proper alignment

All ellipses converted to the wider layout

Ellipses at the end of a sentence are followed by a period

Every sentence ends with punctuation

Every sentence begins with a capital letter

All em-dashes and hyphens are what they should be

_______________________________________

I know that looks like a lot. It is, but when the rules of grammar, punctuation, and style are ingrained in your mind, most of these can be done simultaneously. These are potential violations, but it’s not like a flag is going to get thrown for all of them every play, you know? They’re just all the spots I know to look a little more closely at. But the magnitude of my modest little editing list does explain why so many hire-an-editor advocates recommend multiple editors – it takes a very special person to keep all these strands in mind at once. Like an INTJ. Heh.

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I Have a Newsletter!

I think we all remember my rant about address disclosures in commercial emails such as new release newsletters, right? (Really, who could forget?)

https://lilywhitelefevre.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/on-newsletters-privacy-and-government-interference/

I finally figured out a workaround that felt acceptable to me. No, I was never able to figure out how to offer a discrete subscription to only certain announcements here on this blog, but then it hit me: WordPress doesn’t restrict me to one blog.

So I grabbed the complementary WordPress domain to my current demesne, and that will be my newsletter. Subscriptions to that blog will be separate from subscriptions to this blog. I can direct readers to it without the fear of turning them off because I post so many things that aren’t book releases.

If you want to check it out, here’s the link: https://lilylefevre.wordpress.com/

Feel free to subscribe if you want to know about my new releases – and worry you might miss the simultaneous announcements I make here. :)

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Progression of a Scene: Layer 2

I have integrated my rough-drafted conversation into my narrative flow on novel restart 3.0. Here was layer 1 of my revisions/cycling edits (where you go in and edit the last scene you wrote before you start writing again, as opposed to saving all editing for after the final draft – I am a cycler, which may be why my final editing session changes so relatively little if I got the story right). Below is where the scene stands now after I went in and drafted in my narrative writing. I decided I didn’t like their banter broken into verse, so I took that out. I need to make one or two more passes through this scene, but I will likely doit  on the novel-wide edit. Primarily I need to add in more physical description of the world around them (as opposed to merely character blocking and expressions), and I need to dig out the sexual tension if more physical description doesn’t do that.

This should offer you a better sense of how I write. I have to build my writing out from being nothing but a narrative inside a character’s head to something that creates a followable story.

LEGEND:

[bracketed comments] = editorial aside explaining what I did if it’s not a textual change that can be noted by changing the color of the words involved

black = original words

blue = compositional mode additions

red = editorial change

To recap the scenario: a masquerade. Their Lord and Lady Winter costumes match; hers, intentionally, because she wanted to match a man from her past and thinks the hero is he. He’s not. He takes her for a courtesan he’s supposed to meet there. She’s not.

Up close, she was beautiful.  Her eyes were startlingly blue, almost like faceted sapphires, and framed by dark lashes so long and so curled they brushed the top of her mask’s eye holes.  The skin around the silver papier-mâché was fine-grained and glowing.

The bosom which had caught Lysander’s attention across the room looked magnificent at touching distance.  He simultaneously wanted to yank down the fabric covering her and leave that perfect frame in place while he lost himself inside her.

He had no idea where John—or Tristan—had found such a creature or what she must have cost, but Lysander was unequivocally, profoundly grateful for her presence, and for the smirk that remained on her lips throughout his perusal.

He should speak.  The two of them could not simply stand there in the midst of the ballroom staring at one another, and he had been the one to approach her.

Unconsciously, Lysander smiled his most charming smile before voicing any words. Then he recalled his mask.  He left the expression in place anyway as he greeted her with a shallow bow.

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,” he said, reaching for the one bit of poetry he knew that might suit her attire. he murmured as he stood, offering the one poetic reference he could bring to mind that might refer to her costume.  “Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.”

“Do you not think yourself unkind to speak to me of your ingratitude?”

Her question took him aback. Had she been inconvenienced to come tonight? Had he been hard to find? [paragraph break]

While he parsed the meaning of her words, their cadence struck him. She’d replied in the same meter his verse quotation employed, with a slight pause to emphasize her phrasing—she meant to speak in verse. It was a parlor game he knew well from his sister. She always won. He wondered how he’d fare against a lady of the night. Dismally, most like, if she were an actress.

Lysander framed an iambic reply anyway. After all, she might be a dancer.

“Then should I simply note that you’re well met, my lady fair?”

The smirk deepened. “Well met, indeed, my lord.”

He held her gaze. “Am I your lord?”

“Tonight it doth appear you are.”

A chorus of angels could not have sounded sweeter. Lysander took half a step closer—an inch more, and he would have his shoes under the hem of her gown—and tipped his head down to keep their eye contact. She was not breaking it, and he could not bring himself to. He inhaled and smelled roses and some winter spice. Her body was a warm glow against his chest, discrete from the heat of the crowd.

“Then how shall I best please my love?”

“A kiss to shame all lovers here; but first a dance to cast all dancers in despair at their incompetence.”

Damn all, she must be an actress.

“A feather to your cap, my dear,” Lysander saluted, “for I cannot compete with prose so fine.”

She shook her head, mirthful. The movement drew his eyes to a strand of paste diamonds winking in her hair like snowflakes under the candles. “A sorry piece of prose, good sir, for by my count we doth converse in verse.”

“My lady has a clever mind, to match her dex’trous tongue.”

“And know you this because you dream about my tongue?” Her tone was as bold as her words. Every look she gave him from beneath those dusky lashes promised everything he wanted.

Lysander leaned in and lowered his voice. “For cert, my love: the fairest of its kind have I encounteréd.”

“A pretty piece of flattery, if true.” Bold to coy in ten syllables. Definitely a demoiselle of the stage.

He spread his arms. “Can you doubt me?”

“I have done nothing else since took you leave to speak.”

“But why? I’ faith, my lady, I have only ever spoke spake my heart’s confession.pax! I concede. oh, damn all! Pax; I concede.Damn it! Pax, my lady; I concede. You have mastered me.”

She laughed in victory. “’Twas ever thus, if I recall.”

She must win as often as Miranda. Lysander harrumphed. “No one likes a braggart.”

“In a woman, you mean. Men may, of course, talk all night of their exploits without receiving censure.” Her words, Lysander noted idly, flowed despite her no doubt assumed—or, at least, adopted—accent, with no hesitation over her vocabulary. In speech she was more than passable for a lady.  But that much was to be expected; no abbess would allow one of her girls to masquerade amongst the ton if she could not play the part.

“Mayhap,” he replied, glancing around them at the couples beginning to form up. A new set must be about to start. “I, however, prefer to spend tonight in exploits, not in talk.”

Ever a Always the man of action.”

Lysander shrugged, once more meeting her eyes. “Better a man mere master of action than a king of unmet dreams.”

“Am I just a footnote to your action, then? And here I thought myself a dream.”

The words, the tone, the smile—all were drenched in a wistfulness that made Lysander’s chest ache. He grabbed her hand and pulled it against his racing heart. “My lady, you would be a dream to any man, and me especially. Yet, this is proof” (he squeezed her hand) “you are no mere vision, so action you must be—aye, but the pinnacle and the point, and not a sorry postscript.”

For a moment her eyes looked haunted; for an instant the light shimmered wider across her irises. Then she dropped her gaze to their linked hands.

“Your talk of postscript makes me sad. Let us dance, if we aim to.”

And she was right: there were the opening strings of a quadrille.

[right now that is the scene in entirety, where it begins and where it ends. I might add a bit to it – not sure yet. That’s for another night’s work!]

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2015 Goals

Let’s evaluate how well I achieved my 2014 goals:

I am setting a few goals for myself for the year.

  • finish A Yuletide Wedding (prequel/companion to A Christmastide Courtship)

  • revise the novel I finished last spring that I know needs so much work

  • write the 4 companion short stories/novellas that go with Courtship and the other novel, so I can close those loops in my imagination and move on to other character sets

  • finish one of the other novels I have started…either the one I was working on last summer and abandoned before DCon, never (yet) to go back to, or the one I started during NaNo that is still at the forefront of my imagination

Boy, 2014 was an epic fucking fail.

I think I’m going to be more modest with my goals for 2015:

  • finish A Yuletide Wedding (prequel/companion to A Christmastide Courtship)
  • revise Anything But a Gentleman
  • publish AYW
  • rework the ebook files and covers for my three currently published works and republish them

Bonus goal: write anything else. Don’t care what. Don’t care if it’s new, old, related to one of the things I have finished or not.

I am holding Anything But a Gentleman from publication until i have its two companion novellas written and can publish and publicize them together. Perhaps antsiness to publish the main book, once I get it revised, will help inspire me to write them.

Perhaps this year I will not fail so abjectly at the modest tasks before me. If nothing else – I can’t do WORSE than I did last year.

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INTJ and Self-Esteem

Friday at the office, I had another of those eerie INTJ conversations with the only other INTJ I know in non-internet space, a male colleague and work friend (who, in addition to being an INTJ, is, also like me, afflicted with self-diagnosed and highly functioning ADD). You know, the kind of talk where one of us starts describing our state of mind and the thought processes that led to it, and the other says “change the nouns and you are describing my brain right now.” We were talking about how right now, in our work and the sort of work that goes into your personal life (chores, hobbies, etc.), we’re battling anxiety and depression that are caused, in part, by the feeling of spinning wheels – of not accomplishing anything.

INTJs derive self-esteem from essentially two places: being good at things and achieving things. When neither of those are happening at a particular point in time then an INTJ essentially has no self-esteem, because they have nothing from which to draw positive feelings about their greater self.

For example, I don’t find it much of a compliment to be told I’m smart or I’m pretty, because those are qualities I was born with, they are inherent to my being, and no matter what I do or do not do (within reason, of course!) I will always have those traits. So, eh, thanks, but really tell my parents because their genes are what’s being praised. But if someone says something I DID was great – whether a piece of writing, or a cosplay, or just a complicated analysis that I did at the office – then I feel truly complimented, because I DID THAT. It wasn’t just my natural state of being that I have no control over, but something that was worthy of praise because of positive actions that I undertook.

So right now, I am in a funk because I feel like I am not accomplishing anything, and I also feel like I am underperforming at all of my various life roles. To quote an email to a friend: “I feel like a shitty mother because someone else is raising my kid, a shitty employee because the baby constantly makes me late and leaves me with no energy for the job, a shitty wife because I am grumpy and pissed off all the time, a shitty chatelaine because I never have time or energy to clean, a shitty daughter/granddaughter/friend because I don’t often have the energy to call and when I do I don’t want to call because I’d either have to admit I’m depressed or pretend I’m not, and a shitty writer because I simply never write anymore.” It doesn’t really matter to my INTJ brain what society expects of a working mother with an 8-month-old baby; it doesn’t matter if the people in my life are cutting me slack. What matters is that I am not being good at anything, and I’m damn sure not ACCOMPLISHING anything better than survival. It is incredibly disheartening. I do not like not having something to feel good about. I do not like feeling overwhelmed and really uncertain how to fix it, because so much of what is causing the problem is beyond my control.

I spent this week getting slapped in the face with the fact that I am in a bit of a depression, which I had been avoiding recognizing for a while now. It happened because I decided one of my “resolutions” would be to get healthier physically and get back on my losing weight trajectory. (The baby weight is off; has been off for months. I am, however, still 20-40 pounds over my acceptable-ideal weights, have been for years, have been admonished by both regular doctor and OB to get some of it off especially before pregnancy #2, and was in the process of losing some of it when I got pregnant with baby boy.) The way I decided to start was not dieting per se (not cutting calories dieting) but just cutting out junk. I have been at it a whole week, and by the end of the week I was FLOORED to realize just how much I eat my emotions. Feeling stressed? Have some cookies. Upset because I can’t concentrate at work? More cookies. Tired and in need of a pick-me-up? Cookies. No wonder breastfeeding a ravenous little boy wasn’t doing anything after getting me back to starting weight! And in denying myself the outlet of comfort calories, I had to confront the fact that I was feeling really negative things on a DAILY BASIS (sometimes multiple times per day) and that I had, frankly, no idea how to deal with those feelings OTHER than eating. Like…whoa. Whoa damn.  Then I started thinking about why I’m feeling stressed out and upset all the time, and it comes down to being exhausted most of the time (having a baby who wakes up 4-6 times a night every night will do that!) and trying to do all the things I was doing before the baby came in addition to spending most of my time at home looking after the baby or playing with him. So here I am, spinning in circles, barely managing to keep the dishes washed and myself in clean underwear, functioning poorly at work, not writing, not spending any time – and I do mean ANY time – on myself. It’s enough to drive anyone to despair, but my personality type is especially poorly suited to being happy in “survival mode.”

Why? Because there is no sense of achievement or accomplishment. I cannot point to anything I’ve done and say “I am doing this well” (*maybe* I could say I’m a good mom, for a working mom, but that’s it, and such a bare-necessity level of achievement that I can’t feel proud of it, like…WHAT ELSE COULD I POSSIBLY DO EXCEPT BE THE BEST MOM I CAN?!). I cannot look at my day to day or week to week or even month to month activities and say “I have accomplished this task or achieved that goal.” There is nothing for me to use to judge my self-worth against; I have a yardstick and nothing to measure.

I have blogged before about my need to create a sense of task accomplishment in order to feel good about a long project. Right now, my long project is life, and I have no sense of task accomplishment, only the eternal recurrence of days spent on nothing beyond the daily tasks of existing.

I did hit an interesting breaking point with respect to writing. It was this combination of despair and exhaustion and Adam Carolla’s point that “if you really want to do something, you DO IT” and thinking about my favorite song from my favorite band’s experimental album, wherein they wrote and recorded a new song every day for a week – at the end of it came one last song, written, they admitted, from that broken place when you can’t try anymore and sometimes things just well up. I just realized that if I don’t find some way to write in the evenings after a day at work, no matter how tired I am mentally and physically, then I will literally not write for the next 3-6 years. Did I want to write, or didn’t I? If I did, I needed to just do it. So I turned on my computer in that desolate place – drained, empty, desperate, disbelieving, and above all too stubborn to just quit. The first night I wrote four words. But it was four more than I would have otherwise. The next I wrote 339. We’ll see if I can continue. If I can, maybe that can be my sense of task accomplishment: “I wrote something today.”

For now that might even be enough.

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