November 27, 2010

There's No Bullying in Colombia

I recently finished reading An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, which I loved (I liked Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, but this is my favorite John Green). There's one part where this conversation takes place:
Lindsey: "There's not even really popularity at my school."
Colin: "That is a sentence that has only ever been spoken by popular people."
If you're like me, your love for novels kicks in hardcore when you connect with something that occurs within those pages. The above definitely resonated for me; I was not a popular teenager.

This quote also strummed a chord back to a Book Club moment. Book Clubs are primarily social beasts, and this particular conversation took place after the book discussion (we'd read Wicked, if you must know). This Book Club was made up of four PhD-holding professors (all in the College of Business)... and me (BA-in-English-holding-Liberal-Arts type). One of the professors is Colombian, and extremely attractive. I called her CatherineZetaJones because that's who she looks like.

So we're all sitting around drinking wine and somehow we began talking about adolescence. Most of us considered our early teen years to have been nerdy, poorly dressed, trend-oblivious, unmoneyed, and frankly just awkward as all hell. We compared polyester pantsuits in which our mothers cluelessly dressed us and sent us forward into the slaughter that was middle school (this contest in horror was "won" by Wendy, who had a pantsuit covered in chickens). We agonized over zit-laden skin and lank hair, boys who either didn't notice us at all or assisted the popular girls in ridiculing our existence.

And we talked about bullying. Another quote from An Abundance of Katherines got to me, a point where one character talked about just trying to stay "above the ground but below the radar." Until you learn how to do that, you're a cowering red-bullseye of a target.

Girl-bullying is different from boy-bullying. It can get physical, but usually doesn't. It's usually verbal, and aims at one of the most vulnerable parts of a newly-emerging young adult - her self-esteem. Invisibility of sorts was the goal we all sought, all please-don't-notice-me, please-don't-notice-me, please-don't-notice-me. Because when the popular girls noticed you, it wasn't good.

That was all of us in early adolescence... except for CatherineZetaJones.

She'd been relatively quiet up to that point - commiserating and laughing at our horror stories, but not really adding any of her own. When we began talking about the bullying aspect, though, she revealed herself for who she had been-- one of the pretty, popular girls. This wasn't a woman who had fought and clawed her way into semi-cuteness at a later stage, as the rest of us had done, and here was the proof.

"It wasn't really like that at my school," CatherineZetaJones said.

We asked, "In what way?"

And she said, "There's no bullying in Colombia."

We waited for the punchline, but there wasn't one.

The rest of us looked at each other for a stunned moment, and unlike how our 13/14-year-old selves would have reacted, we just burst out laughing. CatherineZetaJones was taken aback, and tried to insist that this was true, but we weren't falling for it, because Colin (aka: John Green) was right: That is a sentence that has only ever been spoken by popular people. Even if those popular people are Colombian.

November 6, 2010

Writers do it all night

During the writers' conference I attended last spring, the keynote speaker talked about the first time she wrote all night - tapping away at the keyboard and hearing an alarm clock go off in another room, and then noticing the muted light of sunrise coming through a curtain. My brain couldn't quite compute this. I mean, I'd definitely had my share of late nights while writing, but I'd always hit a point where I was either falling asleep at the keyboard or my brain had sorta shut off even though I was still technically awake. And then came October.

The past few weeks have been the most work-intensive five weeks I've ever spent writing, and though it hasn't happened yet, I'm suddenly conscious of how such a thing as writing all night can occur. I hit 3 a.m. three times during the fourth week - all of them nights I had to get up and go to work the next day. Before last month, I'd have assumed that getting four hours of sleep and being cognizant and alert the following day wasn't possible for me, certainly not multiple times within a week. But it was. The most insane thing about it, though, was that I haven't felt that awake and positive in a long time - not just while writing, but constantly over the 19-20 waking hours per day.

As of yesterday, I've completed the draft of MS1 (I don't even know which draft at this point - like, twentieth?), and it's been sent off to three critique partners and two reader friends. (Let the self-doubt begin! Just kidding. But not really.)

Time to get back to MS2, which is sitting around 50k words total (15k of that in various "later scene" chunks). I should probably get in a night or two of solid sleep before tackling it. Of course that just gives me time to begin obsessing over what I just handed to five other people to review... Meh. Sleep is overrated.