Much to the chagrin of my last therapist, I never journaled.
I probably should have. I now know, from the last three plus years of writing fiction, that it would have helped me a lot. Writing has been for me not only a new career, but a new life. It has been a new way of looking at life, and at myself.
I’ve discovered a lot about myself through writing. But not when I’m writing memoir type stuff; I discovered these things when writing fiction. I discovered this stuff when writing about characters in other worlds, in other times, dealing with problems that I, myself, have never had to deal with.
In the past three years, I have written about: women in love with other women; governments that were women-run; women coming face to face with their own death; a shitton of fairies; and domestic violence. I have written a lot about women learning to cope with their mental illness, women discovering that they are queer, and women who are not traditionally beautiful still finding love and acceptance in a world that is (in its own way) traditional.
In the past three years, I have discovered that I am bisexual. I have discovered that I’ve got deep-seated ableist views of my own mental illness. I discovered that I am stronger, more capable, and more ready to take on what the world throws at me than I ever thought possible. Most importantly, I discovered that I’m not a victim—I’m a fighter.
So far in 2017, I’ve written over 110,000 words. And that’s a low estimate. It only includes the final word counts for the six completed stories, one set-aside novel, and one nearly-completed first draft of a novel that I’ve punched out this year. It does not include the multiple drafts of the stories that were written, rewritten, and rewritten. It does not include all the research notes for the novel I am currently working on. It does not include all the outline notes for the stories or two novels. It does not include blog posts.
This year also brought something else. My writing in 2017 brought a lot of introspection. It brought on a rash of questions such as: Why Am I Writing This? What Part Of Me Is Infecting My Writing? Why Am I Bringing This To The World Now? What Does This Piece Say About Me? This year has been full of that kind of thing as I’ve not only been writing a lot, but I’ve also been battling symptoms of psychosis, mania, depression, and weeks upon weeks of anxiety attacks.
So how did I discover what I discovered? Let’s start with the big one:
In the late 1990s, I dated a few women. Just went on a couple of dates. Exchanged a few kisses. Nothing more. Then I dated this guy Mike. Then, quickly after that relationship, I started dating my husband James. That relationship is still going very very well, as we all know. I wrote off my few dates with women in the late 90s as a “phase” although I still felt attraction. But I have a firm stance on monogamy, so I told myself that I couldn’t be gay, so why even think that I’m bisexual?
Then (almost 20 years later) I started writing queer love stories. I’ve written five (the first one I wrote will be published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies next year). I started writing them in the spring of 2016, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that the knowledge that I am bisexual was so strong, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. So I came out to James. He has been, and continues to be, very supportive. We are staying married and monogamous.
Onto the next thing:
I started looking at my feelings toward the culture of misogyny that the United States has cultivated and still cultivates, and my anger surrounding that. A lot of it, in the stories, comes out very violently and I don’t want to portray any idea of misandry. I have several very good friends that are men, and don’t harbor any hatred toward men in general, only toward misogyny. So I recently started including male characters who support and value women and aren’t misogynists.
But I have a lot of internalized misogyny. A lot of ideas about beauty standards and what is attractive and what is acceptable in society—both our society and any societies I conjure up. Those ideas were very prevalent in the first novel that I was working on, and I am doing my best to challenge them in this current novel. I am trying to take things that I know are often found unattractive for both men and women, and still find ways for my characters to be attracted to one another (and find these “unattractive” qualities attractive).
And then the next, and another big, thing:
The ableism toward myself was most surprising, and took the longest for me to overcome (aside from realizing my own sexuality—which took 20 years). I wrote two stories dealing with mental illness, both science fiction, both of which had endings I was okay with. But both of the endings needled at the back of my brain for months as the stories were rejected again and again.
It took two things to change them: a critique from Sarah Gailey on the first; and in the second, a writer’s workshop to talk about the Single Story that marginalized people often only get to read. Sarah Gailey pointed out (with the first story) that I had used the trope of “disabled person helps able-bodied person figure their shit out.” Which was totally not what I was going for. In the second story, I had told yet another tale of the “violent and suicidal psychotic person.” These things are so ingrained in my head that I wrote them as Just A-OK Endings.
But I didn’t want Ableist A-OK endings, because they’re not A-OK. So the next time each story was rejected, I brought them in, and worked for weeks or sometimes months to get new, not-ableist endings. The first story took me a few weeks to get it right; the second story took me almost four months.
The first story (which is about depression) is still being rejected, but often with tons of positive comments. The second’s ending is done, but it’s in another set of revisions thanks to Lucy Snyder. It’ll get done, but not soon. I have a novel I have to finish, dammit. Priorities, priorities.
I am disabled but it took a long time for me to see my own ableism in regards to myself. Thanks to Kate Craig, I am trying to get the words “crazy” and “insane” out of my vocabulary. (Replacing them with “bananapants” is way more fun anyway.) It’s working. I’m seeing how damaging those words are when they’re used to describe someone who isn’t bananapants, but is just plain evil.
My last therapist asked me to journal all the time; she suggested it maybe once a month as a way to get feelings out, or to figure out the root of a problem that was bothering me. Perhaps if I had taken her advice, I would have understood my sexuality far sooner, or gotten to the core of my ableist feelings, or realized exactly how angry I am at our culture.
She is a very smart woman, my last therapist. She helped me a lot. But I’m glad that my writing, a lot of it still unsold, has helped me figure my shit out as much as it has. I’m glad that I’m introspective enough to look at it and realize: What does this mean for me? How much of myself is in this? How much of my views am I pounding into this thing and how accurate are those feelings on the page?
We all have an agenda when we write because we’re all writing from our own perspective and paradigm. Sometimes our agenda can surprise us—it certainly surprised me a couple of times—other times it surprises other people. But our best bet is to be aware of our own agendas and see how they can help or even damage others, or sometimes even help or even damage ourselves.
Here’s to several more years of self discovery.
I’m looking forward to it.