Friday, February 19, 2016

Cocoon

It's the middle-late part of the quarter, which means, naturally, that I am questioning what I am doing with my life. I've been doing nothing but school stuff this week, school stuff and some job search stuff, and I haven't been off campus in far too long. The world is large and I am...here. It's really, really easy to get trapped.

I feel, sometimes, as though there's a membrane, mostly transparent, but thick, between me and the world. This is a fantasy born out of a desire to excuse my ignorance, my unobservantness, my low energy, my apathy. My rejection of my physical body probably plays into my distancing from anything outside of my head. I am not great at spatial awareness--have an awful sense of direction, am bad at visualizing places--it's a problem, because most of my characters are not stuck in their heads all the time. But I tend to be.

The world in my head doesn't shut up ever--plans and stories and circumstances--so I don't necessarily notice when things in the world outside of my head are or are not happening. It is Friday of week seven of the quarter and my life for the past seven weeks has been more or less bounded by Campus Drive. I spent most of my time in Jakarta shuttling between home and the office and the nearest mall.

I can't waste my time in Berlin like that. I can't waste the rest of my time in this world like that.

But implementation is more difficult than creation, and no matter what grand plans I can make while sitting here, headphones in, wearing almost all black because colors are a lot, I cannot guarantee enough energy to carry through.

The last post was about how easy it is to get isolated. The cast of people who are important to me underwent a dramatic shift when I graduated high school and went to college--as in, I have made plans with literally two people from high school since the beginning of this academic year. The guy who I lived next door to last year, whom I consider my brother, I have not spoken to in a week. I realized last Saturday, as I wandered around my old dorm, that the friends I hang out with the most now were just acquaintances this time last year.

I've kept a journal every day since about sixth grade and I find that sometimes, if I try to read back before a certain time, big, important things will have happened and I just can't relate to the person I was then. Time wears down these mental blocks, though, so I can read back even earlier--but there are just regions of my life where I don't understand who I was. Recent signposts--before I realized I was nonbinary. Before I broke up with my ex. Before I got to college...

Look, here I am again, going through the past as seen through paper and ink, instead of...I don't know. Looking outward. The problem is that I value permanence--I want to do things once and have that be it. I've bought into the value system that values product more than process. The constant daily work of talking to people you don't know, reading the news, taking unplanned opportunities and adapting your schedule to them--I am not good at this.

There is no way for me to break out of my cocoon, but it may be possible every day to leave and return. The displacement is zero; but what distances can I reach?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Connection

I'm really not doing great on the whole two-posts-per-week deal this quarter. What can I say? Winter Quarter. Nineteen units. This weekend, however, we had Monday off, which meant lots of time for both relaxation and work.

Something I've noticed is that it is really, really easy to lose track of people when you don't see them in person. I've been actively trying to keep up contact with my closest friends from last year who aren't in my dorm now, and the result is...brunch every couple of weeks. Not a lot. I love my friends and I need to spend a certain amount of time each day interacting with people I love, or else I start going robot. We're going to disperse even more next year than we are currently, which means I am thinking a lot about how to keep it up.

Even living in a dorm full of great people, it's easy to lose touch. I haven't spoken with some of my favorite frosh, my RA, or the guy whom I consider my brother in depth in a couple of weeks. Other friends regularly come over to hang out and drink tea, which I really appreciate, but about three people fall into this category. As for high school friends? Also few enough to count on one hand.

What will it be like when we leave college? Will I make friends near where I live, will I call my friends regularly, will radio silence consume all? The rapidity with which I forget what it was like to be me a year, two years, five years ago has made me aware how great a portion of who I am depends on my environment. Around people I trust, I can be kind; if I feel unsafe or unknown, the walls go up. Not to angst, but I could see a case where I live alone in a city and don't have any close friends nearby and consequently have my walls up the entire time I am around people.

I don't expect this to happen. I think my sense of self-preservation, at least, will drive me to search for genuine human contact. Next quarter, when I'm in Berlin, I'll practice. I'll meet people, talk to people, make friends*. In the close quarter pressure cooker of college dorm life, making friends happens naturally--keeping friends once geographically separated is more tricky. But you can always make friends in situ.

*In non-sketchy venues, of course. Sense of self-preservation, oder?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Writing Political

Apologies for missing the weekend post. It is week six of the quarter and things are busy. A full working draft of a major paper is due tomorrow, I have a midterm on Thursday morning, and there's a lot of small background stuff that needs to get done. Also applying for jobs in Germany, but I have a good support system for that so I'm less panicked about it than I would be otherwise.

A song that I've been listening to on repeat, in both the English and French versions, for the past hour and a half:

MIKA - Elle me dit + Emily (French/English mashup) from Brainwasher on Vimeo.
Elle me dit / Emily - Mika

-

On Friday I stayed up until 0400 and finally, finally finished the UM Graz section, which means that yes, the huge major climactic scene of the story is written. I know it doesn't strike the right tone that I want it to--I want an eye of the storm effect, but for that to be meaningful you have to see some of the storm, even if from a distance. In general, the things that I write come out less intense and immediate than when I first imagine them. This isn't just a problem with the last scene that I wrote: the story until that point needs to escalate. More fire and brimstone before they get to the climax.

Two more sections to go until the end of the story: Vienna and Epilogue. I have five weeks of the quarter left, and Spring Break, so I can't slack and might have to shorten Vienna to make it. But it seems that if I can make myself sit down with the story on a weekend night, I can get out over a thousand words in a session. This is the opposite MO of the one that I usually promote (write a little, more often). But six classes + competition team = very little time during the week.

I think I'll make it. If nothing else, I can throw myself into the writing during Spring Break to finish before I go to Germany. I haven't even started thinking about what I'll write there--maybe short stories? I don't know. When you've been living in a story for two years it's strange thinking about other writing projects that are not yet close to critical mass.

On Saturday I went home for dinner to celebrate Lunar New Year. It was good to see my mom, sister, and cat again (my dad was out of town). Sometimes at school it's hard to remember that there's anything outside of school that matters. Looking at people at school, it's hard to remember that they have a story from before they landed here; and it is just as easy to forget that in relation to yourself.

The girl who started writing Ubermadchen in 2014 is vastly different from the person who is working on it now. I won't really be able to talk about this until the story is done, but I think I've become more political since then. A major reason I chose UM over another writing project was because I was disappointed in myself for having such male-dominated casts for most of my other long works. The racial/ethnic diversity of the cast was because a major facet of the magic in this universe is that magical talent is randomly distributed, and it's just that only the ruling classes get it trained. Marilla was lesbian because it just seemed to fit her.

Now, it isn't entirely different. The cast demographics are justifiable in-story, and Marilla (the viewpoint character) deliberately does not get on political soapboxes (although Josefina does). But I'm keeping it in the background of my mind, what it means to have a troop of five female-assigned educated outlaws saving the day by incorporating magical lessons learned from a variety of sources. In revision I'm going to have to consider the political context of the story more carefully, as well as how the events of the story may riff off current events.

But--I can't have this in the forefront of my mind as I write. Maybe other writers can, but I can't. When the one romance I depict is between the metal-magic tank of the group (Katya) and a compassionate, bookish nerd (Levi), the question in my head is not "how can I make this more feminist" but rather "what interaction makes sense given these characters' personalities?" Not that "how can I make this more feminist" is a bad question to ask--just not one that helps me in the moment.

It is a question that I'm asking in relation to Orsolya, however, but even then it's more of a proxy question for "what is going on in the story that is out of character?" Maybe that's what I should do while in Germany, plan out the revision of Orsolya, because the story as written does not go in a way that I like or that makes sense, and the story needs to expand. It's going to get political, and I think that's a theme that shows up that reveals my naivete: how often powerful individuals who don't even work within the system utterly disrupt the status quo. "Screw the rules, I have power."

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Conversations

Apologies for missing both of last week's posts. I actually did start writing something for Tuesday, but it was about the raging dysphoria I was experiencing that day and it was not fit to publish. I needed to write it; it did not need to be read.

But it did need to be talked about, and that's something that I am taking away from last week: the value of conversations. I don't like talking for the sake of talking, I don't like the sound of my own voice, but I do like talking as a way of communicating experience. Talking about dysphoria and where it comes from and what to do about it helped me a lot on Tuesday.

On Wednesday one of the RAs hosted a discussion about class privilege, and I was reminded of how to listen: when to speak, when to shut up. Namely, if the conversation is stalling, ask questions or share your experience; if the silence is instead because people are processing something, hold off a little. Be aware of how much space you're taking up. Be comfortable with silence and with sound.

It's been about a year since I broke up with my ex, and I've been thinking on and off about how and why I ended things. I debriefed with my sister right after it happened but haven't done too much analysis since then, but some conclusions I've come to is that I, like most people, have different tiers of closeness with people. People with whom I can talk about serious topics are at a higher level, and so a new rule I've instituted for myself (which won't be relevant until after college, probably) is that I won't date anyone who is not at the level at which we can talk about race.

I had a lot of conversations with my ex--a typical date consisted of getting lunch and then walking around for hours talking. Looking back, I wonder what we even talked about. Education, science, things that happened in high school, and so on. Never about race or sexism or...

Ultimately, I broke up with the guy because I no longer had feelings for him, and in the absence of those feelings I had no desire to keep putting the work into the relationship. And part of the reason I didn't want to keep putting the work in was because we were growing and changing in different ways, and the kind of conversations that we were having were not only not the kind that I needed to have, but I didn't think he could have those kinds of conversations. In other words, we could not communicate about the same things.

There are peacetime friends and wartime friends, by which I mean there are friends around whom I feel the need to pretend that everything is fine, whom I do not trust to be there for me in the way I need when I am not doing well. Then we have wartime friends, friends with whom I need little preamble to get to real topics, friends in front of whom I can be upset and not worry that they'll be freaked out.

Of course my wartime friends and I don't just unload our agonies upon one another. Wartime friends mean we can also celebrate our victories together too. Silliness and seriousness both require a greater degree of closeness than even intellectual smalltalk, because happiness and sadness are both vulnerable emotions. I am lucky to have people who don't make me feel weak or like a fool for expressing either.