Last month’s blogpost got bogged down in a lot of real world issues that didn’t have much to do with the actual manuscript aside from why I actually needed to write and release it.
So this month I’m going to back track and talk about Chapter 4 as well as Chapter 5!
Chapter 4 has us opening with some pretty interesting concepts. Alexis argues with some voices in her head that have different formatting, gets really uncomfortable that someone she admires seems to suddenly know more about her than she’s told him due to some minimal online detective work—even though she knows tons about him via the same method—and eats some really good soup.
Let’s talk about the voices first. So, as someone with anxiety, one of my coping mechanisms is to differentiate my anxiety from myself. It’s not ME who’s beating me up verbally in my head. It’s not ME that’s whispering doubts and worries into my own ears. It’s my anxiety. And she’s a bitch. One therapist even suggested that I give my anxiety a name and tell it off using that name to help me do this. I’ve never found a name that stuck, but “my anxiety” has worked pretty well over the years. The bold, italic, and caps locked text in Chapter 4 is my stab at trying to show you that inner conflict. You’ll notice that the voices don’t necessarily seem like anxious thoughts, though. That’s partially because anxiety is really multi-layered, and partially because my anxiety and I are at war a lot when it comes to hope. Sometimes my anxiety will beat me up for being hesitant to be hopeful—and then turn right around and beat me up for being hopeful once I’ve talked myself into dipping a toe in. The main thing that it always does is insult me and try to convince me that what I’m doing isn’t what I should be doing—that I’m missing something and setting myself up for failure. No matter what I’m doing, my anxiety tells me I am not enough. That what I am doing is not enough. That no matter what I do, it will never be enough to change anything.
Those are really difficult thoughts to deal with. Showing them as something different and yet the same as Alexis was really important to me for the reader here. But these aren’t literal voices in Alexis’s head. She’s not hearing things or other people or hallucinating—just having a silent standoff with her anxiety. This won’t be the last time you see those voices either.
The next thing I want to talk about is fairly well addressed in the chapter, but bears mentioning anyway, I think. When people get famous, there’s a certain amount of their life that goes public. This personal information, like where they grew up, their familial relationships, their age, even things like their height and current home town all become public knowledge. Even if you don’t know this stuff personally, you can look it up with a few clicks. When one isn’t famous and someone we don’t know gets ahold of that information about us, it scares us and comes off as stalkery. A smalltime professional without resources isn’t going to have the same protections as someone who can live in a gated community like a movie star. There are plenty of Youtube stars that have had to move because fans used small things in their videos to track them down. There are certain things that independent creators can’t share with their audiences for fear of fanatical fans deciding to abuse that information. The moment between Alexis and Terry is fairly tame, and serves to illustrate the fear that an independent professional without resources can feel when they realize they’ve shared too much personal information with a fanbase and have possibly compromised their own safety, as well as the desensitization more famous professionals can go through when their entire fanbase knows about their twin sister and the place they grew up without ever having to disclose that in person again. It’s a disconnect, and it resolves well between the characters—but it’s something I really wanted to include because it’s something that I think all of us as fans should think about. How do we use the knowledge we get about our favorite creators, actors, and artists? How should we use it? How much is connecting to someone at a con, and how much is overstepping? Those creators, actors, and artists make work that we love, but even with everything we know about them, we still don’t have a personal relationship to these people. It brings me back to the conversation of parasocial relationships I’ve brought to you both in my February and May blogposts: our brains treat these one-sided relationships as real, but we as people need to remember that the person we love is only a public persona of a real person who deserves respect and privacy. That’s why I felt it was necessary to include this moment in Chapter 4 between Terry and Alexis. I hope it gave you something to think about!
Okay! Those were the two big things for Chapter 4! Let’s move on to Chapter 5!
In this chapter, we’re dealing with A LOT when it comes to Alexis’s anxiety and the tension between Terry and Alexis. They’ve touched before, but now it’s different. There’s a charge here. And Terry has read a script to Alexis before—but this is also now different, because he’s written some of himself and their situation into it. He’s worried he’s being too forward, too interested, maybe even too clingy. And Alexis doesn’t catch on until he explains it. Her answers about River reassure Terry about himself and his and Alexis’s relationship.
This is where the true romance in the story really starts, in my opinion. Up until now, Terry and Alexis have both been battling with different aspects of why they can’t woo each other—Alexis with the very obvious “I admire him and he’s famous, it would be so inappropriate to take this the wrong way, I want to respect him and I want him to take me seriously as a storytelling professional!” aspect, and Terry from the “I can’t abuse my power as a famous person that she admires! It would be so inappropriate for me to make this about more than storytelling!” But here, they finally talk about romantic relationships and love—but not in direct reference to themselves. Instead, it’s discussed through the meta of Jesús and River.
That’s a thing I do sometimes when things in my life are too big for me to handle. I run to stories that mirror events that I’m going through, and then talk through my problems in reference to the problems the characters are experiencing. It was exciting to use that as a storytelling device here for my own characters.
We also see Alexis’s anxiety flare and dissipate, flare and dissipate in this chapter. There are a lot of ways that anxiety can manifest. Some of my early beta readers felt that Alexis was emotionally confusing because I was always mentioning how her anxiety was making her panic internally, but then portrayed her as confrontational or irritated. Here’s me letting you in on a little secret: anxiety is trying to keep you alive. That means when it sends “be scared of this!” signals to your brain, it activates your fight, flight, freeze defenses. Alexis (like myself) has a very strong “fight” response when it comes to the way her anxiety presents. She has “frozen” with Terry a lot before, but now that he’s become more humanized and less of a famous, untouchable giant in her mind we see her fight response come through when she argues with Terry about his script.
There are things that are difficult for anxiety to break through as well. Scent has always been something that can set a mood for me. If I smell comforting things, my anxiety has a harder time getting at me. Sight and sound can do similar things for me as well—looking at soft fanart and listening to lo-fi hip hop while drinking aromatic herbal tea is a triple impact combo I often use to keep my anxiety from getting to me. We see Alexis use some of those coping mechanisms here to calm herself down when her anxiety flares. A good specific moment of this in the chapter is the smell of Terry’s shampoo.
There’s another reason I feel like the romance really starts in this chapter. 😉
The last thing I want to talk about for Chapter 5 is big, good, happy things being scary. As someone with anxiety who has experienced a lot of loss, big, good, happy things (like Terry is for Alexis) are also really awesome important things that can be lost or polluted or used to hurt me. The first time I ever had an anxiety attack over being happy, I had just gotten to the point with my first girlfriend where we were saying “I love you” to each other. Even though my familial life was in shambles and I was still only just coming out of the grief of having lost three family members in less than 9 months, I was happy for what felt like the first time since my grandfather died. I let my guard down. I let myself relax. And my anxiety swooped in blaring alarms and screamed “YOU CAN’T BE SAFE, YOU MUST BE MISSING SOMETHING, TIME TO FREAK OUT AND LOOK FOR THE OBVIOUS THREAT YOU’VE MISSED SOMEWHERE!”
My roommates had to pause the anime we were watching to calm me down while I panicked and shook in their arms. It was the first full blown anxiety attack I’d ever had. I wasn’t prepared for it, and had no idea how to deal with it.
The next time I saw my therapist, I told her about it, and she said, “Theresa, joy is a very vulnerable feeling.” My anxiety—which wants more than anything to keep me alive—doesn’t like vulnerable feelings. Nor does it like the potential of hurt, which at that time, even though things were going great, made my girlfriend a huge potential source of hurt. That happiness and my girlfriend were a double whammy that gave me the first and worst panic attack of my life.
Alexis is a bit further along with her anxiety than I was at that time. She recognizes that she’s scared of losing what she’s built with Terry. She recognizes that it’s her anxiety that’s making her feel that way. And so she breathes (breathing is a HUGE part of my coping mechanisms) and reminds herself that she gets to enjoy how good things are right now, even if they do go horribly wrong later.
Even if you don’t have anxiety, I think that’s a good reminder we could all bear in mind a little more.
Here’s hoping you’re enjoying your moment right now wherever you are, and I’ll see you in the next chapter!