Outline of Book One: Check

I have officially finished the detailed outline of my first Buffy fanfic book. My grand narrative is in three stages, and the first stage is in three books. So yes, hefty undertaking, but what are hobbies for, if not to keep your mind occupied for the next however many years you have to wait until real life becomes bearable? The task of writing out the full book is much scarier, not only because that’s when the final product has to live up to my own extremely strict standards, but because once I’m done I no longer have an excuse not to post it online somewhere. Oddly enough, finding a website with ready-made Buffy fan fiction scares me almost as much as having the finished product available for the world to see, so if anyone out there who’s not terrified of searching out new things online knows a good fanfic site with decent stories, quality, etc. (not necessarily exclusive to Buffy, but that’s probably the best place to start), please let me know. Meanwhile, I’m doing my best to turn the outline into an official story, and I’m telling myself to try and write just a little – even one line – every day.

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I have a few posts in the queue, but every once in a while (or more like multiple times a day) I get fed up with my need to have all my words ‘just so.’ Whether I’m speaking or writing, I can’t let loose an errant syllable without a pain-staking, ‘what does this say about me?’ reflection. So right now I’m just going to put down what I’m thinking.

A couple things are at the forefront. I am currently helping my grandpa, who now lives at a nursing home, and one of the other residents, a woman named Janet with dementia, was having trouble today because another lady was in her room, insisting that the room and everything in it belonged, not to Janet, but her. I’m not sure who was in the wrong, but Janet, wandered into my grandpa’s room and related the situation to me, then said, ‘I actually feel sorry for this woman. I mean, to think this is the situation when it’s not, but it’s still frustrating when I can’t get into my own room.’ My heart went out to her, and I said, ‘Don’t worry. I know it’s hard.’ ‘I just want it sorted out.’ ‘It will be. It just takes time.’ She nodded, then as she left, she turned back and said very genuinely, ‘Thanks for listening.’ I felt the heart thrill in my chest, since this is one of the few things in life that gives me joy: when people feel like they can confide in me.

The second thing is that I think I’ve separated ‘religion’ from ‘God’ in my mind. I find myself very interested in religion from an intellectual standpoint, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeking out Truth using an intellectual mindset. What I don’t like is the little voice of accusation telling me that God can’t be understood with the head; he must be believed in by the heart. Whatever. Okay fine, I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I was looking at a DVD cover from a Bible study course called ‘Jesus in the Feasts,’ which, for those not well-versed in the Old Testament (which is the whopping majority of the population), means that the study will focus on how Jesus is represented symbolically in the various Jewish holy days that they celebrated throughout the year. For example, he is the sacrificial lamb for Yom Kippur. Anyways, I realized that I would be interested in the study the same way that I’m interested in history, or Jane Austen’s novels, or how difficult it must have been for Abraham Lincoln to have to go right back to work as President the day after his son Willie died. But when the part would inevitably come where the leader of the Bible study would ask, ‘So what could God be saying to us through this today?’ I found myself retreating emotionally. Maybe I’m just fed up with trying to squeeze blood from the spiritual stone that is my relationship with God, but I don’t care what these ‘special studies’ have to do with my life. I’ve done all the ‘seeking’ I can psychologically stomach, with next to nothing to show for it, and the little I do have is pretty much a fool’s hope that just maybe things will get better. I say that if there’s any Truth to this ‘God,’ it’s about time he makes himself known to me, religion be damned.

An aside to all you Ashley Madison idiots

So I’ve realized that the only acceptable reason to end a marriage is abuse, whether physical or emotional, and because I believe that a serial cheater would qualify as emotionally abusive, I have a few potentially naive, yet logical comments on fidelity …

When you love someone enough to want them as a life partner, you can’t just lose yourself in your still-raging hormones or the flowery romantic claims that you can’t imagine your life without this person. The real test comes after the passion lessens, and your life is full of bills, kids, appointments, in-laws, and the revelation that a disproportionate number of Ottawa residents are signed onto an infidelity website, that you still want to be with this person more than all the other ‘potential’ love connections that inevitably come at the times when you’re feeling most dissatisfied with your committed relationship. Do you love your partner enough to forgo the lure of forbidden fruit? Because despite the cliché, too many of the former ‘one and onlys’ don’t take this question into account – and if they do, they certainly don’t take it seriously.

In short, don’t be stupid enough to assume that you’ll never look at another person your whole life, because even if you don’t, your partner probably will, and you both need to be prepared and armed against it. Real love is not about never having feelings for another person – it’s about both of you affirming your choice to be with only each other, regardless of circumstances, like you promised.

One way to this artist’s heart

A few weeks ago my friend Marie and I went to Chapters and then Michaels to buy colouring books and connect-the-dots for adults, because I firmly believe you’re never too old to enjoy art activities that are meant for children. Well, this past Sunday I finally bought pencil crayons for the colouring books, and as a shameless plug for Michaels, I got a set of 48 Crayola colour pencils for only $8.80 (I had to give my email address, but it’s the best return for endless junk mail I’ve ever seen).

That evening I sharpened each pencil to a crisp point that was potentially lethal in the wrong hands. It was beautiful! (Not the lethal part, but the multi-coloured points (:). As a testament to the Crayola quality, not one of the pencils cracked or splintered, and when I finished all were almost the same length. Okay, so I’m a bit of a geek (correction, a lot of a geek), but the only thing needed to complete my work was a pencil crayon display case. Remember in You’ve Got Mail when Tom Hanks says he’s give Meg Ryan a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils if he knew her name and address? I’d totally love that!

Hard As Flint

I had a mild identity crisis today while driving the five hours between my psychiatrist’s office and my grandparent’s house. My doctor, whom I love and have been seeing for almost fifteen years, made the completely sound observation that being an artist requires a lot of resilience, because you have to be able to deal with a lot of rejection. I knew this all too well, because the fear of rejection has pretty much paralyzed me from getting any of my creative fiction out there, whether online or elsewhere, and lately my hateful need for artistic perfection has prevented me from even writing down my ideas in prose form. Much to my surprise, however, my doctor took the tough love route (i assume) and said that if I don’t have the resilience, maybe I should consider a different field. Now, I hadn’t refilled my Lamotrigine (mood stabilizers for bipolar) or taken my Adderall yet, so my emotional coping skills were not exactly top notch, but her observations sent me on a spiral that had me deeply questioning my worth.

I had always considered myself strong – not physically, but in an ‘overcoming all psychological odds’ kind of way – but I had never realized how much worth I placed on inner strength, both for my self and others. I am fascinated by strong women and tend to obsess over them (Ginny Weasley, Buffy Summers, Lucy Pevensie, most of Doctor Who’s companions), but I questioned for maybe the first time if this fascination was because I found accord with this women, or because I was devoid of their strength and their stories were just my armchair warrior pipe dreams. My road trips are usually spent entirely inside those pipe dreams, but this time my brain couldn’t come up with one fresh fanfic idea because I was almost nauseated at the thought that I was utterly and thoroughly weak. For me, the highest proof of one’s value is the quality of their life story, and even though my life has been severely lacking in the epic department, I had always consoled myself with the notion that I was the kind of person that could live an epic story, given the right circumstances. But now I was confronted with the possibility that not even my character was epic-worthy, and it was all I could do to not have a complete emotional break down (there’s a sign of strength … not).

I searched for something that might alleviate this crisis – delusions of future romance or success, or even someone I could call to tell me, ‘Don’t worry, Sarah, you’re strong’ and perhaps give me reasons to think so. But all those options looked to external validation, which would only confirm that I’m laughably weak. So I told myself that someone with true resilience wouldn’t just take my doctor’s word for it – I would prove it wrong and show that I am strong, but I honestly didn’t know how to do that, and I couldn’t tear my brain away from these thoughts because I still wasn’t fully medicated.

So after an emotionally precarious drive, I refilled my Lamotrigine and arrived at my grandparents’ at 4pm. I was spent, but forced myself to take the meds before lying down (I usually take them at night, and the break in routine for an Asperger’s girl is more difficult than you’d think). For months I haven’t prayed openly to God about anything to do with my struggles, because about 90-95% of the time he seems to completely ignore my requests for peace and leaves me feeling even more alone than before. But my turmoil was intense enough that I found myself pleading inwardly for something to hang on to. I was dimly aware that resilience is formed by simply ‘hanging in there’, and I remembered that my respite care for a couple brain-injured individuals has demonstrated a form of inner strength and patience, but I couldn’t turn off my ‘worst-case scenario’ brain that kept saying I was worthless because I was weak.

Then I remembered a scripture that one of my Bible-study friends told me over three years ago:  ‘I will make you as hard as flint.’ On that particular occasion, we had spent the study praying for each other and sharing words and visions that we felt the Holy Spirit had in mind for each member, and while the majority of the people were given encouragements for future blessings, peace, and light, etc., I was given Ezekiel 3, the moral of which said that I will experience bitterness and turmoil. (Great.) However, I was able to recall that the bitterness and turmoil was meant to make me ‘as hard as flint’ so I could be strong enough to face whatever calling God had for me, which to me, meant that the emotional hell that has been my brain the past three years could be going towards creating that resilience that I actually prayed for when I was still at school.

When I lied down I claimed the ‘hard as flint’ scripture and asked for it to be true. Then I started to cry. I said to God, ‘There has been so much bitterness and turmoil inside, whether others see it or not, but if that is making me strong, then I can deal with it. But I need it to be worth something. Please.’ I’m not sure if he heard, or did anything about what I asked, but I had something positive to fixate on during the next period of bitterness and turmoil: the words ‘hard as flint.’ Without them I wouldn’t have been able to post this so soon after it happened. I think I am strong, and becoming stronger is even better, and for a generally negative thinker, at least that’s something.

Jon Stewart and Ken Burns

I’m a big fan of The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart’s monologue following the Charleston shooting has cemented my opinion more than anything else. He said he would make no jokes, and kept his word, expressing instead the deep sadness he felt, not only for the tragedy, but because of the ‘gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist.’ He said he’s confident that even after acknowledging it, Americans still won’t do jack shit.

I am not an American, but for some reason – and I like to think the monologue was part of it – yesterday I felt compelled to watch the Ken Burns documentary series on the American Civil War. I finished it today (it is very well done and I highly recommend it to anyone, including Americans, even if they’re familiar with the history), and what moved me most at the end was the response of the Union army commander, Ulysses S. Grant, and his officers when they received news of Robert E. Lee’s surrender. There were a few feeble cheers, ‘then all broke down in tears.’ Both armies were exhausted, but when the Confederates surrendered their battle flags, the unspoken memory of four years of brutal battles and unsurpassed hell was evident on all faces when the victors met the vanquished. ‘The war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again.’ Major General Chamberlain called his men into a line and gave the Confederates a soldierly salute, ‘A token of respect from Americans to Americans.’

This was in 1865, and almost exactly 150 years later, in the very town where the first Civil War battle was fought, the same prejudices and hate persist. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Humans can hold grudges for centuries. But I wondered how the men in those armies might have felt, if they knew that a century and a half later, everything they fought for, and over 600,000 died for, still had yet to be resolved. I thought about how impossible it would’ve seemed for both sides if they knew that today America would have a Black president. I thought about Abraham Lincoln and how much I – and undoubtedly many others – would have liked to meet him. (Maybe they’ll make a Doctor Who episode where he meets Abe Lincoln.) I’m not trying to moralize anything, or offer some trivial explanation or comparison that makes all this ‘make sense,’ because it doesn’t.

At the beginning of the documentary, one of the commentators said that if you want an understanding of the United States, it must be rooted in an understanding of the Civil War. This is true, but I still don’t know if this would shed light on the current crisis. I doubt if anything will.

The Act of Leaving: Twilight versus Buffy

I often wonder if anyone really cares about my literary reflections, but I figure that I’m probably not the only person who can’t stand too much reality, so here’s a little escape. I tend to hold the Twilight saga in general contempt, first as a fan of high quality writing (though I’ve heard Stephenie Meyer has improved, so good for her), and second as a Harry Potter nut, but when I got into Buffy and outgrew my initial Bangel shipper phase (Spuffy all the way), I found that Angel and Buffy kind of reminded me of Edward and Bella – you know, if Angel was emotionally abusive and Buffy (and I cannot stress this contrast enough) was one of the worst representations of a female heroine to wilt her way into popular culture. And yet I reflected that Edward and Angel are surprisingly similar. They both go out of their way to stalk and save the woman they love, they only drink animal blood, they’re liars – in that they don’t tell the truth even in situations when lying doesn’t really give them an advantage – and their appeal for the heroine (if we’re being honest) mostly lies in their good looks and mystery/unattainability.

Now, I’m not knocking Angel. I think he’s a very interesting character, and the very fact that Buffy has more strength and substance in her pinkie toe than Bella does in her whole body automatically puts Angel, as the object of Buffy’s affection, in a better light. I just don’t think he and Buffy have a strong enough connection to change him from a fairytale ideal to someone with whom she can have a real relationship. (I promise to write a ‘Why I’m a Spuffy Shipper’ post at some point.) Thankfully, the only similarity between Bella and Buffy (in the first three seasons at least) is that they embody what Joyce Summers says to Angel: ‘She’s just like any other young woman in love. You’re all she can see of tomorrow.’

So, let’s take a quick look at each couple’s break-up scene, or what I like to call the act of leaving, because in this case they precede a long period of separation. By the way, if you want to get a sense for whether a couple will stand the test of time, the dynamics in these scenes tend to reveal the quality of the relationship as a whole. For Twilight and Buffy, at a basic level, we have each righteous vampire making an unexpected announcement to his beloved that he’s leaving her for good, basically, because he’s a vampire.

Angel is very straightforward, using the classic, ‘I think we need to talk,’ and he expresses the reason behind his decision very clearly: ‘I’ve been thinking about our future. And the more I do, the more I feel like us, you and me being together, is unfair to you.’ His concern and purpose is for Buffy alone, saying that she deserves something outside of demons and darkness, someone who can make love to her and give her children. He gets emotional and openly says, ‘You know how much I love you. It kills me to say this.’ He is broken and self-deprecating, referring to himself as a ‘freak show,’ but he’s completely honest with Buffy, and the only time he is cold is when Buffy says, ‘I want my life to be with you,’ and he replies, ‘I don’t.’

Edward is not only cold, but also unfeeling and unnecessarily cruel, even in the face of Bella’s visible suffering. He literally drags her into the middle of nowhere against her will, and leaves her thinking that she doesn’t matter to him at all, let alone that she’s the love of his life. He says he’s leaving because Carlisle can’t pass for 33 anymore, then tells Bella, ‘Of course, I’ll always love you … in a way,’ denying that there was ever any strength to his affection. This is all bold-faced lying on Edward’s part, because after they reunite, he says that he only left because of how much he loves her, and he was trying to keep her safe from his family and other vampires who were hunting her (completely failing to realize that she’s in even more danger without them because those other vampires never stopped hunting her).

Angel leaves because he is holding Buffy back from becoming who she’s meant to be. Edward, if he truly loves Bella, has no legitimate reason to leave in the first place, and if the reader doesn’t believe that breaking up is unavoidable, Edward’s decision to leave is in itself emotionally abusive. Unlike Buffy, Bella has no pressing destiny outside the relationship, and while she might be better off with someone else, Edward makes no mention of this during the break-up or the reunion, not even in a self-deprecating way. Bella sees him as perfect, and he says nothing that would disagree with her. So really, when it comes down to it, Edward’s leaving comes from a combination of blatant selfishness and stupidity.

As for the women, Bella is on panic mode for the whole scene. Everything she says is a desperate plea for Edward to stay (when he lets her get a word in edgewise), then promptly faints right after he forces her to comply with his decision. Buffy is still a typical teenager – she talks about prom and asks Angel if he has a tux – but she shows herself to be both intelligent and strong-willed, first telling Angel to ‘drop the cryptic’ and be straight with him, then once he tells her that she deserves better, she pointedly asks, ‘Who are you to tell me what’s right for me?’ Buffy’s most immature response is when she says she didn’t have a choice in loving him, and ‘I’m never gonna change. I can’t change.’ But compare this to Bella’s most telling line: ‘This is about my soul, isn’t it? … You can have my soul. I don’t want it without you – it’s yours already!’ (*shudder*) This brings up the most disturbing difference between the two scenes. Buffy is just as heartbroken as Bella, but Bella is a freaking doormat, and Edward shows none of that protection he claims to feel so deeply for her. He saved her life a few times, yes, but because of how he treats her in the act of leaving, his ‘love’ is better described as a controlling possessiveness.

Angel’s act of leaving is devastating for him and Buffy, but he is the one who makes the decision to end it, and the audience believes it to be necessary. First we see that Buffy has written ‘Buffy & Angel 4 Ever!’ on her notebook, shortly before Joyce tells Angel that there are hard choices ahead, and if Buffy can’t make them, Angel will have to. ‘I know you care about her. I just hope you care enough.’ As a believable teenager, it’s unlikely that Buffy would recognize a lack of future with Angel for herself, and while this precipitates the break-up, this dynamic is consistent throughout their romance: Angel is the more experienced, mature partner, and even though there are similar in strength and conviction, there isn’t a lot of equality between them. (The most romantic act of leaving I’ve ever read is between Harry and Ginny, and they are complete equals during that scene.) The dynamics of their break-up give the final word on their relationship as a whole: Angel truly loves Buffy, but they are not equals and she is not meant to be with him. (And I’d wager that Joss Whedon, as a Spuffy shipper himself, would agree.)

While Buffy and Angel may be less than ideal, Bella and Edward are downright disastrous. Meyer calls them ‘the truest of true loves,’ but because Edward’s leaving isn’t necessary, Bella’s suffering is cruel, arbitrary, and unnecessary. Then again, Bella and Edward are lamentable characters in themselves, so maybe they deserve each other.

Six months after Angel leaves, Buffy has gone to college, fallen for a new guy, and averted another apocalypse. Six months without Edward, Bella has just recovered from a catatonic state, only to show increasing signs of recklessness that almost results in accidental suicide. Remember the Seinfeld episode where one of Elaine’s dates is a ‘bad breaker-upper’? She and Jerry agree that breaking up is a very important part of a relationship, and honestly, they’re not far off the mark. This dynamic is consistent in many stories, and I’ll likely be examining more as time goes by. But for now … as much as those break ups suck, they tend to prove more than anything else whether that ‘one’ you’re so desperate for is really worth the agony of separation, but more importantly, that the ‘meantime’ shouldn’t be wasted by becoming a shell of a human being (at least not for more than a few weeks). And who knows, if you’re strong enough you might eventually fall in love with someone better (ahem, Spike).