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Posts tagged ‘coping’

When real life collides with make-believe

As I sit here trying to figure out what to blog about, I am listening to the morning news. A local reporter has just finished interviewing a former DEA agent about the tragic events in Dallas last week. My adopted hometown is hurting. It is crying out in anger and pain and yet it is healing, much to the despair of some in the national media and on Capital Hill. I am proud of Dallas and the surrounding area. We have pulled together to help not only the families of the fallen officers and those injured in the cowardly attack last Thursday but we have pulled together to help one another.

Now we sit here, holding our breaths and praying nothing happens today. You see, today is a private memorial service for the fallen officers, one that will be attended not only by local dignitaries and members of both Dallas Police Department and Dallas Area Rapid Transit but by the President, Vice-President, former Speaker of the House and who knows what other politicians. Governor Abbott will not be here because he is undergoing skin grafts for serious burns today but he was here Friday, despite his injuries.

Why are we holding our collective breath? Because we are still on edge after last week’s events and we remember what happened in November 1963. The last thing we need is for something to happen to a visiting politician. That is the burden we carry, thanks to Lee Harvey Oswald. Unfortunately, we have also had salt rubbed in a very open wound by certain folks on social media over the last few days as they worry that evil Texans will rise up to kill the President. After all, we all wanted to secede from the Union. Is there any proof for their allegations? No, but they just love to kick the puppy when its down and they have proven it once again by politicizing a tragedy.

So, Amanda, what does this have to do with writing and why are you talking about the assassination of the five officers on a writing blog?

The answer is both simple and complex. The simple part is that the attack last Thursday and its aftermath came close to bringing my writing to a screeching halt. Partly because my mind simply could not fathom for a bit what happened. Partly because, once I realized it wasn’t all a bad dream, my worry for the officers I know with DPD grew as I waited to make sure none of them had fallen victim to the assassin. And yes, the shooter was an assassin. Partly because what happened last week will continue to impact those of us in the DFW area will forever be impacted by what happened.

It is complex because I am now processing what happened and find myself looking at it from a writer’s point of view. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that yet but bear with me.

I have watched video of what happened and the aftermath and my writer’s brain has started taking it apart, figuring out how I can adapt it for a story that had been simmering on the back brain for some time. No, not a story about an attack on a peaceful protest and the escorting police officers. This is actually the final short story I have planned for the current arc of the Honor and Duty series.

Heck, I even have another story where I have a politician who can’t open his mouth without inserting both feet. Well, guess what? Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has moved to the head of the pack of examples for that character thanks to his comments after the shooting.

The writer’s brain also works overtime when I think of the area of Downtown Dallas where those horrific events took place. I can picture the area, the buildings around it and now I find myself imagining what it must have been like during those long eight hours as the police worked to secure the area, locate and neutralize the shooter.

I find myself doing what I have done so many times before when reality hurts so much it would be easy to pull the covers over my head and hide fro the world. I write. I write about what happened and how it has impacted not only myself but those around me. I write my stories. They are my emotional outlet.

It all comes down to coping. How do we cope with traumatic events as writers and as people?

This post is not meant to be an invitation to debate gun control or any other hot button topic. So don’t go there. What I’m interested in knowing is how you as a writer cope with traumatic events. Do you write about them and then, at some later time, use those events as inspiration in your writing? As readers, what do you think about writers who use such events as inspiration?

Finally, because this is a writers’ blog, a bit of promotion.

About two weeks ago, I published the first in a series of short stories set in the Honor and Duty universe. Taking Flight told the story of Ashlyn Shaw’s first assignment as a member of the Fuerconese Marine Corps. The second story, Battle Bound (Honor and Duty), is now live. It takes place approximately 4 years before Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1).

Newly promoted, Captain Ashlyn Shaw has been ordered to take Delta Company to the Bennington System. Their mission is simple: secure groundside defenses and seek out the Callusian invaders. It should be a simple assignment. The Fuerconese Navy had proven itself time and again since war had been declared to be more than a match for the Callusians. Once Taskforce Liberator, under the command of Admiral Tremayne, secured the system approaches, Ash and her Devil Dogs could get to work.

Except no battle plan ever survives the first encounter with the enemy. This time the Callusians are breaking pattern and it will take everything Tremayne and Ashlyn have to lead their people to victory.

The Devil Dogs will get the mission done, no matter what the cost.

Living the edges

Blame Sarah. Her post yesterday started me thinking on this line, and anything that gets me thinking moderately philosophical thoughts is dangerous.

Anyway, as Sarah said yesterday, madness and creativity are pretty closely intertwined. Very few highly creative types don’t argue with some form of mental illness, and frankly, once the intelligence levels get high enough, the same kind of thing happens. Our species seems to be built to design specs with a caveat in big flaming letters “Extremes are Bad Things” (Yes, evolution will in fact do this. Extreme anything is bad. Moderation in all things, including moderation, appears to be the way to go). At any rate, moving too far from the averages, whether creativity-wise or in terms of intelligence, almost always introduces a bunch of negative effects.

There’s a “sweet spot” in the order of about 1 to 2 statistical deviations above the norm. In that range, whatever it is is good enough to help the fortunate possessor without introducing much in the way of nasty side effects. In the realm of intelligence, this is where the people ordinary joes consider bright are found. Beyond that a person gets to be in a realm where they can’t understand normal people, and no-one outside their very small group of mental peers can understand them. With creativity it tends to be even more marked – mildly more creative than usual often looks a lot more impressive than extremely more than usual because at the extreme there’s not much there an average person can recognize. This is why stunningly new things usually take a long time to get adopted. They’ve got to trickle down through the not-quite-so-extremely-creative to be translated into something that the not-particularly-creative can relate to.

When the ability is so strongly linked to insanity, well, that just makes it even more interesting.

My personal theory – I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned it here in the past (yeah, says the inner editor, like once or twice a week. The inner editor is a demon, and lies.) – is that the essence of creativity is in pattern recognition and generalization. The more someone can observe patterns across fields of thought or practice that rarely intersect, the more creative their observations are going to be. When the patterns and fields of thought pillage mythology, legend, and every work of fiction ever, that’s a heck of a lot of ground to cover. Take someone who doesn’t have the normal “this is socially acceptable” filters (I’m intimately familiar with this), and you’ll get high-octane nightmare fuel played for laughs (a.k.a. the con vampire books). Add that to a subconscious that actively collects all of this and then spits out the shiny “Ooh! Story!”, and you get what Sarah described with A Few Good Men (which is totally worth any amount of money you choose to spend on it. Just saying).

It’s fragile, to say the least. In my case the wrong choice of music can shut me down for days. Of course, if I get a nasty shock, I can tip straight back to suicidal, so I don’t count myself as particularly stable anyway. Of the several flavors of antidepressant I’ve taken, I’ve only found one that leaves the writing ability more or less intact. Not surprisingly, I’m not that keen to experiment any further. I’m not aware of antihistamines shutting me down, although any form of physical illness does a number on me, so it may simply be that the effect is masked by not being well enough to think.

Of course, being narcoleptic, I’ve got the advantage of very vivid dreams, including some that happen without me needing to actually be asleep. Those are usually the trippiest, probably because I experience them direct, without any kind of “remembering the dream” filters. The flip side is that the medication for that takes me from permanently functioning as if I’ve just come off a 48 hour shift to functioning as if I’ve just come off an all-nighter. I don’t actually remember what “awake” feels like. Curiously enough, I describe exhaustion rather well…

In my view, it’s all input towards whatever the next story happens to involve. Or the one after that. Whatever works.

I think that’s possibly where all the research on creativity, intelligence, and mental illness has gaps: the focus tends to be on the ones who can’t keep their grip on the world their body lives in. The ones who figure out what works for them and can keep hold of the physical world when the worlds of the mind are calling so seductively mostly manage to slide past under the social radar. Most of us prefer it that way.

Of course, most of us would also deny the hell out of any evidence we were losing our grip. And therein lies its own set of nightmare fuel.