Site Revamping: Changes are Coming

Despite my post-When Words Collide update that focused largely on my networking failure, I did leave the conference with a lot of good food for thought. Some of the most important things I learned at the conference this year involved websites.

I attended a panel held by Clare Marshall who not only covered the importance of the look of one’s website and/or blog and how it should relate to you as a creator, but emphasized the why of the website. She also mentioned that your blog has to be about you, but not in the way I’ve defined that statement with my blog here.

In a private conversation I had with her because I had some follow up questions about her presentation, she mentioned some foundational elements I need to think about (but won’t bore you with here) and the importance of adding value for my readers. For the record, Clare knows what she’s doing when it comes to all things websites, writing, and self-publishing, so you better believe I listened.

Another presenter at the conference who I unfortunately missed, but who wrote up an excellent blog post about her panel, covered the importance of the website why and the importance of adding value, too. Victoria Smith’s post on Girl Tries Life is well worth a read if you have a blog or ever intend to have one.

See the theme, here? Why and value.

When I came up with my own website, I had a fragment of an idea of what I could talk about. Just me is getting old fast though. I talk about a lot on here, but I can see the disjointedness, and I don’t think I’m adding value for anyone, myself included.

As much as it sucks to admit I’m failing a bit as a blogger here on E.V. Writes, and for that I’m sorry.

In the next few months you’re going to see some changes to my overall website as well as my blog topics. I’ve focused on me since the site’s inception, but I haven’t focused on the best parts of me. Or rather, the parts of me I think could add value to a reader’s experience.

I need to re-evaluate my why, and I need to start adding legitimate value.

Why do I blog? I want to spark discussion with like-minded individuals across the web. I want to share what I’m doing as a creator and hear from consumers and other producers and start a dialogue.

As for value, there are two things I’m highly devoted to: reading and writing. I blog about writing and writing related frustrations on Anxiety Ink, so I don’t want that to be a large focus here. And while I discuss elements of reading there, I want to devote myself to more of that here.

I’m not going to turn E.V. Writes into a review site. Even though my true passion lies with books, that’s not what I want to do. I’m going to figure out how to balance it out because I know a lot about books, I read widely, I have a background in applying literary theory, I enjoy literary theory, and I’m lucky enough to be able to dissect books from both a reader’s and writer’s perspective.

I’m also going to start sharing the best elements of the research I do, which is where my writer side will play further in. It’s about time I delved back into proper writing habits; instead of making more work for myself I’m going to blog about what I’m learning about. Given that teaching is the best way to understand something inside and out this sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

These are wide-scope ideas; as I go and figure out more what’s working for me, things will narrow. I hope you’ll bear with me as I start site revamping. Finding my niche is going to take time and bravery, but I’m ready to take things to a better level.

 

*Featured image: Elgin Mermaid 202… by Darron Birgenheier via Flickr

An Epiphany and A Facepalm

From the day I started blogging on Anxiety Ink to my initial planning for E.V. Writes, I have tried desperately to pinpoint the theme that connects all my stories together. Well, a “marketable” theme that I could put in a single line.

Early on, when I thought of going the indie publishing route, not that that is off the table by any means, a lot of veterans noted that it was important to have a specific theme or a brand. An author brand is essentially the themes and messages that connect all of one’s work, which determines what a writer wants to be known for. A brand sets you apart and helps you could connect to your readers right from the get go.

I’ve posited a lot of ideas to myself that lacked specificity and direction. I can’t even share my poor examples because they are atrocious grasps at flimsy straws.

Needless to say, I was overcome with anxiety because my current body of work is small and I could not for the life of me determine how all of the pieces I have created connect to one another. Saying I write about women who are independent and strong-willed does not exactly set me apart.

My epiphany isn’t as bright as it could be, by which I mean my theme still lacks a certain directness that I need to determine by writing more stories but I finally feel like I’m on the right track, the end of which I cannot wait to get to!

What I write are survival stories. No, I don’t write tales of outdoor adventures about humanity versus nature. Survival doesn’t have to as extreme as all that. I write about the different ways people survive through the struggle of life. Everyone suffers trials and documenting how people get through some of the worst things and come out the other side still roaring to live is what I do. Survival under all its definitions and nuances is what I document.

And now that I’ve written that down, I realize that’s EVERY. SINGLE. STORY. OUT. THERE.

Damn.

Alright. Back to the drawing board. Again. It sounded good at midnight…

Double damn.

untitled by Julia via Flickr. Looks like a classical facepalm to me.

untitled by Julia via Flickr. Looks like a classical facepalm to me.

Developing Resilience

Between work and my personal life over the past few months, I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress. I’ve also been taking a lot of work stress home with me because I’m extremely frustrated with certain team members. I’ve always done my best to leave work at work, but it’s been spilling over a lot lately.

Last month I had a little sit down with our district vice president, and he asked me what my happiness level is at work on a scale of 1 to 10. Sensing yet another mini-lecture if I said what I really thought (a previous answer to a different question had led to a long reply), I gave it a 9.

Later that same week in my monthly one on one with my manager, she brought up my 9 grade, and because I’m much more comfortable with her, I told her I’m really at about a 7. It’s the highest I’ve been at over the past year, since at one point I was dreading coming to work and got stomach pains thinking about aspects of it. Thankfully, that problem has been resolved.

Still, I’m not as happy as my manager and I know I could be –and the root of this problem is not going to go away. So we discussed me developing better coping mechanisms –like focusing on positives and letting things go. I do my best to practice both in my personal life so it makes sense do the same at work.

A little while after our conversation, I came across this tip sheet on my company’s newsfeed called “Build Your Personal Resilience”:

Building Resilience

This is an amazing list of ways to help people build themselves up so that they can better cope with stress. It’s all about making a positive foundation so that when stressful changes occur, one is ready to be flexible and better able to manage. It’s all extremely obvious, but when you’re floundering in an emotional lake, having those points in front of you is the best life preserver.

life preserver by gabe popa via Flicker

life preserver by gabe popa via Flicker

I don’t like change, but I would normally call myself a resilient person. Lately, not so much. I’m constantly stressed and on edge, which is making itself very obvious to me by the fact that my sleep is off, more often than not I am frustrated no matter what I’m doing, I haven’t had any desire to write, and I feel absolutely zero motivation to do anything. I’m just going through the motions of life.

Everything I’ve mentioned so far is part of a cycle. My personal stress –which has been extremely high since November due to some significant life changes– is feeding into my work stress which is in turn spiking my stress levels when I’m away from work and on and on it goes until it is completely out of hand.

The worst part is that it is robbing me of the things that make me happy and relieve/reduce my stress because I am sucked dry of all mental energy.

I hit my breaking point on March 25th. I was jogging and pulled a muscle in my leg. Again. I’m mad because I have been working so hard on upping my physical endurance and I take great pains and precautions to prevent injury.

Obviously, I was ignoring the warning signs because this injury doesn’t just happen (unless you’re an athlete); it’s the product of cumulative stress and strain.

Sound familiar?

Instead of taking it easy and letting my body heal from its minor stress, I pushed and pushed until I can’t even walk on the treadmill without pain, let alone run.

As mad as I am at myself, I’m looking for the silver lining –I’m taking this as a sign that if I don’t get a grip and practice my mental coping mechanisms instead of pushing everything back without dealing with it, my psyche is going to snap and that will require far more care and rehab than my poor leg.

While I’m taking it easy on my abused body, I’m also taking steps at showing myself positive progress. I’ve created a fitness binder full of data and useful quotes to keep me motivated while I grapple with my inability to jog for the foreseeable future. See, creating a positive foundation here!

Next I intend to sweep away all of the physical and metaphysical detritus keeping me away from writing and all of the other things that make me happy.

I’m relearning how to cope with the things I cannot change instead of letting them chip away at me because my foundation is currently not up to snuff. That is changing.

Wry Moments of Inspiration

White TeethI’ve been reading a lot of great books by some fabulous and talented women lately. I just finished Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which I discussed at length –probably too long, but tough– in my last post, and I’m roughly a third of the way through Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Though Smith’s story is a tour-de-force coming of age and a no-holds-barred look at being a person of colour in a xenophobic country, Strayed’s is a memoir about hitting rock bottom and the lengths one will go to crawl out of the dark and try to find themselves on the other side.

What both tales have in common are that they are primary examples of why I want to write. What both women share about the human experience underscores why artists do what they do.

What I’m writing right now can’t compare to White Teeth. I’m pretty sure nothing I write ever will, but the focus of my book is far too removed from it. Wild, though, I’m feeding off of Wild. In RA1 I am trying to showcase that my main character is very close to an emotional rock bottom, which is very difficult because I’m not showing any kind of before. Mostly because her emotional descent has taken place over the span of nearly a decade and I want to catch her in the worst of it.

She’s not a destructive sort, like Strayed. But as I get to know her, get a feel for how she was trained, I’m seeing that she takes bad risks. Risks that could well see her die. I guess that’s a different kind of destructive.Wild

I’ve hit emotional rock bottom, but I’ve never been the type to put myself at bodily risk. My survival instinct is too hardwired. But reading about Strayed’s experience is enlightening, and I have an idea of what I can do with my character.

If I can transmit even half the emotional power of either book into my own writing I will call myself an epic winner. This is why reading widely is so important as a writer. You learn and grow and become better.

I feel bad that I’m almost feeding off of Strayed’s misery, but that’s kind of why she published the book in the first place, right? So others could learn from her? I wish that I’d been writing my story when I went to see her speak in 2013, I would have asked about that.

These are my latest moments of wry inspiration, though I don’t know why I think these two stories are an odd place to find inspiration for my dark fantasy novel.

Selections of White Teeth: Prepping for a Night with Zadie Smith

I’m hardly new to the literary world, and before I reserved my tickets to see Zadie Smith at the University of Calgary on February 11th, I had intended to read White Teeth. It’s nice to be spurred into something you intended to do.

Smith is a force in the writing world. Her name carries gravitas and prestige, you know if she’s mentioned in the headline of an article it’s going to be a good read. Her contribution to literature can’t be overstated. There’s a lecture taking place this week about said contributions and I’m choked I can’t make it.

As I write this post and reminisce about White Teeth, which I have just finished, I am floored not only by Smith’s skill as a wordsmith and translator of the human experience, but by her precognition. I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who haven’t read the book, but I think you can read the block quotes I’ve transcribed without ruining anything. I’ll provide a little context just so you can understand Smith’s power.

As you read, please remember that White Teeth was published in 2000. So you have to think that the manuscript was submitted around 1998, not to mention the time spent writing the book. We all know what happened in September 2001 (not that that wasn’t the eruption of a lot of history, but still).

For the first two quotes, the scene follows Millat, a main character we watch grow up, and his friends who are about 14 years old. They’re on their way to a rally in which the protestors are decrying Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, though Smith never once states that outright. All of these kids were born in England to immigrant parents. Millat is a Muslim whose ancestors are proud Bangladeshis:

“their mission was to put the Invincible back in Indian, the Bad-aaaass back in Bengali, the P-Funk back in Pakistani. People had fucked with Rajik back in the days when he was into chess and wore V-necks. People had fucked with Ranil, when he sat at the back of the class and carefully copied all teacher’s comments into his book. People had fucked with Dipesh and Hifan when they wore traditional dress in the playground. People had even fucked with Millat, with his tight jeans and his white rock. But no one fucked with them any more because they looked like trouble. They looked like trouble in stereo.”

White Teeth“To be more precise, Millat hadn’t read it. Millat knew nothing about the writer, nothing about the book; could not identify the book if it lay in a pile of other books; could not pick out the writer in a line-up of other writers (irresistible, this line-up of offending writers: Socrates, Protagoras, Ovid and Juvenal, Rad-clyffe Hall, Boris Pasternak, D. H. Lawrence, Solzhenitsyn, Nabokov, all holding up their numbers for the mug shot, squinting in the flashbulb). But he knew other things. He knew that he, Millat, was a Paki no matter where he came from; that he smelt of curry; had no sexual identity; took other people’s jobs; or had no job and bummed off the state; or gave all the jobs to his relatives; that he could be a dentist or a shop-owner or a curry-shifter, but not a footballer or a film-maker; that he should go back to his own country; or stay here and earn his bloody keep; that he worshipped elephants and wore turbans; that no one who looked like Millat, or spoke like Millat, or felt like Millat, was ever on the news unless they had recently been murdered. In short, he knew he had no face in this country, no voice in the country, until the week before last when suddenly people like Millat were on every channel and every radio and every newspaper and they were angry, and Millat recognized the anger, thought it recognized him, and grabbed it with both hands.” (Chapter 9: Mutiny!)

Irie is yet another character we follow as she grows up. She is the daughter of a woman born in Jamaica who came to England with her own mother at about 16 and a white Englishman much older than her mother. In this scene she’s in her (what I would call high school) English class and the teacher is making the students read Shakespeare’s sonnet 130. When called on, Irie hopes for a brief moment to read Shakespeare’s dark lady love as a woman of African descent. The white teacher squashes that desire immediately:

“Irie reddened. She had thought, just then, that she had seen something like a reflection, but it was receding […] the reflection that Irie had glimpsed slunk back into the familiar darkness.” (Chapter 11: The Miseducation of Irie Jones)

Hortense is Irie’s grandmother, a zealous Jehovah’s Witness. Though her faith is really a source of humour in the book, there’s almost respect for it, but especially her yearning. Just prior to this comment she’s telling Irie about the young white man she helped bring to the church who has risen higher in its ranks in 15 years than Hortense managed during her full 8 decades of life:

“‘I’ve waited fifty years to do someting else in de Kingdom Hall except clean,’ said Hortense sadly, ‘but dey don’ wan’ women interfering with real church bizness…’” (Chapter 15: Chalfenism versus Bowdenism)

Here we hear from Samad, Millat’s father, the intelligent, promising man born in Bengal, destined for greatness who has ended up with a bum hand working as a waiter in an Indian restaurant. After years of disillusionment in England, the country he chose to move to with his wife, where they saw their babies birthed, this is how he feels:

“‘…who would want to stay? In a place where you are never welcomed, only tolerated. Just tolerated. Like you are an animal finally house-trained. Who would want to stay? But you have made a devil’s pact … it drags you in and suddenly you are unsuitable to return, your children are unrecognizable, you belong no where.’” (Chapter 15: Chalfenism versus Bowdenism)

What’s especially powerful about this moment with Samad is that his twin boys, one he sent back to his homeland to be properly educated as a Muslim, have veered off the rails of the tracks he hoped to send them on. The one he kept at home has grown into a radicalized Muslim, the one he sent away has returned to him an atheist. They are the symbols of this devil’s pact he can’t undo.

Near the end of the book, Samad is sent outdoors to quiet the singing protests of some Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet as he comes upon the oldest ladies in the crowd singing at the top of their lungs about God and their love of him, he finds he can’t quiet them. He’s too envious:

“And every single fucking day is not this huge battle between who they are and who they should be, what they were and what they will be.” (Chapter 19: The Final Space)

And because I can’t help myself, because I think this next statement of Samad’s goes so fittingly with the one above, I must share it:

“He knows what it is to seek. He knows the dryness. He has felt the thirst you get in a strange land – horrible, persistent – the thirst that lasts your whole life.” (Chapter 20: Of Mice and Memory)

Finally, the last quote I want to share comes from a minor character who circles in at the end after entering the story in a peculiar fashion in the first chapter. Here, Mo the butcher has become a recent convert to the radical Muslim group Millat has joined forces with. There are two main reasons he’s succumbed to them, the second of which is the most important. Before this quote he recounts the numerous –numerous– beatings he’s received in his shops from Londoners, and the police he’s attempted to report the horrific crimes to:

“But they all had one thing in common, these people. They were all white. And this simple fact had done more to politicize Mo over the years than all the party broadcasts, rallies and petitions the world could offer. It had brought him more securely within the fold of his faith than even a visitation from the angel Jabrail could have achieved…” (Chapter 18: The End of History versus The Last Man)

Obviously I’ve over simplified my contextual bits but White Teeth truly deserves to be seen as a whole, even though these nuggets are golden. Can you feel the genius here? I am humbled by the different experiences Smith has imparted with her cast. I’ve had my moments of feeling like I don’t belong, but as a third generation Canadian with a good education, blonde hair, and green eyes, it is nothing like what these victims of imperialism have experienced.

Smith’s ability to show the roots of radicalism in both its forms is awe inspiring. I may never understand the acts of zealots, but I understand how they get to that place. I understand that the fragile human psyche can only take so much abuse, face so much derision, before it clings to any ray of hope it can find. And anger, I definitely understand anger, and the roiling need to act on it. While I identify far more with her characters who seek out rational thought and leave behind the shackles of religion, I understand that they too are pieces cast about in a storming sea waiting for relief.

I truly am a believer in the notion that if you tell someone they’re bad and/or worthless enough times they start to believe it. Living in a conservative place I hear comments about immigrants all the time that make my stomach churn. People become self-fulfilling prophecies when they’re trod on enough times, whether the response becomes despair, rage, or an attempt to blend in in whatever way possible. We –we the white people who think we have a right to every place– have to get over this idea and this need we have to alienate other cultures. It’s false, it’s harmful, it’s ludicrous.

Never have a read a book so relevant to the current political climate. Right now many countries the world over are doing their best to help settle the Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland. This is a book the “native” citizens of those countries should read because it might spur their humanity into taking over instead of their prejudices.

I have roots all over Europe, and while I’m fascinated by those ancestries, I am firm in Canadianness. When I think of my history I am not adrift, I know where I fit, where I belong, where I am welcome. The fact that the characters in this book, that the people they reflect in the world, don’t is a horrible tragedy.

In those moments where I think back on this book these are the parts I’m going to remember. I can’t wait to see Zadie Smith, and I intend to write a post about the experience.