My Life and Taylor Swift’s reputation

 

I’m listening to Taylor Swift on repeat since the release of her sixth album reputation a few weeks ago. I have always looked up to her as role model of success and creativity. That seems a little ridiculous when I started writing at 23, a full six years after Taylor Swift made her debut. It seems impossible I’ll ever get anything published at this point, but I’m going to try. A lot of things motivate me. So far, I’ve never been able to get those reasons all fleshed out on the page. This is my attempt at doing just that with a few references to Taylor Swift’s musical journey as seen through the eyes of a fan.

 

reputation has a deeper theme that becomes clear after listening to Taylor Swift’s previous albums. There’s a big difference between the version of you that’s projected out to the crowd, and the real version people close to you see. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust discusses various identities you go through as you change and grow through life.

 

reputation then goes a step further by saying there are multiple ways to see that duality. The difference between the best version of you and the worst version, light and dark for the sake of brevity. Then the version you put on social media and the real you. That feels like a cheap attempt to tap into the current Zeitgeist. The songs aren’t about fabricating an identity on social media. I admit showing that with music is tricky. But Taylor Swift accomplished that in You Belong With Me (from Fearless). Turning that into a whole album is very difficult.

And the lighter parts are easier to share than the darker parts. That’s because of the social unacceptability, and the fear that indulging in darkness can make you into a horrible person. Of course fearing you’ll become evil is a sign of goodness right?

The struggle is finding the courage to be yourself with people spouting their ideas of who you’re supposed to be.

 

I could make this into a post supporting that conclusion. The cover booklet of reputation starts with a brief note explaining the meaning of the album. That storyline feels superfluous.

This is about my experience with that transformation. Starting overly concerned with what a few people thought to not caring what other people think about me.

 

As a teenager and until a few years ago, I would say I don’t care what other people think. I didn’t fit in with other kids. Those themed days we had in high school. Well, I didn’t participate. I didn’t stay in the corner assigned to disabled students. I wanted to go to regular classes with non-disabled students. I was in all Honors classes. I scored academically like a normal students. For all intents, I refused to be typecast. That seems like not caring what other people think, except that was what my parents expected from me.

 

My parents never put pressure on me to achieve academically. I was just trying to be like my parents to feel closer to them. That’s something I always wanted to feel, love. Pursuing the same aspirations made me feel closer to them.

I always craved affection in a tangible form.

 

In order to feel something from the reticent displays of affection provided by my parents, my unconscious amplified my emotions. That way I could feel close to them. That’s the biggest problem I face, extreme emotions. It’s even bigger than my physical condition of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I’m not trying to level charges against my parents. They tried the best they could and the best they knew. Without them I wouldn’t be alive today. There’s no doubt in my mind.

 

Those extreme emotions made me very clingy to friends and people in my life as a kid. That meant my friendships didn’t last very long. It was an intense friendship in my mind but really annoying to my friends. It was frequently like the friendship between Erika and Clementine in Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty which I happen to be reading at the time of writing this.

 

Then I went into the phase of just following approved behavior.

 

Being that strange was too painful. All my emotions became subdued and locked away. The resulting anger from suppressing everything turned inward. Wondering what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why am I messed up?

 

That’s what we train men to be in this society. To suppress emotions we don’t deem acceptable for men. Anger is allowed. Slight sadness. And happiness. Everything else should be suppressed away or bad things happen. Being alone. Insults and perhaps the insinuation you’re gay. That means everything has to be converted to anger and thus become acceptable. Slowly that’s starting to change. Suppressing emotions is unhealthy. It leads to trouble expressing emotions, and difficulty explaining what’s going on inside. That leads to troubling things like suicide and loneliness.

 

Being socially acceptable is the goal of Taylor Swift’s eponymous first album. It’s about innocence, love, and anger that’s a little cute. That’s how this story starts. Fearless and Speak Now follow that same pattern and camouflages the rest.

 

A song like White Horse shows exactly what I mean. I wasn’t listening that close to the lyrics, but it didn’t sound sad to me. It sounded like it was saying I don’t want you anymore. The music video shows a sad messy breakup.

You try going on thinking everything is good, but something wrong happens. That error is what we call life.

 

My isolation and social ineptitude continued through high school and three semesters of college. Then reality caught up to me. I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Around 18–24, people with my disease get into breathing issues. I got my first pneumonia. It was a few days in the hospital. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. My dreams of going to college were dashed. I tried summer classes and online classes. My health requirements were too much, 8 hours sleep and breathing treatments.

That sent me into depression.

 

My extreme emotions make me highly susceptible to depression. If you’re feeling too much, it’s easier to just tune everything out than deal with it. That especially happens when an onslaught of bad emotions hit me. There was nothing except clearing my lungs and airways, sleeping, stuffing my stomach, and watching C-SPAN. I was steadily losing weight from expending too much energy breathing. And I was home alone with a PCA, all day.

 

Three years into my depression, I got a trach. That was freaky for the first two years. I couldn’t sleep overnight because a nurse was sitting in my room. An emergency situation happened in the first two months, I couldn’t breathe. I got sick every few months after. It was deadly not to care, the way depression made me. I needed to mediate to stay calm and not go crazy from breathing through a tube that could clog at any moment. It was a new experience, having a trach and a ventilator to breathe.

 

There was one good thing to those first years with a trach. I got a stomach tube. Slowly I got up to weight. From 63 to 117 pounds.

 

My back is really messed up. It’s curved like an S because my back muscles weakened too much before my back was fused to a stable state. After surgery, my curvature was 50 degrees. That surgery happened when I was 15.

 

That means getting a trach tube to fit my curvaceous airway is tricky. My brilliant ENT doc found a trach that worked for me. Unfortunately, that trach tube is really tricky to change. With my curvature, any correctly fitted trach is difficult to insert.

 

My brilliant ENT doc had trouble changing out my trach.

 

There are several layers of flesh between the outside of the throat and the airway the trach tube sits in. So the doc pulled the old trach. He tried putting in the new trach. It was a ton of force on my neck. The connections between my airway and chest were hurting probably at five out of ten, but let me tell you that was nothing. The trach tube didn’t go in.

 

When changing a trach, they always have a smaller trach if the correct size can’t be inserted. That smaller trach went in. At that point, I hadn’t breathed for about a minute.

 

My ventilator was hooked up. The breath didn’t come. I had intense pain in my neck.

 

The trach had gone between the layers of flesh in my neck. The trach wasn’t in my airway. I told them I couldn’t breathe. I was looking at this innocent ENT resident across the room from me.

 

The doctor pulled the trach. He called for a trach tray to re-establish my airway. Luckily, that wasn’t required. My brilliant ENT doc got the trach into my airway finally. Then, I was breathing again. I remember the events with a precision that happens when you almost stop breathing.

 

I also remember what was going through my head. I looked at that innocent resident. I wondered what would be the emotional fallout for him, that fellow Indian if I died in that room.

 

I’ll ruin you.

 

At least my life would have a lasting mark beyond the heartache my passing would cause. I was desperate for my life to mean something in those last moments. I no longer cared if it would be something good. Facing death strips everything away and leaves behind something you can’t guess.

 

Then an eerie calm took over my head.

 

So this is the last thing I’ll see.

 

My vision went yellow. It was like looking through amber at the world. Then everything started to look normal again. The resident was scared. Man was he scared.

 

That’s probably projected emotion. In difficult situations, you project your emotional states on other people or things, effectively removing them from your person.

 

I stayed the night and had to be put under to get my correct trach put in.

 

That made me question my life. Which is common after what I experienced. Is this what I want? Sitting around and just surviving day to day. What’s the point? Keep in mind I was depressed around that time. That’s when I thought about what I could do. I have a ton of time to think about stuff when people do medical things to me. That became meditation, at first. Then something that had been a desire from years ago resurfaced. That dream was to write science fiction.

That’s when my transformation starts.

 

Taylor Swift’s trajectory radically changed with Red. That album was happy at times, but it was usually sad. The end of a relationship, liking danger, sadness, and the fact of love love being elusive. Off hand, I remember just a few songs that were happy, Begin Again, State of Grace, and Everything Has Changed.

 

I wrote the most acceptable science fiction story possible and heavily obfuscated the darker elements. It was a crisp, clean, bright future. That doesn’t make a good story in itself. Then, I added memory and cryosleep elements to make a story. I thought I wasn’t good enough, so I wrote heavily wrought prose.

 

Some quirks were there because my parents have basically reversed gender roles. My father takes care of people better. My mom likes dealing with things instead. My father is more emotional than my mom. They even stand like the opposite gender. My mom stands on both feet. My dad favors one leg. That explains the strange gender roles I put in my first book.

 

I noticed a few other strange things. It could be argued that the supporting female character was actually the protagonist. In the length of the novel, she’s the hero. But in each individual scene, the main character, a man is the hero. Anyway, I enjoyed writing from a woman’s perspective more than I thought possible.

 

That’s based on me being hetero-normative. I can love women in a romantic sense. That extends to writing from a woman’s POV. I can’t have a romantic relationship with all the duties I need to complete for my survival. I even wrote a song that states my case. It will probably be really sad. I’m self-conscious putting it up here.

 

The Way I Remember You

Chorus:

You go your way

I’ll go mine

In the end what happens, who can say?

But I’ll never forget you,

The way I remember you.

Love escaped me in the dark.

Lost to the brightness of day.

Light wasn’t there for me then.

It never came my way without you.

I can never be without you

Not even for a day.

Everyone around us

Has only what we can dream.

We can only be onlookers

On what everyone else has seen.

Chorus:

You go your way

I’ll go mine

In the end what happens, who can say?

But I’ll never forget you

The way I remember you.

We never know when our time will come

It’ll not be in forever, but some day.

Until then, we try to experience what was lost

What we can never find again

The love of another we can’t be without.

The trouble we can’t live without.

There’s accusation in those eyes

Eyes I’ll never see again.

Chorus:

You go your way

I’ll go mine

In the end what happens, who can say?

But I’ll never forget you

The way I remember you.

 

That was fun, right?

 

If you love someone that’s out of your reach, than imitating them makes you feel closer to them. Like reading something, they like reading. Doing something they like doing. It’s like the fan wanting be like the star. And the closest you can get is falling in love. Which is what happened in Black Swan, this compelling psychological thriller movie that came out in 2008.

 

Nina wants to be a natural dancer like Lily. Nina dreams of sleeping with Lily.

 

In Taylor Swift’s 1989, she starts to own everything that has gone wrong. She might get hurt. People might not understand what’s going on. All that doesn’t matter, because she just wants to be herself. It doesn’t matter what that means to everybody else.

 

My second book, the Remember Sequel was an excursion into everything that Remember wasn’t. With Remember, I avoided sex. The characters from Remember were stumbling around in the dark while everything miraculously worked out for the best. In the sequel, they were self-aware enough to see the end and help it along.

 

I’d focused a ton on making Remember based in reality. That limited my science fiction. In the Sequel, I abandoned that constraint.

 

The first character I wrote in the Sequel was sexy in everything she did, like Tiffany in Truly Madly Guilty. And she was looking for something she couln’t have, durable love. She was a compelling character I enjoyed to write.

 

I abandoned the Remember Sequel on the drafting table. It wouldn’t force me to grow as a writer.

 

Taylor Swift’s reputation has more allusions to sex than her previous albums, in songs like Dress and So It Goes….

Wildest Dreams was the closest to that from 1989.

 

Then I started Book 2, The Trouble with Dreams. It has a deep thesis that a perfect life doesn’t exist. And involves more sex. Sex is one of those things that should be hidden away to make people comfortable, like religion, race, mental health, and sadness. I still didn’t have the guts to actually write erotica yet, but I had to read some not to accidentally write it. Labels mean a lot.

 

What’s in a name except meaning?

 

A few months ago I would have said nothing is in a name except a shared definition.

 

Then I finally wrote something pieces that looked professional. The first was kosher. Then second was PG-13. The fourth was erotica. It had to happen eventually, right? I have no firsthand experience, but it seems nice. And it’s a part of growing up. It’s the modern day’s rite of passage like hunting was long ago.

 

I can write whatever is required in service of a particular story.

 

The shedding of what other people think of me has been the biggest evolution of my writing in these five years I’ve been at it.

 

Mission accomplished I think.

 

GK

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Evolution of My Writings

 

“Write what you know.”

–Mark Twain

 

That’s one of the most used writing phrases out there. It’s become a cliché. But what does that mean? Banalities frequently stick in my head. There’s a bigger lesson to be learned from simple phrases such as that one.

 

Writing that reflects first-hand experience feels more real than pure fiction. What’s the cause of that feeling? I ask myself that question a ton. Why do I feel, guilty for example? That’s what meditation is currently for me. Why am I feeling this way? The feeling that something is real or pops off the page. What determines the difference? I need to know to write well.

 

My experiences seem far removed from the everyday life of most people, hence the moniker, Radical Thinker. That comes from a few personality quirks. I don’t listen to other people unless some avenue of proof is available. Of course, that precludes generally accepted theories like science and any reasonable thought process. Still, external confirmation. That process invites deep thought and learning stuff through observation. Add that to the differences in my emotional landscape discussed here. Adding that to my medical condition gives me different experiences than the average functioning adult. I bridge that gap by observing and using my imagination for the rest. Like going to work. Like dating. Like being in a relationship. Like playing a cello. Like having bipolar depression. Like basically anything within the bounds of reality.

 

It can’t ever be the real thing. There’s something missing. The most impactful details are remembered. The rest is forgotten. Doing that in a fictional construct is really difficult. Those imaginings aren’t real. They fade away like a dream after you wake up.

 

I have two examples for you guys. First the song lyrics from Taylor Swift’s autobiographical song Out of the Woods.

Out of the woodc

That has the quality I was talking about. There’s just enough detail to seem real. It supposedly is. Two details. The camera and where they were. Giving just enough detail is nearly impossible without first-hand experience. The compilation of what should be remembered and what shouldn’t is one way to get the feeling of reality.

 

I have another example of feeling real. It taps into another method, the relatability of something. It’s from Ella Dawson’s blog, Post Grad Warriors. I’m a fan of her writing, read this for more.

Ella

That’s basically what happens to everyone after college. Sometimes you drift away from your college friends. And sometimes you’re bound for life.Sometimes you connect with people that were there in the background. Still, there’s connection. Still, there’s shared experience.

 

I read something researching how to write well. It said, “use three senses when writing every scene.”[1] “Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay” by Adair Lara,  referencing Flannery O’Connor in “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” That also works. You add three sensory feelings in every scene you write. One of the pieces I saw on CritiqueCircle was published into a book. Here’s the first paragraph of The Boyfriend by Alex Pilails.

alio

First, there was the music, strobe lights, sweaty people, and the way they danced. That’s more than three senses, but this is an overwhelming place, a nightclub. So three senses make you feel you’re there. More depending on how intense the situation is. Fewer than three if it’s boring like a long sink to the seafloor. Sight first. Sound next if it matters, or smell. Something along those lines.

 

That’s a change for me, this checklist of senses.

 

Something else showed up when I wrote a couple of short stories. I actually have relatable personal experiences. They’re all personal emotional experiences. That’s where my extreme emotions come into play. Exploring their root causes is an added tool given to me by mediation.

 

That started as figuring out how to write creative non-fiction. Read this one, that one, and that other one for more. I used those new skills to write this post for Medium and this other one for BayArt. Writing non-fiction helped this change come about. I’m all about cross-application of knowledge and lessons learned.

 

That carried over to fiction writing where it could. I’ll write up a short paragraph on the feeling of guilt I felt this morning. Here it is:

 


Guilt

Guilt is that nagging feeling, the perpetual elephant stalking you from room to room, everywhere you go. It starts small, like the way big things always start. It seems insignificant at first. Then it grows and grows until it’s an elephant on your chest. It doesn’t have to be an elephant. Most guilt isn’t that severe. It’s a rock in your shoe that doesn’t go away until it’s dealt with. It’s an annoyance that hurts the more it’s in there. There are ways to scrub away the annoyance, the weight hanging around you. All it takes is an apology, but it’s not as easy as saying sorry. You get caught in the doldrums of your anxiety. Is an apology required in this situation? It’s not just you against your guilt. There’s another person involved, the one you wronged.

 

Are they hurt? Did the mistake bother you more than it should? Does the aggrieved see the wrong as you would, as you do? If not, there’s the pickle. Should you apologize and risk highlighting your mistake, your error. Well if you did, the elephant disappears, the rock vanishes. Then you get to pick up the cards dropped where they may fall. You have to move on and forget the turn in your fortune. What was once peaceful friendship became your torture for a while, but you mustn’t forget it. Those that forget are soon to repeat mistakes anew. Those that conjure the elephant, those that create the stone are always there. Never repeat the mistake, never call guilt forth. Mistakes are human, and we are human after all. But humans can change, and so can we.

 


 

There. My example of writing what I know. Guilt as the case is.

 

Featured Picture Credit: Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

 

GK

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Memoirs, Writing Fiction, and the Difference

Memoir is really very similar to fiction in how it’s written. They both follow the same structure. Events are organized in the framework of a story. The flow isn’t interrupted to preserve the totality of events. Things that pertain to the story being told are included. Everything else is left out. Fiction is an additive method. Memoir is subtractive. You take a subset of everything you remember and from that into a cohesive story. Events are picked from a multitude of things that actually happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This selection of events is apparent in movies based on true events or a dramatization of the truth. Take for example, Steve Jobs. I’ve watched three versions of Jobs’ life. First, the biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, Jobs. Then the factual documentary Man in the Machine. Finally, Steve Jobs directed by Arron Sorkin and starring Michael Fassbender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each movie had a different angle. Jobs was about Jobs getting ideas and using them to be the best. Man in the Machine is trying to be as unbiased as possible. It was the most balanced but tried to talk about the relatively unknown things about Jobs. Steve Jobs was controversial in its directorial and writing direction. It omitted his accomplishments for the most part and focused on his relationship with his daughter, Lisa.

 

 

All in all, the based on true story movies tried to make Jobs relatable. And the perception of Jobs was he wasn’t approachable. He was a strict, straight to business type of guy. He had stringent expectations and expected them to be met. He was thought to be the driving force behind Apple’s success. Each movie took a different approach to humanize and create a connection with the audience. Sorkin focused on Jobs’ personal life and matched it to Apple’s performance/Jobs’ fortunes. Jobs started us with Jobs as a student that couldn’t really connect with anyone except when he started Apple. Man in the Machine used his relationship with the mother of his daughter.

 

Memoir and fiction follow the same pattern. First, we see the character before anything starts. Then, something happens they have to react to. Then, they try fixing the problem different ways and fail successive times. Then, something starts working. Finally, the character succeeds, finds something that changes their life forever, and the story ends. This matches the character arc of a fictional story. Fiction adds an external conflict. When the character arc is the main conflict, it’s a literary story.

gone girl

Some recent stories have a strong character arc and conflict arc that are nearly equivalent in importance. Take The Girl on the Train as an example. The character arc of Rachel’s drinking and the central conflict of finding Megan’s killer. Or Gone Girl. The internal conflict is how Amy feels about Nick and the external conflict is Amy’s murder. Adding a strong character arc to a compelling plot brings a story up by an arm and a leg.

girl on the train

I recently read Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. She is a prolific writer of memoirs and personal essays. She pointed out some key points. You have to be a hero, not a victim. It’s easy in this society and time to feel like a victim. You need a time in your life where you take action. A bad thing comes your way, and you fix it. Getting your car stolen is bad luck. Bad stuff happens. But if you track down the thieves, steal your car back, and you learn how to overcome a debilitating fear of confrontation. Then, it becomes a story that works in a memoir.

ndw

You need to be done with the problem. If you haven’t found a way out, there’s nothing really there. Struggling and still struggling with the issue you want to write about, it is too soon. The writer needs perspective to make a memoir. You need to know the lesson and be detached enough to know what really happened. People read a memoir to gain a new understanding of the human condition. Something that can help figure out life, a little better.

 

A few things are in the way of me writing personal essays. When I write about myself, the writing comes out snobbish and stand-offish. I have allows been a little showoff. For years, I never knew why I wanted to prove my intelligence. Recently, I found the reason behind it. I have always felt less than everyone else because of my physical limitations. I always felt a little trapped by my condition. My way out and to feel better about being “less”, I try to feel equal by proving my intelligence more than balances out my physical weakness. That realization changed a lot, but I still worry about falling back into old habits.

 

When I have in-depth conversations about my intense emotional states and the inner workings of my mind, the person on the other end doesn’t understand me. That’s because I’ve never tried telling people even a percentage of that stuff. I have trouble relating to other people. I’ve been anti-social for that long. I’m slowly improving there.

 

This is an example of a recent conversation where I try to get better at explaining something.

 1 

Recently saw Collateral Beauty. It’s about a father that recently lost his 6-year-old daughter to cancer. He writes letters to Death, Time, and Love and they reply. Towards the end, there was a really emotional scene where he admits his daughter is dead. I actually had tears forming a well in my eyes but didn’t allow any out. I pulled away emotionally.

 2 

Why didn’t you let your tears come? Don’t you think you’re cutting out emotion unnecessarily?

 3

Whenever I describe something in too much detail, it doesn’t make sense. I need to fix that before writing a memoir. I’ll try my usual description first.

 

Emotional history: Started as a person with normal reactions to my emotions. Feeling them and becoming numb when some emotion became too much. Everyone does that except it isn’t going to happen frequently for most people. For example losing a close loved one. That might happen a few times. Simple sadness was enough to make me numb after a little while.

 

Then I started to decrease the threshold before I became numb. It worked for a time, and I reached my goal to fit as a male in American society. At one point, I was unable to feel anything.

 

Then, I slowly reduced the threshold when numbness happened. Through that still ongoing process, I thought I was rediscovering something I lost. That moment, watching that movie, I was in a struggle to stay there and feel. Becoming numb would have been slightly easier. There was a standstill and anything could tip the balance. Something did.

 

A better image. Everyone has three parts to their psyche. We’ll ignore the superego. There are various names that work for superego like conscience, mother’s voice, God, and hindsight. We’ll ignore that.

 

There’s a childish side or you at your weakest, id, baby, or the person you would be without an external influence. Then the protector, ego, or what the world made you into. The protector usually acts in small ways. Like covering your face, when you cry. Hiding you away, when you’re boiling mad. Putting on a brave face, when you’re really scared. It basically reacts to what the baby wants and finds a socially acceptable way to meet those needs.

 

What happens with normal emotions? The protector does those little things. When something too much happens, like the death of a close loved one, the protector says, “Baby, you need some time in your quite room. I’ll be with you the whole time. Too much is going on out here.” You become numb while the baby has some time away from life.

 

For someone like me, the baby cries bloody murder when something sad happens. Everything is exaggerated beyond the average. A baby like that spends too much time in the quite room. That baby never gets to experience a lot, because a lot of things are too much.

 

I increased the sensitivity of my protector to the baby by showing the protector more emotional states. Like an abused child, the protector grew more attuned to the tormentor, the whiny baby. Then the baby spends less time out and then none at all.

 

Right now, I’m dismantling the safe room. If an external threat appears, the deconstruction stops or reverses temporarily. Very similar to the process of growing up.

 

That’s still a little confusing.

 

The other part is sharing too much. The vulnerability of it. We’re all scared to sharing too much. That allows the possibility of getting hurt. The more you share, the greater the rejection. I feel like I should share my life’s lessons. I’ve been through a lot. Moving to a different country at five and never going back. My medical experiences that vastly over date my time to 28 years of age. Then the lessons meditation taught me. Finally finding meaning in my life. There is a lot I could share. There might be a memoir in my future. We’ll see.

 

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Going Back: High School

This previous summer, I went to my ten-year high school reunion. I think the best thing is to describe how I was during High School. I was shy and more anti-social than anyone I knew. A lot of things that could have broken my shyness came my way, but I’d always been too stubborn to let it take. I made a few loose friends during school hours, and that was everything I knew about being social. And I was satisfied with that. Frequently, I was lonely and my imagination grew to fill the space. That’s how I coped.

 

Anyway, that was over ten years ago. It’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve been looking forward to the reunion for around five years at the point it was announced. I had developed a few ideas about reunions that likely fit with my emotional state through a vast number of years after high school. I had misconceptions about the whole thing. I thought two kinds of people went to reunions. First, those that had their best years in High School. That fit with the jealousy I had for people that could navigate the social landscape way better than I ever could. Then, the people that wanted to show everyone how they had changed since High School. I put myself into that group even though I hadn’t changed a ton until two-three years ago. I credit meditation and writing with those changes. Being ignorant in social matters doesn’t work for a writer, writing, and marketing. I was wrong. Popular media is way off.

 

I went as a test for myself and to see people from years ago. There were a few things I needed to know about myself. A personal test motivates me the most. I needed to check if I wanted to talk to people and could overcome my anxiety/insecurity/shyness. Basically, if everything I’d worked on was good enough. Also, I wanted to test if I could use my new communication device in a social setting with real world conditions. And if I could network and hand out business cards. And if having someone driving my chair worked good enough.

 

bulkan-evcimen lced tea table
Photo by Bulkan Evcimen on Unsplash. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

 

I went in with my nurse, a wheelchair driver, and the medical supplies I always have with me. I meet one of the people I’d wanted to see. We had a nice conversation, and I gave a business card. Success! And somehow I engaged in a conversation with someone new I never remembered meeting before. That has never happened in my entire life, if you can believe that. The device wasn’t loud enough in the ambient noise of the reunion. Using the device was much harder with the distraction of the people around but still manageable. A few people called my name and I smiled at them. I had no idea they wanted to talk to me until near the end. Communicating that to my driver was near impossible. I couldn’t think at my best in the slight crowd. I could’ve typed it on my device but it never occurred to me. At that point, I decided to go out to the patio for something different.

 

I meet the other person I’d wanted to see out there. The device didn’t work outside. I tried for a solid 30 minutes it seemed like. Then I figured out having the device up was sending the same message as if I was using my phone. I put the device down and returned to the person I was in High School. I silently nodded and smiled while other people talked in front of me and other people spoke for me. I wanted to talk the whole time though. It was two hours into the reunion by then.

 

I returned to the main reunion room. I would have to leave within thirty minutes to make it into bed sometime before eleven. By eight thirty, I had to leave. A have a ton of medical stuff to do before going to sleep. By the time I was back inside, people were beginning to get drunk. The late arrivals were sober still. I don’t drink and rarely eat anything through my mouth. A few people looked stunned to see me. Another test passed. I could finally read facial expressions.

 

I was disconnected from my emotions, facial expressions, and physical manifestations for so long that determining facial expressions in others was impossible. I always had intense emotions and during high school everything was buried for some degree of normalcy. That hid a large part of the social learning most people were going through in the teen years. That reunion night, I read facial expressions and responded with my own instinctually. I got the expression of stunned then surprise. I hurriedly looked away as she looked into my eyes. Accidentally, they moved up in an eye roll. If anything, I was too honest. You’re surprised I showed up? Well, I don’t care. I’m here, deal with it. At that point, I didn’t have anyone else I’d wanted to see.

 

I wanted to talk to people that used be unapproachable. I could use the device indoors. Typing up phrase before hand is a must at parties and crowded places. Sometimes reading the communication device is easier than hearing what it says sometimes. The backup system is abysmal in comparison, allowing people to speak for me. I need to drive my chair around. Body language is a huge part of social interaction. It’s not something that can be delegated.

 

It was a learning experience, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll fix all the mistakes I made. I rarely make a mistake more than once these days. I’ll figure out this social stuff like I figured out everything else. Nothing can stop me. Hard work can get you anything. Here are a few words about change from Tony Robbins.

 

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

— Tony Robbins

 

jon-tyson we work motivation poster
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. Enhancements by Graham Kar.

 

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The Influx of Technology and How it Changes Us.

Technology has changed so much in the span of my lifetime. From 1989 to 2017 isn’t that long, and everything before took much longer than the span of a life. In 1995, we were using Apple II’s and Windows 95 on absurdly expense desktops. A monitor a CRT monitor, a tube TV hooked up to a box the size of a handful of college textbooks. And no internet except that annoying sound of a dial-up connection that wasn’t easy to use. Then fast forward 5 years, and we have the first laptops that people actually use in everyday life. Then 7 years more and we have smartphones. Now almost everyone has a cell phone. It doesn’t matter where you look across the globe. In some places, they skipped the whole personal computer and went straight to phones instead.

 

This blog post isn’t about the technology, but what it does to people. What having an internet connection always at our fingertips does to us? That quickly gets to the idea that it matters what we do with the available tech out there. Technology is a tool and the effects are controlled by the user. The technology isn’t evil. The way we use it can be.

 

We’re connected all the time, and there’s an expectation that we’ll be reachable at most times. It seems unusual that someone can’t be reached unless they don’t want to be. But connection is still possible. And distance doesn’t mean what it used to. From across the world, it can feel like you’re in the same room. Using things like video chat, texting, e-mail, and phone calls. The latency, the time between sending something a receiving a reply, has really shortened. A letter takes anywhere from 3 to 7 days, and an e-mail takes a few seconds, and it’s free. Things could get even better with telepresence. Where you can remotely control a robot and facetime with anybody you run into or your robot runs into.

 

I should probably say I’m a smartphone Luddite, because I lack the physical ability to use one. I have a smartphone and use another person’s help to operate the device. I use a laptop with a drawing tablet and click with the other hand. That’s how I’ve written everything as a writer. The mental overhead of using an on-screen keyboard is exhaustive, but you can adjust to anything, right? I check my phone three times a day and that’s basically all the interaction I have with the smartphone thing.

adam-birkett phone gravel
Stock from Unsplash, Adam Birkett. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

The other side of that is the constant distraction. A smartphone is a device designed to get your attention when something important happens. I know phones have a ton of settings about when and how to get your attention. The issue with that is the average user doesn’t meddle with deeper settings except for ringer volume. We’ll talk about a typical user. The phone is always with you and asking for attention. Unlike an actual person, you don’t actually know why the device wants your attention. And the whole thing is addictive. I’m probably using too strong a word.

rosalind-chang phone upside down table
Stock from Unsplash, Rosalind Chang. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

When your phone rings, there’s a need to answer. After five rings, the person calling goes to voicemail. Something like a text doesn’t carry the same urgency. There’s more time between each action. There’s an associated sound when each message comes. And each time that beep goes off, you know a message came in. It’s basically training. The beep is slowly associated with a message and eventually what you feel reading a message. Reading a message feels good. And then we crave that beep. Sometimes something strange happens. You hear that distinctive beep, check your phone, and there isn’t a message. Or something else makes a similar beep and you suddenly feel happy.

 

And the beep isn’t the end of it. If you don’t check the message it really bugs you. You’re constantly wondering what the message says. You think of possible messages that could have come in. And you can’t stop thinking about it until you read the message. That all depends on how frequently you get messages. The novelty can wear off depending.

 

That device designed to get your attention is always with you. Quickly pulling you out of a conversation or anything you’re focusing on. This is happening more now than before.

 

We can be reached at any time. That’s a good thing when nothing is going on. Interrupting a conversation to check your phone is quickly becoming a social taboo. And a distraction that frequently follows us. Multitasking has taken on a whole new meaning. Younger people are slowly specializing in multi-tasking. Switching between different tasks decreases the ability to focus on one task. It never feels like multitasking reduces how well we do things. But multitasking is actually switching between tasks multiple times. Getting refocused takes a long time. And now we’re searching for the zone or flow state. Multitasking reduces access to that state. Imagine being in that flow state all the time. How would that feel? Probably how multitasking feels except the results are better.

juliette-leufke phone multitasking
Stock from Unsplash, Juliette Leufke. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

We’re slowly moving away from being present. Being focused on the situation happening right before you is getting really hard. Ignoring a text message is really difficult and impossible at times. Not checking your phone is tough. It takes a special kind of person to decide differently. It’s like saving money. We save money for some future event and have less in the present. The ability to save can easily separate poverty from a better life. And saving money is historically a difficult thing. Credit card debt, insufficient retirement funds, college loans, and adjustable rate mortgages are all symptoms of the inability to save money. And reversing that is going to be really hard. Not being present is just as difficult a problem to fix.

 

The internet gives us access to information that would be unimaginable twenty years ago. A quick internet search could define verdigris in seconds. A fraction of a sec faster, you could remember if you already know the answer. The information in more readily available than ever before. It’s like the argument about calculators. Sure they make students terrible at mental math. They don’t need to do mental math every day. They know addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Practice changes nothing. Well, using a calculator for basic stuff took longer than doing it in my head. It was difficult for me to operate a calculator and do the math on paper. Practice is the only thing separating any of us in my belief.

prateek-verma phone sunset
Stock from Unsplash, Prateek Verma. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

Looking up something isn’t everything. Memorization isn’t the mark of intelligence. In it’s simplest terms intelligence is how quickly you can bridge various things you’ve learned, and use what you have learned. The more disparate those ideas you connect moves into genius territory. That ability to make connections isn’t easily taught. In fact, we are taught specialization and compartmentalization. That goes to the fact that researching something isn’t the same as understanding. Memory versus intelligence. Take an encyclopedia. You need to know some things before using such a tool. Like the ability to read, and the ability to spell the topic you want to find. Knowledge helps you acquire more knowledge. Looking up something is throw away knowledge. It’s like studying for a test and forgetting everything. There’s no real point unless you use and understand the knowledge you find.

edho-pratama phone lookup definition
Stock from Unsplash, Edho Pratama. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

This recent push to understand something quickly without too much effort is bothering me. Things like infographics, listicles, and tweets. They offer this tantalizing proposition of understanding something complex very simply. Infographics help show complex things in a way people understand. Except, a portion of the data is lost in the process. And the source can easily distort the data in that way. They choose what data to show and present it in a different way. Listicles bug me. They very rarely drill down to anything of substance. They thrive on presenting a wide array of information so that something works for the reader. Listicles promise understanding, a feeling of belonging, and quick/easy knowledge. They deliver not much of the promise generally. When there’s something useful it’s small.

 

The internet gives everyone a voice. You can find viewpoints you’ve never been exposed to. Like what it’s like to be a woman in tech. What it’s like when someone steals your cultural identity? What is it like to have an STI? What is it like having BPD? But there’s also the flip side to that. We frequently set up situations where we only hear the people that agree with us and completely dismiss other opinions as foolish. Then the nastiness that anonymity brings out. People frequently say stuff remotely through the web they would never say in person. #Gamergate, Trumpism, Fake News, Alt-Right, and so many other things wouldn’t be possible without the internet.

mark-solarski google pixel phone upside down
Stock from Unsplash, Mark Solarski. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

The change in technology over my lifetime is massive. Now we have to figure out where to go from here. It’s a personal choice how we use technology. We have to decide to take in the good and search out what we’re missing. The goal is to understand people and not alienate them. The future is bright if we take it there. The world is filled with possible catastrophe around every corner it seems, but it’s up to us. We have to choose for ourselves where we want our little corners of the world to go.

 

Featured image stock from Unsplash, Roland Larsson. Enhancement by Graham Kar.

 

GK

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Experience, Write, Publish: Thoughts on a Memoir

 

I’ve never been drawn to reading memoirs, autobiographies, personal essays, or creative non-fiction. It feels to me that people can say almost anything in those literary forms. Selectively choosing moments that fit into the conventional craft of writing fiction. It’s like those movies based on true events. The screenwriters dramatize the story and your left wondering what exactly happened and what was changed for dramatic effect. The truth is always elusive and that genre really makes it too apparent for my comfort. And anyway, my life is far from typical, muscular dystrophy, mediation, immigration, and intense emotion. Maybe that’s just a little too much ego there, but that’s the starting point.

 

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A writer I’m following that writes great satire. I’m totally new to reading satire.

 

Around a year or two ago, things started to change. I discovered Medium for the first time. Medium is this micro-blogging site taking off right at the moment. It was a hidden writing community when I first joined. A lot of things changed from that time. Getting sold to Facebook and the introduction of membership. Medium specializes in creative non-fiction, point of view pieces, and lastly, fiction. Now it’s shifting to listicles like the rest of the web, sadly. Throughout this post, I’ll link out to the best articles I’ve read on Medium.

 

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A listicle I actually liked reading.

 

I went there from a link on Facebook, originally. I don’t read news frequently, and Facebook mentions are what I go by. Reading the news feels too real for me. I logged in and found a few stories, not in the news like the refugee crisis in the Middle East. A POV piece by Piper Perabo visiting a midway point in the refugee’s path. That happened a few times.

 

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That POV piece by Piper Perabo as mentioned in the paragraph above.

 

Then I dived into the creative non-fiction and POV. It was a window into the life of women. Medium has a surprising number of things I had never been exposed to in my entire life. Pieces about the bad experiences that a ridiculous number of women have gone through, sexual violence. Things like rape, unwanted sexual attention, harassment, inappropriate gestures, and trouble with mostly men.

 

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One such piece.

 

 

 

My thoughts were astonishment. For a really long time, I couldn’t figure out how women even functioned in society. How could people get out of bed with the looming threat around every corner? Knowing it was virtually impossible not to run into someone that had done something like that in the past. It was unfathomable that was the case in 21st century America. This is America. How is it possible?

 

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The possible future state of America.

 

Sure we could blame so many things. The over-sexualization of American culture, women, and body image. But the cause isn’t the big issue. What can we do now? How do people still function?

 

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This is an article about Pick-up Artists and Ovid. I used it to help research a character I was writing for The Trouble With Dreams.

 

Simple. By accepting the condition as it is now. Continue with life as it is. And wait for change. Is that really what’s going to happen? So far it has.

 

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A story of finding yourself.

 

I’ve basically gone on a rant of incredulity for the last handful of paragraphs. Let’s return to the topic. What changed after discovering Medium? Not much. I subscribed and tried writing a few things. After that nothing really changed.

 

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A story of not belonging.

 

Then I read Eat, Pray, Love. I’d watched the movie ten years ago when it came out. I didn’t think it was a memoir. The movie seemed too neat to be real life. Everything fit perfectly together and smoothly transitioned like fiction. I’ve seen a ton of biopics, but it was never so neat. I happily went on for years, bought the book, and eventually read it. It had always been a memoir. The book wasn’t as neat as the movie, but the events were rearranged a little, to fit conventional storytelling craft. I kept merging the images from the movie with images I constructed in my head. Reading to me isn’t a series of phrase but a series of pictures based on the written text.

Eat Pray Love

Liz started in New York and her messy divorce. The book spent way more time before the travel started. The mess with her rebound relationship. Then the happenstance of finding her guru and the Balinese Medicine man. With that, her travels began.

 

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Got to love satire. For the longest time, I didn’t.

 

In Italy, there was so much more than food. Learning the language and living in a city for months. I never knew so much research went into a memoir. Liz explained why Italian is such a pretty language. I fell in love with Italian through reading it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very enthused to read my first memoir. If Liz wasn’t so funny, I wouldn’t have finished it. I found the description of tastes wanting. I haven’t eaten solid food in years and wanted to imagine the tastes of Italy. The taste should run a few paragraphs in my mind. I was glad to see she asked the locals what was good. That’s the only way.

 

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Ella Dawson. Written really well.

 

The Thanksgiving was a big difference between the book and movie. In the movie, they fell asleep in the dining room. But in the book, the turkey took way longer to cook than they expected. Turkey was for breakfast.

 

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Another article I liked.

 

Then it was off to India and the ashram of her guru. India is a very spiritual place. The saying goes, you walk a few paces and run into a guru of some kind or the other. Gurus are that plentiful in bigger cities. Liz went to a remote ashram filled with foreigners and local devotees. I don’t agree with a few things. I have never learned from a guru and figured out meditation mostly in isolation. I don’t think a guru has to bless you to have a chance at enlightenment. Learning in isolation leads to a longer, meandering, and wandering journey to the same goal. Three months isn’t enough to learn a self-guided meditation practice. I have a lot to learn about describing meditation practices. When I try to explain meditation or my deep experiences, the person listening doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I’ve spent too much time in self-monolog and isolation, that explaining things in an understandable way is really difficult at times. Before writing a memoir on me, I need to learn how of write deep things in a way that other people get.

 

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A deep discussion well written by another writer I like, Emma Lindsey.

 

I don’t believe a set of holy words must be used as a mantra. A mantra should have the required associations in the mind. The final description of Liz’s experience with the divinity inside her wasn’t that clear to me. Some experiences can’t be put into words even by the best. I was nice to see the ashram through the author’s eyes.

 

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A perspective on defining something that shouldn’t need defining in a perfect world. 

 

The Bali part was about balance. I would state it as filling your life based on your loves. Whether it’s meditation, writing, and thought or meditation, love, and writing. Ketut and Balinese culture were strangely familiar to Indian culture and weirdly different. Liz had so many facts and peculiarities that I enjoyed reading. Meeting Filipe was interesting. Ex-pats are a microcosm of the world writ large if everyone wanted chill above all else.

 

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Emma Lindsey figuring things out for us.

 

Her dealings with Wayan, another healer, and Ketut, the medicine man were interesting. Sometimes Ketut didn’t remember some things. And Wayan was a rarity there. She was divorced. The family is really important in Bali and acts like a compass to help navigate the world. Wayan and Liz were both divorced. Then Liz finds a way to help Wayan and works through the hiccup associated with it. Ketut teaches Liz a few mediations and many life lessons.

 

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A possible answer.

 

The third to last chapter felt odd to me. It was a flashback to her first trip to Bali. Liz was silent for a few weeks on a remote island. She eventually discovered that her current life wasn’t working and she needed a change. It felt like an epiphany and it came in the right place. It was placed out of time, towards the end of the novel. The sequence of events in time doesn’t matter to the sequence of the memoir. The majority of the events should be in chronological order but a scene here or there is fine.

 

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Another article for book research.

 

The memoir worked like it was supposed to. Reading a genre before writing in it is essential to the craft. Not sure which ones I’m going to read. I have no idea when I’ll even write a memoir. Everything is up in the air. I’ll work towards getting my deep experiences across on the page. Sometime down the line, I’ll try writing a memoir, maybe. Experience, Write, you know the rest.

 

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A woman working through illness.

 

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Thriving in Spite of Reduced Ability

 

Throughout my life, a few things have remained the same. I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscular disease that slowly weakens me. This results in a lose of ability over time.

 

I have found things that are inherently impossible for me now. Walking is an example of that. Everything else is possible with motivation and hope of getting better. Those are the two things required to be the person you want to be.

In the beginning of my life (before age eight), I knew there was something different about me and didn’t quite know why. Firstly, I started using a wheelchair. The issue of my emigration from India provided another possible source for my differences. Some version of this probably went through minds of other kids about themselves. Everything changed a little after understanding this wasn’t the end of my difference, things would surely get worse.

 

Let’s be clear about something, I never thought of myself as disabled or damaged. I am just different, like a person with green eyes is different from a person with brown eyes. Never allow another person to define what and how you can do anything. Living without a hindrances is a great gift, but beating what everyone thinks is a greater reward. As with all things, the more effort employed, the better the outcome. This way of thinking changes your perception of yourself. You know for a fact that you are not less able than anyone else. Never put artificial limits on yourself.

 

I have never attended a support group. Almost everything I’ve gone through deals with itself, apart from the first near death experience. This isn’t an ongoing struggle. This is who I am or who I always was. Nothing that comes your way is beyond your ability to cope, whether that means sharing your story with others or dealing with it in your own way.

 

This brings me to my experiences with other kids when I was also that age. Every year throughout high school, I along with other kids struggling with purely physical differences attended a gathering. You know the almost forced gatherings setup by well-meaning adults for discussion.

 

We were asked questions to setup conversation, so-called icebreakers. Would you take a cure if it was available? This is one I remember well. The majority answer was no, excluding myself and one other among the 50 or so others. My reaction to the majority sounds in my head. Why? The answers went something like this: it would change who I am.

 

I reacted with silent cynicism and confusion. This makes no sense. A cure isn’t retroactive (someone won’t go back in time and cure you at birth, anyway that would make a cure much easier). How can you possibly refuse the cure when it is almost my deepest desire? Then it hit me. My 15-year-old self thought they simply can’t hope because the low likelihood hurts them too much. It helps them cope. The disease is an ingredient of who they are. If the question wasn’t hypothetical, they would stop lying to themselves and say yes. That was what a teenager would think. I stopped bothering with other people as I grew older.

 

I now think a cure just administers physical improvement, keeping you the same person inside. If the cure would change more than that, the disease has too much power. That is the generally accepted conclusion, a really bad disease limits what opportunities that person has. I admit that without Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, I would have a different job, but I don’t think my personality would have changed that much. I would be more social than I am now, but isn’t that a good thing? Limitations are a bad thing. Never cripple yourself without trying. A battle that is lost in the mind, is pointless to fight.

 

This post is getting a little too long for one day (hands tired). The key lies in finding your purpose. Take what qualities you have. In my case that is a fighter personality, maximum effort yields maximum results, observation of everything, railing to challenges, and keen memory. Find what you are supposed to do. I am supposed to push through the expectations of others, show them they can do great things, and show them what I can accomplish. Never give up or die trying.

 

GK

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