I’m writing this on the first Sunday of Advent. Among other things, Advent is a season of waiting and preparation—and a fresh page, as the start of a new liturgical year. For me, it’s also an introspective pause before the dayjob season ends and the regular New Year begins.
But I think most people turn introspective, this time of year. That’s what all the year-end wrap-up posts and summaries are about, right? They’re a chance to tie up loose ends and look back over our shoulders before turning the next corner.
What did you accomplish this year? What goals do you have for next year?
Where are you, right now? Are you happy, here? What will you change, as we move forward again?
So our thoughts run, as the days get cold and the nights grow long. In this weather, there’s more space to spend time with yourself.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll get to the lists of “What I Read in 2018” and “What I Did in 2018.” But for today—I’ve realized something, in my introspecting.
Years ago, I wrote a poem entitled, “What I Want.” You can read it here, but this is the pertinent stanza:
I want you to find me,
Some Tuesday afternoon
When we aren’t doing anything.
I want you to pause,
Just for a moment,
“I read your story –
It was really good.
I liked it.
I’m so proud of you.
And you know what?
I think I’ve found precisely that, but it wasn’t in the place I expected. It’s like the thing where you see someone out of context and don’t recognize them. So much our perception is built on preconception, the essentials get clouded.
Sometimes, I think, our goals are closer than we believe. It’s just that we want so badly for things to look a certain way—we don’t always realize when we’ve attained them. Maybe this is why the idea of “success” is so slippery. We clutch at specific images—book deals, signings, awards, fans. But sometimes, those are stand-ins: symbols for something deeper.
What do you want, really? Have you already found it?
Something to consider, as the year passes ever more quickly away!
What I’m Listening To This Week
More Ešenvalds! Yes, “Long Road” is the same ethereal, dreamy choral music we’ve been hearing a lot lately. But it’s all too pertinent right now. I might be crying.
I’d like to tell a story.
About a year ago, I was heading to a Christmas party when I learned that Six Stories, Told at Night had gotten into the Toronto Fringe. That’s a story I’ve told before.
This is a Christmas party with lots of (choral) music-types. Fantastically nerdy conversations abounded. After a few pints, a friend and I were talking in the hallway about Toronto’s two big Christmas shows—Handel’s Messiah and the National Ballet’s The Nutcracker—and how many people tend to be a “Messiah” person or a “Nutcracker” person, and—
“Hold on,” quoth I, “what if you combined them?”
“The music of Messiah,” I continued, flush with possibility and good ale, “and the story of The Nutcracker!”
My friend giggled.
“But who may abide the nut of his cracking?” I sang. Then, to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus, “O Nutcracker! O Nutcracker!”
We giggled some more and eventually I went home, and that should’ve been the end of it.
Except that in the morning, it was still funny. New words to “There were shepherds” dripped from my fingers easily enough. And for a few months, I poked at the idea again and occasionally threatened to put this show on.
“It wouldn’t be too hard,” quoth I (so innocent, then!). “You just need a piano and people who know Messiah.”
On and off, on and off, I wavered back and forth. And then Blythe had the brilliant idea of using it as a fundraiser for Gangway! Theatre Co., and we were off to the races. For the first time, I seriously considered what I needed:
Quartet of soloists
Thanks to awesome, dedicated friends…uh, we got all those things. Yes, certain parts were harder than I anticipated. Like my poetry, my parody seems to prefer spontaneity—sitting down to a keyboard and messing with Messiah for realsies was less footloose and fancy-free than I expected. Also, as I learned with Six Stories, there are always tiny maddening logistical things that crop up like black flies.
Will it be funny? I mean, I think it’s funny. The choir thinks it’s funny. People outside a cross-section of classical music nerds?
This was an anxiety-making moment over the last week.
But we’re doing it. The hilarious drunk idea has become a real show, hitting the Comedy Bar mainstage (945 Bloor St. West), November 13th at 9:30 pm. And I’m proud: I’m proud of the musicians, proud of my friends, and proud we got this sucker to the stage. We actually went for it.
Comfort ye, my people. For unto us, Nutcracker comes!
What I’m Listening to this Week
But of course…
I’m not even quite sure where to start. It’s been a time. It’s also been a week since I moved from my beloved little garret, and we are…settling in. Kind of. Change is hard, change to my home environment harder still. I do not do well when I’m uprooted.
(Sidebar: which is why I’m amazed that people can routinely move between cities, provinces, and countries. It’s like…how? How do you transplant yourself somewhere completely new, where there is nothing familiar? I’ve only done it temporarily, and I am not keen to try it again anytime soon.)
But we are getting there. Guinness has become braver in his explorations. I vacillate between “ahhhhhhhhhhhh” and “wait this isn’t so bad and I specifically chose this neighbourhood because it contains ravines and many of my friends.” For now, I hold out hope for an eventual triumphant return to Little Italy, because…well, I can’t really do anything else.
And the office set-up is really quite cute. That’s my stable point, too. As long as I have a solid place to do my work, I can handle quite a lot else.
With all this change, though, something has helped immensely. Apologies, as this was cross-posted to Twitter, but I think it’s worth repeating here.
I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who regenerations. Not full episodes, mind you. Just the regenerations. In doing so, I’ve noticed a rather helpful pattern.
It happens after something big
The Doctor doesn’t just regenerate willy-nilly. S/he regenerates after some big adventure, some massive outpouring of effort that would usually result in death.
I mean, in a mythic sense, the Doctor does die. The Doctor constantly dies. And the Doctor is constantly reborn.
The lead-up hurts
But anyway, regeneration happens after something monumental. The Doctor is almost always wounded. S/he is almost always in pain. Sometimes, s/he is alone. And so we usually see the Doctor stumbling around the TARDIS, knowing that regeneration is inevitable but still attempting to fight it off, just for those last few moments.
This is the hard part: the letting go of the old self.
The Doctor sets his/her house in order
Sometimes the Doctor makes a speech for his/her successor. This is where everyone cries. This is where we find out what’s been really important to this iteration.
This is when s/he puts his/her old self to rest. The chapter closes.
When it finally happens, after all the lead-up, all the inexorable steps, regeneration is violent. There’s fire. Explosions. The TARDIS gets damaged. It is not a pretty, gentle transition. It’s like the phoenix conflagrating.
It’s that thing where a lot of small changes build up until there’s a MASSIVE change.
A new adventure starts right away
But then the music changes. Humour ensues. There’s very little time spent mourning the old Doctor—we hit the ground running right away with the new.
We’re onto the adventures only the new Doctor could have. And the Doctor always wears a specific face for a reason; it underscores his/her personal arc. The universe needed the War Doctor at a very specific time; it needed Smith’s off-kilter gregariousness just as much.
It’s okay to be in pain. It’s okay to be wracked with upheaval. This is the stumbling-around-the-TARDIS phase. There may be a big explosion of light and sparks soon.
But that’s okay.
That’s when the adventures really begin.
We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.
– Eleventh Doctor
For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about cycles a lot. The dance of creation-stability-destruction, the phoenix and its ashes, the Doctor…
2018 has been a rather more tumultuous year than expected. But I’m excited to see what subsequent chapters bring.
This song is ending, but the story never ends.
What I’m Listening to this Week
I’ve used the composer Brunuhville for writing playlists before. It’s all very epic-cinematic-fantasy music. To the surprise of no one, this one also touches on the idea of cycles, of falling darkness leading to dreams…
I’ve started baking again. During my undergrad, I did it all the time: bread, cakes, cookies, scones. In hindsight, I was pretty adventurous. Then life happened, time slipped away, and it was just so much easier to buy bread from the bakery up the street.
But then a few things happened.
First of all, an old mentor counselled me to stop living in my own head so much. “You are twenty-six years old,” she said. “So go out! Have fun! Do things! Have the experiences you’ll be writing about for the next twenty years.”
She’s right, of course. For the past few weeks, I’ve been seeking out experiences: going to the opera, meeting new people, contracting food poisoning…
And getting back to baking, because that’s always helped me get out of my head.
I mean, it’s physical: from measuring ingredients and shaping dough, to the washing-up afterwards. The motion of my hands—feeling dough, watching egg whites stiffen, all those sensory things—helps shut my brain up. It gives it something else to focus on. Those quiet moments—especially when kneading bread—sometimes give the subconscious enough space to breathe, enough to whisper.
There’s also something magical about baking. You’ve got all these ingredients that are inedible by themselves, but when you combine them the right way and add the right amount of heat, they become something delicious!
And there are baking traditions! Cut Xs in the loaf so the Devil doesn’t get into it. (Also, it lets the heat in. Toss a pinch of salt over your left shoulder for luck, because it’ll go in the Devil’s eye. You need to treat yeast like a guest: give it something to eat, a soft bed, and keep it warm (i.e. make sure you have a fermentable sugar source, don’t shock it by chucking it directly into hot water, and dough rises faster in the warmth).
See…sometimes, if you’re looking for magic, you need to make it your own damn self.
That’s the point of my mentor’s advice, isn’t it? If you want magic, go make it. The old saw about coaxing the muse to the desk holds true…but you don’t want her to find you empty-handed.
If nothing else, you might get some baked goods out of it!
What I’m Listening To This Week
I’m noodling a story with a countertenor in it. Countertenors are males who can sing into the contralto/mezzo-soprano range. It’s a very distinctive voice type: I enjoy them precisely because it’s a little uncanny. There’s something about the vocal quality; you know it isn’t a female voice, despite being in the typical female range.
And then there’s pieces like this. I also quite enjoy Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and this is beautifully sung. But the idioms don’t quite match, so it’s also…unearthly. Which is precisely what I’m hoping for with this story, so there you go. Enjoy!
It’s 2007. I’m sixteen. And I’m terrified. I’m sitting on a hard church pew, music in hand. The notes don’t make sense. They make sense for piano, but I can’t just pluck a G out of the air and sing it. Besides, I’m supposed to be singing the harmony, not the melody, but I can’t hear it under all the other voice parts. Tenors, basses, and piano completely bury it, but the sopranos are worst because they actually have the melody and they’re loud and even though I’m singing barely above a whisper, people keep shooting me sideways glances because I keep screwing up and I just want to sing so badly but I can’t do it.
And that’s my first year of choir in a nutshell.
A combination of writing my first real “book” (Phantom of the Opera fanfic) and Toronto getting its first real opera house had given me an insatiable appetite for opera. My younger sister had spent the last year in the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, and I watched the Youth Chorus rehearsals agog.
I wanted to sing like that. So, so badly.
There was, of course, one slight snag.
I couldn’t sing.
Somehow, I got in. I’m still not sure why. Maybe Ann—the music director, a wonderful Texan force of nature—saw how badly I wanted it. Maybe it’s hard enough to find teens willing to sing classical music, and she worried about crushing my interest.
I don’t know. In any case, I was in so far over my head, I couldn’t even see the surface.
Most of the kids in the Youth Chorus had graduated from the CCOC’s younger divisions. Which meant they’d been singing for years. Not only that, they’d been singing together for years. And then there was me: new, and shy, and totally unable to keep up with the music.
I couldn’t even read it. Oh, I mean, I could look at a piece of music and tell you, “Yes, that note is a B, and that’s a sharp, and we’re supposed to get louder over here.” But when it came to matching “note on page” with “note in voice,” I had nothing.
As for technique—I had less than nothing. The voice is an instrument. Like all instruments, you have to learn how to use it. My joining the Youth Chorus was like grabbing a trumpet and expecting to join an orchestra.
All that to say, I was pretty effing terrible. In a choir of burgeoning pros, I was the weakest link. And I wasn’t used to that. My whole life, I’ve been an overachiever and a quick study. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I was used to just…picking things up.
Algebra. French. Soccer. Piano. Never much of a learning curve. Never much angst. Just trying something, and very quickly becoming good at it.
This was the first time that hadn’t happened. Those rehearsals fighting back tears were the first time I wasn’t near the top of the class.
People worried, of course. Ann worried. My parents worried. Every Monday afternoon, dread sat in my throat like a mouthful of cold worms, and every Monday night, I came home sobbing at my own incompetence. But I. Kept. Going. Back. It was stubbornness, sheer and simple—this was the first time something had beaten me, and I couldn’t let that stand.
So I did what anyone does in those situations:
I learned to survive.
Since I couldn’t read the music, I memorized it instead, tracking down recordings of every piece we did. I went to weekly lessons wherein I worked my bum off learning technique (without the mentoring I got from Ann’s daughter Erin, I might well have crashed out). Finally, I decided that if I couldn’t be the best singer, I would be the best chorister—always on time, always prepared, always listening and well-behaved.
“Come on, you guys! Get ready!”
“You don’t count. You’re always ready.”
When I aged out at eighteen, I still wasn’t a strong singer, but I’d passed the initial hurdle. Music had woven itself into my life—to feel grounded and whole, I needed a choir.
By this point, I knew enough about my own voice to realize that opera was not a great match. To the surprise of no one, my voice is very high, very light, and very straight-toned. I don’t have the vocal weight for opera, and I never will. In terms of voice, I’m not built that way.
I am built for church singing.
So I went hunting church choirs. One rainy night in September, I climbed a million stairs to one church’s choir room. I said, “I’m a first soprano,” and the director pointed me to a seat.
Whilst my voice is better suited for church singing, there was an entirely new learning curve to contend with. Hymns that the church ladies knew by heart, but which I’d never seen. The shape and structure and music of the liturgy itself. Psalms.
But the CCOC had given me enough foundation that I could stick things out. Of course, the community helped. The ladies very quickly became like a legion of extra aunts; the men, like older brothers.
Here’s the thing about singing church services, though. There isn’t actually a ton of rehearsal. Anthems get a few weeks of practice, but the hymns and psalms change every time. It was too much music for me to memorize.
So I finally learned to read.
There was no shaft of light and angelic “Alleluia!” as the notes resolved themselves. It happened bit by bit, water wearing away at a stone, until I realized I’d actually been reading the music for a while.
I learned to support. I learned to breathe. I learned to make my voice do what I wanted as we tackled a huge range of music—from Palestrina and Byrd to spirituals. Sure, there is something of an “Anglican hoot” about it, but I’m pleased with the way it’s developed.
And I learned all the ecclesiastical side: the psalms, the hymns, the pulse and pattern of the liturgical year.
But the best thing?
I’m proud that I stuck it out. I’m proud of how much I’ve learned. But in a funny way, I’m even more proud of the battle I fought with myself. It took a long, long time, but I learned to stay with something because I love it, and no other reason.
You see, I’m still not the top of the class. Not even close. I am a competent vocalist. Not great—competent. And in this arena, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with it because for me, it’s all out of love: love for the music, love for my friends, and love for the sheer breathless rush of having a high G hit the church’s vaulted ceiling.
I am a chorister, well and truly. As the hymn goes, “How can I keep from singing?”
What I’m Listening to This Week
We’re returning to Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo. I never thought I’d do this, but here’s…um, well, here’s me. Anglican hoot and all.
So it’s 2013. I’m at my second Dragon*Con, still quite wee. This time, I’m trying to get around to more panels, so I’m at a late-night talk on LGBTQA+ characters in YA. Mercedes Lackey strolls in, takes her place at the table, and then peers into the water jug. She sighs. Very quietly, she says, “I was hoping for vodka.”
And being quite wee, I think, That’s what I want when I grow up. I want to do a midnight panel at Dragon*Con and bemoan the lack of vodka. I want my books to be part of someone’s childhood. I want a huge freaking corpus under my belt…
…but how do you build a career like that?
The answer floated up, sure and clear.
The same way you write a book. Word by word.
I’m glad I remembered this particular insight. Building a career feels like climbing a mountain, sometimes. A very steep, very slippery mountain. You push yourself for ages—you push so that you’re exhausted, you push so that your hands are bleeding, you push so that it feels you’ve been climbing forever—
But then you look back. Just for a moment—if you spend all your time looking down, you’ll never move forward. But you look back. And you see that the ground looks a bit further away than it used to. You’ve made progress.
Step by step. Word by word.
There’s still a lot of mountain ahead. (Spoiler: it will always feel like there’s a lot of mountain ahead. I don’t think the summit actually exists: we’re always striving to climb further.) Only sometimes you realize you’ve passed some marker on the climb. I did this recently. The realization had been building for a time, but then it broke on me all at once: I can no longer do things for free. It wasn’t a proud, self-aggrandizing kind of realization. It was quite matter-of-fact: that same little voice speaking clearly and quietly.
I can’t do things for free anymore. I don’t have the time.
So that’s a useful thing to know, as I sit gasping on this ledge, still fairly low on the mountain. Word by word, I’ve gotten this far. Since that late-night panel, I have made progress. Maybe you’ve had similar insights about your own climb. They’re almost silly, aren’t they? Little things, arbitrary things. But hey, whatever helps us along.
Of course, there’s still a lot of mountain ahead. But this is why I’m glad I remembered about that night at Dragon*Con:
Thinking word by word takes the pressure off each individual work. Some people shoot up the mountain on one story. It’s not common, but it happens. But I want a corpus. Which means that any one story, any one book, or play, isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s a single word in the piece; one step on the road; one stone in the cathedral.
That’s not to devalue your work. After all, each word in the story is important. Without them, you don’t have terribly much.
Besides, breaking it down to the most basic level: that’s what writing is, isn’t it? It’s putting words on a page, one after the next. Is it really any surprise that a writing career should be the same thing?
Step by step. Word by word.
That’s all it is.
You got this.
What I’m Listening To This Week
It’s spring, so I’ve been cleaning the garret, rejoicing in the sunlight, and generally feeling much lighter and freer. I’ve got a wonderful album of classic Parisien-café-type songs. I’m not quite sure what it is about this style. It makes me happy; it makes me feel secure and recharged, ready to out and do the things.
Really, I’ve had them all on repeat. But this one makes me smile particularly broadly. Enjoy. 🙂
Happy Thanksgiving! And yes, American-types, it is Canadian Thanksgiving, which tends to be a much lower-key affair than yours. Mostly there’s just turkey and general goodwill. And also, no pilgrims. Although I like the pilgrims’ hats.
Anyway. For some reason, Facebook has been doing that “See Your Memories” thing a lot lately. Oddly, the memories it’s choosing to show are all memories from three years ago. Remember when your box of books arrived? Remember when you went on a quest for an author photo? Remember when Hapax came out? Remember that book launch?
I remember it being a very surreal time…that also felt very much in flux. As I recall, I was newly back from my first Dragon*Con. There were a lot of tentative friendships just starting to get their feet under them. And in hindsight, I was very wide-eyed and adorably eager about the whole thing.
Looking back at this, the friendships and relationships stand out most. Facebook keeps sharing pictures of friendships just barely starting to sprout. So much has happened since then. Sunshine and frost and cozy afternoons and dark nights of the soul. Those little seedlings have put down strong roots, toughened up their leaves, and come forth with fruit.
And how thankful I am for this harvest.
I do believe—very strongly—that everything happens for a reason. Even the painful, hard things—they’re transition points, turning points. No, you don’t have to like them. But I think it’s helpful to recognize them as such. Sometimes, to get to the light, we need to pass through the tunnel first.
Again, you don’t have to like it. You don’t have to like the angst or the uncertainty. In fact, it’d be strange if you did. My point, I suppose, is that later—when the fever is broken, when the storm has passed, when the dawn is come—it is possible to look back to the darkness and heartache and be thankful. Not thankful that it happened, necessarily, but thankful for what came of it.
Friendships. Love. Purpose. Beauty.
It’s a rough road, but often the rough roads lead us where we need to go. With love, no journey is impossible. Right now, I’m in a good spot. And for those currently travelling—I’ll walk with you.
What I’m Listening To This Week
You all know I like early music. Byrd, Tallis, Palestrina…that’s my jam. This beautiful little Palestrina motet has become fixed with Thanksgiving in my mind. As soon as I hear it, I start feeling crisp breezes and smelling fallen leaves.
As with most Baroque pieces, there’s a million different lines happening at once, the parts passing the melody around like a hot potato. Unusually for me, I can actually follow the bass part pretty well in this one…although perhaps that’s not surprising, as it tends to complement/mirror the top line throughout. I LOVE the section around 1:20 when the “Buccinates” start – especially for the sopranos, it’s just so joyful. Also the runs on “tuba” make me happy.
I’ve never had a big budget for podcasting. When I first sat down to record Hapax, I was halfway through my undergrad. And now…I’m halfway through grad school. So funds have been an ongoing issue.
Luckily, there are ways to work around impecuniousness. The impoverished podcaster has a variety of free things of which to take advantage: sound editing programs, sound effects, royalty-free music. An imagination and willingness to do weird things to make your own sound effects. Honestly, the biggest investment I’ve made has been on microphones and headphones.
And I’d been managing pretty well…until it became clear that I was lacking an essential piece of equipment.
A pop filter.
A pop filter sits in front of the mic to prevent plosives. Plosives are fun—hard, explosive consonants like p, d, b, k. When the breath hits the mic funny, it creates a pop of air. My plosives are becoming more noticeable, and the more I podcast, the less tolerance I have for them.
So, a pop filter. Research for this post indicates that they’re actually pretty reasonably priced. I have a Blue Yeti, which needs a special kind…which Amazon is currently listing for $22.84. But it looks fiddly. Besides, I need two: one for each mic, and then that gets pricier.
(My other mic is a Blue Nessie…it’s a charming wee thing, but its “built-in pop filter” doesn’t exactly get the job done.)
I’d seen tutorials for constructing one’s own pop filter. Unfortunately, they’re meant for mics with proper booms. My Yeti sits just in front of me. Some slight alterations were in order.
And so, I present: The Beer Bottle Pop Filter
- 6-inch embroidery hoop: $2.80
- Pantyhose (queen size): $1.99
- Metal rod: $0.00 (scavenged from back room) (A piece of dowel rod would probably work just as well)
- 2 clothes pins: $0.00 (scavenged from back room)
- Duct tape: $1.29
- Piece of cardboard: $0.00 (ripped from a shoe box)
- Beer bottle: $0.00 (okay, okay, originally something like $4.25, but you can find a beer bottle lying around, right?)
Total cost: $6.08
Not too shabby.
With a pair of sharp scissors, cut the legs off the pantyhose. I try to go as low as possible – there was no way that was going to sound good, was there?
Remove the small screw from your embroidery hoop and separate the inner and outer rings. Place your legless pantyhose overtop the inner ring, and put the outer ring on top, surrounding it. Make sure that there are no holes or gaps!
Stretch the fabric as tight as you can. Then stretch it tighter. When the fabric is taut, cut the excess. It’s okay if it looks a little raggedy; I prefer to err on the side of caution. If you don’t have enough fabric to cover the hoops’ frame, you’re screwed.
Cut your cardboard into a thin strip—mine’s maybe 1.5 cm wide by 8 cm long. Punch a small hole close to the tip.
Run the embroidery hoop screw through the hole, and then tighten to close the hoops.
Secure the cardboard to the rod with duct tape. At the screw, secure the cardboard—which probably looks like it’s about to tear—with more duct tape. Duct tape wherever it looks like you need it.
Attach a clothespin on either side of the screw. This will help the screen (formerly an embroidery hoop) stay upright. Then more duct tape.
Place the metal rod in the bottle. And then? MOAR DUCT TAPE.
My bottle is pretty sturdy, but if yours is tippy, you can try putting sand in the bottom to weight it down.
Set in front of microphone. Get recording! 🙂
What I’m Listening to This Week
It’s not all classical music and Irish pub songs over here. Coming off March Break, thinking about the year ahead, and all the changes in store…I’ve needed something a little more driving.
Because my musical taste is nothing if not eclectic, I nurture a soft spot for Queen. And these days, I do feel like I’m rushing headlong towards something—so what else would I listen to?
I’ve been thinking about pride lately. Alas, as they occasionally do, my thoughts began spinning. Oh God, am I secretly an awful person and no one bothered to tell me? Am I really awful, like seriously un-talented, and I haven’t been able to hear the sniggers over my own pride ringing in my ears?
It’s been a fun week.
And of course, as many writers are wont to do, I got sucked into a Second-Guessing Spiral of Doom. Well, if I’m not as good as I thought at one thing…maybe I’m wrong about EVERYTHING ELSE. Maybe I should just put my head down and not call any attention to myself at all.
Except I have HEARTSTEALER coming out next month, so that’s not really an option.
And therein lies the paradox many authors face: we have both insane self-confidence and crippling insecurity. To even dare submit a story – heck, to even show it to another human being – you need to think that it’s good. If you don’t honestly think, “This story is so good, people I’ve never met will give me money for it,” then why are you wasting your time? Not to mention the editors’ time?
That’s not all, either. When you have sold things, you can very rarely get away with proceeding to sit quietly in the corner. Doesn’t matter how good your books are – if people can’t find them, they’re a whole lot less likely to buy them.
All of which means: if you are overly self-deprecating – because, hey, I’m just some Canadian kid who hasn’t actually done all that much – if you never speak up and out, if you deflect all attention away from you, if you don’t aggressively seek opportunities… Well, it’s still possible to have a career, but you’re setting up a lot of roadblocks for yourself.
So we can’t do away with pride. Great. That doesn’t help my roiling anxiety.
But then I thought: is taking pride in one’s work different from being proud?
Google didn’t have an answer. I wonder, though, if maybe we should be talking about respecting one’s own work. So not inflating one’s ego by extolling its virtues, but simply giving it the time and attention it needs. Part of respecting one’s work – and I think this is the key difference – is being able to accept criticism to make it better.
Because the difference between egoism and respecting the work is this: what’s it about? If it’s about YOU, and how it makes YOU feel, and why isn’t anyone paying attention to YOU – in other words, if it’s entirely personal – then we may be looking at pride.
If it’s about the work…accepting criticism that might hurt your feelings in order to make the work better, making the writing (not you and your awesomeness) the main focus, doing what you can to make sure the work gets what it needs…that might be a different matter.
Remembering too that no work is perfect. We can strive to make it so. We’ll never get there, but that’s no reason not to try. But when criticism comes a-knocking…it may spur your future works on to be even better, and future works need just same amount of respect. (And if your ego is a bit, uh, puffier, you may find people less inclined to read your future works, so there’s that angle on this whole “respect the work” thing too.)
There’s another word I’d like to throw out: audacity.
No, not that Audacity. The actual dictionary definition of audacity, which is, “the willingness to take bold risks.” This is a term that’s become very important to me, and not just because of the sound editing program.
It’s a good counterpoint to pride. Recently, I had a conversation in which it was suggested that if I’m self-publishing HEARTSTEALER, I must be very proud of it.
I have worked very hard on HEARTSTEALER. I believe in it. I believe there’s a place for it out there. But what this whole endeavour boils down to is audacity. This is a bold risk. Every time I’ve reached out to people for help, that’s audacity. My relentless pushing at the dayjob? Audacity. Also, sheer stubbornness, but that’s another post.
And podcasting. To have the sheer audacity to suggest to people that they might really like to spend their afternoons recording dialogue, and no worries, you’re totally going to figure out this whole audio editing thing before it goes live…
I like the term audacity because of the element of risk. Someone who is too over-confident doesn’t see any risk involved in these activities. Why would they? They’re awesome, so clearly, everything will work out. And when you don’t see the snakes, that’s when you get bit.
Creative types who push the envelope, who suggest new things, who pull other people aboard—they may not have any idea if it’ll actually work. Hence, it’s a risk. Being proud means assuming the dangers will never touch you. Having audacity means you see the dangers, and you’re willing to try anyway.
So respect your work. Be grateful with criticism, gracious with praise.
And above all: be audacious.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Oh, man, I love me some Verdi. La Traviata was the first opera I ever heard, and it’s still one of my favourites. Courtesan meets guy, courtesan loses guy, guy briefly reconciles with courtesan, courtesan dies of consumption.
Yeah, I consistently cry through the third act. Sue me.
Si ridesta in ciel l’aurora takes place after a party at Courtesan Violetta’s house: the dawn is breaking in the sky, and it’s time for the guests to go home. I love the exuberant, galloping introduction here. Also, Verdi writes really, really well for choruses: the lower and upper voices pass the melody off, back and forth, getting progressively louder and more intense, until we burst into a triumphant climax at 0:36, complete with crashing percussion.
The melody becomes almost march-like, nearly militaristic, and then the original light, peppy tune ushers us out. Sidebar: this modern production looks super interesting. Love where they placed the chorus, and how Violetta is left all alone…with a spinning clock, because her time is running out, get it???
Hello! Guess what day it is? It is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, wherein for every text message sent, mobile call made, Tweet using #BellLetsTalk, and share of the Facebook image, Bell Canada will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives. Besides raising monies, it’s also a day to promote awareness and combat stigma.
As most of you know, mental health is a cause close to my heart. It’s a factor in the lives of people I love, mental illness affects creative types at a disproportionate rate—and as my much wiser boyfriend says,
We all have a mental health.
Whether or not there’s an active illness, taking care of one’s mental health is important for all of us.
As I’ve been made aware (often painfully so) in the past. I’ve always been pretty open about anxiety. And it’s the anxiety I want to talk about today, since it’s the one I live with.
So, Let’s Talk:
Anxiety is a tricky beast. It is defined as “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” Which tells us some things, but not all of the things.
Anxiety comes in many flavours
Let’s line up ten people with anxiety. While there may be similarities between them, there may also be ten different types of anxiety. Kierkegaard over here has existential anxiety. Sally Student has crippling test anxiety, a diagnosable form of social phobia. Billy-Bob has Generalized Anxiety: persistent, disproportionate worrying and an inability to let go of worries.
I have social anxiety. Which means that I approach social interactions with the profound dread of doing something wrong, I become easily overwhelmed, and I constantly second-guess my ability to read social cues.
Anxiety does not hit with the same intensity all the time
This is a frustrating one. “Okay,” you say, “you have anxiety. Except—hey, last time, you talked to people just fine! Therefore, you are better! So why is this time such an issue?”
Beats me, and I wish I knew. The stimulus that provoked a strong response last week might be manageable this week, and next week, it could be worse again. Generally speaking, the more familiar anxiety-sufferers are with a situation/person, the easier it is—except for those times when it’s not.
“But you’re so social and outgoing!”
I’m a writer. I can also act when needed. So joking around on panels, being gregarious on podcasts, bantering with visitors at the museum—I might be super familiar and comfortable with the situation, but there is also a really, really good chance that I’m faking it.
The better you know me, the more likely it is you’ve seen me in the grip of a meltdown.
The play’s the thing
Going along with the acting metaphor—anxiety hates uncertainty. Hates it. I do not do well with ambiguity at all. So, what’s the answer to that?
This is why it’s actually sometimes easier to be thrown into a group of people I don’t know well. There is a script for such situations. Ask about their jobs, family, hobbies. Make small talk about a Topic Of Common Interest. It’s a formalized, ritualized way of interacting. Anxiety doesn’t mind that, because it can predict what’s coming next.
(This is also why I’m a boss at tours and presentations, by the way—I don’t just have a script, I wrote the f****** script).
So…for whatever reason, we’ve hit a point where the anxiety becomes greater than the person’s ability to contain it. What happens then?
Honestly, depends on the person. Some people lash out. Some people have panic attacks. I withdraw. It’s awful and I hate it. Imagine a really heavy, cold blanket slowly draping over you. You can feel yourself going numb, getting weighed down, slowed down, but you can’t do anything to stop it. The voice goes flat. Emotional affect dampens. It’s like when your computer overheats and triggers an automatic shut-down. Whatever the response is—it’s no one’s fault.
But as it’s not fun for anyone, prevention is the key: heading off the anxiety before it hits that point. There are many ways to do this. Exercises from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy were developed for people with borderline personality disorder, but they can work well for anxiety, too. Since sensory overstimulation can be a thing with me, I sometimes take my best sense (my ears, yo) and selectively flood that—music is a godsend when my brain is spinning too quickly.
Kind of like writing, though: there’s no One True Way, you just have to experiment until you find what works for you.
To close things off, let’s talk about labels. Sometimes, labels can feel helpful. It is awfully comforting to be able to put a name to the feelings and experiences you’re having—and being able to name it gives you some power over it. At a basic level, it certainly helps you find other people who are going/have gone through the same thing.
The thing to remember with labels, though, is that they are a starting point, not an ending. So, you can name this creeping dread “anxiety.” Fantastic, now you can more easily find resources to help, and maybe talk yourself down better (“This is not my thinking—this is anxiety”). It becomes tricky when the label becomes the be-all and end-all; when it becomes intrinsic to your self-conception. You are not a label. Whatever you have, you are not it.
As always, I’m glad we talked. Yes, it can be difficult, and awkward, but opening the dialogue is hugely important: for ending stigma, and for helping others find the support and help that they need.
Kids Help Phone: http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/teens/home/splash.aspx
Canadian Mental Health Association: http://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/find-help/
Centre for Suicide Prevention: http://suicideinfo.ca/
Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/help
American Crisis Hotlines: http://suicidehotlines.com/national.html
British Mental Health Infoline: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/advice_lines
Mental Health Council of Australia Helplines: http://www.mhca.org.au/index.php/help
New Zealand Ministry of Health: http://www.health.govt.nz/yourhealth-topics/health-care-services/mental-health-services
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand Resource Finder: http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/resourcefinder/listings/resource/73/support-groups/#content-222
What I’m Listening to This Week
This week, it’s “Fac ut ardeat cor meum” from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Once this movement starts, it doesn’t stop—I’ve actually heard it run faster than the version below. “Make me feel as thou hast felt,” runs a loose translation. In essence, this piece is a plea: and done well, it is hugely emotional.
Baroque music pleases me because of how precisely constructed it is. Again, done well, all the parts fit together like clockwork. Here, that’s particularly noticeable with the runs of three quarter notes at 0:18 (the “ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” bit)—the soprano is rising higher, the countertenor steady underneath, and then they come together so perfectly.