Sometimes I have bits of stories that come out of nowhere, and I’m not quite sure what to do with them. Usually it’s a premise, sometimes an ending punchline, other times it’s a character or just a snippet of a setting or time period. Sometimes I’ll get a few paragraphs that don’t have anything to do with anything, so I write it down, file it away, and go on with life. It’s much more stream of conscious than how I usually work, but I’ve learned to go with it in those moments.
A piece of dialogue has followed me around for years, and I could never figure out where it fit. I thought I knew which idea it went with, but then I’d start to doubt, or things would shift, or not quite match up. It’s something, more or less, to the effect of:
“You can wait and hope, scream and beg til your voice gives out, but at the end of the day, sometimes no one’s coming to rescue you. Maybe they don’t hear. Maybe they ignore you. That’s just the way it is. Being rescued, happily ever after – that’s a little girl’s dream, not reality. So you can give up, or go through it, fight through it, and hope to God you come out on the other side and be better. And some days I’m not sure if I have.”
They’re words that resonate with me personally, and they could fit with a few things I’m developing, so it’s not a question of them not getting used, but who they belong to. Recently, working on a pitch involving the expansion of some reprints, I suddenly discovered who it belongs to, or I’m at least 95% sure. And it shook me to my core, because I never would have guessed it would have been that character. I full well know that I’m putting her through some things, but I also hadn’t quite expected that to come out of her. And it makes me a little sad that I didn’t catch that about her before now, because in her earlier appearances, she’s strong and capable, and obnoxiously flippant to a certain extent. Looks can be deceiving, in fiction as well as real life.
Now, more than ever, it’s extremely easy to lock yourself in your own world, insulate yourself in your friends groups, secure your walls and lock things down for your own sanity. Sometimes you have to, and there’s no shame in that. Sometimes, though, it’s worth leaving a little crack for the light to get in, as Leonard Cohen would say.
As Clarissa Pinkola Estes would say in her poem Abre La Puerta, a wound is a door. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to go looking for them, as well as leave them open. And it’s terrifying to do either, especially when you’ve been hurt, yourself.
I worry these days that in our world of cultivated social media and algorithms, it’s all too easy to put out a blanket “hey I’m here for you!” and feel like that does the job, especially when it gets likes or retweets or whatever. Yes, sometimes that’s important – you never know who’s scrolling by and may see it. But is that seriously enough, or is that emotional marketing that makes the poster and their friend group feel good, but not much beyond that? I don’t know. Admittedly I have a thing about pretty words with no real attempt to back them up, where the person offering pretty words and platitudes is somehow the only one gaining anything from them.
Besides, what about the people who aren’t in your direct circle that you don’t always talk to? What about the person standing next to you on a corner or that acquaintence at work or that you pass by every now and then at the store that doesn’t see those posts? Sure, there are a ton of resources out there, but what about those people that are in a place where they can’t comprehend that it’s there for them, that they’re worth those resources and time, too? You just never know. The person next to you could disappear at any time, that is a definite reality. And I get it’s a little idealistic to think that someone can be saved with a smile or an enquirey or a kind gesture, especially if they need real, in-depth help.
Couldn’t hurt, though.
I’m not saying overextend yourself or put yourself in danger or put huge mental pressure or stress on yourself. Be mindful, because you just never know what people are going through. Now, more than ever, I will continue to try to advocate empathy, because it’s something we all need to feel human and to be better humans. It’s a private thought of mine that one of the blanket meanings of life, one of the only reasons for bad things happening (privately or publicly, small or mass scale) that I can come up with, is to cultivate empathy. That may not be the case, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me in the scheme of things.
We’re conditioned to be incredibly guarded in this modern world. To be tough, to keep rolling with the punches, to suck it up, buttercup, to deal, that other people have it worse. It’s incredibly hard to be vulnerable in this day and age, even a little. If things aren’t on the catastrophic scale, especially now, how can one complain?
It doesn’t make some things any easier.
Admittedly, I can be an extremely guarded person. There are reasons for this, and it’s my choice who to share those reasons with. No matter the case, I joke sometimes about hiding out in my tower, or the Great Wall of Selah, or just pushing my personal feelings aside until I get through a situation and deal with it later. Through the years I’ve had many lessons fall in my lap (though they didn’t feel like it at the time), as to why those are not great ways to live your life. It also goes to show that we can’t just talk about the reason for people being the way they are, whether it’s trauma, addiction, diagnosis, whatever. There’s also the carrying on, the journeying from that point, the recovery, the coping. We love a hero story and a redemption arc, but we tend to forget how hard it probably is for the person in question to get from point A to point B, even in the most tell-all of memoirs. And sometimes it’s the moving on that brings whole other painful moments that you just don’t see coming.
Some of my hardest personal times were feeling like a failure and going through the day to day, still having to show up, feeling like people were brushing things off or that I couldn’t open up to them. I still on occasion get flustered or anxious during conversation and feel like the biggest idiot in the world, because there are days it still feels like I’m rebounding and relearning how to connect with people and trust them with actual conversation and not be “on.”
One of the hardest things to experience is talking to someone you love dearly, step off the cliff and open up, and the door in their eyes slamming shut and locking tight because you’re saying things they may not want to hear. There’s the being brushed off because people around me figured I’d eventually just over things like I always do, as long as I’m keeping up with whatever’s on my plate. In reality, I’d push them off to deal with them later, until I couldn’t, then not know what to do and felt completely at a loss. Some of the hardest days I had years ago were when I couldn’t find the words to express what I thought might be going on at the time and show up every day and play pretend with my life anyway until things resolved themselves. I’ve bided my time to hang out with and open up to people, anxiety about stuff be damned, and find out they’ve changed their mind and gone off and left me because there were other things going on and other people needed them, and what could they really do? I’ve spent evenings with people wondering if I could talk to them, let it go, then found out years later if they wondered if I was doing okay.
I’ve felt that horrific feeling of being alone in a room of people and wondering if it even mattered I was there.
So yeah, I know how hard it is, and I know the inner workings of my tower, my fort, my wall very well.
If you’ve ever had a nightmare of running through a hall with something after you and every door of escape, of help being locked tight, leaving you nowhere to go, you’ll know the general feeling.
And realitistically, especially as I’ve gotten older, I do get it. Sometimes things happen, and I doubt all those incidents were meant personally. I’ve resolved a few of them with the people involved, forgiven and moved on. Besides, life gets in the way, it’s easy to judge, to choose self-preservation, especially now.
And yet..I also wonder during all those times, who was I walking by? Who was I passing up that could have used a smile or a conversation or some recognition that yes, you are human, I see you, I’ve got you, hang in there.
Because as hard as it was to write the above, I’ve also had some amazing people in my life and beautiful, wonderful little moments that have kept me going.
I’ve had people that started out on my periphery make a choice to come ask how I was in my day to day, and if I was too cynical they took me aside and gently called me out on it.
I’ve had people text me out of the blue with things they’ve kept that I’ve made for them, or things that we’d laughed about years ago, or just to say that they thought of me.
I’ve had people send me cat pictures, or ridiculous gifs, or ask me how a project is going, even if it’s stalling out. And then genuinely bug me to hear about it. Sometimes I get random cards in the mail, and I try to reciprocate those, because they’re fantastic to come home to. I’ve had friends share moments of their kids living up to my bad influence, and just all sorts of silly, fun things that end up mattering. As someone who feels like I’m always the first person reaching out, the one reminding people I’m alive, the one putting out the effort, those who know to keep after me have been godsends at proving that there are amazing people out there and that I’m someone worth looking after.
I’ve had people that I never thought in a million years would remember I existed remember me after not seeing them for a few years, and get genuinely excited about things I’m working on – so much so that I can’t even begin to put a clarifying or cynical spin on it.
I’ve had a close friend on his deathbed ask how I was doing and make me promise to keep creating things and be happy. I still wear the necklace he gave me as a reminder of how much my ideas can influence things at cons and other times when I’m feeling nervous.
I’ve had people call me on the pretense of checking up on a project but really check to make sure things are going okay.
I’ve had library friends, who I never see anywhere else, who would talk about anything and nothing for handfuls of minutes just because.
I’ve had friends and acquaintences who would bring up things like meditation and yoga and transcendentalism, and then pivot the conversation to Prince, and cats, and who knows what else – and it always gives me a laugh and brings me back to present.
I’ve had friends text me just because, and those tint moments have made my day.
I’ve had friends just encourage the dumbest, insane ideas and keep the conversation going until I’m sitting there laughing with tears streaming down my face and it doesn’t even matter if the thing we’ve talked about ever happens, it just feels amazing to be silly and riff like that.
I never realized how much little gestures meant until I went out to dinner with some friends I hadn’t seen in years, and in coordinating the details I began to feel the ol’ virgo detail anxiety creeping up, until I was easily told ‘Hey, no worries, you don’t have to worry about that here. We got ya.’ The fact that I could spend an evening not having to figure everything out was like a vacation.
I’ve had people remind me to come to them with questions, for advice, for venting, because (strangely enough) we’re all in this life thing together and I don’t have to do it all alone (contrary to what past moments and anxieties say, because those definitely lie).
I still have friends willing to come with me to conventions or events I do, just so I’m not driving myself bonkers with preparation. They’re right there pointing out the fun, quirky moments (or instigate them when my back is turned if a giant troll costume is involved), making sure I don’t run myself into the ground.
I’ve had people keep after me and be willing to call me out when I needed it. People who drag me outside, or remind me to put on music, all sorts of little things that are so much better than a general “hey, glad you’re still here!” posted on social media…because I definitely know I’m a part of their life. I know they know that I exist.
And I honestly think at the end of the day that’s what we’re all really after. People to know and remember we’re here.
And it’s not just the direct benefits that I’m talking about in these instances. These incredible, awesome people have taught me how to take a breath, notice those around me, and in turn pass it on. These are the things that make a day better, but in my darkest moments through the years and my not dark but plain tired moments now, they remind me how good people can be and are. If anything has kept me around and encouraged me to tentatively step foot out of the tower and reach out to others, it’s the private gestures from kind people. They’ve turned me into a much better human.
I’m grateful – both for all these wonderful little moments, and the things that brought me to them, because you wouldn’t have one without the other. They’re all teachers in their way, all things to think on. True, you lose a little protection when you open space in your wall or whatever, but you can’t reach out to others until you let some light in.
In my own way, I’m probably a little too prone to emotional vomiting on people, but I want people to know that they matter. I have no shame in thanking people who influence me, or who have put up with me through the years, or randomly texting people to say I’m thinking of them. It may be a little awkward, but it’s become part of who I am. I try to notice people around me most days and it probably creeps some out. Deep down I know that little gestures probably aren’t the be all and end all. But still. If you don’t keep your door open, you can’t reach out through it to others, and they also can’t get through to see you. Besides, there’s the old tradition in fairy tales – you never ignore the stranger or weirdo when you’re lost in the woods or at your wits’ end. How you treat them determines how you’re treated, and that figure is usually the one who teaches the best lessons and distributes the most influential gifts. If you’re closed off and hidden away in all but words only you don’t get them, and you also close off any opportunity to help someone else, in return.
Life can be dark, but it’s also dotted with stars. You have to open the door to see them, though, and sometimes you have to dare to peer through, to reach through other doors to see things further.
About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.