Might TV Contribute to Millennials’ Emotional Fragility?

Image resultDavid Brooks has noted that Millennials, while more accomplished, are more “emotionally fragile” than previous generations. He is backed up by this article which includes reports from Psychology Today, that “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

This fits with my experience. People my age have battled spiraling depression and anxiety since early adolescence or before. I do agree with Brooks that it’s in large part because many of us lack deep convictions and a narrative about what is really meaningful.

In his book, “The Road to Character,” he identifies inside everyone an “Adam I” and an “Adam II.” Adam I is the external person, the face we show to the world, the bearer of “resume virtues,” as he puts it. Adam II is the internal person, the inner compass of wisdom, maturity and kindness or of fragility, shallowness and self-righteousness. Adam II is bearer of the “eulogy virtues.” Brooks says and I agree that the great struggle of being a good person is to bring these two aspects of ourselves together.

I would like to introduce a contributing factor that Brooks does not explore: the saturation of TV, movies and visual media in our lives. In my (limited) experience, development of the Adam II, the inner person, relies on refining our emotional processing of external realities. Yet, in our culture, we almost lack entirely a vocabulary to express this inner thought process and dialogue. Our language is much better suited to the roles of Adam I – naming nouns, like rocks and buildings, and discussing clear, observable markers of achievement such as job titles and salaries. If our words have trouble explaining Adam II, our visual mediums struggle even more and this contributes to the difficulty we have in developing Adam II.

In mediums such as TV shows and films where characters hash out their differences or conquer adventures in visual theatrics, there is almost no method for depicting the inner-transformations that go on in order to develop that wisdom and maturity that characterizes Adam II. Even writers, artists of the silent medium, today criticize older models of novel-writing that spent paragraphs and paragraphs detailing a character’s motivation. In today’s sitcoms or romantic comedies, a character experiencing emotional distress almost always runs away and pouts–be it a child nervous before a performance or a woman scorned. Then, the father, teacher or boyfriend character seeks out the distressed child or girlfriend, listens patiently, gets passed the walls and offers reassurance. This is the model of any TeenDisney or Jude Apatow movie.

From an artistic standpoint, it makes sense. When two characters interact, there is something to display on the screen. When they speak to one another, their thoughts and emotions can be revealed. Dialogue is the Holy Grail of good story-telling.

But when this example permeates our lives, we encounter a problem: it is not realistic. These portrayals set-up the expectation that there will always be a kind mentor to rescue us from our emotional distress or at least help us to process it. But in real life, the mature person must often process her own emotions rather than expect others to do it for her. (It’s not that we can never ask for help, but that sometimes we can do it ourselves and we grow when we try).

When our real-life father, teacher and boyfriend (or opposite sex) figures do not always deliver the expected emotional rescue, we are often left distraught, without options–hence the spiral of depression and anxiety. The Washington Post describes the story of Amy, a 30-year-old in therapy who suffered break-downs in college “unable to do laundry and often stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to complete homework because she didn’t know how to manage her time without her parents’ keeping track of her schedule.” We have few models for healthy self-reliance and care in our cultural models of TV and film.  It’s not as simple as pointing the finger at mom and dad, though. The issue is more pervasive. If TV and movies are our cultural models, and I think they are, there are no cultural models even to guide parents for effective development of Adam II, of healthy maturation or emotional processing.  Continue reading

Advertisements

Book Review: L’Engle’s Walking on Water – Overly Lofty

9780804189293In one sense, Madeleine L’Engle’s “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art,” was pleasant to read and stroked my ego as as a wanna-be writer. Parts of it were inspiring. Overall, however, I found it insipid and overly foofy; it talks of writing and art in the loftiest of idealistic prose, as the highest reaches of human meditation and striving.

In a sense, I agree with most of it. But an idealization of the writing vocation is only a tenth of the story. The other nine-tenths are work, the basic discipline of hitting the nail with the hammer every single day. In this sense, it’s like any other skill or job, one where talent and know-how deepen as experience progresses.

Here’s an example of what I didn’t like:

“The world of fairy tale, fantasy, myth, is inimical to the secular world, and in total opposition to it, for it is interested not in limited laboratory proofs but in truth.” (46)

I love fairy tales and fantasy far more than the average fellow, but science is not something to dismiss. I am not a scientist, but I suspect that a tech-minded reader might react defensively, “Hey that’s what my lab tests are all about–truth.” Of course scientific methodology excludes philosophy, meta-narrative claims, but the whole purpose is to learn true things about how the universe works in order to understand it better. This mentality oversteps when we view ourselves as masters of the universe, meant to tame it. But in general, I would say science and laboratory experiments are at the service to truth, a different approach to understanding our world. I think it throws the baby out with the bathwater to pit science in opposition to truth, as if creative types have some sort of lock on that.

Then there was this:

“In art, we are once again able to do all the things we have forgotten; we are able to walk on water; we speak to the angels who call us; we move, unfettered, among the stars.” (47)

Bleck. I am an idealistic person, and I am sympathetic to what she is getting at, which I take to be that art or creativity is an attempt at knowing or expressing truth. Seeking the fullness of truth can be understood as a sort of prayer or connection with reality aka God. That striving to speak truth can bring the speaker to the heights of human calling.

But. I find L’Engle’s language so over-the-top as to discredit it. It’s as if she divinizes the artist himself rather than showing him as a mere human glimpsing at participation with the divine–which is really the intention. Much of life, and I suspect much of an artist’s life, is spent in murky misunderstanding, darkness and trials, and the prosaic daily activities of buying materials, preparing food and changing sheets. Even the highest peaks of sublimity in creation pass unnoticed because the artist is so absorbed in the act. Never is she really conscious of “moving unfettered among the stars.” Maybe L’Engle is, and that sounds amazing.

But the work of other writers and artists, such as Stephen King and Flannery O’Connor, who have explained their craft, spend more time focusing on the process, on the work, of being surprised by the product despite their best plans. So while the artist does do some amazing co-creation, it is rather unknowable. My concern is not that L’Engle is wrong, but that the tone is deceptive.

Artists are not really a breed set apart for transcendental experience, but rather fellow stumblers along the road. More accurate would be Oscar Wilde who said, “We are all lying the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Continue reading

Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

10569Stephen King’s On Writing was a Christmas gift; half-memoir, half-guide to writing, it was all memorable and enjoyable, regardless of the fact that I am not a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve read The Shining, but I don’t get much more into it than that.

Nevertheless, his stories about his childhood, early writings for local newspapers and re-workings of movie plots for his classmates were told with funny, self-deprecating flair, and the humble beginnings of his career were downright inspiring: two married English graduates raising little kids on King’s meager teacher’s salary, worried about affording “the pink stuff,” amoxicillin antibiotics, for their daughter’s ear infection, then to run away bestselling author of Carrie, followed by hit after hit.

Granted, Carrie was not his first novel and he had printed many short stories, but he went from seemingly impossible odds to near-overnight success; it gave my soul a smile to read about. When all seems lost, good things might be right around the corner.

As for the writing guide, that too gave a helpful outline of what building a literary career might look like as well as King’s opinions on language–(use few adverbs). Peppered with King’s typical, “earthy” language, a few of On Writing’s examples demonstrated perfectly what works and what doesn’t work in imaginative prose.

I’ll discuss two:

  1. The Simile: “When its on target, a good simile delights us in much the same way meeting an old friend in a crowd of strangers does.” (p. 178)

See that? He’s done it in the very sentence. A good simile connects a tiny piece of our experience and emotion to the physical act being described. All of a sudden, the author has made the connection for us. We all know how pleasant it is to recognize someone, and a good simile does just that.

2. King counsels the aspiring author to tell the story how she sees it, paying no head to trendy critics who pronounce the death of the linear novel. He tells us that he prefers stories written in order while admitting that you might not. Nevertheless, he says, “I’m an A-Z man; serve me the appetizer first and give me dessert if I eat my veggies” (225) as a metaphor for a story told in order.

I appreciated this sentence a lot for its simplicity of image and language, but also for how well it captures the simple pleasure of things taken in order. This is right about the level I like for longer prose. It’s illustrative without making you think about it; it just clicks.

Another book I am reading, which will not be named, uses far more poetic language in the structure of the novel.  She tells of finding her “glasses tipped atop her knobby head.” This sentence annoys me;  I have to stop reading to compose the mental image.

In poems, I like that. In novels, the things built from complete sentences, I’m not such a fan of phrasing that requires mental weight-lifting.

So I liked On Writing. I enjoyed the free-flowing examples incorporated into the text and the personal stories from his life and career.

Do you have any favorite memoirs? Are you a Stephen King fan? Got any favorite books on the craft of writing?

 

 

Achievement Unlocked: First Draft of a Novel

Today I wrote the last line of a novel that I conceived of years ago, a dystopia about a world where everyone lives in his or her own private room, never leaving for all adulthood. But an underclass develops who must do the manual labor, and bands of rebels and criminals live on the outside.

In one sense, this is a huge milestone, something I have been working towards for years.

In another sense, it is but a beginning. Over the years, my skills have sharpened, ideas have gained clarity and characters have deepened. The early chapters are hardly composed of grammatical sentences, and they poorly set the scene, if they succeed at all. Major plot points need revisiting, probably outright changing. Some characters will need to be incorporated earlier and receive substantially more development.

And yet, though the work is long ahead, that is exactly how first drafts work. Get the ideas out, meet the characters, generate the basic story arc. To hold oneself back and demand perfection from the get-go, would mean never setting a single word down. And so severe imperfection is a necessary step in the process of completion.

That last sentence came as quietly as the middle sentences, through a few minutes here and there, on an almost-daily basis. It was not especially momentous to get that final phrase down, just I never feel “older” on my birthday each year. Yet year by year, I am in fact growing older. And sentence by sentence, the story grows and grows.

The most productive habits are the ones that become so seamlessly incorporated into daily life that we no longer notice them–they are second nature, as Aristotle said.

So, today, I must remember to mark this, regardless of how long the journey is ahead.

What big projects have you hit milestones on? Did it come quietly or with a bang?

 

 

Consider Supporting Me on Patreon (so I can get my own URL)

lmehihkfybjhxa8hkjmuw6bdfleabgdfrizpc99iifhbbwzqo73atnmxfo0err0d_large_2I prefer to focus on content. But today, I’d like to share some details behind the running of this blog.

  1. I hope you like it here. I love writing and reading; they absolutely keep me sane, so I will keep on writing, and hopefully, you’ll keep on reading no matter what.
  2. I am ready to grow. There are more things I would like to do to grow my readership. I want to offer free e-books, have direct email sign ups on the sidebar, maybe even an affiliate link to amazon, and my own server space and unique URL address like theoress.com.
  3. All these growing things cost money, especially the server space and the upgraded wordpress account.
  4. Patreon is a super & user-friendly way to help me raise money from people who enjoy the content that I create and provide. So I made a Patreon account.
  5. If you like my work and would like to support its growth, please visit me here https://www.patreon.com/StephaniePacheco to offer a monthly pledge or “tip.”

It would help me SO, SO much and the first 20 supporters get to ask me a question on any topic and have it appear in a blog post. I am ramping up other rewards too which will be ready for roll out soon like a printable, pin-able manifesto of the core principles of this blog and my writing, of playlists of inspiring and/or historical music and all kinds of fun stuff.

Really though, I want to start making some of my work available as free e-books and the tech support I need to do that well is gonna cost me some bucks. So please, visit https://www.patreon.com/StephaniePacheco

Note: Don’t donate if you don’t have funds. Only you know your situation, and this blog is here to bring you fresh insights, not run you into the ground.

Also, supporting me on Patreon is like a donation. It is not a guarantee of content or of content that you will like. I cannot be responsible for dissatisfaction with my blog posts, so the second you aren’t happy anymore, you can stop supporting me. I won’t be offended. It’s okay. (That being said, I have a pretty steady record of posting about once a week and I strive to hold myself to high standards in my writing.)

So think about it. Visit me at https://www.patreon.com/StephaniePacheco and let’s make fun things happen soon!

Thanks a million just for reading!

 

Themes for 2015: Farm, Creation, Writing, Crafting, Painting

Pinterest recommended that I come up with “themes” for the New Year instead of “resolutions.” While I could always eat healthier and go running more often, calling it “themes” stirred far more ideas in my mind. So here goes:

For parenting:

Farms – this year I want to teach my littles about farm life: growing food, raising animals, living on the land. So that means I’ll be doing a lot of learning myself. I got them two farm picture books for Christmas. I plan to visit local kid-friendly animal farms, barns and of course Claude Moore Colonial Farm, my favorite place in Northern, VA. I even plan to try my hand at raising a few veggies again. Never once have I succeeded at bringing a plant successfully through the spring, summer and fall alive. May this year be different. My youngest will be one year old in the spring, so maybe she will be interested too. I think it would be a good way for us to get outside, learn about American history and culture, see animals, exalt God’s creation, and as always, eat food. I like food.

Art – My two year old loves painting with his dad’s art supplies. I plan to fill out our art supply cabinet and bag with way more acrylics, brushes, canvases and also the kiddy construction paper, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, poms poms, etc. I think this will be a great family activity for us all since we all love this stuff. I also look forward to making posters out of the things my boy finds in nature.

The Grown-Ups

Devotion: finding ways for us both to grow in our Faith. As with business or the mind, if it’s not growing, it’s dying. Stagnation is death. May we blossom and flourish. [Additionally, I hope to get better at talking about my Faith instead of being weird about it. Yeah, most people aren’t super Catholic, but I am and I love it, so why would it be weird to share that with someone interested in me as a person?]

Creation: Nature, God’s creation is so calming and pure. Just a walk outside lifts my mood more than a million cupcakes. I want to get outside more, which relates to my parenting themes. My hubby and I have recently compiled a decent array of camping gear. It only got tested once last summer. Let’s break it in this year.

Drawing: For Will, drawing. Lots of it.

Writing: For me, both my novel and articles. Because I write Catholic articles, when I took a break from it, my spiritual life suffered. For me, writing little Catholic articles is actually a form of devotion. I would like to balance this better with my longer project.

There are more of course, but I’ll leave it here for now. Do you have any themes for the new year?