What is obsession, and is it good or bad? So often, obsession is seen as a bad thing, typically associated with individuals who don’t know when to let go or how to balance life with everything else. Oftentimes, it’s associated too with stalkers, criminals, master criminals, and drug addicts.
A dear friend of mine was just told that she was obsessive, and that is, in fact, what made me start to ponder the concept. (Her horrific obsession? Posting more than what someone thought was a reasonable number of links and posts on Facebook in a day. Yeah…considering she only put out about a dozen or so throughout the course of the day and none of them were ads or spam, I have to wonder whether the complainer actually spent much time on Facebook. I have some friends who literally spam my feed with more than 50 posts in a day.)
Obsession seems to be connected to passion. A number of incredible artists and people who have made such differences in the world could be qualified as obsessed. For this, I’d like to limit it to artists, actors, authors, and other creative individuals.
So let’s start with someone that just about everyone would agree was phenomenal. Leonardo da Vinci. He painted fewer than 30 known paintings, but with all of his drawings and sketches that have survived, he completed thousands. I’m guessing that that number does not actually include all the sketches and doodles that he did on the side, in the dust, or on his table and walls. One of his most famous paintings and one of the most well known paintings of all time, the Mona Lisa, underwent numerous renditions. From analyses of the paintings, experts now believe that he repainted the Mona Lisa over a dozen times, trying to get it just right. From articles on the Daily Mall to biographies that detail this incredible man’s life, most would agree that da Vinci was incredible, and he certainly was obsessed with his art.
A more modern example of a woman who took obsession to an extreme to hone her craft is Anne Hathaway. In preparation for the role of Fantine in Les Miserables, she lost 25 pounds, and anyone who has seen that woman knows that she did not have 25 pounds to lose. In addition to that, she had her long hair cut during the filming, to help to convey the emotion and trauma of what Fantine went through. It’s hard to watch that particular scene without experiencing the drama and the emotion. A lot of people were actually concerned that she had taken preparation for the role too far, but Anne Hathaway took the role so seriously that she did not even allow concerns over her own health and well being get in the way of performing it to the best of her ability. Had she done it in moderation and balanced it all equally, I doubt that the scene would have been quite as moving.
Another example of one of my favorites is J.R.R. Tolkien with his series, The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings took him more than twelve years to complete, perhaps longer, depending on where you start the clock. He toiled long and hard over the series, crafting his races, characters, languages, and scenes. You can’t pick up that series without realizing that it was a labor of love and a passion for storytelling that brought it all together.
These are only a few. I could talk about so many others who have sacrificed, honed, and challenged themselves, sacrificing health and so much more to push themselves to the limit of their craft and art. Obsession can lead to bad results if the object of the obsession is bad or flawed. Serial killers, stalkers, and the like are bad examples of obsession, but they are not the only one. Here’s one thing that I have noticed though. People who are obsessed tend to get results in the areas that they pursue. Harold Brown once said, “It’s the addicts that stay with it. They’re not necessarily the most talented, they’re just the ones that can’t get it out of their systems.”
Now maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better. After all, I know that I obsess over writing. I write between 10,000 and 15,000 words every day, working on various stories, novels, articles, and legal pieces. Only a fraction of it has ever been published, primarily because I don’t think it’s good enough and because it needs “just one more edit.” Or maybe it’s because I worry for my friend. She is passionate and vivacious, even when she feels isolated and unsure about her place in the world. Yet her obsession is with justice, raising awareness, and storytelling. I think that her ability to be obsessive is actually one of her strengths. Not in her Facebook posts so much as in the honing of her craft and the perpetual pursuit of characters that are true to real people and who are drawn from the corners of society that most of the world would rather ignore.
People often say that balance and moderation are the key to life. However, here’s something interesting about balance. Balance does not necessarily mean equal as so many people seem to think. When I make soup, balancing the broth requires adding spices, but I don’t put in equal amounts of salt and pepper. I put in a little more of the one over the other. So perhaps one can be obsessed while living life in appropriate balance when you consider the craft, the goal, and the desired impact. So here’s to obsession, friends.
I actually wasn’t sure whether I was going to do the Ice Bucket Challenge. But then I started hearing some of the criticisms and all about why this was such a bad idea. The top ones were 1) it’s just narcissistic self righteousness 2) this won’t cure ALS 3) most people won’t do anything beyond this to help find a cure for ALS 4) everyone else is doing it 5) ALS Association supports embryonic stem cell research.
So, as part of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I’m going to actually address these points. For those of you who don’t know, ALS is a disease where your body becomes your own tomb. As the nerve cells stop working, you lose the ability to move. Day by day, you lose more and more strength. You cannot taste. In some cases, you cannot smell. And eventually, though your mind will remain sharp as ever, your body will simply stop responding. The only part of your body you will be able to move is your eyes. I’ve decided that as part of this challenge, I’ll actually be doing another blog post that goes into more detail on this point. But now let’s get into the more popular reasons why you shouldn’t be doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.
It’s Just Narcissism
There’s been a number of articles and blog posts spread around the web about how this is just the latest in a long line of social media based attempts at altruism that are nothing more than masks for narcissism. “Look at me! I’m doing something to help other people! I’m a good person!”
Okay, maybe it is. Matters of the heart are important, but I would actually say on something like this, “who cares?” Unlike in some social media campaigns which have no quantifiable results (though perhaps other unseen benefits), the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised millions of dollars. I have heard more and more people talking about ALS than ever before. ALS wasn’t that well known in popular culture despite how horrible it is.
Let God judge the heart. If good is coming from it, let the good come. The heart is a big deal, don’t get me wrong. But it’s our hearts in what we do that are at issue, not others. And actually, our own hearts are the only ones we can examine.
It Won’t Cure ALS
Oh….I didn’t realize that one of the requirements of participating in an awareness event or a charity or a fundraising event was the conclusion that it must succeed in curing the disease.
Sarcasm off. ALS is a serious disease for which there is, as of yet, no cure. Those who are diagnosed with it can only hope to perhaps delay the onset of the symptoms or extend their lives, but it is a death sentence. A long, slow, and painful death. But if our standard for raising awareness and researching diseases is the guarantee that the cure be found, then why are we researching cancer or a number of other diseases?
Research and fundraising are both necessary before the cure can typically be found. And so while it may not cure ALS yet, it may eventually lead to it. How else would the cure be found except by accident?
It Won’t Last; These People Won’t Do Anything Else
I did not realize that when one participated in an awareness movement or assisted with a charity or helped with a cause that it was a lifelong commitment. Hmmm…fascinating.
Sarcasm off. Once again, I find this to be a strange standard to require. I have participated in numerous causes. In some cases, I have continued to work with them, investing what I can in time, energy, and money. Others I only assisted with once or twice. Did that mean that the efforts I and others expended were somehow irrelevant? Not at all! It helped in that instance.
Now, if I were to look at this in the best possible light, these critics might actually be trying to encourage folks to participate further. Help out a family with ALS. Continue to make donations. Continue to raise awareness and so on.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and I would say that participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge could be the start for other participation later on down the road. Pouring a bucket of ice water on your head doesn’t mean that you won’t ever do anything else. Will most of the folks who participated in this do more to support those suffering from ALS or to support the research? I don’t know. Maybe not. But again, is continued participation the requirement? If you do decide to participate in this, then do seriously consider what you will do beyond this. If you can do more, then do more. And encourage others to do the same.
Lots of Other People Are Doing It; I Don’t Want To Be Like Everyone Else
A number of posts I’ve seen lately have decried others for “jumping on the band wagon” and “giving in to peer pressure.” Maybe some people are doing this just to fit in. But others may be choosing to participate because they actually want to do something to raise awareness and assist with this process.
The fact is that if you are a person who thinks for herself, then this is irrelevant. Whether everyone is doing it or no one is doing it. Otherwise, you really aren’t someone who thinks for yourself. You’re just someone who reacts against what everyone else is doing, and that is just as bad as being someone who jumps on the band wagon.
The Donations Are Going to Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research
[As a side note, a lot of folks are doing both the challenge and donating to an organization to provide for the families, research, and so forth. In fact, that’s what I thought you were supposed to do at first. And most of the folks I know personally who are doing this are doing both.]
For individuals who are pro life, this is a more serious allegation, and it is probably one of the more serious charges against participation. I’m not going to get into all the specifics and analyses of embryonic stem cell research, but if this is your reason for not participating or telling others not to participate, you might want to reconsider.
First of all, while the ALS Association does potentially use embryonic stem cells (supposedly donated), you can request that the organization not use your funds in any way that uses embryonic stem cell research. You can’t do this on the website. The donation page does not allow for that qualification that I can see. But you can allegedly mail in your donation with a letter that makes that request, and they will honor it. I have not yet heard back from the association to confirm this officially.
Second of all, there are other organizations to which you can donate the money. (As a Christian, I strongly oppose the belief that just because an organization might do something with which my faith disagrees I am somehow released from doing anything.) One of these organizations that funds ALS research without using embryonic stem cell research is the John Paul II Research Institute.
If you’re concerned about the effectiveness of the funds, you can also consider helping out the families who are struggling through ALS. Just because there’s no cure for the disease doesn’t mean that the families don’t wrack up enormous expenses. The entire family suffers in this disease. It is emotionally, physically, and mentally agonizing. ALS Guardian Angels helps to provide for these families, provide grants, and so forth.
You can also look to see if there are any families within your community who are enduring through this disease or local charities that work with this. Nothing says that you have to give your donation to the ALS Association. You just have to get creative.
What Would You Have People Do Instead?
Some feel that folks should just donate the money and shut up. But that’s actually the incredible thing about the Ice Bucket Challenge. It went viral. On the news each day and on my Facebook newsfeed, I see more and more people doing the challenge and talking about ALS. Now, yes, some celebrities who have done this have not provided much information on ALS or that you should donate. But others have. More importantly, just making a donation would not have made this stand out at all. It would have just been like countless other organizations and good causes that all want your money. If you had heard that one of your favorite celebrities or friends had donated money to an organization to cure a disease, you might think that that person is a great individual, but it probably wouldn’t have caught your attention as much as that person dumping a bucket of ice on his head.
As of August 19, the Internet campaign has raised more than $15,000,000 And you want to know something else? I’m hearing people talk about ALS! Folks are actually looking it up. They’re discussing it. And that is incredible!
So What If I Don’t Like This Challenge?
Frankly, that’s on you. You don’t have to participate in it if you don’t want to. Worst case scenario, someone will show up and dump a bucket of ice water on you, but depending on your state, you might even be able to sue him for battery.
Maybe you’re just sick of seeing people dumping ice water on themselves. Fine. I can understand. But it will go away in time.
Consider also what else has been on your Facebook newsfeed. I’m going to guess lots of cats, funny photos, perhaps even the “pick 5 pictures that make you feel beautiful challenge” and others. At least people are trying to make a positive difference here.
Let me put this bluntly. If all you’re going to do is complain and not offer another solution, you are not part of the solution. You are part of the problem. You don’t have to do the Ice Bucket Challenge. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t want to participate. Let me make that very clear. You have every right to say no and not feel guilty. You can make your donation in private, say a prayer for those suffering from this disease, and carry on with your life.
But the fact that you dislike the challenge does not mean that you should harass those who are participating in it. Calling them sheeple, stupid, and narcissistic when you’re just sitting on your backside doing nothing is certainly not any better.
So for those of you who know me, this is a very big deal. I have long held a fear of cameras and filming. So much so that I have avoided some opportunities. Well, no more. This is one fear that’s going to be lambasted. As a head’s up, I know there’s a lot of roughness about it. This is a single take with just my laptop computer camera.
And here’s my reaction to watching that video, lol.
Into the Storm was not a movie that I had high hopes for. After all, it’s a disaster movie, and disaster movies generally don’t have the best track record when it comes to story lines or characters. Special effects are typically the main reason that folks go. Look, you can see the White House get blown up! Or there goes a whole fleet of 747s! Or look at that! The tornado is on fire! Recently, disaster films have also had a tendency to be overly preachy and even dull.
However, I actually left the theater surprisingly pleased. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable popcorn flick that I would gladly watch again and probably would add to my movie collection. But let’s get into the film.
Premises You Must Accept if You’re Going to Enjoy This Movie
Okay, every disaster film has at least one or two of these. But you need to be able to accept these premises if you’re going to enjoy it.
1) Some people will act incredibly stupid and ignore commonsense.
2) Everyone looks really quite fantastic after having been through a massive series of natural disasters. Seriously. Some of the survivors get a little bloodied up. Hair gets wet. Mud streaks the clothing. But everyone looked really quite good all the way through. Having been through storms involving a tornado, I can tell you I looked about a thousand times worse, and the tornado itself didn’t even touch down anywhere near me.
3) People and their vehicles will get far closer to tornados than is humanly possible without getting sucked in unless it’s required by the plot.
4) Multiple tornadoes, including an F5, all descend upon the same poor area.
5) Deaths are entirely at the film’s whim. People who shouldn’t be alive sometimes make it through what must otherwise be a miraculous event whereas others were obviously wearing red shirts.
Fusion of Regular Footage and Found Footage
Most of the time, I don’t enjoy found footage films. The shaky cameras and wooden dialogue tend to annoy me even though they’re supposed to mimic reality. In this case, it didn’t bother me as much. The film itself is a fusion of the traditional narrative style married to the found footage as Donnie and Trey, two brothers, are putting together interviews for the high school graduation and the time capsule. The other found footage comes from a group of storm chasers who are hoping to not only track down a tornado but anchor down and enter into the tornado itself. Security cameras also help to fill in the blanks, but the story itself includes regular film shots so that we can actually see what’s going on.
The found footage in this case gives it a rawer feel without making it feel entirely home cooked or nauseating. It also gives the whole piece more of the feel of walking into people’s lives rather than the film being based around them.
For me, one of the most important things in any story is the characters. In a number of reviews, folks have described them as wooden or forgettable. For whatever reason, I actually liked the characters. Will they stand the test of time and be some of the most beloved upon whom I fondly dwell? No. But I enjoyed them more than I enjoyed the characters in Twister, 2012, and other disaster films. In some cases, yes, the dialogue was quite wooden, and it just didn’t sound natural for the characters to even be having those conversations. One conversation that takes place in a church feels particularly stilted and obligatory (though there’s some interesting symbolism in the survivors fleeing into a church when a spiraling fire tornado attacks; that particular tornado struck me as a horrifying representation of a possibility for hell).
The weaknesses in the characters and in the story itself can generally be traced back to the screenwriting. At times, it felt as if the story and dialogue just needed to go through the editing process a few more times to really polish it up.
In general though, the characters felt believable enough to me. Donnie is somewhat shy and awkward, uncertain how to pursue his love interest, Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn suffers the most from no character development. She is clearly just there to serve the purpose of getting Donnie to a particular place and provide an emotional scene. Yet Alycia Carey who played her did not do a bad job with the character. All of the actors actually did quite well with what they were given to work with, and in some cases, that wasn’t much. There’s one scene in particular between Donnie and Kaitlyn when they think they’re nearing their end that is particularly good. The emotion conveyed through the eyes is quite believable. Donnie’s message to his father and brother particularly so.
Trey has gained a fair amount of criticism as well. But I actually liked his character quite a bit. He reminds me of a number of young boys I’ve met. A little on the snarky smart aleck side with his own agenda and yet still that little bit of sweetness. Granted, I might have been grinning because I kept thinking of other students I know who are like him. Plus the kid always had a knife on him, despite his father forbidding it. And it works well for an ongoing joke as well as a resolution to some of the problems.
The storm chasers aren’t enormously developed. In fact, they are probably the most clichéd of the characters with the exception of Allison. Peter is essentially a Captain Ahab out to get his white whale, the tornado. And the others are there to serve as cameramen and tornado fodder.
Allison, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, does a nice job playing the research analyst who has had to give up time with her five year old daughter to work. She isn’t annoying, she doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder, and she has her work cut out for her. She carries herself with a quiet weariness that makes it feel as if she is a person who just happened to get caught in this documentary.
Another character who feels like he just happened to get caught in the middle of his regular life for the documentary is Gary, Donnie and Trey’s father. He’s played by Richard Armitage whom you’ve probably seen in The Hobbit. In the beginning, Gary really doesn’t have much time to participate because he is busy preparing for the graduation. The emotional moments and development come later, and the character is odd in that he seems to possess skills that aren’t really explained. In fairness, the film doesn’t do much to establish any characters’ abilities with the exception of Donnie and Trey’s filming talents and the storm chasers’ abilities to track storms. Some of the stoicness involved with Gary just strikes me as the character’s personality rather than bad acting or even bad writing necessarily. Though I will address some of the odder points in a special section with my own particular resolution.
And last but not least….let’s talk about the rednecks. Oh yes. They’ve received some fantastic outrage and criticism for being so 2D. But…um…I can’t be offended because…yeah…I know guys like this. The rednecks definitely made me smile a bit. Particularly their end. Sure, it’s cheesy. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometimes the reason that there are stereotypes is because those stereotypes are true.
Not necessarily something you should aspire to, but if you’ve lived in this area, I’m sure you have met one or two people who fit into that redneck category.
For me, the characters in this movie were far and above more likeable and connectable than in Godzilla or Transformers 4: Age of Extinction or the other disaster films. In one scene involving a near trapped drowning, I knew there was no way that they were going to let those characters die. But it still got me on the edge of my seat as did the points when the tornado chased them. (Sometimes I did wonder whether the tornado was hunting them. I could swear these disasters get a scent of our main characters and then decide they want to finish them off, whatever the cost.)
This film relies heavily on clichés. In fact, I was able to successfully predict just about everything, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. Some of the clichés such as the black friend who vanishes as soon as the white friend he is supporting dies bothered me more than others. Cliches such as the last minute rescue and the overly strict dad with free spirited boys actually work for the story.
But more than that, the writers didn’t force some of the other clichés on there. Spoiler alert here, but I fully expected them to shoehorn in a romance between Gary and Allison. It was perfectly set up for that. Single father with two sons meets single mother with adorable little girl. How could it not turn out that way? In most other films, it would have. But not here. While there’s certainly chemistry between Allison and Gary for the limited time when that’s a possibility, nothing happens except for that connection. They then move on. It’s certainly a possibility that something might happen between them later, but it’s not rubbed in your face.
At the end of the day, this film wants to be a happy disaster film. It ends on a fairly high note with interviews being redone for the time capsule. Probably unrealistic given what they all endured, but still serving to remind the viewer to live each day like it might be your last because one day it will be. So cheesy at points, yes. Hokey at others, absolutely. Enjoyable overall, most definitely.
My Brilliant Theory About Why the Vice Principal Could Be The Way He Is
All right. Gary, the vice principal and one of the main characters in the movie, is a rather intriguing character. It’s not that he’s unbelievable. Such a character could certainly exist, but particular circumstances would need to exist to give rise to that character. In addition to being in excellent condition for a single father of two boys while also serving as a vice principal, he never freaks out and he always knows what to do. (In fact, in one scene, I could swear he was about to punch the tornado rather than let it drag off an innocent victim.)
In all fairness, not much is revealed about Gary’s background or his past or why he is the way that he is. All that we know for certain is that his wife died and he is raising his two sons alone. However, I have a theory. See, most of the time, when folks are this calm, they have been through exceptionally stressful circumstances before and perhaps even received training.
Now Richard Armitage played another character known as Lucas North in MI-5 or Spooks.
At the conclusion of Season 9, Lucas goes rogue and appears to commit suicide. Yet clearly, he did not.
He either fell through an anomaly (ala Primeval) or the Doctor (Doctor Who) picked him up and gave him a lift to small town Oklahoma
where he married a nurse and adopted her two sons. His skills as a top notch MI-5 agent assisted in his getting as far as vice principal and later on helped him handle the myriad of emergencies that Into the Storm dragged up. It also explains the British accent that keeps fighting to get out of the American accent all the way through. And the fact is that Richard Armitage, while a very talented actor, just does better speaking normally. Some accents are easier to mimic than others, and an Oklahoma accent certainly isn’t one of them.
I really enjoyed this film. It certainly has its weaknesses, but it also offered a fun ride.
It ended just when it needed to end, clocking in at just under an hour and a half. It’s nothing enormous and grand. It’s just a fun story that’s intended to entertain. And maybe convince you that tornadoes are dangerous. Just in case, you know, you had any doubts.
I have been planning to do a series of blog posts looking at the individuals who have influenced and encouraged my writing. The Tue-Rah series would actually be the primary focus, of course. And while I will certainly cover him once again when I reach that point in the Those to Whom I Am Grateful series, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a little preview right now.
Today is my father’s birthday. Yes, ring the bells, everyone. This is the day on which my father was welcomed into the world in a little hospital down in Texas on a warm summer’s morning.
Trying to recount what my father means to me and how much he has impacted me is almost impossible because the man has not ever pulled back from the unenviable task of being my father. And from a very young age, I found ways to test his patience and his resolve. Supposedly I had some sort of mental alarm that would trigger whenever he left the house, and I would treat my mother to siren like shrieks, bewailing his absence. (While I’m at it, it should also be noted that my mother’s patience is that of a saint!) And when he was home, I wanted nothing more than to follow him and know every detail of what he was doing. Supposedly I started talking at about 9 months and one of my early phrases was “what doin’?” I don’t ever recall him becoming angry with me for persisting with questions, and he never told me that I was too young to be asking the questions I asked.
One of the first things that stands out to me about my father is his faith and the way that he has always walked in line with that faith. One of my earliest memories of him was when I was about six years old. Mom and Dad were always telling us Bible stories. I remember the parable of the Good Samaritan and Daniel in the Lion’s Den best of all. On this particular day, we were in the old brown station wagon on our way to Richmond. The roads were slick with ice, and my sister and I entertained ourselves by drawing pictures on the windows (Dad didn’t want us to, which is why the game was fun; we had to see whether he would notice it). Then all at once, Dad pulled the car off to the side of the road.
A couple in an old blue pickup truck had pulled off along the embankment. A thin layer of snow already covered the roof and the hood. Hopping out of the station wagon, Dad went to see what the problem was. As it turned out, the couple had run out of gas. Dad didn’t hesitate. He invited them to get in the car with us. My little sister and I hopped into the back while my mother got out the spare blankets. The couple had been out in the cold for almost four hours.
When we reached the gas station, my dad purchased a large red container and filled it up with gas. The fumes made me want to gag, but there was no other way to get it back to the pickup truck. He and Mom both offered to take them out to a nicer restaurant or some place similar, but the couple insisted that they had to get back on the road. So Dad bought one of those stop and go pepperoni and sausage pizzas and an extra blanket. He then drove them back to the pickup truck and filled up their tank.
It was then that Dad noticed that the young man did not have any gloves though the young woman did. Even though it was cold and the snow started falling in thick clumps, my dad took off his black gloves, put them in the young man’s hands, and insisted he take them. The young man tried to pay him, but Dad refused.
After making sure they had everything they needed, Dad then got back in the station wagon and took us home. It was a long drive back, and the heating in the station wagon wasn’t that great. That was part of the reason that we had blankets and such in the car. But Dad didn’t complain. A few times I saw him warming his hands. My sister and I got back up in our seats, and we asked him, “Why did you give him your gloves when you knew you were going to be cold?”
Dad didn’t give us a long sermon. All he said was “it’s what Jesus would have done. It’s what I would have done for Jesus.” As a child, I accepted that. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized what a great thing my dad had done. See…at the time this happened, money was very tight. My dad was trying to run his own business from the house, and we had recently learned that my baby brother was autistic. Eating fast food wasn’t something we could afford. In fact, according to my journals, at the time, the only thing in the pantry at home was bread, peanut butter, and homemade jelly plus some pasta and raisins. But neither of my parents hesitated to be generous, and now more than twenty years later, I still remember that.
I could tell you many more stories. But I think I shall just end this post saying that I have been enormously blessed by my father as well as inspired by him. I thank God each day that he is my father, and I pray that this day will be particularly blessed for him as well as this year.
P.S. to anyone who is freaked out that I could remember so much from when I was just a little girl, don’t be. I kept very detailed journals, and I always kept my journal with me. 🙂
It has been a difficult week. I can’t go into all the details because of others’ privacy and family requests, but several individuals who meant quite a great deal to me and to my family passed away. Some in accidents. Some from cancer. The culmination in this week came on Thursday when I came down to discover my beloved little Attila was dead.
Three years ago, my husband and I purchased two orphan gerbils from different pet shops in celebration of our marriage and the start of our final year in law school. Attila was a slim blond gerbil with a white underbelly and large black eyes. He had a fierce disposition, and it took me almost two weeks to train him to come onto my hand without nipping me. At first, he dominated his adopted brother, Ghengis. We had to keep them separate for almost two months, trying to introduce them slowly. Playing with them. Holding them.
We split the large glass tank with chicken wire so that they could sniff each other and get used to one another’s scent. On weekends, we put them in a large tub with dried white sand to let them dig and play. By the end of the second month, the two were fast friends, though Attila was always the leader.
He was quite healthy as well. In fact, his strength proved to be a bit of a problem as he would often rearrange the tank in hazardous ways. He never showed any signs of illness, but on August 14, I found him on his side, motionless. As soon as I saw him, I knew he had passed. He was over three years old, and I had just cared for him the night before. I hope that it was quick and painless. His little body had already gone cold when James and I wrapped him up and took him out for burial.
Ghengis did not cope well with the death. Ghengis was always quieter and more timid than Attila, though he was a little fighter in his own right. When we found him at the pet store, he was a little on the sickly side. According to the pet shop worker, he had been alone for a couple weeks, which really isn’t good for gerbils. Someone had bought up two of his brothers, but she didn’t have room for a third gerbil. (On a side note, if you are ever purchasing gerbils, please don’t ever just leave one behind. It can be so challenging to reintroduce them to other gerbils, and yet they are social creatures.) The worker might have been playing on my sympathies, but regardless, we took little Ghengis home. He was about half Attila’s side with dark brown fur on the top with a black undercoat and grey stomach. His black eyes were a bit softer than Attila’s, but he was just as smart.
He swiftly decided that he liked being snuggled. It only took a few days to convince him that sitting on a hand was an excellent way to receive sunflower seeds and yogurt chips, two of his favorites. For the first few weeks, he was quite intimidated by Attila, yet he often crept along the side of the chicken wire to curl up alongside him while Attila slept. Though at first Attila responded harshly on the other side of the wire, he soon stooped protesting.
Sadly, little Ghengis struggled with his stomach for most of his life. The scent glands gerbils have on their stomachs sometimes become enflamed, and they may even rupture. Over the past few months, Ghengis’s glands had become severely enflamed, bleeding and seeping. We took him to the vet to get the necessary medication. He took it well. Whenever he lay down to sleep, particularly when he was recovering from the fever, Attila curled up on top of him and kept him warm. It seemed like Ghengis was recovering. But two days before Attila died, Ghengis stopped eating.
I couldn’t tempt him with anything. Yogurt chips and sunflower seeds no longer drew his attention. Attila had never enjoyed special treats, but that had been the one guaranteed way to draw Ghengis out from the lower tunnels. When I found Attila in the tank, Ghengis sat in the corner next to him, hunched up, his little head bowed.
After we returned from buying Attila, Ghengis became even more withdrawn. He retreated into an empty oatmeal container and refused to come out for food or anything. Even when it was time to give him his medicine, I couldn’t retrieve him. He remained in hiding for a full day, and I allowed it. I knew he needed to grieve, and I knew from talking to other gerbil owners that the loss of a cage mate is particularly traumatizing. But when the following day rolled around, I knew he had to be treated.
When I at last coaxed Ghengis out, he could barely walk. He had been chewing on his paws and his stomach. He’d also scratched his eye. My heart dropped when I saw him. He seemed to have deteriorated overnight. Tears choking me, I called the vet at once and then prepared a small box. Deep down, I knew what this meant. James scooped him up, and we took him to the vet.
The vet told us what we already feared. Ghengis needed to be put down. Even though he had not eaten for only a few days, he had lost too much weight. That alone he might have returned from, but the biting and the stomach injuries were just too severe. I tried to hold Ghengis to comfort him, but he bit me five times. James tried to hold him then, but Ghengis bit him twice. (It really wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Ghengis wasn’t strong enough to do much more than slightly cut the skin.)
The vet held him and gave him the injection. Then he let me comfort Ghengis. All I could do was rub his head. But it was like I was saying goodbye to both Ghengis and Attila at once. It only took a couple minutes. And holding him to say goodbye, I felt myself starting to break.
Objectively, there’s no reason why this little bundle of fur should have been what broke me down. After all, I have watched others buried this week, received disappointing news that will have a far greater impact on mine and my family’s long term plans. Yet somehow…holding that tiny corpse made me weep more than anything else. I had been strong through everything else. Through writing the tributes, comforting the families, and reminiscing over old times as well as imagining the times never to be had. Maybe it’s because those points weren’t about me. There were other people there who needed to grieve and who were in far more pain. But when dealing with Ghengis and Attila, it was just my husband, myself, and the vet in a little sterile room.
Today has been a busy day, filled with cleaning, reading, sorting, and more. The best part of the more was that James and I finally got to start Doctor Who Season 7 on Netflix. As far as Netflix goes, it’s hard to wait for them to get the series updated, but when they do, the wonderful thing is getting to do a mass marathon. After James and I have children, we probably won’t be able to do this. But for now, we’re enjoying it.
And so, as it has been months since we’ve seen a new Doctor Who episode and months spent avoiding all the spoilers, it has been such a treat to watch this season. The funny thing is that when Matt Smith first became the doctor, I did not like him that much. My heart was still with David Tennant. It wasn’t just the fact that he was a great actor with tremendous enthusiasm. The way that the Tenth Doctor ended made me so sad. His final words, in particular, almost guaranteed that I would be set against the new doctor, no matter how amazing he was. Add to that the fact that Matt Smith was quite distinct from David Tennant and the tone of the show changed along with his arrival, and I struggled.
James felt the same way. We were in our third year in law school when we got to see the first Matt Smith episode of Doctor Who. My immediate reaction was that it was not as good. It just didn’t feel right. The whole fairy tale theme felt off to me, and Amy Pond and Rory Williams, though having potential, just didn’t grab me he same way as some of the other companions did. In fact, that particular season of Doctor Who actually had more episodes than usual that I actively disliked.
Yet, for whatever the reason, I have this odd compulsion to finish things. Even television series I’m not that fond of. And then I have to watch at least the first couple episodes to see if I like it better the next time through (unless it’s just unbearable, which is what Attack on Titans was for me). So I watched all of Season 5. My husband and I agreed that it wasn’t as good as the previous ones, but…still, I had to give this epic series a second chance. So I did, and, not surprisingly, I liked it even more.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Season 5 is perfect any more than the previous seasons were. And there are still a handful of episodes that I dislike. At the same time though, I have worked my way through the subsequent seasons, and now as I am watching Season 7 (and actually quite enjoying it), I am realizing how much I will miss Matt Smith as the doctor. In fact, right now, it’s just about time for Amy and Rory to say farewell, and I just realized how attached I am to them.
What’s incredible is the way that a character (just as much as an actor portraying a character) can grow on one. I never expected to get so emotionally wrapped up in these particular characters. Not every character can achieve this. And not every character will have that effect on every viewer. But when it does happen, it is something special. And I am happy to be along for the ride.
Two days ago, I completed the rough draft for Mermaid Bride. What was intended to just be a short story of no more than 8,000 words turned into a novella. It’s over 30,000 now, and I suspect that by the time I am done editing and revising it, it will be closer to 40,000 or 50,000.
It’s funny the way that that happens. It seems that once I get into a story, the story starts to unfold. The characters want to come out and play. The Banshee Queen was supposed to only be a minor character. The conflict between Ishana and Vishtan was supposed to be quite brief. In fact, I really wanted that focal point to be on Ishana and Uaso. They do remain at the core, of course. But Ishana’s choice and the struggle that she faces becomes so much more important in this.
The story itself is not so simple as it once was. In fact, it wound up going full circle in some respects. Ishana started off as a rather bland character for me to become a kind of character that I had never worked with before.
It was fun working in the Ethiopian and Syrian cultural flavors. It does bother me that a number of my readers thought I was just being creative in the descriptions when in fact I’ve drawn inspiration from another culture. So I will try to make that clearer throughout the revision.
Regardless, Mermaid Bride turned out to be far more of a joy to write than I anticipated. Even though it kept getting longer and longer, it expanded in ways that added to the story rather than dragging it down. The next project I will likely start after this is A Single Glance as part of the Celtic Princess Tour. We shall see if it takes off, but I’m thrilled to dig into it again.
Sometimes it’s just hard being a writer. You pour yourself into the stories you’re writing, mold the worlds, craft the characters, and give it your all. Then you set that little story out into the world, hoping that maybe…just maybe it’s good enough to do something. And inevitably, someone will dislike it. Someone may hate it. Or…perhaps the one that hurts the most, they’ll read it, and they just won’t care one way or the other.
And often it seems that those readers and their comments show up on the same day when everything else is going bad. When your car breaks down. When a pay check gets lost in the mail. When you accidentally slam your pinky finger in the door because you weren’t paying attention.
And at that low point, you may find yourself wondering, why do I try? And it’s a fair question. Artistic individuals pour their souls into their work. It is a labor of love.
So what do you do? You pick yourself up. You remember why you write what you write. At this point, the desire for fame and fortune alone aren’t going to be enough to carry you through. Not at the lowest point. Not when you’re fighting depression or anxiety or fear. So write it down. Put it somewhere you will see it.
And now comes the hard part. Look at that comment or feedback and determine whether it’s a fair assessment. Is it a true weakness of the story? Is there something that you have failed to do? While it could be that the reader just wasn’t in your target audience, you should at least consider it. And if you realize it’s a weakness, then you fix it.
It’s hard. But when that low point hits, you have to keep going. Maybe you’ll need to take a little break, or perhaps even a longer one. But you need to make sure that you get back and you get going. The low point won’t last forever. One day, it will leave.
Effective writing requires pouring out your soul onto the page. Over the years, I’ve often struggled with depression. And I don’t just mean feeling down or low. That happens regularly. It’s a battle to stay above those lines sometimes. Depression itself is more than just a sad mood or a down mood. It is soul sucking and draining at an entirely different level, one that sometimes feels as if it will never go away.
Sometimes I wonder if the reason that this becomes such an enormous issue is because as writers we must constantly pour out our hearts and souls into the pages, and we never know whether we are doing it well. Then when feedback does come, it’s often brief or negative. And few things hurt more than the realization that perhaps what you did was not the best or perhaps you did not do as well as you thought or perhaps you failed entirely.
Yet the thing that seems most important to me in all this is pushing on through those low points. I know I’ll be writing about that again soon. It’s frustrating to run into a reader who just doesn’t get your story or who just doesn’t enjoy it. That’s to be expected, but it doesn’t make it any more enjoyable. This is more of a rambling post, so my apologies.
But when you’re feeling down and depressed, take a break if you must. But make sure that you forge on ahead. Don’t let the grief, weariness, depression, or discouragement stop you from forging on.