On Letting Someone Go (In Fiction and In Life)

Harsh truths out of the way first: there’s no such thing as forever.

We grow apart from where we started out. Whether or not we change or just better understand why we feel the way we feel, we grow, we evolve, and time is the greatest catalyst of all. We can’t escape change. We can say that there’s no way that we right now, in our late twenties and early thirties (my peers, in this case) are the same as we were when we were just starting college, or graduating it, etc.

Same can be said for relationships and friendships, whether written or real-life.

I’ve always said that blood is water-soluble. It’s true in chemistry and in life. While you can’t choose the people whom you’re born to, you have every freedom in the world to choose your association with them. Just because someone is born as your blood family member doesn’t automatically qualify them as a good person to be around. Ask the survivors of narcissistic parents, ask abuse survivors whether or not they will ever associate with their family members, and you will find that their answer will be an immediate and unequivocal no way.

Why is that? Simple: just because someone is family doesn’t mean they 1. are a good person and 2. deserve a relationship.

There’s a pretty great meme that has gone around, a meme that says, “You are the CEO of your life. Promote, demote, and terminate accordingly” – paraphrased. It’s a sentiment I wholly agree with, having done all of the above to nearly every relationship I’ve had.

Yes, you can pick your family, if you let go of the idea that family = blood. And you will find that the family you pick can sometimes be a lot better than the family you were born into.

Consider this, ladies and gents: you are under no obligation to accept someone’s bad behavior if their behavior affects your own quality of life. You’re also under no obligation to allow someone to make you feel bad just because you happen to be related to them or their friend for multiple years. You, and yourself, are the first priority in your life and livelihood, regardless of whether or not there are other people in your immediate life. If you don’t take care of yourself, and if you don’t take the time to make yourself the best you are capable of being, then who else will?

This isn’t the time to say “my husband” or “my children” or “my wife”. No. YOU are the first and sole person responsible for your well-being at the end of the day. Marriages can end. Your children can move away from you and get busy in their own lives, since they are people in their own right. Where would that leave you?

And that is the primary reason why I, once again, say: be selective with who is allowed in your life. Be selective. Be picky. Be very, very, very picky. Yes, it can be a lonely road to follow, but what you will see, some years down the line, is that you will be surrounding yourself with far better quality individuals than before. Your life and well-being are both influenced by the people you surround yourself with, and if you surround yourself with people that lift you up as opposed to bring you down – well, the possibilities become endless.

But life and living stuff aside, let’s not forget that we, as writers, create our own relationships, especially with our characters. They are our children, of sorts, regardless of whether or not we have kids; these characters have been created by us, created down to the way they take their coffee in the morning, and there is nothing quite like the relationship that we, the authors, build with them.

When it comes to Arriella in particular, my main character in The Index Series,  I feel like a mixture of friend and parent to her, even though 1. she’s not technically real outside of my books, and 2. she’s a product of my own brainpan. But that’s exactly why I feel that way about her: she’s the product of my brain. I conceived her, her abilities, her personality, her hang-ups, and put it down on paper (or screen, if you must get technical), and I also conceived her relationship, especially to the brothers Shou and Kian. In determining how they started and how they ended up, well, you can just say my own brain is a mess, but in writing Books 1 through 4, I couldn’t help but become the “parent” figure to Arriella, in a sense. Her need to protect people clashed mightily with the fact that she had very strong and obvious feelings that she didn’t know what to do with.

But when it came to Shou – and those of you who hadn’t read Book 4, you may not like me very much for this – I realized that even though I killed him off pretty quickly, I couldn’t quite let him go. Not easily. Not yet.

Sure, technically he was dead. But his cause of death in and of itself was a plotline, but moreover, I wasn’t ready to let him go. Arriella certainly wasn’t, and she had gone to some extreme lengths to try and keep her grief at losing him under wraps, including but not limited to fighting a war. But she was too close to him, and I had invested too much time entirely in writing the brothers to let Shou go so easily. He was not just Kian’s twin, but he was Arriella’s closest friend and, for a while, lover. To just yank him out of the story as a victim was just too abrupt. So yes, there will be signs of Shou to follow, but I can’t tell you what’s where as of yet. I have to edit Book 5, but before I do that, I need to spend some time and actually finish Book 8. -_- Yeaaah. The boon of multitasking and writing.

But you can see the problem and the benefit in the fact that I wasn’t able to let the character of Shou go just yet. The benefit is the storyline, obviously, but the problem is one that, in real life, has drastic consequences: holding onto something- or someone – that has long outworn its welcome creates more problems than there have been in the first place. Yeah, I got my plotline all right, but the more I think about it, the more I think that it may have broken the canon of the world I’ve spent years writing into existence, even if everything looks to be fitting well together.

There is nothing wrong with drifting away from people, whether they’re fictional or not, but I warn you, as someone who spends quite a bit of time around people and lives in one of the most densely populated places in the world: when you start to feel like the person you’re around is really  not bringing anything to the table anymore, and if you see more drawbacks than benefits to being in the friendship/relationship, it may well be time to reconsider letting it continue. And blood is water-soluble; it isn’t thicker than water in the least, and, as I have said before time and again, just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you’re obligated to 1. like them and 2. associate with them. There’s no shame in saying no to something negative.

For my books, please visit this link: http://amzn.to/1kcgyjy


On Connections and Being Selective

The number-one thing I learned so far in life, that I keep re-learning time and again, is that connections are necessary. The other corollary to that lesson is to always, always take caution in whom you connect with.

You and I both know by now, dear reader, just how important networking is to survival in business, whether as an employee or as a business owner. I straddle both sides of that divide, having the employed foot in accounting and the business foot in photography and music, and there is nothing, nothing more important to the survival of your business than networking and professional self-presentation. Though myself I’m an introvert to the point of being a hermit, I know very well that if I want my business to thrive, I need to push my inner hermit down and into its cave and get out there and gather the contacts I need and network my heart out. And, for the longest time, my motto has been, “I will give anyone a chance – you never know.”

While that still holds true to a degree, I found that now I am amending this and I’m amending it to say as follows: I will give everyone a chance to show their true colors.
And from there, I’ll judge who gets to stay.

The most important thing isn’t how many associations you might have, but whom with and what kind. Not everyone in your life is an asset to you, and not everyone in your business wishes you well. Not everyone will respect you as a person, and not everyone will take you seriously. Which is why it’s important to, very regularly and routinely, to cull the herd, so to speak. Who people are as people is just as important as their business and how it’s conducted, and this is something that I am learning – and acknowledging as a necessary thing. Inevitably, one’s personality can, will, and does bleed into their business, and in the world of music, art, photography, and writing, it’s inevitable. So being a good judge of character is essential.

Moreover, I think it’s fair to say at this point that in the creative world, how one’s business is conducted is indicative of one’s personality, and vice versa.

What I determined, though, is that if I find that I cannot tolerate someone on a personal level, I cannot conduct business with them after a certain point. Patience and compromise only go so far, and it soon becomes pretty clear just to which extent this partnership is going to go. If someone does not, in fact, deliver the benefits promised in your endeavor, then all considered, the partnership needs to end. Likewise to yourself: if you find that, for whatever reason, you cannot work with someone, or cannot deliver, then bow out of the arrangement. There’s no shame in saying, “this can’t continue” and no matter how bad you feel for bowing out, it’s worse if you are stuck in, or stuck with someone who isn’t delivering.

It’s kind of similar to personal relationships, but the thing about business relationships is that your brand and your product and your work that will get a reputation based on whom you affiliate with. If you recommend someone to a business connection and the person you recommended screws up, then trust me, it does come back to you. Similarly, if it’s you or your business who are recommended for something, then make no mistake: everything you do reflects on the person who recommended you.

Which is why I have severed a few of the relationships and connections I had within the world of music and media. Plainly put, I cannot afford to be affiliated with the individuals and organizations whose behavior and/or actions with others will tarnish me by association or are anything but respectful and courteous towards me. If they cannot respect me or what I do, and it shows in either their words or their treatment of me, then I know very well that I will glean no benefit by association. And lest you think I’m painting myself as an angel – give me a break; I know me, and I know I’m not the easiest person in the world to be around, and I know I have the same effect on others – that’s just how life is. As far as my business is concerned, that comes first in my book. I will protect it with all I got.

I had a run-in once with a journalist whose apology for a wrongdoing consisted of an immediate backpedal and blame-shift within the same two sentences. If she wanted to apologize to me, doing that was likely the least effective way to do so. Fingering a completely innocent party was not helping her case and, frankly, was low on her part. Result is obvious: she and I no longer speak. A similar severance also met a photographer who just couldn’t get through his head that 1. I had my own opinion and had been proven right in it before and 2. just because I’m of a certain age (younger) and look a certain way, does not mean that he – or anyone – has the right to address me as “my dear”, which is something that I see as grossly patronizing.

Lest you think I’m overreacting at the last, consider this: since I’m a female and I’m half the age of most people in jazz, as well as most people in jazz photography, I have twice the uphill battle to be taken seriously. And when a guy who’s two and a half times my age says “my dear” to me, especially on the heels of a not-so-veiled implication that I don’t know what I’m talking about, topic regardless, what that person actually says is, “Well, I don’t take your seriously at all, you little dumb child. Here, have a backhanded compliment so you can go play somewhere else.” This person has a longstanding habit of disregarding others’ opinions and wishes on both a professional and personal basis, and the absolute last thing I will tolerate is being patronized.

Yeah, I’m half these people’s age, but you sure as hell can’t tell my age or cup size from my portfolio. So I don’t see why, exactly, I have to tolerate this treatment from people, twice my age or not. If someone cannot be bothered to respect me as a photographer and as a woman, then why, pray tell, should I even acknowledge them, never mind affiliate myself with them?

Think on that. You can have a thousand likes on your facebook page, but what’s more important: the number of people liking what you post or the right people liking what you post? I’d rather have quality over quantity. Yeah, it’s a lonely road to travel, but so much more fulfilling. I pride myself for conducting my business by the book, in any endeavor I decided to take up. The least that I can expect is for people that I affiliate myself with to meet a certain standard with their behavior. I expect others to conduct their business with the same sense of integrity as I conduct mine. Really, that’s not that much to ask.

You’d think, in any case.

Be that as it may, the moral of this blog post is as follows: judge your connections with care, because not everyone will wish you well, and people can, and will, ride on your coattails with impunity if you allow them to do so. Know what weight on your coattails does? Creates drag. Slows you down. So don’t let people do that.

Being selective may leave you on a lonely road in the short-term, but I assure you from experience – the long-term pays off in stereo.


Sh!t That Writers Hear

You know, sometimes I love HuffPo. They take a topic and sometimes hit the nail on the head.

Like this one.

And you know what, it’s the fastest way to cheese a writer off. I heard most of them. And honestly, I’m surprised that we writers aren’t shooting back with comebacks! I mean, come on. We the creatives can get creative with them too, can we not?

(In case you haven’t guessed yet, this post is mostly fun/sarcasm. And yes, I use some of those comebacks, because people really don’t think before they ask a writer a question…)

Have you been published?

Well of course I have! Else would I offer you this thing called….a book?

What do you write? [pause for answer] Oh.

Well, what do you like? [pause for answer] Oh.

Do you have, like, a real job?

Writing. Why do you think it’s not real?

I don’t read much.

So going online doesn’t count? Because seriously, you do read what’s on the screen, you realize that, right?

Do you know Stephen King? What’s he like?

I’d love to find out!

You should write a book about my life, it’s a bestseller for sure.

Sigmund Freud would agree! You certainly have a healthy ego.

I’m gonna write someday, when I have free time.

Then you never will.

[No sarcasm here. It’s the truth. You either make the time, or you never will]

My sister likes to read. Have you written anything she would know?

Well, she’ll know what I’ve written when she reads it. If, on the other hand, you’re asking me if I can give her something to read, sure!

You write novels? I only read stuff that’s real.

Are those things on my bookshelf zombies?

I read your book. It was… interesting.

It is indeed, the Amazon reviews are favorable.

My mother loves your books.

That’s fantastic! Now what about you?

I’ve got a great story for you!

I’m not a literary agent.

I thought books were dead.

Have you read any lately?

You should write a screenplay! That’s where all the money is.

How nice of you to worry! Now why aren’t you writing one?

Snappy comebacks aside, few things irritate me as much as the idea that 1. books are “dead” and 2. there’s such a thing as a “real book”. If books are dead, then why has that particular medium been alive for several centuries? Come the hell on. Books aren’t “dead”. After all, there’s new authors writing them on a fairly constant basis, and the Hollywood movie factory needs to get its ideas from somewhere.

Far as 2, I’ve written about it at length here. Long post short: there’s no such thing as a “real book”. All books are real by virtue of being written. If you like nonfiction, you say nonfiction. Don’t denigrate a piece of writing just because it’s not something you read. You wouldn’t like it very much if someone devalued something that you’ve poured a lot of effort into, so why do you suppose you can do that to an author? You just don’t do that.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – and again, until it sinks in – that writing is a job. It’s a very difficult, sometimes thankless, and rarely financially lucrative job. If you’re not writing, you’re thinking about what to write. If you’re writing, you’re always thinking about what to write next. If you’re done writing, you always think about marketing and pushing it out to potential readers. It is a nonstop job, it requires a ton of mental resources, and considering the current financial conditions of being an author, it’s not lucrative. We writers do it because it is our calling, but we aren’t so starry-eyed to believe that we’re going to instantly become the next best-seller. That takes a hell of a lot more work than people think. Just because you see the finished product doesn’t mean it doesn’t take years to create it.