Slow Gin

My concept drawing of my character, Ginolwenye, from the Nature Walker Trilogy.

[Disclaimer – wannabe authorly post ahead. Read at your own risk.]

It seems that I am constantly in edits. The first part of the Nature Walker Trilogy, Wanderer, took me fourteen years to write. Now, mind you that was not fourteen years of writing every day or anything crazy like that. It was fourteen years of write for a while, put the manuscript away for a while, take it back out and fall back in love with Sath and Gin for a while, rinse, repeat. This face, rendered via Adobe Fuse CC, was always in my mind just like that, with that expectant look on her usually freckled face. She is still in my mind, almost constantly, repeating her mantra:

You aren’t done yet.
Finish my story. 
Get the manuscript back out.
Sath and I miss you.
I always do as she asks, being the ever obedient author and alter ego. Even when I was working on other things (Proud Racer, Clobberpaws, and The Baskervilles-coming soon – just to name a few) or not even close to a Nano month of any sort, she was always there – I don’t want to say nagging, because that’s negative, but yeah, she was nagging. She’s still there, wondering what is taking me so long.
A funny thing happened in the more recent years, though – thanks to a beta reader of mine who carried on his own nagging campaign. He said that he wasn’t buying how I was writing Gin. He said that after everything she had been through, to come out the other side still bowing and scraping and apologizing seemed inconsistent. I raged against that feedback for a long time. Fought it. Ignored it. But he kept on me about it, and as much as I hate to ever admit it, he was right.
I’ve come back to thinking about all of that in light of the recent political climate and the #metoo movement. At first, I was afraid that I should put a trigger warning for domestic abuse on the books because there are bits in there that are tough for ME to read, and I wrote them. No, said my Wise Beta Reader, people need to see that she was in those places and experienced those things and came out of it with her dignity and her mercy still intact. She came out with a better sense of who she was – what is more inspirational than that? She is an example of a woman that was bent to the point of breaking – but who never broke.
That isn’t who she was initially. It was a long time before she stopped quaking in fear at every stern expression or jumping out of her skin at loud noises (like Qatu knuckles cracking). She would burst into tears at the drop of a hat as much as she would the drop of a weapon. Be glad that he convinced me that she needed to show the strength that she had – I’m not sure she would be worth reading otherwise.
More importantly, though, it was through those conversations that I realized it wasn’t only Gin who needed to be stronger, and tougher, and more authentic. That isn’t who I was – or who I am, depending on the day, if I’m honest. But again, without knowing it, Wise Beta Reader was right – Gin is who I want to be, and who I’m sure many others in my situation want to be as well, and I hope she resonates with them as much as she does with me. Everyone’s situation is different, obviously, but if Gin can give someone the strength to just take one step at a time in the direction of safety, then she is doing the work – I am doing the work.
I also hope that this doesn’t make Wise Beta Reader turn into Full Of Himself Beta Reader, but you never know. I suppose he has earned it. 

Impostor Syndrome, la maladie du jour.

What?!?

So with my last post, I covered some pretty heavy topics and unpleasant truth, and this time is no different, really. Last time I still had faith in my country and my senators to do the right thing. No, I didn’t, that’s a lie. Last time I still thought that maybe enough of the people elected to represent us would want to represent us and listen to us. No, again, that is a lie.

Let me start again. This time I’m going to talk a little bit about something that I face on a regular basis, in all facets of my life – sometimes with a bit of help from colleagues and co-workers that I am positive are not doing it on purpose. I didn’t cross that out, but it’s still not 100% true.
I found an email today with an excellent article on impostor syndrome in academia from the Chronicle of Higher Education, linked here. While this article specifically speaks to academia and even more specifically to the faculty that work in this field, I found some points that were salient to my own life, both my professional life (as a nationally certified sign language interpreter) and my avocation (a novelist or an author or whatever you want to call me – well, not whatever you want, that could get a little ugly). 
You see, I am really good friends with Impostor Syndrome. I’m sitting here right now – having finished working hard to get my software ready to provide real-time captioning in a class on campus and arrived at said class to find no one there and nothing in my email about why – worried that because I decided to use the time I should be typing 

Female Student: [cannot hear him/her] 

into my software I am blogging, I will be seen as a fraud and fired. Rational Adult Nancy thinks that is ridiculous. But there is another me living in my mind that not only does not share that opinion but spends a great part of our conscious hours working on plans B-Q for what we will do when we are found out to be the fraud we are.
On any given day, I know that what I do for a living isn’t easy.  It doesn’t matter that I have been actively thinking in and about a visual and spatial language since I was about 12 years old. It doesn’t matter that I love languages so much that I fell in love with the process of working between two languages and can’t crawl back out. It doesn’t matter that I have a Bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language/English interpreting from a top university in that field of study – the first one to offer said degree, if I am not mistaken (Hello Maryville College! Go Scots!) – and I was nationally certified as a transliterator (spoken English to a signed form of English) and interpreter (spoken English to ASL) by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. in 1997 and 1999, respectively. It doesn’t matter that I have interpreted for celebrities, politicians, authors, Broadways shows, and for students attending Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK.
None of that seems to be enough to make me feel confident about who I am and what I do. Currently, I’m sure that the fact that I am the only one in my family of origin without an advanced degree (my father had two of them!) doesn’t help. When you’re surrounded by grad students and people with all sorts of alphabet soup following their names and all you have is BA, CI/CT to show for it, you can feel pretty less than. But the author of the article I linked above had a great bit of insight into that part of the syndrome:

Learn to see yourself in context. If you feel like an impostor because you don’t know or can’t do a particular thing, think about that thing. Is that skill or content crucial? If so, can you acquire it? Not because you want to belong but because it may make you more effective or productive. And if it doesn’t actually matter, think about why it is that others have it and you don’t (assuming you really don’t and aren’t just being hard on yourself or inflating other people’s capabilities). Maybe there are real and good reasons why that wasn’t part of your background or education.

I don’t want a master’s in interpreting. I don’t see the point in it, to be honest. I learn on the job, every day. I go to workshops. I study other signed languages. But then I see someone sign something so perfectly, so succinctly, with so much meaning packed into such an economy of movement and handshape and I just want to turn in my letter of resignation and go home.

But I don’t do that. Of course I don’t. Not even when – on various occasions, from the beginning of my career to present – colleagues that either don’t sign at all or don’t sign well enough to interpret or aren’t really even sure what it is I do try to make decisions for me about my work. I should be incensed! I should be furious! I should stand up for me and what I know!

Instead, I scuttle back into my place in the universe and wait for the inevitable revealing of me as a fraud. Writing has done nothing to help this syndrome, either – if anything, it has made it so much worse. I give my manuscripts to my beta readers, breath held, heart rate on par with a disco beat – and I fully expect that they will look at what I have done and know that I am not a real author. My sentences are run-ons and full of too many ellipses and dashes. My characters are stock, storylines/plot so ridden with outdated tropes that you almost don’t have to read them to know where they are going. My dialogue swings madly from stilted to entirely too much in the vernacular of both South Carolina and West Yorkshire that it makes no sense to anyone.

And while we’re at it – international expat? Ha. You lived there two years, and you let the death of your pets in the first two months color the entirety of your life in the UK. You’re no expat. You’re just a frightened child. You’re a fraud.

WOW, who let her out? The author of the article goes on to mention a specific piece of advice that I am trying to follow in my daily life – something that would be hard even without the aforementioned voice screaming in the back of my head. (Interesting side note: to those that have read my fantasy series, this is where the idea for how Ben communicates with Gin came from: THIS RIGHT HERE.)

Stay concrete. Impostor syndrome feeds off vagaries and generalities. “I’m not good/smart/charismatic/funny/self-assured enough.” What’s enough? Who is all of those things? What is “good” anyway?

What happened politically in the US this weekend has cranked up the volume on the impostor syndrome, let me tell you. Remember the woman I mentioned last week? All of those feelings, all of those experiences – they not only lead to a strapping case of this syndrome but they help feed it and make it worse. Everything from why would you think anyone would listen to you to the ever present you must be remembering it wrong because why would anyone want to do that to YOU?

All this to say I don’t have an answer for this yet. I haven’t found a magic pill that will take these feelings away and silence that inner voice that delights in waiting until I’m about to fall asleep to remind me of all the reasons I’m going to be found out very soon. But I’m still looking, and in the mean time I’m trying to keep her as far as I can in the background.

…must be Monday…

As found on FB, original artist Courtney Privett.

Man. Are you guys tired? I’m exhausted.

I’m not just exhausted because I didn’t sleep well or I was out all weekend because neither of those things is true.

I’m exhausted because #metoo and #whyIdidntreport and all that. I’m exhausted because I’ve been in a state of hypervigilance since about last Tuesday. I’m exhausted because I simultaneously NEED to do something for all the others who don’t feel heard and can’t bring myself to speak up.

I am still not able to speak up and share. One day, maybe.

I want to share a story, though, that I heard recently that has restored some of my faith in mankind – and yes, I used that term deliberately. There was once a girl that was a freshman in college (I have her permission to share here, before anyone asks) who had been sexually assaulted in high school by a boy that she really, really liked. In the course of that rape, she managed to get her hands free and she punched him in the diaphragm to get him off of her. Even though he had held her down and threatened her with the knowledge that he had a gun under his bed, he was angry that she had punched him and knocked the wind out of him.

She carried that experience around through the second half of her senior year of high school. She went to the prom with the same boy because she was all but certain that she had done something wrong, and if she was just nicer to him he would like her back. At prom, he tried again by enticing her to come back to his house. She said no and that was that. He left, and again she felt she had made the wrong decision. The first memory was now joined with the second one – and notes started arriving in her locker from other boys that she knew, asking her to meet them in the parking lot for a quickie between classes or if she would meet them under the bleachers where it was private. She wasn’t sure what to make of these advances – on the one hand, it was attention that she had never gotten from these guys in the past. But on the other hand, she wondered if it was just for sex and not any sort of relationship, so in the end she turned them down. An image of a piece of paper is still burned in her brain that said “But that’s what I heard you do.”

Heard from whom? What did she do? Graduation led to a summer camp job. The job led to a very wobbly start to a potential relationship with a fellow staff member. But she was still carrying that shame and her unerring conviction that she had caused the cascade of events of the second half of her senior year. She started uni that fall and the wobbly relationship steadied a bit, until one unfortunate evening when things were going well with her new beau and he happened to grab her wrists a bit too hard – absolutely and totally by accident, she is certain and since I know the beau in question I’m certain she’s right – and she freaked out. That relationship wobbled to a pause, and later, still at uni, she happened to fall in with a long time male friend and wobbled off in another direction.

Still with me? Here’s the faith-restoring part.

She and the longtime friend became unexpectedly – romantically? Intimately? Involved, on some level, and one night they happened to fall into a conversation about past experiences during said involvement. She loved that friend and trusted him so much that she shared with him not only the original experience but the reaction of the new beau from the summer job, expecting that he would follow suit and that would be that. But he didn’t. Tears fill her eyes as she recounts this every time, but through his own tears he was so tender and careful with her – as he put an immediate stop to anything going on so that he could just listen to her. She came away not feeling shamed or wrong, but HEARD. BELIEVED

They are still friends to this day, and she tells me that one day she will have the chance to tell him how much that one moment meant to her. It’s been more than 30 years since, but she hasn’t forgotten – and now, when faced with all the triggering ugliness of our world right now, she still calls up that moment to remind her that there are some people out there that she can depend on. And if she can, then so can I. So can we all.

#metoo
#IBelieveHer
#riseup

#metoo

#nofilter #goodhairday

Yep, that hashtag in the title means what you think it means. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

I was cruising around on Facebook the other day and was overwhelmed by the number of posts in my timeline that said, simply, “Me too.” Blown away. It is the nature of this particular beast that we are certain that we are the only one, especially if we have the opinion that the trauma was of our own making. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.

What I want to talk about is the legacy that it leaves, and how I’m looking back at my life now through the #metoo filter. Y’all that know me know what I do for a living. If not, I’m a sign language interpreter. Sign and the Deaf Community have been a part of my life since I was a kid, and it is often my go-to when, as I am want to say, I lose my English. But it is also my go-to when English, specifically auditory English, is too much. My second language has led me through two tours of duty in higher education and a decade of working in mental health, and if I’m honest I have no idea which is scarier, more dangerous, or more triggering.

Enter the self-reflection stage. I posted awhile back about how I feel like I navigate a great deal of my life with my eyes closed. Why do I do that? Fear? Uncertainty? Perhaps because it is just nicer inside my head than out? I think I found out in something that I felt led to respond to another #metoo-er on Facebook. She had posted that there are those creeper moments that you feel you have been violated in some way, nothing has really happened that could be reported, but the icky feeling is still there. My response was this: “In my day job I get this creeper feeling sometimes and I can’t put my finger on what is causing it. I try to remind myself that it is not me in the situation, but the two people that I’m interpreting for, and my past creeps in and wrecks my compartmentalizing. That’s different…that’s me…but when I feel like I’m being addressed directly by a look or inflection then…well, this. Ugh. Throw in the vicarious trauma that just comes with what I do for a living, and I am just never sure but always hyper-aware and it is EXHAUSTING.”

I’m not going to detail what happened to me or with/by whom or any of that, it does no real good at this point to rehash all of that. No one has been or will be reported, at least not by me. But I guess I need to talk about the after effects. The hyper-vigilance. The destruction of my ability to trust…not right away, oddly enough, but over the course of the 30+ years since, as I follow the same path over and over and am reinforced in my belief that if someone is kind to me, there is a price tag on that kindness. I’m lucky beyond measure to be married to someone (now, not the first time around for certain) that, if he has a price tag on his love for me, has hidden it so well that I will never find it. I have friends in my life that I adore that I’m fairly certain will have my back, but the little nasty voice is always there telling me that I have to do whatever I can to keep them there.

It’s the little stuff too, that this #metoo has made me stop and pay attention to that led me to this post, to share what’s in my head in the hopes that it will make a difference. The after effects are real and are at times harder to manage than the actual event. “Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”