My Acting Teacher Was Right About Writing, Too

Each flyer, poster, and playbill on my acting teacher’s office wall represented a show he’d worked on, and the wall was packed. Some prominently displayed items came from university productions and were covered in student autographs, while others came from bigger things—New York and LA things. Though I couldn’t have been more than a college sophomore (and had gone “off to college” the distance of a whole 20 miles), I was convinced that I knew what I wanted in life. A wall like his was on the list, but there was a problem.

My scene performances were falling flat, and though the teacher I was visiting was neither my advisor, nor the instructor of the class in question, we had a rapport and I trusted his advice above others. Besides, the Theatre Arts department was a small one, so he didn’t have to lead my class to know that some students crossed their fingers to ward against drawing me as a scene partner.

One of my old headshots. The fresh face of a young woman who knows exactly what she wants in life. She is, however, wrong.

My teacher and I had a conversation that I now imagine we must have had a million times, that went over my head a million and one: Do you really want to be an actor? Of course, I do! Why else would I be here? And paying tuition, no less! Acting requires both bravery and vulnerability. Well, yeah. I’m standing on stage in front of a crowd of people, vulnerable to judgement and rotten tomatoes. That’s bravery. You’re going to have to find a way to empathize with the character and that might require digging deep and pulling up ugly stuff you don’t want to look at. In the real world, I wouldn’t have auditioned for this role in the first place.

His advice didn’t sink in in time for me to connect with Blanche DuBois, to live truthfully within her given circumstances, and my grade on the scene reflected it. I heard my scene partner got the playing-to-a-brick-wall curve.

Still, much to the dismay of potential scene partners of the future, I performed well enough overall to advance to the next semester’s acting class. Much to their delight, I didn’t last long in the department after that anyway. Halfway through my college career, an acting teacher asked me to drop her class. It should have crushed me, but I’d never been more relieved. I did one better than drop her class and changed my major altogether. If I was going to dig that deep—if I was going to take a character’s hand and let them lead me into some scary place I didn’t want to go, time after time after time, it would be a character I created. I’m a writer, now, I’d chirp, though I knew on some level I always had been. Fade out.

Fade in to the other day. I sat at my computer, frustrated as I ever let myself get without taking a breather. No matter how I wrote, rewrote, and wrote it again, my scene fell flat.

The observant reader knows exactly where this is going: I wasn’t (and am probably still not) digging deep enough to do the job right. I understand it, now; truly grok it in a way that I didn’t when I thought I was an actor. I’m working on a novel with a lot of ideas and characters. I don’t necessarily like all of those characters, but to write them correctly, to do any kind of justice to the world I’m building or my protagonist within it, I’m going to have to find a way to empathize with them and dig deep and pull up ugly stuff I don’t want to look at, or it’s all going to keep falling flat.

So, that’s where I am, folks!  I’m pulling up ugly shit I didn’t want to look at, and it sucks as much as it sounds like it does. However, it’s what needs to be done to make sure the novel doesn’t suck, and that’s the important part…even if it is taking a bit more time and a bit more out of me than expected.

And maybe, if I work really hard and write a really good book, some interviewer will ask me: So, how much of this character is autobiographical? And maybe, in the most appropriate answer to the question yet, I’ll summon a demon to devour their soul.

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Time to Level Up

I took a sip of the champagne—the good, imported stuff. This was a celebration and I couldn’t have been prouder of my husband for getting the raise and soon, the title, he’d worked so hard for. Still, the thought tickled the back of my brain like the bubbles tickled the back of my throat: I need to level up in my career.

Let me take a moment to acknowledge that what follows is the sappy song of someone who got everything she wanted in life; the kind of stuff that rolls eyes the internet over. It does not provide any concrete solutions to anyone’s problem. It will neither be discussed as sage wisdom in the forums of accomplished women, nor taught in the halls of learned men, though it may get a few hate shares (a click is a click). So, if you’re not rolling out the guillotine yet…

The day job. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s the job that pays the bills while you’re working on the career, particularly a creative career. I’ve taken a lot of criticism over the years about how I balance the day job with creative endeavors, and it has mostly come from creative circles. From barely audible side comments and “just sayin’” observations, to dramatic tales of sacrifices made for art, I’ve lost count of the ways people tactlessly opined that I put far too much energy into the corporate resume and not enough into honing my craft. That these observations often coincided with something the observers wanted me to do for them is perhaps why I continued doing what I needed to do to live up to my own standards as a grown woman. The bills weren’t going to pay themselves, and it seemed better to work towards a job I could tolerate than to keep bouncing from something I hated to something I was about to hate in the interest of conserving energy for art (or using misery to fuel it).

What I got for my effort was a resume full of day jobs that led to good jobs in my field, which I shaped into the corporate side of my career overall. On the corporate side, I have enough experience that I’m in demand but not so much that it works against me. I like what I do and I’m good at it. I even really like my current position, which I get to fulfill from my home office. Things are going well.

The problem is the self-induced career stagnation. When an opportunity to advance the corporate side comes along, I think, If I throw my hat in the ring and it works out, then that’s what I will be—not a dark fiction writer. Though I am no more correct than the critics I’m able to ignore, when the thought is my own I tend to give it more attention than it’s worth, and that can lead to missed opportunities. This phenomenon is not unique to me; I’ve been discussing it with fellow creative people for a long time. In fact, many of the people who’ve criticized my balance of steady jobs with creative pursuits have also confessed to experiencing this same phenomenon, and I wonder if their criticism comes from not being 100% pleased with their own decisions (or indecision) on the matter.

Yet, there I was, trying to make a crossroads out of a clear path, when my husband called to tell me he got his raise and to give me the details about pending promotions. Now, I don’t really believe in signs. It stands more to reason that we see the signs we want to see based on the decisions we’ve already made, but if I had been waiting for a sign that it was time to level up, that would have been it.

As I said, I clearly don’t have any answers or concrete formulas on how to manage a career (I was literally just talking about signs). If there’s a point at all, it’s that:

No one can determine your path, assign your priorities, or define your success but you, and it’s perfectly fine to ignore anyone else who tries.

And THAT’S how we do motivational posters around here.

New Year, Old Me

“Did anyone get the number of that speeding year?” I ask about 2018 as I sway and swoon and sink into 2019.

It’s true; 2018 was a whirlwind in the best possible way and if that’s vague, I’m sorry. No one likes an internet humble-braggart. I will simply say that 2018 was a busy and amazing year for me personally (though I won’t talk about the state of the world in this post), and I’m still a bit tired.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because they don’t stick. Honestly, why does anyone even bother with them anymore? I do, however, set goals. Some of them are about as useful as resolutions (join The Avengers), while others are actually kind of doable (finish the first draft of my novel). Ringing in the new year with the yin and yang of the impossible and the possible is typical of me and so, as the title suggests: new year, old me.

Also suggested is that I’m not going to start writing frequent posts just for the sake of posting frequently. My career isn’t at the point where I need to create regular content to generate clicks or keep people engaged with my digital space (though I’m hired to do it for other people from time to time), so I’d far rather only write here when I have something to say.

So, you mean to tell me that you haven’t had anything to say for…

No, no. Stop scrolling and counting. I acknowledge that it’s been a minute and, like I said, 2018 was a bit of a whirlwind.

I’d intended to write a piece about life since my tubal ligation on the first anniversary of my surgery, but the second anniversary is coming up, so that extra year of experience can only make the writing better, I guess.

I’d intended to write a number of pieces about my career. I’m very driven when I know where I’m driving, but the GPS has been a little spotty in that area. I’ve gained some clarity (more on that), so that can only make the writing clearer, right?

I’d intended to acknowledge the two or three people looking for updates on my novel and let them know how it’s coming. I even intended to create a page just for novel news and updates. Now I guess I’ll have to acknowledge that it didn’t happen and provide an update letting folks know why.

It seems that catching up on my intentions just made my list of goals this year.

I suppose I could have just written and posted these pieces rather than writing this rambling preamble, but frankly, the preamble keeps me honest. I said it out loud; I published it; I have to follow through with it because, whether I publish my thoughts regularly or not, it’s probably still not cool to let two birthdays pass between posts.

I’m Child Free by Choice and I Finally Got My Tubes Tied

Actually, I had my fallopian tubes removed altogether but we’ll get to the specifics later. What’s important right now is that finally, after more than a decade, after being turned away twice, after enduring the endless condescending comments on the matter, I’ve been allowed to make my own decision about my own body and reproductive choices and have myself permanently sterilized.

My journey to sterilization started in Pennsylvania, which is important to note because in addition to spanning many years, this journey crossed state lines. I acknowledge that getting a tubal ligation (or in my case, a bilateral salpingectomy) was easier here in Washington state than it might have been in some other parts of the country. I urge you to look into the laws in your state and talk to your doctor regarding facility policy and the law.

I knew at a young age that motherhood wasn’t for me. Sure, I had hypothetical children, but they only got mentioned when declaring how differently I would do things if and when I had kids. Sometimes, I’d read a book or see a movie and there’d be some kick-ass character with a cool name and I’d think, Hey, that’s a really cool name. I’d totally name my kid *Blah* but that’s about as far as any aspirations of motherhood went. So, in my early twenties (in Pennsylvania), I asked my doctor about tubal ligation. Her response was that I was too young to know for sure that I didn’t want to be a mother, that they didn’t ever sterilize women my age unless they’d already had a couple of children, and that I needed to wait until I was at least 25 to have this discussion. The first time around, I could see my doctor’s point. I was 21 or 22 at most and in the height of my party days, not my serious thought and knowing what the hell I wanted from life days. At the time, even I conceded that maybe waiting was best.

Fast forward a handful of years—we can skip over the times I white-knuckled it, begging the heavens for my period to start any time it was so much as a second late. I’d turned 25 in December. January found me back at the doctor’s office asking about tubal ligation. I knew with certainty that I didn’t want to be a mom, but my doctor had other ideas. She looked over my chart, confirming that I had not yet had any children. “You’re single?” she made her statement a question. I confirmed that I was, in fact, single. If anything, I thought that would help my case, but then she looked at me and said the words I’ll never forget: “What if you meet a man who wants kids?”

An educated, successful woman had just let those words come out of her mouth. I was dumbfounded by her betrayal. I’d already ended a handful of potential relationships because the men in question wanted to be fathers someday and it hurt to break up, but by goddess I did it because I knew for damn sure I didn’t want children. How dare this woman not take my word for it!

I don’t remember what I ended up saying to her when she told me to ask again at 30. I just remember feeling betrayed, angry, and helpless. I knew in that moment that I absolutely despised her. I know that still, in more private forums, I speak of her with all the spite I can spit.

I’d met my now husband by 30 and he was more than willing to get a vasectomy after we got married and were certain that we weren’t having children. (I told him that if he was marrying me with hopes that I would change my mind about motherhood, he shouldn’t marry me.) While his offer to get a vasectomy was sweet, it always stuck in my craw that he had to make it at all. Yeah, I get that vasectomies are easier to perform (and reverse) and are less invasive than tubal ligations. I get that there are fewer risks associated with vasectomies. But what I also get is that if I’d been allowed to make my own choice about my own body, the situation would have been taken care of long before I’d ever met him.

Let alone that a vasectomy on my husband’s part would only protect me from his business. In a world where women are disproportionately victimized by men and society is happy to look the other way and saddle women with the consequences of their attackers’ actions, having my husband cut simply wasn’t good enough for me.

 The Consultation

Fast forward some more. We’d moved out of Pennsylvania, spent some time in Connecticut (where, in fairness, I might have had an easier time getting a tubal ligation but my husband was still trying to convince me that snipping him was the better idea), and then moved on to Washington.

We’d been in the greater Seattle area for just over a year when it occurred to me that my last gynecological exam had happened back east. So, I looked at our health insurance plan, found an in-network doctor and facility, and made my yearly appointment.

The physician’s assistant and I started going over the standard new patient questions. I confirmed that condoms were my method of birth control because I hated the pill and wasn’t thrilled with the idea of an IUD. She asked if I was happy with my current method of contraception. No, I was not happy. I told her that I’d been wanting to get my tubes tied for a while but had been turned away twice, the last time on the grounds that I apparently hadn’t met a man to tell me what I was allowed to do with my body yet. The PA was offended on my behalf. She said I wouldn’t face those kinds of problems here and gave me the name of the doctor she recommended for the consultation and surgery. Due to the nature of our health insurance policy, I decided it would be best to schedule my consultation after the new year.

I still feared being told I would need my husband to sign off on my decision, so I brought him to the consultation with me. He wanted to be there anyway ‘cause he’s a good dude like that, but when I told my doctor about my previous experiences and my particular reason for having him there, her disgust was clear. She told me how she hadn’t even believed that my story up to this point really happened to people, that stories of young women being turned away for being single and childless were nothing more than sensationalized urban legends, but now here I was: her fourth patient to tell her the same story.

We started going over my options. We talked about non-incision (hysteroscopic) methods like Essure, but since I wanted my procedure to be immediately effective and I don’t generally fear surgery, we focused on laparoscopic (surgical) methods. Clamped or clipped, severed and cauterized, or removed altogether? All options were highly effective (98%+) in preventing pregnancy*, and if I understood my doctor correctly, all would reduce my risk of ovarian cancer; however, bilateral salpingectomy stood out for its higher level of risk reduction. It’s not like I was using my fallopian tubes anyway. They were pretty much just sitting there being beacons for cancer. “Pull ‘em out,” I said.

The 30-day Waiting Period

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. If it had been, I’d have lain back and let her take them that afternoon. Since sterilization is a procedure with a high regret risk attached, I had to sign a form that said I understood that my procedure was permanent and that reversal procedures were often ineffective. The paperwork also needed to prove that I’d been given at least 30 days to consider my decision; so, once signed, I actually had to wait the 30 days. By my calculations, I’d been waiting for something between 16 and 18 years, so what was one more month but time to consider the inevitable blog post?

I stopped being flippant about that month the very next day. I was on the phone with one of the ladies from the billing department at my doctor’s office trying to find out about medical codes and oh-so-fun health insurance stuff. She asked what I was having done and somewhere in my response the words, “rip that garbage out,” rolled off my tongue.

I’m a writer. I understand the power of words and I had just used the word “garbage” to refer to working parts of my healthy, functioning reproductive system—the system that creates life. The implications smacked me in the face.

The next thing to roll off my tongue was an apology to the woman on the other end of the phone. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t say that. Just because I’m not using my fallopian tubes doesn’t mean they’re garbage.” She was gracious, but we were both clearly jolted by my contempt for my working system.

So, of course, I had to address that contempt. It wasn’t hard to figure out where it was coming from. It came directly from years of being denied my preferred choice in managing my reproductive system. A little contempt was understandable, justifiable even. What I needed to figure out was whether I was letting it cloud my current decision. Was getting my tubes tied more about finally getting my way and proving someone else wrong than really wanting to have it done?

I ended up spending the next 30 days as the good folks of the establishment hoped I would. I asked myself every question about my motivations from personal to political and back again, and it turned out that only one question mattered:

Do I believe that there will ever come a time in my life when finding out I’m pregnant would be anything short of personally devastating?

No.

My decision was clear.

 The Procedure and Recovery

My surgery was scheduled for the afternoon of Friday, March 10, 2017.

The intake process went just slowly enough that I was happy I’d brought a book, but quickly enough that I didn’t make much progress. Multiple times I was asked to confirm which procedure I was having and whether I was leaving the hospital that afternoon. I knew from previous surgical procedures that all the repeated questions were safety precautions, checks to make sure everyone was on the same page, but they’d always made me nervous.

I asked for sedatives. I got them. I got sleepy.

And then I was waking up.

People were smiling. I was told that I’d been trying to make jokes. It’s the “trying” that concerns me. My humor is questionable when I’m wide awake; there’s no telling what I think is funny when I’m half out of it, but people were smiling so I’ll take that as a good sign.

One of the doctors asked me if I was feeling any pain. I said that I had some cramps and he pushed a magical little button and the pain went away almost immediately. I must make it clear, though, that the cramping wasn’t bad in the first place. The day after the surgery, a friend asked me if the procedure hurt or if I was in any current pain and I replied honestly that at no point did I suffer worse than I do with second or third day menstrual cramps. All women are different, and I don’t know if my statement is one of how bad my monthly cramps are or of how painless the procedure was, but there you have it.

I was left with one tiny little incision in my belly button, and an even smaller one a few inches below.

While the doctors and nurses were all great (really, they’re angels in my eyes for finally doing this for me), I was especially touched by the nurse who took my hand and told me that she, too, had made the decision not to have kids and that she never regretted it a day in her life. It was like this special moment of solidarity, validating that our choices belong to us and we’re not any less women for making them. We can still be goddesses without being mothers.

I was told not to do any intense workouts or heavy lifting for a week after the surgery and not to have sex until cleared for it in the post op appointment (about two and half weeks after surgery), and that was it. I left the hospital with a weight lifted off my shoulders and a pocket full of pain prescriptions.

It was going to be a good weekend.

I returned to work on Monday.

Was it worth it?

At the time of this writing, I’m only a few days removed from the surgery. Gauze pads have given way to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Band-Aids. I’m not in any pain, even without pain meds, and I’ve got the tell-tale itching of wounds beginning to heal. Little in my life has changed. I’m still child free by choice, only now I don’t really have to think about it. Once I am cleared for sexual activity and I get over shuddering at the thought of unprotected sex (yes, even in my monogamous marriage), I predict that I will enjoy a lot more spontaneity and passion in my sex life now that the once ever-present fear of pregnancy has been removed. The truth is, I have never felt this free in my life and my only regret is not having this done years ago.

But like I said, I wasn’t allowed to make that choice then.

 

*Tubal ligation does not protect against STDs.

Random Thoughts: On Writing, Politics, and Silence

I really love what she has to say about silence vs. being loud.

Reggie Lutz

Today, I am supposed to be writing a dinner scene among a family between whom there is no political agitation. Given the political agitation that is currently in the very air we breathe this is no easy task. The brain desperately wants to engage with that while the particular demands of the story I am writing now require that my brain engages with something else. The fictional family’s conflict that I am writing about has to do with combatting negative paranormal energies that they are, as humans on the living side of the equation, unaware of. This has nothing to do with politics, as far as the moment goes. Except that I remember in fiction, as in politics, conflict arises when character agendas diverge and come into opposition. So maybe I can use the present turmoil as a way in, as I write, even though the characters are fighting with…

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On the Importance of Strong Female Characters

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From the Women’s March; Seattle, WA; January 21, 2017

I was fortunate enough to attend the Women’s March on Seattle, a sister to the Women’s March on Washington DC. Before I lose you, I have no intention of talking politics in this post. What I am going to talk about is something I can’t believe is still controversial: the importance of strong female characters in fiction.

As I marched with 175,000 other humans (the estimate at the time of this writing), I noticed countless signs referencing some of my favorite female badasses from fiction. I took in multiple nods to space rebels, vampire slayers, and warrior princesses and knew—without a doubt—that every last person who argues that female heroes aren’t interesting or “won’t sell” is absolutely full of shit. I saw little girls in Wonder Woman costumes and Princess/General Leia t-shirts (I was wearing a General Leia shirt myself), and knew—without a doubt—that the strong female characters we see on screen and read about in books really do have an impact on us and how we view ourselves, each other, and our roles in the world around us.

What would General Leia do?

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These three signs caught my attention, but you couldn’t swing a pink pussy hat without hitting a Leia Organa reference. Considering that Carrie Fisher was a badass in real life, this is not surprising. If the dead really do get to hang around and see what the living are up to, I’d like to think that she got a giggle from the “Carrie Fisher sent us” sign.

I’d like to think that she’d be proud to be our rebel leader.

Are you ready to be strong?

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Fans of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer not only know where the words on this sign come from, but many of us can recite the entire speech—if we can get through it without crying, that is. Submitted for your misty-eyed pleasure:

For people like me who rarely view embedded videos in an article, here are the highlights:

They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power…From now on every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

-Buffy Summers

A whole damn lot of us made our choice and are ready to be strong.

And then there’s this:

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The picture says it all.

Xena will always have a special place in my heart. It was a Xena poster I hung on my wall to remind me not to take any shit, particularly from real-life Joxers.

I’ll never forget the time I told a guy that I was a big Xena: Warrior Princess fan and he responded, “You know Xena and Gabrielle are lesbian icons, right?” Well, I hadn’t actually known (naïve me, I guess), but the only troubling thing about finding out was this guy’s tone and his obvious suggestion that there was something shameful about being a lesbian icon. Fuck that noise.

So here’s the thing…

The articles reminding us that one march isn’t enough are already flooding my feeds—as well they should. Marching is great, but there is more work to be done. There are the things we can all do as citizens; then there are the things we can do that are more personal.

I’ve always known that the presence of strong female characters in fiction is important, but this march solidified for me what a great female character can inspire in real life women. As a result, my dedication to writing these characters has been renewed. I intend to contribute as many badass women to the fiction world as I can because…well…I can. And of course, I don’t want to do it in some pandering political way—obvious and boring as hell to read—but in a way that’s honest. A way that inspires.

I suppose I can call it my duty. I prefer to call it my privilege.

Excuses, Excuses!

“What’s your excuse, now?” you might be asking, and you’d be within your rights. After all, every time I’ve been quiet on the blog, or the internet as a whole for that matter, I’ve come back with some flimsy excuse as to where I’ve been, but this time the excuse is a good one. I promise.

Yes, I’ve been trying to find balance in my writing life again, but this time it’s because I’ve landed a new paying day gig. It’s a technical content writing job and it’s actually kind of perfect for me. It is also particularly significant because landing a full-time job was the final piece of the puzzle before feeling like I really live here. Driver’s license and registration updated: check. Registered to vote: check. Employed by a company in the Greater Seattle Area: check. Though I rarely have to commute (working remotely is nice, I’ve got to admit), there’s something about being able to complain about the traffic with the other commuters that just makes me feel like part of the community. Of course, I realize that as a transplant, I’m actually a part of the traffic problem we face.

There’s also the issue of getting the most out of the few remaining days of summer. It’s no secret that I hate going to the gym. I’d much rather get my exercise from an outdoor activity. So while I still have enough daylight to hike a trail or skate (inline) around the park after work, you better believe I’m going to take advantage of it. There are plenty of short, cold and rainy days on the horizon that will find me on a treadmill or a stationary bike.

Or maybe I can just suck it up and learn to be cold and wet in the dark.

I really hate the gym.

But time marches on. Summer is almost over and autumn is upon us. Aside of perhaps having to return to the gym (I say “perhaps” because I’m seriously considering that cold and wet in the dark thing), I’m excited for fall. I’m ready for hot cider and Halloween. Fall is also my most inspired and prolific time of year, which is good because I have a lot to do.

And if I can find that elusive little critter called balance, you might actually get to hear about it.