You

You
You sit
You sit in your
Chamber of Solitude
where only you know the secrets
you keep in there.

You
You sit
You sit there, moping
about how alone
you are.

You
You sit
You sit and stare
at the empty chamber
cobwebs forming on
cold crystal and in
damp archways.
Everything is covered;
everything is gray.

You
You don’t
You don’t know
the sun is shining,
that rays meet the Earth
in a warm embrace
because

You
You would
You would rather sit,
alone,
in your cold, gray world
even when
my warm, tan arms
are wrapped around you.
Even when I hold you
within my pulsating heart.

You
You sit
You sit beside me
present, but so far
away
in the dark, icy cave
you believe matches
your soul.
The one I can see
peeking from behind
the threadbare curtain
the one you treat
like an iron door
welded in place.
But I see

You
You with
You with your healed wounds
that ooze with blood because
you won’t stop scratching.
I see

You
You, the
You, the fawn,
lost in the woods
searching for the doe
who now presides
over someone’s mantle.
I see

You
You with
You with the heart that beats
and the soul yearns
and dreams that
would fly… but
your hand
grips tightly,
afraid to let them
soar.

You
You and
You and your tormented soul,
the one that texts
late at night
after that bottle of whiskey
to tell me
“I love you”
before fading into the fog
for another six months,
is no longer,
no, nor never has been,
my problem.

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“Sentimentality” in Literature

What’s Wrong With Sentimentality? | Katy Waldman | Slate Magazine

A very interesting, and solid, article by Katy Waldman about reader/viewer response to “sentimentality” from Slate Magazine on 16 July 2014.

I started to get really in depth into responding to what I read here, when suddenly it felt too overwhelming.  Instead I’m going to share my overall impressions of this article and the subject at hand.

1. It’s a really well developed and written article.

2. “Sentimentality” is a key factor in novels/popular fiction since the time of Jane Austen and earlier.  Hawthorne got real fed up with the women who wrote (and sold) sentimental fiction, but that didn’t stop people like Louisa May Alcott from writing them.

3. Teens and Young Adults like black-and-white stories because their emotions and hormones are such a mess and they don’t know how to handle it.  According to neuroscientists a person’s limbic system doesn’t finish forming until the mid-twenties, meaning people under the age of 25 are more guided by their emotions than by rational thought.  Because their an emotional mess, a simple story is going to be appealing.  It’s easy, it’s straightforward (unlike the world).  Adults, starting in the their late-twenties, are more rational and can see the murkiness, messiness, complexity of real life and, as implied by Waldman, want their literature to be as murky and complex, too.

4. Enjoying YA Fiction is shameful for Adults because of point #3.  Adults shouldn’t be thinking like a teen anymore, is the implication, you should be thinking like an adult.  “When I was a child I thought like a child…”, etc.  She seems to be implying (not necessarily Waldman, but those who condemn sentimentality in literature) that to enjoy YA Fiction shows a lack of maturity.

5. “Why,” she asks, “in this age of irony and antiheroes, do we assume the “truer” choice is always the more ambiguous one?”  Why, indeed?  Adults are obsessed with not offending anyone (some, anyhow).  There are multiple rights and wrongs, goods and bads.   Morality is sometimes immoral, and you should “do what’s right for you”.  Life is ambiguous.  A book, being a representation of life, ought to follow suit.

Maybe it’s my interpretation, but a lot of that sounds like someone being afraid to take a stand, made a declarative statement.  A book can be about something.  It can make a moral judgement.  I’m also not sure I understand this point entirely, because I can’t think of a single book that doesn’t make a declarative statement whether it’s this guy is the murderer, or those cops are corrupt, or love conquers all, or Harry is the Chosen One, or Alice was dreaming.

6. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “sentimentality” in literature.  Most readers want to connect with the characters in the books they’re reading.  Otherwise, who cares?  If we can’t empathize with the plight of the hostages AND the rebels in Bel Canto by Ann Patchett we’re not going to get anything out of it.  If we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of Neil Gaiman’s protagonist in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, we won’t understand why he visits with Lettie’s grandmother*.  Having an emotional response to literature cannot be a bad thing, can it?  People love the emotional roller coaster of movies and TV shows.  Our heartbeats quicken as the music swells; tears fall from our eyes when the universally beloved character kicks it, or the guy finally gets the girl; we shout out when we see an injustice played out on the screen (ask me sometime about when I saw He’s Just Not That Into You).  If this is the case, why can’t we have sentimentality in our novels?

7. Waldman speaks to many psychologists studying how people respond to sentimentality in books and programs.  Which sorts of people react more viscerally than others and why.  The one thing I think we can draw from all their research and, based on what they told Waldman and what she shared with her readers, is that each readers brings their own, unique life experience to each work.  No one is going to have exactly the same reaction as another reader, but you can probably hypothesize that an individual will have the same reaction to the same type of work, for the most part.

This entire conversation is silly.  It’s silly, because everyone has their own interests and experiences that affect their reading.  I have a sister who will never read Harry Potter (unless her kid reads them one day), but she’ll devour a book on the history of cod.  I have another sister who would find the fish book supremely boring, and has seen Harry and the Potters perform the weekend of an HP book release.  I love Jane Austen; a friend of mine, who has a lot in common with myself, once described Austen novels as “a really long walk”; she has no interest in these novels, because they always seem to be taking long walks and nothing happens.

I like Waldman’s article.  I like her presentation of the material.  I like that she talked to literature and psychology professors from across the country.  I like the subtle snarkiness that leads me to believe she doesn’t disapprove of sentimentality in literature.  I like that she, instead of approaching the conversation with outrage, tried to explain why people enjoy this sort of literature.  It is very informative and interesting.

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*I chose both the Patchett and the Gaiman novels because I cried when I read them… as an adult.

The Books I Considered While Making the Previous List of YA Fiction

“Contemporary” (1950-present)

  • Holes
  • Harry Potter Series
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • The Giver
  • His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • An Abundance of Katherines
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • The House on Mango Street
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • Coraline
  • The Westing Game
  • The Graveyard Book
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond
  • Harriet the Spy
  • Freaky Friday
  • The Fault in our Stars
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series
  • Stargirl

“Classics” (Time Immemorial-1950)

  • Little Women
  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Treasure Island
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Peter Pan
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Through the Looking-Glass

Gee, I Don’t Know How To Research Writing Characters Of Color Tastefully:

Gee, I Don’t Know How To Research Writing Characters Of Color Tastefully:

What the fuck is this?  I haven’t gone through all the links (and I probably won’t) but I have lots of opinions on what I’m looking at right now.

This person (and probably all the writers of the links) are coming from a kind place.  At least one of the pieces, the writer identified a problem in writing and is trying to fix it in her own work.  It’s the “issue” of describing people.  We live in a diverse world, especially in America.  We’re not one homogenized ethnic society: there is a need to define our characters in such terms.  But you don’t have to constantly reference that distinction.

One writer in one of the links points out in a book she’s read that at least once one of the black characters is compared to a cockroach.  She felt that being compared to a bug wasn’t all that flattering.  She also doesn’t want to start sounding like she’s describing coffee drinks when talking about her characters.  These are completely valid points.  But what’s got me confused is how often is she going to be describing her characters?

+ Lily smiled wide, her pearl white teeth nearly glowing amidst her dark brown skin, like dark chocolate and just as smooth….

+ Ebony hammers came flying at Paul’s face and before he knew what hit him, he was lying on the ground with Lily standing over him, her fists so tight light brown spots showed on her black knuckles…..

+ She picked up the light blue envelope with her chocolate fingers….

+ Her kinky curls bounced as she shook her midnight face back and forth.  “No!” cried Lily.  “It isn’t true!”…..

+ He kissed her on her brown sugar lips….

You don’t need to do this, writers of the Western world!  There is no reason for the crap I’ve written above.  Tell your reader about the character and move on.  That’s all you need to do.  But make it obvious, or else we’ll have a Hunger Games casting racist twitter scandal all over again (Man, that was annoying).

I understand we live in a highly visual world, and I am a visual learner, but the amount of description that happens in modern writing is getting out of control.  We don’t need to know the color of the wallpaper unless it relates to the main plot.  If it’s a major plot point that the wallpaper is blue with yellow cornflowers, then so be it, mention it in detail.  But if it doesn’t matter, skip the interior decoration.  If it’s essential that we remember a character is white, black, Indian, Chinese, Puerto Rican, or from L.A. then mention it, work it in.  But, again, if it’s not central to the plot, then leave it out.  When in doubt, man…

Sensitive white American aspiring writers, you don’t need to worry all that much about this “issue”.  Unless it’s very important to your story, it’s highly irrelevant.  When they make a movie out of your story, if you’re around to have any say in it, then you can make sure things are adhering to your vision, but ultimately it doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to worry about being ethnically sensitive quite as much as this blog seems to think you do.  In John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief, Gray Grantham is a middle aged white guy; in the movie he’s Denzel Washington — and there’s no real difference between the characters.  In Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” Red is a red-haired Irish guy; in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, he’s Morgan Freeman.  Still totally cool.  No one knew that Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter series was meant to be black until they made the first movie and J.K. was adamant they cast a black boy as that character.  Suzanne Collins specifically mentions that two of her characters are black and, apparently, a quarter of her readership completely missed that detail.

It doesn’t much matter how you describe your characters, as long as you don’t over describe them.  Let your readers know what they need to know about the characters’ physical description and move on to your story.  The less you worry about descriptive words, the more you can focus on your plot — because it’s plot development that modern writers need to be working on, trust me.

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Also: “characters of color”?  

And: Not all of these links are about writing about non-white characters; some of them, I’m sure, are useful.