Perception

world map

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the fact that I’m a reader and a writer, that I’m fascinated with perception, especially the ways people perceive themselves and those around them. I can’t claim to have a background in psychology, since I haven’t studied it since high school—and we all know that that does not count—but I’ve had a lifelong interest I’ve continued to cultivate on my own.

As a writer, perception is something I have to be aware of when it comes to the characters I create. Even within the same story, I have to know how the protagonist sees themselves and their enemies, and I have to know how the antagonist sees themselves and their enemies. Their inward and outward perceptions provide plot fodder, tension, and so much more to a narrative.

As a reader, it’s good to be in tune to these perceptions if you want to get the most out of what you’re reading. Especially if you’re reading about a character with a lived experience so different from your own who makes decisions you never would.

As a human being, it’s also important to acknowledge others perceptions so you can be a more sensitive individual.

Recently, a few things in my life have culminated to throw ideas of perception at me. First, these quotes from Socrates arrived in my inbox: “The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.” And, “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”

Second, this exchange occurred at my day job when one of my more acerbic clients came in. We chatted while she got organized, and she told me that days before she tore a strip off someone at the Canada Revenue Agency. She followed this up with, “I don’t like to do that to anyone, but I was mad.” Honestly, I can easily see her doing this often. Even routinely. She has a very cutting personality, and she has no qualms about making her displeasure known.

You never know if people say things like this because they shouldn’t enjoy yelling at other people, when in fact they do, but they don’t want you to think they’re horrible. Or whether people don’t realize their own habits and ways of interacting with others. This perception of herself versus my perception of her are so at odds. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. If she was a character, I could easily play with this aspect to add depth to my story.

Lastly, this happened, also at the day job. Just before Christmas, my co-worker, who is a wonderful person but not the most enlightened when it comes to people not raised in small town, Conservative Alberta—and those who identify with those ways—was helping one of our clients who is from the Philippines. She asked about his Christmas plans and then proceeded to ask him if he celebrates Christmas. The man is very quiet and didn’t really answer her verbally, but he did wish her a Merry Christmas as he left.

When he was gone, she commented that it must be hard for kids of other faiths to see their fellow students in school doing all their Christmas stuff with their families. Unfortunately, such narrow generalizations are a routine occurrence where I work. I have learned to just ignore them because doing otherwise is like smacking my head against a brick wall. There are comments that raise my hackles and I have to interject. This was not one of those comments.

All I could think as I gritted my teeth in exasperation was, “People of other faiths actually have celebrations of their own that are just as culturally significant to them as Christmas is to spoiled white kids.” I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out to her that a large part of the Filipino demographic is catholic, which means they celebrate Christmas. That elicited an, “I didn’t know that.” I bit my tongue against my caustic reply.

This example illustrates Christian privilege as well as the western perception that people who don’t celebrate Christmas are missing out on something fundamental. This lack of cultural knowledge, or even sensitivity, drives me nuts. When you know nothing about how other people live and experience life, perhaps you should keep your mouth shut and not make snap generalizations.

In any case, as riled up as it can sometimes make me, it’s important to know that other people don’t perceive the world as I perceive it. And that’s not always a negative. Even here, I said Christmas is only significant to spoiled white kids, which is not true. I know that’s not true. But my own issues with the holiday sometimes allow me to forget that and I’ll perceive it in such an ugly light.

Perception speaks to so much about our society and social makeup. There are so many endless possibilities when it comes to exploring it whether for science, fiction, or entertainment.

What’s your best story about someone else’s perception of themselves or someone/something else?

English Nostalgia: I’m Finally Feeling the Pull

student-life-recap-by-tahmid-munaz-via-flickr

It’s no secret that I graduated from university without a clue as to what I was going to do; it’s in my site’s bio after all. Grad school was my equivalent of hell at the time. Honestly, it still is.

In September of 2013 I worked briefly at the University and did not feel one ounce of nostalgia. I was happy to be on campus laughing maniacally at all the students running around already stressed. That’s not to say that I didn’t have my own stress, just that I was feeling my share of schadenfreude.

Still, people were asking me then if I was missing school. Those who had graduated with me were. Those who still had a semester or two to go were happily back in the swing of things. I was perfectly content doing my own thing while job hunting. I didn’t miss a damn thing about my hectic university days. I was still exhausted merely thinking about them.

It’s been three years. And I am still not missing school. I have no desire to return to school. But I am feeling some nostalgia for my life as an English undergraduate.

I’ve realized recently that while I don’t miss the work, the actual time-consuming, hair-pulling, stress-inducing, sleep-depriving work, I miss campus culture, I miss learning, and I miss meaningful discussions.

Given who I am and what I love, it should be no surprise that my English nostalgia involves me missing book discussions. That’s likely why I was so keen to start a little book club with my close friends, though I’m not quite getting out of that what I had hoped yet. It’s a young club. I also have the Anxiety Ink Book Club to scratch the itch.

I’ve had a stagnant year on the creative front, which is likely why I’m finally feeling the pull. 2017 has to see some big changes for me because 2016 has sucked.

So there, I admit I’m feeling the loss of student life. Adulthood is not what adolescent me thought it would be. Growing up should come with a warning label: Not to Be Taken Lightly.

 

*featured image: student life recap by Tahmid Munaz via Flickr

A Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known

mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr

It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety. It’s not something I talk about a lot, but those who know me, and any readers from Anxiety Ink, are well aware of the fact. It’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life though I don’t take any medication for it. I’ve learned to handle it myself for the most part.

This year, 2016, has been particularly stressful. I’m noticing that I’m falling into some bad habits in an effort to comfort myself. While comforting oneself is not a bad thing, my coping mechanisms are leading to some not-so-great outcomes.

One, I’m closing myself off. That’s never good. I’ve been using my job as an excuse; it’s extremely social and while I do get peopled-out fast, I’m using that as a fall back. It’s ok to be tired, it’s ok to not want to do stuff all of the time, but lately I haven’t wanted to do anything with anyone at all. My friend wanted me to have coffee with her last week and I almost had a panic attack because it was too close.

Now that I’ve acknowledged the pattern I can take steps to fix it. This isn’t the first time and is likely not the last.

Two, and this is the one that’s bothering me the most (which says a great deal about me), is that I’ve developed a terrible reading habit. Every once in a while, when I can’t decide what I want to read next, I pick a favourite book off my shelf. The book I select is always one I’ve read before, and what I like to do is flip through and do a cursory re-read. I also do this when I’m tired and don’t want to read a single chapter of my current book-in-progress (I’m a binger).

My intention is always to simply read a favourite scene of my already-read book before I go to sleep. However, I always end up reading basically the whole thing and stay up later than I would have just picking up my current read.

Months ago I decided I had to stop doing this because it was really cutting into my reading time. My goal was to read 68 books this year –I can’t get that done if I’m not reading new books. I did better with that reason in mind, then fell off the wagon after reading two particularly sad books. I just wanted to be in a safe book that wouldn’t tug on those threads.

Lately, I haven’t been diligent about picking up my current-reads, and not because I’m not enjoying them. I finally had to stare the problem right in the face after perusing my to-read list and seeing all the awesome books I want to read.

This habit of picking up “safe books” is yet another coping mechanism I’ve developed because my life is not without stress right now.

While this coping mechanism is not nearly as worrisome as the other, it stems from and leads to the same thing. I’m putting up walls and falling back into the known because I can’t seem to control things lately. With the books, it’s about me being afraid to pick up a new read because I don’t know what’s going to happen. Picking up ones I’ve read gives me complete and utter control of the experience because I can take away exactly what I want.

Same goes for me not wanting to go out and socialize. It’s two sides of the same problem.

I wish it was as easy as realizing what the issue is and telling myself to stop. I really do. Baby steps are required, but I’ll get there. I’ve already started a new book with a set completion date and I have coffee plans for Friday. As well as a couple of other social events for the month.

The big stressors are the things I actually need to deal with. I’m working on those, though much more slowly.

I have to ask, does anyone else suffer from this bad reading habit? I don’t actually reread the entire book, which would be one thing, I read the parts that will make me happy. It’s an odd and controlling experience I hadn’t really thought of until I stopped to write this blog post.

 

*featured image: mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr.

Three Series Set In Medieval Britain You Should Read

Even after thousands of years, there’s still something that calls to me from ancient Rome. Especially when it comes to literature. I can’t say that I know all the ins and outs of the Roman Empire, I know a little about this, a little about that. But one thing I’ve always found myself drawn to is the epic failure of Rome’s conquest of Britannia and the formation of Medieval Britain.

Then there is my fascination with all things Arthurian. Knights, epic quests, the famed Round Table, Merlin –all of it pulls on my heart strings. Always has. Ancient codes, ancient magic, Welsh history. What is not to love?

Couple my Roman Britain interest with my fascination for Arthurian tales and you can guarantee I’m going to read any book that pairs those two together. Even ones that don’t if they’re set in medieval Britain. I can’t help myself!

There are three series I’ve read (some in-part) that definitely do the Dark Ages justice.

The Roman Britain Trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff

I’ve read Sutcliff’s trilogy most recently, and I finished all three stories, The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, and The Lantern Bearers, in the compilation The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles. While the tales are aimed at a younger audience, I don’t think that should stop any older reader from enjoying them.

I picked up my copy of The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles after seeing the movie version of The Eagle of the Ninth. The dynamics between the two main characters Marcus, a Roman, and Esca, a slave, was rich and entertaining both on screen and on the page. My greatest disappointment was that the rest of the books did not follow these two but instead leapt forward in time to cover other stories about Marcus’s ancestors. Honestly, that disappointment didn’t last long.

What makes the series work so well is how this leaping in time allows Sutcliff to show the rise and fall of Rome exclusively in Britain. The Eagle of the Ninth illustrates the tensions between the newly settled Romans and the old Celtic tribes of Britain who are fighting their conquerers tooth and nail to protect their culture.

The Silver Branch shows Rome at its height of power, but also the instability that has arisen on the island with the heart of Rome so far away and the series of commanders who instate themselves as emperors. The main characters are loyal to Rome, wish to make their fathers’ proud as they follow in their footsteps, while they navigate an unsteady world.

Lastly, The Lantern Bearers paints a vivid image of the abandonment of Britain on Rome’s part and the new tensions that have developed across the land with the invasion of the Saxons. The main character of the last book, Aquila, is particularly broody and deals with the greatest adversity. His tale is the one that will haunt you. He was definitely my favourite.

What ties all three stories together so well is their mutual focus on pairs of young men at a critical point of development.  Their understandings of honour and their willingness to fight for what they believe is right add suspense. Not that right is always utterly black and white, as they find out. My only pique is the fact that Sutcliff’s women are few, and the ones she writes are boring.

A Dream of Eagles Series by Jack Whyte

There’s nothing negative for me to say about Whyte’s series, though it has been a long time since I started them. Each is rather lengthy, but once you’re into the story it feels like it needs to be longer. I have to admit I’ve only finished the first four books in the series so far. The only reason I haven’t read the next two, or the companion stories, is because I don’t want to be done! I’m rather attached to the world and I keep having bouts of separation anxiety.

This series also follows a lengthy period of time; it’s set directly during and after Rome’s abandonment of Britain. What makes it unique in my opinion is how it shows the commencement of the Dark Days of Britain and how one small faction does whatever it can to make a life worth living in the face of social annihilation. It’s evolution or destruction as far as they’re concerned. Moreover, Whyte writes this series without a great deal of magic involved. Aside from some gifts of foresight, even Merlin is more cleaver than magical in this world.

The first books, The Skystone and The Singing Sword are narrated by King Arthur’s great grandfather Publius Varrus. In them we see Publius, a master swordsmith, come together with his former legion general, Caius Britannicus. With a host of others, they form the foundations of Camelot while Roman sentiment is still relatively strong across the island. However, in The Singing Sword Rome starts to leave Britannia and so the people of Camelot form new bonds with their neighbours, the clan of the Pendragons, and define what it means to be a Briton.

In the next books, The Eagles’ Brood and The Saxon Shore, Merlin, or Caius Merlyn Britannicus, Arthur’s uncle, takes over the narration of the series. In this pair of novels we see the next generation of Briton’s deal with their newest enemies, the Saxons, not to mention the daily struggles of leading a colony in a war-torn place. My favourite aspects of these two books is the relationship between the cousins Uther and Merlin, and ultimately how Arthur comes to be born and raised by Merlin. The Saxon Shore especially shows what is meant by the Dark Ages and it’s with tenuous bonds that Merlin manages to maintain the legacy of this forefathers as he struggles under a mountain of personal grief.

The next pair, The Sorcerer Volume I: The Fort at River’s Bend and The Sorcerer Volume II: Metamorphoses, sometimes sold as a single work called The Sorcerer, I desperately need to read soon! Not to mention the companion book Uther that I’ve had my eye on for what seems like forever.

Whyte’s style follows in the tradition of historical fiction. After reading A Dream of Eagles you will truly wonder whether is was all real, whether Camelot really did rise then fall much like the empire that lead to it’s creation.

The Arthurian Saga/The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart

Ok, I’ve saved the best for last because Mary Stewart is one of my favourite authors of all time and her Merlin series is unbelievably good. Yes, the entire five book series is called the Arthurian Saga, but Merlin is the star of the first three which comprise the Merlin Trilogy. This one will always hold a special place for me because it is the very first Arthurian series I read. Plus, the books aren’t enormous tomes!

It’s been a long time since I’ve read them, so my memory is a bit sparse compared to what I was able to recount about the stories above. They all deserve five stars; I still feel strongly about that.

While Stewart’s series is set right after the abandonment of Britain, there is very little focus on Rome or the legacy of Rome. Thus it does rely on its readers to intuit the cause of Britain’s Dark Days. What Stewart does focus on are the Welsh roots of the Arthurian legend; I learned more about Wales and the Welsh language from this series than I have anywhere else.

The saga begins with The Crystal Cave, a story devoted entirely to the creation of Merlin. We follow the magician’s upbringing and learn what makes him unique in this world of constantly-fighting lesser-kings. Near the end we also come to learn of the origins of Arthur and Merlin’s role in his conception. I love how human this book paints Merlin. And Stewart too shows Merlin as more of a genius of his time rather than a man of magic, though in those days those may have been one and the same.

Next comes The Hollow Hills, which follows Arthur’s upbringing and rise to manhood. Narrated by Merlin, we follow as he plays politician amidst the danger of a ravaged Britain in order to keep Arthur safe and to ensure that he is able to claim his rightful place as heir to the Pendragon when the time is right. As hard as Merlin works to keep Arthur’s path clear, mainly by keeping the boy hidden, there are other powers at work wishing to taint the future of the High King.

The Last Enchantment marks the final book in the Merlin Trilogy and book four in the Arthurian Saga. Once again narrated by Merlin, we celebrate as Arthur comes uncontested to power. However, there are evil forces who have made good on their desire to see Arthur’s reign come to an ignominious end –not that we’ll see the end in this installment, just the threads that will lead to it later on. The focus of this story is the court of King Arthur and Merlin’s role as adviser. It’s fraught with tension, especially while the plot of Arthur’s half-sister unfolds.

I’m torn when it comes to The Wicked Day, book four. Mostly because Stewart makes me love Mordred and Arthur, and then she lets their stupid pride get the best of them. But I suppose you can’t change legend or history, depending on what you believe. Merlin is absent from this book and it’s told in third person, unlike all the others. In it the tale of Mordred is revealed in the tradition of Merlin and Arthur in the Merlin Trilogy, and shows his great attempt to become more than an instrument of doom. His failure is horribly tragic and wonderfully detailed.

Finally, much to my surprise, there is a fifth book in the Arthurian Saga! I came across The Prince and the Pilgrim while browsing the shelves at Powell’s Books in Portland when I visited a couple of years ago. I may have said, “holy shit, it can’t be,” when I realized what treasure I held in my hands. I’m looking forward to reading it but I’m still mad about Arthur and Mordred, which is why I haven’t yet picked it up.

I must mention one aspect of Stewart’s series that I find troubling. The depiction of male magic versus female magic really sets my teeth to grinding. Obviously, Merlin’s magic is all good since he works consistently to help Arthur. His nemesis is the truly evil Morgause, who uses her feminine wiles and witch magic against Arthur at every opportunity. Morgause is evil, no question. But there isn’t a powerful woman in the whole series to balance her out. The Lady of the Lake is simply too much of a side player.

I take issue with any storyteller who depicts female sexuality and power as evil, especially when her foil is a largely abstinent man. However, I suppose that is the foundation myth Stewart had to use. And these were written primarily in the 70s.

And there you have it! After compiling this list I realize that while I’ve read a number of books set in Medieval Britain, I’ve only read a few series. I’d love to rectify that, so if you have any to suggest please let me know!

 

*Please note this post contains affiliate links. Should you click on the links and purchase any of the books I’ve mentioned I will receive a small commission from Amazon at no extra cost to you. All funds are reinvested into E.V. Writes, so thank you in advance for your support.

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