Friday, January 28, 2011

Bruised but Not Broken: on surving a beating by a bunch of Madwomen

Image from Sampsonia Way Magazine,
'Women Who Don't Bite their Tongues,' Jan 2011 issue, pg 28-29.

Last night was my first 'official' Madwomen in the Attic workshop... boy, did it put my ego in its place; knocking it on its (metaphorical) ass. Thankfully, my spirit, my passion and my vision have only been bruised, not broken.

In typical Stephie-fashion, I put myself out there by submitting a piece for critique for this first class; not only the first class of the workshop but also my first 'writing' class outside of Honors Composition in undergrad (now almost 10 years ago). It's frickin' going to Siberia all over again. It is true; I am a creature of habit.

I don't know why I always dive right in. I never cease to be surprised to discover that I'm in way over my head as soon as I hit the ice-cold water -- even though I know full well that I'm a poor swimmer. Somethings I never learn no matter how many times I dive in with the same belly-smack-your-face-off-the-water result. Ironically, I'm a terrible diver in real life, too.

Some people refer to that tendency as the definition of insanity, ie: expecting a different result when doing the same thing over and over and over again. I'd like to think that it's an innate characteristic of strength and courage. I get so excited (blinded with enthusiasm for something new) that I take a giant leap of faith into the unknown without thinking. I hope that trait never fades, dies or becomes jaded or cynical... or worse, I hope it never compromises or conforms to appease the status quo, ever.

Nevertheless, it's served me well so far in experiencing really crazy things. I've found that the more I have engaged that tendency, the faster I have become at learning value lessons from doing it.

The Dreadful Side of 'Good Experiences'
In college, I learned that whenever anyone uttered the phrase, 'Oh, yeah... it'll be a good experience for you,' I knew I was in for a world of emotional turmoil before I could appreciate it as a 'good experience' weeks, months or years after the fact. What doesn't kill you, does make you stronger... it's just not pleasant. Thankfully, I was able to appreciate the experience from last night, after a good night's sleep, only 1/2 a day later.
Valuable Lesson No. 1
Creative writing (non-fiction or otherwise) and blogging are two completely different means of communicating. I'm learning so much already about this new discipline... too bad it has to be the hard way. But, I'm known for being stubborn and sadly that's the only way I learn quickly and efficiently, as embarrassing at times as it may be.

Valuable Lesson No. 2
There is a deceptive generation gap between myself and people that are not all that much older than I am. Blogging is somewhat of a new medium and outlet for the age-old art of writing. Like most new things that are still evolving, not everyone is familiar with them and/or does not understand them and/or does not respect or view them as valid forms of the established discipline.

To my chagrin, most of the women said that they have not read any/many blogs and the rest do not have the time to invest in reading them. Not helping my rebel cause, using a light sprinkling of emoticons throughout my submission to help convey tone;) <--- winky-face; conveys witty tone in online dialog; becomes a feature of a writers voice when used with consistency

Lesson No. 3
Things taken out of their contextual environment often no longer make any sense... at all. For instance, most of the feedback and reactions to my blog article were because it was simply misunderstood like an alien in a foreign country. I've fondly named that foreign country, Manuscriptia.

Emoticon usage is just one of many examples of cultural misunderstandings  in Manuscriptia... it also happens to be like speaking a street dialect in a hoch-language setting (strike 2, double-wink:).

As a visual designer, I must always consider the audience first and foremost and also the context in which the audience receives a message in order for communication to be effective (ie: to do my job well). You would think I would have thought about how a blog would lose a lot of its 'blogginess' when its out of its element in print form... alas, you would be wrong;)

I caused much confusion by forgetting that my readers could not learn more about anything I had highlighted in the original blog. The linkability of unknown words/phrases to any article or site on the interwebs for more information is obviously a feature that is only available online. Also, any blog article from this site is one in a long series of 'Rambling, Ravings, Revelries' with callback links to concepts presented in 'older posts.' Again, lost in translation in Manuscriptia.

I was a little hard on myself last night because of it, but I've been able to reframe it and see it as it is... it's a rookie mistake; I know better for next time; it's really no biggie.

Most importantly, though, it makes for a good story/blog article:)

Gazing at the Positives
After being my own therapist last night/this morning to combat the hit to self-esteem -- reminding myself that any criticism is not maliciously intended to be a knock on my identity and not to be internalized or taken personally; it's to help me improve and refine my ability -- I was able to recognize a few big positives from last night.
Positive Outcome No. 1
'Your article reads like a proposal for research.' That was fantastic feedback because it's exactly what it is as I just embark on this new journey. It gives me hope that the proof of concept has been captured well... grant funding, here I come.

Positive Outcome No. 2
The research that I want to embark upon has sparked interest. The other writers wanted to see more specifics/details/stories to flesh out my article -- from both the personal journey of searching for my heritage perspective as well as the advocacy for the Romani people perspective. Great information to have as I begin to conduct the interviews that will comprise my research for both perspectives of this story.

Positive Outcome No. 3
I'm learning about how to tell a story in new-for-me ways. Most of my stories are first-person narratives that are retrospective. The very talented Madwomen writers are ones that I can admire and learn a great deal from in developing my ability to write non-fiction literature with characters, dialog, scenes, plots, etc., etc.

I woke up this morning thinking about how many stories I have to tell from that one, crazy month in Siberia four years ago. 'Lessons from Siberia' could become it's own book, or it could be the unifying short stories that create continuity throughout my Demystifying Depression blog/body of research.

My next short story for class will likely be the one from Lake Baikal, where I came to accept the (very real feeling) possibility of my untimely demise. I survived to tell the tale and it's a good one that's cooking in my head as we speak. I'll publish it here when it's ready:)

Thank the Heavens for Perspective
In retrospect, I see myself in this new career and workshop as a newbie in the ring, who after taking several swift hits to the face + a severe deathblow to the gut (ego) from a gang of world champions, quickly recovers from the shock, awe and utter bewilderment to learn from the challenge (improving by leaps & bounds) and to come back scrapping with the blazing spirit of a prizefighter.

I now understand why Sarah Williams-Deveraux, in the Sampsonia Way article, calls this group of Madwomen, 'brutally and lovingly honest.'

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