Thursday, May 12, 2011

Heroism, what be thou?

Like most of us, I suffer from author Multiple Personality Disorder. It's a little difficult to keep things flowing from one aspect of my persona to the other. Especially when I have friends who don't understand writing, don't read, think I'm nuts for writing what I write, and generally are unimpressed that I know famous people (and trust me, with the name dropping I've done, I could have sunk the Titanic all over again, <--Just realized that makes me sound like an ass, but I promise, if I'm an ass, I'm a really nice one. *blink* So now I just sound like I have absolutely no humility. I think I'll stop while I'm a head.).

BUT (she said, trying to get back on topic), I'm gonna veer around this topic until I finally figure out my point, bear with me. It's only because I'm actually trying to draw from two totally opposite directions.

What directions, you may ask? Writing romances and Biggest Loser and heroism. No, srly. And here's why.

We write about heroes. Duh. Not exactly a news flash. But what is it that makes our heroes heroic? I remember when I was a brand new baby writer, I had this book with a woman (what? I can write women, shut up) in it. The way I had written the story, she did prevail in the end, but for the majority of the book she was petulant and childish (that's what I get for modeling my heroine after the books of teh 80z). I sent it to a contest thingy, and three of the five judges wrote, "Not heroic" in the margin. Sure they said it in different ways, yet the message was the same. Characters throwing hissy fits, stomping their size four and a half feet, tossing their "wild mane of curls", and pouting with cherry red lips (gag. gag. gag) aren't heroic. They're just childish.

So back to boyz. Because I like me some of that.

What makes a hero, heroic? Is it because he puts up with the above type heroine and doesn't lose his patience? Is it because he handles all the problems with his big broad shoulders and never lets on how difficult it is? Is it because he's freakin' hawt and he lets his woman be her own person, save her own day, make her own discoveries while he screws her senseless and loves her unendingly (okay, I think that one got my vote. Way to go, subconscious!)?

Now to Biggest Loser. You still with me? I record shows, because they are inconveniently on. Last night while I worked on the day job (which bleed over by a lot), I had Biggest Loser playing in the background. They had this "Final Exam" thing with each of the trainers. When they got to Jillian, I started tearing up. I was annoyed, because displays of emotion for no apparent reason trigger my WTF button in a big way.

But then I realized why it got to me. I teared up because she was playing the part of someone who feels defeated by their failures. The job of the contestant was to give her usable advice to show her what they'd learned about self-worth. But here's the clencher: One of the contestants realized what she was doing. She said, at some point she heard all the words she used to say about herself, coming out of Jillian's mouth like they were her own problems.

With that in mind, I listened to contestant after contestant deal with their own self-doubt and self-hatred in the guise of comforting Jillian through her weakness. OMG! TEARZ! Contestant after contestant, all but one having lost more than 100 pounds at this point (the other lost 98), were faced with their own words. Their own tape recorder of hate that they used to play. "I'm a failure. I never accomplish anything. I'm too fat/short/stupid to deserve happiness. I'm so tired of my life." And who wouldn't be with that kind of baggage, that kind of verbal butt-kicking? I just wanted to hug them all.

As writers, I think we deal with the self-recriminations too. If we write, we feel guilty about not spending time with the family. If we don't write, we feel guilty about not working. If we don't sell enough, we decide we're inadequate/stupid/bad writers/terrible people. If we sell a lot, it only lasts until the next royalty check when, if it dips, we wonder where we went wrong. If our family disapproves, we might hide what we do, defend what we do, blush because of what we do. We face social ridicule for writing "those books" and even though we're proud of them, the sting does eventually settle in as defensiveness.

And here's where I tie all this together. I have this fan-girl. Her name is Amanda P. She's from England and she is the most amazing woman. Despite any of her own life drama, she never fails to send me encouragement. I get long emails from her a couple of times a week talking about my talent. Admittedly, it's hard to hear. I have my own tape recorder of failures playing, and hers, talking over it, confuses my tiny mind. Her latest email made me think of Biggest Loser and those heart wrenching confessions. It made me think of how easily we give the title "hero" to a fictitious character, but forget to remember the heroes we see everyday.

The heroes like you. Like me. Like your neighbor, Bob, who looks like he doesn't care a whit that his dog just went in your yard. Even he has that tape recorder. Some people just live up to that expectation they have for themselves. Some people strive to improve. Some people struggle under the weight of their own self-hate, never realizing that they are heroes. HEROES!

Amanda wrote me this, in her most recent email. It's all I'm going to share because it was a private email, and she knows stuff that I don't want to put out there. Also, pretend she's talking to you. Pretend it all day long and remind yourself of it when your tape recorder begins to play.

I say, don't you always find  the ones who can laugh about the shit that has literally been thrown at them are always the bestest of people and have to have any problems dragged out of them? It makes my respect for you grow because, although i am aware you weren't fishing for it and certainly don't think you deserve it, to follow your dreams against opposition and keep trying despite all the setbacks sounds bloody heroic to me.
~Amanda P.

One breath in. Now breathe out. YOU are a hero. Believe it.



AmandaP said...

I say Ms Watts, talk about moving me to tears - and I with my stiff upper lip, too! The bottom one is wobbling like a tragic heroine whilst I toss back my mane of curls that magically stay perfectly in place!

I can feel a Mariah song coming on now.....

Bronwyn Green said...

Truer words were never spoken. The tape recorder of doom is difficult to listen to, yet I don't know anyone who's able to shut it off all the time. I'm so glad that you have Amanda to help you turn off your recorder. And the rest of us - we think you're a hero, too. :)

Mia Watts said...

Amanda P ~ MY GOD you look FABULOUS! Lips like crushed berries and the voice of an angel. I adore you. Now the Internet gets to adore you too.

Mia Watts said...

Bronwyn ~ Aw! Thank you. I'm so impressed with people who can handle it all AND other people's problems. Bron, you're one of those people. Rock on, heroine!

Tess MacKall said...

You know, I think that the terms hero and heroine are overused and really aren't all that relevant to romance writing anymore.

Why? Because of how the face of romance books have changed. Romance started out with the Alpha saving the woman, basically. And the heroine sacrificing herself in some way to save him. That's not all that true anymore although it can be. The women are feistier and stronger and generally don't need saving. But H and H are used and will probably always be used. No biggie, just sayin'. LOL

As for just what heroism is? Immediately we think of a fireman rushing from a burning building with a child held in his arms. Policemen in a shoot out and rescuing hostages. Cab drivers delivering babies in the backseat of their cabs ETC ETC ETC.

Bottom line? A hero is anyone, who against the odds, overcomes. And that can be something not so glamorous like losing a hundred pounds OR writing a book and putting it out there for all the world to see and judge.

Keep up the good work, Mia. Great post!

Regina Carlysle said...

This post really moved me. I believe we are all heroice every day but just don't realize it. We agonize about the time spent writing when we should be doing something with family and then the tables are turned when we spend time with family knowing your editor and publisher are expecting that new book from you. It's a cycle that just tears at you sometimes.

Let's face it. We are often too hard on ourselves. Self-critical in every way. Will THIS book be as good as the LAST? Yeah, we agonize about this shit but who really cares about that? And heroism? That could simply be taking time away from mentally wallowing in your own problems to just listen to a friend in need. We write about tough, strong heroines and heroes all the time, making what they say and do so over the top when in reality, it's the little things that count the most. The things we do quietly for each other without expecting notice or praise. It's very easy to fall into despair and believe the weight of the world is resting totally on your shoulders until you hear of a dying child or an unexpected death or see true suffering. That JOLT of reality often brings us back to our senses making us realize that, like everyone, we have problems but a true heroine climbs her way over that mountain and does it all with a smile on her face.

Mia Watts said...

@Tess, definitely overused, but I also think that society tends to focus on the superlatives for heroism. In books, at least mine, the heroine wins the day. She's heroic because she surpasses the odds against her.

I think what is sad is that we have so much crap in this world. We have war, we have terrorists, we have people who die for their countries. That's heroic for sure!

What kills me is that the little people (the non-warriors, the non-gottakillthebadguy people) are just as heroic for overcoming their own daily battles.

The battle of alcoholism, one step at a time. The battle of depression, one second to one second. The battle of recovering from cancer, divorce, separation, the loss of a child. The joyful battles of a new experience, a new home city, a new way of leaving old beliefs behind to venture forth on your own... Those people are heroes too.

They're quiet heroes. But they are heroes all the same. :)

Mia Watts said...

@Rita, Yes! I can personal testify that as a sufferer of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I can get lost in my darkness. When someone reaches a hand to me and says, "Hey let me listen and carry some of that load" even if to them it doesn't seem like a monumental task, it IS monumental to me. That hand, given in my darkness, is the hand of a hero. I cling to it and every word shared because I'm not alone.

Now, SAD doesn't have to be your thing. But when you fall down on the playground (imagining you as a child) and someone helps you up, drawing you away from your humiliation and pain, that too is heroic.

Is it overused in everyday life? No, I don't think so. I do think that we don't applaud the small heroic efforts, especially when they are our own.

Simone Anderson said...

Definitely moved me to tears. And like Bronwyn said, truer words have never been spoken. This was a great post and came at a good time, thanks Mia.

AmandaP said...

I have to say - obviously - I agree with Ms Watts, because I believe heroics are a daily thing. So you're not a standard hero rescuing a child - is the rescue any less because of that? No. Surely true heroism is quietly; with dedication and full respect about the heroism that happens on a daily basis?

Allie Standifer said...

I loved this blog! It's very true in this day & age. Real hero are generally unknown & prefer it that way.

Mia Watts said...

@Simone, Baby you are a hero. A single mom doing it all AND successfully writing? Yeah, you're definitely there.

Mia Watts said...

@Amanda P., you even talk pretty. Especially when you're agreeing with me. I can almost hear the accent.

Incidentally, my nieces and I do a great job of faking an English accent. No, it's not heroic, but we tend to get lost in it. And the fact that something so simple can pull us out of whatever funk we're in, hell yes, that's heroic.

Keep on, keepin' on.

Mia Watts said...

@Allie, thank you. I guess like most people, I get caught up in the obvious acts of heroism. It's easy to do. They're plastered on the news and have that, "I don't think I could ever do that" quality to them. But remembering that we each do a thousand tiny things every day that someone else finds amazing? There's magic in that.

Tie a kid's shoe who doesn't know how? You're a GOD to them. It didn't save lives (assuming he didn't trip in a street with oncoming traffic otherwise), but to that kid, that day, that moment, YOU were the one who made him feel important.

Molly Daniels said...

AMEN Mia:) And bravo to Amanda to pointing it out to you!

Mia Watts said...

@Molly, Thanks hon!

anny cook said...

Quite a few years ago I had a small stroke. One of the "things" I lost was how to tie my shoes. I didn't KNOW I'd lost this skill until I was getting ready for work. In a panic, I changed to slip-ons and went off to work, still upset because "What was I going to do?"

I was sitting at my desk, a forty-plus-year old woman, deeply worried about what other skills I would find gone, when my boss walked in. She asked me what was wrong and I blurted out, "I can't tie my shoes."

Very calmly she replied, "Well, come in my office and I'll tie them for you."

In that one sentence she gave me back my pride and self-esteem. She's still my heroine.

Mia Watts said...

@Anny, That story brings tears to my eyes. There is just something honorable about someone who lets you preserve your dignity like that. Thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

It's not even two in the afternoon and this is the third time I've been brought to tears. First time was from reading something sad, the second I was pissed off, and now from reading your ever-so-true heart felt post.

Heroism. Whether it is a dramatic action or a simple word, hug or smile--doesn't matter. It is wholly in the eyes of the recipient. I've never seen a fireman save someone's life by pulling them out of a fire, though I know it happens, and he is a hero. And damn well should be labeled one. But I have seen how just a few words, a hug and a smile has saved a person. There is a hero in every one of us, no matter how viscous or self-degrading the voice in our heads remain. The funny thing about that's also what makes us humble.


Mia Watts said...

@Elece, I'm sorry to bring tears, and yet I understand. I was in tears over the contestants hearing their own desperate cries for help and validation. We all feel that way about ourselves even when others don't see it.

What's truly wonderful, is that you are in touch with you heart and things still affect you. Feeling can be its own kind of heroism.

Janice Seagraves said...

Wow, I think I needed to read that today.

Thank you.