Not normal

Normal is not something to aspire to, it’s something to get away from
— Jodie Foster

For most of my life and without realizing it, I tried my damnedest to fit in, to blend in, to be perceived as normal (or at least live up to the perception, rightly or wrongly, people had about Chinese/Asian people — i.e. book smart, docile, non-confrontational, amenable), at the urging of my parents and to those I admired, respected or wanted to be friends with.

As I grew up and became an adult, I came to understand that fitting in, being normal, blending in with everyone around me was something that came at a price. My self-esteem took a beating. My place in the world, in society, was put into question. My value as a human being was under scrutiny, too. The opinions of others superseded my own opinions because I thought they somehow knew better than me.

Now, it’s clear that they don’t. Yeah, we’re all in the same boat but that doesn’t stop certain individuals from pretending they know everything. Everyone is trying to work within a set of parameters that have been constructed by someone else. (Patriarchy, I’m looking at you, you fucking piece of shit.) Everyone is trying, but that’s about it.

I’m more comfortable being the outsider, unable to truly fit comfortably within a set of parameters set up by some idiot who thinks I’m some sort of social and emotional chameleon/contortionist. Fuck that. You want submission? Bend over. I’ll give you a taste of submission. There might be a colostomy bag waiting for you after I’m done with you. I don’t imagine it will be fun.

I went to the monthly writers group meet-up over the weekend and I was reminded by my mentor how much my writing had changed once I gave up trying to follow his instructions. Apparently, he didn’t know how to get through to me during the early days of my developing my storytelling skillset. It wasn’t that I didn’t listen to him. I was. But the end result of my writing exercises/attempts were stilted and far from what I believed I could do and it left me frustrated. He arrived to the same conclusion.

Eventually, I said fuck it and I went off script to figure out the writing thing. As soon as I did that, something clicked. It was something that surprised him. Me? I wasn’t concerned if it surprised him. I was just thrilled that I was off and running. To paraphrase my mentor, the change was akin to letting a colt off its halter and letting it bolt around the pasture to find its legs, to explore the world around him and to taste a bit of freedom.

I appreciated his use of an equine analogy. It reminded me of my horse, Chaplin, when he was still alive and the leader in his little corral. He was the boss. Thankfully, he had a wicked sense of humour. But he was the boss. None of the other horses ever forgot.

My mentor said we both learned something from me going ‘off halter.’ I’m not sure what he learned but I learned that following tried and true constructs doesn’t work for me. Doing that leaves me frustrated, angry and homicidal. I have to get to the same place as everybody else by taking a very different path.

Is it juts a case of learning differently? I don’t know. I think it’s a case of looking at something differently, figuring out the approach from that perspective and running with it.

I don’t remember what I did specifically that was different, to be honest. But I think the difference might have been trusting my intuition and following my gut. My mentor believes that to be true. He believes the ease with which I access the right brain — when I do it my way and not follow some prescribed method — is a big reason for the shift in my writing and the way the story for my second novel has evolved.

I guess following my intuition might not be the norm? If it’s not, good. There is nothing ‘normal’ when it comes to creativity. Normal is a killjoy. Normal is a soul-sucking, non-life affirming way to live.

Fuck normal. I’m all for doing things my way.

In pursuit

Anyone in the pursuit of art is responding to a desire to make visible that which is not, to offer the unknown self to others — Hettie Jones

Anything that I have done, that would be considered in the realm of art, was done in the pursuit of self-expression, self-acceptance and maintaining some semblance of sanity.

That’s how it was with flamenco and piano. And that’s how it is with writing and photography.

Doing things to please anyone other than myself has always ended in eventual disappointment for me. For the others, not so much. The disappointment is something that everyone else fails to see or doesn’t want to see. Or if they do see it, they either ignore it or start shaming you for being for not being selfless enough. They want to ostracize you. They decide that you’re socially dysfunctional. They decide you’re not nice enough, not friendly enough. What they really mean is they decide that since you haven’t done enough to bend over backwards for them, you are not a decent human being.

To borrow from Darth Vader: Your lack of self-sacrifice and commitment to some form of servitude is disturbing.

Three words: Go. Fuck. Yourself.

In the personal pursuit of self-expression, self-acceptance and my version of sanity, I forget that there are folks I know who have read my writing (specifically the first novel), and who are asking me if there is another book in the works.

I was asked that question last week. Judging by the looks these three ladies gave me, they seemed to be chomping at the bit to read anything I produce. Instead of feeling daunted by their expectations, I still found myself surprised that anyone would want to read a bunch of words I string together in an effort to tell a story.

I told them they would see something eventually. They asked me politely to hurry it up. I guess I’ll have a meeting with my boys and the rest of the crew from the next novel about that this week.

I’ve come up with a general idea of when the next book will be ready. Can’t be more than that. Let’s just say the possibility of it being ready is a more tangible concept now than it would have been six months ago.

Now, if I can only get the rest of my life to co-operate with my plans…

Having no shame

The one thing that I think we need to reclaim as storytellers is to have no shame because when I see Bernardo Bertolucci tackle the story of The Last Emperor of China and make a magnificent film, I say why can’t I do whatever I want. Because when I went to America after my father’s kidnapping, they kept giving me mariachi, toreador and drug dealer screenplays and I said you wouldn’t send a Royal Mounted Police screenplay to Cronenberg. What the fuck are you giving me this stuff? The first act of racism we can do is against ourselves. So, we should not have it. We should be shameless and free to tell whatever story we want to tell Guillermo del Toro

There are many reason to love Guillermo del Toro and speaking his mind is one of them. I love that he believes storytellers should be shameless and free to tell whatever story we want to tell.

Yes, he works in the realm of science fiction, fantasy and horror, so yes, it seems he is freer in those genres to do whatever the fuck he wants.

My goal is to be shameless and free as a storyteller. I hate the possibility of being burdened with conventions and constructs that seem inherent in any genre you write in. That is why I believe in the story first. Fuck the idea of genres. They are a way of labelling a literary or cinematic story so it’s easier to market for the publishing companies or movie industry.

As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I don’t think of genre when I create and work on a story. It figuratively handcuffs me. There’s no room to breathe. There’s no room to push the envelop past the point of discomfort or unacceptability. Do I envy people who follow and work within a literary construct? No. It feels cookie cutter to me. It feels creatively stifling. It’s boring. It feels like I’d rather gouge my eyes out than conform for no good reason other than ‘that’s the way it’s always been.’ It’s not how I create.

I also hate the burden of the idea of appropriation. To be free and shameless in your storytelling allows you to be anything or anyone. But can you tell the story of someone who is not from your own ethnic background? Yes, I do. If you do the research, if you are respectful of the material, the people and the culture, yes, it can be done. It has been done. Hell, you can throw all the tried and true tropes out the fucking window and create your ideal world where your characters can live the way you see them.

The characters, void of ethnicity and gender, and their stories matter to me. Ethnicity and gender are just ingredients that add colour and flavour to the story. There are many other things that add colour and flavour — location, the characters’ backstories and experiences, the characters’ motivations and intentions.

Will I ever get called out for not telling the stories of my ancestors? I don’t know. But I do have a question for those who would ask the question of how could I possibly write something that I couldn’t possibly know like the back of my hand. I would ask ‘why would I intentionally limit my imagination and storytelling abilities because of my ethnicity and gender?’ I would listen to their response, then tell them to go fuck themselves.

During my field research trip, I had a number of epiphanous moments tied directly to my current writing project. These moments, on a certain level, were deeply personal and I can count on one hand the number of people who are and will be privy to hearing about these moments. It’s not something I care to share with everyone. But these moments will inform, shape and hopefully, add more nuance to the storytelling.

That is something I’m looking forward to.