Hello, and welcome back to the blog.
It’s time for another Writing Progress post! I have to admit, I have not gotten a lot of writing done this month. I’ve been sick, and I’ve been working on applying for jobs and things. I’m not going to lie— it’s been a bit rough.
But I do want to write a proper blog post, and I do sort of have a topic in mind. Today I want to talk about how my mental health affects my writing, because it’s very clear to me that it does.
They say that all the great artists and writers and musicians had some kind of mental illness, or something that caused them to suffer. And I won’t lie— I think there’s truth in the idea, that suffering often produces art. Some of my best work has come from my most painful experiences, and I think that holds true for many other creators. I think that suffering allows us to experience empathy, and I think it empathy that enables us to create art and literature and music that people really connect with. I think when we feel something, as we create, we will cause other people to feel something, as they view our creations.
With that in mind: I can’t write when I’m really depressed or really anxious.
If I’m just a little sad, or just a little worried, then I’m fine. In fact, that usually helps, because I can channel that. I can focus that, in the way I’ve already described.
But if I’m having one of those days where it feels like every limb is weighed down by an ocean and my brain is swept over with fog and crumbs— then, no. I can’t write when I’m like that. All I do on those days is lie in bed and watch videos on my phone. Sometimes I read, or play video games. Sometimes I do those things when I’m healthy— but when I’m feeling better, I’d rather be writing.
I’m kind of working on this story about a girl, Caroline, who’s dealing with PTSD after a war. For once, I’d like the romance to take a backseat to Caro’s experience as a soldier, and as a person with both physical and mental illness. She was shot and got an honorable discharge; her best friend and sort-of boyfriend was killed. Caro’s dealing with survivor’s guilt, she’s using a cane and she’s got a sling on, and she’s also dealing with the Regency-style expectations for a woman of the upper-middle class, the expectations of Matrimony and Motherhood. These expectations are not inherently bad— in fact, she would quite like to get married and have kids; but the pressures that they sometimes produce are less than desirable. In order to experience Matrimony, Caro has to Attract Suitors, and in order to do that she has to Wear Skirts and Be Charming and Elegant and Ladylike. Again, these things are not necessarily bad. But Caro is a soldier, has been for a few years, and she prefers to Wear Pants and Be Blunt and Honest and Comfortable, and these are traits associated with masculinity. She has to deal with the expectations of her family, the expectations of her friends, and the expectations of society in general; these things go against what she actually wants.
It’s always more fun to write a female character who defies society’s expectations. And most women actually don’t conform to those expectations— when you get to know any given woman, on an individual level, you will probably learn that there is something she resents about society’s expectations. For some women, it’s this idea that they’re expected to become wives and mothers. That’s fine— they don’t have to. Some women want to be wives and mothers, but resent being told that they have to be. And some women resent the expectation of fitting a certain physical standard for beauty, and some women resent the expectation of modern sexual practices, and some women resent objectification, and so on and so forth, you get my point. Society tells women that they have to be mothers and wives, but also career women and beauties, educated but not too smart, alluring but modest, and most importantly, quiet. Different women will resent different parts of this hypothetical and impossibly perfect woman, to whom we are all expected to conform. I resent different things than my mother does, and she resents different things than her friends, and my friends resent different things than me. We’re all different.
But it’s even more fun to write a female character who uses society’s expectations to surprise people. A perfect example of this character is found in Marvel Comics, and more recently the MCU. I’m talking about the Black Widow, or Agent Natasha Romanoff of S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s a beautiful woman (and so is Scarlett Johanssen), she’s intelligent and talented and a deadly assassin and an expert spy. She uses her beauty and her body to do her job: by putting on a soft, squishy feminine front facade, she’s able to learn things and to manipulate people. She uses society’s expectations to get what she wants— and then usually she stabs them and leaves, because it’s comic books and movies and she’s an assassin.
I’m not writing my character, Caro, as an assassin. She knows how to kill people; she’s a soldier and a fire mage and she’s done what one must do in a time of war. She doesn’t use femininity to surprise people. In fact, I would go so far as to say she uses masculinity. Caro is, at her core, what society defines as feminine. She likes the color pink (which is traditionally associated with femininity okay), she’s kind of shy, she’s clever and mischievous but soft-spoken, she smiles a lot, she makes people feel comfortable. Not all of this is immediately apparent, because that’s Caro when she’s healthy— and Caro, with a cane and a sling and PTSD, is arguably unhealthy at the moment. But she’s a soldier, and she’s also tall and thin— army training gave her a more muscular form and she’s grown to prefer her army uniform to a dress. She presents a more masculine appearance to the world, which is the opposite of what a Regency-style society would expect— and that causes people to avoid her, which is what she wants. With the space and privacy she prefers, she has room to be feminine and feel safe about it. Presenting a feminine appearance invites suitors and suggests to the average man that Caro is “just a woman;” but Caro, like all women, is not “just a woman” and by manipulating the way people perceive her, she can gain some control over them.
This isn’t unique to Caro. A lot of women do this, in real life. Some of us like pink, but we pretend that we prefer blue, that we’re “just one of the guys.” Some of us like blue, but we pretend that we prefer pink so that other women will accept us. Some of us like purple and yellow and orange and we feel out of place.
And then you get guys who say things like “You’re not like other girls,” and I hate that because there is no ‘other girls’ to be like. We’re all different. I’m sensitive and intellectual and fat and I’m just as much of a woman as Scarlett Johanssen. And she is just as much of a woman as me. And every woman you know is different, but their way of being a woman is just as valid as mine or Scarlett Johanssen’s.
This went from mental health to gender roles and stereotypes, and I don’t mind that because gender plays a role in mental health. If we could just stop expecting certain things from each other, we would all be so much healthier. I try to live by the rule of “Never make assumptions.”
I try to do that when I write, especially. I mean, I’m writing heterosexual romance and there are of course going to be some things that are Traditionally Masculine and things that are Traditionally Feminine, but I try to— well, not blur the lines exactly, but to suggest that they are an imaginary construct of a patriarchal society. Because
I’m a feminist it doesn’t matter if a boy likes pink or a girl likes blue, and it doesn’t matter if a woman wears a skirt or trousers. She’s still a woman.
I have plans and hopes and dreams for Caro. I want her to live and to love and to hope, which is something I want for every woman and every man, too. If I could write you all, it would be so much easier to let you have the good things you deserve. Since I can’t write, I shall instead offer you my best wishes, for life and love and hope.
If you’re looking forward to seeing this blog in the future, consider following. If you want to see Occasional Pictures of My Face and Food I Have Made, you can follow me on Instagram at hypotheticalelephants. If you want to see me being a Whiny, Immature Human, you can follow me on Twitter at sadINFJwriter.