Friday, July 19, 2013

5 more things that scare me

Just a few days after I wrote about 5 things that scare me, I thought of 5 more things I'm shocked I couldn't remember the first time around. they are!

1. The ocean

Looks peaceful, right? Sure, the ocean is nice when you're looking out at the sunset or splashing in the waves up on shore. I already mentioned that I have an irrational fear of fish, and guess what the ocean is full of? Fish! And not just cute little Nemo-esque clownfish, but big, dangerous fish with big sharp teeth and slimy scales. Not to mention sting rays that shoot out poison and the fact that if you swim far enough down, you'll get crushed to death by the pressure. That is, if you don't get eaten by a shark first (though thanks to Shark Week, sharks actually don't freak me out that much).

2. Space

By "space," I mean "outer space" and/or "any part of the universe that is not earth." No offense to all those cool places like Jupiter and the Milky Way, but vast, open areas that lack the essentials for human survival (air, water, oxygen, etc.) scare the life out of me. There's a movie coming out in October called Gravity that shows exactly why I could never, ever be an astronaut. Just like the ocean, getting stranded in space presents a multitude of possibilities, none of them even remotely good. There's no telling whether you'll die by getting hit by a meteor, roast (or freeze) in the atmosphere of the nearest celestial being, or just float around for days until you run out of oxygen. Strangely enough, the thought of aliens doesn't really phase me.

3. Blood

I'm getting sick just thinking about blood right now. I can watch teenagers get decapitated or hacked up by a chainsaw thousands of times on screen, but if I get so much as a paper cut, I freak. When I was in college, I went to a lecture one of my bio major suite-mates gave on malaria. At one point, she talked about "retinal hemorrhaging," complete with photos. I got so dizzy I felt like I might pass out. Even talk of bloody injuries makes me see spots.

4. Fire
I only picked this picture because it reminds me of The Hunger Games logo.

Technically, fire is one of those fears that I've already faced and overcome. I used to be scared to even roast marshmallows, but now I don't really mind fire. Still, burning to death is supposed to be one of the most painful ways to go. Even though you only have about ten minutes before your nerves are burned to a crisp and you feel nothing until you die, it's supposedly the ten most painful minutes you can experience.

5. Creepypasta (and other horror stories)

A slightly less morbid fear (operative word: slightly). Even though some of the classic creepypastas (a collective term for horror micro fiction originating online) will make your hair stand on end, none of them are actually lethal. Ever heard of smile dog? No? Just google it. Seriously, do it. And tell me those photos aren't the creepiest things you've ever seen.
If you didn't google it, the smile dog story is about a photograph that drives anyone who sees it to suicide. Every now and then, when I'm trying to go to sleep, I have to shut my eyes tight for fear that that stupid dog is just standing at the foot of my bed, waiting for me to see him and go insane.
Another one that gives me the creeps is actually a Japanese urban legend known as Teke Teke. According to the legend, a girl was run over by a train and lost her legs. Her ghost still roams around, legless, looking for victims to slice in half, just like her.

So, these fears are slightly less rational than the big ones -- loneliness, sociopaths, and the like. I'm probably never going to go into space or get anywhere near the bottom of the ocean. But for whatever reason, these things still send chills up my spine.

What are your irrational fears?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Austin, Ally, and the Dunning-Kruger effect

You may or may not know about my age-inappropriate love for the TV show Austin & Ally. For those of you not in touch with your inner 12-year-old, the latest episode features title character Ally preparing for her entry as a finalist in an up and coming artists feature. Ally wants to shoot a dance video, but she's a terrible dancer. Her friends try to tell her nicely that she sucks, but she isn't having it. She likes her dancing, she insists. And isn't that all that matters? If you think you're good at something, it doesn't matter what others think. Right?

There's a popular psychological theory called the Dunning-Kruger effect. It basically says that people who are really good at something frequently doubt themselves and their abilities, while people who are terrible at something will often (but not always) think they're really good. It's also called the American Idol effect, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has seen even a commercial for American Idol.

But is this effect scientifically accurate, or is it all BS? When multiple people tell you you're bad at something, should you listen? After all, bad is subjective. If Stephenie Meyer let people read Twilight before it was published and they absolutely hated it, would she have refrained from publishing it? Would Twilight fans have never gotten the books?

Ally says several things throughout the episode that indicate she doesn't really get it. "All those people who don't like my dancing just don't understand my vision." "Oh, they're all just jealous." In the end, though, she keeps the dance routine in her video but turns it into a self-parodying dance instructional video. The video is a hit and wins the contest.

But does this always work? How do you know when you should value the opinions of others or trust your own gut? What if Ally had made the video and it had been a disaster?

If the Dunning-Kruger effect is accurate, then I must be a pretty good writer, because I doubt myself all the time. I've always struggled with self-confidence, and when you release your work into the world only to have it picked apart or rejected all together with no clear reason why, it can get frustrating. Fortunately, I have had enough positive feedback to convince myself that yes, I really am a good writer. But since writing is subjective, there will always be doubts when someone rejects your work.

I know self-doubt is a part of most people's lives, and that it's normal. But sometimes I feel like it's pulling me down, keeping me from doing my best. That little voice in the back of my head says "why put effort into this? It's going to suck no matter what."

But if you listen to that voice, you'll never get anywhere. What if J.K. Rowling had listened to that voice? Stephen King? I'm nowhere near their level and probably never will be, but that doesn't mean I can't share a story with the world. That's all I really want to do.

Fortunately, I have had a bit of writing luck in the past few weeks and months. The little pieces of positive feedback are hard to hold onto because it's in our nature to focus on the negative things first. I haven't quite figured out yet how to primarily focus on the good things instead of the bad. But I know that's what needs to be done.

How do you deal with criticism and self-doubt? How do you focus on the positive in your life instead of the negative?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

5 things that scare me

There are two types of people: People who run away from their fears, and people who face them head-on. I've always been in the latter category, but there are still some things I'm afraid of and not quite ready to face yet.

1. Death

The ultimate ending, and it can affect anyone at any time. Ultimately, it'll affect all if us, whether the dead person is us or someone we know.
The scariest thing about death is the element of the unknown. Even though we all have our various beliefs about the afterlife, there's no way to know what death is like until you experience it. And by then it's too late to go back.

2. Sociopaths

Even though a very small percentage are actually violent, sociopaths are incapable of feeling remorse or guilt. I'm a really sensitive person, so the idea that someone could hurt me (or anyone else) and not feel bad for it is unsettling.
A few weeks ago, I saw a book my local bookstore written by a sociopath under a pen name. It supposedly debunks myths about sociopaths and the front cover states that they live among us and could be anyone. I guess I should read it to figure out if my thoughts on sociopaths are just stereotypes or irrational fears. But I haven't yet because I'm...well, scared.

3. Loneliness

I'm really introverted and like being alone. But there's a difference between being alone and being lonely. I'm always afraid of losing the few meaningful human relationships I have and not being able to form new ones.

And onto some slightly less depressing fears...

4. Bears

Maybe this one isn't that depressing. Lots of people are killed by bears. Lots of people are also killed by cars and planes and guns. But cars and planes and guns don't usually stroll up to your sidewalk and start rooting through your trash, or corner you in a tent and try to eat your face off.

5. Fish

Probably the weirdest fear ever. I love sushi and fried fish, but live fish freak me out. Their lack of eyelids and vocal cords mean that not only can you not hear them when they're in pain, but once they're dead, they have that creepy death glare. I've been afraid of fish all my life, but a few years ago, had a particularly scarring experience when I saw a dead, half stomped on goldfish on the floor at a pet store.

Rational or not, what are you most afraid of?

Monday, July 1, 2013

So Weird: They don't make 'em like they used to

When I was 10, I was obsessed with a TV show called So Weird. After a bizarre string of nostalgia fits and wayward research, I spent the majority of this weekend watching old episodes of the show, almost finishing the first two seasons (there are three in all). It wasn't until almost halfway through that I realized how much the show still influences my writing even today.

The show follows 13-year-old Fiona Phillips -- Fi for short. Fi's mom is a musician, Molly Phillips (played by Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of The Mamas and the Papas singer John Phillips). After a decade long hiatus following her husband's death, Molly is back on the road touring, and Fi and her older brother, Jack, as well as Molly's manager and her family, are along for the ride. Fi is extroverted, tenacious, and has a love for the paranormal. In every city they stop in, she finds some strange happenings -- from ghosts to aliens to telekinetic kids. Or do these things find her?

Despite Fi's love for all things weird, older brother Jack is the perpetual skeptic. No matter what sort of strange shenanigans Fi gets herself into, Jack is always looking for the logical explanation. It takes awhile for him to ever admit that anything supernatural even exists. Most of Fi's other companions approach the weird stuff she finds with a mix of skepticism and curiosity.

Even though each episode is fairly self-contained, there is an overarching story line throughout the first two seasons. Halfway through season 2, Molly tells Fi that her dad was into the same paranormal things she is. Molly never said anything before because she constantly worried about her husband and, somewhere in the back of her mind, probably thought that if Fi knew the truth about her dad, her love for the paranormal would increase tenfold -- and she might end up doing something dangerous. It does sort of explain why all of these strange things just happen to fall into Fi's lap, so to speak. And Fi later learns that the paranormal creatures her dad was chasing ended up chasing him -- and may have even caused his death.

A few observations as I watched:
1. Even if you're not into paranormal stuff, the show is a great model for writers. Some of the paranormal activity is a bit out there (a mad scientist turning people into dogs -- who comes up with this stuff?). But the actors and character dynamics are all excellent -- especially the relationship between Fi, lover of all things weird, and Jack who, despite his incessant skepticism, will always look out for his little sister.
2. The show first aired in 1999, when home computers and the internet were just starting to be a big thing. Wi-fi was practically unheard of, but Fi utilizes it pretty well. She runs her own website devoted to the paranormal, frequently uses e-mail and chat rooms to keep in touch with friends while on the road, and researches the weird stuff she finds through a generic search engine. Chat rooms and search engines are old news now. But back then, all the cool kids were doing it. Or wished they could do it.
3. On a similar note, I watched the show thanks to a wonderful YouTube user (thanks, SoWeirdTV!) who uploaded every episode. When I first watched the show way back in '99, I recorded every episode on VHS and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. This weekend, I watched the episodes on YouTube via an app on my blu ray player. If you had told 10-year-old me that I would one day be watching my then-favorite show on a YouTube via a blu ray player, I'd have thought you were insane.
4. Another Disney Channel feature I loved at that age was Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. The movie was made in 1999 and takes place in 2049; if you're bad at math, that's 50 years in the future (I may or may not have used a calculator for that one). The teenage characters in the movie communicate via a device called DataZap, in which they talk to each other via a tiny computer screen. Don't we have something like that now? Oh yeah, Skype. And Face Time.
Did you read that right? Moviemakers thought communicating face to face via a computer screen would be modern 50 years from now, and we already have devices 14 years later that can do that and much more. With such a rapid progression of technology, it's no wonder I already feel like an old woman at 25.