Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

Beta Readers and Feedback

October 31, 2017

Today Vivian and I headed south to have lunch with some ex co-workers. We try to do this at least once a month, in an attempt to stay in contact despite not having proximity of space for relationship maintenance.

I’ve been to the office a few times since I quit. Several times to train my replacement and a few times for lunch. The first few times were a bit surreal, as if walking into an alternate universe where everything looked exactly as I left it yet everything was different.

Namely, I wasn’t there any longer.

My office had another person with the same title, staff had overturned a little bit, and the shared reality of the office had continued without my presence. In my mind the office was as I left it, yet I knew it continued without me.

Today was different, as I’ve been gone long enough to move onto my new reality completely. Which in turn means the business in my brain has moved on as well.

Though I was still asked a damned payroll question today. I will never get away from payroll.

Lunch had managed to translate into new realties as well. The first time we had lunch together, there was an awkward how-do-we-proceed-with-this-new-relationship feel about it. I was still deep in the business, and they were still feeling the lack of my presence. According to them.

Today I no longer felt the sense of business moving without me, and we were able to discuss things beyond changes since I’ve worked there.

Like my writing, which of course is just standard catching up what’s going on in your life conversation.

We talked about how client writing is making me slightly paranoid regarding technological advances. After all, you can’t research cutting edge tech week in and week out without the brain seeing some potential.

Potential that was confirmed by my friend in IT. Thanks, Matt. I could have probably used some nah it’s all in your head, not yup you are right we are seeing the birth of Skynet. But the spider web of connections in my head regarding technology was a mere transition to the topic of creative writing.

I was asked by one individual if I was writing anything other than for clients, to which I confirmed I’ve re-upped on my blog if only to practice my skills. One of my friends commented it’s good I’m doing creative writing for myself and not just client writing, and then quipped that means I can finish my story.

The first friend then replied the story is finished, don’t you remember?

A little background. In about June/July I was on a writing frenzy. I was writing all the time in my blog, and my creative writing was getting juiced as well. I posted a (very) rough draft of a short story for some feedback.

Which was all over the board.

betareaderThe feedback I received provided a standard bell curve after dissemination, and I realized it was probably worth editing. Which I have since done.

These two friends represent opposing sides of the bell curve.  Well, maybe not opposing. One friend enjoyed it; however, she believes it’s not finished. The story is a flash fiction. I pick up in the middle and I end in the middle.

She wants to me to complete the story, for the protagonist to find resolution and a happy ending despite her unhappy circumstances of life.

My response? The story is finished. It’s done. Life does not wrap up in pretty bows when situations move on. Life is on-going with one ending: death.

The other friend hasn’t read the entire 800 words of the story. Probably because I did post a (very) rough draft. Though her complaint comes from the story being too detailed. Which I get, however I am not going to change most of the details as they set mood.

My sense for not editing to that feedback was confirmed when she stated she skims pages in books of a well known romance author. He puts in too much detail about setting.

While listening to this discussion, and finding out what everyone was reading in general, I got a sense about reading audiences. And whether or not to write to an audience or write for self, hoping the right audience is out there.

Personally, I see both scenarios benefiting authors.

It’s important for authors to know there is an audience, as well as what reader experience is going to be brought to the table. If anything, it helps with word choice and editing decisions.

On the other hand, putting too much stock in individual readers will ultimately confuse and confound the writing experience. Of the four friends at the table: two hadn’t read the story, one didn’t read it entirely, and one felt it was incomplete.

Frankly, my story makes her twitchy because of where I left it.

Am I going to change the story to fit either of the two who had feedback? Not entirely. From the first time we had the conversation, and we’ve had the conversation about this story before, I learned some of my (not so) well placed clues were hard to catch. This caused the ending to be more mysterious than needed.

This opinion was backed by a beta reader who has extensive reading experience in multiple genres.  Feedback? Well written but didn’t understand the ending. Noted.

So I am not dismissing reader feedback entirely. More edits are due as I tighten the story, after which comes more beta reading and maybe some submittals.

I do think finding beta readers and critique partners is important, though. Feedback is necessary for editing, if not for the story.

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Games Writers Play

October 26, 2017

Throughout life writing has been a butterfly hovering and then flying off. I’ve spent hours writing, and I’ve spent years not.

Not to say my inner voice isn’t always running at top speed.

Usually in showers and driving. Words gifted from my subconscious descend upon me with clarity and precision. However I can’t write them down, so I am stuck repeating the thought while trying to either avoid a speeding ticket or rinse off.

Unfortunately, my mind has a mind of it’s own and runs away with the idea, effectively creating and pushing any decent stuff out of my brain before paper can be found.

But I digress. Writing for me comes in torrents with gushing in every direction or bare dribbles as I attempt to focus on important things.

Of course, surrounding environment plays a huge role in whether I am flooded or parched.

While I was getting my graduate degree I worked in a call center for a waste management company. The pay was tolerable, the work load light (barring blizzards), and in the early days society was limited allowing me to focus on my studies.

The graduate course I attended was a front runner for accelerated online programs. While some may snub such styles of education, the system is perfect for students like me.

In a traditional system, I performed well in the first month and the last month of study. First month because I was fascinated by a new topic, last month due to anxiety of meeting expectations. The 8 weeks between bored and frustrated me.

Hosted by a state university, I was able to earn an accredited Masters in Arts while consuming information in mass. Finishing a topic before boredom set in. The graduate program presented me a challenge of learning 16 weeks of information in a 5 week period, with the same expectations of performance. I was in cerebral ecstasy.

That also meant I was reading during lunch, reading at night, and writing papers and emailing in assignments while sitting at my computer between calls.

My boss knew what I was doing. Talk about big brother, call centers watch everything. But I was performing above metrics, so they didn’t bother me.

As I mentioned, society was limited so I was able to push through a magnitude of reading and notating during lunch.

Until Troy.

Troy was (or still is, I don’t know) a very typical post-Goth individual. He alternately dyed his hair blonde and black, and was sure to wear short sleeve collared shirts so everyone could see his star tattoos despite the dress code.

And of course, wore all black. Always all black.

I admit, I wear majority black accentuated with gray. However, my reasons are pure aesthetic laziness. In the morning, I don’t want to worry about separates matching. I grab and go, focusing my mind on other items like making sure my toddler gets in the car before I drive off.

I do have to focus on matching shoes, to each other, but that story is for a different day.

Troy was ego-centric, highly emotional, and constantly in a state of angst. The epitome of poet and alt rock musician.

He was also very intelligent.  Which, when combined with his childhood and life decisions, gave support to the image he worked so hard to propel in efforts to equally push away and entice other people.

At some point Troy started talking to me about something I was reading. I know for sure it wasn’t me. I don’t approach in general, with rare exceptions, and at that point in my life I was an island with nothing but ocean around me.

Not really sure how our friendship progressed to the state it did, but when two writers meet each other they will inevitably throw out they are a writer and begin talking and bonding over writing.

Except in the cases of competitive people. Since I am not competitive, one-upping writers make me gag and turn away.

At the height of our inescapable bonding, I was taking a poetry class. I was not in a creative writing tract, yet this class required me to learn not only history and differences of form but write in every form studied.

So Troy and I started a game, via IM.

Each week we chose a form. We would alternate writing a poem in the prescribed form based on a theme decided by the other person. Troy would pick the theme, and I would write a poem. Then we would switch.

The person who picked the theme would get to grade the poem for both form and theme strength.

Yes, all this between phone calls. I was in the commercial division, he was in pro accounts, we had time. And yes, all under big bro’s tech spying.

We had a pretty laid back boss. As long as her boss didn’t walk behind us and see what we were doing, we were golden in her eyes.

After the first day of independent writing, we upped the ante on ourselves and each other. We co-wrote poems, taking turns on theme. I would pick a theme, Troy would write the first line (or first two depending on form), I would write the second (or 3 and 4), and on and on and on.

We played this game every day for two months. Together we created some astonishing poetry.

None of it transcribed, saved, or archived beyond whatever IT did with IMs on their server.

Part of what worked so well between Troy and me is there was never any physical intimacy. I was coming out of hell and wanted nothing to do with most of humanity, and he was all agony over his ex/girlfriend/wife (she was all three during our friendship).

Even if there was physical attraction, it was quelled early. He was too much emotional maintenance for one. I was a bare ghost of a human for two. And for three, we were too similar.

We were not a soul split in two, we were mind clones. There was compatible intellect, curiosity, and boredom in equal measures. Of the same topics. Yin and yin do not make a whole.

About a month after the height of our friendship (eating lunch together, hanging out after work, writing poetry) the company went through a restructure. Troy was laid off.

We maintained contact for a short period of time.

Then my life went through a restructure. And we slowly drifted away as is natural in friendships developed in daily proximity between two people who are not inclined to reach out.

Troy called me randomly about two years after we had drifted apart. He and his ex/girlfriend/wife had moved to the suburbs, and he was working construction. Troy explained he had a dream in which I was screaming, and he felt an overwhelming urge to save me.

At the time I was evolving into a fully content being. I didn’t want his kind of saving.

Troy admitted it was pretentious of him to think I needed to be saved by anyone.  In all our time, conversations, and mind melding that was the first time Troy dropped his hero-to-all-tortured-women filter.

We talked for about 15 minutes and never spoke again. And I don’t miss Troy. We were never meant to be more than an intense fling of intellect.

But I miss the games we used to play.

What It Is to Be Abused

October 5, 2017

Ghosts are scratching my brain tonight.

The topic has been on the edges of my periphery for awhile, swirling the drain of my consciousness.  And maybe it’s time I talk because to not do so is just sticking my head in the sand.

I was in an abusive relationship for 6 years, from my early to mid twenties.

I’m not talking about Hollywood stereotypical woman with a black eye, cigarette and baby acting nasty to her husband.  Hollywood does not have the right of it, in any fashion.

Physical abuse was part of it, to be sure.  Particularly in the early years.

But I was a college student.  Then college graduate.  Then professional.  The surface of my life appeared to be following in standard mid-America fashion, though I was a bit weird and definitely introverted.

The hows and whens of getting into this relationship are not necessary to share.  I had moments of intuition, to be sure.  I had moments of doubt.  But what people need to understand is abuse does not start out the gate as beating someone up.

No, the first step is emotional engagement and manipulation.  The first portion of our relationship was him learning my buttons by way of wooing and earning my trust.  Don’t get me wrong.  Not a smart man.  Just very manipulative and wise to navigating human nature.

I want to take a moment to point out lying and manipulating are not the same thing.

I had childhood injuries used against me, sandwiched with the repeated message of the only person who understands you is me.  The only one who gets you is me.  The only one who will always be there for you is me.

It was by far the easiest button to push.  A lonely introverted child who was not close to her family at this time, in an attempt to extricate herself from perceived childhood misery.

Repress and run, that is my standard M.O.

By the time I felt the urge to run, I was tightly wrapped in his reality.  A reality where he was nearly suicidal any time he felt me slipping away.  A reality where drinking, and cutting, and midnight runs to the ER became David Lynch nights to my college days.

I wanted to save him.

We were about six months into the relationship before the first fist flew.  He was drunk.  Blacked out drunk.  Made it easier for me to accept, I think.  Not being in his right mind.  Along with the teary eyed, nevergonnadoitagain apology.

And he didn’t.  Not in that fashion.

Looking back, I hadn’t even seen the war I was losing before the first bruises.  It was a 3 prong attack:  isolating me, convincing me he was a victim who just needed my love to do something with his life, and exposing me to the world of night most people do not realize exists when they are at home sleeping in their beds.

The emotional abuse and sexual abuse were a majority of my reality.

If you loved me, you would…

People who love each other…

The physical abuse was used as punishment for when I pushed hard enough and he agreed to do something.  Like going out with one of my friends. The night would end with my head meeting a wall, or his head.  Punishment for wanting anyone but him in my life.

Or in the early years when I fought back.

A weird thing started happening to me.  I mean, beyond the surreal hell I was living.

He only worked for the first few months of our relationship.  During the grooming period, when he was still trying to ingratiate himself into my life.

Once he was sure of my sympathy towards his upbringing and horrible childhood, he promptly quit with big plans of all the amazing things he was going to do.

So I was going to college and supporting the both of us.  I was operating in an upward trending fashion, as if I was heading towards a Suburbian middle class life.  I was taking psychology classes.  I was an intelligent, self directed, independent individual.

Until I got home.  Then emotional reality stepped in, and I had no control over what was happening to me.  But a part of my mind stood apart, whispering to me.  My brain maintained it’s own monologue of how fucked up the situation really was.

In the sober moments.

We spent a large portion of time drinking.  He was running from the ghosts of his childhood, I was running from the ghosts of my current life.

In general I avoid conversations about domestic violence.  Repress and run.  But also because there is no way for anyone not in the situation to understand the situation.  And not every situation is the same.

What is the same is abuse is not about anger management.  It is not about being pissed off, or stressed, or a case of kick the dog syndrome.

Abuse is about control.

I was his mother.  I was his plaything.  I was his accomplice to the quagmire that was his mental illness.  The femme fatale and angel to his real life noir.

I am one of the lucky few.  I’m out.

I descended to the depths of my own mental illness, made choices that my voice told me at the time were going to land me exactly where I landed, yet was lucky enough to have support and therapy to recover some form of life.

My  life with him didn’t just scar me or break my bones.  It shattered me.  I was lucky to have professionals who picked me up piece by piece and superglued me back together.  I was lucky to have an amazing family who, despite my horrid treatment of them at his hands, rallied behind me and gave me undying love.

But I’m not really out, mentally.  I never will be, I don’t think.  Even as I write this, I feel the compulsion to put in details about how it was my fault.  How I saw the signs, or how friends tried to warn me, or how I had the means why didn’t I just get up and leave…

I have no words to describe the anguish I feel when I think those things.  How I had zero control over my emotional life.  How impossible it will always be to get others to understand.

Still I cry in torment because I can’t be angry with him.  I can’t blame him.  I will forever see him as a product of an awful childhood, someone worthy of my sympathy.  Despite the rapes.  Despite the trauma.  Despite my body never feeling quite my own.

I used to live in fear I would see him at a bus stop.  Or I would pull up to a stoplight and he would be staring at me from the next car over.  Or I would look behind me and find him following me.  Nearly ten years later, that has diminished mostly.

Except when I’m stressed, or exhausted, or worn down by life.  I start looking at bus stops again.

The purpose of me sharing this is two fold, and partially selfish.  I can’t live with the ghosts haunting me anymore.  I need to get this out, and I have no other medium to do so.

But I need to stop hiding from this.  I need to stop pretending this horror didn’t happen to me.  Because every time I do, it reinforces mainstream misunderstanding.  That they can leave whenever they want, or they asked for it, or they participated in what became their reality.

It’s not as simple as just leave him.  And no one outside will ever understand that.

Nor will anyone ever understand how my relationships continue to be defined by him.  Unless I’ve had a chance to watch you, study you, learn about you I will not trust you.  I don’t handle physical touch well unless I trust you.  I keep my thoughts and my emotions to myself.

Until recently I had successfully made myself invisible.  But people change and grow, and it’s time for me to be seen.

And the writer in me apologizes for the rough writing, but I have to hit send before my nature takes over.  No time for editing.