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Oh Say Can You See?

Oh Say Can You See?
By Amanda Kabak • Issue #4 • View online

I write character-driven fiction. Unfortunately, this does not free me of the necessity of coming up with a plot. I remember when I was watching the movie Chasing Amy, I thought, “This is exactly how I write: I just move from one scene of people talking and drinking or eating to another scene of people talking and drinking or eating.” That said, being a character-driven writer, my focus is less on discovering what happens next and more on questions of motivation and interaction and internal pressures of conformity, expectations, and change. In my writing, I am obsessed with perception: how people see us, how we see other people, how we see ourselves, and the sometimes vast differences among those different perspectives.
I believe that it is part of the human condition to want to be seen and, simultaneously, to be absolutely petrified of being “found out” for who we really are.
What rich fodder for writing, right? But, for me, writing is inextricably intertwined with living, and the underlying questions of my stories are often the underlying questions of my life, no matter how different my characters or their circumstances may be from me. Who am I? Does that match who other people think I am? Will I be judged if I am honest about myself? Am I actually honest about myself or am I really a fraud?
I am not interested in being known by everyone, but I am desperate to be truly seen by people I want to let me in to see in return, people whom I admire and respect and love. But being seen by others means we need to work on seeing ourselves, which is difficult since the act of observation changes things, and observing yourself, questioning yourself, can kick off a feedback loop bad enough to set your teeth on edge.
I’ve recently written what I think is my first truly decent personal essay, though time will tell if it is good enough to catch the eye of a reputable publisher. What was interesting about the experience was the feedback I received about an earlier draft, which boiled down to: “Yeah, okay, but what did you really feel about this?” Oh, I thought. Right. Personal essays need to get … personal. Communication in writing comes through peeling back layers to the truest truth we can manage. It might not be the final truth, but readers know if it’s only a half truth, which is why I try hard to flay my characters open for each other and you.
All that said, I realize I’ve still said almost nothing about myself, which is what I actually meant to write about today.
My romance, Training for Love, will be released in 30 days, and 20 days ago, I stepped down from my job as CTO at CleanSpark after 4.5 years there, designing and building clean-energy related software. To my mom’s great chagrin, I don’t have another job lined up. I have launched myself into a transitionary period from full-time employment (+ part-time writing) into more of a consulting role that leverages my 25 years in the industry and will give me more time to devote to the written word.
But back to honesty and being seen. Transition and change has been historically difficult for me, no matter how much practice I’ve been given in my life. My long history of addresses and jobs indicates that I thrive on shaking things up, but every time something significant ends or begins, I have to gird myself and tell myself everything’s going to be okay (and listen to my spouse assuring me of the very same thing). I’ve historically been so bad at weathering periods of uncertainty that I now have three significantly large tattoos to remind me to be patient and flexible and that even if everything might feel like it is in disarray now, it will get knit together again–and then probably unravel later, but that’s later.
For now, I am trying to find my footing in this next phase of my life, and to be honest with all of you, it is difficult regardless of how much I’ve wanted to make this change the last few years. I have to work harder than most people at maintaining emotional stability and equilibrium, and I’ve assembled a deep toolbox of behavioral tools and coping mechanisms to be the capable and high-functioning person most people know me as. This is why I exercise most days, eat a ridiculous amount of leafy greens, always make time for writing, and leverage many other habits of thought that are less visible. But sometimes, like now, that’s not quite enough.
For a fair amount of my thirties, these careful habits and talk therapy failed to keep me functional in the way I needed to be, and I had to rely on medication to fill the gap. I was officially diagnosed and put on psychotropic drugs, and while this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal with so many people on anti-depressants prescribed by their primary-care doctors, this felt like failure to me, and I spent most of my time on medication trying to get off it. I did manage to do just that, but now, close to a decade later, I have to tell myself, again, that understanding that you need help and seeking it out is about the farthest away from failure as one can get.
In Training for Love, you can see exactly this and some of my very personal history in Charlie, and now, after reading this, maybe you can see me more clearly as well.
Yes, that's Chicago in the background!
Yes, that's Chicago in the background!
In honor of my romance coming out (and to keep myself from watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Law and Order like Charlie does in my book), I’ve plowed through several other romances this month. One, in particular, was just released and touched me deeply since it focuses specifically on seeing yourself and how another person giving you the freedom and support to do that introspective work without fear of judgment of the outcome is the most precious, priceless gift. Of course, there’s also humor and food and a whole bunch of aristocratic royalty to spice it up. Modern English by Rachel Spangler touched all the bases, even including a baseball metaphor or two.
But also maybe go forth and review Upended while you’re at it? It could use some love on Amazon or Goodreads.
Upended: Kabak, Amanda: 9781948559577: Books
Upended: A Novel by Amanda Kabak
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Amanda Kabak

Writer of software and literature - Novels: UPENDED and THE MATHEMATICS OF CHANGE. Denizen of the in-between. In ardent pursuit of making an impact.

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