Being “Broken”

There was a bit of a to do over at Wyrdsmiths over the “lie” of epiphany and cathartic healing. Elizabeth Bear had posted her thoughts on seeing it in stories–namely that it makes her blood boil, since it just isn’t true. There are some good responses in the Wyrdsmith’s post and in the comments.

I’m not sure mine was entirely relevant to the discussion at hand. It was more a reaction to the pervasive idea among lit’rary types that good things happening in stories are either less artistic or less “true” than bad events. This idea bothers me, in part, because it doesn’t fit my world view. It also implies either that everyone reads for one reason (to experience Art) or that reading for pleasure, comfort or escape is less worthy. I guess if writers want to restrict their audiences that way, it’s up to them. I see these discussions as a flag for writers whose works I’m unlikely to enjoy.

Completely aside from artistic arguments, one thing I noticed in the debate was a difference in the use of the idea of “broken” characters. It’s pretty common to hear writers talking about the ways in which their characters are broken. After all, too perfect characters gall quickly (my main problem with Princess Academy). But it became apparent that those of us talking about the issue were once again divided by our common language.

On one hand were the posters who thought broken simply meant not whole or fully functional. The CD keeps skipping fresh out of the box. On the other were those who felt that broken meant, literally, someone who had been whole at one point and had been cracked or shattered. And the second point of view had simply never occurred to me before.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. There’s a cult of childhood in our society. This should logically mean that some people enjoyed their childhoods. Presumably some of them even made it into adulthood without major trauma, with most of the skills they need to thrive in adult society until something big whacks them hard. But it’s so alien to my past, thinking about people this way makes them feel less real to me.

I started with a couple of handicaps. I picked up more along the way. Fixing broken could never mean returning to an ideal starting state. It meant filling in the gaps, gaining skills that allowed me to patch the problems. Admittedly, I call this being defective, not broken, but it’s the lens through which I’ve always seen the brokenness of my characters.

I guess it’s time to learn a new set of characterization skills.

Who Is This Strange Person?

I’m currently revising a novel, making sure I keep writing new things, and playing beta reader for a couple of friends, so the blog is going to continue to be underloved for a little bit. Here’s a meme running around that will at least give you an introduction to the person behind the stock CSS. Thanks to Doug Hulick for the idea.

1. What bill do you hate paying the most?
The car, which replaced a much loved car that died in an accident, is the only bill I still have to put in the mail. Everything else only requires that I not do something silly enough to lose my job.

2. Where’s the best place to eat a romantic dinner?
The only qualifications are that we have to stop whatever else we’re doing and pay attention to each other and that it can’t be too noisy.

3. Last time you puked from drinking?
I think I was about fifteen. I woke up the next day with the flu, so I’m not sure it was the brandy, though.

4. When is the last time you got drunk and danced on a bar?
One word—acrophobia. Actually, drunk and dancing are mutually exclusive. The particular high of dancing doesn’t often come if I’ve got more than a wee buzz.

5. Name of your first grade teacher?
I’m pretty sure I was in first grade. My mother thought it would be bad for me to skip it and be two years younger than everyone else in my class. I just don’t remember any of it.

6. What do you really want to be doing right now?
Carving out a big enough chunk of time to really get rolling on my new story.

7. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A teacher, until I realized it meant being on stage all day. A dancer, until my joints betrayed me. An astronaut, similarly ruled out by my body. A counselor, until I discovered that there was no evidence that most types of therapy had any lasting value.

8. How many colleges did you attend?
Two.

9. Why did you wear that shirt you have on right now?
It’s warm, clean, and I haven’t worn it in a while. That and it went with the handiest pair of clean pants.

10. GAS PRICES?
I walk to work, so I don’t have a lot of personal stake. I’d like to see prices accurately reflect our society’s investment in oil, but I’m pretty sure that the brunt of any changes would be borne by the people who can least afford it.

11. If you could move anywhere and take someone with you?
I’m awfully happy where I am, and I’d have to take a bunch of people with me to be happy anywhere else long-term. However, I’m rather fond of Edinburgh, Flagstaff, and PEI.

12. First thought when the alarm went off this morning?
The first three beeps somehow worked into my dream at the time. Then my first thought was, as it always is, to shut it off before it disturbs Ben. This is silly, since my alarm doesn’t wake him up even when he has to get up first, but I never claimed to be brilliant before dawn.

13. Last thought before going to sleep last night?
Heck if I know. Falling asleep is almost always a long process of the brain winding down.

14. Favorite style of underwear?
Ones that fit.

15. Favorite style of underwear for the opposite sex?
Favorite cut depends on the cut of the guy.

16. What errand/chore do you despise?
Dishes.

17. If you didn’t have to work, would you volunteer at an art gallery?
Nope. Art museum—maybe. Art gallery—no.

18. Get up early or sleep in?
What am I trying to accomplish today? Sometimes sleep is its own goal.

19. What is your favorite cartoon character?
Danger Mouse. Well, it might be Penfold, actually.

20. Favorite NON sexual thing to do at night with a girl/guy?
Stay up talking until the world takes on that slightly surreal glow and anything can be said without worries.

21. A secret that you wouldn’t mind everyone knowing?
Nope. Sorry. Either someone knows, so it’s not a secret, or it’s dying with me.

22. When did you first start feeling old?
Getting arthritis at 13 made me a bit precocious.

23. Favorite 80′s movie?
Real Genius.

24. Your favorite lunch meat?
Smoked turkey.

25. What do you get every time you go into Sam’s Club?
Hives.

26. Beach or lake?
Lake with trees and rocks along the shore. Someplace nice to sit and just stare at the water.

27. Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual that was invented?
It works for me.

28. How many people do you stalk on Myspace?
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a Myspace page once.

29. Favorite guilty pleasure?
Sambuca or Drambuie. Depends on the day.

30. Favorite movie you wouldn’t want anyone to find out about?
I don’t usually scream to the world that I have a small collection of Danny Kaye movies, but I don’t care if anyone knows, either.

31. What’s your drink?
See 29.

32. Cowboys or Indians?
Never played either as a kid, but I’m some tiny part native Canadian.

33. Cops or Robbers?
Both. I usually root for whomever is smarter.

34. Who from high school would you like to run into?
Evan. Erin. Jackie, if it were still possible. Pete. Stacey. I’m sure there are others I’m missing.

35. What radio station is your car radio tuned to right now?
I don’t drive. Ben keeps it on the Current until I’m appalled by what I’m hearing. Then it goes on the local alternative station until the commercials come on.

36. Norm or Cliff?
Carla.

37. The Cosby Show or the Simpsons?
Simpsons.

38. Worst relationship mistake that you wish you could take back?
There was a lot of being young and a lot of learning. I’d spare some people’s feelings if I could, and there were a couple of boys who weren’t worth kissing. For that matter, there were a couple who I should have just gone ahead and kissed, circumstances be damned. But I’m happy with where it all got me.

39. Do you like the person who sits directly across from you at work?
Uh, there’s no one there, but most of the people I work with are cool. I try to keep the ones who aren’t from realizing it.

40. If you could get away with it, who would you kill?
“Whom,” people, whom would I kill. Are you trying to make me homicidal? Seriously, though, I think the consequences of killing even an awful person would be too hard to predict.

41. What famous person(s) would you like to have dinner with?
Alton Brown (for the conversation more than the cooking), Alan Cumming, Miss Snark, Oscar Wilde—almost anyone clever and not too sweet.

42. What famous person would you like to sleep with?
And dispel the mystique? You’re kidding, right?

43. Have you ever had to use a fire extinguisher for its intended purpose?
Nope.

44. Last book you read for real?
The last one I finished was a Tamora Pierce YA. I’m reading Mary Roach’s Spook currently.

45. Do you have a teddy bear?
I think I still have a Gund that was given to me tucked somewhere in a closet. I have a stuffed dinosaur, though.

46. Have you ever brushed your teeth?
Duh. Ew.

47. Somewhere in California you’ve never been and would like to go?
I’ve never been to California. Seeing M5 Industries would be cool, though.

48. Number of texts in a day?
Now I know you’re kidding. Do you know how few cell minutes I use in a month? I’m a poster child for a shared plan.

49. At this point in your life would you rather start a new career or a new relationship?
I’m working on the new career, although I don’t expect it to replace the current one
.

50. Do you go to church?
Aside from weddings, christenings, and funerals, maybe twice in my life.

51. Pencil or pen?
Keyboard.

52. What do you want to achieve in life?
Perfection, but I’ll manage if I never get there.

53. How old are you?
36

54. Where do you see yourself when you are 40?
I plan for retirement, since it helps to start early (mmm, compound interest), but my other long-term goals are pretty fluid. So far, adult life has treated me well. I think I’ll hang in there and see how it goes.