It’s Black History Month And I’m Back On My Bullshit, Y’all

Do you remember that “Three Fictional Characters Challenge” that was popular on Facebook a few years ago? The point was to post a photoset of the three fictional characters you think are the best representation of yourself.

At the time, the three characters that I picked were Hermione Granger, Leslie Knope, and Wednesday Addams. Very accurate, if I do say so myself.

…but do you spot the problem? Because I didn’t.

And then a few days ago, I happened to be watching John Leguizamo’s one-man Broadway show Latin History for Morons, and something clicked for me. (By the way, I highly recommend that you give it a watch.)

The main conflict of the show revolves around John Leguizamo trying to help his teenage son think of a Latin hero for a school project. It’s surprisingly difficult to find any mention of Latin heroes in their school textbook, or to even think of any that are both well-known in American culture and interesting to an 8th grader.

At one point, after complaining to his therapist about the difficulty he’s having helping his son with this project, Leguizamo is asked to play a word association game. The therapist will say a word, and John will say the first name that pops into his head.
“Success?”
“Mark Zuckerberg.”
“Genius?”
“Steve Jobs.”
“Legend?”
“Billy Joel.”
“What about Marc Anthony?” asks the therapist.
“Meh,” says John.
“Solo performer?”
“It’s gotta be Spalding Gray.”
“Do you see the pattern here?” asks the therapist.
John doesn’t.
Not until the therapist follows up by asking, “Who’s your Latin hero, huh? How do you expect to have a hero for your son if you don’t have one for yourself?”

That was an incredibly eye-opening moment for me.

I realized that I probably would’ve failed this exercise in exactly the same way that John Leguizamo did, and furthermore for the same reason- because we grew up in a culture that basically sets us up to fail that challenge.

Even if someone told me to specifically list Black heroes I can identify with or look up to, I’d first immediately think of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ruby Bridges…you know, the obvious ones. The ones that we read about in school during Black History Month and literally no other time of the year.

Digging deeper, I’d then probably add Nichelle Nichols, Michelle Obama, Janelle Monáe, Naomi Campbell, Stacey Abrams, and even more recently Amanda Gorman.

But if you told me to list the Black heroes who were relevant while I was growing up, I can pretty much only think of Venus and Serena Williams. I guess maybe Oprah, if you’re going to make me scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel.

This is something I’ve always kind of been aware of- but now, for the first time, my mind flashed back to the Three Fictional Characters Challenge and I realized….oh, wow.

Not only could I not think of a single Black character that I identify with, I didn’t even notice that I hadn’t thought of one. Someone had to point it out to me. (And at the time I was annoyed at him for pointing it out! Can you believe that shit?)

But unfortunately, that only makes sense. I’m struggling to think of Black fictional characters that I identify with even now, let alone ones that existed when I was an impressionable child. Penny from the Proud Family, I guess? Raven from That’s So Raven? Barbie’s friend Nikki? Cinderella, but from only the 1997 ABC Family version with Brandy?

Almost every character that I identified with in any way as a kid, or cared about at all, was white. Why wouldn’t they be? Growing up in America in the 1990s, almost all the media I consumed assumed a white audience, or otherwise didn’t bother with representation- I’ll give shoutouts to Gullah Gullah Island and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, but that’s slim pickings, don’t you think? A couple of shows out of hundreds? Thousands?

I never really thought too much about how this affected me, until I watched Latin History for Morons and realized that it’s the kind of societal othering that’s damaging across generations.

Representation is important. I realize that now.

How am I supposed to feel good about myself as a Black person if I’m walking around with the impression that there aren’t any Black people, fictional or otherwise, worth identifying with? How is John Leguizamo supposed to teach his son to take pride in their Latin heritage if neither of them can even name a Latin hero worth celebrating?

I’ve discussed before how it took me a long time to start thinking properly about my Black heritage, by dint of being raised by, and entirely surrounded by, white people for my entire life. I’m realizing now that there’s still so much more to unpack.

I bought a couple of books about Black History in both America and the world. But I feel like just educating myself now, as an adult, might not be enough to undo all of the bad radio I’ve picked up over the years.

Like, I’m writing a book right now- and although a few of the characters are non-white, none of them are Black. I’m starting to feel weird about it. Should I? I dunno.

Representation matters, but it’s still really complicated.

Sometimes I just want to write the story I want to write. But sometimes, I feel like I need to write something for little Black girls to read.

Mostly, I feel bad that the kind of story I want to write isn’t the kind of thing that little Black girls would read to feel included in society.

I just find it really sad that I’ve been so ethnically brainwashed by a predominantly white culture, if you will, that I was almost thirty years old before I realized that it’s weird that I never had any Black role models- and that even with that realization, I still have basically no idea how to fix that problem.

Maybe You’re Mentally Ill, Or Maybe You’re Depressed Because Everything Is Terrible

The past year has been a real doozy, right?

And I’m not just talking about the pandemic, or the civil unrest, or the beloved celebrities dying, or the fucking election. Apart from all the crazy shit we went through collectively, I’m pretty sure that everyone individually had a hellish year in some form or another.

For me, the really low points of 2020 were: my mom getting cancer (again), having to postpone a wedding and honeymoon, cutting off a longtime friendship “over politics”*, dealing with bigotry from a family member, and not getting to go home for Christmas for the first time in my entire life due to the endless goddamn quarantine.

*returning readers are aware of how I feel about this turn of phrase. Hint: it starts with “absolute” and ends with “bullshit”.

As I said, a real doozy of a year.

So it’s probably not surprising to hear that from December of 2020 up until the time of writing, I have been in the. worst. depressive. funk. Like, way worse than the usual “anxiety-disorder-backswing-depression-&-standard-millennial-nihlism-combo” that I deal with most of the time. No, this has been some premium, high-octane, grade-A depression.

The silver lining is that having a totally different kind of mental health crisis for once got me thinking a lot about mental health in general; specifically, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to how much the way I think and feel is inspired by internal factors, versus external factors.

See, I realized that I’ve gotten so used to thinking of “being depressed” as synonymous with “having clinical depression” that I sort of forgot that you can be legitimately depressed just because you suffered the misfortune of being trapped in the hellscape of 2020.

And then I realized that this also applied to my anxiety- I’ve gotten so used to having an anxiety disorder, and knowing that I had to calibrate for it, that I forgot that it’s totally normal to occasionally get anxious about certain things.

So I guess the thesis here is that, in a weird way, 2020 being such a bad year that it gave me depression helped me realize that my anxiety was previously way more under control than I usually give myself credit for?

….yay?

Anyway, I’m hoping that the end of the quarantine being in sight and winter slowly fading out is going to be what it takes to snap me out of the aforementioned depressive funk- but the realization that maybe it’s not the end of the world to fall into a pit of sadness sometimes helped a lot, too.

And I’m betting that I’m not the only person having a rough time of it right now- so my message to everyone else in the same boat is…well, I guess it’s “Hey, we’re all in the same boat.”

Anyway, keep your chin up. Maybe everything is complete trash, but at least that means it’s not you!

Joe Biden Has No Excuse Not To Be The Best Goddamn President We’ve Ever Had

The bar is so low for President Biden. So. Low. All he has to do is not lead a riotous mob in storming the capitol, or get himself impeached twice, or allow 400,000 American citizens to die of a largely preventable pandemic in less than a year, or tweet out insane ramblings in the middle of the night that threaten our diplomatic relations, or talk shit about Meryl Streep, and he’s guaranteed to be better than the last guy.

This should be an easy win, Joe. An absolute no-brainer.

It is laughably easy for a politician to impress me at this point. Can you string together a complete sentence? Full of actual, real, true information? Does the sound of your voice not make me want to puke? If so: congratulations, I’m impressed.

That’s how low the bar is. That’s how easily you should be able to win me over, Joe. You don’t even have to run with the ball. All you have to do is not drop it.

After the last four years of bullshit, I can’t even think of what Joe Biden could do that would make me consider him a bad president. He’d basically have to leave the nuclear launch codes out in the open in a Chuck E. Cheese. And I mean a Chuck E. Cheese in the really bad part of town. Anything less than that, and I’m not sure I would even notice.

If Joe Biden does literally nothing else with his presidency except for never saying the word covfefe, I will be happy with him. Hell, I’ll be overjoyed.

The bar is buried, you get me?

I’ve completely reversed course from the primaries, during which I loathed the idea of President Joe Biden. Now I’m excited (or just so relieved that it feels like excitement) for a normal, boring, status-quo-but-hopefully-with-less-genocide-at-the-southern-border-reestablishing president, and I kind of don’t care who that is. Any port in a storm, pretty much.

But I’m worried that even with my expectations so incredibly nonexistent, Joe Biden is still going to find a way to let me down.

I don’t know how he possibly could, but I’ve seen a lot of shit happen in politics recently that I would previously have said could never possibly happen in America.

Really, I don’t know how Joe Biden could do anything but impress us at this point- the majority of Americans are currently having a crisis of faith in our hallowed institutions, the Office of the Presidency most of all. The only thing most of us are looking for right now is someone to not be completely fucking terrible at being the president, and that’s about it.

There’s no reason for Joe Biden not to go down in history as an excellent president, if only by the metric of comparison.

But if I’ve learned anything over the last four years, it’s not to expect politics to proceed in the normal and expected fashion. Anything could happen next, and I’m not sure when I’ll feel like it’s safe to uncross my fingers.

I want to have faith in Joe Biden. I want to have faith in anything.

But all I really want is to have someone in office who isn’t a completely fucking terrible president. Please, 2021- tell me this is the year that becomes a reasonable expectation again?

If We’re *All* Obsessed With True Crime, Then It’s Totally Not Weird, Right?

A few nights ago, in the middle of watching a four-part docuseries about the Night Stalker, my husband asked me what the deal is with women and true crime. I’ve been thinking it over ever since.

I mean, we all know that women are obsessed with true crime television shows (and podcasts and books and YouTube channels and entire broadcasting networks). That’s not new information. Hell, our society has normalized this obsession so much that no one bats an eye when I start casually dropping facts about how Jeffrey Dahmer disposed of his victims or why John Wayne Gacy used sharp angles in his clown makeup- somehow, we ended up in a place where that’s completely appropriate cocktail party conversation.

But until I was asked the question, I guess I hadn’t really thought about the why of it all.

Why am I obsessed with true crime? Why do I like learning about horrible things that certain human beings (mostly weird men) have done to other human beings (usually young ladies)? Why do I think it’s totally normal to have a favorite serial killer (Albert Fish) and a favorite unsolved murder (JonBenét Ramsey, although I’m 99.5% positive that I figured that one out).

It is kind of weird, right?

So I’ve been thinking about this for a few days…and I’m pretty sure it has something to do with basic human evolution.

Our lizard brains like being scared, you know? That’s why we all pack ourselves into the cinema (shout-out to the Beforetimes) to watch anything from slasher flicks to supernatural thrillers to however the fuck Ari Aster would describe his filmography. That’s why Stephen King is one of the most popular authors in the world, despite the fact that we all kind of agree that he’s a hack in most of the ways that count.

We like scaring ourselves, but in ways that don’t really put us in danger. Horror movies and scary stories are safe outlets to vicariously experience the titillation of something really terrifying happening to us. We get to scratch the evolutionary itch of being kept on our toes and skillfully, narrowly avoiding dangerous predators, but we know that Jason Voorhees isn’t actually going to pop out of the bedroom closet and cut us into little pieces. (That said, I still fully believe that Norman Bates can and will get you in the shower, so be careful.)

True crime is the logical extension of this feeling.

I know I’m not going to get murdered by Ted Bundy- his reign of terror was over before I was even born. But even so, he was still real. I still could have gotten murdered by Ted Bundy, if I happened to be walking around California at the wrong (read: right) time.

It’s as far removed from my reality as any slasher flick, so there’s nothing to be scared about.
But it’s also a reminder that I’m one instance of forgetting to lock my door away from being a gruesome video on Buzzfeed Unsolved- and that is something to be scared about.

So in summation, why do I like true crime? Because it’s like a scary story, except it’s real, except that it isn’t, but then also it TOTALLY IS.

Or maybe I’m just a weirdo. But I don’t think I’m alone here.

Then again, when you consume as much true crime content as I do…you never really feel like you’re alone anywhere.

The American Experiment Was Nice While It Lasted

Deep down, in spite of everything, I guess I really do love America.

Or at least, I love the idea of America. The land of the free, home of the brave, truth, justice, and the American Way- you know, the whole bit. I still want to believe that’s the real core of our nation, no matter how much evidence I see to the contrary. I still want to believe that there’s something special about America.

But after this past Wednesday, I’m forced to concede that there isn’t.

We’re not the leaders of the free world, or the best example of a government for and by the people, or anything of the kind. We’re just another one of those “shithole countries” where sometimes a seditious mob storms the capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of a fair and democratic election- and the next day, life goes on.

It’s pretty sobering to suddenly realize how close we might be to the violent toppling of our democracy. But the thing is, it shouldn’t be sudden. We should’ve been expecting this to happen any day now.

Why? Because every country goes through the growing pains of tinpot dictatorships and violent revolutions- we were being naïve when we assumed that America was somehow immune to those pitfalls.

We just weren’t old enough as a country to have gotten to them yet.

Think about it- counting from 1776, the USA is only 245 years old. Do you know what that means? That means that if you’re my age (29), you’ve been alive for more than ten percent of America’s entire existence.

That’s SUCH a ridiculously short amount of time to have started claiming that we had our shit together- and getting invested in the narrative of that claim is the reason that we’re now collectively blindsided by our shit rapidly falling apart.

But the silver lining is that this might not be the end of America after all- just another bloody chapter near the beginning.

…or is that a silver lining? I don’t know anymore.

Guess we’ll have to let the future historians sort it out.

New Year, Same Bullshit (But In A Shiny New Package)

I’ve spent the last few days hemming and hawing about whether or not I want to make a New Year’s Resolution.

On the one hand, I’m the sort of person that won’t get a goddamn thing done, ever, if I’m expected to self-motivate. An arbitrary deadline is literally the only thing that gets any results out of yours truly. I’ve seen it proven time and time again, and as much as I’d like to just wake up one morning and be the kind of person who simply Does Things For Their Own Good, it’s been nearly 29 years and that just doesn’t look like a switch that I have the power to flip. But a New Year’s Resolution, that’s an excuse to hold myself accountable in a way that I otherwise just won’t bother to do.

But on the other hand, adding Yet Another Thing to my list is a surefire way to increase my day-to-day anxiety, cause me to beat myself up when I inevitably fall behind the stupid arbitrary schedule I’ve set for no good reason, and ultimately end up completely and totally miserable when I fail at a goal that I only sort of wanted to do in the first place.

And this happens to me every year. Every year, I go back and forth for at least a week about whether I should make a Resolution, or just…I don’t know, be a better person without it needing to be attached to a holiday or the calendar?

I’ve decided that this year, instead of coming up with a New Year’s Resolution, I’m going to set a few “intentions” for the year. Think of them as mini-resolutions, if you like- the important part is that they’re things that I actually want to do, not things that I feel like I have to do to “build character” or whatever.

So, here are my intentions for 2021:

Bye Bye, Anxiety

I say this every year, but every year it gets a little closer to reality. Through a strategic deployment of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, white wine, and strong-arming it through panic attacks while screaming along to Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, I’ve kiiiiiiiind of gotten to a place where I feel like my anxiety is occasionally grabbing the steering wheel out of my hands rather than being the one in the driver’s seat. I’m going to try to keep that going for the rest of this year (and my life) and see if maybe, just maybe, I can trick my brain into doing what I want to do for a change.

Spin, Spin, Spin

Last year was a weird year for my level of physical fitness- I was either on top of shit and busting ass every day, or else I was laying motionless in a pile of empty Taco Bell wrappers. Literally zero in-between. This year, I’m going to try to stay on top of shit the whole time. Hello, Spin Bike- nice to see you again. Sorry I’ve been so distant. We’re going to be best buddies in 2021, don’t you worry.

Just Write The Goddamn Book Already

In 2020, I went from having one mostly-written-but-still-unfinished-novel hanging over my head to having TWO mostly-written-but-still-unfinished-novels hanging over my head. It’s sooooo much worse, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to stand for it. Come hell or high water, I’m finishing a novel this year even if it literally kills me.

And I guess that’s my 2021 laid out- I’ll keep you posted!

But If You Take The Blue Pill, You Still Get To Look At Memes

Every few months, I seriously consider deleting all my social media.

I picture it like the closing scene of a classic Western: a cowboy dropping his six-shooter into the dirt and sauntering unburdened into the sunset, his dueling days behind him and a world of fresh possibilities ahead.

Just think of it. To live a life unencumbered by the endless chimes and buzzes that incessantly demand my attention. To be utterly ignorant of the latest stupid controversy that everyone is going to reverse opinion on by this time next week. To never again look at a photo of a baby that I don’t care about, or at an engagement announcement that I weirdly care about way too much.

To be free.

But then a couple of hours later I’ll see a dumb little photo somewhere on the internet, and I’ll click “Share” without thinking about it, and then 30 people are paying attention to me and that’s enough of a dopamine hit that I decide to stay on social media after all.

And then I’ll ask myself: Did I decide to stay? Was it really a decision that I made, consciously and of my own free will? (Is this my beautiful house? Is this my beautiful wife?)

Or is it that I can’t leave?

In my experience, trying to get off of social media is like trying to fight a hydra with a particularly crafty method of regenerating heads. I mute my phone notifications, and my smartwatch conveniently ignores the memo. I close an app, and then the website opens in a new browser tab. I visit an unrelated blog or store even a game, and it automatically redirects me to Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest or wherever else* as a standard part of the user experience.

*I specifically don’t mention Twitter; I already broke free of that wretched hive of scum and villainy, and the less said about it, the better.

I am Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III. Just when I thought I was out, someone texts me the link to a fucking TikTok.

Oh, to be free.

But even as I claim to yearn for freedom, here I am. On social media, complaining about social media, for the benefit of everyone else on social media, hoping that they’ll share links to my social media on their social media, and genuinely thinking that being self-aware about being trapped in the Matrix somehow makes it the least bit better.

#WhatAPieceOf WorkIsMan, amirite?

Now, it’s not all bad- that’s what I always end up telling myself, when I really need to dig deep for a logical reason that I keep taking the blue pill- social media isn’t all bad, right? It’s how we stay connected with our loved ones, especially in a year like this one where it was mostly illegal to see each other in person. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I’d immediately fall out of touch with about 90 percent of my friends and acquaintances.

But on the other hand…are we even friends if our only interaction is scrolling past one another, each of us more interested in our individual quests to win the title of Zuckerberg’s Favorite Lil’ Attention Whore?

I don’t know, man. I’m not here to analyze the algorithm; I just click what it tells me to click and buy what it tells me I’ll like.

Obey. Consume. Like. Subscribe.

Someday I’ll be free of this burden, the cowboy thought, looking down at the pistol gripped tightly in his trembling hand. Someday, I’ll unplug.

Someday…

Move Over, Spotify; I Discovered My Own New Music Genre

This year, I finally gave in and admitted that a girl cannot subsist on Billy Joel alone. So I’ve spent the last few weeks scoping out some new music, and along the way I uncovered a vibe too groovy not to share.

Do you have a moment to hear the gospel of Dreampop Surf Vibes?

That’s the name I made up, so don’t worry if that sounds totally incomprehensible to you. I’d describe it like this: dreamy synth-pop that makes you feel like you’re at a beach party, but a weird tense beach party where someone walks into the ocean at the end of the night and everyone else is strangely at peace with it.

This sound is my New Aesthetic™, so I’ve compiled a Personal Top 10 of the Genre to share with you. These are presented in no particular order, but shoutout to the band Her’s for making the list three times.

Click the song name to give it a listen!

Ether (Sick at Heart) by field trip

My favorite thing about this song:
The way the vocals and synth effects blend together.

Favorite Lyric:
I know it’s hard to not just go insane / Sick at heart

Teenage Blue by Dreamgirl

My favorite thing about this song:
The soft, indistinct vocals that really put the “dream” in dreampop.

Favorite Lyric:
All that I’d ever see / All that I’d ever believe is through
All that I’d ever see / All that I’d ever believe is blue

Blue Lips by Her’s

My favorite thing about this song:
That damn funky bassline.

Favorite Lyric:
She likes to think of you / As somebody else
Now, don’t be oh-so-sure / That you know what’s next

80’s High School by CASTLEBEAT

My favorite thing about this song:
The high school imagery is an instant nostalgia trip.

Favorite Lyric:
Think it out you’ll be fine / Take a minute to rewind
All the noise in your mind / 80s high school all the time

Out Like a Light by The Honeysticks

My favorite thing about this song:
The musical crescendos going into the first and final choruses.

Favorite Lyric:
You never leave / You never leave
You never leave / You leave me uptight

When I’m With You by Best Coast

My favorite thing about this song:
SURF. VIBES.

Favorite Lyric:
Ever since I was a little girl / My mama always told me there’d be boys like you

Harvey by Her’s

My favorite thing about this song:
It’s a reference to Harvey- you know, the giant invisible rabbit? Hell yes.

Favorite Lyric:
Harvey/ Nobody knows what I see
Everyone thinks I’m crazy / Crazy for you, oh boy

She Needs Him by Her’s

My favorite thing about this song:
This song is the best of both worlds between 80s nostalgia, and the 50s nostalgia of the 80s.

Favorite Lyric:
My heart takes up all my strength/ No more can I think of them
No more can I hold her in my thoughts / Don’t say that she needs him

Sensitivity by Worn-Tin

My favorite thing about this song:
The handclaps. Those are so underutilized in modern pop.

Favorite Lyric:
Show me hospitality / Sorry for the fantasy
I just want to know you for a long long time

So Sad, So Sad by Varsity

My favorite thing about this song:
That drumbeat just syncs right up with my heart.

Favorite Lyric:
Trying to be a perfect circle / Weak just like I take my drinks

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Seasonal Depression

I’ve got the winter blues, y’all. But this year, doesn’t everyone?

Mid-December is usually when I jump into Christmas preparations: sending out a holiday card, buying presents, trimming the tree, trying on party dresses, baking cookies- it’s a full-time job, getting into the holiday spirit.

But in December of 2020, it seems pretty pointless.

Not a lot of good news to put into a holiday card. Not too many people in my bubble to exchange gifts with. It seems silly to trim a tree that no one’s going to see and that isn’t going to have any presents underneath it. There sure as hell aren’t any parties to go to, and everyone’s been baking approximately 105% of the time between March and now.

And yes, I know I probably need Christmas cheer more now than ever- I’ve seen Mame, I get it- but just…bluh. Why bother? Who cares? What does it matter? Why try to force a Christmas this year, when then universe so clearly doesn’t want it to happen? Just where am I even supposed to get Christmas cheer- make my own? In this economy?

Plus, you guys know I live in NYC- you saw that absolute wreck of a tree that they dragged into Rockefeller Plaza, right? That’s what the whole city looks like right now: nobody’s putting their best effort into the usual holiday magic, because we’re all distressingly aware that this isn’t anything like the usual magical holiday. Half of the famous storefronts in midtown didn’t even bother with their elaborate displays, and most of the celebrations, performances, and spectacles that we look forward to are cancelled- no Radio City Rockettes, for the first time in 87 years. If that’s not a sign to hang up the sleigh bells, I don’t know what is.

There’s no carol you can sing or holiday movie that you can watch to make this stupid, bullshit pandemic slump feel Christmas-y; it’s just going to feel like a Christmas-themed episode of the X-Files, and not even one of the good ones.

All I want for Christmas is to be able to spend the day with my family, who because of this nightmare of a year, I haven’t seen since last Christmas- and it’s not even a possibility. For the first time in all my twenty-eight years on this planet, I won’t be opening presents with my parents on Christmas morning.

Under those circumstances, it’s hard to muster up much excitement for putting up a string of lights out on the fire escape or whatever.

But I know I can’t be the only person feeling like this- and I guess that’s the silver lining, if you could call it that: we’re all in this together. It’s the worst Christmas I’ve ever had, but it’s also the worst Christmas you’ve ever had- we’re all brothers in this time of holiday strife.

And there is light at the end of the tunnel, now that we’re finally talking about upcoming vaccines instead of imminent lockdowns. This might be a depressing winter and a particularly blue Christmas, but it brings us that much closer to the end of 2020. Not a bad present, I guess.

And who knows- maybe it’ll all turn around if I say my prayers to Mariah Carey, the Patron Saint of Christmas Cheer. That should work, right?

Thirty Days, Fifty-Thousand Words, And Three Rules

Great news, everyone- I wrote most of a novel last month!

For the first time in my life, I successfully defeated National Novel Writing Month, with my final word count on November 30th coming in at 52.6k out of a necessary 50k.

I’ve still got a ways to go before “winning NaNoWriMo” becomes “finishing a novel.” But this was the hardest I’ve worked on anything in recent memory, and I learned a few things along the way that I want to share.

Here are my three new rules for writing, each presented in accordance with my new philosophy of just trying to have fun with the medium:

Rule One: With Apologies to Charles Dickens

I’ve always had a deep disdain for long-winded prose. Less is more, as the experts say. Why say lot word when few word do trick, am I right? Usually I’m the type of writer who’ll spend an hour looking for ways to cut pages down to paragraphs, and those paragraphs into sentences.

But that approach is the antithesis of NaNoWriMo, where the primary goal is to puke words onto the page at a blazing speed. No stopping to think, edit, or retool- just start typing and keep going until you hit the daily word count.

It was a hard adjustment for me to make, and for most of the month I felt like I was betraying my ideals as a writer. But damn if I didn’t end up with all the prose that I needed. Turns out, it’s easier to prune an overgrown word tree into the shape you want than it is to figure out the shape all at once when starting from a seed.

Rule Two: I Am God

I realized that whenever I’m writing a narrative, I get bogged down worrying about “realism” when what I should be worrying about is “credibility.” It’s akin to some advice an old musical theatre director once gave me about what makes a stellar performance: you don’t have to hit every note, as long as you can sell the song to the audience.

During NaNoWriMo, I did just enough research about the fields of aviation and exploration in the 1920s/1930s to make sure that I wasn’t writing something implausibly stupid.

And then I had to remind myself that I’m not writing a technical manual about the subject; I’m writing a pulpy adventure story that’s laughably unrealistic on its face. It’s going to be a little implausible, and the stupidity is half the fun.

I’m creating this world and the characters that populate it. It might look like the real world, but it doesn’t have to function using the same boring rules. Whatever I say happens in this world, is what happens in this world.

I am God in this world, and I can write whatever I want.

Rule Three: Screw the Rules

Outside of English classes, I’ve never really given a lot of thought to the rules of writing. All the guidelines for grammar, usage, and mechanics occupy some dusty shelf in my brain, and I rarely need to refer back. I’m pretty well trained in the art of proper writing, after all. I just do what what I’ve been taught to do, without thinking about it.

But that doesn’t always jibe with the authorial voice that I want to use.

Sometimes, the sentence that best conveys the tone and emotion I want the reader to feel isn’t grammatically correct, or it tells instead of showing, or it goes full Lewis Carroll because I was convinced that a certain word existed in the English language.

What I used to do was agonize over getting the closest “correct” sentence down on paper. Even though I know the rules of writing prose, I worry that if I don’t stick to them, everyone is going to think I don’t know.

During NaNoWriMo, I just started saying, “Eh, screw it.” I’m writing this novel to have fun, and the audience will be reading the novel to have fun. Nobody’s getting graded. End sentences with prepositions, split your infinitives, let a character say “me” when they should be saying “I”. It doesn’t matter. Screw the rules.

We’ll see how the finished novel turns out- but I’m definitely enjoying the writing process more now than with anything I’ve done in the past, and I certainly consider that a win!