Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's Elementary, Part II

** See It's Elementary, Dear Readers for the first part of this story.

And somewhere in there, though I didn't know it yet, something inside me woke up.

At the time I started writing those workshop-level comments, I had been in therapy for about a year, and in the previous few months had begun to uncover the PTSR symptoms that had been controlling my life for twenty years. 

I'd been talking with Dr. Oz for a long time about writing a blog about my recovery. She had recommended that I start a journal to track my symptoms and focus my thoughts, and I had avoided it and avoided it, because writing had become, for me, so laden with baggage.

I felt I couldn't relax enough, or be honest enough, or be spontaneous or authentic enough to write in that way. I felt I was too self-conscious, too unfocused, too paralyzed to write at all. I was too afraid to try.

But writing those fanfiction reviews was transporting me somewhere I hadn't been in a long, long time. It was bizarre-- I'd write a review, and then go back the next day and read it and be astonished at the voice I heard there. In those reviews, I sounded... confident. Authoritative. Comfortable. Intelligent. Engaged. Alive.

I'd look back at those reviews and see someone funny and incisive and completely in command. And not recognize my current self at all. Most of the time, I couldn't even recall writing them; it was as if they sprang from some other source, and I was reading them for the first time along with everyone else. At the same time, I'd look at those words, in that voice, and I'd have the growing suspicion that I was seeing the person I always thought of as The Real Me.

I'd just been The Fake Me for too long to recognize her at first.

Something else started to happen, too as I wrote those reviews.

I started to get noticed by the authors themselves, and I started to hear back from them.

As the nature of my comments changed, so did the nature of the replies. Instead of a single line of thanks, I'd get a paragraph or two. I'd get questions. I'd get requests for input and advice. I'd get engaged in higher-level conversations about storytelling and craft.

And I started to remember: I know this stuff. I pursued a lengthy education in this stuff. I am capable here, in a way so natural to me that I was doing it almost unconsciously; the ideas slipping past my carefully-monitored barricades and sneaking out into the world before my self-conscious paralysis infected them and rendered them silent. It was happening almost against my will, as if the floodgates had opened somewhere and I no longer had the ability to hold back the surge.

And for the first time in over a decade, I felt... inspired. I remembered what it felt like to be part of that symbiotic process of reading and writing: taking ideas and words and turns of phrase in and putting them back out into the world again, transformed. I felt the singular thrill of that creative spark: Make more of this. What happens next? What would happen if?

So I did two things: First, I kept reading those stories and writing those reviews. 

And then I started this blog.

The whole Sherlock thing is actually far more relevant to this story than you might expect. In addition to inspiring fanfiction that was reawakening my writer's mind and reengaging my writer's heart, this particular story (and the BBC's treatment of it, specifically) invited the kind of writing that offered an enormous amount of insight into the very issues I was struggling with in my therapy.

I hope you've seen Sherlock by now, but if you haven't, it won't be spoiling anything to say that its characters are flawed in ways that were--are--very relevant to me:

Sherlock is an overly-intellectual, emotionally detached misanthrope (a "high-functioning sociopath! Do your research!" he would chide me right now). He's big on thinking, not so big on feeling, our detective.

And John Watson? John is an army doctor, freshly invalided home from Afghanistan after being shot in action.

And he's being encouraged by his therapist to write a blog to help him recover from PTSD.

From this foundation, hundreds of writers were creating thousands of stories about these two men and how they navigated those circumstances. A lot of the stories delve deeply into Sherlock's emotional detachment and development, or John's PTSD and how he copes. There are hundreds of different takes on what it means to struggle against your own brain and how one might learn to overcome one's nature when it no longer serves.

And before you discount that as trivial, consider this: a disproportionate number of Sherlock fanfiction writers are psychologists, professors, doctors, professional writers, librarians, academics of all stripes, women of science and letters. There are descriptions of PTSD in some of those stories that are heart-breakingly poignant; there are passages about Sherlock's emotional ineptitude that are profoundly insightful and cast his behavior in a whole new light.

I read some of these stories-- many of them, in fact-- and I learn about myself in ways I'd never manage on my own.

Before I go any further, a word about fanfiction: it has a reputation for being hack work, or the product of moony teen fangirl fever dreams, or full of pornographic scenes pairing male characters from well-known movies and TV shows (known as "slash"). 

I'd say it's rarely the first, often the second (and what's wrong with that?), and, if you're lucky, a really great version of the third. 

And about that: I enjoy a good sex scene just as much as the next girl, for the obvious reasons, but I enjoy them even more than the next girl for another reason: I think they're really, really difficult to write well, falling so easily, as they usually do, into cliche and hyperbole and melodrama. Well-written erotica, where the writing and the sexiness work equally well, is a bit of a unicorn in the literary world, if you consider the volume of erotic writing that's out there. So I have great admiration for writers who manage to do it well, and there are quite a few of them in the Sherlock fandom.

So sure, there's an erotic element in a lot of it. Straight-up porn in some. But it's being written mostly by women, and that means that more often than not, some sort of relationship dynamic is addressed, and that's where the real inner lives of these characters is spelled out in such a marvelous, revealing, instructive way for a fan of stories and storytelling like me, who is looking not only for answers to the question of what would happen if? but also to the question, what is happening to me?

So here I was, a storyteller and fanfiction native, stumbling across an ever-expanding treasure trove of stories about my current story-du-jour that contained enormously helpful insights into my own emotional development, and I'd been inspired to re-enter the writing world and make tentative efforts to communicate with other writers, and I'd begun to do some writing of my own in a blog that would help me recover from a crippling mental condition and possibly give me a new purpose in life, and in addition to all of this I was also reading some of the best writing I'd seen in years, which was keeping the magic alive for me in a visceral way. 

It just... suited me. Right down to the ground. All I could think was, "These are my people. I have found my tribe."

This was where I found myself two years ago, as my blogging began to gain some momentum and I was daring to think of myself as having a regular writing practice for the first time in my adult life.

And in the midst of all of this, I made a personal connection with one of the writers I'd been following and reviewing (hi, A!), and she began, in turn, to follow my blog. She was funny, whip-smart, and easy to talk to, and our mutual admiration society quickly blossomed into a real-life friendship, which I cherish to this day.

The Sherlock fandom was more than just a side note, for me. It was more than mere entertainment. It wasn't just a hobby or a distraction or a lurid excuse to read porn in the middle of the afternoon.

In these stories, in this community of writers, of daydreamers, of women of intelligence and insight, I had discovered things I never thought I'd have again, or never hoped to find at all, and especially not in one place: creative inspiration; professional instruction; mutual, intellectual admiration and respect; supportive, empathetic friendship; and the motivation to get myself to a coffee shop every Saturday and sit down and open my laptop and put my fingers to the keys and write.

Because of those women, I have been able to create and maintain this blog.

Because of those women, I have learned new ways to think about my emotional development and my PTSR, and my healing has been more profound as a result.

Because of those women, I have responded to the question, "What do you do?" in a way I never quite believed I'd ever have the audacity to do: 

"I am a writer."

The domino effect of all of this has been profound, and there are signs of it everywhere. It's pretty pervasive. 

Dr. Oz, for example, likes to refer to my overly-intellectual, non-emotional, default self (known to my readers here as Controlly Kate™) as "Sherlock." It's funny now, and it's true, and I see the parallel very clearly, but not so long ago, it was a surprise to me that there was any similarity at all.

I was once on a walk with my husband, way back at the beginning of this journey, discussing my progress in therapy and some new insights I'd had, and I commented that I had always thought of myself as the "John" in my relationships-- the solid, stalwart, grounding presence-- but that in light of my new awareness of my emotional detachment, I was beginning to wonder if I was actually the "Sherlock."

"Of course you're the Sherlock," he replied.

I looked at him, startled, unsure of how to take that comment.

He laughed. "I mean, did you think I was the Sherlock?" 

He had a point, there. "Okay, no, but maybe I just thought we were two Johns." 

And when I said it, I knew that was wrong, that it didn't work that way, that the great partnerships work not only because of the things you share but because of the ways you complement and complete each other. The strength of each partner is all the greater when balanced by the strength of the other.

I'd always been more than willing to cover someone else's blind spots, but had never before considered that someone might be just as willing to cover mine.

"I don't like that I didn't know that," I said. "I feel like I'm suddenly seeing myself for the first time, and I'm not who I thought I was. I don't want that to happen to you, too, where you look at me one day and I'm suddenly this crazy stranger you've never seen before."

"Baby," said my husband-- my forthright protector, my devoted partner, my John-- "don't you worry about that. You are becoming the person I've always known you were, behind those walls. You aren't turning into someone else, you're becoming more yourself, and I'm not surprised at all. I know exactly who you are."

And because of this man, who has not only given me the freedom and encouragement to enter this battle, but has stood behind me when necessary and shoved me forward into the next step...

and because of the women writing stories about beloved characters that inspire me to look within, to work harder, to heal, to learn, to write...

I finally have an idea of exactly who I might be, too.

Thanks for your patience during our home purchase and move. We're settled in the new house now and unpacking and painting and planning new projects. My writing schedule should be resuming once again over the next week or two, and I'll be back in fighting writing form. 

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