Friday, April 23, 2010

Dear Stephenie Meyer: Here's What Really Happened

I finally gave in and read the entire Twilight series.
Now, before I launch a defense of Stephenie Meyer's writing skillz, I would just like to say:
these things are POISONOUS.
It's because they're good, and because they resonate, but man, when I'm in the middle of one of those books, I can't stop thinking about it. I am, like, living in Twilight world, and it dredges up all kinds of things I thought I had managed to suppress. These books make every single man I know look like a snivelling, weaselly loser (Which may or may not be the case, but I somehow doubt that Twilight has given me real perspective on relationships). These books make me want nothing more than to sell my soul for love and Romeo. These books make my life look like it's backlit by fluorescent bulbs.
I really can't tell whether that's because I want Vampire Pattinson for all eternity, or simply because I am a big fat sucker for a good story.

People like Stephen King like to criticize Stephenie Meyer's writing abilities. But when was the last time you had to stay up until two in the morning to find out what the hell happens at the end of a Stephen King book? (Answer: never. Stephen King is the Charles Dickens of the 20th century: 500 pages of boring, boring descriptions of a decent 50-page plot.) So clearly she's doing something right.

Firstly, and technically, the woman is a master of POV decisions. Imagine the Twilight series written in third person. Imagine the Twilight series written from Edward's point of view. Massive suckfest.

Secondly, and most importantly, Stephenie Meyer absolutely kills the emotional truth of a seventeen-year-old's first experience with love, and she does it not only by an accurate portrayal of the relationship, but by what my creative writing instructor called "putting it in the body." Every emotion, every desire and denial and fear and worry is manifested in the physical bodies of the characters, so that even if you haven't had that particular experience or emotion, you have felt the physical effects. That's what makes it all so relatable.
And it's also what makes it so g*ddamn painful.

Up until the fourth book, in which there is, of course, a delightfully happy and satisfying ending, I could totally relate. I have felt that intensely for someone, and lost it all, and found solace in a second and better person who doesn't quite evoke the same sorts of emotions, and then I have rediscovered the first person and went through falling in love with him all over again. And in Twilight, not only do all these exciting things happen, but the roiling emotions are somehow sustainable, and have no illusions mixed in. And I hated every time I woke up from the reverie of those books to realize that I have to deal with real men, who have, like, issues, and flaws, and are sometimes kind of smelly in the morning.
The fourth book continued the delicious trend of pure fantasy, but it was also where she lost me, because she wrote what should have happened, instead of what did happen to all of her readers.

If this were real life, this is how the fourth book would go:
Bella, while getting ready for her upcoming nuptials, stops by to see Edward one day and discovers that, far from the perfect being she had originally accused him of being, he actually a) is cheating on her with some totally skanky, human-blood devouring vampire she-fiend; b) has a pretty serious gambling problem, c) has lied to her the whole time about being a vampire vegetarian and is slowly working his way through the neighboring town, d) is, like, so over this whole love thing and would way rather just "hang with the boys" and chase less demanding vampire trim for the rest of eternity.
She then goes and runs to (the far superior and much funnier) Jacob, who, it turns out, has either a) lied about not having imprinted and has actually imprinted on her, so he is perfectly and desperately in love with this girl who just got clotheslined by Edward and for the rest of their miserable lives he will love her uncomfortably more than she loves him, while she pines over the immortal Edward who is still doing whatever he immortally does, just absent her company; or b) has not lied about not having imprinted, which he will then proceed to do with someone else just as Bella is starting to get over the sparkly-skin dickitude of Edward and starting to fall in love with Jacob for real.
At which point Bella has to pick her own broken heart up off the ground, dust it off, and figure out where to put it until she can stand to look at it again.

I'm glad Stephenie Meyer violated the emotional truth of the fourth book to give me a happy ending. Really, I am. That's what stories are for. Happy endings. But it was still a bit of a shocker to be able to relate so well to the physicality and the raw emotion of the first three books, and then find out that, unlike you, this self-sacrificing b*tch gets to have an acne-free eternity with her first love, while you had to man up and get over it and create some sort of steel cage where your heart once lived.

Just sayin'.

Also, update: I finished the second of my stories about my hometown, but exercise has taken a backseat to working overtime at the moment. Desperately waiting for May!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Overcoming "Demand Resistance"

There are two ways in which I have previously overcome demand resistance. I mean, clearly, I show up to work at the time required of me, and do what I am supposed to do; and when I was running seriously I got up at five-thirty every day, whether or not I wanted to, to run three miles. Both of these were things that are good for me, and that are necessary in order to turn me into someone I want to be: namely, a good employee, and a runner.

The first one is a little bit easier: however demand resistant I am, in order to have a job I have to show up on time and do it. And honestly, the fact that I really like my job is the main motivation there. I used to have a job I didn't like, and, while I showed up, I didn't exactly do awesome work. Sometimes I didn't do any. My job at the Science Center, however, is so much freaking fun that even if I'm having a totally crappy day, showing up to work puts me in a better mood. I enjoy it.
It also helps that the job is sort of on my own time. I mean, the schools are the ones who book the dates and time, but I have a calendar that shows my programs months in advance, and I have the right to cancel if everything I need to do my job well isn't supplied. I am solely in charge of how I present my material, and what needs to be done organizationally speaking. The job is flexible and the structure is designed to help me, the employee.
So, in situation 1, I enjoy the process of the work I do, including the details, and I am in charge of organizing my own time and my material.

Situation 2 is a little more interesting. The desire to get in shape can only get me to the gym for about three weeks at a time, and then I quit because it's boring and I hate feeling like I have to go. What got me running successfully was this:
At the time, I was going through a breakup with Ex-boyfriend #6, and I was also experiencing a bit of a depression. I was sleeping with my hands clenched in fists, and sometimes I would wake up to my alarm and start crying before I had even started my day. Feeling crappy about the way I looked wasn't going to get me to exercise--I felt crappy about everything, and the only thing it motivated me to do was to act like a bitch, and feel crappier.
I started running because it was the one thing I could do that made me feel better and made my brain shut up. For half an hour, I could go outside and look at the trees and the canal that ran past my apartment, and something about my body in motion made my brain keep going, too. Even if I had a sad thought, I was going too fast to hang on to it. Even if I woke up feeling bad enough to cry, all I had to do was put on my sneakers and I knew it would help, at least a little bit. And the endorphins definitely helped. I didn't run solely because of the results that would come from running--I ran because I liked running.
So, in situation 2, I learned to enjoy the process of exercising as well as the results, and it made me feel like I could control at least one thing, even if everything else totally sucked.

So, in order to overcome my demand resistance, I have to find a way to enjoy the process of whatever it is I'm doing, and find a way that it gives me some control over an area of my life.

Sometimes that's really hard. Sometimes running absolutely blows, and you make it halfway through your run before you start trying to suck wind only down your left bronchial tube because your right side has a cramp that makes you want to scream every time you breathe, and you curse the Chinese takeout you had the night before. Sometimes you have to stop and walk.
And sometimes, even at a job you love, your very first outreach by yourself requires you to walk cold into a classroom full of nothing but sixth- and seventh-grade girls--the very subset of the school-aged child population you would have given a kidney to avoid forever--and then go back for seven weeks straight while they catfight each other and stomp all over you and your liquid nitrogen demos. Sometimes you go home from work and eat a carton of cookie dough ice cream and turn on House until you forget your leper-souled existence.
But most of the time, running is exhilarating, especially in March in Phoenix in the mornings when the moon is still out and the cacti are blooming. And most of the time, there is nothing more fun than showing up to a classroom with a portable planetarium and telling some very excited children all about Perseus and Andromeda and how he defeated the sea monster using Medusa's severed head, and how all of it was preserved in the stars for us to remember forever. And most of the time is good enough for me.

That said, yesterday I wrote three more paragraphs of the hardest part of the story I'm working on, and I meditated for ten minutes before I went to bed. The paragraphs were pretty good; the meditation was atrocious, but, hey, sometimes it's like that.

Stuff I Want to Do: the Not-Project

My last post got me thinking--it seemed sort of disembodied and I didn't really know why I posted it at all. Then I thought, I suppose I could actually make a plan to get some of those things accomplished. And I could probably track it on here to see how it goes, which would also mean I would keep my blog going without having to sit down and think about things too hard.

One of my favorite blogs is The Happiness Project, all about Gretchen Rubin's year (now more than a year, by far) of trying on happiness methods to see what worked. It's very useful, although she's a bit older than me and already has a lot of stuff figured out that she takes for granted: she has a family already, where I am living by myself and trying hard to meet people (here in Phoenix, which is apparently the most difficult city in which to meet people). She also has a successful writing career, while I am still struggling to get (any!) publishing credits, not to mention find time to write while I'm working two part-time jobs for non-profit pay.

She knows what's up. A lot of the things on her blog were things that I have slowly been figuring out, but she managed to say them much more succinctly and hammer them into my head, like:
Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do in order to do the things you REALLY want to do; i.e., you have to take physics to get a biology degree, or you have to get knee surgery in order to continue running.
Also, happiness comes in small steps, not in big ones. After breaking up with Ex-boyfriend #6, my mantra was, "Hil, wash your face and brush your teeth," which was my reminder to myself to do the small things to take care of myself while I let time take on the big things. Kind of like that one saying, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step."

My other problem with Gretchen Rubin is she really, really likes resolutions. Every time I read her blog (which is every day) she's got a freaking new one. I don't even know how she keeps track of them, not to mention follows them, and to be frank, I HATE rules. I don't even like suggestions. Forcing me to do something is probably the fastest way to get me to a) hate you and b) never ever ever do whatever it is you want me to do again. When I was three I kicked my mom out of my room in the mornings and insisted on dressing myself, and I never looked back. I don't like being told what to do, even by me. It still takes me an hour to get dressed because I can't just decide what to wear and then wear it. I have to make sure it suits my mood that day.
So when sweet, lovely Gretchen suggested that everybody who reads her blog make their own happiness project this year, complete with resolutions in a particular concentration area for every single month, I thought, "Oh, that's a cool idea. For everyone else." And I never thought about it again.
Then, one day, Gretchen wrote a post on how, somewhere in the universe, there are people who don't like rules, and who might respond badly to the idea of being happier by making rules. I think she thinks we're sort of an alien race, or a mutated subset of the population, but at least she acknowledged us. (She used the term "demand resistant," which sounds fairly accurate.) But then I started thinking about it again.
There are things I want to do with my life, and sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do in order to do the things you really want to do.
Now, in order to do my own Happiness Project, which I will of course refuse to call a Happiness Project because that implies I have structure and/or rules, and a deadline, I am going to have to tiptoe around myself and somehow inspire myself to take the steps to do the things I really want to do without making any rules.
Oh, this should be great fun.

Seriously, Gretchen. I adore you, but the term Happiness Project just sounds so 7th-grade social studies. It makes me itch for recess. It makes it sound like we're all stuck inside, doggedly pursuing happiness, while outside the bees are buzzing and the sun is shining and the 8th-graders are playing dodgeball without us. It sounds like card stock and fluorescent lighting and dried-out Crayola markers.

I think, while I'm thinking up a less sterile name, I can pick a few things that I want to do this year, this year being the vague territory between now and, you know, sometime around the time I turn twenty-five. And I think I can handle breaking those big goals down into the small steps they require. I think I can do this without making any rules.

1. I would like to be less stressed. This means a few things: a) I would like to eat better. b) I would like to exercise more. c) I would like to have more time to myself. d) I would like to learn to organize my time so that I am only thinking about work when I'm at work.
2. I would like to get published. This means pretty much only one thing: a) I would like more time for writing. I don't need to make time for sending things out and researching literary magazines, because I will clearly do that while I'm procrastinating writing.
3. I would like to meet new people and do more new and fun things. But, in the spirit of someone who is "demand resistant," I hate clubs and organizations. I don't want to have to show up for a meeting every second Thursday of the month and have a book read by then. What if it's the second Thursday and I've worked a ten-hour day and I'm tired and all I want is a cup of tea and a different book? I don't think I could even put a bunch of random cool stuff in a jar and pick one whenever I have time, because what if I don't feel like doing that thing? So Thing I Want #3 needs only two things: 1) time in which to do more new and fun things and 2) the motivation to go find something new and fun (Gretchen calls this "letting the door shut behind you." She normally uses it to refer to exercising, saying that if you have your sneakers on and you shut the front door behind you, you will exercise, but I think it will work here.).
4. I want to spend more time with God. To do this, I would like to a) learn to meditate, b)read more books about what other people think of God, and c) possibly find an organization/person who can help me better than I can help myself.

So, in summation, I need: a) to eat better
b) to exercise more
c) to organize my work/leisure time more effectively
d) more time to myself
e) more time to write
f) more time to do fun stuff
g) more fun stuff to do
h)more time to practice meditation
i)more time to read books
j) a teacher
I'm seeing a pattern here.
Luckily, in about a month or so, I will be all done with the bird job (minus extra work that I'll be putting in voluntarily on the write-up), and I should only be working 25 hours a week at the other job. So I will have more time.
But I don't think I should just wait a month until I have more time--I've fallen into that trap before. When the hell else will you have the time to do the things you want to do, if not now?
In general, I think, if you aren't so excited about something that you make time for it even in a ridiculously busy schedule, then you don't actually want to do it, and maybe you shouldn't.
But I guess that's a problematic attitude when it comes to those things you don't want to do that you have to do in order to do the things you REALLY want to do. Like meditation. It does make me feel a little bit better, but I'm also atrocious at it, and it's so hard to do when I'm tired, and it's not always successful, and yada yada. Same with serious books. Serious books are just so serious. I really prefer fantasy novels. So how, when I am so "demand resistant," can I make time for those things, without rules?
Taking suggestions, and possible alternatives to the term Happiness Project

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Things I Would Like to Spend My Life On

1. I want to record an album. Just one would do, but I want some time in a real recording studio with a violinist and a drummer handy, and nobody else around unless I ask them to be.
2. I want to write a collection of short stories about my hometown. I have one finished and am halfway through another one, but I think a collection is at least seven.
3. I want to get some kind of degree in psychology/counseling and learn all about the ways in which gender affects the psyche
3.5 I'd like to then take my degree and spend a whole lot of time counseling people on the ways in which gender is affecting their psyches
4. Going to Iowa Writer's Workshop wouldn't suck. Or Breadloaf. Breadloaf would do.
5. I'd love to take a photography class and own a real cool camera
6. I want to see the Himalayas
7. I'd like to come to terms with my own mortality and learn how to meditate properly

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On the "Rocky" Method of Dating

About a month ago, I blocked ex-whosit number bazillion. Not with the middle school attempt at trying to get him to talk to me about why he's a douchebag by blocking him on AIM and then talking to all of his friends; I full-on blocked all methods of contact. I filtered my e-mail so his e-mails get sent directly to the trash; I de-friended and blocked him on pretty much every social networking tool available; I deleted his phone number and then went through and erased all calls and text messages to and from his phone, and then I sent him an e-mail telling him exactly why I was doing it and further instructions not to attempt to contact me for at least a year, and the addendum that after a year the only possible reason he could want to contact me would be nostalgia, which is "not worth the price of a long-distance phone call." (Yes, I said that. Isn't it terribly clever?)
The reason I did this was because, despite at least four conversations in which I literally begged him not to talk to me about other girls he was now seeing, he insisted on doing so. He did it very sneakily, using the method of pretending to talk to me about my life, mostly talking about his life, and then telling me how important I was to him and how much he really desperately needed my advice. I may be slow on the uptake, but after four conversations of this I finally caught on to the fact that he does not actually give a shit about me. These conversations almost always occurred immediately after he had been dumped by someone else, and almost always ended with him desperately trying to keep talking to me while I desperately was trying to end the conversation. And sometimes with me crying.
Today, however, I checked my e-mail's trash, because I have been waiting about three months to hear from some literary magazines, and I wanted to make sure they didn't accidentally get marked as spam, just in case. (I think this is a typical procrastination method for writers who are stuck at the pivotal scene that kind of freaking scares them to put on paper, but I could be wrong.) And in it was an e-mail from ex-whosit number bazillion. I probably should have deleted it permanently without reading it, but I used to be in love with the guy, so of course I opened it.
Now, clearly, my life is NOT an episode of Sex and the City. Peter likes to argue that it's really a lot more like an episode of Seinfeld, with me as Elaine Benes (hair included), and the rest of the world as the scary place that is Larry David's mind. So, of course, this was not some kind of love e-mail filled with poetic sentences about how perfect I am and how sorry he is and how much he has changed and never wants to live without me again.
No. Instead, this is what it contained:


I know you don't want to hear from me, but I couldn't resist. Hope you enjoy.

-[ex-whosit number bazillion]

What Fascinates Me About Professional Wrestling:

[rest of e-mail redacted to spare your sanity and also because I didn't read it; I totally stopped when I got to "professional wrestling" and then took a really long shower]

I am so not even kidding. This actually happened. He seriously broke the silence I imposed on him in an attempt to rescue my wounded heart from the depths of narcissistic amour in order to send me his random f*%$ing essay on professional wrestling.
I'm going to assume my readership is at least nominally garnered in the IQ department and skip ahead to the part where I am now very carefully and extremely casually dating an aerospace engineering student who takes me mini-golfing and offers to change the oil in my car.

I really, really don't ever want my past failures to affect my belief that one day I will be able to find someone who is not only nice but who might actually support me in most of the things I want for myself and maybe even give me an orgasm once in a while. But I really am beginning to feel like I am not ever going to win this fight, and lately I can't even come up with a reason why I should keep getting back up after I get knocked down. I have stories that can totally top this one, like the one about genius ex-boyfriend number two and his coke habit that I didn't know about, or the one about ex-boyfriend number three and the time he killed a rabbit at the golf course and ate it raw (yes, really). Or what about ex-whosit number bazillion and two, and how we hung out regularly, just as friends, for six months, and then one beautiful December evening he asked me to stop seeing other guys, spent the night at my house, and then never talked to me ever again?
But I don't want any more stories about narcissistic bunny-killing yeo-licking soul-destroying men who really could have been something but, you know, weren't. I just want someone to hang out with on Friday nights. But lately even thinking about something as simple as that is enough to make me curl up in bed and suck my thumb. How many times do I have to get back up before they at least ring the goddamn bell?