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Pseudonyms and Milk Carton Faces

In The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney, Janie recognizes her own baby photo on the back of a milk carton (the pre-internet version of an AMBER alert). The resulting drama stretches through a total of five books and was even adapted into a made-for-tv movie.

The part that stuck with me happens early in the story. Janie is in English class, finishing an essay. She writes her name at the top of the page but the way it looks on paper is sooo boring. She'd already tried sexing up her name last year from Jane Johnson to Jayne Johnstone.

Now she took the "h" out of Johnston and added a second "y" to Jayne.

Jayyne Jonstone. It looked like the name you would have if you designed sequined gowns for a living, or pointed to prizes on television quiz shows.

Later on, her English teacher hands back the corrected essay.

At the top of the page he had circled Jayyne Jonstone, adding, "Janie, you having an identity crisis?"

I burst out laughing at this point. Every single time. 

Like Janie, I hated my name. I thought it was sooo boring. It never felt right, like I was an amnesiac trying on a name.

In high school, Susan turned into Susyn then into Suzzyna. Teenage insecurity and awkwardness donned a figurative cloak made of y's and z's. I'd watched enough teen movies to believe in the magic of makeovers. Suzzyna could dazzle the world into submission. She was the superstar my parents pushed me to be — unafraid, confident, beautiful, successful.

I wore her cloak for a very long time. And when Suzzyna wasn't bright enough, I created other personas based off of people I admire. I eventually ended up with so many that I could even choose which one to put on, like costumes hanging on a rack.

Doors turned into stage curtains. Whenever I was about to walk into a room, it felt like I was waiting in the wings, counting down my entrance. One deep breath to suppress my fears then I'd step out into the spotlight.

Afterward, once the curtains lowered and I was safely back in the wings, I could never remember what happened on stage. All I had to go by was audience reaction. Applause told me I did something right; laughter meant it all went wrong.

Living this way was stressful but it didn't seem too bad. I graduated, got married, started a career, but after having worn so many masks this long, I couldn't remember what I looked like.

When I tried to be myself, anxiety cut through my skin, flaying away composure to expose raw panic. I felt like a fraud and a failure. I was trying to make sense of my naked body when I'd only ever seen the photoshopped version. I'd been taught to judge myself by how well I blended into the glossy pages of a superficial world.

It wasn't until recently that I learned those masks were a coping mechanism. What I'd thought was teenage insecurity and awkwardness turned out to be crippling social anxiety, complete with selective mutism and sensory processing issues. 

Whenever environments or situations became too much to handle, stepping into a different persona dialed down the panic. Adding y's and z's into my name helped me feel just safe enough so I wouldn't shut down. 

Looking back now, I see how this anxiety has affected my writing. I could only ever write under pseudonyms — each one tossed aside as soon as I felt unsure. I experimented with voices and styles, trying to mould myself into someone I thought I should be. And because I worried what others thought, I did what I'd always done — disappear into yet another persona. The unfortunate result? All the things I had to say vanished too.

Which brings me to the point of this entry.

I dug up some old blog posts that had been published under pseudonyms. They've been migrated to this site because I want to start writing under my own name. No more personas. No more masks. (A brand new site design marks this occasion.) I may be afraid of so many things, but I know now that I am also confident, beautiful, and successful. I've always been. All I needed was to recognize the face on the milk carton — the missing me that I've only just found.

Carbo-Loading on Words

With each draft of my manuscript, I discard more words than I write. My first draft was written in three months. Word count was at 70k when I finished, but I discarded 60k of them for my second draft. The next round was better, but still, I rewrote most of it. I am a wasteful writer.

I've merged characters, changed settings, deleted entire story lines. When my brain gets stuck (my version of writer's block), it means something isn't working. Textual frustration level increases to GIVE ME A PLATE OF CARBS AND LEAVE ME IN FRONT OF HULU FOR THE REST OF THE NIGHT, because I know when I'm back at my desk the next day, I'll be deleting a sizable chunkachunk of stuff I love.

I SWEAR this draft will be the last time I make such drastic changes. The NEXT one will only be for nit picky things like spelling and grammar. Uhhhh. What was that? Noooo. My fingers aren't crossed. Don't know what you're talking about. Seriously. I MEAN IT. No. More. Rewriting. FOR REALZ THIS TIME.

A Confession Sandwich (where the bread is a new wordpress theme and the meat is a declaration)

Sometimes I throw a book down in a fit of disgust because it's so well written, and my own stories seem so juvenile by comparison. I still don't think I'm any good at this writing thing, but I'm getting better at focusing on the improvements I make instead of comparing myself to others. I had no idea why I started this site. I've been groping for a reason, a justification, to help me pull its elements together, and I've come to the following conclusion: It's not so much about being comfortable with people reading what I write but more about showing myself what I can do. It's about taking a stand and declaring to my inner critic that I can fucking do this and I have it in me to become a great writer.

A friend of mine just quit a successful, lucrative career to find his calling. When I heard what he did, something inside me wrenched sideways.

I've been a coward.

For some reason, people think I'm brave, but I'm really not. I laugh writing off as a casual hobby when friends ask me what I've been up to. I pretend this writing thing isn't important to me, but for someone who has always flitted from one activity to the next, the fact that I spend as much time writing as I do working or sleeping means something. 

Stories matter. Words matter. And when I write, I feel as if I matter too.

That's not something easy to admit, but here we are. Here I am. This site will always be a work in progress  (as am I!), but I thought it particularly apt to update to a new Wordpress theme as a way to mark the occasion.

Textually Frustrated is my writing blog, and I am a writer.

On Scrotum Tickling (an update on current work in progress)

I don't have a scrotum but the words "labia" and "tickling" don't have quite the same feel to them. I am extremely ticklish though so even the thought of tickling a non-existent scrotum makes me wince. (Thank you, Cards Against Humanity, for yet another fascinating lesson on pairing verbs with body parts. You're sort of like fuzzy sex dice except you're not at all fuzzy or in the shape of a dice.)

I'm getting to the point. Give me a sec.

So I read this short story once about some kids learning how to fish with their bare hands. You wade out to the calmest part of a river, wait until a fish swims within arm's reach, then you oh-so-slowly slide your hand beneath it and oh-so-slowly tickle its belly. The idea being that your fingers mimic the flow of water to lull said fish into a relaxed stupor. Then (if you're REALLY good at this tickling thing) you'll be able to dig your fingers into its gills, scoop it into the air, and toss it onto the river bank. All in one smooth motion, of course.

This is how I imagine you'd tickle scrotums.

This is also how this round of revisions have been going. I am on draft number I've-totally-lost-count, and I spend more time tickling words than on making any visible progress. I am knee deep in freezing water tickling motherfucking fish with fingers so numb that I've lost the delicate touch required to, well, tickle scrotum fish.

I'm hungry. Hungry to roast some goddamn fish. Hungry to move on to another project, or at the very least, to a different verb applied to a different body part. Which is why I'm writing this blog post because sometimes, you just need the gratification of fi(ni)shing something big so you can keep on tickling the little things.