This June has been the cruelest month. I’m happy to say adios even though it means 2012 is now more than halfway done.
In June, I found out my big sister had pancreatic cancer. Eleven days later, she was gone. The official cause will probably be kidney failure. After her first round of chemo sent her to the ICU, she found out chemo probably wouldn’t work anyway, and so she ordered a stop to everything. My sister faced her death the same way she lived her life.
Things I’ve learned from my big sister: the importance of a smile, the importance of kindness and understanding, and the importance of leaving self-consciousness behind. I never knew how she did it. I always took things much too personal and was much too sensitive for my own good.
But I’ve also learned the importance of not working too much and taking the time out to take care of yourself. In May, we didn’t even see her at all. She worked every single day because her job needed her though she wasn’t feeling well and she wasn’t sounding well. This entire year we haven’t really seen her. We used to get together a lot of the time on Sundays for family dinners, but we haven’t done that all year
There have been bits of inspiration along the way. It’s just that right now I’m still feeling largely uninspired. So I’m just going to continue doing what I need to do. I’ll probably be slightly silent for a little while longer.
In an effort to show more of the girl behind the computer (who happens to have a really tough time taking pictures of herself for posting and sharing online), instead I’m going to share something rather personal.
I’m afraid that in another raid on my parent’s house, I found this guy, and my first Teddy (broken beyond repair), and his friend (who really is sort of creepy, but also kinda cool as a gadget that connects to the main bear and comes alive to help tell stories). This one still works though. Mostly, anyway. I took his vest off to clean some spots from it and couldn’t leave him naked, so I put the first clean outfit I found– his PJs, haha. Aren’t they actually kinda cute?
I’ve been messing with this bear for a day or two, trying to get him to come out of his hibernation coma. (If you have some sort of electronic device that you love dearly, DON’T let it be stored in a shed for a year. In fact, leaving it with your mother who doesn’t understand why you kept the thing in the first place is probably a bad idea. It’s liable to be tossed. I’m lucky that she didn’t do that and only stuck him in a plastic bin in a shed that leaks and is guarded by humongous mutant spiders.)
Anyway, this brought back a lot of memories of what I was like as a kid. You know, I was pretty much exactly the same as I am now. Shocker, right? Parents out there already know this because they’ve seen it happen with their own kids, and I’ve watched this happen with my niece and nephew. The way you are as a little little kid is generally the way you’re going to be as an adult. Unless something horrible happens to knock you off the rails, and these things do happen to people.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with stories and books and music. Even though I’m the youngest of four, the age differences between me and my siblings made it so that I was practically an only child, and I used to spend a lot of time by myself creating stories. Before I could read, I was one of those kids making up stories based on the pictures. (I remember one afternoon forcing my dad to listen to the story I crafted based on The Runaway Bunny. I had no ending, and my poor dad had to find a way to politely excuse himself.)
Now as a kid, I remember being told to find what I was meant to do in the world. People used to say it all the time. Everyone has something they like to do, something they’re good at, and they should stick to that and find a way to make it work for them. This is how you get contestants on American Idol who honestly believe they can sing because they have a passion for it and they’ve always done it even when they were little.
Is passion enough though? I write stories because I absolutely love to, but that doesn’t mean I’m great at it. I work on my craft, and I’ll continue to work at it, but will I ever be as good as someone like Margaret Atwood or Neil Gaiman? Isn’t there a limit to what I am capable of?
I’ll be honest. I believe that there is a limit. I also believe that a person is capable of doing whatever they want to do if they really have their heart set on it. Like when I was a kid, I got so inspired by Disney’s The Little Mermaid, I decided I’d learn to draw. And I did in a way. I studied the lines, I copied pictures, I studied techniques, I experimented. But was I ever going to be as good as someone with natural talent and the same desire to work on their craft? Oh hell no. I learned that right away. I still like to draw, but it’s always going to be difficult for me.
I think I’ve found ways around this natural limitation though. We have a tendency to think that “growing” only moves in one direction. In order to get better, I thought that my doodles had to be more more realistic, more amazing, more like someone else’s work. Same with writing. Getting better has generally meant not just writing clearly, but crafting sentences that astound. Writing out the same old in some new fancy way that is halfway poetic.
But you can grow in other directions too. With doodling, I learned my limits and found my strengths. Instead of trying to surpass my limits, I decided to work on my strength– coloring. I still worked on basics like proportion, but I found that I could sometimes dazzle with simple colors that helped my style.
Writing is similar. I’m never going to be as insightful and poetic as Gaiman. But I can work on writing different types of stories, the stories that aren’t told. Instead of following a hero around, I might tell the story of his squire or the story of his wife and how she suffers at home while he’s away.
Rather than trying to scale the wall I’ve decided to stand in front of (writing), I’m going to look for a way around. The wall is pretty long, so I have a lot of walking to do.
The 10,000 Word Day from Zoe Winters. I’m sure this will be all over the place in the next few days among writers. We’re probably all going to look at that number and judge ourselves and our processes by that number like it’s a yard stick. Some people might be offended despite the author’s attempts to clarify that she is only talking about herself and only talking to the readers to give them a glimpse behind the scenes.
So let me get it out of the way here, the number is amazing, but that isn’t the important part. The important part is that she’s been holding herself back and finally has decided to step out of her way and enjoy the writing rather than just enjoying the outcome. I think that’s the inspirational.
Way back in the day, I used to just write. I had a 486 computer (well, I still have it because it’s one of the things I can’t let go), so there was no internet connection. My only connection to the outside world was the landline phone and the TV, which I kept perpetually on Law and Order or Forensic Files. (What, you’re not shocked that I can be a little macabre.) That was heaven! I used to write to entertain myself, with no consideration of publishing. The whole point was just the act of writing and getting into that zone where nothing else mattered.
Okay, so I’ll admit my stuff was crap. But I was young, and you have to start somewhere. No one starts out perfect. The point was that I just wrote and that’s how I discovered that I really and truly loved it. There was no need for external validation. I had a story to get out, and I did. How many words did I write on those nights I sat down and decided to just do it? I haven’t got a clue because I never counted. It didn’t matter then. All that mattered was that I take time for myself to just write. I’d sit in the chair so long, I’d forget to eat. But in the end, when I finally did get up to take care of myself, I’d actually feel refreshed, like I was doing exactly what I supposed to be doing to live a healthy and balanced life.
Things have changed though, and not just technology-wise. I mean, I could blame the internet for distracting me or depressing me, but since it is just a tool and has no conscious, that’d be a little silly. Being so connected is the most marvelous thing ever and the most terrifying thing ever. I’ve made so many friends, but it’s also easy to get derailed along the way. The important thing to remember is that love of writing and how it feels to just do it with no concern for anything else.