Confirmation: Amines Are Like Drugs :P

Had to go out for dinner on Sat night to a wood-fired pizza restaurant. Dinner was delicious, as expected – and the food reactions were awful, as expected. *sigh*. It didn’t help that I made the mistake of eating a GIANT BOWL of rocket salad before realising that oops, yeah, rocket =/= lettuce and while lettuce is pretty fine for me in moderate amounts, rocket is on the DEATH DIE DO NOT EAT list >.< Urgh.

So, two extremely sleepless nights (less than 4 hours each, I think) on Sat and Sun, and then Monday evening I was just hyper as anything, feeling like I’d been drugged 😛

Interestingly, amines seem to amplify the function of my critical brain while diminishing my creative brain; I definitely can’t write while reacting to them. Sat down to try and it was all like, This sucks, This is stupid, That word is horrible, I hate this book, etc. I really just *couldn’t* get into the character’s voice, and this is a character who’s usually dead easy for me to voice. Super mega frustration.

And also interesting, part of the anxiety was amplified. Not the fear-of-the-dark, that’s separate to regular anxiety and seems to be triggered partly by a huge amount of salicylates, and partly by sustained low mood (i.e. feeling flat, tired, or otherwise negative for several days in a row – something that can be triggered by lack of sleep, which is triggered by amines, so the amines can be partly responsible for the fear-of-dark, but not directly, and certainly not after only one meal, even though it was a GIANT amine-heavy dose), but the regular, plain-old variety that’s the precursor to depression: feeling like I suck, second-guessing everything I do and especially say, and running old conversations/highly-negative moments on repeat obsessively.

It wasn’t *bad* this week, only just enough to notice it was happening, so I’m totes fine, but it IS definitely interesting. Because a lot of that kind of thinking is fear-of-judgement based, which is uber-critical brain, right?

ALSO interesting was that I powered through my marking at hitherto-unheard of speeds: I marked an entire class set in a couple of hours on Sat night + Sunday, and then another entire class set just on Monday alone – AND I didn’t even stay up late to do so, I finished it all by 8 o’clock.

You guys. That was weird. 

I am NOT a fast marker. It’s usually laborious and slow and tedious, and getting through two sets in essentially two days? I have NEVER done that before.

And guess what marking involves? Yep. Uber critical-brain oriented.

So it seems like amines basically affect me like a stimulant for my critical brain. For marking, that can be a great thing. For shutting up the critical brain and letting me sleep, write, or not be anxious? Not so great.

And now I want to go to a bunch of research about possible links between depression/anxiety and critical-brain activity.

Related but random other observations:

  • Writers are more neurotic as a group than other creatives. Why? What specifically is it about writing that makes our mental health vulnerable?
  • My critical brain seems to throw tantrums when it thinks I’m ignoring it. If I’ve done a lot of creative work and regular work but no hard-thinking work lately, I’m a LOT more susceptible to anxiety/self-doubt.
  • Could this type of anxiety be critical-brain overload, such as I seem to be getting when eating amines? Could writers combat critical-brain tantrums (anxiety, self-doubt) by letting the critical brain out to play, exercising it by doing, say, some soduko or something hard and thinky??

Where’s a good researcher? I need to pay someone to investigate this for me.

So anyway, to give this some semblance of a conclusion… Amines: Not For Amy! Unless I want to stay up really, really late and get some marking done 😛

Link-a-bet Soup

Some great reading I’ve been doing lately that’s really made me think.

Freedom not to choose is a faith worth believing in – discussion of Britain as a state-religion-less society. Not sure I agree 100% (I mean, their anthem is still literally God Save The Queen), but it’s definitely an interesting concept.

Welcome to The Matrix: You Work for FREE & There IS No Payday – For writers, the first in a series of posts about why working for ‘exposure’ is madness, unless you’re in control of said exposure. Some nuggets in here even for people who think they already have a handle on the concept of exposure.

Hundreds of mysterious stone ‘gate’s found in Saudi Arabia’s desert – Google Earth reveals structures some 2000 – 9000 years old, and we basically have no idea at this point what they were used for. IDK about you, but this smacks of plot bunnies to me 😉

Book Review for All The Crooked Saints – I’m hanging out to read this one since Maggie Stiefvater is one of my favourite authors, but I want to wait until I have guaranteed uninterrupted time – which means it might not be for another 5 weeks when school lets out. In the meantime, I’m satiating myself with reviews.

Has the Smart-Phone Destroyed A Generation? – a long read but definitely interesting. A balanced discussion of the psychological effects, both positive and negative, that we are seeing in the rising generations who have been born essentially with a smart screen in their hands.

Pricing Silliness and Learning A Lesson – another one for authors on how pricing seems to be working in 2017, which is quite a bit different to how it worked three years ago. This one has prompted a revamp of Inkprint Press’s pricing policies, which is good for you guys, because many of my paperbacks are now significantly cheaper 😉

What have you been reading lately? Feel free to leave books or articles or anything you recommend in the comments! 🙂

How To Make Friends: An Observational Post

I’m a pretty outgoing sort of person, generally speaking. I’m comfortable talking to large groups, I’m not afraid of discussing touchy subjects, I can approach strangers to ask questions, etc etc etc. However. Put me in a room full of strangers and ask me to make small talk? Urgh.

Because the irony is, even though I’m really good with groups and formal situations (even job interviews don’t especially faze me), I’m really shy at making friends. It’s something that caused difficulties in high school because people saw me being extroverted and assumed that I wouldn’t talk to them because I was snobby, when actually I was just terrified by them 😀

It’s a topic that’s been on my mind the last few months, so I decided to make a study: What techniques did people who are good at making friends easily do that I could do too? Turns out it was a pretty easy study: I have a fairly egregious three-year-old and an extremely egregious twin*, and they made for good observation subjects. I thought this was something that might be useful to other people too, so I’m sharing my list of top techniques you can you to easily make friends 😀

1) Answer more than required.

When someone you don’t know asks a question it’s sometimes really tempting to answer it as briefly and to-the-pointedly as possible, especially if you don’t know the person. But the number one thing I observed from watching the Twinny One at work on Twitter, and then observing the outgoing three-year-old for further evidence, is to always give more than you were asked for. This isn’t about boring your audience or intruding on their time, but simply being generous with yourself in an answer. Give the other person a glimpse of you.

2) Ask questions.

Hopefully, the other person is obeying rule 1, and this will give you a lot of fodder for questions. If not, though, you’d be amazed at how far you can get through a conversation simply by running through a fairly stock list of topics: Ask about their family, their work, their home, their hobbies. Pick something from their answer and ask another question to flesh it out in more detail. Ask how they feel about these things: Do they like their job? Do they enjoy living where there do? Etc. The trick here is to not make it sound like you’re just running through a list of questions, of course 😉

3) Pretend you’re already friends.

This one takes a bit of courage, but little kids are absolutely pro at this: you walk up to someone, and treat them like they’re already your friend. Imagine you already know this person, and that they already know and like you. What would you do then? What would you say? You’d be amazed at how simply treating someone like they’re already your friend can help you to skip all the early awkwardness in a friendship relationship.

4) Have an opinion.

What? An opinion? I know. Sometimes having an opinion and stating it can be scary, and what’s more, it can drive people away. Isn’t that the opposite of making friends? Sure, but daring to have an opinion can help you to find things in common, and that’s the key: really, you’re hoping to make friends with people you have something in common with. If the other person isn’t willing to let you have your own opinion on something, then you probably don’t want them as a friend anyway. Assuming you were nice and stated your opinion nicely, of course 😉 #NoHarrassmentZone

5) Say yes.

Three-year-old comes up to me in the playground. “Mummy, that boy has a car. I want to play with it!”
Me: “Okay. Why don’t you go ask him if you can play with him?”
Him: “Um, okay?”
With some encouragement, he toddles off. The conversation happens behind the slide where I can’t quite see, but a moment later he comes running back. “Mummy! He said yes! He said I can play with him!”

Will you be my friend? Sometimes, all it takes is asking. 🙂

Any other tips you can think of to add?

Honesty (Repost)

Obviously, when I say in the first line down there that I mentioned something ‘last week’, this is no longer true, because this is a repost of an article I first wrote in, like, 2009. But the sentiment still rings true, so you know 😉 😀

I mentioned last week that I think ‘honesty’ is an important quality of a great writer. I need to respond to the comments (sorry!), but something struck me as I was reading them: by honesty, I don’t mean ‘pouring out your heart’, or ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’, or anything like that. I don’t mean pouring out the tragedies of your life, or trying to impress the reader.

In fact, I mean just the opposite. I mean ‘honesty’ in the sense my husband uses it when he talks about ‘honest architecture’ (ya, he’s an architect). It means architecture without pretension, architure that embraces what it is and doesn’t try to pretend to be something different, something more, or even something less. It’s understated when it needs to be, it’s loud if it has to be, but above all else, it’s… honest. It comes from a place of integrity, without the need to impress – unless its entire point is to impress. It’s something that holds true to its intent, embraces functionality as well as fancy-prettiness, and creates something that rings true.

I hope you can see how that applies to writing. It’s not about wearing your emotions on your sleeve, or pouring in the smush to tug at readers’ heartstrings. It’s about being honest about what you’re doing; it’s about knowing what you’re doing and why; it’s about being real.

It’s the exact opposite of my first short stories, which in an attempt to be ‘interesting’ were melodramatic and overwritten – because they weren’t coming from me, from myexperiences. They didn’t ring true, because they weren’t. I didn’t have the maturity or life experiences to write about the subjects I chose – and frankly, it showed.

This is what people mean when they tell you, ‘Write what you know’. It isn’t about writing only in the here-and-now, because that’s all you’ve experienced; it isn’t about never writing about a married character if you’re single, or only writing about your own gender, or never writing fantasy and science fiction (heaven forbid!!!); it’s about letting your experiences form the basis of what you write, of writing from your own pain, your own suffering, extrapolating from things you’ve actually felt and translating them into similar situations, even if the characters are inhuman or the setting isn’t Earth.

It’s what you know, stretched further, deeper, broader, applied to the whole range of human experience. It’s about knowing which bits of what you’ve experienced are part of the human condition, which bits resonate; it’s about making sure your work rings true.

With this definition of honesty, what do you think? Do we need it?

Loving the Imperfect

Posted this on Tumblr just now, and thought the blog could use it too.

See, the thing is ladies (and those gents that need to hear this too, naturally), no one ever said you had to only love things that were perfect. Pretty sure all of us could pick flaws in EVERYTHING we love, if pressed. I love my son, but sometimes he annoys the snot out of me. Ditto my husband. Ditto my job, my friends, the people I spend my work day with, my house, heck, even my favourite foods. I love them, but I wouldn’t want to eat only them, right? And my dog. Don’t get me started on my dog.

*ahem*

Point is, no one ever said love was only for the perfect things. So when I tell you that I love my body, I’m not claiming that it’s perfect. I’m pretty unfit right now, and my skin is not so great because I’ve been neglecting it, and I have stomach flabs, not abs, and there are a list of other flaws I’m cognisant of. But that’s exactly the thing: acknowledging these things does not equal automatic hatred, any more than noting that the two-year-old can be obnoxious means I hate him. None of these things change the fact that I can still choose to love my body, exactly how it is, for what it is.

And you know what? It’s pretty damn awesome. I’ve typed this entire post right now without once thinking about where my fingers are going on the keys. You want telekinesis? Your fingers move just by thinking about it.

My body walks, my body runs, my body hugs and laughs and breathes and eats tasty food and feels the fresh air on my cheeks and the rain on my hair and the sun on my skin and the soft damp kisses of my son and the warm, strong embrace of my husband and the careful shoulder knocks or fist bumps or high fives from students who want to connect. It made a baby, for crying out loud, all by itself, with exactly ZERO input from me. That’s like, magic. MAGIC, YOU GUYS. YOUR BODY IS MAGIC.

It doesn’t matter if your body isn’t perfect. It’s magic. And you can love it anyway.

A. xxx

Are We Self-Censoring Our Way To Dystopia?

So, this is a lesson I conducted for my seniors literally just now, and it was awesome and thinky and I wanted to share 🙂 We are studying the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and in that context we are looking at the idea of censorship. You don’t have to have read the novel to get the below; the first video gives a nice summary of the high points, though the presenter speaks very fast, so I recommend doing what I did with the class and watching it twice if you’re not familiar with the novel.

Essentially the point is this: In the novel, books are banned, to the point where firemen no longer put out fires, they start them – for the sole and exclusive purpose of burning books, and sometimes the houses wherein they are contained, and sometimes the people who refuse to leave them to burn alone. Instead of books, people ‘connect’ via wall-sized screens, spending their days watching glorified soaps – alone or with others, it doesn’t really seem to make much of a difference. Much is made, in the novel, of the fact that the government enforces this regime for its own benefit – but the line that slips by at the time, only to stick in your mind and later bring everything into startling clarity, is this:

“It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.”

The censorship started with the people. They literally censored themselves stupid. And I wonder – and many other wonder… Are we doing the same thing right now?

The Limits Of Humanity, Or, Why I Love Speculative Fiction

Science fiction, fantasy, dystopian and other forms of speculative fiction are, at their heart, explorations of what it means to be human. They take humans, pick them up and plonk them down into the most unimaginable circumstances, and seek to know what we would be.

Historical fiction explores humans as they were; contemporary, humans as they are. But speculative fiction dwells in the liminal spaces, seeking the limits of humanity.

If we could wield incredible power, bend blood to our will, shift into fur-teeth-claws and still know what it means to wear skin, feel pain, know others, love some, rise in that power and wane – would we still be human?

If we could travel the galaxy, converse with dragons, bargain with aliens, destroy worlds, save others, travel by spaceships or fliers or wagons – would we still be human?

If we had weapons that could wipe out species with one blow, if we chose to use them, chose to avoid them; if we had technology that could cure disease, heal injury, make pain extinct – would we still be human?

If we had furry limbs or mechanical eyes, hearts of iron and spines of steel, regenerative powers, multiple lives, life spans that lasted a thousand years – would we still be human?

If we could see the past, change the past, visit the past, forget the past; if we could see the future, be the future, visit the future, change it – would we still be human?

If we were isolated, alone, the last one alive, left to die in a world of spite, fighting a fight that can never be won against machines or our own stupidity or the deep, dark monsters of the night – would we still be human?

If we were genetically altered, made the same, cloned, regrown, eternally maimed; made in a lab, mind-wiped, blue-haired, synthetically harvested, six-limbed, impaired – would we still be human?

What is Human? Are you?