Tag Archives: psychology

Guest Post up at Warpworld

Author Kristene Perron is one of the most genuine individuals I’ve ever met. As part of the launch of the fourth book in the Warpworld series, Perron and a number of other authors will dive deep into the concept of loss. How we cope, how we process, and what part loss plays in a story. She writes:

In a world that at times feels obsessed with having more, more, more, it is intriguing to see how much we gain when something is taken away, pulled from us against our will. The characters in the Warpworld series lose their freedom, their beliefs, their privilege, their homes, their families, and yet somehow, as Lois McMaster Bujold so beautifully expresses in her novel Memory, they “go on”. In the weeks to come, we’ll introduce you to some amazing real life people who have found their own way through loss, their own way to “go on”.

I had the honor of writing the first guest post on the subject. Here’s an excerpt:

For all my unpublished short fiction, I can pinpoint where I was when I wrote the story and who I wrote it for. The names and places change. They’re overlaid with magic and technology, separated by eons of time and light-years of space; but the feelings never change. Lost love still hurts. Lost family cannot be replaced. Choices cannot be unmade and death cannot be undone. When someone or something I love disappears, and there are thousands of words left unsaid, I have to put them somewhere.
Read the full article here.


Mistakes I made as a first-time director

I thought about putting together a blooper reel of our rehearsals but they turned out too insane and esoteric to post in any kind of cohesive way.

Here we have the scene where Marron and Kara finally go head-to-head, where I discuss with Sarah and Charlie where their characters are and how to approach the scene.

Before we took this on, I did a lot of reading on how to be a good director and applied the following:

  • Build a schedule – this helps you map your rehearsals, schedule meetings with your producer, and so forth. It also helps to leave some blank spaces between rehearsals for one-on-one work. If you’re super-pro, you’ll include the post-production schedule also.
  • Take attendance.
  • Don’t let anyone stand around. If they’re present, they have to work. When they’re done, let them leave.
  • Give general motivations, not line-by-line instructions (I was really bad at this.)
  • Encourage the actors to work together when they’re not scheduled for a rehearsal with you.
  • Let people know when they’re doing well.
  • When someone consistently fucks up, remember that this is a collaboration. There is always something you can do to facilitate a solution.
  • A kind word goes a long way, but bullshit will destroy you all  – by bullshit, I mean false encouragement, allowing disruptive behavior to go unchecked, and settling for less than your best.
  • You’ll get a lot of advice and pushback. Some of the input will be useful, some of it won’t. Be open to new ideas, as long as they will benefit your project.
  • The more you do it, the better you get.

Note: 2/3rds of this recording were accomplished while both sick and drunk.

Training Your Inner Demons

I’m in the process of doing sound edits on my radio play, Unfortunate Demonic Incident No. 271. Despite all the giggling during rehearsals, it’s had me thinking about the inner voice, and what happens when it slips out.

What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to someone? Think back. Think hard. For me, the most brutal, arrogant, awful thing I’ve ever said to someone is, “I, like the universe, don’t care if it’s hard. It’s gotta get done.”

This precipitated a breakup, and rightly so. When he needed my care and support most, I slapped him with that. Emotional broken-jaw.

Sometimes our cruelest impulses, our cruelest characters and situations, are really telling about our nature. As writers, all of our synthetic situations come from organic material. All our thoughts and feelings, our views of good and evil, and everything we believe in permeates our stories. The things that shame our characters are things that would shame us. When our characters laugh, or pull that last spark of strength from within, it’s because we are capable of the same thing.

Our stories tell us, just as much as we tell them. If we’re not careful, one of the ballsier people in our head will learn to operate the mouth. As much as I shouldn’t have said those words, as much as I will regret their delivery for the rest of my life; I cannot deny them. They are a core truth of who I am.

A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them – they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

How frail the human heart must be – a mirrored pool of thought.
– Sylvia Plath


Writers Aren’t Insane, We’re “Disinhibited”

I’m really looking forward to meeting new people at the conference this weekend. It’s a networking event, and that means we’ll be sizing each other up left and right. Writers constantly try to connect the dots and guess at others’ motivations, and other writers provide a fascinating slice of humanity. We spend so much time up in our heads that we can forget what’s expected of us here in the real world. To some degree, we forget to come back to ‘reality’ at all. It helps us question and consider other possibilities.

In order to create really meaningful work, writers learn to suspend themselves between worlds, harvesting intensity from minutiae.  We do it in dozens of different ways; insisting on certain music, losing sleep over metaphysics, wearing strange clothes, filling our homes with bladed weapons or drinking soup from wine glasses.

Most people don’t do this. Most people don’t get us, and write us off as strange or too hard to relate to.

This article talks a bit about the fine line between creatives and psychopaths, and mentioned something called “cognitive disinhibition.” Cognitive disinhibition occurs when we’re unable to ignore irrelevant or extraneous information. The inability to ignore those details, coupled with a spoonful of intellect, helps us connect dozens of unrelated dots — from plot construction to new inspiration from amalgamated ideas!

Cognitive disinhibition is nothing to be afraid of. The ideas we extrapolate and chase after are as important as the butterflies that kids chase through meadows. Every butterfly is a concept, a character, a line of poetry. Don’t be discouraged if people look at you like you’re crazy. If they could see the butterflies, they’d chase them too.


Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.”
— Ray Bradbury

“A specialty of martial arts is to see that which is far away closely; and that which is nearby from a distance.
In martial arts it is important to be aware of opponents’ swords and yet not look at the opponents’ swords at all.
This takes work
— Miyamoto Musashi

Splattering and Smearing (I paint too, sometimes)


Too many choices block forward movement.

I drew a portrait of once, on canvas, in pencil. Every time I look at it, I lose faith and walk away. I don’t have the skills or familiarity with my tools to do it justice. I can’t bring it to life.

That’s how I’ve been feeling about my writing, lately.


When to stand up, when to let go

Smearing and splattering bright colors was a welcome break. I didn’t have to describe what I saw — it was right there already. That’s how Blood on the Water came to be. I knew how I felt, I knew which colors I wanted to use. I knew there would be droplets and splatters. The way the brush glided over the canvas calmed me down. With no concrete goal, there was no pressure to succeed or fail. I had room to learn. The Abstract shapes didn’t insist on one form or another while I figured out brushstrokes, composition, color — and silly stuff like viscosity.

I feel guilty that I’m not writing as fruitfully these days. The last few weeks were great but the well dried up. Blood in the Water stemmed from my guilt and self-threatening — just like staring at a disembodied shark fin. This could be you. Keep going or you’ll die discarded, drowning and alone. None of those emotions were helping me. I had to get them out.

I wondered if others were also feeling stuck, but didn’t want to go nosing into their problems unasked. I posted the following request on social media:

“Tell me one isolated thought that bothered you recently, AND  two colors you enjoy seeing together.”

Here are some of the responses, and preliminary sketches I did today.


Selfish or self-interested?

  • “Is this a hair stuck in my throat or am I going mad?” Gold  & dark blue
  • How to stand up for myself and when to let things go. Blue  & silver
  • “Am I selfish or self-interested?” Alizarin crimson & phthalo blue.
  • The idea that there are far too many creative paths and sometimes a glut of choice inhibits forward movement.  purple & aqua.
  • Why is my shooting not improving yet?! forest green & dark plum.
  • I got annoyed when I should have had more empathy, blue  & orange
  • Congestion.  Black & red.

Here’s hoping I can do these ideas justice.


Is that a hair in my throat, or am I insane?

Painting-mind and painting-hand get stiff and rusty like all unused machinery. Blowing these guys up and adding full color will be challenging. As much as we dedicate ourselves to work, to family, to music or anything — we must step away from time to time. Nothing loosens psychological knots like fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.

I’ve often lost myself,
in order to find the burn that keeps everything awake.
― Frederico García Lorca

I am inclined to think that in one sense we must feel more than others ― yes, doubly more ― since the very attempt to restrain natural promptings entails suffering.”
― Inazo Nitobe


How to Cry Effectively in Three Steps

When I studied swordplay in China, I came across a piece of information that made me grimace.

Women are like water. They are supposed to cry. For men, even if something awful happens (like the death of their father), they should never cry.

I thought this was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. I pictured Lin Daiyu; weeping at the slightest provocation, good or bad. She cries so much and so often that her constitution is horrible and she dies of it. Unrealistic. Revolting.

Surprise, surprise, many of the women at the monastery heard this lesson and breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Oh good,’ they said. It seemed to legitimize what they, too, saw as an embarrassing weakness. All of these women were tough. They kicked, punched, ran and trained daily with the men; but I would never call them tomboys or unfeminine. I’d come to trust them.

The fact that those women didn’t bridle at the idea of crying made me second guess my own opinion. I’ve always embraced my masculinity and the behavioral expectations that come with it; but maybe this time I was wrong. I decided to look into the act of crying and figure out how to turn it into a useful tool.

There are three types of tears:

  1. Basal tears – Keep your eyes moist and clean.
  2. Reflex tears – Triggered by onion juice and/or shampoo.
  3. Emotional tears – Triggered by, let’s face it, practically everything.

It turns out that human beings are the only mammals that produce tears in connection with emotions. The tears produced by emotional crying have higher levels of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, Leu-enkephalin; as well as the elements potassium and manganese. It may be the shedding of these chemicals that gives the act of crying a sense of catharsis.

The more you picture crying as a physio-chemical release, the easier it is to cope with the need for emotional release. It’s just another product we excrete. Not very many people are sentimental about pissing; especially when uric acid – the stuff that causes gout and kidney stones – is what you’re getting rid of. I’m not 100% on what those particular hormones do in your system. (As far as the elements, manganese helps stabilize blood sugar and prevents hypoglycemic mood swings. Potassium depletion is often associated with depression and general tearfulness.) These chemicals are a physio/endochrinological response to what the brain interprets as feelings.

That said, sometimes you just need to cry. Pressure, stress, anxiety, loss, love, beautiful sunsets, great books, poignant movies and broken bones all fill your emotional ‘bladder.’ Like your normal bladder, some people can hold it in longer than others. Some people are built for long road trips. Others need to pee every twenty minutes or so. If you drink eight liters a day, you will have to pee. If you find that your emotions are very responsive, you will need to cry. The more you hold it in, the more urgent the call for tears will be. Crying is cathartic. When you feel full, you need to let it out. Crying is good for you. Like pissing, like vomiting, you feel better when you’re done. Emotional dump is just like any other dump. Sooner or later, you will have to visit your restful-room.

How To Cry Effectively In 3 Steps!

Step 1
Recognize that you need to go
Ask yourself simple questions. Are you stressed? Do you feel shaky or light-headed? Are you snapping at everyone around you? Are you normally a good eater who has lost your appetite? Did something rotten happen to you or someone you love? Do you feel unusually nervous or uneasy? Does life feel suddenly unfair? Are you about to enter a stressful situation that you can’t freely step out of?

Has it been a while? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these, you probably need to go.

Step 2
A trip to the rest(ful) room

The restful-room is anywhere you feel comfortable crying. It could be your bedroom, a closet at work, your car, or anyplace at all. Sometimes, it can be the presence of another person*.

*Crying, (like peeing) isn’t something everyone is comfortable watching. So, if you need someone to cry to, make sure that person is trustworthy, not a dick, and knows what to expect.

There are two ways to handle going to the restful-room.

The first is to wait until you really REALLY have to go and you’re doing ‘the cry dance’ (shaking, anxious, having trouble thinking, feeling overwhelmed, a little lightheaded, irritable/belligerent), or you can go in advance. Give yourself about an hour, and then go for it. Let the tears and snot gush forth like a fountain. If you need to really get into it, throw a cookie sheet at the floor. They make a lot of noise, but are hard to break.

The second is to have small, 5-10 minute bursts over smaller issues.

For example, if your week is going well, but you’re really nervous about an interview, cry before you put on your fancy interview clothes.

Depending on your needs, you could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours crying. Looking at your schedule for the next day or the next week can give you a hint about whether or not you need to cry, and also when it would be the best time to do so. It’s just like going on a long drive; you can decide to pee beforehand, or you can plan out some stops along the way.

Step 3
Mopping up

Now that your cry is done, you’ll feel a little worn out. That’s normal. Crying takes a lot of energy and stamina, just like a workout. Like a workout, it is critical to have a glass of water once you’re done crying.

Let me say that again. When you’re done crying, drink a glass of water.

I’m serious. Especially for hardcore throwing-yourself-to-the-floor-and-kicking-and-screaming-for-three-hours crying. You must drink water. You’ve just washed your system clean of all those pesky chemicals, now you need to replenish yourself so you don’t get hung over.

Wash your face with cool water.

By the time you’re clean and have had something to drink, your heart-rate should have slowed back to normal.

And you’re all set!

The key is to recognize when those feelings rise, and to get yourself to a safe and private place to do what you have to do.

Once you discover your rhythm, and can better predict when you’ll need to hit the restful-room. Other aspects of life will become clear. You’ll start to identify why things upset you. From there, you can look at them more objectively and be able to decide if it will affect you. If you are calm, and you’ve had emotional release, you’re in a better position to think clearly and find solutions to things that challenge you. If something is truly out of your control, then it does no good upsetting yourself.

It doesn’t matter if the bus is late. If it isn’t there, you can’t get on it. With a clear mind, you can pursue other options; such as walking, calling people to say you’ll be late, or enjoying the play of sunlight and rain on the passing cars.

If you’re an emotional person like I am, it often feels like your feelings are trying to put you in a choke-hold. You can’t talk, you can’t think, and you can’t see a way out. By taking an interest in yourself, your needs, and your own rhythm, you can save the choke-holds for something really important; like the asshole that made you want to cry in the first place.

Thank you for your contribution, thirteen-year-old Setsu.

(Fun fact, the genesis of this idea came about Halloween night in 1998 or so, while trick-or-treating with some of my dojo brothers. The original idea — crying is like masturbation — didn’t cover the full scope of cathartic experience. It wasn’t until the possibility of losing a family member that I’d experienced the emotional overwhelm and deadening that can only be described as ‘pissing from the eyes.’ Thus, the chemical research.)

Next week: How to control your rage!**

** Haha, just kidding. I have no idea on that one.

Addendum!  I wrote a post on anger, when it’s useful, and when it isn’t.