Everyone else is just too tall

Several years ago I was introduced to the idea of “the culture of character” and its near opposite “the culture of personality.” Before I plunge into today’s societal navel-gazing it is worth the time to look at and define these two types of social structures.

They may appear to some people to be synonymous. Other people will see them as vastly different approaches. In order for this essay to be cohesive I need to take a few moments to set my definitions first.

Warren Susman, a social historian coined these terms. He pointed to the turn of the 19th century to the 20th as the moment when American culture began the shift from being a ‘culture of character’ to a ‘culture of personality.’

What he was observing and commenting on was the 19th century’s culture which demanded ‘character’ – a person’s oath is their bond, morality, being honest and upright – was losing ground to an up and coming ‘culture of personality.’ The new culture of the 20th century was centered not on the individuals interior qualities, but instead on the personal qualities of being liked and admired.


we began trading in self-sacrifice for self-expression, the work ethic for the leisure ethic and integrity for charm.

Character Takes on Personality, Henry Allen January 5, 1986, Washington Post

What we didn’t see at the time was the cost that came with this alteration in our cultural priorities. We can see it now. On full display in the American political arena is the result of the clash between the ‘culture of character’ and the ‘culture of personality’.

It reminds me of a quote by John Adams that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

I do take issue with the mention of religion – because it perpetuates the myth that a person cannot be moral without identifying as religious, but that is representative of the 18th century.

The rest of the quote I find to still be accurate. We are seeing the proof of it today.

It is imprudent to paint everyone in a culture as adhering to a single set of priorities. As in any mass of people there will be those who are and those who are not representative of the cultural climate.

So, what is the cost that I mentioned above? It may be the very democracy that we as Americans claim to cherish. We are seeing the ‘culture of personality’ engaging in an active attempt to undermine the government.

Until now the political arena for the highest political post in the American government operated on character. Indeed, it operated this way for centuries and we did not perceive how dependent our institutions had grown on the possession of character by our leaders. We had never witnessed a product of the ‘culture of personality’ in this position.

We have now. John Adams was right, democracy cannot endure in an atmosphere where morality is dismissed. The sheer audacity of a person indoctrinated solely in the ‘culture of personality’ to believe that it is their right to be liked astonishes. This is also what is driving the current Trump/GOP push to invalidate the election. The idea that Trump is not liked, loved, admired, worshiped is intolerable to him, as well as his followers, and therefore they insist it must be false.

They are insisting, repetitively. Over and over the GOP and its operatives are putting forward the baseless narrative that the election was somehow tampered with and therefore the results are illegitimate. This is despite the total lack of evidence for their claims. But, even tough it is tempting to sit back and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that these unfounded and frivolous attacks have been dismissed in nearly every court what we should be concerned with is the persistent drip of poisonous unreality into our electoral process.

Even a fiction can become reality if repeated often enough.

Denial of the truth, or the selective picking and choosing of what is true is a hallmark of the erosion of democracies throughout history. There is no doubt that the rise of a ‘cult of personality’ can be the death-knell for attempts at democracy or governmental reform. History bears this pattern out again and again.

So, what is the future of a democracy that confuses personality for character? What happens when the populace chooses the sweet-rotting fruit of the huckster that can intoxicate them over the plainer fare of the candidate with character?

You end up in a situation much like our current one, where it was more important to one person to be liked than it was to deal with reality. The important mundane needs of running a nation go unmet. The result of that fundamental neglect of the duties of leadership results in what we see today. Thousands dead, thousands facing the prospect of homelessness, hunger, despair are what follows the con.

And yet, in that wake you still find people hoping to capture the candy floss reality that they have become so sick from ingesting. They are still chasing that high heedless of the cost, not only to themselves, but to the community around them.

It sounds very much like an addiction.

A diet of sweets and intoxicants can’t sustain the body. The high will be followed by the inevitable crash. Trust me, when the crash comes the dealer will be long gone. Those who willingly took his poison will deny their own responsibility leaving the remains to those of character to restore.

Those driven by the ‘culture of personality’ will abdicate the responsibility for the results of their actions. No matter how deep the hole they find themselves in, no matter how weak or malnourished, they will keep digging in an attempt to find another colorful, distraction to provide them entertainment. Someone to tell them what they want to hear, that they aren’t in a hole, everyone else is just too tall.

In the can

CPTSD is a strange thing to grow up with. Even stranger to live with once you know you have it.

For Example:
My latest InstagramPost-

There it is the manuscript for Book 4 in the Unhomed series. Still debating titles. I do like to stick with one word – but this particular word is proving elusive.
Despite that this manuscript will be placed into a drawer to ‘marinate’ for a year, at least. I’ll come back to it in Jan 2022. Provided I’m still here.

You might be wondering what is so ‘typical’ of CPTSD in that little post above. I’ll point out the last line. Now, while it may be very appropriate in 2020 to not take making it to tomorrow for granted it goes a bit deeper than that.

From Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving I pull this quote from the section on “Toxic Shame and Soul Murder.” (If that isn’t a powerful phrase I don’t know what is?)

Quote: When our emotional intelligence is restricted, we often do not know what we really want.

~ Pete Walker

I don’t think I can convey how estranged I was, and let’s admit still am, from my feelings. I can see that emotional emptiness echoing back through my life. With it I can follow the ambivalence I had about life.

One of the questions I have always struggled with is “Where do you want to be in ten years?” Or even five. Hell, I don’t know where I want to eat lunch let alone what I want to do with myself in a year. Never mind ten years.

Learned helplessness is a survival tool. Additionally, it is a phrase I absolutely loathe. But, love it or loathe it, learned helplessness is a firm part of my past. I still wrestle with it.

I never really planned for anything because promises were broken, plans were ignored, asking for something was too much. I became able to be grateful for what I was given and not to expect or hope for more. This is the core of learned helplessness. There is nothing you can do to improve your situation, so you learn to endure. Later when the cause of the suffering is removed the mind is still locked in the role of the abused and cannot see that circumstances have changed.

How does all that relate to planning for tomorrow? For me there was no planning for any future. I dealt with what was given to me. My future was to fulfill the expectations of my family. I didn’t think about my future. I didn’t get to.

So, although I have every intention of revising, editing, and publishing the book above, I know that nothing in life is promised, not even tomorrow.

NaNoWriMo 2020 – On your marks

Oh the anticipation. The heady excitement of tomorrow. It’s almost here – NaNoWriMo. Are you ready?

My answer is always – No, I’m not.

No matter the number of practice or planning sessions, despite very effort I can make to ‘prepare’ myself I always face the first week of NaNoWriMo with a bit of trepidation.

There is no absolute 100% being ready for me. There is always one more thought, or one more detail to squeeze in at he last moment. Those last minute flurries of activity are punctuated by the cold hands of dread grasping my heart. Can I do this? Am I gonna fail, again?

I have to stop to take a moment to remind myself, that’s normal. It’s very human to look at a big task and to e overwhelmed by the sheer size of it.

And then I remind myself that I and the other folks who are embarking on this journey with me are not just people, we are writers. We are fueled by passion, emotions and the unexplainable joy of putting words on a page. There is not a mountain that we cannot climb.

Even the folks who are doing this for the first time, don’t let the size of the challenge daunt you. You have within you the same desires and fire that all of us have. Add to that the support of a community where we have all stood at the foot of A MOUNTAIN for the first time and wondered – could we do it.

The answer is yes. Because we are writers. We shape worlds and command gods within the landscape of our minds. What is a mountain to stand in our way?

Midnight Writing : July 2015

This is it. The dark and dangerous hour when my mind, released by a weary body and the tasks of the day cease their incessant calling, this is the hour when my mind ignites. Words, unbidden and unbiddable cascade across my mind in a torrent that I cannot stop, and would never hope to withstand. The words tumble and converge. Ideas branch from one another and then wind their way through a mind in chaos, only to re-merge, just to fragment again. 

This spell that the words put on me shatter my peace. What little I have. I am compelled, down the darkened stairs into the light of a single flame to write what I am bidden by the words in my mind. Uncontrolled, chaotic, tumbling, spinning, crashing, forming and reforming, again and again. So I pour darkness into darkness, howling with ink onto a page that will end crammed with vowels and syllables and ideas and have no meaning.   It is the stuff of madness.  

As lighting gives but a fraction of illumination I chase the words hoping that in the chaos I can glimpse some semblance of the mind behind them. Is it vast, beyond my comprehension. Is that why I can only ride the torrent of words and not find sense in them. I tie up my hair, a distraction from the relief I am trying to find.  Words. 

What are you reading, my Lord. 
Words.   Words.   Words.  

(Hamlet, Act II Scene II) 

Hamlet had it right.  Words.  They are the key to and the respite from madness.  For in words are both the hinting and healing of a mind in chaos.  Find the right words, string them together, make sense and Lo, you are sane.  Find the right words, string them together and have a meaning that means nothing or which cannot be discerned and Lo, you are mad. 

I know I am not mad, I ride the torrent, down into Charybdis and back again. Taken up by the same words that pour out, for unlike Claudius, though my words are somewhat torn, they rise up to heaven.  In the darkness they fly like sparks.   

There is no draft in this.  This is pure, pouring out of what is inside. There is no editor, there is no process, but to sit in the dark, and to let the pen cross the page. The house may creak and groan around me, but the only sound will be the churning of the words in my head as I struggle to push them out of the pen. Out through the fingers, out into the world, where they will dry. Living things drying to mere reminders of the turmoil.  

Sometimes there is a reason. Some days there is a thought or an idea or a passion that cannot remain silent any longer. That need will start the torrent of words and feelings and emotion that is so often shut securely away. Not tonight. There is no wound behind the words tonight. This night in this stillness they simply wanted to shed their skins and fly. So I obey. Eyes closed, watching the words form in my mind and paying no attention to the page. I let my hands move unfettered across the surface, no resistance to the words that want to escape or shape themselves. Let them go. Unimpeded. Freely. For only in that is there peace. Try to hold onto them, they will choke and dam everything behind them.   Let them run. Let them be. 

When silence comes. My hand is cramped. Ink smudges the page. There are misspellings, but there are no mistakes. The mistake would be to try to hold the swell back to ensure better precision. This isn’t an exercise in writing. It is survival.

NaNoWriMo 2020

I made it official today. I created a new project for 2020 in my NaNoWriMo account. Who knows where this year’s efforts will land me. As most things, it is a wait and see situation.

I think this is my seventh year. I know my first year was 2009 and that I have not participated every year for one reason or another. And somewhere in there I lost my account – so by the official numbers I only have 3 years in the bank.

Nevertheless, onwards. I’ll be climbing in the saddle with all you other lovely folks on Nov. 1. You can find me in NaNoWriMo as ‘Maricelt’.

Best wishes all,
And keep writing.

No, I’m not Procrastinating

Or maybe I am. This is a common saying around my desk. It’s a riff on Hemingway’s famous quote

Write drunk, edit sober.

E. Hemingway

#WriteYourStory

I have spent 50 years doing as I have been told, as I have been advised, as seemed best by the masses. It has brought me a living but one washed in doubt, grayness, and despair. No longer. I will write my own story, and if I fail I will do so with my spirit in tact, instead of surviving in dreary mediocrity for someone else’s dream.

It’s not often I have something burst into my mind fully formed.  But this thought, once tangled up with so many others, broke free from the pack today.  I stopped what I was doing, full stop.  My hands dropped, the sheet drifted to the floor, the dog started from beneath the sheet, and my world tilted, it was that kind of stop.  

As many of you might surmise, I’m trying something very new for myself.  I’ve finally given myself permission to follow my dream of being a writer.  Win or lose, fly or fail, I am allowed to pursue this for myself.  Not for my family, not for my father, not to fulfill expectations that my brother couldn’t shoulder, but to define my self by myself.  

I would love to insert something witty or humorous about being a late bloomer right about now.  But, I’m determined not to look backwards at all the ‘wasted’ time, because as a writer, I call it fodder.  So here is a thought…  Gardens use manure to bloom.  

Underground

“One. Two. Three.” I counted in the dark.
People huddled in the crowded subway tunnel smelling of damp wool coats, black-market cigarettes, coal dust and fear. Momma held my hand squeezing it tight to calm us both. Papa was upside fighting the fires that followed the explosions of Hitler’s rockets. People shifted uncomfortably on the floor as the shelter shook. Everyone counted the time between the engine’s death and the detonation above. Momma picked me up holding me tight in her lap.
“Let’s count together.”
I nodded in the dark leaning on Momma’s salty cheek. We waited together.
“One…”

VSS: Sept. 19, 2019 – Cavernous

The hole in my chest is cavernous. It should be impossible for a human body to contain this much emptiness. The echoes created there ripple out between past and present, creating confusion between the then and the now. I survive with one foot nailed in the past.

Note: The VSS series is an outgrowth of writing prompts for Twitter. The goal is to produce a Tweet that fits within the 280 character format, and uses the given idea or word.

The Vanishing Point

In the darkness of my bedroom I look at the ceiling.

Lit only by the pale moon, the fan, still in the autumn cool, is a black spider clutching the ceiling and hovering over the bed. In perfect silence and with the greatest care I relax my desperate grip on my sleeping husband’s hand.

It would be rude to wake him. Worse still to disturb his sleep with my need. And so, with practiced grace, I leave him in peace as I withdraw.

Down the stairs in darkness. I light no lamps that might pierce the darkness of our bedroom and thereby alert or alarm him. Silently past the sleeping dogs. The retriever yipping softly as he chases dream rabbits. The poodle twitching as he snores curled into a tight ball beneath his blanket. They might accompany me into the solitary darkness below, but…better to let them stay with him, blissful in their sleep.

When I was younger I was not so careful. Perhaps I thought I had some justification, some fundamental right to a voice, a sound, to even just the smallest word of distress. But all words fall silent.

It is their nature.
Even a scream ends when the breath is exhausted.

When I was younger the frictions that moved me, that jarred me or brought me to the edge of imposing on others, were more frequent.

They left me bruised.

At times I thought I would explode, but I couldn’t do that. The mess it would leave for others! That? That would be terribly rude. How could I possibly be so inconvenient? It simply would not do.

So to protect myself I have become, not harder, not impervious, but instead malleable, permeable. I am capable now of absorbing the pains that earlier would have broken me. I can smile and let the world go on, unimpeded by any concern I might cause.

I am not invisible—It would be far too jarring to simply wink out of existence: the days and routines of those I love would be interrupted—but I have no mass. Pain has nothing to cling to, despair nothing to resound through or echo off of. They pass through me as easily as through air.

What holds me in place and gives me shape are my thoughts. My mind is all that defines the void within.

My mind ties me together. Each insubstantial thought gives shape to me as the insubstantial air gives shape to a bubble: the only thing truly there is air.

My mind is a constant thing. It is like the sea, turning over and over. Even as it defines my limits it erodes my barriers. It turns over the pain, the desire, the loss, the resentment, the fear, the self-loathing, relentlessly. They all tumble against each other in perpetual action. They polish one another to a glossy shine; they lose their edges and become, almost, tiny jewels, moments of exquisite beauty and sadness.

One day, when the last tear is shed, the last resentment purged, the last fantasy dispatched, and the last desire let go, my mind will have ground all its emotions and thoughts to dust. There will be no more thoughts.

In that moment I will cease.