Not What You Get
3 January 2002
I've had a few of you write to me to say that you had fun with "Cassie's Deal" but didn't like the formatting over at Paradox 12. Folks, write a letter to the editor and tell him what bothered you and why. How else will he know? I mean, be nice about it, make it constructive criticism and list positive and negative things if you can, but he's the editor. He can roll his eyes and totally discard your advice if he wants to. But at least you'll have said.
We came up with a new TV show last night, sort of the combination of "Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire?" and "24." "Who Wants to Marry A Geek?" It would last all season because there would be a lot of different competitions, tailored to the specific geek. For example: "Your spouse's friends are coming over for role-playing, and there's nothing to eat. You also need a third-level character to start playing with them. You have one hour. Go. Points off for plain Cheetos and for half-elven mages." Or else: "Your spouse calls on the cell phone. Something is wrong with his/her computer. He/she has two minutes to describe the problem to you and give you any necessary passwords. Now fix it. Go." (They would, of course, be dummy passwords, since no true geek would give out his/her root password on national TV to total strangers.) That kind of thing. I think it would be quite entertaining. Of course, since there's no specific Geek Network, our days of TV writer/producer fame are probably not coming soon.
I got an e-mail that both amused and bemused me yesterday. One of my friends had been hanging out with one of his friends, who had found my journal. Evidently it went like this: "'I like that friend of yours, Marissa,' she said. 'She seems to have a lot of... self esteem.' I think I said, 'Yes, she's basically a big freight train of self-esteem trapped in a tiny little body.' Or something like that. Maybe I said 'tractor,' I can't remember."
Oh, people, people. Do you really believe all that?
I feel like Columbine in reverse, here. It seems like every month or three, Columbine has to write an entry about how, no, he's not entirely like this in person, and how his journal (as with Friday's entry, for example) is often much angstier than he's feeling in person, because he doesn't write about the yippies and the skippies. Okay, that's a total paraphrase, as I don't believe Columbine has ever used yippies or skippies in his journal. But that's not the point.
The point is, this journal is not for the times when I'm nervous, upset, or down. Sure, I write in it every day. Sometimes while I'm writing about something pretty upbeat and positive, I will be stressing about something else entirely. Or I'll be sad or angry. I promise. It happens. I have days when I talk about things that are bothering me, but mostly I try to steer clear. In part it's because the things that are likely to bother me are either career-related -- and I don't really want to whine to you guys, "Nobody's going to want to reeeeead me!", since I don't think I can do that in an interesting and engaging fashion -- or interpersonal. And the interpersonal stuff is not mine to share. It's something a journal-writer has to be careful with, or at least something about which I had to make a choice. Some people are willing to go on at length and in specific about who and what is bothering them in their personal life. I'm not. I don't need that extra stress and potential for using my writing as a weapon. I don't want to do that.
But the person who said that was a friend in person -- he interacts with me outside this journal, and in fact he interacted with me before I started keeping it. Hmm.
Okay. I believe that one of the qualifications for being a genuine friend is that the person is someone to whom you can go with a problem, and that person will do whatever he/she can to help, even if it's just lending a shoulder and an ear. I believe that the person who made the above comment to me is genuinely my friend. But. There are two types of genuine friends: the kind who will be surprised if you come to them, and the kind who won't. I think anybody who believes I'm a self-esteem freight train is in the first category. I try to take a tone in this journal as though I'm talking to the first category of friends, with a fairly random assortment of strangers in and out of my field looking on or in the room. Because of that, people in the second category will often read my journal and then ask how I'm really doing, if they don't live here and don't already know.
Some people -- not necessarily the person who sent me that comment, as in fact most of this does not apply directly to him -- seem to believe that if you can deal with your life and keep going, then everything's okay. It doesn't always mean that. Sometimes it means that you're stubborn. Sometimes it means that you're very careful about when and where you break down. Folks -- this is not where. I've been open about big disappointments in this journal, although I try not to go on about every rejection letter and every life problem. And nearly every time I'm open about being really disappointed, people write to me to tell me that I'm taking it really well. Which leaves me baffled: how else am I supposed to take it? What else am I supposed to do?
Folks, it sucks when your book gets rejected. Some of you already know this. The rest of you -- trust me. It's worse than short story rejections by several orders of magnitude. Other sucky stuff happens, too. I get down about it. I have doubts. Of course I do. I'm human. But most of that stuff is handled in-house. I cry on the shoulders of the two people I have right here. I talk to my folks and to a varying handful of friends. I deal in private, and I move on.
In the movies, any character who has ever been described by anyone as "Little Miss Perfect" can utterly redeem herself by breaking down in tears and telling another character (and the audience) that she, too, has doubts and fears and so on. Let me be the first to tell you if you don't already know: it doesn't work that way in real life. No. In real life if you break down in tears and start telling 99.99% of the people about self-doubt, and they didn't know you had it, the reaction will be blank-faced blinking, a long pause, and then, "But you're so [adjective under doubt]." You can try to play out the rest of the scene, but 99.99% of the time, the other person will keep blinking and repeating that you do, indeed, have the quality that you fear you lack. They will be totally unable -- and evidently fairly unwilling -- to reconcile their concept of you with any new data. How useful. Even some of my "category two friends," the ones I will go to when I'm in the three a.m. of the spirit, will appeal to my rationality. Then, when I have rationally agreed that, indeed, it takes a long time to get widely published (or whatever the doubt or fear is), will say something like, "Well, then!" and be done.
Once people have decided that you are Strong and Capable, there is no getting around it. There's no going back. It's something they can use to beat you about the head any time they want to: "My book got rejected!" "You're taking this so well!" "No, I'm not, I'm whining and stomping and generally feeling awful!" "But I'd be feeling so much worse!" Thank you. I have now been firmly put in my place: I am the one who takes things well, whose whining and stomping is of much lower grade than your superior whining and stomping, and if I want to demonstrate that I am, in fact, feeling pain, I will need to call my life to a screeching halt for days at a time. Sorry. I don't do that. I'm a ScanAm, for heaven's sake. In public -- and make no mistake, this is public -- I suck it up, I deal with it, and I keep going. That's how I was taught, and I frankly prefer it to the opposite.
And you know what? I'm pretty fine with all of that. I'm okay with not sharing my deepest personal doubts with the world on this page, because I already do it in my fiction. This can be fun, this can be thoughts and updates and general ramblings. But what isn't fine -- and here's where I'm going into Columbine in reverse, and I'm pretty sure that if anybody I haven't met is getting all this, he's the one -- what isn't fine is when people assume that what they see is what they get.
People. Anybody over the age of, say, seven has some significant pain, angst, and "low self-esteem moments" of their own. Trust me. They do. Sometimes those moments last for days, months, years. The problem for me comes when people assume that those moments don't exist, because I choose not to show them off most of the time. That any way of dealing with bad internal stuff other than their way of dealing with bad internal stuff Does Not Exist. Don't make that assumption, folks. It's a dangerous one, and frankly, it's not very bright.
There now. Wouldn't you rather have read my thoughts on the interrelation of plot and setting, or on Smilla's Sense of Snow or something?
Also the tiny little body comment got to me. This was about the last person I would have thought would join the Conspiracy To Make M'ris Feel Small. And I know that the only person who will write to me to tell me that really I'm approximately average-sized is Michelle, and how good does that feel? The person who thinks that I'm not small is one I will refer to as The Short One or The Little One and expect that my friends will know of whom I speak. Fabulous. I'm bigger than she is. How huge I am.
I think the problem is that I got used to this body too early. When I got used to it, everybody else's was still 5'2" at the tallest, and most of them were still little-girl-skinny -- no shoulders, no breasts, no hips, and I had all three. I got used to being one of the big ones, and poof, everything changed around me.
Right then. I'm going to take a shower now. Have a nice day. Tomorrow I promise thoughts on the interrelation of plot and setting, plus an update on why a Karina is a useful thing to have around, even virtually speaking.
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