Introspection

Got Low Self-Esteem? Meet One Girl Who’s Had It.

AverageEverygirl001

I’ve had more than a usual amount of reading time lately (*coughprocrastinationcoughcough*), which has reminded me of why I previously took a time-out from reading. My mother says I’m a snob when it comes to books. And she’s probably a little right.

Okay, a lot right.

I’ll be blunt: a lot of common literary tropes get under my skin. I’m guilty of some of them. They’re so inborn to our writing culture that they creep into the draft before we even realize it, with their eely assumptions and biased presuppositions oozing all over everything. On one hand, we have archetypes that act as a starting point for characters to grow and develop. On the other, there’s this sinister narrative that some negative traits and quirks are natural, normal, or even desirable.

Women in literature have an exceptionally difficult role, I think. It’s bad enough that a female protagonist hallmarks a “girl book” (but male protagonists are for everyone, amiright?), but I’m increasingly disheartened by how women—especially when written by women—are portrayed. Fellow writers, “The Girl with Low Self-Esteem” stereotype has got to go. We want the reader to relate to the main character, but is this really a characteristic we should encourage? “Look! She feels like crap about herself! She’s just like you!”

How common is this story line: Girl is plain, overlooked, unloved. Girl meets super-spechul hot guy who inexplicably likes her. Girl is suddenly worth something because a man took notice of her.

Pardon me while I rigorously barf up my lunch.

Not every female protagonist fits this stereotype, thank heavens, but there are far too many that do. (I’m giving you the squinty eye, Romance genre. You know exactly why.) There’s a flip-side of this equation, too. Often, the literary woman with self-esteem is a barracuda, seen as aggressive, and ultimately she gets humbled or changed to a more submissive persona by the end of the book. And we, the readers, applaud. Or rather, we’re supposed to.

In the real world, it’s possible to have self-esteem and be normal. In the literary world, that type of character is almost like an ivory-billed woodpecker, elusive and critically endangered. (If you find one, please broadcast her existence to everyone who will listen. We need to protect her habitat with lots of readers.) Instead of “She feels like crap about herself! She’s just like you!” a better message would be, “She’s confident and knows her worth! You could be just like her!” Alas, how rarely this message gets communicated.

I know, even as I express these frustrations, that some people will dismiss me as a feminist. Because this sort of discontent could only be harbored by someone marginalized into an -ism that is as much derided as it is espoused, right? Wrong. Good literature has good female characters. If Elizabeth Bennet had low self-esteem, she would have burst into tears at that first dance and run into a back room to sob over how the rich, handsome hot guy considered her only “tolerable.” If Jane Eyre had low self-esteem, she would have groveled to her abusive aunt and everyone at Lowood. If Cathy Earnshaw had low self-esteem… Well, maybe people wouldn’t have been so miserable. BUT THE BOOK WOULD HAVE BEEN TOTALLY RUBBISH DIFFERENT.

Anyway, long story short, I’ve harbored my feelings on this subject for years. Decades. Ever since the first time I read a book with a simpering heroine and internally thought, “Oh, that’s awkward. Why is she behaving like that?” The harbored feelings grew into conversations with myself. The conversations have now morphed into cartoons—rudimentary in drawing, but the message is more important than the art.

I’m poking fun at my hated literary tropes. “The Girl with Low Self-Esteem” gets the first skewering.

And thus I give you The Adventures of Average Everygirl.

Enjoy! Or not! I don’t really care!

PS—My recent readings did yield a couple of ivory-billed woodpeckers: Polyhymnia from Spindle by W.R. Gingell and Rosemary Mayfield from The Villain by May Nicole Abbey. Click the titles for links. Protect the habitat.

Writerly Confessions

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This post has languished in my draft file, in one form or another, for well over a month. It’s not meant as a pity-party post, but more as a State of the State of Mind. Honestly, I hesitate to admit to any of it, but here goes.

Confession #1: I don’t have a reliable computer of my own right now.

Sometime back in mid-February, the left hinge on my laptop cracked, which made the screen tear apart every time I went to open it. Just leave it open then, right? Yeah. The next day, the computer itself started acting like it had had a stroke, and the day after that, it gave me the fatal blue screen and claimed not to have a hard drive when I tried to restart it.

Thanks to a timely prompting, I had just backed up all of my writing files to a thumb drive. The laptop did restart on subsequent attempts, but my confidence in it was shot and I’ve only turned it on three times since then. Basically all of my work relies on Word and Excel documents. With the impending Windows OS update on the horizon, I have been borrowing computer time elsewhere and working off of file-sharing software. (And yes, I know I could get an Apple instead, but Office for Mac has a horrible reputation, and I can’t justify shelling out that amount of cash when my main program would be subpar.) Which means,

Confession #2: I haven’t started any new writing projects since finishing a manuscript last January.

In some respects, this is okay. I’ve been editing The Legendary Inge and prepping it for publication. I’ve worked on various freelance projects, which have provided me with actual paychecks. I’ve also started into a second-draft edit of a book I wrote 4-ish years ago. So it’s not like I’ve been totally delinquent in the writing arena. I just haven’t committed to any new projects (aside from one, brief foray that lasted for all of a page before I decided I can’t write on someone else’s computer, even if the file is saved elsewhere).

However, the creative valve has been in its “off” position for long enough that it leads me to

Confession #3: I often wonder if my well of creativity has run dry.

Is this a common concern among writers? I don’t know. When I first started writing, I never thought I had it in me to finish even one book, let alone 12, and I grapple with a near-constant fear that as I progress, I’m really just writing the same book over and over and over again. I see parallels in my characters, my plots, my themes. They each have their different quirks, of course, but I wonder how one book would stand under close scrutiny with another, whether I’m wearing into a “you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” sort of rut. What’s the point of treading across the same grounds again and again? And then I go and look at the list of 7 original plots and I just… I don’t know. Give up? Because, really,

Confession #4: I often struggle with whether to give up writing entirely.

By “often,” I mean basically every day. I look at what I’m doing, what I’ve done, and what lies ahead, and I think, “Okay, Kate, you’ve had your fun. Maybe it’s time to abandon ship and go live in the real world. Get a real job with a steady paycheck and give up on this pipe dream.” And my Id adds in a whisper, “You were never really that good at it anyway.” And I’m not. Most of the time I’m a mass of writhing insecurities cobbled together with apathy and cynicism. The apathy is what whispers back to that insidious Id, “And your point? No one gives a rip.”

Oh, Apathy, my dear friend for all these years, how much heartache you’ve spared me!

Ever since I started writing, I’ve wondered if I should stop, if it was a waste of time, if I was capable of producing anything of quality, how writing fiction fit into my worldview and my goals in life (or lack thereof, unfortunately). When I was in high school, I thought, “I’ll quit when I start college.” In college, it was, “I’ll quit when I graduate.” After graduation, “I’ll quit when I turn 22” and then “…when I turn 25” and then “…when I’ve finished my Master’s.” And every time, I reneged.

When I finished my MA I finally decided to give writing a fair shake, but 7+ years down the road, I don’t feel like I’ve hacked very far into the bush at all. Mostly because I haven’t. The path in front of me is clotted with obstacles, and I can still see the easy way behind me. I can also see others hacking their way through the overgrowth in front of them, and I admire them for it. I’m just still dithering, but without a specific deadline to renege on anymore.

The past 2-3 months have been pretty difficult, insofar as my writing struggle goes. I attended a writer’s conference (also in February, when the laptop fizzled) and saw the energy of the other attendees, and their enthusiasm, and their renewed determination to go out and create. I just wanted to go home and burn everything to ashes. (Thank you, Apathy, for intercepting that desire.)

In general, crowds drain me to a soulless husk anyway, but attending class after class of, “Hey, this is how you should write!” and “You need to do this but not that,” instead of motivating me to hone my craft simply instilled in me the message, “Hey, stupid, you’re doing it wrong.” And that created inner conflict, because I’m not doing it wrong, and some of the well-meant advice was poorly wrought, and most of it consisted of guidelines or suggestions rather than hard-and-fast rules. But that inner conflict churned up doubts and hopelessness, and I had to stay quiet for some time afterward as I sorted it all out.

On some level, it’s hard not to feel like the broken laptop and the dormant creativity and the vast alienation I feel in a crowd of writers aren’t a combined message from the universe that it’s time for me to give up and move on.

But I can’t. I can’t let it go. I don’t know why. I’m far enough removed from the process right now that I’m not going to claim something poetic, like that it’s etched into my soul, or that I would wither and die without writing. I think I could live just fine on that easy path. I really just don’t want to. And as much as it feels like the universe is giving me the perfect opportunity for a graceful exit, I haven’t actually received that message from The Only One Who Matters.

We’re tight. I think He’d tell me.

In short, forgive me, Dear Reader, please. My faults are many. I will continue to struggle, to dither, to haphazardly post (or not). I know I should be better, more committed, more aggressive, more routine. I should be, but I’m not.

And really, that is cause for gratitude, not hopelessness. A work in progress, after all, still has endless opportunities to improve.