Ready to Listen

Published November 11, 2016 by Maggie Williams

I knew that my Western Civilization class today was going to be difficult. I knew that I would come into class and look at the faces of America’s future, and they would be devastated. They would be crushed, just like I am. I didn’t expect the dead silence. I didn’t expect our professor to admit to us that she has no idea what to tell the influx of students who have been coming to her in the past two days, asking what we’re supposed to do now. And I didn’t expect the silence of the sole Trump supporter in the class.

All I could think as I felt his presence three seats from me was, “Good. You spoke volumes on Tuesday night. Now- now it’s time for you to listen. It’s time for you to shut the fuck up and listen.” I’ve been meditating on that idea since it formed. It’s got me thinking about how much of this could be solved if we listened, really truly listened to each other.

I did not vote for Trump, and I could never vote for Trump. However, I understand that as a white cis woman, this election will not affect me as much as it affects others. When I weep, it is not for me. The only thing that I have against me is that I’m a woman. And I will not forget the fact that half of that voter demographic was white women like me. But this isn’t about me. It’s been about me and people who look like me for far too long.

I want to apologize to everyone who has ever been hurt by the power structure that gives me my privilege. I want to apologize for the people who continue to hurt you, who continue to feed into this power structure for their own advantage- who continue to view you as “collateral damage,” as someone in my class today so aptly put it. Nothing I could ever say would be enough, ever. So I also want to offer my action.

I have no way to know what you need from me in this moment, but I’m listening. I’m on the lookout for ways to help you, to try and use my privilege to give you whatever measure of assistance I can offer. It’s not going to do it any longer for the compassionate people who hold the privilege to sit around in a room and try to tell ourselves how we can help. The very definition of privilege is that we have no idea what you’re going through. This shouldn’t be about us doing what we think is best, it should be us actively listening to what our fellow humans need. It’s your voices that need to be heard.

I also understand if you don’t know or can’t tell me what you need, especially so soon after this tragedy. That, as well, is completely valid. I just wanted to let you know that I’m here and I’m ready to listen and to help in any way that I can if you’re ready to speak.

You are valid. Your identity is valid. You deserve respect. You deserve love. You deserve so much more than what you’ve been given.

This Is a Battleground

Published November 9, 2016 by Maggie Williams

I have never truly known a president that was not Barack Obama. Before 2008, I wasn’t aware of anything political. I have no recollection of my family mentioning a single thing about our government. I have been spoiled the past eight years by a wonderful, progressive president who truly cares about every person in this country.

I turned eighteen at the perfect time. I don’t even have a driver’s license, but you can bet your sweet butt that I was there, waiting four hours at the DMV so that I could register to vote. I got into politics. I sat for three hours in the heat of summer, in the mess that was the Democratic caucus in my district. I sat, and I cheered, and I caucused for the candidate who promised to bring everything I was looking for into our government over the next four years. I was hopeful. I Felt the Bern. I watched as the caucus numbers rolled in, and they were too close to call. I laughed at the candidate on the other side of the fence, and then slowly realized, in horror, that it wasn’t a joke.

I was deeply disappointed when Bernie didn’t get the Democratic nomination, but I was fine. “Surely- surely,” I thought, “Hillary will beat this candidate with no political experience, no policies, and a lot of hate in his heart.”

I was reluctantly with her, she was my second choice. I watched for months and months as the parties duked it out. I watched Hillary maintain her lead in the polls. I watched Trump demoralize everyone in this country who was not straight, white, and a man. I watched him spout his hatred and stupidity at every corner, and I thought to myself that surely America would be smarter than that.

I went away to college, and I applied for and filled out my absentee ballot. I filled in the little circle next to “Hillary Rodham Clinton” as dark as I could, as if the magic of dark ink could make my fellow countrymen understand the importance of this election, and the importance of not siding with hatred. I spoke to everyone I saw, encouraging them to vote, silently begging them to help keep those I love safe.

I sat down to watch a live stream of the election at 7:30 on November 8th. I waited. I waited. I waited. I watched Trump stay in the lead all night, thinking, “Of course, they haven’t counted the states with common sense yet- the states that aren’t full of people who hate their fellow countrymen and women for their differences.” I waited. I felt progressively sicker and sicker as the night wore on, until finally, at nearly two a.m., I watched Mike Pence take the stage to the cheering of red baseball caps. I listened as he welcomed the president-elect to the stage, and I promptly burst into tears. I cried into my pillow for ten minutes, trying to muffle the sounds so as not to wake the roommate sleeping blissfully five feet from me.

I haven’t stopped crying- not really. My heart has that dragging, hollow feeling that you get when you watch a really sad movie. I’m physically sick to my stomach at the memory of seeing that man, that accused rapist who somehow still won the presidential election, take the stage instead of the woman with political experience and a campaign that wasn’t based on racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. I’m grieving for my country in a way that I never thought that I would have to.

It is appalling to me that over half of the population in this place where I have grown and learned, where I became aware of politics and freedom and rights, is standing so firmly on the wrong side of history. Over half of my country has let hate beat love once again.

I don’t care if you “don’t agree” with the things Trump has said about women, Hispanic people, Muslim people, LGBTQ+ people, black people, or any of the other people that he has so profoundly disrespected. I don’t care why you voted for Trump, because that vote speaks volumes about you as a person. It tells me that you are selfish. It tells me that you don’t care about the rights of your fellow Americans. Your complacency speaks volumes about your character, and it disgusts me. You enable this rhetoric that has silenced and killed people for thousands of years, and continues to do so. You, my fellow Americans, ought to be ashamed. You ought to feel this deep loathing that I feel, be actively ashamed to be a citizen of the United States in this moment. You should take a deeper look at yourself and ask what it is you have just done to this country that was founded on freedom. You have raped it, enslaved it, and condemned it.

The good news is that all hope is not lost for you. You can and you should seek redemption. You should recognize what it is you have forced upon this country, you should recognize what a huge step backward for human rights this is, and you should grow. You should listen to those people who you have effectively just told are nothing to you. You should hear their stories, see their humanity, and realize the awful mistake you have just made. You should be a good person- love more and hate less. Because let me tell you something- even though hatred has been the victor throughout most of history, even though hatred was the victor tonight, it will not always be. This is a battleground, and the war is not over. Maybe you were on the wrong side of history tonight, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be tomorrow. Love is unkillable, and it will win in the end. So grow and heal from this. Choose your side. Choose love. Please. From this moment on, choose love.

Characters Are Actually Important

Published October 26, 2016 by Maggie Williams

Until quite recently, I didn’t grasp just how important characters are to a story. Sure, I had characters. They were there to move the plot along. I tried to make them interesting and relatable, but I went about it in ways that weren’t successful. I didn’t fully care that they weren’t successful, either- as long as the plot was going places. And then I started watching a bunch of nerds play Dungeons and Dragons and everything changed. (I could 100% turn this into another love letter to Critical Role, but I won’t do that. You’re welcome, and watch Critical Role.)

I started viewing characters in a different way. They really aren’t just there as plot devices. They can connect you to the story in ways that I never imagined possible. When you care deeply for a character, it makes the circumstances that much more interesting. It makes the story as a whole more interesting. Now, instead of characters being secondary to plot for me, they are on the same level. They are inextricably linked, and neither is more important than the other. I’ve just come to realize how much work I have to do in creating beautifully deep characters.

I think that the true secret to this is spending time with the characters outside of the story. I’ve taken to writing a bunch of little stories about my characters that would never make it into the book. They’re stories that develop the characters’ pasts, and show me where they’ve come from. It helps me build their voices in my head, their personalities, fears, hopes, flaws. Deep characterization, I think, is the way to truly get into their heads and make them interesting. It pulls out all of the little things about them that make them real. It’s also the way I get away with starting, but not starting, a new novel when I have two that I want to finish first. I get to write about these characters in my head, but at the same time tell myself that I’m not exactly starting a new book. Not yet anyway.

What do you guys do when you’re working on developing a character? How do you get into their heads and make them real? Have you had any writerly epiphanies lately? Most importantly- will you fangirl with me about Critical Role ?

Living Life to Write It

Published October 19, 2016 by Maggie Williams

I did something this year that I never in a million years imagined that I would. I joined a sorority. *Cue the gasps and cries of outrage. Ladies are fainting left and right.* It’s not really a “real” sorority, it’s a service sorority, but we still do some sorority-type things. Adding this gasp-worthy extracurricular activity to my resume had me thinking (again) about how I have never taken one of the big pieces of writing advice: that you have to live life and have experiences to write about them faithfully.

I like to think that I’m pretty good at pretending that I understand certain atmospheres that I’ve never experienced. Rejection, love, excitement, anything at all (please help, I’m dead inside). These are such strong, universal things, and I feel like I’ve missed out on some of them because I’m a hopeless shut-in. It seems like the more people you know, the more experiences you have, and I’m definitely meeting so many new people with this whole college shenanigans. (So many people, guys. It’s crazy and I love it, and it’s crazy that I love it. I always thought I hated people, but apparently I was just meeting the wrong kinds my whole life.) I must be due for a few human moments in the near future.

So yes, I suppose I’m going to try this whole “going outside” thing now. I hope that meeting all kinds of different people will help me to better develop my characters, and make them as dynamic as possible (I’ve been awakened to the importance of extraordinary characters recently, but that’s a whole other post). I want to develop some cool relationships so that I can write about them in knew ways. It’ll hopefully help push my writing to be even better and even more realistic. Wish me luck in writing and dealing with other humans.

Professional Time-Waster

Published October 12, 2016 by Maggie Williams

There are moments in my live when I’m struck with the frantic need to do everything. I constantly feel like I’m running out of time to live life and do what I want. In three and a half measly years, I will have to have a real job and pay rent and all of that terrifying stuff. I’ll be so concerned with adult things that it’ll be even more difficult than it already is to write books. So, obviously, I need to write them all right now, right?

Thoughts like these make me realize just how much time I wasted in high school. I had so much time, and I did pretty much nothing with it. I didn’t write anywhere close to as much as I should have. And I can’t even blame life for getting in the way, because I wasn’t really living life. I was sitting alone in my room, doing nothing, a majority of the time. If there was such as thing as a professional time-waster, I would be the most prodigious one. What have I been doing up until now?

I am bound and determined to change this uneventful pattern. I need to be out living life and doing things, guys. And, though I say it all the time and never end up doing it, I need to write, god damn it. Why is it so hard? I need someone to stand by me 24/7 and shock me with a shock collar whenever I’m wasting my time. Any takers for this unpaid position?

Current Unhealthy Obsession: Critical Role

Published October 5, 2016 by Maggie Williams

I have been unhealthily obsessed with an internet show called Critical Role for quite a few months now. On Thursday nights, I’m prone to loud cheering, fits of laughter, and inconsolable sobbing, all due to a group of actors playing Dungeons and Dragons in front of a camera. If you had told me a year ago that most of my waking moments would be filled with thoughts of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I honestly probably would have believed you. I have a slightly obsessive personality, and the fact that I’m so into this story isn’t that surprising. And, lord almighty, am I into this story.

This little fantasy improv game is consistently the highlight of my week, and it is the best story that I have ever encountered. The twists! The turns! The beautiful, emotional, heartwarming relationships between diverse and honest characters who are so flawed and realistic, but they try, and I love them! This story is so perfect that I can’t even be jealous of it, which is my normal reaction to stories that I love. I can only look on in awe and be inspired to be a better writer.

I could literally go on about this show for hours, so I’ll cut myself off here. I just need to say that my soul belongs to this story and when it ends, I am going to need to get very, very drunk and cry for three days straight. If you have exorbitant amounts of time on your hands, I recommend diving in really deep for the next two months of your life and getting just as obsessed as I am. Even if you don’t, I recommend the same.

Heartfelt Hooey on Humanities

Published September 28, 2016 by Maggie Williams

As an English major, I have a pretty open field for the classes I can take while in college. Unlike pre-med or engineering people, I don’t have a set track (or high chances of getting a job after graduating, but that’s another post altogether. Just take pity on me when I’m poor and living under a bridge somewhere). I can be all loosey-goosey and take a bunch of really dope humanities courses, which is what I did this semester. One of the most fascinating things about my classes is that I can connect everything to something else I’m learning: Honors English connects to Gothic Horror connects to Greek and Roman Mythology connects to Western Civilization.

It’s been a great pleasure for me to draw parallels in all these different areas of the Humanities. It’s incredibly inspiring, and beautiful in a way, to think about the ways people all throughout history are connected to me today. And one day, people in the future will hopefully look back and wonder at the fact that I am connected to them. I don’t know, it’s just a cool thought I’ve had recently. Storytelling is so much more than entertainment- it’s history and emotion and connections. It makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger.

Think about that the next time you’re asking yourself why you bother with this art crap because it’s not like it’s going to make you any money. What you’re doing is bigger than money, bigger than the here and now. It’s part of one of the oldest human traditions, and that’s pretty awesome when you think about it.

Okay, I’m done with all the heartfelt hooey now. You may return to your normal lives.