Know Me for a Little: The Heroic Protagonist

I’ve been trying to articulate, for a friend, the problem I’m finding in the depiction of a protagonist who does not appear, some sixty thousand words in, to be on the path of personal change.

This is a vague accusation to be levelling. I’d be heartbroken, though, if someone told me that, after sixty thousand words, my characters still read as the same people they were at the beginning of the story. (Heartbroken, and then looking at what I can do to fix that, but heartbroken nonetheless.) How can I not be, when I spent so much time with these fictional people, when they are different facets of me, when I breathed life into the words that comprise them?

I’ve heard, many times, that a good heroic protagonist doesn’t end the story the way they began it.

What does that even mean, though? Why is it important?

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A Dialogue in Good Faith

I haven’t said it here, yet – there are a great many things I’m yet to speak about here on the matter of finding my way back to myself – but I started freelance work this year designing event flyers and administrating the Twilight School website.

The Twilight School, run by Bruno Lettieri (of Rotunda fame, one of the most amazing and generous people that ever lived) is the community outreach project of the Salesian College Sunbury. The Salesian College sponsors something quite unique: an after-hours education service providing classes, guest speakers and other community events, at low-cost, for the Sunbury community. Most of these conversations involve literary personages and community health workers, and the classes run from cooking to writing and gardening to photography. The Twilight School also sponsors the Good Man Project, which is about fostering and developing healthy and open emotional dialogue with, between and among men. Barn Owl Journal is another of Bruno’s pet projects for getting creative writing out into the community, and you can read the current issue here.

(For an event example, you can go and see actor, comedian and writer John Clarke this month for $10 plus drinks, and all you need to do is bring a plate of food for the communal table. We’re talking an evening with a seriously famous, at least in Australia and New Zealand, seriously clever satirist for $10 and however much it costs you to bring a plate of sandwiches or cake. If you’re in Melbourne and this interests you, book now, because places are filling up. If I were living anywhere reasonably close to Sunbury at the moment, I’d go.)

I can’t overstate how important this sort of thing is. The Twilight School is offering and allowing real connection, expression and education in a world where the privileged have an infinite number of avenues in which to communicate yet we are still discouraged from being honest and vulnerable in the company of others.

(When your feminist goddess of a friend is telling you that she’s not sure she should have written about her experiences with depression and anorexia because it’s not appropriate to tell that kind of intimate story, on her own damn website no less, we have a problem with communication.)

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The many skins of writing escapism

I’m writing another post about depression, self-hate and the expression of self-hate via the tyranny of list-making. It’s a post that is just about killing me to write; yesterday it took me until 2 AM (so, technically, today) to wind down from the crying jags provoked by a mere nine hundred words. I will finish it. I have to finish it, because there needs must be a dialogue about the lack of love inherent in the concept of the list of things left undone, especially if our (my) nature is such to tick off the last item accomplished without so much as a breath of celebration, but writing this has much the same effect of an emotional backhand to the face. I don’t want to touch it. I’m cringing and tearing up just thinking about adding another sentence or paragraph. My stomach knots, my feet cramp, my head spins. No, my body tells me. No. Not yet. I’ve been doing therapy for too long to miss the significance of this pain or the way it touches me with such physicality, but I think this post will be written in short doses interspersed with words that don’t hurt: I need those spaces to survive a pain for which any possible anesthesia is worse than the agony itself.

There’s a reason therapy is a process that happens over a period of time as opposed to ten sessions in a fortnight. I can’t survive all that pain all at once. Nobody can survive all that pain all at once. No living being is hero enough for that, no matter the lies books and films and video games tell us about heroes. I will survive this hurt, because I am a hero, but with time, patience and time, and I’m allowed to listen when my body and heart tell me that, today, that pain just might break me.

Tomorrow, though? I can’t speak for tomorrow, but a tomorrow will come when I can pick up those words and survive them.

(Warning: long post ahead!)

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The ghost of a girl

I say it a lot, I think, but I am not the person I used to be.

I live in fear, in fact, of becoming the person I was: that I am still not enough different, that the miserable person I was is still who I am despite my efforts otherwise, that this newness is a fragile shell, thin candy coating over weaker chocolate that melts in the sun. My thoughts and feelings are a trifle suspect at the moment – I am in fact writing this because my new med dose has made me so groggy I can’t think my way to anything else – but this might be a fear I have to learn to live with. I am so much less anxious about many things of late – travelling after dark, meeting strangers, trying new things – which is amazing and something I don’t take for granted, but this anxiety might be forever with me. It’s scar-tissue, a burn healed: the skin is never quite the same as the unburnt skin that surrounds it and never will be. The scar will always be white and hairless, and I will always live with the ghost of who I was. I will always, I think, be a little afraid of that girl. That’s a sad and horrible thing to articulate in words, but it feels like my truth.

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Walk the talk: you’re not alone

I had a conversation with someone about the contents of my last post – in general about the reality of the creative life but more specifically about the anxiety inherent in not only being creative but promoting that creativity. It wasn’t the conversation I was being paid to have – I guess teaching is like that, sometimes – but it was the kind of conversation that makes one sit up and take notice because of the words she told me: I thought I was the only one who felt like that.

I talk a lot about anxiety, here. I truly hope I’m not presenting an image of being anything other than a person who is utterly terrified of every word I write. I do it anyway, because otherwise I’m back to being that person who wrote millions of words as desperate escapism, but I am not a fearless hero. In fact, I despise fearless heroes, for they are not human. (Steve Nakamura is the closest I’ll ever get to writing one, and he isn’t as much fearless as he is well-grounded and a tad reckless. He’s also a foil for the true fearful hero in the piece, Abe.) I wrote 140 000 words about a fearful not-hero who becomes a fearful hero, because the world needs more stories about heroes who break into a nervous sweat at the thought of doing anything remotely heroic and yet have people with faith in their heroism. There are, in fact, not enough words in the world about these sorts of heroes if anyone can ever look at me and tell me in all seriousness that they thought they were alone in being utterly terrified at the thought of blogging or social media or putting their words out for public consumption. Those words spoken by one person are a tragic failure of society. Those words, when they go unspoken by someone who needs to know they are not alone, lead to mental illness and suicide.

We create a world that has a direct hand in the deaths of our siblings in spirit because people can, in all honesty, say those terrible, awful words, and that’s still better, by far, than the alternative: people dying because they don’t know that they’re not alone.

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The demon at the crossroads

(Note: I don’t usually content-warn for specific blog posts, but this one contains a lot of reflections on suicide – not as something I want to do, but what it means to me, as a person who has been suicidal and still has suicidal thoughts, so it rather merits a heads up.)

I’ve been experimenting with how much design I can do without actually paying money for upgrades. As it turns out, a fair bit. Not as much as I want, but more than I thought, as long as I’m armed with Photoshop and Font Squirrel. I didn’t quite realise I could carry over so much of my developing design skills to the web; I don’t know why it took me so long to realise that I could make my own header. So expect more changes and tweaks, because it’s really quite addicting. One day I’ll have the money to either learn how to make a website from scratch or pay for the upgrades, and then I’ll really have fun.

And since I’ve been updating my resume and designing business cards (I’m starting to find myself in positions where I need them) well, new domain. I dare say it’s a better investment than an Ever After High Maddie doll (and cheaper, at least here in Australia). The thing that really makes me smile is the new email address I created through having said domain – finally, I have a gender-neutral professional-resembling email!

(There’s not much to see on my Port Carmila site, if anyone noticed it … yet. Why, yes, I may be editing a bunch of older short stories and turning them into ebooks. I may be writing this so I therefore have to go and do it. Accountability is awesome.)

Where have I been?

I have done something this year I said I was going to do – not many of the things I have to do, mind, but something I wanted.

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Platform 16 launch / Silence, please!

Hi, blog. Long time, no see. Yes, I’ve been busy and crazy. That’s pretty much status normal.

For anyone who is local (Melbourne, Australia): on Thursday night at the Helen Garner Rotunda we will be launching Platform 16, our education-themed bumper edition of local Australian writing featuring community, emerging and established writers. (What’s Platform? Check out issue 15 here!) For no more than the cost of entry, you get to enjoy Helen Garner in conversation with the fabulous Bruno Lettieri, the best literary crowd in Melbourne and pick up a free copy of a magazine that features (in no particular order) the works of Sherryl Clark, Myron Lysenko, Raimond Gaita, John Marsden and Kristin Henry among many talented community, academic, established and emerging writers the world should know. (And a piece or two by yours truly.) The editorial team have worked long and hard on this project, and we’re very excited to celebrate its emergence into the world.

Interested? Download the flyer and drop Bruno Lettieri an email. I assure you, a great night will be had – it’s Rotunda’s big 60 and we mean to party!

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