Tag Archives: Our Necropolis

Well, Bless My Soul

So. It sure has been a long time since I’ve blogged!

Full transparency, I’m mostly popping back on here because I’m getting up on the ol’ querying horse again, and if anyone actually follows up on the “you can find me online” paragraph, I don’t want them to think that I died a year and a half ago and they’re receiving queries from a ghost. (Although that would be a decent marketing angle …) I feel like 2020 either made people become even more terminally online or made them abandon the internet entirely; somehow, I think I managed to do both? But yeah, sharing my thoughts with the world lost a bit of its appeal due to *all-encompassing gesture*. I do, however, still exist, and I’ve got some updates:

  • I passed my qualifying exams and my dissertation proposal hearing, so I’m a PhD ~*~candidate~*~ now. Living that ABD life by waiting impatiently for my IRB proposal to be processed so I can begin my dissertation research.
  • As previously mentioned, I’m now querying middle-grade story (aka SKY CHILD). Appreciate your thoughts and prayers, etc.
  • I’m working on a new YA manuscript tentatively titled OUR NECROPOLIS. I’m attempting some very fancy POV tricks that half the time are super fun and the other half make me want to pitch my laptop out the window.
    • I love it.
  • And finally, the best update and the saving grace of my personal 2020: Turns Out I’m Bi! Who knew? Not me! Even better, turns out that I have excellent taste in women as evidenced by my wonderful, wonderful girlfriend.
    • Happy belated Pride!

So that brings us back to this blog post. I feel like half the posts on this site are me making plans for what I’m going to write on here and then not doing it, so I’ll refrain from that this time. Instead, I want to talk about hobbies, passion, creativity, and productivity – and how this past year has shifted my mindset about all of them.

2020 was the least creative year of my adult life. It wasn’t the least productive; see above bullet point about exams. I read a truly outrageous amount of academic literature and produced painstakingly planned, drafted, and reworked exam papers – and I did a damn good job, if I do say so myself. But after mid-March, I wrote very little fiction. Once a habitual early riser, my quarantine sleep schedule shifted to accommodate the hours of mindless YouTube I’d watch until I was exhausted enough to sleep without lying awake thinking about the state of the world. I’d then wake up later in the morning than I had since college, mad at myself for “wasting” valuable daylight time. (I still haven’t successfully pushed this schedule back to where it was in the Before Times.)

Conventional wisdom for unpublished writers is that you have to treat your writing like a job until it is a job – all while having another job that actually pays you in money. And I have, for a long time. I would bristle if anyone referred to my writing as a “hobby.” First of all, hobbies imply fun, and writing isn’t always. Don’t get me wrong, I love it – and I have little patience for writers who only ever complain about how much they hate writing – but a lot of the time you’re chipping away at the block of marble with little to show for it except sore arms and, well, just slightly misshapen marble. If I only wrote when it was purely fun, I would never even get to a second draft. Secondly, and more importantly, hobbies don’t have an end goal. I write to complete stories that can turn into books. I’m out here trying to get published, but hobbies are … unproductive.

So no, writing has never been my hobby; it’s my passion. Passion is much more important, much more serious, much more justifiable. Why else would I do something so hard and for (thus far) so little reward?

Besides, passion implies a drive, a need. Passion is what creative people have when they create. Creativity plants worlds in my head, and passion coaxes them into bloom. I have always been creative, have always been passionate. That’s how people described me as a child. That has been my identity since I can remember.

And then 2020 rolled around, and I wasn’t creative or passionate at all.

This has happened before, at various points in the winding, pothole-ridden mountain road that is my mental health journey. But it had been a while, and I had started the year – the new decade – with such lofty goals that I was sure I could achieve. Many of those goals were academic, and I met those ones. I was so much luckier this past year than many other people were. I didn’t lose anyone to the pandemic. I kept my paycheck. I worked on things I cared about, and even produced some good pieces of writing.

But the writing wasn’t stories. I had no stories in me.

On New Year’s Eve, my girlfriend and I watched Pixar’s Soul. I had just finished my exams about two weeks prior. I’d exchanged Christmas presents in my driveway with my masked family before we retreated to our respective houses to eat dinner together via Zoom. The numbers were sky high again, but vaccines were on the horizon, and the worst outcome of the election had been avoided. The mixture of uncertainty, fear, relief, and tentative hope felt oddly appropriate for New Year’s Eve. It was less a celebration than a long exhale, and I was glad to share it with my girlfriend, especially because we had just exchanged our first “I love you’s” on Christmas Eve.

And then Soul came out and hit me over the head with a baseball bat.

If you haven’t watched it (you MUST), Soul is about Joe, a music teacher with much grander ambitions. He’s a creative person, a passionate person. And then he falls down a manhole and dies.

Except, hey, wait! He didn’t achieve all the things that his creativity and passion demand of him yet! He can’t die!

In his refusal to bow to fate, Joe winds up the unwitting mentor to an as-yet-unused soul who doesn’t see the appeal of this whole life-on-Earth thing. Seems like way more trouble than its worth, and besides, she’s never clicked with any of the myriad available passions in the pre-Earth training grounds. So what would even be the point?

It would have been easy (especially for a Disney-owned property) to turn this premise into a tale about finding your dreams and following them, but that’s not what this movie does. Speaking to one of the otherworldly beings that govern the souls, Joe makes a remark that conflates a soul’s “spark” (or passion) with their purpose, and he is laughingly corrected: “A spark isn’t a soul’s purpose.” This barely computes for him; surely everyone needs a raison d’être. Nope, says Soul. The “être” part is raison enough. Later in the movie, another musician, wiser than Joe, gives him some food for thought: “I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says, ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’ ‘The ocean?’ says the older fish. ‘That’s what you’re in right now.’ ‘This?’ says the younger fish. ‘This is water. What I want is the ocean.’”

Yeah. Still not over that one. Probably never will be.

I’ve written a lot more this year than I did last year. OUR NECROPOLIS, as you may have gleaned from the title, is about, uh, death, so it’s proving cathartic if nothing else. It’s populated with a bunch of scared, snarlingly angry characters who don’t know what to do with all their excess love, and getting to put jokes and curses in their mouths and grace in their deeds gets me through all the why-won’t-this-marble-turn-into-a-real-shape parts of writing. 2021 has many of the same horrors in it that 2020 did, so I’m still scared and snarlingly angry, too. But as my creativity returns, I’m also showing myself some of that grace.

Passionate and productive aren’t the same thing, and hobby isn’t a dirty word. Do I still want my writing to lead to something? Of course I do; I wouldn’t be putting myself through querying again if I didn’t. I want kids to read my books. I truly believe there are people out there who will find them meaningful, and I want to provide some young people with the comfort and joy that my favorite books gave me growing up. (And, if anyone’s still reading from the “you can find me online” paragraph, I’ve always been fantastic with a deadline; just ask my dissertation committee.) But until then, I’m not wasting time if I sleep late or watch YouTube. I’m not falling down on the job if I prioritize fun over the hustle. I can enjoy my stories more if I’m not mad about what the world hasn’t given me yet, and if my creativity flees again, I can trust it to come back eventually without worrying about losing my identity as a passionate person. I think I’ll be a better writer for all of that, but that isn’t even the point. The point is I’ll appreciate the ocean I’m already in.

A Cup of Kindness

Why, hello! I haven’t blogged since August!

This semester has truly been the most exhausting and hectic academic term of my life. I started off with back-to-back illnesses (food poisoning followed immediately by an interminable chest cold), then had a perfect storm of time consuming coursework and travel (a really fun Monday night Camden/Tuesday morning New Brunswick/Tuesday night Camden schedule), two conferences (one international), lots of grading, and quite a few brand new (to me) theories that took just my whole entire brain to understand. Plus, you know, the annual energy-sapping effects of the ol’ seasonal affective nonsense. I feel like I’ve been sprinting flat out since Labor Day.

I’m still really glad I’m in this program. So that’s a nice sign.

One oft-repeated truth about grad school is that it’s isolating, and that’s been especially true this term, just because I haven’t had time to do anything. This has been frustrating, because I think I’m actually becoming less of an introvert as I get older? I definitely couldn’t do Hermit Life again. But luckily the combined circumstances of next term look like they won’t be QUITE as intense as this one (please let me not have just jinxed that), so I’m looking forward to communicating with other human beings on a more regular basis. Part of that mission includes reviving this ever-neglected blog, at least throughout winter break. I’m excited to talk about some of the highs of this past term (guest lecturing! Monsters conference in Prague!), as well as more media, writing, children/childhood, and current event thoughts. I sometimes joke (“joke”) that I am 100% Strong Opinions By Volume, and I’ve accumulated a lot of pent-up opinions to share over the past few busy, somewhat lonely months. (Shout out to any of my fellow Childhood Studies colleagues reading this, especially my astonishingly wonderful cohort, for being there and keeping me functional since September. Literally don’t think I could do this if I didn’t enjoy being around you all so much.)

But first, as is traditional, for my last post of the year (and decade!), I wanted to do a little round up of media that I was grateful for over the past year, plus a little bit of my own writing. The first part of this post will be very easy; despite the dearth of posts on this blog over the last year, I did manage to review three of my favorite viewing experiences of 2019 (Schitt’s Creek, Rocketman, Hadestown). Another movie favorite from the beginning of this year was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which I went to see as a 30th birthday present to myself. All of these stories make me fall further in love with our messy human condition, which is all I really want a story to do; as I mentioned in my Rocketman review, I’m always after Big Emotions in fiction.

Two of my guiding principles as a writer and a person are that a) fondness may seem quiet and soft but is actually deeply profound and sustaining and b) despair is the death of creativity. Therefore, while a story can have moments where it is as dark as dark can be (see: Hadestown and also most of what I write), ultimately cynicism will never a good story make, so you always need to give characters and audiences something to care about and keep caring about. To reiterate my Hadestown review, the things and people we care about don’t necessarily fix or save our world, but that’s never what made them matter in the first place. Human connection, art, storytelling, celebration, love — they matter in their own right. To continue that thought, I think we need all those things to sustain us if we’re going to engage in the work of fixing and saving. I know I do. So I guess that’s what I was after in this last year of the decade, and what I’ll be taking into the new one: stories that remind me of the things that matter most, so I can happily continue to care, create, and contribute to the world’s well-being in whatever small ways that I can.

A small extra note about Schitt’s Creek, just because it’s the story that fully dominated my 2019: I’ve been joking (again, “joking”) that that show is responsible for a good 70% of my mental stability as a graduate student, and goddamn am I grateful for it. Anyone who hasn’t watched it yet and is dealing with literally any form of stress in your lives, do yourselves a favor and indulge in this Absolute Delight of a show. I’m so pumped for the sixth season, and yet I’ll be ridiculously distraught when it ends, even though I respect the hell out of Dan Levy for giving his story a proper ending. (I respect the hell out of all of Dan Levy’s storytelling decisions. I can only humbly pay fealty to the undisputed king of slow-burn showing-not-telling character development.) I entitled my review of that show “Disasters Learning To Love,” and I can only hope to find more stories with that most evergreen of meaningful plots in 2020.

Sadly, I don’t have much in the way of book recommendations from this year — which is not to say that I didn’t read novels that I enjoyed, but I didn’t happen on any Big New Favorites. (I did get quite a few books for Christmas, though, so watch this space.) (Also, Anna, if you’re reading this, I am going to read Gideon The Ninth over break, you don’t need to yell at me again.) I did get to write about plenty of books that I care about this year, though. The highlight was definitely talking about monstrous doubling in Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona, Patrick Ness’s Release, and Eden Robinson’s Trickster series, all of which I could not recommend highly enough. That paper, which is the one I presented in Prague, was entitled “With Love from Self to Self: Monstrous Doubling and an Ethics of Care in Adolescent Literature.” I talked about this pattern I’ve been noticing in stories with sympathetic monsters in which the trope of the monstrous body splitting, duplicating, fragmenting, or containing multiple disparate aspects is used as a means of exploring a sort of desperate (and sometimes defiant) self-care in the face of a hostile society.

It’s no accident that this concept appeals to me so much, since I’ve actually written it myself, in MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES. It was exciting to realize that multiple authors whom I really admire are playing with similar ideas and to analyze what these narratives have the potential to communicate about the needs of marginalized young people. I closed that talk out by saying, “Monstrous care from self to self is not sufficient on its own; instead, it is the beginning of the story. It is the first acknowledgement, extended from within, that marginalized, scapegoated, and unstable selves are worth caring for and caring with.” So that’s another guiding thought I’m taking with me into the new year.

Finally, re: my own writing, since this is ostensibly a writing blog: I’ve officially been Writing Seriously (i.e., trying to write novels worthy of publication in a methodical manner) for a little over a decade. If you’d told 20-year-old me that I still wouldn’t actually be published at this time, she’d have been, uhhh … really sad. A lot of things haven’t exactly gone right in my writing career, and I’ve been dealing with the frustration, jealousy, and disappointment of that for a while now. But if things had gone differently, who knows if I’d be getting my PhD right now? I might have just kept on with a day job I liked less, instead of pursuing this additional path. In that case, who knows if I’d be living in a place I really like, so close to my sister and my NEPHEW, who is the most perfect thing to happen in 2019? I can’t take a peek into those alternate universes, but I do know that I’m doing work that I really like, and I’ve learned so much in the last three semesters, and all of it’s going to make my future writing better. Plus, I want the ’20s to be a decade of prioritizing relationships, and so I’m glad to be near my family. So I’ll continue to Write Seriously and embrace all the other opportunities and connections that crop up along the way.

Meanwhile, to everyone who’s read any of my writing (creative, academic, or sporadically blogged) and enjoyed it over the past 10 years, thank you so much. It means the absolute world to me when I find out I’ve written something that’s made another person happy. And you know what? I’m good at it. I’ve worked hard enough in the 2010s to have earned the right to say that. So, beneath the cut, please enjoy a selection of some of my favorite scenes from stories I’ve written this decade. Happy New Year to all!

Continue reading A Cup of Kindness