Trifecta of Tribulations 1: My Shadow Side

Introduction to My Trifecta of Tribulations

I’ve been having a difficult time recently, and admittedly, most of it has been self induced.

It all started with a dream I had a couple weeks ago where I was watching a Simpsons movie centered around the loveable goofball Ralph Wiggum.

At one point in the movie he said, “I hate being happy because I’m emotionally sad.”

My dream self proceeded to ugly cry at this confession of Ralph’s, so much so that I can remember feeling my dream (or real?) heart begin to hurt a little. I don’t recall if there was anything else before or after this one scene, but when I woke up I was perfectly fine. No tears, no sadness in my heart; just confusion and curiousity.

As you know, I love interpreting my dreams to see what meaning I can extract from them. I even suggest to people that they should keep a Dream Journal so they can retain their dreams in the best memory they can possibly manage. In turn, they can pick their dreams apart and see how any of those nonsensical events and elements relate to their lives in the waking world.

Exploring the dream alone and with a friend, I managed to formulate a few theories as to what this dream meant to me. For the next little while I will be sharing the Top 3 Things I’ve Learned during my Trifecta of Tribulations. So buckle up and be prepared as it might be a very emotional experience as I bleed this out for you in the vain hope that you, too, can walk away from this blog series with some value.

My Mind Over Matter and the Matter Under My Mind

As a teen, and basically for most of my life, I have been a very pessimistic person. I had 0 hope or joy for a long time until I started this journey of self knowledge throughout my 20’s that still continues to this day at the ripe old age of 30.

Ralph’s words, “I hate being happy because I’m emotionally sad,” hit me really hard. It made me realize just how much of an effort I need to expend in order to remain happy and sane. And this is no joke, as I am prone to depression and often feeling exhausted in life. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and ADHD at a young age, and I’m still skeptical about their existence in reality, let alone within myself–but that’s a whole other story for another day.

The point is that despite these diagnoses on me, I refused to take any medication for them. In turn, I have developed a ton of pride for being able to function the best I can in spite of these diagnoses. I basically try to operate as if I don’t have depression or ADD, and I can usually get away with succeeding at it.

Until I can’t.

And that’s where my self assurance morphs into tremendous self doubt.

There ends up being so much self doubt that it edges on turning into self hatred.

It usually only edges to self hatred until I snap myself back to reality, but this time around, it turned into complete self hatred and extrenal hatred.


Self Deception and External Reception

When discussing this dream with my friend, she suggested that maybe I should dial back on my optimism if I feel like I may be trying hard. The issue I think I had was the possibility that my optimism is as overbearing as Joy’s forceful optimism in one of my all time favourite movies Inside Out.

While it was a reasonable suggestion from my friend, in accepting it, I ended up overshooting it by completely engaging my shadow side.

To make a very long story short, a friend of mine was going through some internal conflict and I had helped out, but had been left feeling drained because of how much worse his usual pessimism has gotten over a specific topic.

Now, while I do try to listen to people and not give advice, knowing that they just want to be heard and understood, there comes a point where I feel that their pessimism gets a bit much and that’s where I tend to come in with my excess optimism to try and make up for it.

Coupled with the energy it took to help this friend out and even take a break from their presence, I was also dealing with some self doubt over the completion of It Starts: at Home’s fourth draft, and my progress in learning the Korean language. I was having a difficult time even after I made a post about Taking Stock When You Feel Stuck.

When I realized I could barely take my own advice, I began to wonder if my all of my optimism was a complete ruse.

Have I been lying to everyone?

Have I been lying to myself?

Am I actually clinically depressed, and have I been deluding myself about how happy and capable I am this whole time?

Plunging Into the Underworld

That same friend I helped out reached out to me a few days after my Ralph Wiggum dream, and for a while it seemed like our friendship was back to normal. And since we helped each other out tremendously two years ago by keeping each other accountable for 75 days straight (to make sure the other works on their respective craft), I thought that maybe it would be a good time to request that he kept me accountable again with completing my fourth draft.

When the day and time came he was supposed to keep me accountable, I felt disappointed with the lack of engagement and encouragement he offered. I had expressed this disappointment very harshly and even though I knew how bad I was being, I chose not to care and went full force. I really let him have it, and while it felt good in the moment, I feel horrible in retrospect.

At the same time all of this happened, I was also conflicted about how I felt toward a certain study buddy that I have. Her and I share a passion for learning each other’s languages, and sometimes in praising each other’s efforts, we get a little playful and flirty.

This had lead to some confusion for me in regards to what our relationship is supposed to mean and how difficult it would be to evolve toward anything romantic since we only know each other online.

It’s silly, I know.

But it’s 2018 and the stigma toward online dating has lessened since the catfishing days of yesteryear.

Yes, I know it still happens, but moving along!

Feeling disappointed in my friend and feeling confused about my #1 study buddy, I felt all twisted inside. I felt lost about what I was doing with my life and how to proceed if I have been completely full of crap all these years. I took it as a shot at my pride to be so fickle as to depend on someone else to motivate me to write, and to feel stung by having some of my affections ignored from someone I admire.

Engaging My Shadow Side

“This is it.

The end of the road.

Everything I worked for was all a lie.

I hate being happy because I’m emotionally sad. I am so full of shit. How dare I try to help anyone else if I can’t even help myself?

My book sucks and it will never be published because I’m a shitty writer. I’ve wasted thousands of dollars taking courses and studying writing guides the past 10 years. Even worse, I’ve wasted thousands of hours writing a bunch of crap that no one has read, and no one ever will read because it’s too crappy to share with anyone anyway.

I don’t deserve to be published.

I don’t deserve a readership.

I don’t even deserve to write.

Who do I think I am trying to write a book about family issues and child abuse when I haven’t even solved my own familial issues? Or worse, when I barely have any patience these days for my God-daughter who I peacefully parented through her formative years? Did I really care about her or did I go this peaceful route to spite her parents and mine for their more abusive mindsets toward child rearing? Because let’s be honest, there are sometimes where even you wanna smack her, right?

Oh, but you don’t because you’re too much of a pussy to betray your values, is that it?

Pathetic.

As for learning Korean…what the hell am I doing? I still can’t understand K-Pop lyrics, K-Dramas, let alone my foreign friends without heavily relying on translations. After one year, you would think I’d get some amount of fluency, right? Well where the hell is it?

Furthermore, am I out of my mind to narrow my romantic choices down to a single ethnicity of people? What am I, a racist asshole? Clearly I’ve been watching too many K-Pop groups and going gaga over these girls like a stupid horny 14 year old.

What a waste of time and money all this study material has been. For both writing and learning Korean. Childhood development and peaceful parenting? You’re never gonna get married and have kids, so you’d better get your head out of your ass, you stupid piece of shit.”

All these harsh words and phrases?

This the abridged and slightly censored version of what I was telling myself.

After all these years of learning how to reassure myself that things will be okay, and everything I go through is all just growing pain.

“No,” I still hear my pessimism say. “It’s not growing pain. It’s the pain you feel for realizing how full of shit you really are!”


Conclusion: Share to Shed Your Shadow Side

Even as I read back these semi censored and semi editted words, I begin to cry. My self talk was much much worse and much much longer when I recorded a lengthy audio journal to verbally beat myself up with. When I was finished, I couldn’t believe how horribly I was denouncing all the things in my life that I held dear: my writing career, my Korean studies, and worst of all my relationships with with friends and family.

After 10 long years of readjusting my mindset and mode of operation, I felt like I lost it all in a single night with how naturally and powerfully I denounced all of my progress in life.

The friend that helped me interpret my Ralph Wiggum dream pointed out that I may be putting too many expectations on myself and it’s no wonder I get devastatingly disappointed with the results when I don’t follow through with my own plans, or whenever things don’t turn out the way I prefer.

In true perfectionist fashion I over compensated for the optimism I’ve developed by plunging right back into the pessimism that felt like a natural way of behaving in my teen years.

In retrospect, no matter how painful it was to denounce everything I loved, I think I have come out stronger and smarter because of it. I’ve been suppressing my shadow side for so long, trying my best to remain the most positive version of myself possible, and sometimes more for public appearance than my for my own actual benefit.

Engaging my shadow side, as nasty as it was, taught me to have a healthier detachment from the things I value in my life.

It’s good to hold certain things as ultimate value structures that keep your life in order, but you can not depend on them to fulfill you or keep you happy. Things are always in a constant flux of repair and disrepair, there is no end to it. Sometimes they take you to greater heights while sometimes taking you to the Underworld as it has for me.

I’ve put so much pressure on myself to complete my fourth draft faster than I completed the third draft.

I’ve put so much pressure on myself to become fluent in Korean so I can understand K-Pop lyrics, K-Dramas, and my foreign friends.

I’ve put so much pressure on myself to be a good friend and member of the family by selflessly staking my own well being to be there for others.

All of this had lead toward resentment and self disgust, and knowing that I was going to fail at all three things in my life fed the negativity even more.

But now I think I get it.

Love the things you love, but don’t expect too much out of them.

So listen to your shadow side with a grain of salt. It may be a horrifying and grating voice that makes you want to do you own head in from time to time, but give it a chance to speak before it develops the desperate desire to scream at you. It has valuable lessons to teach you in regards to having healthy detachments to your desires and intended outcomes, which ironically make you feel much freerer to fail and eventually succeed in what you want to accomplish.

To Be Continued…

This might be the longest blog post I’ve ever written and I’m sorry to those who didn’t have the patience to go through all of it for whatever reasons they had. Maybe my writing sucks that bad as my shadow side says. Maybe it’s too good for those who can’t introspect. Or maybe there’s nothing personal and that’s okay.

For those of you who have read it this all, I want to extend my tremendous thanks for hearing me out. This is the kind of thinking I often wrestle with and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this as I’ve met several other people who I once thought as immortal and powerful that so happen to go through such phases of their own.

I can’t wait to continue writing about my little trip to the Underworld as I have learned two more valuable things I will share in part 2 and 3 of this blog series.

Stayed tuned for Trifecta of Tribulations Part 2: The 60/40 Principle…

 

 

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Taking Stock When You Get Stuck

Have you ever pursued a goal for so long that it felt like you were going nowhere fast?

How about having no goals at all and going nowhere even faster?

Whichever one you’ve experienced, I hope this Meaningful Monday post can help you!

I think I’ve recently started to crack the code on how to handle Goal Setting Anxiety. The key words here, of course, are “started to,” since I don’t think it’ll ever be a fully solveable problem, just a problem in which you can equip yourself with the most tools as possible.

Whenever I feel stuck in an aspect of my life I try to take stock of where I’ve been. It helps put things into perspective when you appreciate all that you’ve accomplished thus far, and the whole journey that has lead you up to that very moment of doubt in which you wonder if any of your hard work and toil will ever amount to anything.


For example, when it comes to writing my novels, I often feel like I may have wasted 10 years of my life not having published anything yet. It makes me regret the time I’ve spent writing several novels and drafts, and not to mention all of the pre-work that goes into writing even a single page word on the actual manuscripts. This includes chapter charts, character graphs, and most especially; all of the time I’ve spent trying to psych myself back up after burning out.

This usually involves a long and intense Progress Journal in which I take stock of what I’ve accomplished so far as to not get too intimidated by all of the work that lies ahead. And the tricky thing is using the exact same thoughts that give me anxiety and transform them into reminders of the time I invested in my work, as opposed to wasted.

It’s not a waste that I did all this work and am still not published. Many writers write for decades before they get published, let alone feel like they can have something worth publishing.

Nowadays I often remind myself to take stock of the fact that while I could have been blowing all my money on mindless hedonism and lied around my house doing nothing, I actually paid for my own education for the past decade. My bookshelfs are chock full with writing guides that cover the basics such as plot structure, to more sophisticated aspects of writing such as style and prose, as well as how to write more emotionally meaningful and impactful stories.

It’s thanks to all those days and nights I’ve spent studying at cafes, libraries, or at the comfort of my own home that I can no longer experience stories the same way as a passive participant. Any movie or TV show show I watch, any book I read, hell even any video game I play that has a story–my experience of stories have been greatly transformed thanks to my studies and make me want to dissect every other story to their core.

In turn, I get to critically view my own work and know what can work better based on what I’ve come to love in other stories.

And furthermore, it’s no joke that I’m writing a novel.

It’s hard work!

I’m on my fourth draft and my fourth year of writing the same novel from scratch.

I could easily waste time worrying about how I haven’t “gotten there yet,” and maybe a bit of anxiety towards that is healthy to make me want to plunge myself forward. But without taking stock of where I already am thanks to my past self putting in those countless hours, I may very well stay stuck where I am, paralyzed by my fear.

 


I think a healthy dose of fear and pride can help you moving forward.

You want to be proud of everything you’ve accomplished thus far and be honest about how hard a lot of it has been. Take pride in the fact that you’ve survived it all and have grown from the experience. But you don’t want to be so proud that you think you’re perfectly fine where you are. Instead, you take where you are as a marker of your capabilities.

Then you also want to be a little afraid of not being where you could be. Know that you have long ways to go to achieving your goals and the zig zagging path’s been laid before you the moment you’ve accepted the challenge. Be fearful of how much regret you might feel in the future if you never give yourself the opportunity to thrive. But you don’t want to be so fearful that you feel like you can’t do anything at all and you’ll never get anywhere. Use your fears as helpful antagonists that push you further and further away from your dangerous comfort zone.

Whenever you feel stuck in life, take stock of where you’re at.

Recognize your greatness that has taken you this far.

Recognize how much more work there is to be done and trust that you can do it.

 

 

The Glass Ceiling in Fiction

Can we please have some actual gender equality in fiction?

I am really sick and tired of how so many stories elevate one gender at the expense of the other and call that empowerment.

I don’t want to spend too much time tackling the well known and obvious issue with male centric stories featuring one dimensional female characters–but real quick, I want to introduce you to a famous idea called the Bechdel test.

Acing the Bechdel Test

It’s basically a test to see if female characters have any more importance in a story other than being a man’s love interest or the friend of said love interest. If you’ve got two women talking about anything but a man, then you’ve got yourself some potentially multi-dimensional female characters.

And that’s great! All the power to them!

A lot of the stories I choose to experience often feature strong female leads and I love them. Being Erica and Age of Youth, just to name a couple, serve as perfect examples of women that ACE the Bechdel test. Being a man who will never truly understand the plight of women, I love seeing their experiences depicted as realistically and empathically as possible.

Faux Femme Fatales

Now with that said, here’s the true crux of this post: I am sick and tired of Faux Femme Fatales.

Now first the obvious case; over powered female characters like Scarlett Johannson’s Lucy and the even more popular Rey from the new Star Wars films. They both have unearned skills that make them overpowered in dessimating the hordes of men they fight in their respective films. They face little to no challenge leading up to their mastery, yet Rey is meant to serve as a positive role model for girls to get into Star Wars. Simply put, it’s a bad message to send to young girls.

Yes, girls can do anything. Anything boys can do, too!

But it requires hard work and dedication. Especially in the realm of martial arts. Take a look at the women’s division of the UFC. They are not muscular and skilled in mixed martial arts just because they are women, or take some drug (Lucy), or touch some weapon (Rey). They dedicate themselves to eating right, working out, and training in the various fighting styles they need to know to survive in the octagon.

The way Lucy and Rey were written insults these real life women who not only train to develop skill and competence, but also face actual challenges. And worst of all, the men who surround Lucy and Rey from their respective films all happen to be incredibly incompetent and serve as no match to their strength and intellect.

Now let’s plunge deeper into a more subtle way in which men are kicked to the curb all for the sake of “girl power.”

How to Discourage Women From Getting into STEM

A little while ago I watched Project MC² on Netflix and thought the idea was pretty cool. It’s about a team of teenage spies who share their scientific skills to “covertly” protect the world. Cool! Love the idea! It reminds me of Totally Spies, which I loved watching as a kid.

Furthermore, there’s this huge issue these days about the shortage of women getting into the STEM field in college and university, and apparently this show aims to inspire girls to garner an interest in science. More power to that as well! Science is awesome. Girls are awesome, too. Why not have more girls into science?

Well I hate to say that this show, in the end, does not at all seem like it can accomplish that goal. I mean if you are a young girl, or a parent of a young girl who has gained interest in science thanks to Project MC², then please let me know if it actually has had the intended effect. Otherwise I personally would not let my God daughter anywhere near this god awful show.

First of all, the girls are portrayed as walking talking Tumblr memes. They talk in the most stereotypically annoying teen style that no actual teen talks like. Then second of all, there always tends to be some typical douche guy character who undermines the girls because they’re girls, and then gets showed up by her within the same scene.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so forgive me if I get the details wrong, though even if I am inaccurate in my remembering of the following scenes, the core principle of how anti-male they are still holds.

In the first season there’s a scene where these four pre-teen girls have little to no problem infiltrating a government facility. The security is a joke. You’re supposed to believe that pre-teen girls–half the size of fully grown middle aged men, who have been trained to serve as security officers at a classified facility–easily beat these guys up by way of a foot stomping, purse bashing, and for some stupid reason, kicking a fire alarm that easily opens a sealed door they need to get through.

All the while, adrenaline pumping rock music plays as the girl kicks the fire alarm in slow motion as if it’s so cool and bad ass. It’s so bad ass that she somehow ran past a pudgy security officer who made the laziest attempt to stop her, right?

Wrong!

What could have been better is if these girls actually acted like spies who would use their supposed intelligence to outsmart government security. And I’m talking security of not only the middle aged type, but technological kind as well. They could have hacked into their systems to bypass them and show a montage of these girls cracking complex computer codes. That actually would have been way more believable and logical given the premise of the show. Not to metion, way more entertaining than this poorly choreographed travesty of an action scene.

I mean look at this shit! Try not to cringe.

Then I believe in the first episode of the second season, it opens up with the girls hanging out at the front of their high school when a soccer ball happens to stumble into their presence. It’s from the boys playing in the distance and they’re asking for the ball back. One of the girls asks “hey can I play, too?” And one of the boys in full childish douche mode says something along the lines of “but you’re a giiiirl. Girls can’t play soccer.”

His equally half brained friends start laughing like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure you know where this is going, but in case you didn’t, what happens next is that the girl kicks the ball so hard that it bashes the boy’s head in, and all the girls jump and cheer. Like, “yay violence! And no consequences because we’re girls!” She should have been suspended or sent to detention for that, dude could suffer even more brain damage than he already has.

Boys: 0 – Schoolyard Violence: 1

Girls rule! Boys drool!

Fuck off.

How to Shatter the Glass Ceiling For Real, For Once

I can probably write a whole series taking the infinite examples where men need to be “put in their place” in Faux Femme Fatale stories, but I’m going to stop right there before my piss is brought to a boil.

The point is this: I am all for gender equality in fiction and in real life (like, no shit, of course I am). Many of my favourite stories feature equally equipped characters of both genders. Again, Being Erica and Age of Youth come to mind. What made them powerful characters were their individuality, not how much they can prove the other sex wrong.

So for the love of god, established writers and new writers alike, please avoid this trope. It’s old, dead, and tired, and it sets our progress back by several centuries.

If you want strong female leads, then have them actually face hardship and get them to earn their mastery, whether that mastery is in super powers and/or the strength to navigate their existential and relational crises.

Show young girls some Being Erica to learn from Erica’s adventures in time traveling therapy. She gets to relive her regrets in attempt to change them, only to complicate her past in other ways, and then ultimately learn a lesson that helps her with a relevant issue in her present life.

Hooray for self-knowledge!

Show young girls some Age of Youth to learn the value of sisterhood from the Belle Epoque crew. It’s one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a long time featuring young Korean women who go to college and share a house together–often also sharing their personal problems with each other. Whether it’s problems from their individual lives or personal issues they have with their fellow roommates, they all get to learn how to live with each other and understand each other through their shared experiences.

Hooray for healthy female relationships!

If more stories followed in their example, we would have many more female leads that could actually serve as positive role models for young girls. Show women overcoming realistic and relatable struggles. Show them getting knocked down and then getting back up. Now that’s true empowerment.

If more stories incorporated these writing techniques, maybe then female audiences both young and seasoned can feel empowered to take on all of life’s challenges. Be it in a fantasy setting, sci-fi setting, or a contemporary setting, it would be nice to see female characters get their due diligence.

And all of this can be achieved without having to castrate men in the process. Especially men who are written to represent the most unrealistic and stereotypical mysogonists. Because much like their over powered and flawless female counterparts, they simply do not exist, and do nothing but create a false sense of gender inequality.

 

Putting the “I” in “Interests”

Photo Credit: http://www.tinyme.com

What are your favourite books to read right now? What are your favourite shows to binge? And what have been your favourite movies in recent memory?

Now compare all those things to your favourite stuff from just five years ago.

How does it feel and what do you notice about your interests?

I ask this because today is the day I decided to visit my young adult novel, It Starts: at Home, for the fourth time and fourth year in a row.  And whenever I buckle down to rewrite this book for the first time in each respective draft, I get all sentimental over how I conceived the idea for it.

This is mainly because my world was completely different before I ever got invested in YA literature. Long story short, I was into fantasy and sci-fi before I fell madly in love with the complexities of interpersonal relationships.

Much like my novel’s Philipino protagonist, Johanna Pascual, along with her friends and family–I have also grown into a more muti-dimensional version of myself over the years. This has allowed me to bleed my own personal insights into the characters I’ve created for this drama that tackles the day to day conflicts of being in a dysfunctional family and equally dysfunctional high school environment.

As I said, I was into fantasy which meant magic and epic battles, along with sci-fi and advanced technopoly that all served as but an abstract symbolization of human ability.

I am not here to say that fantastyand science fiction are devoid of interpersonal complexity amongst their respective casts of characters, but over the years I have outgrown them and prefer to experience stories with a more clear cut representation of our reality as it is right now.

Not before, not the future. Just this eternal present we all share in our daily lives.

Obviously art cannot exactly replicate reality, but it can come pretty close while also showing us–as all fiction is meant to do–what we are also possibly capable of if we’re willing to grow as human beings.

The things we’re interested in either grow with us or we out grow them if they no longer serve any significant personal benefits.

For the things that stay with us, our reasoning for our continued interests evolve.

For the new things that enter our lives, they are a representation of how we’re growing.


I Am Vengeance, I Am the Night, I Am Batman!

Now let me stop being abstract and get a bit more concrete here.

Taking a simple example, Batman has been my all time favourite superhero for my whole life. The character and all his reiterations have stayed with me since I was a child, ranging from Adam West’s campy and corny Batman, to Christian Bale’s dark, broody, and realistic Batman.

As a kid I just liked watching The Caped Crusader beat up bad guys. Whether it had the POW! WHAM! and KABLAMO! sound effects or had the slightly more ironically realistic fight choreography of Batman: the Animated Series.

But then I remember watching Batman Returns, directed by Tim Burton starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne, and Danny DeVito as The Penguin. I can’t remember exactly what scene it was that made me feel this way, but I do specifically remember feeling sorry for The Penguin.

Batman Returns’ take on The Penguin was my first experience of ever empathizing over a villain rather than hoping that he would just get beaten to a bloody pulp.

So that stuck with me for years I have come to accept that in the Batman world, especially when done right, the villains are meant to have tragic backstories that reveal these bad guys are just sad guys, expressing their pain and torment in a way that’s more psychologically unhealthy as Batman expresses his. (At least he beats people up for a good cause right?)

This is an example of how my continued interest in Batman evolved in terms of my reasons for liking the character. With so many reiterations to represent different eras of time in my life, there was a Batman for every age!


Dungeons and Daughters

Now throughout my teens I was into Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy, and to some degree Lord of the Rings. I thought it was pretty bad ass for characters to have special races and skillsets based on their character class to make them different from each other.

Excuse me while I geek out too hard. *Pushes invisible glasses up the bridge of his nose*

Futhermore, just like with Batman, I liked how they beat up bad guys all in their own unique abilities, whether they were proficient with swords or magic. But as time went on, and I began reading Dungeons and Dragons novels, all the combat and fantastical voodoo became more of a spice sprinkled into stories about interpersonal relationships between characters with very different personalities from each other.

Soon I found myself intrigued by the ideological differences between knights and thieves, assassins and priests, and so on and so forth. The black and white nature of their characterization made it obvious what they stood for.

Though after an over consumption of fantasy, especially including being part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns–one with my friends, and the other with my family–I started to get tired of the genre. I outgrew it and no longer had interest in this idea of an unlikely band of warriors, mages, and hobbits coming together to stop some evil being from stealing all the crystals or whatever sought after magical relic that provided infinite power.

What remained was my interest in how characters relate to each other, and nowadays I can say I do love stripping away the abstraction of magic and technology to cut down to the bone of human relationships. I now prefer contemporary stories with the kind of people you can run into in your daily life who face pretty much the same, relatable issues they you may face in your life.

Existential woes of what to do with your life: finding the right career, the ideal romantic mate, or finding your tribe to name a few.

Interestingly enough, my introduction to contemporary fiction involved strong female lead characters who did not have to have superpowers to be admirable. In fact, they just had to be vulnerable, open, and honest, coupled with the desire to grow themselves personally in order to survive and thrive in their environments.

Where I once loved the story of an assassin turned priest, trying to find peace in a land that only knows blood (Diran from the Blade of the Flame Trilogy by Tim Waggoner)–I became fascinated with the deeply personal story of a middle aged mother of two struggling with early onset alzheimer’s (Ruby from Island Girl by Lynda Simmons).

Both equally incredible characters, both experiencing things I hopefully never have to, but get the privilege of thanks to them taking me on their journey through their respective books.

But when it came to Island Girl, I felt much more invested and centered than I have ever been because it was the first book I read where there was no need for magic or advanced technopoly to wow me. Just plain out, regular human being with her flawed personality and relationships with her daughters, and the incredible human determination to make sense of her life and personal relationships.

Again, I am not bashing on fantasy or sci-fi, but personally for me, I really want to cut away from the abstraction and just relate to everyday people being fictionalized and their psyches explored through realistic drama. It makes it easier this way to explore the concept of interpersonal relationships because I don’t have to spend energy compehending how magic spells work or what the stallactites in a dungeon smell like.

This is how I have outgrown fantasy and moved on to enjoying contemporary works of fiction. I’ve gravitated towards the feels and away from the epic fighting. In fact, there are some pretty epic arguments between contemporary characters that have intrigued me infinitely more than large scale battles involving orcs, mercenaries, and good ol’ medieval weaponry and magic.

I still like it, but I don’t love it like I love arguments between seemingly real human beings whose goals and motivations I can relate to much easier.


Values, Variables, and Virtues…Oh My!

So while I have rambled about my favourite stuff and how I relate to them, I hope you’ve kept in mind the stuff that you value and favour. After all, if you think about why you gravitate towards different types of stories and media, it really does serve as a reflection of what you virtues you value in humanity.

Maybe you like politically charged punk rock.

Maybe you like lovey dovey pop ballads.

Maybe you like both and everything else in between!

Whatever your interests may be, please feel free to share how you put the I…in Interests.

 

Progress is Progress

If there’s a big goal you want to achieve, there is definitely an even bigger picture where it belongs.

It’s easy to be blinded by the bigger picture and feel lost in the tapestry of it all.

One way to break it down into tinier, more managable pieces, is to appreciate the progress you’ve made thus far.

This is something I need to remind myself of quite often because I constantly find myself getting lost in my journey. It has been a year since I quit my last job and decided to go full time with writing. Reminding myself that progress is progress has been the only refuge I’ve had available to me because although I may be poor financially compared to last year, at least nowadays I’m not as spiritually poor as I was when I was stuck building someone else’s dream.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock to me, but surprise surprise, starting your own business is incredibly difficult. And quite often it is hard to see any tangible results of my hard work other than my own self assurance that I try to keep as objective as possible (because let’s face it, I do want to keep my spirits up, but I don’t want to delude myself into thinking I’m succeeding more than I think).

Throwing away the steady and predictable paycheck is the cost entrepeneurs need to pay, and all the security that comes with it is something all of us need to deal with before making our big breaks. Some entrepeneurs are able to take off and create a steady income early on, while most of us, more often than not, need to work harder than we ever have working a 9-5 job in order to simply make a decent buck for ourselves.

Now despite all these challenges, and I am not deterred.

I am proud of what I have done so far.

I am happy with the choices I’ve made.

The choice to focus on finishing the third draft of It Starts at Home, and the much scarier choice of hosting creative writing workshops, have gleaned more spiritual, intellectual, and emotional “income” than I have ever generated working 9-5 jobs. I am not so flippant to dismiss the value of money as I do appreciate making the money I’ve made, since I spent the past 10 years buying books to educate myself at my own pace based on my own individual interests.

All I’m saying is that as good as it felt to made all that money, it feels a lot better to be creating value and giving of myself to the world. Sharing my gift and inspiring others. Whether they were coaching clients who I spoke to one hour a week to give them the space to geek out about their works in progress, or people who have attended to my writing workshops.

Rest assured, I finally feel I’m doing what I was meant to do with my life.

Hosting writing workshops has been a desire of mine for two, three, or even more years now, and to finally have done it feels like a nice big checkmark off the bucket list.

Before every single one, I’m a nervous wreck.

I wonder if people will even care about what I have to say.

I fear if no one’s going to show up.

Early on I had to remind myself to prepare for the best case scenario so I could stop driving myself crazy. The energy I carried with that allowed me to promote my events and present my work with confidence and it sure as hell felt good to have had amazing turn outs with several people coming to some workshops, and equally as good to have only a few people coming to other workshops.

Sometimes it felt too good to be true that this was happening. That people were coming and showing their interest in what I had to say, and it took everything in my power to not self sabotage.

To make a very long story short, the past three months have allowed me to feel incredible success as well as horrible failure. I had many fears about people not caring about what I had to say, tripping over my words, and the worst one of all; no one showing up to my workshops.

All of these things happened; I experienced what it was like to see someone show that they were losing interest in the workshop as the night went on. I tripped over my words, lost my breath, and had to take a moment to recollect myself. And even worse, there was one workshop where I had 0 attendance.

And you know what?

I survived.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt disappointed, maybe a little angry, but not as much as I thought I would when I ran those disaster scenarios in my head beforehand.

The way I see it is that this was my chance to work out the kinks of an ongoing process. Now that I’ve gotten used to the flow of creation, promotion, and presentation, I think I am better equipped next year to bring the Four Pillars of Fiction series back and try to reach a wider audience than I already have this year.

My numbers may not be as big as I first hoped in terms of income, attendance, and clients signing up for sessions, but it’s definitely a lot more than the resounding 0 I would have to face had I not tried.

At the end of the day, I am proud that I at least created my first batch of workshop presentations and don’t have to worry about making anything from scratch in the next go round. I am proud that I reached some people and got some noggins nodding whenever something clicked with them if I made a valid point about writing they hadn’t considered before.

To me that’s worth it.

To me that’s progress.

It may not be much in a conventional sense, but progress is progress.

Now enough about me, how about for yourself? In what ways can you acknowledge yourself and your progress? If your goal is still very far from reach, what accomplishments can you celebrate today to motivate yourself to continue tomorrow?

 

Being Ready For Never Being Ready

We come into existence safe and secure, hugged snugly by the womb

We start off as the largest and only thing in a tiny cozy world only to become one of the many tiniest things in a world much larger than ourselves.

We are born naked and crying in a room full of strangers, and apart from its complete opposite (death), it’s actually the scariest thing we have to experience in our lives if you stop to think about it.

Being put in the world is a pretty daunting thought because we are tasked with the responsibility of creating an effect in the world just as much as the world has the responsibility of creating an effect in us. We come into this world knowing nothing but what our environment will allow us to know, and then we have to learn how to unlearn some of the limiting beliefs we’re fed as we grow.

I think everybody is born with tremendous potential and due to circumstances out of their control, along with mindsets and choices that are, that potential wanes and the world misses out on whatever unique gifts some people possibly had that could have been contributed to the world.

This is the perspective I come from when I try to battle my own self doubt.

I’ve often felt unready to take on the world throughout my life. Whether it was going to school, finding a job, and fast forwarding to now; running my own business. There’s no safety and security in entrepeneurship like a normal job offers; I am not bound by a schedule other than what I grant myself to work in, and there’s definitely no expected amount of money on a regularly scheduled paycheck. My income rests solely on the amount of work I’m willing to put into making sales at my workshops and coaching spots.

It is now near the end of 2017–and after spending the first half of the year in solitary seclusion, writing the 3rd draft of It Starts at Home and for the most part living like a hermit spending the rest of my days gaming and listening to music for countless of hours–I have finally officially launched my business and still feel unready to do it. But I am doing it, which is the crazy thing.

The only difference now compared to my hermit days is that I feel just a tad more ready than before.

It has taken a lot of my own will power and discipline to realize that I am capable of so much in my life, especially if I have been able to provide value to the coaching clients I had in the summer of 2016. Knowing that I possess this rare gift of active listening and questioning that makes writers geek out about their stories, it reminds me that I do have value in the world after all.

Furthermore, when it came to booking and preparing the writing workshops I’ve been hosting the past couple of months, a lot of resistance came up due to feeling unprepared in several areas. I worried that I wouldn’t have content, attendees, let alone the confidence to talk about writing for 2 hours biweekly–even though I spent the past couple of years in customer service jobs where I had to speak to hundreds of customers on a daily basis.

What helped me push onward was to prepare myself as best as I could.

That meant buckling down to write up the workshop presentations, refining it over and over again until every point was succint and important, cutting all excess. It also meant putting the work into inviting people to the workshop and even more work into reminding myself that I’ve done so much public speaking in my life already.

From hosting escape room introductions to talking about writing concepts that came solely from within was a hard transition because now I was sharing something that wasn’t created by anyone else but myself. But nonetheless I persisted.

And when it all came down to it, on the days I have hosted workshops, I still felt unready.

In fact, many times I wanted to cancel on the account of nervousness.

Now whether or not there was a huge turn out or not, in the end I decided to just go with it. I am thankful for the times that several people came, and even more thankful for that one workshop where nobody showed up because that was my biggest fear, and to have it manifest and not actually feel all that bad, it has been an incredible experience being prepared for either outcome.

That’s the most we can ever do for ourselves in this life. To prepare ourselves for the best and worst case scenarios because even it only softens the blow of disappointment, it at least teaches us to prepare better next time. And of course when things do go our way, we can also be grateful to ourselves for having put the effort into preparation in the first place.

I’m sorry if this post was very scatter brained, I’ve probably rewrote it several times and I’m still unable to put it as concisely as I wanted to.

But if there’s one take away from it all, it would be this:

Trust in yourself.

Trust in your own abilities.

Trust in your ability to recover and take it easy on yourself if you “fail.”

You have tremendous potential and just because you miss out on a single chance  to share your gift, it doesn’t mean you are completely barred from ever getting another opportunity in the future. You pick yourself up and try again. If you need time to recover like I granted myself, you give that to yourself too, but always be back to reengage with the world.

 

Giving to Get vs. Genuine Giving

Recently I discovered that I had a mentality that clashed with my values and held me back from truly appreciating what I have to offer others. The mentality of giving so that I can expect something in return often soured what could potentially be genuine acts of charity and good will.

Now I don’t say this from a high horse, more of a neutral pony, but I possess the ability to ask hard hitting questions that really get people to introspect. I’ve found great pleasure in feeding my curiousity about others and in return getting them to step outside of themselves and imagine their lives. So much so that I’ve inspired creative people to get back into their craft whether it was in the visual, literary, or musical arts.

I seem to have a knack for reminding people why they love expressing themselves through the mediums they excel in. Whenever I receive their gratitude and hear that they are picking up their creativity back up off the floor, I feel a sense of warmth and accomplishment that is beyond living through them vicariously. I genuinely do enjoy getting to know people better by asking them about what their passions.

With all that said, I realized a tinge of greed within myself when I’ve tried to engage a few people I’ve helped out. I had spent so much time understanding where they were at in life and why they have neglected their creative abilities, played a part in getting them to reconnect with their creative expressions, but got little to no space to share what was going on with me.

I felt resentful.

That I could spend so much time asking question after question like an ask-a-holic, only to not get any questions asked in return about how I was doing in life.

What the hell?

Just a few weeks ago I felt justified to write people off as selfish and ungrateful because if they were good people they would take the time to understand me right?

Well from a life coaching session with my own brother Oliver Manalese (check out his work, it kicks ass), I learned that being understood was what I missed out on in my childhood. Being understood is what I needed the most and I feel like I didn’t get it from my parents, teachers, or any other adults in my life.

In turn, I have grown up to become the adult I wish I had around when I was a kid; and that is a genuinely curious and encouraging person.

Despite feeling a little miffed when people don’t give me the same curiousity, within the moments I am prying into people’s minds, I am genuinely interested in them. But then to later twist it as something I do in order to extract an obligation I realize now is just madness.

That’s giving to get.

Not genuinely giving.

It was genuinely giving in the moment, but my ego turned it into a symbiotic exchange.

Thanks to my brother’s insights, he came to conclude that there really is no need for me to have to share the details of my life to the people I help in order to feel understood. To expect reciprocity in the same vein of others being able to interview my soul was actually a very greedy thing to do.

Why crave to be understood by getting a chance to talk about myself when the very act of me showing up in people’s lives, asking them these open ended questions that inspire them, is how I am being understood?

I am being understood as someone who shows up for others.

I am being understood as someone who gives a shit.

I am being understood by the simple fact that my questions are being thought about and answered honestly.

And then later of course getting a tremendous word of thanks from the people I took the time to understand. To know that I had an effect on them that they revived creative pursuits that seemed dead and gone–that is how I already am being understood and acknowledged.

I’m who I wanted when I was a child. Someone who could ask the right questions and motivate me to pursue my passions with all the love and energy they deserve.

This rare ability to do it for others and knowing that I am capable of doing it for them should be enough to grant that curiousity and inspiration to myself. Seeing the effects of my curiousity and encouragement through other people’s actions validate for me, within myself, the sense of aliveness we all try to strive for.

I don’t think any form of absolute altruism exists. Even if you give to charity and help people out, there are selfish motives involved, but the concept of selfishness is so demonized that people deny they even have it.

We’re all selfish.

We all want things.

But that doesn’t make us bad, it makes us human.

So in giving to others, what we intrinsically get in return is pride when someone expresses their gratitude for your good will. It’s not a bad thing. It’s reaffirming that as a human being, part of this massive social species, that we matter and we have value from the very act of providing value.

Realizing all this I strive to genuinely give from now on.

I will give of myself the curiousity and understanding I wish I got as a child. For the people I help with this ability, I will bask in their gratitude and their strength to take action partly thanks to my encouragement (I won’t take full credit since they’re the ones who ultimately decide). They don’t need to know the details of my life and my thoughts, their presence and willingness to answer my questions should be enough for me.

And for those rare few individuals who can provide that curiousity and understanding, the people who can actually ask good questions and keep a consistent and engaging conversation, that’s what will set them apart from others. I’ll hold them dear in my heart.

Not everybody has to be a motivational gumshoe.

People provide value and reciprocity in different ways, and I’ve come to accept that.

So from this day onward, I strive give genuinely without expecting anything in return. Why expect when giving is its own reward?