Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Month: August 2014

Impromptu Move Hiatus

My aplogies for not posting the past couple scheduled days. I’ve been trying to effect an unplanned apartment move due to a poor situation with my current housing. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to begin posting again, so I’m not planning on making any posts throughout the month of September. I probably won’t be moving until about the second or third week of the month, but I’m going to be pretty busy packing and moving and unpacking. Also, I may not be able to get internet right away at my new place, because my finances will be strapped in Sept, and other things (like food) are my priority, so I probably won’t be able to get online. I do plan on having internet up and running by the beginning of October, probably after the first week, so start looking on the tenth for posts.

I will return in October for sure, even if I have to lug my laptop to the City Library (I’ll be much closer to it). Either way, I’ll ensure I make posts beginning on October tenth at the latest.

Cancer Anniversary

This entry is part 37 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

August 6th marked the first anniversary of my discovery of the cancerous tumor I underwent treatment for this past year. Not surprisingly, I remember the discovery of the lump down to the half hour: between one and one thirty in the morning while I was in bed.

I have mixed feelings on the past year. To be honest, after I learned it was cancer, I was kind of meh. Shocked. Throughout most of my treatment, to be honest. I just did what I needed to. Not sure exactly where on the “Oh, no, it’s cancer!” spectrum I am now. Parts of it seem a little surreal now when I think about them. Other things I remember with sharp clarity.

Today after my shower, I looked at my scars. The one under my arm is a nice healthy color, just a bit pink, and well-healed. I was worried about it for a while. It didn’t seem to heal completely until after the radiation treatments and had a bruised/purplish look to it until a couple months ago. I didn’t start putting my antiperspirant on my right underarm until May because I was afraid it would somehow affect the scar. I experience no pain from this scar now, though occasionally I’ll have phantom sensations in the numb area beneath my arm, and I have to be careful when I shave so I don’t cause abrasions since I can’t tell if I’m giving myself razor burn, never mind an injury.

My breast scar has been in good condition for about six months or so. It healed up very well, I think because air wasn’t restricted from it. It’s very faintly pink/purplish, and I can’t feel scar tissue beneath it any more, which is probably an indication that the stitches there have been absorbed. This scar has no pain either, and my right nipple seems to have recovered, though the areola is light brown instead of the same rosy pink as the nipple and areola on my left breast.

The portacath scar is the best looking of the lot. It’s visible when I wear my tank tops for square dancing and isn’t even vaguely pinkish any more. Aside from a little pockmark-like spot at one end, it’s almost completely gone. I’m no longer afraid of the weight of my right breast pulling this scar open, and I was really afraid of that for a few months.

A portion of my right upper arm is still numb from the nerve cut the doctor made to reach my lymph nodes in the surgery to remove the cancer. I’m not getting as many phantom sensations from the location as I used to. Every so often, I’ll itch around the edges of the numb area, but in a spot where scratching actually gets rid of the annoyance.

My hair has all grown back. It’s about 1-2 inches long now and curlier than it was before, though this is evident only after a fresh washing. Day after wash, it’s unruly and won’t do what I want it to, so I’ve resigned myself to near-constant bad hair days. LOL

Why I Think Writing Isn’t Magic

For me to equate writing with magic removes what control I have over my creative output, from coming up with ideas, to building worlds, to actual writing the stories, and editing. I lose enough control periodically with unpredictable writing downswings which vary from creatively inspired (where I come up with copious worldbuilding notes and/or ideas for other stories) or completely barren (where nothing happens creatively at all).

Writing, for me, is 10% inspiration, 90% work.

Part of that work is extremely fun. Going out with friends to take a break from writing—square dancing is extremely good for that; it totally takes me out of my head to the point where I’m not thinking of my writing at all. That’s something I need. I live too much in my own head. Also, I need to socialize, and square dancing is my primary social outlet.

I also read. Mostly recently I’ve been rereading old favorite books. Got Holly Lisle’s Arhel books in fact, tried to put them on my Nook, and, what do you know, it doesn’t want to let me read them. Says they’re the wrong format. So I’m going to fiddle with it later. I’m also reading stories for my writing friend, Jennifer Amriss. If you look around the site, you’ll see her list of slated projects. I’m reading through one of her completed stories for edit notes for her. It’s an exchange; she does the same for me. One skill we both have is the ability to create a story which doesn’t need a lot of rework—our completed stories tend not to have massive plot holes or other issues which require rewrites or extensive edit runs. Mostly what we do for each other is point out discrepancies in books and spelling errors and offer suggestions for how to fix the issues we see.

Sometimes, I’ll watch DVDs. I don’t do this very often. Haven’t in fact, for a couple years now. I’m just not in the mood for watching anything, and when I do get in the mood, I tend to binge on my movies. I’ll watch the entire Star Wars series (yes, even the prequel movies), or I’ll go through my Star Trek TOS movies. Sometimes I’ll pick random movies, or go by genre (all fantasy, or all Christmas movies).

To kick-start my writing if I have the drip of inspiration but not the immediate drive or ability to focus on writing, I may take my laptop, Portaplotty (my portable external hard drive), and whatever else I need to my local Beans & Brews coffee shop. They have free internet, so I’ll log online, buy a drink or something to eat, and hunker down to write. This helps because 1) being in FM Writers chat isn’t a distraction—I in fact get uncomfortable if I’m unable to login there, so it’s something of a necessity; and 2) I have no distractions there; all I have on Rover II (laptop) are my writing programs, Tweetdeck, music, and internet. No games, no reading materials (I often have chapters/WIPs of Jennifer’s open on my desktop, and I deliberately don’t open them when I’m on Rover II), and only my website and FM Writers up online.

I use all these things to refuel my creative mind so I can actually write. That’s the work part of writing, much of the 90% that goes into my writing. If I don’t do these things, my writing suffers and I don’t get the inspiration.

To be honest, much of my time when I’m able to write is spent sitting at the computer seeming to do nothing. Since I write from open-ended outlines, I spend a few hours wrangling ideas for one or two plot cards before settling down to write a scene. If I feel inspired to do more cards, I do them. If not, I don’t. I obey this requirement even when I’m at the coffee shop.

If I find myself completely unable to wrangle out an idea even when I’m feeling the ability to write and have ideas—say, an idea for a plot card isn’t coming easily—I’ll read a bit. If I’m at home on Homer II (desktop), I’ll play a little Bejeweled 3; it’s a simple game which doesn’t take all my brain power to play, so it leaves my mind free to wander until I get the idea. Other times, I’ll chat with friends in FM Writers chat, or do an edit read-through of one of my other projects.

But for me, writing isn’t magic. I like retaining what control I have over my creative processes. Saying “it’s magic” removes that ability from me. As someone who suffers a mental illness which periodically takes control away to varying degrees, I have an almost obsessive need to control other things in my life, and my writing, and how I view it, is one of those things. Also, I put too much work into my writing to disregard all I do for it. To me, calling writing “magic” is belittling the effort I expend to write good stories and create believable, logical worlds. Everything I do, from talking to family on the phone, to reading, to taking my writing to the coffee shop to work on, goes into my writing.

This is the reason why I usually refer to my creative processes as my writing mind, or my subconscious, or my creative mind. I feel that using the word “Muse” takes too much power away from me. Of course, I’ll refer to my creative processes as my muse jokingly, but when I’m serious about my writing and its processes, I don’t. Because writing is work, and it takes focus and attention and determination. None of which I believe the word “Muse” indicates actually happens.

But this is just me. It’s how I respond to my creative processes and writing.

The Thief

This is a realization I had upon the announcement of Robin Williams’s death yesterday afternoon and the fact it was probably due to depression.

Oh, how precarious any mentally ill person’s mental health actually is.

Mental illness—any kind, but especially depression—is a thief. It only takes. It takes your energy. It takes away your will. It takes away your ability to find true happiness.

Depression, and by extension, the depressive phase of bipolar disorder (which I have extensive personal experience with), takes everybody’s power away. Not just the mentally ill person’s power, but also that of those around them. Loved ones and friends who want to help can’t. The best loved ones do their best to guide the depressed/bipolar-depressed person to the help they need: therapy and possibly medical assistance in the form of medication.

Unfortunately, that requires they be able to recognize the mentally ill person’s condition. Also from personal experience, I know to what lengths many, many mentally ill people go to in oder to disguise the fact they’re struggling emotionally. They will do everything in their power to appear normal, happy, well-adjusted. Some will self-medicate with alcohol and illegal drugs. Others will force themselves to function to hide the fact from everyone around them that they’re really walking the edge of an emotional cliff they’re terrified of falling off of.

And they invariably do.

Now, I can’t say whether Robin Williams’s family even had any sort of inkling about his mental state or, if they did, of its severity. I can say he was probably dealing with the collapse of his mental stability longer than anybody can guess. It takes a lot of courage for a mentally ill person, particularly someone who’s severely depressed enough to be contemplating suicide, to admit to being so “weak” emotionally.

And that’s where the stigma lies. The impression all mentally ill people who spend any time stable have that they’re supposed to be able to function, stand on their own, and be strong. When we see other people functioning well, and are fairly certain they’re not suffering as we are, it’s silent encouragement to be as strong as they are. When mentally stable people openly dismiss their own emotional struggles as something easy to get over (and yes, I understand, it is that easy for a fair number of people), it’s only further indication we who are mentally ill, particularly those of us who struggle with any variety of depression, are weak.

This of course only exacerbates the problem. Because, no matter how stable and functional we seem to be, a lot of mentally ill people always have a little doubt about themselves. We’re worried about being “normal.” We’re afraid of seeming “weak.” We’re terrified that if we seek the help we need when we begin to need it, others—the mentally stable—will think we’re whiners, complainers, and seeking undeserved attention. Depression is a “should” disease (“My life is good, so I should be happy—why can’t I be?”) and a disease of fear (“What if everyone else realizes I’m such a big whiney baby over something so stupid?”) and when we’re directly and indirectly encouraged to be something we’re not feeling, it only makes the doubts and fears worse, and, if the depressed person is trying to hide their mental instability, those doubts and fears eat away at what little joy and confidence we have.

Eventually, with this vicious circle spinning through their mind, a depressed person begins to see suicide as a viable way out. Depressed people develop debilitating beliefs, and one of them is commonly the belief they’re a burden on their friends and family, that they only hurt those around them with a selfishness they may only mistakenly perceive but which may, unhappily, be supported by comments and encouragement to Be Happy others give them. They can’t make themselves Be Happy for these other people, and that only makes it seem like they’re making everyone else unhappy, so they begin to think that if they only remove themselves from the equation, everyone else will be happy again.

You have to admit, it does make a twisted sort of sense.

The thing is, with healing from depression, it’s not as simple as telling yourself you are happy. Depression is frequently, particularly with clinically depressed individuals who rebound into self-medication and/or healthy therapies for mental health care, a chemical imbalance in the brain. Nobody can simply command their brain to level out the chemical imbalance. That just doesn’t happen, particularly with people in whose families there is a history of mental illness.

And the worst thing about depression is the power it takes away from the loved ones of the depressed person. It’s easy to figure out what to do if someone breaks an arm or leg, or falls down, or needs help in a move. One of the hardest things for me, in my depressive phases without medication, is watching those around me struggle to find a way to help me. That’s another thing which adds to the whole mess in such a way to make suicide seem like a good idea. Depressed people don’t know how to ask for help, and it hurts them to realize their loved ones are struggling with offering the assistance they need.

Depression is essentially a deep dark pit of hopelessness, and everything about the condition only buries the sufferer deeper in the pit. It separates the sufferer from those around them, makes them believe no one can care—because no one else can understand the depth of loneliness they’re suffering. And, even if the sufferer’s loved ones don’t feel the victim is a burden, it creates a kind of paranoia about it, no matter how much the depressed person is reassured otherwise.

And the worst is, not all sufferers of depression turn to obvious methods such as illegal drugs or alcohol to control their depression. I never did. I’ve known others who haven’t. The scariest part of depression for someone on the outside looking in is that it’s not always easy to spot. For some sufferers (like myself), the most obvious symptom of depression is not getting out of bed, and we all have days like that, particularly if we’re physically ill, and if the depressed person lives alone, there’s no one to see the regularity with which this happens. If the depressed person is determined not to betray their emotional condition to anybody, they may well force themselves to go to their job, socialize, and carry on an outwardly normal life as well as possible until they either suffer a complete emotional breakdown . . . or commit suicide.

I wish I could give a lot of advice on what mentally stable loved ones of those who suffer from depression can do to help. I can’t. My experiences with depression have only been from the depressed person’s perspective. All I really can say is that if you even suspect someone is depressed, you offer your time and attention. Talk to them, ask them how they’re feeling—demand honesty when you do, and be compassionate and offer to listen when that honesty is given. Do not tell them to buck up, or that things will get better, that all they need to do is put a positive light on things. Just . . . really listen to them. Promise you’ll be there to listen if they need you again later. And, if they give you the opportunity, or ask you to help them find the help they need, do so. Give or help them find a depression/suicide hotline number. Do your best to help them get into mental health care by researching local government mental health assistance organizations.

And, please, be respectful of their struggle. Don’t downplay it, and don’t tell anyone else what you’ve heard unless the depressed person gives you permission. It takes a lot of courage for a depressed person to admit to needing help, and if they’ve trusted you with the need, that means they trust you to not go around declaring their condition to all your friends (and if you do that, it may make the depressed person feel even worse because it tells them they couldn’t trust a friend, so why should they call a hotline and admit their struggles to a stranger, whom they have even less reason to trust?); treat their confession of instability like a gift and look for an opportunity to help them get into the mental health care they need.

Cutting a Work-In-Progress

My July Novel Writing Month project was something from an old world I’d started building on some few years ago, and is titled Where There’s Always Sunlight.

WTAS had a consistent run over the month of July, until about the 27th, when I wrote one last scene and gave up on continuing. Something didn’t feel right about the story, and I’d been pushing myself to write with my feeling of discomfort over it, but I’d gotten, as you see if you look at the link, over 55k words on it, so I decided to call my Julno a done deal.

But I didn’t stop thinking about the project. It took me several days—about a week—to figure out what I was struggling with. In the end, I was able to pin down a number of issues I was having with the project which was making it so difficult to feel good about.

1. I’d misplaced a lot of the conflicts for Gildas.

2. It wasn’t meandering, but the scenes weren’t as focused as they could have been.

3. I felt like I’d skipped scenes (which is usually a pretty good indicator I was on the wrong “path” with the story, even if it approximates what I want).

4. It had more words than it should have had for being at the point I was in the book, even if I’d been writing 800-1k words per scene, and with most of my scenes between 1k-2k, that was a big issue.

5. Due to a variety of the above factors, the story seemed to drag.

6. I kept on dropping different subplots for too long, then tried to “rescue” them, which made different events seem choppy and misplaced.

With that many issues, I realized I wouldn’t make any progress at all until I made a cut, so I did.

Yes, I know the going wisdom is “write the whole story, then rewrite,” but I was already struggling with the story, even without knowing what was wrong, and forcing myself to continue writing against that would have depressed me. Writing after I knew the reasons why I was struggling would only have increased the depression. Eventually, I’d have given up on the entire project until I did make the cut, because, for me, if writing isn’t fun—whether getting new words or editing—I simply don’t do what needs to be done unless I feel good about the project. I was on my way to hating WTAS, and when I hate what I’m writing, it makes me even more depressed about writing—to the point of not even wanting to get out of bed, never mind sit at my computer and get more words on whatever I’m depressed over.

Believe me, I resist the decision to cut any work I haven’t finished writing. Some part of me always feels like I’m doing something wrong to restart the project, but I’ll tell you something. Every single time I’ve cut an in-progress wip down to rewrite, I have always felt relieved, happy, and capable of writing the story from the point at which I cut it. When my mood makes such a dramatic shift into the positive sphere following the act of cutting what’s bothering me, I know cutting it was a good decision.

And this time was no different. Especially since WTAS was the only project I was able to find any words for. When I cut it, I didn’t even want to do read-throughs of what I’d already written. Now, I not only want to read through it, I also want to read it to its unwritten end. That tells me the first few scenes I’ve written since making the cut and starting the new plot cards from that point are doing what they need to, and that the story’s improved.

According to my writing logsheet, I cut 53,426 words from WTAS. When I stopped writing, the total wordcount for the story was at 66,320 (I’d started it a few days before July). That left me with about 12,894 words, to which I pasted in another 4507 before I found the right spot to work from. By 3 Aug, I was writing on it again.

And then a writing downswing struck. LOL That’s the way my life goes.

My New Therapist

A couple months ago, my previous therapist told me he had cancer and would likely be leaving his job. Well, that’s happened, and I’ve been assigned a new therapist.

I was understandably nervous about meeting her. Not only because she’s new to me, but also because she’s female. I’ve never been very comfortable around female mental health professionals. Still, I decided to give her a try.

Her name is Anne (I think it’s spelled that way), and she’s, if I remember correctly, a psychologist. We discussed a variety of topics regarding my history, from my Naval service to my Trans* issues, but didn’t settle into any one topic for very long. She seemed pretty willing to allow me to verbally meander from subject to subject in whatever way felt comfortable for me. I feel like she listened, which made me even more comfortable with her. I’m actually looking forward to my next visit with her.

It’s going to take at least a couple more visits until we develop our rapport, but I think I can work with her. I was glad to learn she’s worked with Transgender individuals before. It gives me confidence in her abilities, and I needed that confidence. Before she told me of her experience, I was worried I’d feel too uncomfortable to discuss being Trans with her, but knowing she’s got the experience makes me feel more comfortable with her.

Asexual Characters

I once before, in a science fantasy work, fiddled with an asexual side character, but I’ve since “abandoned” that project (I put it in quotes because I may well return to it once I feel ready, skillwise, to take it up again). Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to write asexual Main Characters. And, in my Chraesti stories, I’ve hit on the way.

I’ve got two asexual MCs on Chraest.

Hwodi is male, and he has no desire for sex or romantic physical contact. He doesn’t so much think it’s disgusting, he simply does not comprehend such desires. Though he understands that other people have them, he’s never seen what’s so fantastic about sex and romance. He’s quite happy being single, and, in a way, actually fears sex. He’s seen what it’s done to some people around him, the trouble it can cause, and the messes it makes of friendships and political alliances. As a prince, he understands he’ll have to marry, but he’s not particularly looking forward to it. When the True Gods Bestow Gifts upon him, he uses those Gifts in part as an excuse to abandon his life as a prince so he won’t be forced into a political marriage he has no desire for. Since the priests of his country push him to use these Gifts as a sign of his country’s gods’ will, his departure also removes him from their influence and the pressure to begin a kind of religious rewawakening among his people. He wants to contemplate these Gifts on his own.

My other asexual main character is romantic. This is Xedepria of Ghulia. She’s married to another woman, whose family disapproves of the marriage. They don’t like Xedepria or the fact she’s a woman. One of the greatest disappointments she’ll have is when Kalyine divorces her—she’ll understand completely why Kalyine does it, but it will upset her a great deal. For Xedepria, having a wife, a relationship with someone is far more important than having her freedom in some respects. The fact is, however, Xedepria needs her freedom far more than she needs her marriage, and that freedom and the fact her wife was forced away from her will fuel her determination to succeed later. I like to think I’ll be able to bring the women back together over the course of Xedepria’s story, but I’m honestly uncertain it will happen. If it does, it won’t happen in the first book. Kalyine, however, will be the person Xedepria does everything she does for—not to prove to Kalyine her worthiness (because she doesn’t have to prove it to Kalyine and knows as much), but to prove to Kalyine’s parents she’s worthy of their daughter. I like to think they’ll be willing to be swayed by Xedepria’s eventual status, but we’ll see.

I’d like to write more asexual characters, but I’m not pushing it. I’m pleased to have just these two and look forward to working on their stories.

© 2019 Ashe Elton Parker

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑