"I am the author of my life."

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Are you writing?

It’s that time of the year again. Standing at the bottom of the mountain, staring up at that endless summit with your ‘50,000 words’ flag clenched anxiously in your hand. There’s less than one month until NaNoWriMo, folks!

Let’s rehash – what is NaNoWriMo? Why, it’s National Novel Writing Month, an online event held every year where writers do what they do best: write – and lots of it. The goal is to write 50,000 words in November, which comes to about 1,667 words a day. It’s a monstrous challenge for most, a walk in the park for some and pretty worthwhile for everyone involved. The best part is, you don’t really lose out if you don’t make the 50,000 words. Even if you only got 5,000 words in, that’s 5,000 words you didn’t have before and that’s not counting any inspiring epiphanies you might’ve had in the process.

Oh wait, I lied. That’s not the best best part – which is, of course, that it’s free! And the best best best part is you’re not alone. The forums are always bursting with activity, from day-to-day chats, to Wrimos answering each other’s research questions, to adopting pet names. It’s a great atmosphere to be in.

… Now here’s where I get booed off stage for admitting I probably won’t be taking part in this awesome ordeal this year. I’d really love to! Camp NaNo was great (even if I did make a mad rush in the last 24 hours). I’ve got exams and work going on in November, and my preparation for my novel isn’t really mature yet. BUT! I’m certainly going to be doing a little writing challenge of my own! To be honest, I will probably never have the right timing and speed to hit 50,000 words while I’m a student. So my goals are usually smaller. Maybe I’ll try for 750 words a day. I might even sign up for NaNoWriMo despite not being in the same race – the atmosphere might give me a boost! I don’t know what I’ll be doing specifically but I do know one thing – in November, I’m going to write.

Which is probably what some of you do every day anyway. So why did I make this post?

Because I haven’t been doing much of it. Writing, that is. I’ve been really bad with progress lately, being so busy with uni and my new job… and taking naps… and playing Skyrim… and watching anime… and telling myself I will write tomorrow. It feels like I’ve hit a motivational rut for everything, not just writing. The only good thing that came out of it was realising I’m probably not the only one with this dilemma. We all get stuck sometimes. Realising we’re stuck is the first step. Pulling yourself out of it is a downright sprint.

That’s why I really hope you guys will consider joining NaNoWriMo this year, or making a solid writing goal for yourself. To anyone who is suffering a bout of laziness, demotivation or a plain period of busy life, I just wanted to tell you that I’m right there with you! And that in the slowest, laziest way possible, I’m gradually dragging myself out of it. I just needed a big push of willpower. And I’m not saying I’m back on track (because I’m pretty sure I’m still way south of it), but I’ve got a novel that I can’t bear to leave unrealised. I’m quite terrified of never finishing it by the time I die. I am that unbelievably unproductive. I admit it.

My belief is that if you create a character, they trust you to tell their story. They can get tired of being let down time after time, just like us. Maybe one day they’ll leave us, their good for nothing creators. You never know when that day is just around the corner, so get writing! NaNoWriMo is a beacon of what any writer would love to achieve. But don’t give up just because you think, or even know, that you can’t do it. Just get as far as you can. There’s a story itching in those fingers that only you can tell – you, one in 7 billion. No one else will be able to write the same story with the same plot, the same characters, the same development and the same writing style – not even if you told someone to ghost write it for you. Now that’s a thought!

Dear writers,

You have a world in your hands. Don’t drop it.

Happy writing,
Christine

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10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People

You know, I always thought I would be hard to psychoanalyse. Like I’m a perfectly normal person, just with something a little… off. Too unruffled, too lazy, too unconventional, too boring, too curious, too sentimental. Like I’m everything at once and nothing particular at the same time.

But somehow, I’m always nodding my head to the articles, pictures and whatnots that float around the writing community. The ones like #youknowyouareawriterwhen, and stuff like 10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People. A quick glance had me blinking. And blinking. And blinking.

Well, damn! Does my own mother know all of this?

Are you one of those creative people? Take a read of the article and see if what’s on the screen matches up with what’s up there.

Happy creating!

10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People

Epiphanies of Gratitude

Has anyone ever thought about the things they are good at and been truly glad for it? Like running fast or unfailingly burning toast; sketching comics or creating a world of words. I never really had a moment like that even after so many years of writing. In fact, it was only recently that I started to realise I wanted to be a writer; a dedicated writer, not the whimsical hobbyist I started off as. I can’t say that’s going spectacularly right now, but the new resolve sure makes me feel better!

I was listening to the radio the other day and a pop tune was playing. Now, I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the hot hits on the airwaves these days. Pretty much most music older than me would hold my ear better. So you might say that I might not have had this light bulb moment if ABBA had been playing instead. What I thought was: Gee, it takes a lot less effort to sing a popular song than to write a novel.

Then I scowled at myself because I hate catching myself being judgmental. My dad gave me a pretty funny look.

I righted the thought. All forms of art require effort and time, and deserve respect, whether it’s an abstract spatter of paint or the Mona Lisa. Sure, some products might take less time than others, and some may be more acknowledged than others, but if there’s one thing they have in common, it’s that the people who made them tried to put a little bit of themselves into the process. At least, that’s what I like to think.

Writing a song, practicing it and getting it recorded takes more time and money than radio-listeners appreciate. A single piece of paper with a simple landscape drawn in oil pastels might have taken half the time you expect, but twice the years of experience to get right. Then there’s the actors and actresses, magicians, comedians, etc. No one gets to snap their fingers and have results appear out of sheer friction.

But damn, writing a novel can take a very long time!

And then I realised: I’m actually glad that it does. For the first time in my life, I realised that I was grateful to be a writer rather than another type of creative artist. I knew I was in the right place.

Again, I admit the pop song pumping beats about partying all night and one night stands probably glorified my epiphany. It’s obvious work had to go in to produce such a song and it’s popular for that reason. What I was glad to realise was that to write something, anything, I had to dig so much deeper into myself than I would writing a pop song. The moment I decided to write a novel (more like a series but let’s use euphemisms at this stage), I committed myself to a schedule of headaches and heartaches and feeling like an unproductive slop of radioactive goo. Even if the words I write are utter garbage, I’m still writing them one by one, so slowly. It’s something I’ll be doing for a while, something that doesn’t really have a shortcut. I’m not a fast writer so this pet project could very well take me a decade. And I may not even truly accomplish it.

But I’m still grateful to be a writer, grateful to have something I love and can actually do. Because every spark of creativity is a climb and the longer it takes, the more you see yourself reflected in the final product.

Call me crazy but I write to see myself on the page. I want to see the world through the eyes of a character I brought to life on a plain white page, and breathe in words I wrote one by one. I reckon it’ll be worth it. Just maybe.

Help Change a Life For Only $0.99

yomira

“I want to introduce you to Yomira. Behind that beautiful smile lies another layer that not many people are allowed to see. It’s a life full of pain, hurt, abuse, loneliness, thoughts of suicide, and fear.

For almost seven months, we have had the wonderful opportunity to provide Yomira with a loving home. She moved in with us last year, shortly after Christmas. I won’t go into all the details, but it was the result of a broken home and all six of the kids needed places to stay. As I wrote about a couple months ago, we are putting our two girls in a local Christian school here in the Charlotte area. We talked and prayed about it and felt we needed to see if there would be any chance of getting Yomira into the school as well. While living with her father, she missed a lot of days due to bullying.”

I had spent $4.50 on fish and chips the day I read Chris Martin’s post. It was a delicious lunch, though somewhat unnecessary. The iced chocolate that followed it was even more whimsical. I just like my food very, very much.

I’m not telling you about my appetite to preach about sacrificing that small dollar for a better cause; I’m sure you’ve all heard it somewhere already. Instead, I want to show you that it’s possible to get even more happiness from spending less than I did on a yummy but unnecessary lunch.

Yomira might not need fish and chips, but she needs our help. There are things some of us take for granted that others may never have, and as I sat in front of my computer with a full belly and uni mid-sem exams as my biggest woes, I realised there was no way I could not do my part to help Yomira.

Chris Martin’s wonderful family is trying to give Yomira a second chance at a happier school life and they’ve given us a chance to help change a life at the smallest costs. Helping another person is a priceless cause that gives us a feeling no amount of money can buy. That small dollar can keep your spirits up longer than a pricier lunch – most importantly, it can make all the difference to a girl’s life.

That’s why I would really appreciate it if any one of you would consider helping Chris and Yomira out. Chris is a writer and you can support the cause by buying his book The Stranger (or other novellas) off Amazon for just $0.99! If that’s not your best option or you’d like to donate any other amount, he’s also set up a Paypal donate button. I popped over to donate $5, but if that was all it took to help get Yomira one step closer to a good school, where she can experience the great joys of reading and writing, then not even a year’s supply of fish and chips could make me happier.

Help Change a Life For Only $0.99!

 

They are halfway towards their goal. Please help share the word! It’s taken me far too long to do the same. I truly believe that keeping good things to yourself is one of life’s biggest satisfactions, but can never compare to sharing even the smallest things with someone else :)

Thanks guys!

The Ingredients of Writing: Talent…?

When I was little, I thought a lot about the talent argument; about whether or not it really, really mattered. I’m not what you call a genius – nope, you don’t want to see me grocery shopping. That said, I grasped things faster than some – at school, my grades were good, I was pleasantly athletic, remembered details better and could study less than some classmates with better results. At the same time, I was never the #1 student, the best at any sport or the most effective at studying (pfffftttt! Don’t get me started!). Still, I admit people mostly saw me as ‘smart’. I used to think the talent goddess had shined quite nicely on me.

At those introduce yourself group activities, they tend to ask about something you’re good at – a talent. I usually say that I can juggle just to make myself look a tad less geeky. Then when people ask me how I do it, I tell them “I had no life as a kid and spent a lot of hours chucking hacky sacks at my face.” Seriously, how many hours did I spend trying to keep two balls in the air with one hand? How many days did I kill trying to do three with two hands? It was a lot of hard work, you know!

Oh wait, then I guess that’s not a pure talent that I was born with… writing then? I’m pretty good at writing! Well, not brilliant but it’s my greatest hobby and I’ve been writing since I was just a wee little-

Hang on. I wasn’t born a good writer either (evidence). Does such a thing exist in the first place? I clearly remember writing tragically bad not so long ago, and hey, I actually had the most fun then! I loved tripping over my own amateur feet and climbing back up standing a little taller than I had before. It was a lot of hard work. And you know what? I don’t think – actually, I know – that I’m not the only one who had to put in the effort.

We’ve all heard it before: talent is useless if you don’t use or practice it. I agree! But what is talent anyway? In the same vein, what’s ‘writing’? What’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’? You may have an easier time with a task than some others – is that talent, experience, luck or just individual differences? My boyfriend is terrible with theory but he can reverse park a bulky 4WD into a tight spot with one sweeping movement – and one hand.

But then there are some geniuses out there. Plenty, actually! Geniuses at the big things; the scientists, the artists, the inventors. Then there are geniuses at small things; haggling for a good price, coffee art, juggling. There was a guy on TV years ago who could sculpt an elephant out of chewing gum in his mouth without looking.

Is it talent? Sometimes! But not always. Why am I being such a rookie philosopher about an age old topic?

Because writing is often such a personal and solitary experience, it’s hard to imagine how the successful authors did it. This insecurity is everywhere. Of course, we know they had their share of hard times. Many well-known authors were penniless – some say they still are. So I’m not trying to say anything new. We know this stuff. But it doesn’t hurt to remember it, over and over again:

The authors we look up to are normal people, just like us. Writers. They’ve just been where many of us want to be, that’s all. And is it talent?

Sometimes – but not always :)

Have a look at this nice post by Emily Temple at Flavorwire of Famous Authors’ Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature. It was actually the whole reason behind this post but I got sidetracked as I always do (sorry you had to dig through so much babble to find the good stuff, haha). See JK Rowling’s outline? What about Joseph Heller’s for Catch-22? Lots of work involved – that said, the outline is a metaphor for effort here. I’m aware that pantsers work just as hard with great accomplishments!

Good results don’t just fall from the sky – you have to climb up and fetch them yourselves. Some people are born closer to the clouds than others. But if you build your ladder carefully, with good foundations, you can be right up beside them just the same.

So keep writing! Keep chasing those dreams step by step, and remember to love what you do!

My favourite is William Faulkner’s outline, written on his wall!

Caring for Your Writer – 10 Easy Steps for Friends & Family

Just a spot of fun. I love this little instruction manual. So much that I’m going to tell you a story about it.

I shared this post with my boyfriend, just to let him know the package deal, and he approved. We’re hitting the gym more often as part of #6. I told him his little writer would be working very hard this holidays. Then he said, “I like your working ethic. Another reason why I love you.”

And I stopped.

Did he say ‘working ethic’? WHAT working ethic? I had one?! He must not have seen me dazedly mashing at Skyrim this morning and screwing up my save point, which of course meant I had to procrastinate on youtube for another two hours, and naturally I was obligated to kill another half hour on the awesome Despicable Me: Minion Rush app. Yeah, he really didn’t. Except he might’ve noticed me challenging him to rushes.

So um, you might want to rethink that, honey. At least, I was about to text him that. Then I thought about it for another millisecond.

Sometimes there are things about yourself that others know better than you do. Quite often it’s because you’re so in tune with yourself that the small details fly off your radar, and even more often it’s because we don’t want to self-praise ourselves and end up with twice the disappointment afterwards. Then again, I might really be as bad as I think. But at least my favourite boy doesn’t think that, and I’ve got some good friends behind my back. I boldly tell my parents that I’m writing a novel when they ask what I’m doing. It’s out there. I can’t imagine living with myself if I gave up, either. That means I’d better get my act together.

So I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I had no work ethic.

Instead I noticed he had bought a limited edition costume on Minion Rush without telling me and I keyboard smashed out a capitalised reaction that changed the topic quite subtly.

(But really, the moral of the day is to try believing those who believe in you. Let’s start of with me, who believes in you guys – YOU CAN DO IT! Make the munchkin proud!)

WORD SAVANT

Congratulations!  You are now the proud owner of a writer!  Your writer will perform amazing tricks for you, such as spending hours and hours by themselves working on something that they may never finish. Or, accumulating a small collection of editors who thank them for their work but it’s just not right for this publication.

You may be wondering how to feed and care for this moody and reclusive creature, who is “writing a novel” but won’t tell you what it’s about.  Writers need specialized care, so here are 10 easy Do’s and Don’ts to take care of this special breed.

  1. Do give them a minimum of 1 hour of writing time per day.  For many writers it may be more, but this is the minimum for a writer to stay healthy.  Also do not make your writer feel guilty about this.  It is really hard for them…

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Share Your Dreams

Dear You.

Actually, I don’t really want to do the ‘Dear you. Yes, you‘ thing. Let’s try again.

Dear everyone,

Do you have dreams? Not the snoozing kind – I’m talking vision, ambition: a dream. Is there something you wish for before you blow out the candle, that makes you check the sky for shooting stars? What about something you’ve told yourself you’d do, in the countdown before fireworks welcome the new year? Do you have something you want to do?

I do. Plenty, in fact. When I was little, I think I wished for my family to be happier than we were. As I grew older, I learned that that was actually a wish; in other words, relying on hope and something or someone else to do what you can’t. Optimism is a great and powerful thing but sometimes, it can be frustrating. Sometimes things just won’t get done by blowing out a candle, and it’s not as simple as leaving Santa a letter and cookies. Maybe sometimes, we need to channel our optimism into energy to seize the day and achieve what we can what our own hands.

So those dreams of yours – of ours. They may be small and easy, they may be enormous and overwhelming. They may be completed in seconds, days, months, years. Some might be impossible, but are you happy to tell yourself that without trying, not just once, but again and again?

Whatever your dreams are, chase them. Better yet, let’s chase them together.

Usually, our dreams will come with smaller goals to help us achieve them. Quite often, we don’t tick all those goals off, or it takes us longer than it should have. I should know this: I’m a chronic procrastinator. Dare I estimate 8/10 of you reading this probably are too? We will all have many and different reasons for leaving our goals hanging. You know what? That’s okay.

We’re not perfect. We’re not robots either. Trust me, you wouldn’t really be living if you vowed to study for ten hours every day for a year, and actually did it. I tried (okay fine, it was four hours). It’s okay to not meet your goals immediately and efficiently. There’s enough pressure in our lives without us trying to heat ourselves into diamonds.

What’s not okay, is giving up. Staying stagnant.

Unless you’re a remarkable exception, you only live once. We’ve only got so many days to spend doing the things we want to and let me tell you this: there’s a high chance you won’t be able to do every single thing you want to. So let’s make the most of it, shall we?

Some people find that sharing your dreams and goals with others will help. If you’re a procrastinator like me, the simple act of announcing it should move that mountain a little. Tell yourself you’ll do it and these are the steps how. If you’re well into achieving your dreams, good on you! Share them with us, celebrate it! I know there are also some of you out there who are uncertain, afraid or feel under heavy pressure. It might help to share it with someone and get it off your chest. Everyone is welcome to comment on and reach out to others. You might meet people with similar dreams!

One more thing. Although it would obviously be really great if lots of people participated, it doesn’t matter if that’s not the case. Don’t let that discourage you because I’ll promise you this right now: even if this idea doesn’t get off the ground at all, I’ll always be listening. Pinky promise!

So… want to try it? Here’s how it’s going to work:

Comment with your dream/ambition (aka long term goal) and a maximum of 7 short term goals to help you achieve that dream. That’s right, only 7. It’s harder to achieve a dozen small goals so I want you to really condense them. Make them achievable if you can.

Please use the following template in your comments:

  • Name: Whatever you want to be known as. Real names, usernames, anonymous, etc. Anything goes.
  • Website: (optional) So we can get to know you better, if that’s what you want.
  • Dream: Summarise your long-term goal in one or two sentences – e.g. “I will finish a novel in one year.”
  • Goals: Give us a max of 7 smaller goals to help you achieve your dream – e.g. “I will write something creative every day.”

I will add your dream and goals to the main body of this post. Let me know with a comment when you achieve a goal or dream and I’ll strike it out on the list. The longer our list, the better!

Guidelines:

  1. Any dreams or goals can be used. But be realistic. Ask yourself: can I see myself doing this? Will I be able to make myself do it?
  2. Absolutely anyone can post. Don’t be shy!
  3. Your goals don’t have to be measurable – it is perfectly fine to never tick them off because they are ongoing. They can serve as reminders to yourself.
  4. It’s hard to tell when some dreams/goals are truly achieved. They can be lifelong. However, if you begin to feel satisfied and think you’ve really got it, of course we can tick it off! Just say the word.
  5. You can post as many dreams as you like. That said, I urge you to be succinct. Don’t make your dreams too similar.
  6. If you post less than 7 goals in one dream and later think of something you want to add, make a comment and I’ll gladly add it on. But remember, no more than 7!
  7. If you’d like to tell us your story or reason behind your dream, you are most welcome to. Although this won’t be included in the post to be economical with length, your comments will be read.
  8. You’re welcome to chat with other commenters about their goals. I’ve extended the comment thread length to 10 posts. If you want to talk more, I encourage you to exchange info or check out each other’s websites!
  9. Please be kind and respect everyone. You may not criticise anyone for their dreams. The reason is obvious. I don’t want to go from chasing my own dreams to chasing you. With a broom.
  10. I said ‘any’ dreams or goals but obviously, keep it appropriate. Hopefully we all have similar perceptions of ‘appropriate’. PG rated. No swearing.
  11. There are no other rules. That means you are free to pursue your dreams however you like. There is no time limit (you can specify one if you want), no pressure and no punishment if you don’t meet your goals. You’re not making a promise to me or anyone else: just yourself.

Thanks everyone! And remember: chase them.

Christine

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Christine

I want to be the best person I can be.

  1. Always thank the bus driver, even if they probably can’t hear me and especially if I look awkward. Keep it up for at least a week.
  2. Get off my butt and greet Mum or Dad when they come home. Don’t be lazy. Try it for one week.
  3. Take university seriously. I’ll need the knowledge for the rest of my career life. Mum says education is power. Do not fail a single subject throughout the four years of my degree.
  4. Get a dog and raise it well. Let it teach me compassion and loyalty.
  5. Don’t be a bystander.

30/05/2013

You Can’t Hide The Spark

My dream is to be a published children’s author! My 7 goals are:

1. I will write regularly (daily if poss)
2. I will tell myself “I am a writer” (and hope my subconscious gets the message at last)
3. I will stop chasing other dreams that distract me from this goal (like trying to run several businesses at once)
4. I will be kind to myself (this isn’t any easy path)
5. I will sit at my computer for 10 minutes a day (small steps are less likely to scare the pants off me)
6. I will remember to PLAY; after all, the whole point is to have fun!
7. When the going gets tough, I will congratulate myself for being in the arena (rather than watching, frustrated, from the sidelines, which is the most soul-destroying thing ever and something I have perfected for 43 years!)

27/8/2013

✎ Gayle Forman, Melina Marchetta and my blood red hands

I made a volcano with my client yesterday. It was our last session with him and it was a blast – literally. There was a lot of cleaning but also a lot of fun. It also meant that I came out of it with hands the colour of murder.

And it was with those blood red hands that I went to Gayle Forman In Conversation with Melina Marchetta, my first ever author talk.

It was awesome.

I learned so much from listening to these two brilliant authors. They are such nice and funny ladies. It’s clear from the first pages of their works that these two ladies know their craft, their style and their characters. But witnessing these masterminds discussing their passions firsthand? Unmistakeably eye-opening.

It was my first time listening to an author talk about their writing. I was prepared for passion, devotion and empathetic anecdotes. Gayle and Melina delivered – oh boy, did they deliver.

Their speeches were so sincere. These are authors who truly love their characters and can speak of them as if they were friends back home. It felt like they were mentors to the young adults they wrote about; the kind that encourages you, teaches you a lesson when you go astray and loves you unconditionally through all your actions. Their characters are alive.

With their warm humour, Melina and Gayle told us that they had moments where they thought along the lines of “oh, my God, why am I doing this to myself? A sequel? All that blood and sweat all over again? What was I thinking?” It was so funny and honest, and for writers out there: so. true. We’ll all be overwhelmed by our stories at one point and to hear that we’re echoing these authors’ footsteps is remarkably reassuring. There’s nothing more motivating than the knowledge that someone else has gone where you want to go, come back and is ready to do it all over again, kicking, screaming and loving it.

They also taught me that all the above is worth it because of the connection you develop with the characters and their story. Gayle called it an ’emotional breakthrough’, which I just love. My favourite part of the talk was when they talked about how they couldn’t wait to write the next part of the story, being that excited about it. Because even as an amateur – heck, even as a nine year old kid writing about adventures that never ended – I had that same feeling. I’m sure every writer out there knows how it feels. The story is all you can think about; it’s the barnacle of your imagination. When I heard Gayle and Melina talking about these experiences, I suddenly felt immensely glad that I had decided to come. I was sitting in an audience of kin, surrounded by people who loved stories beyond simply reading them in a single moment. I’m amazed the roof didn’t lift up in a beam of holy light above my head.

Above all, listening to Gayle and Melina taught me one very important thing: that they are normal people like the rest of us. Well, it’s not like I expected them to have purple skin, yellow eyes and a crown of horns… buuutttt, you know. These women are success stories: authors. What I had realised was that authors were writers to start with, and still are. It sounds silly; authors, writers, same thing. To many they are synonyms but to me, there is a world of difference. I always say ‘writer’ because ‘author’ traditionally carries the idea that you are published and, well, officially a professional writer. But what about the rest? I keep going back to the idea that a child can be a writer – their imagination outruns all of ours! That’s where my philosophy that anyone can be a writer comes from. It doesn’t matter if you write well, if you write for others or for yourself – you write because words aren’t mere words to you.

I felt this passion from Melina Marchetta and Gayle Forman. These are ordinary writers who found well-deserved success and that’s something that should always be good news for the rest of us. Good news not just because it gives us hope for our own success (after all, getting published isn’t the only success out there!) but because other writers’ success shows us that our love for words and stories is still appreciated. There are people out there who want to read about the worlds we write.

After the talk, these authors generously did book signings. I left this last. Because herein lies the real highlight and mortification of my day.

I had a copy of Just One Day with me. My boyfriend’s actually, that I’d bought him last month. He chose the book himself, which just amazed me because Just One Day had actually been on my reading list. That, and I couldn’t believe he was reading. A romance novel. This man has read nothing but comics for the past five years. Sure, I’d started pushing him to read but to see him actually show interest in a novel? That I’d also had my eye on? Mind-blowing.

And there I was getting him to buy me a zombie survival guide. But that’s a story for another day.

Point is, we played typical and wrote each other a message in the books we’d gotten each other. I can be remarkably cheesy in print. And my handwriting is terrible. My boyfriend, bless him, didn’t tease me. And neither did Gayle, when I gave her the book to sign. She thought it was romantic (coming from an author of romance!) and was honoured that her book was special to us, but really, Gayle, I’m the one humbled. It was such a privilege to meet you and Melina. You’re a great person, an amazing writer and I’m so grateful that you were part of my first author talk. I also hope you didn’t notice my red hands!

2013-05-28 22.59.05

P.S. I just saw a photo on Gayle’s Twitter and I’m momentarily dumbfounded… I think the man sitting behind me during the event was Scott Westerfeld. Wow!

Bystanders and Standing By

We’re making a volcano tomorrow – the erupting kind. It’s our client’s last session with us and we decided to target our therapy goals with something fun. We’re sure he’ll love it, the excitable boy we’ve been seeing every week this semester. Being the genius I am, I put myself in charge of preparing everything, so I hit the supermarket after class. Baking soda, vinegar, food colouring. It took a few SOS calls to the all-knowing parental units but I safely distinguished baking soda from baking powder and left with a merry shopping bag of goodies. I even tried my best not to get ripped off. All was well.

I have plenty of buses home. One of them arrived just as I came out. As I was climbing on, I heard a mother and her young son ahead of me; she was telling him off for not listening to her. I recognised her irate and impatient tone. You see many different kinds of families on public transport but strangers like me often subconsciously file them under two broad categories: attentive parents and dismissive parents. It’s a shallow thing to judge and label someone within minutes of sharing the same space; unfortunately, it’s an intrinsic human habit. I was raised to acknowledge that it’s natural to form first impressions as long as I respected that those labels often belong unspoken. The point is, it’s not the first time I’ve encountered edgy mothers. As someone who loves children, I knew it probably wouldn’t be a pleasant ride for me. I got on anyway, admittedly more concerned about not breaking the vinegar bottle with my incurable inelegance.

I sat at the front of the bus. Somewhere at the back, the mother was still berating her son. She was easily the loudest in the quiet vehicle. In these situations, the bystanders are silent. They will be uncomfortable and they will judge and sympathise with the child. But they will not speak up, and even if they did it may not be in their place to be the lecturer, no matter how strongly they disagree with the parenting style. It’s a fine line. Let me be the first to admit that I was a bystander today.

About two minutes down the road, the mother’s voice got louder. So did the child’s; I don’t know if he was crying or protesting. Whatever it was, his mother wanted it to stop. “You’d better shut up before I slap you,” she told him roughly.

In that instant, the atmosphere inside the bus changed. Without thinking, my fingers were curling into an uneasy fist within the pocket of my hoodie. Like the rest of the passengers, I had realised that with those words, we were no longer mere bystanders.

This was no longer about disapproval. It wasn’t about listening to a mother lecture her child. This wasn’t something we could overlook; it’s something that should never be overlooked. The bystanders were cornered between two uncomfortable options: ignore or confront. Both equally nasty in different ways, but it was clear what the ‘right choice’ was.

A man spoke up immediately, before the bystander effect had even settled. He spoke so softly I actually heard the mother’s enraged reply first. All pent-up frustration erupted the moment she was told to calm down. Expletives flew. So did threats. She warned him to “shut his face before she rearranged it”.

Strangely, I think I heard what sounded like a snort from another passenger on the bus. I can’t be sure. I was facing straight ahead like the other passengers, evading the situation as best we could. I was all up in knots over the simple debate of turning my head around to see what was going on; even if I was too timid to say anything I should at least be honest about the undeniable fact that I knew something was going on. I didn’t end up making that decision. In fact, I hesitated because what followed was a loud warning to “turn your head around and stop looking at me or I’ll (insert unpleasant remark)”. I assumed this was either directed at the man who had confronted her, or to nearby passengers that had become involved.

“I’m not in the mood,” she added angrily. “I’ve got two broken ribs and three cracked ones. I’m in a hell of a lot of pain and the last thing I need is (insert more remarks).”

The bus stopped to pick up a new passenger. The driver got out of his seat and walked down the aisle. We all turned our heads to watch. Yes, I turned my head in the end. Yes, I don’t consider it my own decision; it was nothing but a response to an excuse to do so. If the driver hadn’t moved, I probably would have kept staring ahead, clenching my fist. I don’t like to admit it but it’s true.

Anything could have happened. The driver could have requested the mother and son to leave. He could have asked her to quiet down, politely or forcefully. He came back to the front of the bus pointing at a seat behind me. He’d asked the man to move seats, softly explaining, “It’s the best way.” The bus continued down the road. No one spoke, not even the mother and certainly not her son. I got off at my stop two minutes later.

I’m not retelling this story so that anyone can be harshly judged and condemned. The mother may not have carried through with her words; she may not have hit her son. She may never have. Perhaps she is truly in too much pain to be reasonable. She could have her own difficult circumstances. Perhaps she’s not nearly as excusable as I’m trying to remain. I don’t know these things. I don’t know what happened after I got off the bus, or what will happen when the mother and child get home. For five minutes, I was just a bystander.

I know it’s ethically controversial. The ‘right action’ to this scenario is blatantly obvious to those reading this right now. It is never okay to be a bystander when a child – or any person – is threatened with abuse. Stand up and defend them. It’s the ‘right thing to do’. I agree wholeheartedly. On the other hand, it’s easy for readers to say this, to confidently assert that “I would do it if I was there.” I do it too. We want to believe that we would jump right in with modern heroism, to reassure ourselves that our hearts are definitely in the right place. I’m convinced that many, many of us really do. We would not idle and ignore.

But we hesitate. It’s not so simple, so easy, so courageous. We don’t want to judge and we don’t want to be judged. Life’s many paradoxical wonders. We’re bystanders until someone else breaks free. We wait. If no one had spoken up, I want to believe that I wouldn’t have escaped the bus as quickly as I could to let the issue be ‘someone else’s problem’. If I did I’d start losing faith in myself and my values. Chances are, I wouldn’t have dismissed the situation. That’s not me. But at the same time, why can’t I see myself doing what the man did, and confronting the mother? I can be confident I wouldn’t ignore it but I can’t guarantee I would’ve acted? What kind of hypocrisy is that?

Not exactly glorifying, let’s just say that.

The question is: do those two things have to be co-dependent? If you don’t ignore, are you obliged to confront? If you don’t confront, does that mean you ignore? If so, then there was only one Samaritan on that bus; the rest were heartless strangers, including me. That’s the same judgement we mentally pass on to the mother – that she threatened her child and is therefore a terrible mother. If, unfortunately, she is, are we going to assert that she would never ever change? We can’t assume any of that. Not everything is black and white.

And that’s why this post was not made to judge.  A thousand words later, we finally come to what this post is truly about: acknowledging the things we do know.

I want to thank that gentleman who spoke out, who acted without a second of hesitation; who was calm, rational, and never once swore or was impolite despite the way he was treated. You were not a bystander.

I also want to thank the bus driver, who took responsibility of his passengers’ welfare. While some may argue that he had also avoided confrontation by moving the gentleman instead of the mother, he was a symbol of open-mindedness. He compromised and was a pacifist. And when I pressed the stop button – the first interruption since that episode – he cheerfully announced the stop; bus drivers don’t usually do that here. I thanked him on my way out and he thanked me back. He controlled the situation to the best of his abilities.

The final thing I’m certain of, is that I was an unmistakeable bystander. Only one person immediately stood up for that child. Let’s be honest; I have a bag of excuses on hand to ease my discomfort. I’m a teenager and there was a busload of adults with more authority than me. Someone else had already confronted her to no avail. I wouldn’t make any difference. Frankly, I’m happy to use those excuses as a shield for now. For now.

One day, there will be no excuses left for me to use. When I’ve ‘grown up’, I’ll own up to my maturity. That could happen in the next month, the next year – there’s no guarantee. I’m on the cusp right now. That’s how long I will give myself to prepare and ‘train myself’. Then my bystander days will be over.

When this shift happens, I want to know that I will act when I should. I won’t leave it to someone else to spark my courage. Most importantly, I’ll do it on my own terms.

In other words, not because I’m obligated to. Because it’s my instinct to. Like that gentleman.

I’ll remain open-minded, because sometimes that’s all it takes. Just like the bus driver.

Easy to say, isn’t it?

Even so, I truly hope I can pull it off one day. If I don’t, then maybe I chose the wrong career path. Speech pathologists provide a health service to the community; we see the good and the bad and we take it all in stride indiscriminately. I hope that one day – hopefully in the near future – I’ll no longer be a bystander. I hope I’ll be able to stand by the sides of those ordinary people whose values came before their uncertainty. More than that, I hope I can stand by people like that mother, and her young son, because they will always need support over criticism. What’s that famous quote again? Be the change you want to see in the world? Well, I’m not aiming anywhere as high. Let’s just take it one step at a time – as long as we’re moving forward.

After all, this world is far from perfect. Fact is, chances are it will never be. Not even close.

Yet there will be moments. Moments where you help someone carry their pram down the stairs; moments where you try to placate frustrated parents; moments where you walk away shaken with strangely pleasant adrenaline. Moments where, for a few seconds, you’re happy you did the right thing.

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