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LEXICAL GAP Issue No. 11

The Darkest Timeline

I won't discuss politics (much) in this month's newsletter, but it would be disingenuous of me to ignore the very real fact that the United States held a presidential election this past month and how its effects will have very real consequences on my life, and the lives of my family, friends, and readers.

If you follow me on social media, you'll pretty much guess straight away what my political leanings are. I've never hidden them, nor am I ashamed of them, nor am I opposed to considering different points of view. After all, I am a liberal who grew up with a Republican mother and a politically independent father, and we still manage to have cordial—even loving—conversations around the Thanksgiving table.

But this election did not feel like one based on politics; it felt like one based on identity. I understand that our discourse in this country has become increasingly polarized over the years, but I had always had faith in our democracy and our what I perceived to be our shared American values: equality for all. And yet, as I read news of our president-elect's picks to his staff and Cabinet, it feels like a repudiation of everything I am as an American citizen: a queer woman of color with bipolar disorder.

I was born in the United States, but this election has made me think most of my maternal grandmother, who is an immigrant to this country. My Halmeoni was born in Pyongyang, in what is now North Korea, during Japanese occupation. Under Japanese colonial rule, my Halmeoni was not allowed to speak Korean, not allowed to be who she was. After the end of the second World War, my grandparents sold all their possessions, sewed the money into the seams of their clothing, and begged, bartered, and bought their way south before chartering a boat across the 45th Parallel in order to escape the Russians and the Chinese. My mother is the only member of her generation born in South Korea; many more are lost to us across the demilitarized zone.

My mother came to the United States as a young woman, attended college, majored in English, and became an American citizen. My grandparents followed shortly after, attaining permanent residencies. Los Angeles has a large Korean population—large enough that my grandparents were able to make comfortable lives for themselves as themselves. That was the America I knew growing up: a country large enough to have a place for my Korean grandparents as well as my Mormon family, who came west with Brigham Young in order to escape religious persecution. 

I will be relatively protected in the coming administration, but I fear for my less-privileged friends. I feel fear and fury, but I still have faith that we will continue to fight for what's right: our rights. All of them. I hold on to that faith because it's what keeps me going, what keeps me making phone calls to my elected representatives, what makes me rearrange my budget to donate to charities and organizations. I'm not Christian, but I was educated at a Catholic girls' school whose motto is Actions Not Words. I'm a writer, but I'm a citizen as well. I shall act, and write. And I hope you do too.

Lexical Gap: Die Schnapsidee


Literally "liquor-idea," a Schnapsidee is that idea you get when you're really drunk that seems like a great thing at the time, but is actually really ridiculous. Schnapsidees can also come to you while sober. One might argue that the entire idea of making up stories for a living is one giant Schnapsidee...and I wouldn't be able to argue with you. 

In this issue:


1. LEXICAL GAP: Die Schnapsidee
2. BEHIND THE SCENES OF WINTERSONG

3. FURTHER READING
4. PREVIOUS ISSUES

BEHIND THE SCENES OF WINTERSONG

#ownvoices


Readers have asked me which character I identify with most in Wintersong, or whether or not any of them were based on me or people I know. The answer to the first is none...and all of them?* The answer to the second is yes...and no.

* I don't necessarily identify with any of my characters specifically, but I will pick a favorite: Thistle. Thistle is unquestionably my favorite. Sorry, everyone else.

I know, I know, typical writerly evasion, but while all my stories begin with some kernel of self, how that kernel blossoms into a novel is unpredictable and surprising. I did not base Liesl or the Goblin King on any one person, but many. I do not have a sister, but Käthe and Liesl's relationship was inspired by my relationship with my closest female friends. While I do have a baby brother, he and Josef are nothing alike. My relationship with my Halmeoni is nothing like Liesl's relationship with Constanze, and my mother and father are both loving and affectionate with both their children.

But I can't deny that there are some incredibly personal elements in Wintersong. Liesl's composing process is much like my own writing process. (I don't compose. Sadly.) For me, the act of genesis, of artistic creation, is probably the most revealing aspect of the book: the way an idea comes to me, how it comes together, how much work it takes to execute that idea, and how the drive to realize said idea is what forces me to create. I was trained as a visual artist, but the process of artistic creation is similar between visual art and writing, at least it is for me.

Yet the most personal aspect of the book isn't something I've openly discussed, mostly because I feel weird about it. Not because I feel any shame about it, but because it's not something that ever really comes up in conversation about Wintersong. But whatever, here goes:

I consider Liesl bipolar.

Is the word "bipolar" ever used in reference to her? No. Partially because the diagnosis did not exist at the time, partially because I didn't think about it...until I did. Obviously the text is the text and the Author is (Metaphorically) Dead, so if my intention with regards to Liesl's condition is not the reader's, that is perfectly valid and legitimate. Nevertheless, I was deliberate about allowing elements of mania and melancholy to bleed through. Write What You Know, right? The racing thoughts, the buzzing speech, the feelings of invincibility and recklessness, the dull hollowness of indifference and apathy, these are all things I know as a bipolar individual. These are things with which I am intimately acquainted, some in far more extreme ways than Liesl. I have the scars from my youth, both literally and figuratively.

But I also don't want to diminish the fact that for many others, Liesl will not be good bipolar representation. And that's fine. I understand. Yet I also don't want to "hide" or Dumbledore** Liesl because I want to normalize her.

** To Dumbledore: to out a character after the fact. 

It's hard to find stories with bipolar characters where mental illness isn't The Issue around which the book revolves (usually how it destroys families or inspires people to live their life to the fullest or something similarly insipid). So many of these books feature bipolar disorder as practically another character in its own right, when the vast majority of us live with it the way someone else might live with Crohn's disease. It's a part of us. 

Back in March, author Heidi Heilig and I had a discussion about writing with and about bipolar disorder at Disability in Kidlit. We also discussed the musical Hamilton, and how we as bipolar individuals recognized ourselves in the eponymous Founding Father. Not necessarily based on personality (I, myself, tend to subscribe more to Aaron Burr's philosophy of "wait for it"), but based on what we perceived as his mania. I'm going to write a 96-page tell-all about my sexual affair with Maria Reynolds in order to clear my name of any embezzlement charges! is absolutely the sort of thought I've had while in a manic phase. Ron Chernow's biography shies away from diagnosing Alexander Hamilton, but most certainly describes other episodes of mania and depression. 

Sometimes I see Wintersong featured on lists of #ownvoices books and I will admit I flinch a little. Some of it is due to guilt; I am a woman of color, but the vast majority of my characters are white. Yet race is not the only way a book can be #ownvoices; it can be sexuality or disability as well, so in that regard, Wintersong does qualify. But I also don't want to mislead people, so this is why I wanted to "set the record straight," as it were. Yes, I am bipolar.

And so is Liesl.

Further Reading

Previous Issues of Lexical Gap

My name is S. Jae-Jones, but JJ, if you please. I'm an artist, adrenaline junkie, and author Wintersong, forthcoming from Thomas Dunne in Winter 2017. 


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Uncreated Conscience
c/o Jill Grinberg Literary Management
392 Vanderbilt Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238

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