Twilight: Depression and Dances

Twilight Recap: Bella has fully recovered from the incident in the parking lot, but she is discouraged by her repeated dreams of the unreachable Edward Cullen and his overt unwillingness to speak to her despite her attempts to be polite to him in class.

Twilight, Chapter 4: Invitations

   Despite my outright lies, the tenor of my e-mails alerted Renée to my depression, and she called a few times, worried. I tried to convince her it was just the weather that had me down.

Last week it was pointed out in the comments that Bella's frequent mental dismissal of herself while still feeling superior to others was not, in fact, inconsistent with depression. And now that that's been pointed out, it's impossible for me to not see this week's segment in the same light -- indeed, Bella even calls out in the first sentence here that she is depressed and her mother realizes it.

No one should have to "justify" being depressed. Depression is, in fact, something that many people suffer regardless of any outside cause. However, if we were looking for causes for Bella to be depressed, I'd say she actually has a few pretty good reasons to be depressed -- or perhaps it would be better phrasing to say that I have a hard time identifying any support structures to help her out of her depression. So today's post is going to be pretty sympathetic.

Let me count the ways. Bella's mother is a functional child who has monopolized Bella's own childhood into taking care of her, and who now doesn't need Bella anymore with the appearance of Baseball Phil. Bella's father is a provider who has given child support, paid for extensive summer visits, arranged for a car, and paid for a hospital visit for Bella, but who deliberately works over the weekend or goes on long "fishing trips" to the reservation to avoid having to converse with his daughter. Parental support for conquering depression: zero.

In the meantime, Bella is exceedingly popular at school, but her popularity is apparently due entirely to her good looks and her novelty as the new city girl in town. Whether this is actually true for her girl friends like Jessica is debatable, but I recognize that depression could make Bella feel this way. As for her ever-increasing entourage of boy admirers, it seems reasonable to assume that Bella doesn't feel like she can engage in an open dialog of her emotions, not if the boys in question are trying to go the Stealth Nice Guy route into a de facto romantic relationship with her. Peer support for recognizing and combating depression: zero.

Add to all this that Bella has just experienced a majorly traumatic life event. She very nearly died that day in the parking lot. In the shock of the situation, she leaped into defensive anger, and then in the days to follow, she sunk into a awed gratitude -- but it's extremely likely that there's more than just gratitude going through her mind right now. In the wake of a major non-accident, it's very normal to feel subdued. There can be a lot of feelings to deal with in the wake of almost died and it can be hard to grapple with those feelings when, you know, nothing "really" happened. But the fact that you didn't die and you're safe doesn't mean that day was a normal day like any other and it doesn't mean that Bella wouldn't be grappling with a lot of conflicting emotions in the wake of it.

And, of course, the accident has made her a celebrity in an environment where she just wanted to blend in and be left alone, which reinforces her fears that her "friends" are only interested in her drama, as well as the notion that her mortality is a source of interesting stories.

Then there's the problem of Edward. Prior to the accident, he was actually somewhat warm (if intrusive) to Bella in their Biology class. Bella has made it clear that she's intensely attracted to Edward and the morning of the accident she was looking forward to seeing him and hoping that some kind of unlikely romance might bloom. Instead, he ended up saving her life, which should have brought them closer together (if romance novels have taught me anything) but instead has mysteriously resulted in him absolutely shunning her.

So. Not only did the near-accident bring her to abrupt terms with her mortality, further highlight her fears that her friends don't care about her as a person, and exacerbate her relationship with her parents, it also ruined her hopes of a romance with the one boy she was interested in. And meanwhile, Forks is a never-ending parade of cloudy days and rainy nights. Knowing my own history with depression and S.A.D., I'd be kind of where Bella is now, too.

   Mike, at least, was pleased by the obvious coolness between me and my lab partner. I could see he'd been worried that Edward's daring rescue might have impressed me, and he was relieved that it seemed to have the opposite effect. He grew more confident, sitting on the edge of my table to talk before Biology class started, ignoring Edward as completely as he ignored us. 
   The rain continued heavily, though, and the weeks passed.
   Jessica made me aware of another event looming on the horizon -- she called the first Tuesday of March to ask my permission to invite Mike to the girls' choice spring dance in two weeks.
   "Are you sure you don't mind . . . you weren't planning to ask him?" she persisted when I told her I didn't mind in the least.
   "No, Jess, I'm not going," I assured her. Dancing was glaringly outside my range of abilities.
    "It will be really fun." Her attempt to convince me was halfhearted. I suspected that Jessica enjoyed my inexplicable popularity more than my actual company.

A part of me wants to make a throw-away joke here about not being able to imagine at all why Jessica might not enjoy Bella's company, but instead I'll put on my Serious Business cap and point out that this is an unfortunate side-effect of depression: depressed people are often not "fun" to be around and thus they are shunned and isolated. It becomes a vicious cycle of depression and loneliness and a lack of external support structures to help overcome depression.

So while I don't blame Jessica for not being dazzled by Bella's morose personality, it makes me sad that no one -- not her parents, not her teachers, not her friends, not her school counselors -- feels the need to step in and offer some serious, honest-to-goodness help to Bella as she struggles with her depression.

   The next day, I was surprised that Jessica wasn't her usual gushing self in Trig and Spanish. She was silent as she walked by my side between classes, and I was afraid to ask her why. If Mike had turned her down, I was the last person she would want to tell.
   My fears were strengthened during lunch when Jessica sat as far from Mike as possible, chatting animatedly with Eric. Mike was unusually quiet.
   Mike was still quiet as he walked me to class, the uncomfortable look on his face a bad sign. But he didn't broach the subject until I was in my seat and he was perched on my desk. As always, I was electrically aware of Edward sitting close enough to touch, as distant as if he were merely an invention of my imagination.
   "So," Mike said, looking at the floor, "Jessica asked me to the spring dance."
   "That's great." I made my voice bright and enthusiastic. "You'll have a lot of fun with Jessica."

The other positive thing I can say here is that I'm glad that Bella is actively working to get rid of Mike: she doesn't want him, Jessica does, and so she reassures Jessica clearly and candidly that Bella doesn't consider herself to have any kind of claim on Mike. It's not that I dislike Mike, but if Bella really isn't interested in him and he can't or won't to take her social cues, and she doesn't feel comfortable telling him more overtly that she is Not Interested, then this seems like a good next-best step.

I also like that Bella is being, in her own way, very sensitive towards Jessica. She tells Jessica that she "doesn't mind in the least" if Jessica asks Mike, which is a candid endorsement of Jessica's suit and not a grudging passive-aggressive offer -- Bella is making it very clear to Jessica that this isn't going to damage their friendship and that Bella isn't going to be bad-mouthing Jessica around school the next day. And then, Bella actually notices that Jessica is subdued and thinks long and hard about asking her about it -- she decides that Jessica would probably prefer not to share with Bella, and whether wrong or right, this shows that Bella is actually considering things from another person's point of view. You know, like a real friend would do. I think that's awesome.

The fact also, that Bella can speak up and reassure Mike that he'll "have a lot of fun with Jessica" in a bright, enthusiastic voice is also a great thing from my perspective. Bella's enthusiasm should leave absolutely no room to question whether or not the news disappoints her, and it goes a long way towards confirming my beliefs that Bella has been sending off strong Not Interested signals and Mike has simply been ignoring them. This passage, for me, puts Bella in a very sympathetic "wow, that could have been me in high school" light, and I like to call those out when we see them.

   "Well . . ." He floundered as he examined my smile, clearly not happy with my response. "I told her I had to think about it."
   "Why would you do that?" I let disapproval color my tone, though I was relieved he hadn't given her an absolute no.
    His face was bright red as he looked down again. Pity shook my resolve.

But... I don't really like this.

First of all, it doesn't really feel like Bella. I can imagine that her resolve might be shaken, but in my mind her resolve would be challenged most by the uncomfortableness of the situation: if Mike can't pick up from the obvious cues that Bella is sending out that she is Not Interested, then more direct action will have to be taken, and direct negative action seems fairly anathema to Bella's character.

Pity, on the other hand, is not something I associate with Bella, and I don't mean that in a negative way. She's passive, yes, and she often doesn't like to voice her feelings beyond slamming the odd car door here and there, and she likes to appear to go along with the rules in order to keep the peace, but she's not usually motivated by pity. The only really piteous thing I can think of her doing so far is giving Renee and Baseball Phil marital space, and I wouldn't even really characterize that as pity. Sensitive, yes. Piteous, no.

It's probably a mistake to harp too much on Bella's pity here, as well as the guilt that she's about to experience in turning down Mike. But if we take it as truth, we have to add a new layer to Bella's personality. I've already argued that Bella is laboring under the expectations of being a Good Girl, and I almost have to wonder if this pity is imposed on her by an internal voice that This is how you are supposed to feel. She should be relieved at being almost rid of Mike... and all personality indicators thus far leads me to believe that she would feel that relief... but she doesn't. She feels pity and guilt.

Why? Is it a simple function of the society that surrounds us, that Good Girls don't turn disappoint other people's expectations? But if that were so, where was that inner societal sensor several years ago when Bella was patiently explaining to Charlie that if he wanted to see her for the summer, he was going to have to buy a plan ticket to California? Is it some kind of guilt based on her interpretation of her parent's relationship, where Bella feels she's following in Renee's footsteps if she breaks a man's heart? But if that's the case, why does Bella seem so scornful of Charlie's residual love for Renee? (Or am I interpreting that apparent scorn incorrectly?) There's so many layers here, but I can't seem to reconcile them.

   "I was wondering if . . . well, if you might be planning to ask me."
   I paused for a moment, hating the wave of guilt that swept through me. But I saw, from the corner of my eye, Edward's head tilt reflexively in my direction.
   "Mike, I think you should tell her yes," I said.
   "Did you already ask someone?" Did Edward notice how Mike's eyes flickered in his direction?

And now I take back what I said about not disliking Mike. I don't like Mike. It could not be more clear that Bella is Not Interested, but he's pushing this issue like Bella owes him some kind of explanation. It's rude and utterly unfair to Bella; Bella is being clear and straightforward while trying not to be insulting or cruel.

Of particular annoyance to me is Mike's demand to know if Bella has asked someone else: news flash, Mike, it's none of your business. The important thing you need to know is that Bella doesn't want to go to the dance with you; it doesn't matter if she's chosen another boy from school to take with her or if she's a lesbian or if she's not interested in the whole lot of you. Not. Your. Business.

Since Bella has not had any kind of relationship with Mike except "sitting at the same cafeteria table together in a group" and "letting him carry her books because it's too awkward to make a scene", she doesn't owe him an explanation and the only appropriate answer here is, "Thank you, I'm sorry for any misunderstanding, I hope we can all still be friends." Or something. My point here is that I'm sad that "demanding stalker boy" is apparently the template that every boy from Forks is cast from. *sigh*

   "No," I assured him. "I'm not going to the dance at all."
   "Why not?" Mike demanded.
   I didn't want to get into the safety hazards that dancing presented, so I quickly made new plans.
   "I'm going to Seattle that Saturday," I explained. I needed to get out of town anyway -- it was suddenly the perfect time to go.

And while normally I would be frustrated with Bella for pulling this excuse out of the air and thereby not being done with Mike 100% once and for all because he can still fantasize that maybe they can get together after the dance, I'm going to give her a pass on the passive-aggressive behavior for once because I feel like Mike is being intensely aggressive here with all his demanding.

Sure, Bella could say "Mike, I'm just not that into you, I'm sorry," but I'm also aware that she's in a precarious position as the new girl turning down the wealthy, attractive, popular boy and there's a lot of potential for danger here. I mean, I'd like to assume that Mr. Banner would step in if Mike got out of line, but considering he doesn't notice Edward "Killing-Me-Softly-With-His-Eyes" Cullen, I'm not hopeful that the Forks teaching personnel have any formal training in violence prevention.

   "Can't you go some other weekend?"
   "Sorry, no," I said. "So you shouldn't make Jess wait any longer -- it's rude."

...almost as rude as making me have this conversation.

And now, credit where credit is due: "Sorry, no," in this context is pretty full of win for me. Yay for Bella for being direct even though it's not easy for her to do so.

   "Yeah, you're right," he mumbled, and turned, dejected, to walk back to his seat. I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temples, trying to push the guilt and sympathy out of my head. Mr. Banner began talking. I sighed and opened my eyes.
   And Edward was staring at me curiously, that same, familiar edge of frustration even more distinct now in his black eyes.

I realize that Edward is supposed to be frustrated here because he's straining to read Bella's mind and all he's getting is a blank where he usually expects thoughts to be, but all I can think in context of this sentence is that Edward is frustrated because if Bella doesn't want to be with the angry, demanding, controlling, attractive jerk in her Biology class, then what chance does Edward have?


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depizan said...

Holy shit. Are people trying to make it appear that the atheist community is filled with entitled asshats? Because they're doing an awesome job of it.

Why are people so invested in defending Elevator Guy? WHY? It makes them look worse than Elevator Guy.

Kit Whitfield said...

That is an interesting one. I think the main advice I'd give (assuming you want it) is this: men who set up situations to minimise the risk to themselves need to remember that they are not, in fact, the most vulnerable person in that situation. And if they forget that, then what they're actually doing is setting up a situation in which they have maximum control - which is exactly what a sexual predator does.

I remember, for instance, a conversation online a while ago about a Nice Guy who was hassling someone by continually running to catch up with her and then pretending they'd just bumped into each other coincidentally, or jumping down rows of seats to sit next to her. Did he intend to scare her? No; probably he was just scared she'd reject him and doing everything he could to make it difficult for her. But you know, that wasn't even being like a sexual predator: it was being a sexual predator. It was stalking. Most predators trap their victims by persuasion and getting control of the situation. This guy was scaring the girl and making her miserable. He may have thought he had good intentions, but actually he was preying on her.

And he was doing it because he was only thinking about minimising his own risks - which included the risk she'd exercise her right of consent in a way that hurt his feelings. He was was so preoccupied with his own fears that the only way he was comfortable was for her to have no rights at all.

If you want to avoid creeping women out, you have to accept that you can't control the situation. She may do something that upsets or disappoints or embarrasses you: your strategy should be to get able to deal with that rather than trying to prevent it. Safety and control are closely linked, and if you're a man hitting on a woman, you have to acknowledge that for her to have enough of it, you can't have all of it.

Izzy said...

probably he was just scared she'd reject him and doing everything he could to make it difficult for her.

And this, right here, is the problem.

Guys. Dudes. People. If any part of hitting on a woman is motivated by thinking "this will make it hard for her to turn me down", you are doing it wrong. And you're being an asshat.

You're being an asshat because manipulating someone into doing something she'd rather not is a dick move.

You're doing it wrong because...okay, it shouldn't work, and it *won't* work in many circumstances--many women know what emotional manipulation looks/feels/sounds like, and it will only piss us off--but *if* it works? She accepts because you've made it too hard for her not to accept. She wants to avoid an awkward situation.

Know what she doesn't want?


Do you really want a pity fuck? Or an obligation fuck? Or to be the guy she talks about with her girlfriends in tones of oh-I-might-as-well-I-guess resignation? Do you want to be the sexual equivalent of cafeteria food, or a visit to Great Aunt Hattie?


Ana Mardoll said...

Piling on with the anecdata:

Speaking as a woman who is (a) married and (b) was rarely comfortable with going out with strangers when I wasn't, the nicest way to be hit on in public -- if I *must* be hit on in public -- would be someone approaching me in a well-lit (I need to be able to identify you), open (lots of ways to flee), public (i.e., people, especially other women) area and saying,

"Hi. I'm sorry, but I really want to tell you that I think you're quite beautiful, and if you're interested in ever going out with me, here's my phone number written on this napkin (*places napkin on the table/bar next to woman -- do not make her reach out to you to get it*). Please have a wonderful evening, and I'll leave you to your drink/friends/conversation/whatever now."

That would be my ideal situation. Of course, I'd probably never call, because (a) married and (b) stranger BUT I wouldn't really dial up to frightened in that situation and -- assuming you really did clear out of the space and didn't keep staring at me all night long -- I'd feel like you respected my boundaries at least enough to make me feel safe and comfortable and not put on the spot for an answer RIGHT THEN AND THERE.

And if I was someone else, it would be easy enough to either call you later or to say "Wait!" and then we could have a conversation right then, but it would be clear that I had chosen the conversation and it wasn't being forced on me.

Pthalo said...

Late to the party, but since lesbian input was asked for way up thread, I wanted to add the helpful observation that among lesbians, the way it works is that it's the woman who does the asking. But then David appologised so I wanted to thank him for reconsidering the matter and appologising.

Also, about the angular brackets thing, it's not really discus' fault. It's the way html works. Anything between angular brackets will be interpreted as an html instruction to the browser about how something should be displayed.

But if you want to use angular brackets, you can! Instead of < type &lt; and instead of > type &gt;. &lt; stands for "less than" and &gt; stands for "greater than". This way you are telling the computer that <sarcasm> is not an instruction for the browser, but something to be displayed as is. And if you want to explain this to someone else later on, you can use &amp; to say produce an & sign, like so: &amp;gt;

You don't even have to remember &gt; It's enough to type &lt;sarcasm>, but it's the less than sign which causes the confusion.

And for the people who are used to BB code (that is [i] for italics and [b] for bold), the rule of thumb is use [] on forums (the places where :rofl: will show up as an image of a smiley face rolling around) and <> on blogs (everywhere else). So, <i> for italics and <b> for bold. Those are the two that you can translate directly. the code for making a link or an image is slightly different. That said, it's not a big deal. If you type [i] here on a blog and it doesn't make your text italic, people will generally understand what you meant.

I want to appologise if anyone finds it off putting that my entire response to this thoughtful and interesting debate is a html lesson. I found it an interesting read and really did enjoy it, I'm just having trouble putting my thoughts into words -- there are a lot of comments here and i'm not sure I can add anything new. It seemed like some people up thread were frustrated by some problems they were having with html, and so I wanted to help alleviate that frustration if I could, even if I couldn't add any deeper insights to a discussion I've been enjoying reading.

Ana Mardoll said...

No apologies necessary for me, at least. I'm an xml/xslt junkie, so it was interesting to learn that html has the same escape characters. Thank you!

Izzy said...

Yeah, pretty much.

I'm not the most into going out with strangers, but I've been approached in respectful and non-respectful ways. The approach above is pretty much the respectful way.

Kit Whitfield said...

Do you really want a pity fuck? Or an obligation fuck?

If the guy is desperate enough, I fear the answer may be 'Yes, if the alternative is a rejection.'

Also, if a guy sees women as nothing but machines to be manipulated, then again, probably yes. What she thinks, beyond 'I will/won't have sex with him', was never high on his list of interests.

Dav said...

Randy, take a look at the Schroedinger's Rapist link, if you haven't already. (Was it linked in this thread?

You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.

If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she’s saying, “I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.” It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.”

On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.

Dollars to donuts, the woman alone in the elevator at 4 am who had just asked people to stop hitting on her was *not* giving the green light. And in some circumstances, it's probably just a good idea to take a rain check - there are lots of women in the world, and if you see someone you think is cute in a dark alley behind an abandoned warehouse at 3 in the morning, it's probably better just to leave her alone.

I'm usually a loner by nature, and when I'm open to conversation, I give off signs. I think as long as you're waiting for *both* of you to be safe, approaching lone women is fine. It does mean you'll need to cultivate an extra awareness for what signals set off alarm bells for women, and not acting like a creep, but people should be doing that anyway.

Brin Bellway said...

How much better might the world be if someone had sucked John Wilkes Booth or James Earl Ray into a boring, annoying conversation long enough for them to miss their trains? At least a little bit, right?

Depends. Ever see that Red Dwarf episode "Tikka to Ride"?

Kit Whitfield said...

I was a classmate of Jared Lee Loughner

Really? What was he like?

Randy Owens said...

Actually, even though he wasn't just a classmate, but a teammate of mine when we split into groups for class activities, he mad so little impression on me that, when I heard what happened and that he'd gone to my school, I dredged through my memory, first when I heard the name, and later when I saw a picture, and didn't remember him at all. (The class was in Spring 2010, so it had been over half a year, and I suck with faces.) It wasn't until several months later, when I was going through some of the papers from that class that I happened to be the one from the team to have kept, and saw his signature on them, that it finally clicked. Very creepy moment, that.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ohhh, you're trying to tempt me to go OT, aren't you? I'm about halfway through Learning XML now (I already know most of what's in there, just filling in the corners before I get more advanced), and XML Schema is next, and after that the XSLT book. (all O'Reillys) I might harass you if I get into trouble. ;)

Any time! I don't know everything, but I know a lot. :D

Randy Owens said... need to keep your focus on the book because writing - I'd be prepared to bet a fiver that brain scans would confirm this - comes from a different part of the brain than the part that thinks about other people.
Is this fiver in pounds, euros, or dollars? Because I'd bet that when you're writing characters, that's exactly the part of the brain you use.

ETA: Of course, that's not using it the same way you meant using it, but it would still be the same area, and I don't think the usual current brain scans could distinguish yet. (That newfangled one that can show what you're seeing might be a different matter.)

Timothy (TRiG) said...

You are being a type. The type is this: the man who has made some effort to understand feminism and a female perspective, congratulates himself on having it all taped, and turns into a complete asshole when women disagree with him about these issues he's studied so very carefully and knows so much about.

I'm sometimes afraid of that happening to me. I've hung around a few feminist blogs, and learned a lot of stuff, but ... it's still not instinctive, if you know what I mean. I think I've so far managed to avoid falling into this trap, mainly by keeping my trap shut most of the time. And when I do talk about feminist issues, it's usually on my links blog, so every second sentence has a link to someone who knows more than I do.

Still, I'm afraid that this is a trap I'll fall into one day. If you ever notice me behaving like this, please give me a slap and tell me to wake up. Thanks.


Amarie said...

*completely crawls out of storm shelter and wipes at healing eyes*

Aww! Thank you, Kit! Really, that means a lot coming from you. I just…honestly don’t think that I have anything to say to David. No matter how many times I read and re-read his posts, I have no idea how he can make sense of what he says. Its ignorance and immaturity incarnate to me, and so I don’t bother with responding to it. Plus, I sincerely think that a Troll found his way to Ana’s blog. Yet another reason to ignore him.

Oh…WOW, bekabot. That certainly sounds like an interesting alter-ego. I’m thinking of him/it/her as a ghost/spirit that actually has more power and influence than the living. It’s incredibly interesting and…wow. Any weaknesses? :O

Randy Owens said...

I'm an xml/xslt junkie, so it was interesting to learn that html has the same escape characters.Ohhh, you're trying to tempt me to go OT, aren't you? I'm about halfway through Learning XML now (I already know most of what's in there, just filling in the corners before I get more advanced), and XML Schema is next, and after that the XSLT book. (all O'Reillys) I might harass you if I get into trouble. ;)

Randy Owens said...

How much better might the world be if someone had sucked John Wilkes Booth or James Earl Ray into a boring, annoying conversation long enough for them to miss their trains? At least a little bit, right?I was a classmate of Jared Lee Loughner (the guy who shot Congresswoman Giffords in January), so yeah, I've had a lot of thoughts like this.

Timothy (TRiG) said...

I was looking for the original post where Dawkins spoke up to say that since women wore burkas in the middle East that Skepchick shouldn't point out that asking someone up to your room at 4am in an elevator is creepy and guys shouldn't do it, but I can't remember the name of the blog.

I'm in a rush now, so I'm not going to dig it up myself, but I can tell you that this happened on Pharyngula.


renniejoy32 said...

FYI, people are still attacking Skepchick's POV:

Randy Owens said...

My similar moment actually came just earlier in this thread. For a long time now, I've pretty much limited myself to talking to lone women (of whom there are often rather few, and I now suspect perhaps for this reason, at least in part), because I'm bashful enough as it is, and interrupting two or more people having their own discussion would just be beyond the pale for me. And it hadn't occurred to me that it could come across creepy predatory-like that way. Especially when combined with, shall we say, peculiar modes of dress, which once people get to know me, they realize it's misleading, but of course I'm talking about people who don't know me at all yet (although often ones who've seen me many times; I'm a creature of habit, coffeehouse-wise), so no help there.

hapax said...

So, if you don’t really care about your audience, then what’s the point of thinking about what you put on the page?

Mmm. I think I disagree with this bit.

I mean, one of my major soapbox speeches is "All stories exist as a collaboration between the writer / teller and the reader / hearer." So it's not that I don't think that audience is unimportant, at all.


I also don't think that the writers should be thinking about the audience when they craft their stories. The artist's responsibility is to the art, not to those who consume the art. Thinking about "what message will this send my readers?" is the first step down the road to propaganda*.

This doesn't mean that I think that an artist should be self-indulgent, spinning out fantasies merely to please zirself. I mean, zie can (after all, that's what most of MY writing is, if I'm honest), and if other people like them, that's great. But to raise storytelling to an "art", an author should challenge zirself, in craft and theme and narrative, not merely shift the person zie is trying to please.

And on the other side of the page, the attitude you describe has more than a whiff of entitlement, the sort of thing that led disgruntled fans to threaten J.K. Rowling, because they didn't like where the story they felt they "owned" was going.

None of which means that criticizing a story for the "message" it sends to readers isn't fair game, let alone vitally important when it's a successful piece of pop culture like TWILIGHT or HARRY POTTER. But in these cases, it is important to keep one's approval or disapproval of the artist (zir personality, religion, behavior), the story (the plot, the characters, the writing) and the message ("girls should be content to stay home and get marriage rather than to go to college"; "Unforgivable Curses are gallant when they're cast by the good guys") distinct.

*If you heard a loud crash coming from England, that may have been the sound of Kit Whitfield falling off her chair in surprise. We've had the argument about artists and audience many times, and I think I may slowly, slowly, inching closer to her perspective.

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