Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Funny Thing About Words

As a social work student, I have been exposed to different ideas and theories that stem from psychology. One of them that I have taken interest in is something called self-fulfilling prophesy. Anyone who has recently taken psych 101 probably has a basic understanding of it. Simply put, its the effect words can have on a person. For example, if someone told you something like "you're a bad speller" you might eventually start believing you're a bad speller. You may even start catching yourself misspelling perfectly easy words that you know how to spell. It doesn't only work in negative ways. Someone might tell you "you're a very optimistic person". Later, when dealing with a problem you might think "you know what? I'm an optimistic person. Everything is going to work out."

I know over the years that this effect has worked on me. Both in positive ways and negative ways. And one such moment has been on my mind a lot recently.

Back when I was about 11-ish years old, I was taking piano lessons. I loved (still do, actually) my piano teacher. Before taking piano lessons, she helped tutor me in reading due to a minor learning disability I had. She is one of the kindest, most loving people I know. But, one day she said something that has had a serious effect on me. You see, she was trying to teach me how to use the pedal on the piano. You know, the one that makes your playing sound all smooth and pretty (I'm sure there's a technical term for that but its almost midnight and I'm too lazy to look it up.)? Anyway, I--being the completely clumsy person I am--just couldn't quite get a handle on the whole use of the pedal while moving my fingers, thing. And so, my piano teacher made one offhand comment like "man, I would hate to be the one who has to teach you how to drive a stick shift."

At first, the comment worked positively on me. When I became old enough to get my driving permit, I begged to take lessons from the only private instructor in the area who taught kids how to drive stick shifts. I was determined to prove my piano teacher wrong--not only had I mastered the piano pedal by then but I was going to learn how to drive a standard transmission car, too. And I did learn! Yes, I may have scared my driving instructor a few times but what driving student doesn't?

However, there was a problem. Once I was out of driver's education, I did not drive a stick shift for at least three years. So, when it came time for me to inherit the super nice, stick shift car my mom had been driving before getting a new car, I was a little rusty. I remembered, intellectually, how to drive the standard transmission. And, after a few supervised trips, I started driving it around on my own. I was, though, a little nervous about hill starts.

So, one Saturday morning my mom and I went driving together so she would be with me to practice at some signals with hills... And all I can say is "Dear Future Drivers: Never go driving with your mother until you're completely comfortable!"

Things did not go well. Long story short: I was on a slight hill and... I stalled. My mom tried to give helpful tips. I stalled again. My mom tried more tips, more loudly... I stalled again, and again and again.... And when our light turned red, I was in the middle of the intersection. By this point, my mom was yelling and my nerves were shot. So, we Chinese Fire-drilled in the middle of the road and I jumped into the back seat where I sobbed my eyes out while my mom drove us to safety.

And, with my head in my hands, I reminded myself of what my piano teacher said years before.

And I decide she was right.

I couldn't drive a stick shift car. And I decided I never would again.

For a year, I flat out refused to drive that car. Instead, I let my little brother drive it. A car with leather interior, a six-CD changer, satellite radio, automatic seats, seat heaters, etc. While I drove an old beat-up mini van with AM/FM radio and a jumpy regular CD player.

Now, my little brother is on his mission and my parents gave my mini van away. That stick shift is now my car. Yes, my parents were nice enough to give me a period of time where my mom drove the stick shift and I drove her car during the day but I needed to get back out there and get comfortable with the standard transmission again. I was more than a little frightened. Every time I got behind the wheel of that car, I couldn't help thinking about what my piano teacher said. Every time I stalled, I told myself she was right. I avoided any and all stops where I might roll back a little when I lifted my foot from the break.

But, over the last week, I've gotten to the point where I've been almost comfortable driving it again. Today, my older brother took me out to work on hill starts. Then I made the fatal mistake of driving my parents to dinner. No one, not even in my driver's education course, ever taught me how to down shift. So, I feel slightly out of control of the car when I go from driving fast on the regular road, to driving slow in a parking lot. So... I sort of just keep driving a little too fast because I haven't figured out down shifting yet.

Anyway, my parents dug a little at me for driving too fast in the parking lot. And I explained that, because I was never taught to down shift, I struggle to slow down. And, after a bit of an argument, my dad said something to the effect of "You're 21 years old. You should be able to figure something out on your own."

At first, a got a little teary and thought "yeah, I can't teach myself anything. I'm pathetic."

But later, I just got angry. Because I realized, I totally have taught myself  A TON of stuff. Like, despite a lot of people's help (like my before mentioned piano teacher), I really only got over my learning disabilities because I taught myself to love reading. And then I taught myself to write, too! When I was put on medicine for ADD, I decided I didn't want to take it and I taught myself tricks to help me concentrate in school. I have struggled with anxiety problems since I was probably eight or nine years old. And I never got help for that; I taught myself to get over my silly anxieties. When I went to Germany, my aunt with her four children didn't hold my hand and teach me how everything worked there; I learned on my own. I have gotten nearly straight A's in four semesters of college courses because I taught myself the learning strategies that work best for me.

My dad was wrong--I have figured out plenty of things on my own.

And my piano teacher was wrong--I am perfectly capable of driving a standard transmission car.

There are two morals to this very long, drawn out story:

First, don't let what other people say effect you negatively. Because here's the thing: they really have no idea who you are and what you're capable of doing. Only you know you. I know its hard, but if some one says something that affects you negatively, tell them how it made you feel. (Believe me, I know how hard it is to talk about something like that. I belong to a family who bottles things up and doesn't talk about our feelings. But, trust me, I have learned that its the wrong thing to do. It only hurts yourself and your relationship with others.)

Second, watch what you say to others. I know my piano teacher and--yes--even my dad didn't mean to hurt me. Don't even say things like that jokingly or offhandedly. Because you can never know how the other person might take it. These kind of comments have honestly led to many, many cases of suicide. I know that's the extreme, but that's the truth of it. The self-fulfilling prophesy, when used unwisely or unintentionally, can hurt people in ways you might never actually see or understand.

Its exactly this kind of thing that led me to an interest in Social Work. Because I can't stand seeing people hurt by people the love because of a little slip of the tongue. I hate it that people out there don't even feel safe enough to share personal problems with their own family members because they're afraid of being judged. I have fallen victim to both of these types of things before. In fact,  I still do. I know a lot of that is because I have psyched myself out over the years and become wary of trusting people. But I hope to work through that. And, someday, I hope I can help others through similar problems.

Anyway, my point: Use Words to raise people up. Not tear them down.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Want to Believe

Recently, my parents made the mistake of suggesting that I watch the TV show, The X-Files. I'm really into the whole science fiction thing, plus, I'm slightly in love with the FBI. My parents really should have known better because the show has practically become the center of my life recently. And last night, as I lay in bed, knowing I should sleep because I had a test this morning, I couldn't stop thinking about the show. I'm one episode away from completing the Fourth season right now so I've watched just about 100 episodes thus far. (And I'm not going to tell you the period of time in which I watched all that. I have some dignity to uphold.) But, as I lay there in bed, I wondered what--apart from the whole being a sci-fi show with FBI agents--about the show do I like so much. And this is what I came up with and found extremely interesting:

The X-Files is about two FBI special agents. Fox Mulder is a firm believer in aliens and all things supernatural. The picture is similar to a poster Mulder keeps on the wall of his office. Dana Scully is a medical doctor, raised in the Catholic church, who needs science to back everything. In other words, Mulder and Scully rarely see eye to eye. And they work on what's known as the FBI's X-Files--which are all cases with unexplainable elements to them. So, obviously, when they go out to work on these cases, Mulder is quick with some theory about extraterrestrials or psychics or vampires or anything with a paranormal element. While Scully looks more for medical and scientific facts when formulating a hypothesis.

Yet, despite their differences, an interesting relationship develops between the two. They begin to trust no one but each other. When Scully goes missing, Mulder stops at nothing to find her--at one point, even holding a gun to the Assistant Director's of the FBI head when he believes his superior is withhold important information on Scully's whereabouts. And when something happens to Mulder, Scully even gives up her strict need for scientific evidence while trying to find a way to help him.

By the end of season one, I couldn't deny that the two were in love. But, it was more than that. They were partners, therefore a relationship was completely out of the question. Forming one would most likely mean reassignment and neither of them wanted that. And while they definitely don't sit and talk about their feelings for each other--at least not yet, anyway--and they haven't kissed, you know they feel it.

And, for me, that's the most beautiful part. They haven't kissed, yet. And, beyond a few hugs and a couple of brief scenes of hand holding, their relationship is completely platonic. And they don't need it to be anything more than that. Because their relationship is more than sleeping with each other like most other TV shows, movies and books these days depict. Their relationship is the epitome of friendship, trust, reliability, dependability, and tenderness.

They are there for each other anytime they need the other. Like when Scully found her cancerous tumor and the first person she called was Mulder. Or when Mulder woke up in a hotel bedroom, covered in someone else's blood and no memory of how it got there, Scully left her home at 5am on Sunday morning to drive three hours to help him.

Last night I realized that, like Mulder, I want to believe. No, not in aliens. But in love. Recently, I have become very cynical of love. I can't pinpoint exactly when this emotion hit me, but when it did, it sort of rocked my hopeless romantic world. I wanted nothing to do with the Hallmark channel, the books I normally read, or even my own writing. I had fallen out of love with the idea of love. And it was a dark few months, indeed. I honestly gave up all hope in it. Not just for me, but for anyone. I didn't believe in love.

But Mulder and Scully--despite being fictional characters--are rebuilding the idea of love for me. So I created a little poster for myself, modeled off of Mulder's:

Sorry for the nerdy/dorkiness of this blog. And my lame photoshop skills. But I couldn't help it. I'm in love with The X-Files. ;)


Monday, January 14, 2013

The Writing Roller Coaster

I have often compared writing and my imagination to a roller coaster. There's up and downs; slow spots and fast ones; loops and corkscrews that make it extra exciting. However, recently, I feel like the roller coaster is broken down, and I'm at a complete stop. I mean, I've started plenty of interesting stories recently but none of them have  been clicking for me. They all have things I love about them. They all present interesting, not impossible, challenges. But they all have something wrong or missing and I can't quite figure it out. I've tried to just chug along but I just haven't felt good about it. To be honest, in the last month or so I've even considered just walking away from writing. Of just unbuckling the safety belts and jumping off the proverbial ride.

But, of course, my crazy imagination got the better of me a few nights ago. A new idea. An insane idea. An idea that is now hurling me down the track, upside down and backwards. A story that currently involves THREE things I never thought I would do in my writing:

1. Young Adult

I guess it really depends on your definition of YA. Some people lump YA and Teen Fiction into the same group. But to me, YA is for readers between 8 and 13-14-ish. Also, I think boys tend to stay in the genre longer than girls. I'm not saying they're in some way more immature. I just think girls are more ready to 'grow-up' and move into Teen Fiction which, I think, tends to be a little bit more contemporary and often has a romantic element to it.

But, honestly, I don't really know the differences or even if there is one. Because I sort of skipped over these genres. I pretty much went from reading Junnie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse to historical, nine volumed, fiction in seventh grade. And then moved into contemporary--often romance or suspense--fiction generally written for older audiences.

That's why I never really thought I would write YA. Because I never really read it. I mean, here and there, I have. Like The Pendragon series by DJ MacHale or The Emerald Atlas by John Stephans. But I'm no expert in that field.

2. Fantasy

I'm definitely not talking like Tolkien or Brandon Sanderson styled epic fantasy here. I can't even read that stuff let alone write it. (Not because its bad, or anything. I just don't have the attention span for it.) I'm talking, well, YA Fantasy. Which is silly because I think I may have read one, three book series, that would be truly considered this. Plus The Emerald Atlas. And, well, other than Harry Potter. For some reason I don't really think of that as fantasy. I guess I'm still hoping for that Hogwarts letter.

Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy. I just tend to enjoy it more on a screen than on pages. (Probably because I have no attention span.) Like Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings or the BBC TV show Merlin. Which are probably the two biggest reasons I now want to try my hand at fantasy.

I also never thought I'd write fantasy for the same reason I've struggled with my few attempts at science fiction. The whole creating your own world, thing. I mean, in theory fantasy--and, to some extent, sci-fi--has no rules. You can do whatever you want. Only, most people have this idea about fantasy and when you stray too far it can ruin the experience for the reader. So there are boundaries. But at the same time, you want to stretch the boundaries because you want to be a little different; create your own twist on the fantasy world. Its just hard to know what can and can't be done. And, maybe I'm wrong here too. I mean, I'm not a huge fantasy guru.


3. Love Triangle

Okay, so maybe 'love' triangle is too strong of a word for this story. I mean, it is YA. But I have sworn for years now that I would never do it. I hate them. I especially hate them when one guy is obviously better than the somewhat tool-ish guy. But the girl is still conflicted! (*cough*Hallmark*cough*) They also seem to be running rampant in teen fiction right now. Plus, at least in my opinion, the most well known and controversial love triangle right now is the Edward-Bella-Jacob thing. And I can't stand the thought of being compared to that. Ick.

Some of my friends may point out that I have done a love triangle already. But to them I say: "Emily never liked Snake in that way! So shut up!"

Its funny, though. Because that story, the one with the not-love-triangle, was the last novel I finished completely. And it was a story I never imagined getting more than 10,000 words into. Because its about teenagers--maybe even classified as Teen Fiction. Which I never thought I'd write. It surprised me at the time when I started it. Up until that point--at least since my first novel--I was writing about adults. Since finishing it, I've gone back to mostly writing about adults. But I've never finished one.

So, it makes me wonder. Maybe I've been writing about the wrong type of characters. Or maybe now that I am an adult, and I skipped over all that awesome YA and Teen Fiction stuff, I'm now more interested in it. Maybe its an identity crisis. I don't know. What I do know is, I'm super excited about this story. So excited that I want to print up the three pages I've written (not even the complete first chapter) and run around town, forcing people to read it! And then praise my amazing-ness

I think it also helped that I cornered my little brother, Eric, to bounce ideas off of. He's read a lot more YA fantasy than I have. Plus, he's a nerd and helped me with some magic stuff I'm sure he's learned mostly from video games. I liked that he was interested in it. Or at least acted like it--he never even pretended to be interested in my romance novels. And, when I started stressing about the whole fantasy-no-rules-but-boundaries thing, he gave me the best writing advice I think I've ever gotten:

Just have fun with it!

And I think, with this story, I really can.