That’s why fiction and memoirs sell as well as they do.
Share what you know better than anybody else.
People want truth, and truth comes from life. The life you’ve lived means something no matter how you’ve repackaged it.
Fiction shows a truth about life by changing the situation.
Making the facts stand out like they never could in real life. Sometimes real life can do that too.
You can’t choose your life
You sure can choose characters, a setting, and a plot that shows your truth.
Writing on Medium (where this originally appeared)
Personal stories of facing adversity do really well. That’s the focus of Medium at this point. Fiction is hidden in some back corner.
People come here for stories about people changing
true to yourself does really great here, because the community is
supportive in a way few places are across the web. Medium is growing a
lot still. That has to mean something. Sharing stories of life, of your
truth bring people to you. That’s the story Medium tells us.
That’s a formula many prolific writers on Medium employ.
They write personal stories and other types of posts like poetry, fiction, thought pieces, and interviews. Like Meg, Abby Norman, and E Price — the examples I remember off the top of my head.
Reading can show our lives reflected in a myriad of ways.
I have this allergy to classics.
Most books written before the 1950’s that is. I find sleep creeping up on me like an unfulfilled need. That’s after having a full seven hours sleep and not feeling tired at all. Something about them is dull enough to put me to sleep, and it’s just me. Unlike some, a book before 1950 takes me to sleep quicker than anything else.
whizzed through the first chapter or two. Those chapters were Vonnegut
trying to remember what happened in the war and preparing to write. There was this great exchange that setup the themes to come.
“You were just babies then!” she said.
“What?” I said.
“You were just babies in the war — like the ones upstairs!”
I nodded that this was true…
“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation…
So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry.¹
Then the story started. Throughout I was confused about what was going on. The non-linearity threw me off.
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.²
I ended up grouping the events of the story into parallel stories.
was the war. The other was after the war. And the third was being
abducted by non-linear aliens. That reminded me of Arrival. The movie is
two parallel stories that each follows a linear progression. It’s much
easier to follow than the leaping Vonnegut did. That makes me believe I
didn’t get everything out of reading Slaughterhouse 5. A whole bunch of
symbolism was lost on me.
I kept trying to find a rationale reason for this time hopping.
he’s in the POW camp imaging his possible future. The more likely
scenario is he’s an old man looking back on his life. That distracted me
from looking at other more important things. The skipping around was a
way to give the reader moments away from the conditions suffered in the
A few comical moments made me laugh in the beginning.
But lost their humor. Now, I suspect that was intentional. The dark humor came when some thing dies, and Billy thinks So it goes. It speaks to the universality of death, whether it be fleas, cows, or people.
The Handmaid’s Tale.
It’s about an alternate divergence of history in the 1970’s.
Society regresses to an ancient state. Woman became a possession of men again has it hadn’t been in a while. The pressure on the society was great enough to allow it to happen. The
story looked almost prophetic seeing the way history progressed from
2001 onward. The adoption of the Patriot Act in a time of intense
pressure from the outside.
Some things in the book made me angry.
the way anything could be used to further a decrepit political
ideology. The subjugation of a weaker group by the numerous and
privileged. The impeachablity of the dominant sex and blaming the
subordinate sex. The society described in The Handmaid’s Tale annoyed
me, like the backwardness espoused by ethnocentric people. The
subjugation of woman by other women was disheartening. Though that is
actually a fact a lot of the time. Like the installation of a puppet
government by a foreign government. The foreign power chooses a native
figurehead and puts them in a position of power over their countrymen.
The use of a select portion of the Jewish people by the Nazi’s to police
the ghettos set up in Nazi Germany. And the symbolic position of people
that had no real power.
The Handmaid’s Tale is about surrogacy without modern medicine.
That basically means state sponsored rape of woman with
successful pregnancies and multiple marriages. The fact it’s government
sponsored and enforced leads to normalization of rape. Reading through
those scenes made me confused, because the Handmaid telling the story
was so distant all the time. During the trauma that makes sense, but
after it’s confusing. I don’t think society as a whole was ready to have
an honest discussion about rape when this book was published.
A few passages resonated with my lived experience.
I’ll list those and explain their significance.
reduced circumstances you have to believe all kinds of things. I
believe in thought transference now, vibrations in the ether, that sort
of junk. I never used to.³
I see this happening in my life.
with a limiting condition like Muscular Dystrophy is another version of
reduced circumstances. That probably had some impact on my belief in
meditation. And how ready I am to believe things based on very little
evidence. I need that illusion of having control more control than I do
with meditation and karma, so the situations I find myself in aren’t
quite as helpless as they really are. Control is what we want in life,
but the only way to get that is controlling what you can and letting the
rest go. Holding control over everything means you have a little
control over a lot of things. When all we really need is great/er
control of the few things that matter, like our view of the world, and
the way we move through it.
reduced circumstances the desire to live attaches itself to strange
objects. I would like a pet: a bird, say, or a cat. A familiar. Anything
at all familiar. A rat would do, in a pinch, but there’s no chance
I hang on to things I’ve made.
with abilities I no longer possess like drawing, writing with a pencil,
or walking. And the projects I devote my limited time to like the
stories I’ve written. When
people lose a little of the autonomy that those around them have, they
cling to the limited things that they have control over.
impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say
can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are
too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which
could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully
described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors,
I include too much detail.
is something I encountered in the beginning of my writing journey. My
stories were too muddled with extraneous description making it
completely uninteresting to read. Some blog posts I’ve written were like
that a year ago. Choosing specific details, the right details separates
first-hand experiences from imagined situations. But choosing that is a
mental process so replicable. That’s what using senses in your writing
is all about. Choosing the right details to put into writing the
transport you there, and make something more real than fiction ought to
You can only be jealous of someone who has something you think you ought to have yourself.⁶
We want things we believe we deserve.
things don’t happen how we like, we fixate on those qualities we hoped
to attain but failed at. Then we see it everywhere around where it
wasn’t noticed before. Jealousy happens when we want things we can’t
have. Other people that have those things become the focus of our
jealousy. That reminded me of the rampant jealousy I feel, because
there’s so much I can’t do that I ought to be able to do. You can be
jealous of anyone if they have something you believe you’re entitled to.
The costs of those things are lost, just the object is remembered. Like
writing everyday requires giving up other things like reading articles,
social media, checking e-mails, listening to music, or
responsibilities. People just remember the accomplishment of making
progress. The cost is payable, and the benefit is attainable.
The arrival of the tray, carried up the stairs as if for an invalid. An invalid, one who has been invalidated.⁷
People can be invalidated by taking away their autonomy.
an invalid suffered from an injury or disease. That was a powerful
reminder of the fact that people can only take away what you allow them
to. I have always been impaired by Muscular Dystrophy. My struggle has
been making people see beyond my physical appearance to the stuff
inside. I’m like everyone else on the inside. The only thing wrong with
me is the external — my muscles are weak. Fighting for what I am, the
person inside to be seen has been with me my whole life. What other people think about my ability doesn’t change the facts.
is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven,
was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the
particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract
Love is a concept that we need to believe in.
a security blanket that we will find this magic person that makes us
feel loved the way our parents loved us. It’s like hope. It’s like God.
It’s like dreams. Those concepts are what we need to keep living life.
They are the promises that keep us going. Without them there is no
life — there is on death — there is no meaning. Things that are
necessary don’t fade away. They endure. They become justified no matter
the circumstances. They grow to meet challenges. They are immune to the
wear of time. They don’t fade away. There is no recourse in life but to
believe, to have faith that they are always right and pure. Then to see
things just right so that the illusion never blinks out of existence,
because they are necessary for life.
a refugee from the past, and like other refugees I go over the customs
and habits of being I’ve left or been forced to leave behind me, and it
all seems just as quaint, from here, and I am just as obsessive about
it… I become too maudlin, lose myself. Weep.⁹
Things might change but there is always something left of the old.
isn’t to wash clean a chalkboard and write something new. Change is
painting over an old masterpiece and leaving bits of the old in place to
marry with the new. Things don’t vanish. They are reinvented, tweaked,
and damaged, but they never disappear from existence no matter how we
cling or try to forget. Things never leave the world. They are remade
over and over. Transformation isn’t transient. It’s the constant state
of life. Even death isn’t stagnation. It’s a redistribution.
Researching that way isn’t something that motivates me.
A recent Kris Gage post refutes the concept of motivation, but I’m not convinced. Motivation can be built by working with motivation or without.
I’ve already chosen a method to live life on my own terms, meditation.
But this article isn’t about writing articles on Medium.
It’s about things I’m trying to change about myself.
Reading one of Gage’s posts got me to this article is Psychology Today about codependence.
I dived into these linked articles from that one.
Identify Associated Thought Patterns
It was revelatory, reading this article.
I am codependent.
Codependence starts with looking for approval instead of love that wasn’t easily accessible. That quest for approval starts with being perfect and hoping for approval.
That never came even when I was perfect, the miniature adult I became in place of my true personality. I followed rules like they were my bible. Telling on others became my pass-time. Getting better grades became my obsession and point of jealousy.
We’re all motivated to be loved as children.
Children in that type of situation subjugate their true self and deny preferences long enough that they barely exist at all.
They simply take on the preferences of those closest to them in hopes of acceptance.
For years, when people asked me my favorite color my answer would be “I don’t have one.” Same for if I liked something. I don’t know. No one told me.
The last part was something I figured out how to hide.
I became frustrated that nothing I did was ever good enough.
Then I learned to protect myself other ways.
Manipulation, Passive-Aggressiveness, and Evasion.
I got away from a situation when it started to deteriorate imperceptibly to most people. I became attuned to other people’s unexpressed emotions and found ways to manage those to protect myself.
I revealed secrets to protect myself from criticism. I blamed other people for everything going wrong.
What could’ve been bad enough to teach me those methods for my own protection?
It was criticism and withholding approval.
That seems innocuous in relation to those responses, but it worked that way.
That’s why I’m such a mess in some areas of my life, my social life being the biggest thing.
Those destructive thought patterns innervate my personality, intellectual understanding of the world, and the way I interact with my environment.
Identify the Cost of stagnation.
I crave approval to such a degree and get hurt from criticism too much.
I try to be so smart all the time so people will want me around.
I have trouble trusting people, because at some level I believe I don’t deserve them to help me if I don’t give up something in the process.
I give up stuff in the belief it’ll make people like me. Invariably that doesn’t work, and I get frustrated.
I think too much about what other people want and deny what I want.
I’ve been doing those things for so long, I have trouble knowing who I am.
Identify the Rewards of Growth
Those were things that I couldn’t have realized without meditation.
Therapy, religious belief, or other forms of meditation would’ve also gotten me there.
Therapy isn’t easily realized given the fact I can’t speak anymore.
Following a religious document isn’t conducive with my rampant trust issues.
I’m working on detangling those systems I developed for protection to find the person I am under it all. It’s a continuation of the path meditation put me on.
This is part of fixing myself, finding the things off with my mental landscape and rectifying those faults and frailties.
I have a skewed perception of my personality.
Something is wrong with me, and I’ve always been trying to fix it in hopes of being loved.
Changing into a better person would fix everything wrong with my life. That’s why I started.
Being a better person will help, but being loved doesn’t hinge on that. I know that now.
Going through with this is terrifying.
I have no idea what exists beneath this artifice erected over all these years.
I feel a sense of loss and growth that doesn’t fit together.
We were supposed to be friends like before — before she’d gotten serious about dating. It was apparent we wouldn’t be best friends anymore. It was hard being best friends with a girl, especially if you’re a guy. Everyone thought we were together. It didn’t matter that Claire already had a boyfriend —seeing us together was enough. It was annoying.
Claire rang the doorbell. We were going to talk face-to-face after months of texting back and forth. It had to be something big like the bf.
Claire was in a trench and jeans. Pulling her inside, I got us a bottle of wine like she’d wanted. I’d always thought her bf, Adam wasn’t good enough for her.
“Adam is remote. I have no idea what he’s thinking. The sex is great, but that’s not everything. Something is missing.”
That was a touchy spot for Claire, not getting what she wanted — wondering if it meant something.
“I don’t know what it means. He shut me out.” Her eyes were wet.
It made me angry. Why are you hurting Claire like this, Adam?
Claire kneaded her eyes and tried to smile for me. That hurt, like she stabbed me. I didn’t want her acting for me like every other man. I went and sat next to her.
“Claire. You don’t have to bottle everything up to protect me. I’m your friend. Nothing you do could hurt me.”
She looked at me with a sad smile. I put my arm around her. Claire sobbed. I kissed her hair, whispering the words she needed. Her tears quit, and she looked at me. Sadness was there, but the dread was gone. In moments like that, I wanted to kiss Claire like the world depended on it, but I wanted her friendship more than her body.
We walked through the garden interspersed with topiaries and dramatic lighting. It was dark. Everything was as it should be — the pyramid of latticed glass and baroque buildings ahead of us.
The grass ended with stone. A scream went through the square. My heart jumped into my throat. We froze, looking to that sound and things happening — masked men around the grounds — far away yet dangerous. I held Jack’s hand tighter. Something sailed into the hands of the masked men. Jack pulled me along. Looking over my shoulder, I saw what was thrown over — guns.
I spun my head and felt a splash of cold on my face. We sprawled on the ground as people streamed by. “Jack honey, we have to move.”
He squeezed my hand a little.
I looked at him on the ground next to me. My face drew tight, and my eyes widened. I felt the wetness splashed across my face and drew my fingers back red. Jack sucked in great breaths of air as blood trickled out from his chest. We were in the open before the pyramid.
Holding Jack head, everything around exploded with gunfire. The glass shattered and stone erupted, evading the rush of bullets. My world was the tiny bubble that contained Jack for the moments his life slipped through my fingers. “Hang on, Jack. A little longer for me? Please, Jack.”
It was too late. His hand went limp in mine, and he was gone. I went through that day again and again, pulling my hair out at what we could’ve changed. Someone grabbed me round the middle, and took me into the pyramid.
It was a dinner party at Ben’s, a bunch of guys from Amherst together again and our girls. We were all that age — between maturity and adulting. I was the dude without a woman in tow. Everything was good being single. There wasn’t someone giving me judgmental gazes like my mother. There was hooking up and enjoying life. Everything was right with the world being alone most nights. Every so often, I had a hot girl in my bed.
Stagnation wasn’t in my vocabulary. That’s when I looked at Ben’s girl. Sonia looked familiar. Familiar like a girl you’ve been in bed with — dark hair to the middle of her back, green eyes making me wonder, and lips I remember. I could see it. How she darted looks at me and licks of a smile. She was a girl that lay in my bed — no question about it.
She was with Ben now.
I wanted her. Sometimes limits feed your hunger. I wanted a bite if not a kiss. I looked into her eyes and remembered.
It was rainy. Delicious food filled our bellies with warmth. The cab stopped outside my brownstone. The rain pelted us wet by the time we were inside. I didn’t want our usual bottle of wine. I held her wet neck, and we kissed. I carried her up the stairs to my bed with her playful squeals filling my ears. The light rain struck a beat on the windowpane and the gorgeous Sonia smelling of rain. And now we were sitting a table’s width apart, sneaking looks. I wanted her more.
It wasn’t to be. We could never be together with Ben dating her.
The boundless ocean stretches ahead. Its jagged, mirror-like surface reflects back the pale orange sun. The boat moves at speed through gently rolling waves sending up a spray of fine mist. On every conceivable surface the salted droplets land, a coating of flaky, crumbly mineral grows. The salt covers my lips and arms with crystalline layers. My grip on the railing provides purchase against the cool wind and damp. The sun helps too. Water maids accompany me on this journey, swimming in the wake and ahead of the bow in the form of dolphins.
I peer to the upper deck, flying high above, well over the worst of the spray and wind. Perched upon this, my constant companion whom I couldn’t do without. She gazes out past the local scenery with the aid of binoculars, to some far off wonder beyond my grasp. From that outlook, another horizon is visible a bit farther than my own. She takes a more pedestrian view by carrying the eagle-eyed tool off to her side. Her other hand forms a shade visor over gleaming eyes. A shift in the oncoming rays turns Claire’s body into a silhouette of a goddess on the harsh radiating light of our life bringing sun.
She comes down from her heavenly perch, nestled upon the higher deck. The ease and grace with which she moves in nothing short of perfection. Claire is down at the deck to exchange words with me. The sweet sounds of her irresistible intonation wash over me. I hear her words, but that’s not everything. This exchange has the surprising quality to put me at ease.
Claire leads me to the deck cabin by her usual mannerisms — consisting of feather light touches on the inside of my palm and arm — knowing exactly how. The deck cabin bolsters a pendulum sort of door, swinging back and forth with the lightest of breezes. Claire pushes the door aside as I miss her contact for a brief moment, moving through the filter screen of a doorway. The door swings through on its pendulum arc.
In that instant, Claire disappears into the body of the ship. I push through the door expecting the truth of Claire behind, yet she is not to be seen in the darkened chamber. I walk through the room looking for her only to be disappointed. Claire is nowhere below or above decks. A looming dread comes over me. The rhythmic slapping of the door ends with a loud bang. I look back to see nothing — an empty wall in place of the door.
I look for an escape route from the dark, desolate chamber entombed within the ship. The transom windows are inches beyond my outstretched fingers. The blackness is held at bay by late evening light coming in. Chalk markings of an indecipherable and crude tongue graffiti the walls. Paper underfoot crumples and crunches with each step. I sink to the ground in a state befitting my current desolation.
Wetness encroaches my battlements from every front. A deep red sludge, a curse adding to my sad state. With each passing breath and moment, my heart fills with revulsion. The impending creep of the fluid sends me up and away. The red concoction comes higher, soaking into more of the paper under footing, turning it into a blood red mush. I end up tasting the fluid to verify my suspicion that this is blood from some massive creature.
The transoms let in something else, filling my prison just a bit faster. The golden amber liquid comes in by waterfall. The intense smell of liquor wafts up into my nose. The liquid flows in with the goal of drowning me as sewer rat. The onslaught goes on without a sign of relenting, intent on my destruction. There must be a method escaping my thoughts that can rid me of impending doom.
The transom is my salvation. I get myself soaked through and through grasping desperately at the window inches above my attempts. Wandering from light to light, I find a step where there is none to reach my salvation. I pull myself up with as much strength as my frame can manage, up to the deck. Halfway up, a tug on my leg slides me back. The next so forceful, my head reels up into glass transom. This, my end.