Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Fierce" Confessions

I've heard it said that writing is easy; you just sit at your desk and open a vein.

I think this is true of most any writer. There's a lot of you flowing from your fingers onto the page. It's your story in your voice, it's your vision, and ultimately it's your indelible fingerprint on society itself.

As grand as that sounds, I really don't think about that much when I'm writing. My job, first and foremost, is to entertain. Honestly, all I want to do when I sit at my computer is tell a story.

At any given time there are three to five potential stories to tell. I don't think my husband realizes this, or else he wouldn't pop off with all these random ideas that just occur to him. Steven is the "Idea Guy." He's not a writer, although he could be. But it takes discipline to go from "idea" to "book," so basically he leaves the heavy lifting to me. He will just randomly spout off with something he thinks might make a good story, and it goes onto the pile of all the other stuff rolling around up there.

It's hard to believe there was ever a time I thought I might run out of ideas. When I was a much younger writer, I worried that I only had a few books in me, then I'd have to find something else to do. But that was 14 books ago. Now I know the real dilemma isn't running out of stories to tell - it's running out of time to tell them all. My new responsibility is to get healthy and stay that way because one simply cannot die while there are books left to write.


At any given time every single one of these ideas sits percolating just at the fringe of my consciousness. I know that they're there, even if I'm not directly thinking about them. Life goes on around me and little nuggets jump into the creative turbine, while I wait for my muse to take me by the throat and tell me which story we're going to tell.

See, I'm rather indecisive. My muse is the one who whips me into shape and gets me productive. She helps me make sense of the noise, and there's a lot of it.

Sometimes these stories nag me relentlessly until I force them out of the queue and onto the page. Other times they sit there, crouching in the shadows of my cluttered brain... like a tiger ready to pounce and tear me to shreds.

Such was the case with "Fierce."

I knew what I wanted to do with this story and what I wanted it to mean. It started out as a story but ended up as a statement. The more important it became to me, the scarier it became to write. I knew that pat storytelling wasn't going to to do the trick. I was going to have to saw off my own arm and gouge out my own eye and leave pieces of me on every single page.

It. Was. Terrifying.

Instead of holding a mirror up to society and making my usual statement on what I think is wrong with it, I was holding that mirror up to myself. And because I do nothing small, it was an intimate look into my own insecurities, weaknesses and failures for the whole wide world to see.

That is not to say that "Fierce" is autobiographical. There are some elements in the story which I have personal knowledge, but Jordi's story is not my story... not really.

I'm not THAT brave.

No, Jordi and I are quite different. She's much stronger than I was at 18, for one. I never would have taken every single dime I had and run away from home all by my lonesome. Instead I was 19 and went with my boyfriend - motivated more out of my love of him than any grand dreams I had of becoming a "superstar." See, that's a funny, little quirk about me. I will do anything at all to make the dreams of those around me come true... but when it came to my own dreams, I would just fit it in when I had the time - and if it happened then yay. If not... I'd always have a nice, "normal" life to fall back on.

Everyone deserves at least normal, right?

Jordi wasn't much on "Plan B." She was ready to risk it all to make her dreams happen because she believed, down deep, that she deserved *more.* And that, my friends, is a scary-ass place to be. All our lives we're taught to fit in, to blend in, to belong. Riding shotgun with any belief you could reach HIGHER, do more, stand out, be *more* than normal is the nagging little voice that says, "Who are YOU to want such a thing?" "What makes YOU so special?"

Where Jordi and I are alike are our insecurities. But this isn't saying all that much, I think most American women have Jordi's same insecurities. We're designed to, courtesy of the media machine. I've done countless essays about this, but suffice it to say - if you're a woman, you have to look a certain way or fit a certain mold in order to "qualify" for your success and your happiness. Screw standing out... you just want to be accepted.

And ironically, there's always a product you can buy to make that happen.

Handy, no?

So naturally, in order to shine a spotlight on this, I shined it right on the media itself by putting Jordi right into the thick of things on a national stage.

That's the kind of irony I like to sink my teeth into.

The true irony, I discovered, was that the media machine wasn't the big, bad wolf in my story. Jordi had her antagonists, but it wasn't the very thing I set out to attack.

Instead, her antagonists were the personification of the many voices in a young woman's "Chatterbox."

The "Chatterbox" is that recording in your brain that spouts off all the negativity you've been told your whole life. All those limitations you have? Odds are they were set there by other people with a misinformed comment, and you just keep replaying the tape. That voice asking you, "Who are YOU to stand out," comes directly, and often consistently, from this Chatterbox. And it fucks everything up and steals all your confidence, even if - especially if - you're on the cusp of doing something remarkable or significant.

I first recognized it for what it was when I read "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway". This self-help book was absolutely instrumental in my journey both as a writer and as a person, so if there's anything you're putting off because of fear (real or imagined,) I HIGHLY recommend you get it and read it ASAP.

The gist of it is that if you have a piss-poor self-esteem, you're going to cling to criticism and downplay any praise because this stupid chatterbox will always reinforce your negative beliefs about yourself. And these voices are NASTY. And MEAN. And VILE. What we say about ourselves we would NEVER say to another living soul - at least those we cared about and we loved.

And the sad part is, we - as women - aren't encouraged to love ourselves. Anytime we try to, we're told we're doing it wrong. We need to pinpoint every flaw, and even see flaws where they don't even exist. (Case in point: all the weight loss commercials that feature average-weight women, thereby instilling insecurity for those women who aren't even fat... which starts them on the diet roller coaster that - guess what - makes them fat.) We are trained from the crib that there is something missing about us, something we need to change, things we need to earn, to be valuable. Boys are taught to contribute. They're encouraged to become smart and successful. Meanwhile we as women are focused on what style of pants or skirts best fit our figure, and how to win the guy of our dreams. We fluctuate somewhere between being set decoration to the supporting cast.

But if you want to be a star, make it happen when you're young and beautiful. Otherwise, you're S.O.L. It just doesn't happen for normal girls like us.

But who is normal? Really?

Worse, we're taught that loving others more than we love ourselves is righteous. We're trained to be martyrs to love. God forbid we ask for anything to take care of our needs. In some states, you still need a medical note to purchase toys for your own sexual gratification, and God forbid you own more than six.

That's right, ladies. If you don't intend to breed, your access to your own orgasms are blocked by the law in stupid "morals" clauses. In ways both subtle and overt, being a woman and being shamed go hand in hand... from slut-shaming to fat-shaming to everything in between.

There's this idea of what the "perfect" woman is, or - probably more apt, the most "desirable" - and if you're not that, there's a lot of emotional weight that you carry for failing these expectations.

That shame underscores every negative tidbit that stupid, fucking Chatterbox spits out.

And those became the voices of Jordi's chatterbox, made into "real" people in her life that she could not escape.

Of course, she COULD have escaped if she just stopped listening to those negative voices.

And therein lies the moral of our story. Every vile thing they said, things that made you hate them (and possibly me) for their vicious attacks on good people, were a direct statement on the vicious things we say about OURSELVES. We need to stop being our harshest critics and our own worst enemies.

"You're so mean when you talk about yourself, you were wrong. Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead."

As easy as it sounds to listen to new, positive voices to rewire the Chatterbox, there is NOTHING more challenging. We're talking years and years of socially accepted brainwashing. These echoes can linger long after the voices have been silenced. We believe them for so long that they, sadly, become a part of our identity, so much so that new voices, positive voices, supportive voices, can't match their power, though we desperately want them to. The new people who loved Jordi, her BFFs, her "gubbys," Vanni, Graham, Maggie, Shannon, Jorge and even sweet, wonderful Jace - all came second to that inner belief that she was a failure for not being "perfect," for not fitting into some rigid little box of "normal" set by other people who simply didn't give a shit. As a result she wore her talent as a mask of false bravado. She suspected she was meant for great things but every step forward was a struggle with this deeply rooted sense that she didn't deserve anything good.

Jordi did what so many of us women do. The negative voices were the ones she believed... the ones she listened to... the ones she repeated to herself.

That, my lovelies, is my deepest, darkest secret. No matter how many books I sell or how many milestones I reach, inside I am afraid that I'm just some hack who got lucky, and if y'all knew the REAL me behind the mask, then you'd run for the hills. I'm still afraid to stand out. Still afraid to be "more."

In "Fierce," I set out to rewire the chatterboxes of any girl out there who has been put down and told she couldn't have what she truly wanted because she didn't "fit" into what society had molded for her.

In the end, Jordi showed me I still had to do that for myself.

“Music is a personal thing. It’s like a fingerprint. Your problem is that you use it as a mask. You’re never going to be anything other than a complete fraud until you shed every pre-conceived notion of who the world expects you to be and simply allow who you are to shine through. Grow a backbone, girl. These pageant choices,” she said as she held up the sheet music, “aren’t good enough. They show you can sing, but we already know that. Show us something we don’t know. Show us,” she said softly as she leaned over her music stand, “something you never even knew about yourself.” - Imogene Costas, "Fierce"

So as you read "Fierce," just glance over the occasional eye, or limb, or blood stain. I wrote "Fierce" for all of you - but found out, rather painfully, that it was something I desperately needed to do for me.

And we're not done, which is terrifying as hell. I can't promise you that it will be easy... I can only promise that I'll do everything in my power to make it worth it.