Monthly Archives: September 2017

A Plea for Pain

A few months ago, I blogged about writing villains in the age of Trump. Since then, the villainy has only gotten worse. One of the things many people warned about in the days after the election was desensitization. Nothing Trump does or says is “normal,” but it would begin to seem that way if we weren’t careful. It was important to maintain the ability to be shocked.

I have worried a bit over the past few months that my own shock capability was diminishing. Scandals and outrages happen so fast these days that it would be more surprising if there weren’t one for a week. But, no, turns out I can still be shocked when the president says things like this:

These statements are breathtakingly cruel. They are also clearly and profoundly racist. Of course I don’t expect anything other than racism from the man who defended white supremacists and attacked those who protested against them, so that isn’t necessarily the part that shocks me. But to level that racism and vitriol against people who are trapped and thirsty and hungry and in such terrible danger? That is still shocking.

Before I close this post out with a bunch of links, I want to say this: if the president insinuating that hurricane victims are lazy and entitled doesn’t cost him all of your support, favor, or even benefit of the doubt, you’re doing damage to your soul. Interpret that according to your own religious or secular beliefs; I don’t care. But no matter what you believe in, if reading those tweets doesn’t hurt you, then you have built up some kind of callus around the most human part of you. That thick, hard, unyielding tissue is probably made of racism, in this case. It may also be made of misogyny or homophobia or transphobia or ableism or just plain greed. Rip it off. It will hurt, but it’s supposed to. These things have to hurt. Otherwise, you’re just hurting others.

And I mean that: support for Trump is harmful. It is bad. “Kathleen, do you think people who disagree with you politically are bad?” As a polite white American, my answer is supposed to be no. I don’t care. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” the president said about dying people. If you support him, you are doing bad things. You are hurting people. You don’t have to be a bad person, but the only way to avoid that is to stop, apologize, and atone.

Here are some ways to do that:

Unidos por Puerto Rico:


International Medical Corps:

The Sato Project:


Hispanic Federation:

I am so intensely broke right now, so I can’t contribute to all of these places, but I did a tiny bit, and hopefully everyone can do their tiny bit. Also: keep up the pressure on the people who can do more than a tiny bit. CALL YOUR REPS.

These links are mostly Puerto Rico related, but don’t forget that the U.S. Virgin Islands also need help, as do the communities in Texas and Florida that were impacted by Harvey and Irma. I mean, as do Sandy victims, still. Disaster recovery is a long road.  I worked with the organization SBP for 10 months, and I’d encourage you to share their resource package far and wide. There’s some really good information in there, especially about contractor fraud. That particular cruelty was the most shocking part of working in disaster recovery for me; some people who only care about themselves become contractors, and some become presidents, I guess. But I refuse, I refuse, I refuse to believe that’s most people. So stay shocked, and stay sad, and for the love of all things holy, stay compassionate. Remember that “bleeding heart” is not an insult. It’s a moral responsibility, and it’s the only way I know how to understand the word “salvation.” You can’t save anyone — including yourself — if you can’t feel the pain of those who need saving.



So it’s … not August. There goes that particular New Year’s resolution. Most of them took less time for me to break, though, so I still choose to be impressed with myself. (So there.) Also, I was studying for the GRE, so there was that.

(For those of you who may be wondering, yes, I have already gone to grad school, but I never had to take the GRE, so I had to take it to go on back. Which made me feel some kind of way, as I’m sure you can imagine. But the multiple choice part went well, and hopefully the essays did, too!)

Anyway, while I was camped out at my parents’ house studying, my parents were going through old stuff in their basement. Though my apartment is pleasantly airy, I have approximately two centimeters of storage space here, so a lot of my old stuff is still living there. They asked me to go through some of it to see if anything could be donated to the upcoming VNA sale. (Hometown shout out — I remember when people used to cut class to go to opening day of the VNA sale. Honestly, some of the teachers didn’t even mind. Even more of the teachers didn’t mind if students cut class for the soccer team’s empanada sales, as long as they brought some back to share.) Whether or not any VNA customers will want a bunch of DVD box sets for TV shows I don’t care about anymore or the entire CD collection of a teenager circa 2004 is an entirely different question, but they’re there now if anyone does.

What I didn’t get rid of were my boxes of first draft notebooks. Pretty much the entirety of THE CHILDREN WAR’s first draft was written longhand, and that first draft was long. It was also remarkably bad. I’d like to say that’s because I’d never written a novel before, but honestly I’m not sure if my first drafts have actually gotten any better since then. So I have no intention of actually reading these notebooks, but I also don’t want to throw them out. How delightful was it to flip through and spot bygone characters (some of whom I’d completely forgotten existed) and old spellings? How great was it to see my old writing exercises exploring my characters’ pasts? I will never probably never again write anything at such a leisurely pace and with such a tolerance for pure self-indulgence. That’s not to say that I didn’t take it seriously; I definitely did. But I knew that I was traveling without a map, and the best way to do that is to investigate every walkway, no matter how seemingly unimportant.

Much of the first draft of MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES was represented in the notebooks, as well. I didn’t write all of that longhand, mostly because I had actual grad school deadlines to meet with it. But I remember taking a notebook down to the Charles River and glaring at the geese as I tried to figure out how to make that story work. (I didn’t figure that out for a few more years.) The margins are crowded with notes to myself that seemed important at the time but generally weren’t. Some more beloved cut characters live in those pages. Maybe they’ll find new life in a future project, or maybe they only existed to teach me things about the characters who did make the final cut.

To my mom’s delight, I found some ancient Judas story pages (EVENTUALLY, MOM). There was even some old work on middle-grade story; I sometimes forget that this is by no means a new project. In fact, I workshopped my first outing with my main character in undergrad. I spent a semester working with the story in grad school, but then werewolf story came along and took over for the next couple years. I was actually annoyed about it at the time. I wanted to keep working on middle-grade story, but the requirements of the program wouldn’t allow it. Obviously, I’m happy with the way things worked out now. Werewolf story was a book that I needed to write at the time in my life when I wrote it, and I’m very proud of the way it turned out.

I’m glad I saw those old notebooks again, because they reminded me of a few things. First of all, they reminded me to write longhand when I get stuck. Why on earth have I not been doing this with middle-grade story lately?? I focus better writing longhand, partially because I don’t have to use the old distraction box (a.k.a. my laptop) to do it, and possibly also because my thoughts and my writing are more evenly paced than my thoughts and my typing. (That was a humblebrag about how fast I type, or possibly how slow I think? I’m not sure I humblebragged right.) Also, seeing words and worlds spilling across a page in my own handwriting pleases me.

That was another thing that the notebooks reminded me to do: enjoy the ride. Every word of those notebooks was written with love, even when I felt like throwing said notebooks into the river with the geese. Having a physical reminder of the joy of writing was something I needed right now. It’s been a weird … three years … personally and professionally, not to mention politically. Honestly, it’s been getting to me. I’ve spent most of this summer exhausted, castigating myself for self-perceived laziness that I know I don’t actually possess. I’ve had a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. Not always a great combination.

But I’m doing it. Slowly and without a lot of tangible outcomes, but still. I’m constantly engaged in labors of love, just as I have been since the first time I touched pen to paper. I’m not saying those notebooks completely cured me of every envy or frustration or anxious negativity of 2017, but they were a balm to my striving soul. Hey, you make up people and places and turn them into language, they said to me. That’s cool and weird. Keep doing it. Have fun.

So that’s what I’m doing.