Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Weird entitlement

Wow, people really think they deserve stuff often, even when they were never told to expect it or even in direct opposition to what they've been told to expect.

I should know this, obviously, as someone who spent six years in customer service. People come in believing they are entitled to a discount, a product, or a perk, and even if they are shown where the mistaken belief came from--even if they accept it was completely their own fault and completely preventable--they will still believe you should do something for them. If they wanted it and didn't get it, they deserve SOMETHING.

So it shouldn't have surprised me that I saw this in two wildly different contexts recently.

ONE:

Okay, so I get a lot of mail. I get it in a variety of places too, from blog comments to soulful e-mails. Today I answered a mail from someone I hope will be a new friend, and I had taken a very long time to reply to him. He'd sent one message making it clear he'd love to hear from me but not pressuring me to answer, and then there was a follow-up a while later not in any way prompting me but adding some more thoughts to his reaction to my content online. When I did write him back, I thanked him for not approaching me with entitlement, and realized how many people I have sitting in inboxes who will now go unanswered because they snotted at me for not replying fast enough.

I had a falling out with an acquaintance over this, and it turned into a huge deal--after she was furious with me for not replying to her un-time-sensitive e-mail within two hours, she cursed me out and called me "a liar" and told me never to speak to her again, only to follow up a couple weeks later begging me for forgiveness. I actually forgave her the first time because I thought she'd just been through something traumatic, but a couple years later SHE DID THE EXACT SAME THING AGAIN and this time I decided to stop being her friend even though I also told her I could forgive her. She wouldn't stop pestering me to talk to her again, for literally years, and she stalked me online for more than half a decade, dropping crappy comments "anonymously" on my content every time I ignored one of her begging mails for too long. This was an extreme case, but it's a good example still: sometimes, people inexplicably think I'm on their schedule and that I have some obligation to prioritize communication with them.

Mostly, though, this happens with people I never get close to because they reveal this expectation early in the game. I get a nice message I was GOING to answer and then the guy follows up with "so do you want to have a conversation or not?" Or I get some nice commentary and don't have time to reply until THE NEXT DAY, and when I log on there's a long paragraph about how I have clearly misrepresented myself as someone approachable and friendly or else I would not simply cast off very good people like HIM. (This particular person loaded up the e-mail with guesses at why he'd been ignored so cruelly for those less than 24 hours since the last time I wrote him, up to and including the accusation that I imagined I was far too smart for him.)

The very best way to get me to stop talking to you is to imply that I owe you my time, or that I am failing as a human being by not centering my communication with you in my life at all times.

TWO:

Weird switch of subject but OK. I like the show Steven Universe. It goes on hiatus a LOT. Commercials have been hyping us up for weeks now saying the show will return with weekly new episodes on December 17th. What aired on the 17th was an episode that most hardcore fans had seen because it had been released through the Cartoon Network app and at a convention, but had never been on TV.

They aired that episode first since it was the TV debut, and it probably was new to many casual viewers.

Those of us who were NOT casual viewers (hi, hello) already knew it was not going to be a new episode to us because we looked at the dang airing schedules. We knew what was coming, we knew why it was simultaneously a new episode and not a new episode, and we accepted that for us, "new" episodes don't start until December 24.

And yet still, there was a HUGE DISGUSTING OUTPOURING OF HATE for Cartoon Network from the fans. Every single place where they promoted the event online has DOZENS of people in the comments using swear words, calling the network "liars," saying they're going to hunt down and kill the creator for "trolling" them, and posting memes and reaction GIFs suggesting that Cartoon Network was delighting in torturing people.

If you didn't view this episode at the convention or on the network's app, you saw it illegally.

The majority of the hardcore fans online have seen this episode illegally.

If you saw it in one of the legal, approved ways, you were made aware it was a special release. So everyone losing their wig over this is pretty much somebody who didn't pay attention, stole the show's content, and then shrieked about how cheated they felt because they didn't do the proper research.

I'm really disturbed by how MANY people there are in these comments (or making individual posts about it) having huge shit fits that sound violent and express how ripped off they think they were by being forced to get excited about the show's return only to see an episode they've seen come on. They are framing it as "a rerun." (It is not. It had never been on TV at all before last night.) They are framing it as if the network drew them in and tricked them for simple evil pleasure. And even though they were presumably tuning in because they love the show and want more, some are even promising that they are DONE WITH THIS SHOW because REBECCA TROLLED THEM.

Uh. . . .

Wow, stop.

No one owes you anything, first of all.

And second, as mentioned, you were given all the tools to know what was coming, and the only way you could be ignorant of this is if you consumed the content in a pirated form. You know what you did, and yet you have no qualms about announcing to the world what you believe you deserved, that someone else denied you. You, who took the show for free and gave nothing back, but still feel that your status as a fan entitles you to content. And you know what? I'm not even mad if some people just plain made a mistake and didn't realize the episode was not going to be new to them. That's cool. Just, like, maybe also just accept that you had a misconception and be quiet about it?

Man.

Entitled people really irritate me. And more often than not, those in a position to satisfy the entitled people will be less interested in doing so if they express ungrateful fury over what they didn't receive.

I assure you I am never going to answer an e-mail in which someone shames me for failing to respond. I will not apologize for failing to do something I never said I would do. Same goes for network decision-makers, though I very much doubt those upset "fans" and their impotent rage will even be a blip on their radar since they know they released the titles of the episodes they'd be airing and they know they are not guilty of misrepresenting themselves.

Bleh. Just shut up, people.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Personal Digest Saturday: December 8 – December 14

Life news this week:
  • Saturday Victor and I got up and went off in search of comics! It was a lovely little journey and even though we didn't find any of what we wanted, we got to eat at Denny's and chill together. I had a great time. Then I came home and did my blogging and drew a cute picture of my faaaaave character Garnet from when she was a baby.
  • Sunday the Steven Universe Amino featured my drawing, lovely. It rained all day so I was not able to sit at the outdoor table. I did laundry and talked to Mom on the phone but really got not much done, except I did do some prep work for Mom's taxes that I'm helping her file months late, and I did do karaoke.
  • Monday I did timesheets at the office and forgot to eat most of the day. Then after work I went to my mom's house and did most of her taxes but she didn't have a certain form we've been trying to get for a long time and I just couldn't go any farther without the form so I gave up. I finally completed all the filing of her mishmash of files though and was pretty proud of myself. Then pretty much just fell asleep at home. Mom did feed me a really yummy cauliflower pasta thing though.
  • Tuesday I found a way to get Mom's form and did the rest of her taxes. But it wouldn't let her e-file because it was so late, so I got the forms together for her to sign and mail in. Then hung out with my friend Arthur after work, eating Thai food and watching Twin Peaks. Was too tired to do anything else after he left except I did read the new Steven Universe graphic novel which was called Ultimate Dough-Down and it was precious.
  • Wednesday was a long ass day. I went to the eye doctor in the morning and dumped a bunch of money on new contacts, went to work and had to try to do actual engineering stuff for once while my eyes were still dilated (though my boss was happy to let me not do it if my eyes wouldn't cooperate--I just managed to do it anyway), and then met with Jeaux for Five Guys, shopping, and finishing up She-Ra. I did really like it! Then after he left I spent several hours on a review of Ultimate Dough-Down for the Internet and went right into consuming and writing up the newest Steven Universe podcast (with Estelle as special guest, yay). Didn't get much sleep, dang.
  • Thursday I finally finished some other paperwork stuff that Mom needed, and she was going to come over and get it but then she couldn't make it. I talked briefly to my dad and then Victor on the phone while drawing comics. Pretty low-key day, but I was exhausted from not much sleep.
  • Friday I worked and Mom was able to come get her papers after work. I finished my webcomic while watching silly videos and was able to post it in time before dropping to sleep like a rock. What a week.

New reviews of my book:


Reading progress:
    New singing performances:

    This week's karaoke song is "Keep Me In Your Heart" by Warren Zevon.




    Stuff Drawn:



    Webcomic Negative One Issue 0709: "Still Nameless."






    New videos:

    None.

    New photos:


    Finally finished organizing Mom's files!
    Here I am laughing alone with salad


    Social Media Counts:

    YouTube subscribers: 5,243 for swankivy (3 new), 678 for JulieSondra (lost 1). Twitter followers: 969 for swankivy (lost 2), 1,348 for JulieSondra (lost 4). Facebook: 296 friends (no change) and 208 followers (2 new) for swankivy, 651 likes for JulieSondra (no change), 61 likes for Negative One (1 new), 146 likes for So You Write (lost 1). Tumblr followers: 2,517 (lost 1). Instagram followers: 164 (1 new).

    Saturday, December 8, 2018

    Personal Digest Saturday: December 1 – December 7

    Life news this week:
    • Saturday I finished a transcript and posted a video I'd made earlier in the week, and was about to go to my mom's house to finish organizing her paperwork so she can do taxes, when my dad called and said my grandmother had passed away. I was very sad even though it was expected (well, obviously), and still went over to Mom's to organize her stuff. I made a good dent in it but she hasn't been doing too well with her health this year and her stuff was really disorganized. While organizing I talked to my sister about her travel plans, and my mom got me pizza but mostly just stayed in her room. I went home exhausted and went to sleep.
    • Sunday I was going to go back over and finish but I just couldn't make myself do it. Instead I spent some time writing an obituary for my grandmother, did a karaoke, and did my chores, plus got my blogging done since I just hadn't been able to handle it the day before. I did get some nice quiet time at my outdoor table too.
    • Monday I went to work but really didn't have a very productive day, surprise. I got permission to be off work for some family stuff, and I finalized obituary and photo stuff with my dad. I was too tired to go to Mom's again so I tried just cleaning up stuff at home and not really being awake, and finalized some stuff on what will go on my grandmother's headstone.
    • Tuesday I didn't go to work. I went to my mom's in the morning, ate cauliflower for breakfast (lol), and finished organizing her stuff. The neatness I made out of those mountains of papers was phenomenal but I forgot to take a picture. Then my mom took me home and my sisters both arrived in town at the same time (one flying from California, one driving from North Carolina) so sister L picked up sister P at the airport and came to have dinner with us. We ate Chinese food and talked a little. It was nice to see them, even though they were in town for sad circumstances. My sister Patricia stayed with me and my sister Lindsay went to Mom's. She was invited to stay with me too but I guess they had stuff to do together? Or maybe it was because they both smoke, haha. P and I had sister time and went to bed.
    • Wednesday I got up early and read a SU comic before Patricia got up. We had coffee and breakfast, and Lindsay picked us up bright and early to head to Sarasota for our grandmother's funeral. My sister is a good driver. We saw my dad and Connie at their house, headed out to the site, and had a cold, sad funeral. We did some short reminiscence and saw our grandmother put into her final resting place. Very sad, I did do a lot of crying. Really going to miss her, though I guess we've been missing her for some time. Then we went back to my dad's for food and a small gathering, and talked about our grandmother and looked through some of her things. It's really hard. Then the sisters and I made latkes and we all ate together, and it got pretty late. We went back to my place and did the same arrangements. It really was nice to see my family.
    • Thursday I only worked a half day--I stuck around at home until Patricia went to the airport. We had coffee and breakfast, and ate up some of our leftover Chinese food. After she left, I went to work. Didn't do too much but at least I caught up on my e-mails. I then had Jeaux pick me up; we bought comics, ate at Which Wich?, and grocery shopped. Then we saw some She-Ra and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I was so tired afterwards though and went to bed.
    • Friday I worked a full day, but was too lazy for the bus. Took Lyft and spent the day kinda zoning out. I did some drawings for Negative One and when I got home I processed them before Victor came over to spend time with me. We got pizza and I caught him up on Steven Universe, and then we watched the movie Young Einstein. It was a good time. I am so glad I have good friends.
    Articles, Interviews, Mentions:


    New reviews of my book:


    Reading progress:
      New singing performances:

      This week's karaoke song is "Keep Me In Your Heart" by Warren Zevon.




      Stuff Drawn:



      Webcomic Negative One Issue 0708: "A Job for Me."






      New videos:

      None.

      New photos:


      Mom and Lindsay enjoying a pillow together
      Sister selfie in the backseat of the car--on the way to our grandmother's funeral
      P making latkes at Dad's
      Me making latkes at Dad's
      Latkes table at Dad's, minus P who's taking the photo
      We'll miss our dear grandmother
      Social Media Counts:

      YouTube subscribers: 5,240 for swankivy (lost 2), 679 for JulieSondra (no change). Twitter followers: 971 for swankivy (3 new), 1,352 for JulieSondra (2 new). Facebook: 296 friends (no change) and 206 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 651 likes for JulieSondra (lost 1), 60 likes for Negative One (1 new), 147 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2,518 (lost 5). Instagram followers: 163 (no change).

      Tuesday, December 4, 2018

      A Certain Kind of Person

      In an interview my grandmother gave to a newspaper once, she said acting takes "a certain kind of person."

      She elaborated on this to discuss rejection. How a person who wants to be on stage needs to be okay with being told "no." You need to be hungry enough for the "yes" that the people who say "no" don't dissuade you, and you need to enjoy what "yes" brings enough that the pain of rejection is worth it. She also said you have to be willing to "give up a lot."

      So many of the articles written about my grandmother discuss with surprise the balance she managed in her life--how she was able to be a wife, be a mother, be a teacher, but also be an actress. One even said, "If Marceline Decker's life story were ever turned into a movie, it could be called 'I Led Two Lives.'" As if these aspects of her were necessarily separate, or as if chasing your dreams and living them is not compatible with having a family or an alternate vocation. 

      In helping to write her obituary and looking over her life, I've been reminded of so many details about who she was--how passionate she was about her singing and her acting, how much she loved performing, how she always knew that was what she wanted to do. I showed a friend what my family had written, and he said, "She did so much. She's like an early twentieth century version of you."

      I see what he means, even though our passions landed us in different places. The more I learned over the years about how she lived and how she thought, the more I see where I got the pieces of me. She lived an exciting, dramatic life full of performing under the lights, but the photo albums tell the real story: Her life was full of people. People she touched and people she entertained; people she taught and people she loved. Sacrifices are sometimes necessary in the pursuit of art, but for her, human connections were not one of the things she had to give up. In another newspaper quote, my grandmother said the thing she missed the most when she was away from the stage was the people she worked with. When you do it right, your passions connect you with the ones you love. She did it right. 

      In a memory book my grandmother left to me and my sisters, a prompt asks her "As a wife, I tried to be . . . "

      She answered: "An individual, and I suppose I still do."

      That really struck me the first time I read it. My grandparents were the most adorable couple, so genuine with their affection and such a wonderful model for how people can live in harmony. So sometimes it surprised people that they were so good at supporting each other while chasing such different passions. They didn't limit what each other wanted to do and they didn't let other people's expectations of what their marriage should look like affect how they should live it. What they did works. They were married for 67 years. She was allowed to be "an individual," even though people expected her life as a wife and mother (and grandmother, and great-grandmother!) to transform who she was. It didn't make her less. It made her more.

      Even today there's the expectation that women should "give up" their careers and passions for their family, and I can only imagine in my grandmother's day that expectation was stronger, but my grandmother knew it took a "certain kind of person" to do it all. We who were nurtured by her have all the memories of food and family, of celebrations, of togetherness. Her life was full--she found a way to have it all. She did it shamelessly, fearlessly, proudly, without letting society's expectations tell her what she should settle for. And in between everything she lived for and everything she achieved, she still managed to give back--she taught future generations all her lessons from the stage and beyond, to the point that she had students writing to her for years after learning from her. She made a huge mark on their lives--on the lives of everyone she touched.

      She knew about rejection from the perspective of auditions, while my version was rejection letters for my writing. Like her, I knew the only thing to do was keep trying, but there was also another piece of wisdom she laid down besides refusing to give up. She recommended going to school for acting, but also recommended community theatre for experience. You can't get there just by learning "techniques." You also have to practice. 

      When I was just starting with my writing and my grandmother offered to look over my work, she gave very little direct criticism (even though, looking back, I definitely needed it). She gave broad comments on what to work on and told me how delighted she was with it, and told me to keep writing. She knew only making more work would teach me about how to make work. But she also knew enough not to come down hard on my writing to beat it into shape. It was too early for that. We have to develop our own voices in art--we have to find our own way, and we don't learn that by having another person tell us strongly what to do in what order. I've learned how important that "keep writing!" comment was even though I didn't think much of it at the time. It's vital. It came from a person who knows why we create and where that comes from inside us.

      She was a certain kind of person. Passionate. Brilliant. Unforgettable.


      Sunday, December 2, 2018

      Personal Digest Saturday: November 24 – November 30

      Life news this week:
      • Saturday I just did some chatting to my sister on the phone, did some writing, planned for a video I wanted to make, and did a silly craft to make my bookends look like Garnet's head. Haha.
      • Sunday I sat outside to do my message-answering ritual at my table, got harassed by a jerk on Amino and had to report him, did some chores, and then spent most of the day recording my video. Also did my writing and a little doodle.
      • Monday I had to process a bunch of documents for Mom and go to work. She was going back and forth with stuff for her financial adviser and new lawyer. Glad I have a fancy PDF organizer thingie to do it with. After work I actually went to a NaNoWriMo write-in at Panera! But nobody else seemed to be there. Bummer. Oh well, got my chapter written and had a delicious sandwich. Went home and worked on the edits to my new video, which were massive.
      • Tuesday I answered some questions for a journalism student about asexuality, went to work, and finished some more paperwork stuff for Mom. Her adviser was trying to make a budget and she didn't have the documents for her medical stuff so I had to track some stuff down for her. Then Arthur picked me up and we ate Thai food and watched Twin Peaks at my house. (He's introducing me to the show.) Then I did my writing and some comic stuff and did more edits on my video.
      • Wednesday I didn't go to work because I was helping Mom and just needed a day off to do it. Unfortunately even though she made it to my house, she was very sick and we couldn't do some of the stuff because she fell asleep and I just took care of her and let her rest. I was able to scan some of the documents she hadn't given me yet. Glad I could help but there's still more stuff she'll need a helper for. Then Jeaux came over and we ate at Moe's and went grocery shopping and watched some episodes of the She-Ra reboot which I actually really liked. After he left I did a drawing and did my writing and recorded a song.
      • Thursday I worked, wrote a new chapter, updated some documents, and worked on my subtitles for my video after work until Victor called. Then we chatted for a while as I drew my webcomic, but we hung up when my mom came over to spend the night because the next morning I had to go to an appointment with her and it was too early to trust that she'd be there in the morning (heh, she's always late), so she spent the night and it was nice.
      • Friday we went to the appointment, she had to hand in some documents that I'd organized for her, and then she drove me to work. I finished my NaNoWriMo goal and was pretty satisfied so I bought myself a winner shirt. The book isn't done yet though. Then it was a mad dash to finish my comic, finish my other comic, and post a blog entry so I could include it on Amino before the end of the day. I had wanted to finish my video's subtitling by then too but I didn't.
      Writing Progress:

      • In-progress NaNo novel, In Bloom, has completed NaNoWriMo at 50,615 words, but is not a complete novel yet.
      Reading progress:
      • Finished this week: No reading this week. Just too much going on.
      • Currently readingThe Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca by Kerr Cuhulain.
        New singing performances:

        This week's karaoke song is "What's Love Got to Do With It" by Tina Turner.




        Stuff Drawn:


        A quick Garnet sketch
        A poorly executed lineless art of the Topazes sharing an intimate moment




        Webcomic So You Write Issue 90: "Fade to Black."









        Webcomic Negative One Issue 0707: "Wild."






        New videos:

        Letters to an Asexual #63, about maturity, is out!



        New photos:


        Turned my bookends into Garnet heads
        Ongoing comic variants!


        Social Media Counts:

        YouTube subscribers: 5,242 for swankivy (lost 13), 679 for JulieSondra (lost 2). Twitter followers: 968 for swankivy (no change), 1,350 for JulieSondra (lost 5). Facebook: 296 friends (no change) and 205 followers (no change) for swankivy, 652 likes for JulieSondra (lost 1), 59 likes for Negative One (no change), 147 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2,523 (no change). Instagram followers: 163 (no change).

        Friday, November 30, 2018

        Writing lessons learned . . . from cartoons [GIFs]

        National Novel Writing Month is a pretty cool writing program that's designed to encourage authors to write a book. More specifically, you have to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November, and if you succeed, you "win."

        Today, I "won."


        2018 is my first year participating. In years past, I used to see other authors enjoying themselves (or torturing themselves, as the case may be) and I would encourage them if appropriate, but I never thought I'd be one of them. This year, it's been an interesting experience. Not only because I've never put myself on any kind of externally dictated word count goal during drafting or put myself on any consistent schedule for writing, but because I participated in this program partly to try things I had not tried.

        And I got to do exactly that.

        It's been about three years since I wrote a book. I've written at least ten novels in my life, and all of the ones I finished were completed very quickly and ended up very long. I am what's known in writing circles as a pantser: I write "by the seat of my pants," with little planning. I'm also not much of a worldbuilder. I write stories with a lot of navel gazing, a lot of conversation, and a lot of character interaction. I try my best to have a plot, but for me, plot is an excuse for characters to interact.

        When you get down to it, we care about what happens because of who it happens to. Steven Universe is my favorite cartoon, and even though one of the big complaints about it from certain subsections of the fandom is that it spends too much time with side characters or "filler" episodes, it's really the early, deliberate focus on the characters that made so many people fall in love with the show, and now we fans will tune in to watch them do anything. 


        HOWEVER, there ARE those people who watch because they are invested in the plot reveals, or fans who are very interested in the history and backstory. Again, we care about those things because they are shown to have significance to characters in the show, and attaching backstory and plot to characters is a lesson I learned long ago for making those things interesting.

        However, a few things are new to me. This is the first time I've written a book after learning as much as I have from Steven Universe, and I want to talk about what I've learned.

        1. Introducing backstory elements early on that will be explained later--without being obnoxious or coy.

        Steven Universe is incredibly good at this. Now, I've listened to the podcasts and read the interviews from the people who work on the show, and I know that sometimes they deliberately include stuff when they don't know what it is, or they grab something from an earlier episode and make a plot point out of it. It isn't always deliberate; the important part is that it looks organic when you do do it. 


        An example:

        In an early episode, "Serious Steven" (episode 8), we first see the Strawberry Battlefield.




        It may seem like it's not telling us anything, but it is. a) A battle happened here that they're not telling us about. b) These weapons came from somewhere.

        As we get to know the Gem characters better in the show, we see that they generally do not use weapons like this at all. So what's going on? Was this even their war? Their usual fighting weapons are magically summoned from their gemstones, so what could have caused a battlefield to be covered in discarded material weapons?

        And then later, in "Lion 3: Straight to Video" (episode 35), we get a glimpse of a mysterious object in a bubble.



        Guess what? Background artist Steven Sugar thought it would be cool to draw a bunch of weapons on that battlefield. Storyboarder Joe Johnston thought it would be cool to include this gemstone in a bubble. Neither completely had it worked out as to what they were even making. And then they had to explain it later. "Hey, where DID those weapons come from? They must've had material weapons sometimes. And therefore, it must've been someone's job to make and provide those weapons."

        More than 50 episodes later, that gemstone gets activated and it's a long-lost character we get to meet for the first time.


        And guess what? She makes weapons.


        The Crystal Gems' good old blacksmith, Bismuth, is introduced to the show. Before this reveal, sure we figured those weapons had to come from somewhere, and sure we figured eventually we'd find out what that dang bubble was about, but when two mysteries are solved by giving us Bismuth, that feels even cooler.

        But the show didn't deliberately create a central mystery out of either of those background details. Eagle-eyed fans certainly tossed around theories about them, but the show itself wasn't shoving these things in your face and saying "Wouldn't YOU like to know?" This show rarely does that. 

        Because of how skillfully Steven Universe throws in background details and later ties them together, I learned how to do similar things in my writing, and I applied them in the project I just finished. Like Steven Sugar and Joe Johnston, I included a few things I didn't really have plans for, figuring hey, this is nice, but since I'm not shoving it in your face that you don't know what this is, it's okay if I never come right out and explain it. 

        2. How to portray the effects of an ancient, epic tragedy on an individual and their loved ones.

        Steven Universe has at least 20,000 years of backstory. It begins with intergalactic tyrants colonizing other worlds, obliterating the organic life of any planet they settled. Their cruel matriarchs, the Diamonds, finally faced consequences for this when they tried to colonize Earth, and one of their own finally turned against them.


        We don't know anything about these antagonists until we're more than 75 episodes in. One of them is name-dropped as early as episode 51, but no details follow. We come to know they're important, and later we realize how incredibly vital their influence has been in shaping this plot, but the show could have lived and died without mentioning them if it had ended at Season 1. We already had characters who we later find are living with the legacy of what the Diamonds did, but we didn't need to know about it to care about their emotions and about what happened to them. In fact, finding out about the Diamonds' deeds meant so much more every time we learned about a major character's relationship with them. Context would reveal itself, and then we'd go "OHHHH."

        When HUGE things happen that are world-shaking (or, in this case, galaxy-shaking), every person still has a personal reaction to those events. We didn't have to start Steven Universe with "a long, long time ago" to give us context. We jumped in to see how the characters live now, and we believe them, and in some cases we can see something must have happened to make them the way they are, but those old wounds and past loyalties do not need to be given to us FIRST. We can learn who these characters are, and then when we later learn how they have been shaped by epic events, it has so much more power.


        In my latest book, I also have a group of people who are many generations distant from a catastrophic event that happened to their people. The protagonist did not personally witness it because it was well before her time (more than six hundred years ago), but she has inherited the hole that event made in her culture, and she has a relationship with that sorrow even though it didn't happen to her, didn't happen to anyone she knows, and happened in a place she has never been. It's still a very personal cultural pain for her people, but most importantly, when I write about her I have to show both her connection to it and her distance from it. Steven Universe did that so well with Steven, being that he's also inherited so much devastation that he has no personal context for but can feel in the world around him littered with its remnants.

        As a Jewish woman, I am making this personal by drawing on my feelings about the Holocaust. It happened before I was born. I do not personally know anyone who was in a concentration camp and I don't know for sure of any lines of my family that were killed there. Most of the immigration to the USA that happened in my great-grandparents' generation happened well before the Second World War. And still, when I hear references to the Holocaust, I think of it as something that was done to "us." I'm pulling from that to write this book, but I am also using the lessons this cartoon taught me about how a terrible thing that both did and didn't happen to you can influence who you are and who you become.

        3. A little pacing goes a long way

        Steven Universe is pretty phenomenal in that it expertly plays the long game with some of its reveals. There are a few plot points that were building for seasons before they were finally dumped on the audience, and even though some people guessed they were coming, many others did not. 


        As a show with many secrets, this is nevertheless not just a show about mysteries. This show really takes its time, lingering on how every development feels to the main character and taking time out to check in with the characters, devoting whole arcs to characters' interpersonal fallouts, catastrophic freakouts, post-traumatic stress, self care, and evolving relationships. As mentioned before, some people complain about these episodes where "nothing happens," but I think those moments are everything. 


        So one thing I've tried to apply in my most recent book is not considering the important moments between the characters as if they're indulgent, pace-destroying digressions. If that's what I want my book to really be about, I have to take my time and let the characters have them, and if the plot is important, they will also feel a draw toward moving it forward. I just don't have to artificially drag them to the next plot point if there's something worth writing in the moments between. What's great about this is that when and if something epic DOES happen, you feel it's earned; we spent enough time with these characters that we're excited to see how it affects them, and maybe we've really been able to feel the time stretching like it must have for the characters who lived it. There's no need to rush to the next "plot point" if the journey is important.

        4. A scene that is written for one reason can pretend to be about something completely different

        One thing I've noticed in Steven Universe is that an episode will focus VERY hard on something that ends up being almost irrelevant to the plot. But what it DOES do is bring something very important into the story. Maybe a person, a concept, a weapon, a tool, or an experience someone will need becomes a whole episode by itself.

        Did we really need to see an episode about Stevonnie in a drag race with Kevin? It was a good episode, and it had some great lessons about competition, giving attention to jerks, and enjoying experiences in the moment. 


        But if in a later episode it was important that Stevonnie already had some driving experience, we needed an excuse to have them driving in a high-stress atmosphere, and here it is. Perhaps that episode pretended to be about Stevonnie besting Kevin in a way that mattered even though they didn't win the actual race, but plot wise? It gave us, in episode 89, a setup and an explanation for Stevonnie being able to drive the crap out of a car-like spaceship in episode 140.

        There are many other episodes like this--especially the ones that focus on the human townspeople and some incidentals of Steven's life. This was inspiring to me, so I've tried to learn from it and incorporate necessary plot elements or details into scenes about something else. That way they don't feel shoehorned in, they don't feel like they stick out suspiciously, and they feel organic when they come up again.

        5. A good mystery should be solved by some of the audience before the solution is revealed

        All the major theories of Steven Universe were backed by conspiracy theorists at the beginning.


        And there's not a single plot reveal that didn't have a subsection of fans screaming, "SEE??? DIDN'T I TELL YOU???"


        This is because the writers didn't lead the audience by the hand down a single path, but they did build the reveals on a logical setup so you never feel like they just pulled a solution out of nowhere. Sometimes it's shocking how it's revealed, or details of it are really unexpected, but enough was told as the story unfolded that some people could figure it out. The creators said that when writing Steven Universe, they wanted people to feel that satisfaction when their attention to detail paid off. They didn't want people to feel by and large blindsided by the reveals, because then it feels cheap.


        From this, I've learned that if I want to reveal something, I don't have to worry about trying to hide it from everyone reading, and I haven't failed to write a good mystery if people do figure it out. However, a good mystery also surprises some of its audience too. You can present a series of clues, but avoid hand-holding so people won't feel cheated or condescended to. It's really an incredible feeling when you figure something out ahead of the reveal--unless it was really obvious.

        And, that said? It's actually okay sometimes if YOU, the writer, don't quite know where you're going. The Steven Universe creators figured out Amethyst's origin quite a while after they'd started making the show, but it retroactively made sense.


        As a pantser, I often learn what happens by writing it (instead of writing toward something I am looking for the best way to reveal), and it's refreshing to see with this show that sometimes that approach works too.

        6. Connection through fandom is important

        A very funny, very specific aspect of Steven Universe is how often the characters use other works of fiction to communicate with each other.


        The characters often learn about each other, their values, their hopes and dreams, and even understand concepts they couldn't get before. In one episode, Garnet is finally able to help Peridot understand her relationship by comparing it to a TV show Peridot likes.


        This is especially common with young people; they connect through bands they like, fandoms they're in, and identities they may share, and they can compare themselves or their situations to characters or plot points in stories they've all seen. I'm writing a Young Adult book, so in order to make the characters have something in common, it's helpful to use something like this to help them communicate with each other and bring them together. It can't all be about attraction or childhood friendships that are thrust upon them through no effort of their own. Contextualizing one's life through stories is a wonderful thing, and Steven Universe has so many examples of this working.

        7. Marginalized people need to see stories that resonate with them on a unique level

        This is the big one. There are so many Very Specific aspects of the outsider experience that this show focuses on. From Onion having a bunch of friends who don't talk to Amethyst feeling like a reject until she found her own family of rejects (and learned they were all GREAT), this show is awesome at showing different ways of people finding their own. However, it is of course particularly special to LGBT people because of all the positive same-sex relationships and queer gender presentation.




        We have a happy same-sex couple, but then . . . we also have the classic Sad Lesbian.



        Pearl's relationship had a pretty devastating ending. She lost her partner to whom she'd given EVERYTHING, and it was . . . to a random guy who wasn't even that great, and now she's raising her son.

        It would possibly be offensive to have to see a lesbian character suffer so much and not get what she wanted if she wasn't in the same show as deliriously happy lesbians. But what you get when you only show deliriously happy lesbians is a bunch of people who love what you're doing but wish their own lives could be more like that. If they're struggling, like Pearl does, they might feel a little disconnected from that portrayal. Therefore, having MORE examples of different ways people can live this life allows diversity and authenticity. And it works wonderfully for this show.

        I'm doing my best in my story--which also contains space lesbians, in a very different context--to portray some pretty specific experiences, and to make sure there's some sweet and some sour. I've learned from watching this show how important it is to make every relationship (even the deliriously happy lesbians!) include conflict, so my characters' relationship has never been perfect either, but they're growing to know and care for each other, and it's satisfying partly because it was not easy.


        I can't wait to keep learning from this show. :)

        Thursday, November 29, 2018

        Update on, ya know, the writing stuff

        I haven't been a very active blogger in the past few weeks. It's not just because I'm doing NaNoWriMo and just barely squeaking by with the recommended word counts, though. I'm just pretty overwhelmed with a bunch of stuff that's going on and it's pretty hard to be creative in this environment, while also being able to reflect on that creativity in a satisfactory fashion. I wish I had a way to address the other stuff in a way that would make everybody happy, but I don't, so I'm just treading water the best I can.

        Normally when I would write a book, I'd just write it as time permitted. Usually I would take said time out of my sleeping or ignore something else to work on it, or I'd just happen to get really creative during stretches of my life where I had more time. So this is really interesting; for NaNo, I'm writing a little bit every day (haven't missed a day, though I've fallen short on word count maybe twice, and made up for it the next day), and I haven't really gone on any epic writing jags.

        In a way, I like it. As I said in a previous blog, having a goal also gives me permission to stop. In the past, if I just ran until I dropped, I ran a lot farther, but it wasn't sustainable over long periods of time, and the tradeoff was a lot of physical and emotional exhaustion. It is nice to have something that is easily sustainable, though I think there are definitely days I would prefer to skip my writing session when I just couldn't cram one in. I certainly wouldn't have normally been writing new material while away for the weekend attending a wedding, or on a day where I went to see my grandmother possibly for the last time.

        But in another way, I do not like it. It sometimes does feel artificial, like "okay, the butt is in the chair, now make the story come out, because this is when you have time to do it," and then, like, I have to. And since I stop and start more frequently than I tended to doing it my original way, I definitely lose momentum. Sometimes I find a good place to stop for the day based on word count instead of story arc, and then when I sit down the next day I'm not sure where I was going with that. I have to wonder how different the book would be if some of those scenes had been written uninterrupted.

        Programs like NaNo do encourage a writer to be content with crap words just because they are any words, and I have always thought I was kind of "above" that--not that I don't write crap words (because I absolutely, ABSOLUTELY do), but because encouraging you to just get something down is about getting past blocks I don't really have. I don't have an overenthusiastic inner editor who stops me from saying anything unless it's perfect. But maybe if I had more breathing room to decide "do I need this conversation? do I need to go here? maybe I need to do some groundwork on the worldbuilding or figure out the character relationships more solidly before I write this?" I would write better the first time, instead of feeling like I succeeded just because I wrote some words, any words.

        That's a victory for some, and not one to sneeze at, but I didn't really need that validation. I know I can write words. It's been interesting, though, to be on this side of the experience--I always figured if I ever participated in this program, I'd wipe the walls with those word count goals, churning out huge tomes ahead of schedule like I've always done before. This has given me an opportunity to be, uh, average I guess. Hitting word count goals consistently throughout through discipline and perseverance, and completing my 50,000-word goal right on the day it's due.

        My novel is now at 49,008 words. I have until tomorrow to hit 50,000 to "win" NaNoWriMo. The book will absolutely not be complete at that point, so I'll keep working on it and see how long it takes me to finish, but maybe not at the same pace, or maybe at a more "natural" pace for me. They acknowledge in the program that 50,000 words is very low for a  novel--that books in the market are almost all longer than that for YA and up. 

        When I win, I think I will be a cheeseball and order a shirt.