On romanticising illness and the problem with token characters

I am livid.

I was just minding my own business, having some cookies and scrolling through my Facebook feed when I stumbled upon a film trailer.

I almost threw my laptop across the room.

For the sake of maintaining this post relatively neutral towards a particular side of the entertainment industry, I shall not name it, but the following description of the plot might be enough of a giveaway.

Sick girl meets guy. Idolises him. Is willing to give up everything for him. She gets even sicker but it doesn’t matter cos LOVE AND ROMANCE AND AHHHHH A CUTE BOY.

Does it sound oddly familiar yet you cannot really pinpoint which film in particular I am talking about?

Well, that’s kind of the problem and the reason why I’m writing this rant of a post.

Recently, I have noticed that this is becoming a recurrent, popular plotline. And it is a plotline that I am not very fond of and you really shouldn’t be either.

As someone with a chronic illness, this type of overly romanticised approach to chronic illness is not helping. At all. Believe me, the last thing I need is someone telling me that the one thing that will save me from my misery is romance.

Thanks but no thanks.

Chronically ill people are still like any other person, with likes and dislikes, passions. And as such it’s horrifyingly disappointing that we are brought down to one thing: miserable people in desperate need of a thing that makes them feel alive.

And what is even more so infuriating is that, that thing, has got to be some silly cliche romance.

Why can it not be something else? I don’t know, them deciding they will become a world-class chef? or a fashion designer? Devote themselves to religion or even just having a blast with their family and friends?

I just hate the fact that the industry just doesn’t seem to get that chronic illness is not what defines a person. I can tell you, as can many others I’m sure, I HAVE a chronic illness, I AM NOT a chronic illness. There’s more to me than the fact that I am sick so can you please stop using it as a token proof of “diversification” of the industry?

Because even at that, you are not making the industry more diverse. You are not telling anything new, just the very same boy-meets-girl story with illness just thrown about to make it “diverse”.

If you want diversity, at least get it right. Show me, for example, a story about a kid who wants to save trees and happens to have diabetes. Tthe plot doesn’t revolve around the fact that he is sick with diabetes but around the fact that he is saving trees.

And no, I cannot fully blame you for romanticising, because I myself am aware that the lines are blurry, for even when I was writing The Hidden Ones and The Forgotten Ones it was very hard for me to not end up romanticising Lupus (but even then, I still kept myself from doing so, going back and checking every single time so that I didn’t make it sound like having Lupus is amazing). What I can blame you for, however, is the fact that this romantisation is just a by-product of the silly need of the industry to have some “token-something” character in order to claim to be representing “different voices”.

Because as previously said, you really are not showing said “different voices”, you are just using token anything to claim that you are.

Even with this new hype for the “chronically ill token character”, you are failing so bad. You are not showing the real struggle that comes with medications, day-to-day problems with the illness.

Shocker, but just because you throw in a hospital scene/fainting scene/ crying scene doesn’t mean you are doing the job right.

But going back to the very basis of the reason behind this rant…

Is it impossible to have romance movies in which the girl is not dying and therefore she doesn’t need some boy/girl to take her out of her misery? Is it too much to ask? This concerningly, increasingly popular plot device just seems like a modern take on the damsel in distress to me. And in a way, it’s worse.

Because *shockingly, I know* being sick isn’t romantic in the slightest.

There’s nothing romantic about being in a hospital or being stuck at home, bedridden and in pain.

Like, really, I’m not lying to you.

As difficult to believe as it sounds, being sick is not romantic at all.

*sigh*

If anything, there is only one movie which I would say channels the feelings of a chronically ill person well: Love and Other Drugs. The one film I could actually relate to the main character when it came to her struggles. As for books, Girl in the Dark and The Two Kinds of Decay. Highly recommend if you’re looking for something that really represents different voices.

Anyhow,

Rant over.

Just stop romanticising what’s not to be romanticised.

Thank you.

M.

 

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On coffeehouses

Hello, long time no see

With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, and a cup of espresso in my hand at 1am, I came to an abrupt realisation:

I need to go to a coffeehouse.

I have not updated this blog in ages, but as you might have (or not, that’s okay) been aware, I was living in Bratislava, Slovakia for a very long time. 

I am currently studying in the Netherlands, living in the Hague for almost 3 months now and although I thought I had not been uprooted in Slovakia, turns out, I actually am to one thing (or maybe two):

Coffee. Effing. Houses.

Or to simplify the concept: cafes.

I had grown so accustomed to just heading for the city centre, entering a cafe of my choice (there were too many options to ever really struggle), ordering a luscious-looking piece of cake with some Viedenská káva and enjoying it well into the evening without a care in the world. It was expected from me to do so, and highly encouraged by the endless selection of cafes scattered throughout the Bratislava old town and neighbouring areas.

I never really thought I would be missing that particular scene, that particular aspect of my life in Slovakia.

As a tween growing into a teen, I appreciated the overly trendy cafes in the repertoire – with an order consisting of cappuccino + cheesecake or something similar. As I turned sixteen, the change to more off-the-path establishments came, and so did my dietary preferences, opting for espressos or Viedenská káva (if feeling indulgent) with slices of heartier cakes, or perhaps a selection of biscuits…  And at 18, when writing and studying really became a day-to-day routine, so did my visits to what I would define as the “second-living-rooms” of Bratislava – tiny, cosy places with blankets at hand and lighting so dim it called for naps as my nostrils took in the smell of coffee and my hands held a wine glass… or a coffee cup… or anything for that matter. All while the hustle and bustle around me went on: two old ladies having a conversation about their sons-in-law, three students arguing about whether their parents took part in the 1989 revolutions or not, a mother and father having some cake while their child slept in grandma’s arms…

There really isn’t anything similar here, and my concerns are growing. With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I worry whether home will be the one place where I can get my work done… It’s just not the same to work alone in my room, and do so in a place bustling with people, objects, ideas, potential lives to write about…

I would have never guessed something as simple as the Bratislava coffeehouse scene, which I took for granted for so many years, would play such an important role. Not only in my day-to-day routine, but in my lifestyle, my writing, and by default my personality.

For now, all I can do is mourn for those atmospheric evenings in the Bratislava old town, sitting by a window, sipping on Viedenská káva and digging into a superb slice of poppy seed cake (a speciality this time of year) as the temperatures outside drop but the ambiance inside the coffeehouse becomes increasingly pleasant… So pleasant, so awfully pleasant, that my fingers reach for pen and paper or set on my laptop’s keyboard and I begin to write.

Love, Geraldine

In any case, here are some of my cafe suggestions, in case you are interested in checking out what I so much long for!

My favourite cafes in Bratislava, in no particular order (because it’s impossible for me to choose):

  • Dobre&Dobré (Nedbalova 13, Staré Mesto, Bratislava)

An interesting place right in the Stará Tržnica building. Cosy and elegant at the same time (not to mention incredibly picturesque), it is the perfect place to stop for a coffee either solo or with a couple of very good friends. One thing I really appreciated about the place is that it is run by an NGO that aims to increase the inclusiveness of homeless people in the workforce. In terms of food, the menu is quite limited but the coffee is amazing, and when it gets too hot out, it’s a great place for lemonade! And if you’re lucky, you might be able to listen to some live music!

  • Foxford (Staré Grunty 24 – Galéria Cubicon, Karlova Ves, Bratislava.)

There are a couple of locations for this one, but my favourite is definitely the one in Cubicon. It is quite small in comparison to the flagship one in the city centre (which I highly recommend too), but there is something about it that makes me like it more. It has a more hipstery-feel, with a bright red Volkswagen van inside (yes, you can have coffee inside the van too), and books covering the entirety of a wall. Just like the flagship in Obchodna, it shares premises with Martinus, one of the most popular, if not the most popular bookstore chain in Slovakia, so it’s perfect for buying a book and start reading it just minutes later in a cosy nook! My recommendation for this one: the raspberry brownie cheesecake is to die for, and they serve a pretty great flat white.

  • Eleven Books and Coffee (Baštová 345/9, Staré Mesto, Bratislava.)

Located in the heart of the city centre, just metres away from the iconic Michalská brána, this is a very pleasant place to spend the afternoon at. From all the places, this is the one where the biggest recommendation is not coffee-based, but chocolate-based. Their hot chocolate was my salvation through the bitter January cold – so decadent you could still get tiny bits of dark chocolate that had yet to melt fully. It is also a bookstore, specialising in used books, where you can get books in many languages. Pretty nice selection of books in German, since they are located in the same building as the Austrian Institute.

  • La Putika (Panská 12, Staré Mesto, Bratislava AND Klobučnícka 4, Staré Mesto, Bratislava.)

For this one, it is just impossible to choose between those two locations. As far as I know, there are a couple more locations in Bratislava, but these are the two I frequented, and I must say I loved them equally.

The Panská location has more of a traditional cafe vibe to it and tends to be less crowded than other locations. From all cafes I have mentioned, this was the one closest to the city library, so it was my excuse to get out of the library and just attempt to study there instead. The coffee selection is great, but so are their wine and beer ones so decisions are tough to make. They also have a decent dessert selection.

The Klobučnícka location is a Bratislava favourite because it has that living room feel to it that many appreciate. It’s like being at home but not really at the same time. The decoration makes the place feel oddly familiar, and oddly nostalgic even if it’s just your first time visiting. This location is always crowded, which can be a plus side or a minus side, according to your preferences. In any case, this location is just across from Dobre&Dobré so if any of the places are full, you can just cross the street and go to the other one 😉 and then go back and forth, endlessly, until it is late enough to go home. Because at the end, that’s what cafes are for: enjoying the transition from afternoon to evening to night. Or at least that’s what they mean to me.

  • Štúr (Štúrova 8, Staré Mesto, Bratislava.)

A classic. Located in Štúrova, it is very close to Comenius University and therefore you might run into students working far more than in other cafes I have mentioned. Out of all the places I have mentioned, this is one of the most work-friendly places, but it is still a great place to lounge in one of the sofas at the back with some friends and have a chat over coffee. The Viedenská káva here is one of my favourites in Bratislava, and so is their čoko-lekvárová torta – which I would best describe as a creamier take on a Sachertorte, replacing the apricot jam with a raspberry one.

In any case, what even is Viedenská káva?

Literally translates as Vienna coffee, although in Vienna this is knowns as a Franziskaner. To simplify, it is half coffee, half milk, topped up with whipped cream and potentially, though not always, chocolate powder.

Image result for viedenská káva

I gave up on Camp NaNoWriMo – afterthoughts

I never thought it would happen, but it was meant to happen at some point I suppose.

I have always tried my best to commit myself to NaNoWriMo events regardless of the situation since I find that I write best when under pressure. And there is never a drive as strong enough for me than trying to get a first draft done within a 30 day period.

This time around, however, I gave it up.

The reasons are varied, ranging from time constraints to stress, as well as a couple of unforeseen situations throughout the first half of July.  But at the end, it all came down to one thing and one thing alone:

I was lost.

Even back when I was a pantser, I always somehow managed to string a storyline (even if it wasn’t all that great) and I would finish whatever project I was working on. But this time around, even after several months of preparation and planning…

I had no idea of where my story was going.

I had read about this sort of thing before, but I never thought it would happen to me. After being so acquainted with my characters and my setting… it just seemed so unlikely that I would not be able to write their story.

So I thought and thought and thought again of what was causing the problem. Turns out, ideas can feel exhausted.

The Rara Avis was meant to be a prequel to the world of THE HIDDEN ONES, and as such, many of the characters I had already written about which in itself was already a hefty problem. But the biggest issue was that: the characters in The Rara Avis had extremely similar problems to those of The Hidden Ones. It felt like I was writing the very same story, just in another epoch, and from someone else’s perspective.

And when I did try to make the plot differ from that of The Hidden Ones, it all went out of control and I could no longer figure out just where was the plot heading.

Thus, my decision to give up on Camp, for the very first time and with a very heavy heart.

The Rara Avis was a project I was incredibly excited about (still am, if I am honest) but until I really figure out the purpose of it, it will remain behind closed doors.

As for now, hopefully, a fresh idea like Mors Tua, Vita Mea will restore the creative flow and I will be able to pick up The Rara Avis soon.

As for the Camp NaNoWriMo campers that were able to push through – I hope it went great for you guys!!! NaNoWriMo events are, after all, a great way to get ideas set down and ready to be worked on!

Hugs,

Geraldine M.

 

My Camp NaNoWriMo essentials

With July just a couple of days away, I thought it would be a good idea to share what I prepare in order to survive the Camp NaNoWriMo madness.

For those who do not know of it, Camp NaNoWriMo is an event taking place every April and July, in which writers set a word count goal for the month. Camp NaNoWriMo was the offspring (so to say)  of the main event – NaNoWriMo – in which writers attempt to write 50k throughout the month of November.  In Camp, the writers set their own word count goal, but that does not make it any less challenging!!!

This year, I’ve set my goal to 80k so that means I will have to write around 2500 words EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to make it to the goal.  It is very draining, and in order to refuel, I have a “NaNoWriMo Survival Kit” to survive the month. This is what works for me personally, but I thought I’d share!

1. A little liquid help

I like to start my early mornings with a nice espresso or a cup of tea. For the mornings I tend to drink black teas much more than greens, but later on in the day, when I am beginning to feel a little drained, I reach out for green tea (I like to think of black tea as the punch-to-the-face wake-up, whereas green tea is more of a gentle nudge, thereby the order of consumption) and it keeps me going for long.

With those crazy wordcounts, sleep stops being a priority. I suffer from insomnia so that makes staying up a tad easier, but when Merlin’s spell begins to get to me I will indulge in another espresso. I try to stop having caffeine past midnight for the sake of well-being, and I’d advise other Campers to do the same.

2. Snacks

“I believe in a benevolent God not because He created the Grand Canyon or Michelangelo, but because He gave us snacks.” 
― Paul Rudnick 

I like to keep snacks at hands reach at all times. I stock up in the weeks leading up to Camp and NaNoWriMo with chocolate, caramels, and baked goodies. I am not really keen on “healthy” snacks myself, because, truth be told, I find pretty looking snacks inspirational on their own. Raspberry tart, however, is my obsession.

I mean, what is there to muse about kale chips? On the other hand… a raspberry tart… it’s beautiful.

image (3)

3. Preferred writing clothes – uniform for the month.

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
― P.G. Wodehouse

I am not really comfortable not wearing bottoms of some sort but if you think that will make writing easier go ahead!

During July, I plan which comfy clothes can be worn both in the house and outside without much criticism. The story is slightly different in November when certain things can be hidden under a nice winter coat, but for July I stick to bottoms that are somewhere between pyjamas and workout clothes and “inspirational” t-shirts that make me believe in myself. Last year the star was a #savegansey t-shirt, this year it will probably be my Attack on Titan Scouting Legion t-shirt but the future is uncertain.

4. Inspiration “triggers”

Each writer knows what works best to turn on the writing mood, but for me, it is specific songs and sometimes even specific film/anime scenes. Not so much book excerpts, but there are a few too, and I keep those ready for when I need them as well.

But THIS always works wonders:

 

5.  Something that will keep the inner editor away.

Although not best for general writing, for NaNoWriMo, which in a way encourages speed over quality (hey, you will revise what you’ve written later!)  it is best to suppress that inner editor. I focus on moving on rather than look back at what I have written, not only because fixing it will take time which I could be using to write more, but also because by reading back and deciding it’s terrible I get discouraged – and discouragement is the last thing we need!

I know a lot of people like to use Write or Die, which deletes words if you have stopped writing for a certain amount of time, but I limit to writing in white when I feel like the inner editor might kick in. By using a white font on a white page, I cannot see what I am writing and therefore cannot look back at it, which keeps me writing rather than worrying about what I have written.

Those are my essentials for the month in a nutshell! Being honest I am always more excited about NaNoWriMo than Camp, but this year I am really looking forward to the July session since it has been so long since I’ve solely focused on my writing for a long period of time!

To all those attempting Camp NaNoWriMo, best of luck!!!

Love, Musteetk’ab.

Writing music?

I am often asked about what I listen to when writing, and although it might be a little odd the answer is: pretty much a fair mix  of things I do not like, as well as things I love.

I know that many writers in fact find it difficult to write whilst listening to certain music, or often opt for “non-disruptive” music, in particular instrumentals. That personally does not work too well for me unless it is to create a specific sense of setting.

The music I listen to is all about “sense of” so to say. I use music as a way to connect with my setting, with my characters, and the mood of a scene.

Although I do count with a generic “writing playlist” it is only to put me into writing mood. I found it easier to have specific playlists per work, as well as per character and in some cases, per location.

For the characters, I try to think of what kind of music a particular character would likely listen to – this helps me a great deal to really grasp who this character is. And I feel like this aids character buildup overall. So I would definitely recommend it! It is true that some music genres my characters would likely listen to I am not a big fan of, but it is always fun to explore no? I do the same for couples, assigning a “soundtrack” to each as to understand the pairing better and how they are likely to interact when together.

As for locations, and scenes – I try to find music that matches the feel I am expecting from the place or the scene. For example, while writing The Hidden Ones, I listened to a lot of music in German as to help me feel a little closer to the location (the story is set in Salzburg) and with The Rara Avis I have been listening to a lot of 80s music, since that is the time period I am trying to write about.

Most of said playlists are in my Soundcloud account, however, I do have project-specific as well as my generic writing playlist available on Spotify – feel free to check them out and see if you find anything you might find resourceful!

General writing playlist:

 

The Hidden Ones / The Forgotten Ones playlist:

 

 

Hope this post was a little helpful!

Tons of love,

Geraldine.