Small towns have this very appealing veneer of wholesomeness, untouched by the darkness of a major city. Norman Rockwell captured this in a lot of his art, making us feel nostalgic for a time and place that never really existed, except in our own minds. But small towns are actually far more David Lynchian than Norman Rockwell, in part because of human nature – the good, the bad and the very ugly.
I grew up in a small town and still live here. I’ve always seen both its surface appeal and the dark nature that lay beneath. I love it for the same reasons I hate it – it’s small, I know almost everyone and life is fairly predictable.
How would I describe my town? On the surface, it’s very Mayberry – one could fully expect to see Andy Taylor and Barney Fife make their rounds, touching base with residents, tourists and shop owners alike. But once you’ve been here awhile (or grown up here), you start to get the sense that there’s something else lurking, something dark and unsettling, very like that fictional town of Twin Peaks.
When I was a kid, I used to think there were psychic vampires living in the sewers (this was years before that seminal Stephen King classic IT (1986) was published). Under the bright sun, I could see darkness and it was everywhere. It was in my classrooms, it was in the theaters I chose to participate in, it was even in my home. How do you fight that?
Unlike Twin Peaks, Washington or Derry, Maine, the darkness in my town is not supernaturally related, but very human.
……where I can jot down every idea and thought related to it. That journal goes with me as I go about my day – you never know when that illuminating idea will strike. And I enjoy this process because it allows me to keep everything in one place and readily accessible. I’ve got at least three journals for Novel Now Finished and I expect that it will be the same for the sequel. Most of my novels (in progress or finished) have more than one journal to document my journey, from inception to completion.
Writers a funny breed – we observe, we document, we report on our findings, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. I even keep a story idea box, which has become the repository of random items I find in my daily travels. And I keep everything – from scraps of old news clippings to a broken pair of glasses, that box is chock full of potential stories.
The more I write and read, the more I’ve learned to discern the voices of other writers. What does that mean? Well, if I listen to particular composer’s music often enough, I can find his (or her) musical signature in other compositions. Same with a particular writer – their ‘voice’ and writing patterns become familiar and within a few seconds of reading, I’ll know who penned that particular piece of writing.
This is all a part of my education as a writer – the more I read, the more I enrich my writing. And the more I journal the process, the better chance I have of either skipping a step that didn’t work previously or taking it in a new direction.
…..and have knocked out more than thirteen chapters (and leaving approximately thirty more to go). Things are changing, words are being cut (sometimes whole paragraphs) and so far, I’ve removed more than 5000 words (which is about 22 or 23 pages). I don’t delete these random sentences or passages – I keep them. I put them on a separate Word document, in case there’s a gem of an idea for a scene, either in this story or the next one.
You just never know.
Sometimes the notes from my editor are simple enough for me to make the necessary changes without a lot of thought. I dive in, make changes that not only clean up the scenes, but bring in a richer feel, as well. Other times, it’s like pulling teeth and I’m staring at the computer screen, with my eyes glazing over.
You know. Like this:
One of the things I’m hoping to incorporate into the Narrator are the aspects of someone who is on the autism spectrum, specifically, Asperger’s Syndrome. This was a personal decision, one I had posed to my editor. I’m an Aspie, myself, and I’ve never been shy about explaining this to the people around me.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, being frank about it helps me to navigate the world.
As for my story, I’d been considering writing about an Aspie character and in many ways, the Narrator in Novel Now Finished fits the bill perfectly.
Am I comfortable cannibalizing elements of my life for a story? Of course I am. There are things from my life that I’ve put into my stories that demanded to be there. The more I resisted adding personal bits, the more they wound themselves into it. So, in they went.
And as I go through Novel Now Finished, I’ll be looking for places to accentuate her Asperger’s characteristics, whether it’s her speech or her focused attention on a particular goal. I’m also going to look at my own particular habits and peculiarities, in order to flesh the Narrator out a little more, ground her in reality.
It should be interesting.
Writing usually is.
 I make sure to identify my Aspie-ness in a moment that seems ideal, usually, when the conversation has gone from superficial politeness to an actual conversation, where the other person and I are getting to know each other a little better. Most of the time, this engenders an acceptance from the other person. Most of the time.
…..and here’s how it manifests in me – it’s like navigating the world with a paint pallet, but with half the colors. This means I will miss some social cues and over-analyze every word and encounter until my head hurts. The knowledge that I’m (unofficially) an Asperger’s has been enlightening – finally, as I look back on my life, things started to make sense. My unofficial diagnosis occurred in 2009, when three separate counselors in two different cities within a six-week period asked me if I was Asperger’s. Never having heard of it before, the answer was naturally “No”. Being officially diagnosed is on my List of Things to Do, and it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to find sources that would help (one is in Los Angeles).
How did I survive all this time?
Well, as it turns out, theater probably saved me in a way nothing else could have. I got involved with theater at the age of three and eventually joined and several local theater troupes, as well as acting classes in college. This gave me a safe way to explore relationships within context and having a script is really helpful.  Theater is about trust and collaboration – if you didn’t trust your fellow thespians and techies, then there was a problem. In this scenario, I had to learn who I could trust so I could work with them. 
Outside of theater, I tended to be on my own. I liked being with my friends and doing stuff with them, but it also takes a LOT of energy to just be ‘normal’ enough to interact with people and social situations. I’m also an empath, so I can feel what everyone else is feeling at any given time. For example, while I might not be able to pick up on physical behaviors when someone is lying to me, I can definitely feel it when it happens.
What does it feel like to be lied to? That’s a really good question and I’m sure it’s different for everyone. For me, it’s like being sucker-punched so hard, that I’m knocked out of the situation for a few seconds. When that feeling passes, I’m no longer able to view things as they had been. Everything feels fragile – too bright, too dark, too uncertain. Unreal. I’m unable to know for certain that what I’d been experiencing before the lie was true or if it was also a lie. So I will go quiet and shrink back into myself and observe.
And I do that a lot – observing. I watch how people behave with each other and if an action is confusing to me, I’ll find a way to ask about it. This is helpful both as an actor and as a writer, which is another thing that helps me survive, analyze and negotiate this world. As it turns out, I seem to have a pretty good grasp on seeing what’s going on around me. Interpretation is no longer out of the question. Case in point – about two years ago, I watched two people meet for the first time. There was nothing unusual about their meeting, nothing I could point my finger at with any conviction and say, “This was the catalyst.” But something pinged in my mind as I watched them and I remember thinking, This will develop into something, they will be a couple before the month is out. Lo, and behold, they were and still are.
More than one person has expressed to me that perhaps therapy would be the best way to learn social cues, to which I say, “Bullshit.” What could a therapist teach me that real life social interactions couldn’t? You don’t learn how to ride a horse in the classroom – you go out to the barn, hire an instructor and get in the fucking saddle. Same thing with driving a car – sure, there are some classroom stuff that you need to learn, but for practical experience, the only way to learn how to drive a car is to get in the driver’s seat.
Same thing with learning about people and social interactions, which is where theater has been an enormous help. At some point, you have to go out into the real world and deal with real life situations. You find and surround yourself with people you like and feel comfortable with, so that you have a safe way to experience things in a group.
And then you just go and do. Observe people and their actions and behaviors. Ask questions if you find something puzzling. Be honest about who you are and how you process information, if you think it will help create understanding. For me, I’ve found that, in most cases, being honest about my Asperger’s does help to alleviate any potential awkwardness. I don’t even have to go into a lot of detail.
But don’t ever let someone make their discomfort your responsibility. It’s an unfair position to be put in and one from which you might not be able to defend yourself. In those situations, the best way to handle it is to walk away and let them hold the bag for their own poor judgment and behavior.
You owe them nothing.
 I’ve tried improv and I cannot do it to save my life, nor do I enjoy it. Improv is too off-the-cuff and on-your-feet thinking for me. Having a script gives me a sense of structure, which enables me to then build and expand.
 Trust is essential in any aspect of life. However, I’ve also learned who I couldn’t trust. And that’s a separate post.
The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin
The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – Tony Attwood
……and all I can say is that September must have been a lot busier than I remember. I looked for a place to live; I went to an orientation to help build my editing business; on the last Monday of that month, I got my book back with notes; and I’m pushing through some walls I’d built around myself.
Can that take up an entire month? Maybe, but it sure doesn’t seem like it was a lot.
At least, not to me.
October looks to be more of the same – looking for a place to live; working on the notes for my book; push through walls; possibly relocate altogether – but there are some other things to look forward to, as well.
The orientation is now a workshop, where I start taking steps to ensure the success of my editing business. I’ll learn how to execute a plan (I’ve always got a plan) that will help me to secure new and on-going clients; gain more training as an editor (like writing, it’s always an ongoing education); apply for a business license; and how to advertise my business (which definitely ties into the plan).
I’ve got my work cut out for me and I am more than okay with that. This is something I’m not only good at, but enjoy. The written word is still our main form of communication – from web content to fiction to advertising – and there will always be a need for someone who can help polish that to a shine and make it sparkle.
Need an editor? Hire me. Unsure of my qualifications or skill level? Give it a single 5 hour session and see if it works for you. Still not satisfied? I can refer you to another editor, if you feel we are not a good match.
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So, I’ve been in a somewhat lyrical and poetic mood for the last few days. Not sure where it’s coming from, because I don’t identify as being a poet. Then again, both my grandmother and my mother are poets, so I guess there’s a little bit in me.
October 2, 2017
1. In theater, movies and books,
Characters and plot keep us hooked.
But there’s an unsung piece
That threads itself into our hearts.
By use of sound, cadence and pace,
Music is more than the sum of its art.
2. This is a tail, er, tale of two cats.
One is gray and persnickity,
The other is orange and snugly.
Someday, they will become best mates.
…….adding snippets of information back into the story and taking a section that’s summarized and make it into a full-fledged scene. The snippets are back in, after a couple of tense hours of wrestling with phrasing and word placement. That was easy compared to what I now have to do with the summarized bit that needs to be a full on scene.
First, I had to print out the pages that contain all that summarizing. Why? Because it’s long enough that it actually requires its own scene. Therefore, it’s too long to remember it without hard copy to reference. Having a hard copy makes it easier to transform the summary into an active scene. I will most likely be writing this out in long-hand, in a hand dandy notebook that I keep in my backpack. I don’t like carrying my laptop around for something that I’ll most likely be spending more time thinking about than writing about.
It gets complicated.
How does it get complicated, you ask? It’s just a summarized form of the action, it should be easy to flesh out. You’ve got a pen, a notebook, the printed copy of the necessary pages. There are ideas swirling and creative juice going.
How is that complicated?
I’m glad you asked.
I still need to figure out who’s Point of View this is being told from. Is it the retired captain? The vagabond? The lovesick girl? The vampire in the basement? Professor Plum in the library with the knife?
…….and the theory behind the repetition of events and actions is this – until you learn the lesson, you will continually find yourself inside it. This is speaking directly to one’s personal life, of course – relationships that don’t work out, jobs that don’t suit, etc. But until you identify and change one small thing, you will continue to find yourself in those very situations that you rail against and want to break free of.
And it’s not easy – it requires conscious decision making and discipline to carry it through. This applies to your own life as well as to the collective world at large. Change is hard, to begin with, but we are constantly changing from the time we are born. Surely, conscious change can not only be incorporated into one’s life, but embraced as a positive.
I am thinking of bigger issues than relationships, of course, but they are so huge, I’m not sure I could fit it into one blog post. It could take up several. And there so many issues to tackle, that I’m even less sure of where to begin. And change is frightening to a lot of people – so much so, that they’d rather stagnate than make any real positive efforts to experience something that is outside their comfort zone.
And there it is – comfort zones and change don’t mix. In order to get out of the comfort zone, you have to open up and change – a perspective, a piece of knowledge, a diet. Regardless of how concrete the action to change is, the end result is a relative unknown. The unknown can be acceptance or rejection, whether it’s an idea, a person or a philosophy. It’s not so much the end result that incites fear – it’s the unknown reaction to that result.
From personal decisions to global ones, the unknown result from an act of change (no matter how positive or good that change can be) is fear. Where do we belong? Do we belong? Am I not a part of this world? What can I do to be relevant to others? How can I be a better human being in this world? What can I bring to the table?
It’s questions like that which define us. It’s how we answer them that will either elevate or condemn us.
Something to think about.
“Some people think the future means the end of history. Well…We haven’t run out of history quite yet. Your father called the future…the undiscovered country. People can be very frightened of change.”
Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country