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Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
Notes on The Final Girl 
17th-Apr-2014 08:35 am
B5: G'Kar: Born in pain
First, read "The Final Girl"!

Now.

Some Wiscon ago, walking back to the hotel, I turned to fellow horror geek cafenowhere and said, "Someone should write a poem about Final Girls." She said I should do that. I promptly tucked that into my hindbrain to percolate and thought nothing more of it. Consciously, that is.

And then one day I scribbled on the purple dry-erase board over my desk, "the final girl drinks alone."

I can pinpoint the day I created the file that I titled The Final Girl - thank you, computer! January 7, 2013. And looking at that, I can remember where I was emotionally. Judah had already intensified his cheating and his nasty behavior. I was already on chat long hours with Michael, though we were still just friends. Things were slipping for me in ways I didn't know yet. Judah had already done severe damage to my ability to write; I think I'd stopped working on Cicatrix before then.

And here's this stubborn little thing, that I wrote a few notes on and then put away because I just couldn't write anymore.

And then Judah raped me.

And then, over months, "The Final Girl" began to coalesce.

I've never had a writing experience like I had with "The Final Girl". What usually happens with poems or short fiction is that they percolate in my hindbrain for howeverlong, and then, ping!, they're ready, and I sit down and write the all in one go. This was different. This was a line or two or maybe a paragraph that would happen in my brain while I was in the shower, or walking somewhere, or just doing something else in general. Judah was killing my writing, but this poem, which became this story, kept sneaking in around the edges, piecemeal.

I learned to just leave the door open, so to speak. To welcome the pieces of "The Final Girl" when they arrived. I learn to be patient, not to force it, because when I tried, it vanished like smoke.

Months of a sentence here and a paragraph there. The chunks the final product is in are the chunks it came in, though not consistently in the same order. I accepted that this was not going to follow a traditional story form, that it was just going to be the shape that it was. (I sent it in-progress to cafenowhere; her questions and comments were invaluable in helping me figure out what else needed to be there, what I wasn't looking at. Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

The bit about time - that's directly attributable to last year, though much of "The Final Girl" is generalized. I noticed last year that time stops behaving itself during trauma and recovery. That went in.

Everything went in.

And when I had that horrible time last fall where I wanted everything about writing gone, "The Final Girl" got locked away, shoved aside - as much as it could be. It was almost done, I thought, but how can you tell, with something like this? It didn't feel complete. It felt close. But I was done writing, I was out, I was in hell.

And then, in early January 2014, Lynne turned verbally abusive, knowingly and deliberately using rape/trauma survivor triggers against me in an attempt to shatter me, and Michael turned weird and awful, and I was struggling. In the two weeks between those breakups, I was desperately trying to make sense of life - for the second time in a year, everything had changed on me, everything had been yanked away, and I had to figure out what to do, what I could do.

And in those two nightmare weeks, the last three pieces of "The Final Girl" arrived.

I sat with it and thought, "I think this is done."

When I read it at Arisia (knowing/suspecting how bad things were and were about to get elsewhere in my life), I prefaced it with "This is the first thing I've written Since. I don't know if it's any good; I lack all perspective about my writing these days! But I think it's done, whatever it is.

"This is 'The Final Girl'."

And Julia Rios asked me to submit it to Strange Horizons immediately. Which I managed to do that week, even though everything else collapsed the very next week, and they bought it, and now, here.

Here it is, the thing that came out of me during the worst time of my adult life, the way my brain responded, the wisps that escaped the coffin Judah put my writing in and Michael nailed shut. Here is the thing in me that refused to be killed, the thing that hid when it needed to and fought for escape whenever it could.

The point of the final girl is that she survives.

And here I am.




I would love to discuss this story in comments - both the personal bits and the bits that are direct references to the trope of the Final Girl and about trauma survival. Please, ask me anything.
Comments 
17th-Apr-2014 02:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the link to the Wikipedia article -- that was the missing piece I needed. The story pretty much stands by itself, but it helps to have the background.

Wow.

17th-Apr-2014 02:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was wondering if it would make sense to people who aren't horror movie buffs, and hoping it would! Glad it stood on its own for you. :)
18th-Apr-2014 02:53 am (UTC)
I have to second that, having the frame of reference helped tremendously.
17th-Apr-2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
The link helped. I'm not a horror movie fan, and perhaps more importantly, I'm not a tropes fan, and I couldn't focus on the story the first time you linked to it. Emotionally fraught material plus trying to figure out what "the final girl" meant was just too much, though I probably could have figured it out if I'd read a little more of the story.

In any case, the major thing for me is the bit about people not wanting to know about those who don't recover. Actually, I think people also don't want to know about those who haven't recovered yet, either.
17th-Apr-2014 03:10 pm (UTC)
Actually, I think people also don't want to know about those who haven't recovered yet, either.

Very true.
17th-Apr-2014 03:24 pm (UTC)
I also didn't know about the trope until you linked to it.

Anyway, I'd say that you've gone in one side and out the other, and this was part of the journey, terrible though it was. Glad to see you back in the light again.
17th-Apr-2014 03:25 pm (UTC)
I write my way out. It's what we do. <3
17th-Apr-2014 04:52 pm (UTC)
I think that there is a readership for this story that does not and would not watch horror movies; the fact that there is a trope related to the narrative doesn't matter one bit at all - we have cinematic lives.

I think you should know that I've read this story with some ladies that I know. It takes their breath away. Who is this girl that writes this, they said, that she knows the stories I've never told? It helps them see that they are not alone. There are lots of Final Girls.

This is good work that you've done. I know I told you that, but now I've told you that again.
18th-Apr-2014 03:39 pm (UTC)
we have cinematic lives.

Yes. Oh, I have a thing about how we apply narrative to our lives...

There are lots of Final Girls.

Yes. :) And thank you.
17th-Apr-2014 06:21 pm (UTC)
I read the story and your blog entry here without reading the trope link. I think about the story differently, having done that.

I'm not a horror fan, so the trope is only vaguely familiar to me via others' discussion of it.

As a piece of fiction... I'm on the fence. I don't like the split lines in the text. It's an affectation that throws me out of the story. Sometimes authors do it in novels or other larger pieces to indicate a mid-chapter shift and OK I get that, but in a piece this short? I dunno.

I think about spoken word pieces (of which this reminds a great deal) and how people on stage use cadence and tone to indicate breaks in the flow of their poetry. I wonder if that's possible in a purely written form. Reading beat poetry I sort of think it might be.

Hmm, I'm not saying much about the piece itself and on reflection I think that's because I see it as more like poetry, about which I often can't say much except "I liked it" or "I didn't like it." I find myself unhappy that the story's narrator doesn't have a name. Does she think of herself as Final Girl? And other women as nameless Final Girls? Isn't that, in a way, buying into the aggressor's effort to dehumanize his victims?
17th-Apr-2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
Having first heard it at Arisia, and now having read it... It is a spoken work. It flows much better outloud than as visual.

My understanding is that the narrator is a Final Girl, but does not think of all women as Final Girls. To me, the namelessness of Final Girls was not a namelessness, so much as respecting other's privacy. For instance, if I were in a safe space group setting, I wouldn't use names to identify others, because that would be a violation. Instead, I'd use non-personal identifiers: the one who was rapped, the one with social anxiety, etc.
18th-Apr-2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
I find myself unhappy that the story's narrator doesn't have a name. Does she think of herself as Final Girl? And other women as nameless Final Girls? Isn't that, in a way, buying into the aggressor's effort to dehumanize his victims?

Yes. You can see in other places where she falls into that victim-blaming cycle; the namelessness is just one of the ways in which that manifests. This is definitely a Final Girl who has not emerged from that darkness yet.
(Deleted comment)
17th-Apr-2014 08:30 pm (UTC)
I actually haven't seen The Descent yet! So a) no and b) should I watch it?
(Deleted comment)
17th-Apr-2014 08:49 pm (UTC)
I liked the lines in the text. It helped me to feel how broken and disjointed the narrator's experience of life has become.

For what it's worth, I had no trouble understanding the story, and didn't go look at the wiki link until after reading it. (The wiki link did help me to understand why I have no interest whatsoever in watching slasher films, however, when I went back to it while reading other people's comments.)
17th-Apr-2014 10:30 pm (UTC)
*pebble* It was beautiful.
18th-Apr-2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :)
18th-Apr-2014 01:46 am (UTC)
That... that was one of the most extraordinary pieces of prose I have read in years.

I'm sitting here in silence, breathing.

I've been doing so much self-advocacy for many of my two dozen disabilities... particularly cerebral palsy, autism, fibromyalgia. I, with a friend, developed the Spear Theory, which we use instead of the Spoon Theory, because spears can be used after being bloodied from all those monsters we fight endlessly. Someone linked me to a comic in a blog that essentially illustrated my ideas of the Spear Theory.

I've always found the trope of the Final Girl to be beautiful and powerful in ways that are indescribable outside my head. She often lives in my head without my realizing, because I died a few times after I was born, twelve weeks preterm, and in all these 35 years I've had so many battles that I barely paid attention to because they were so intrinsic and so organic. I feel as though there was always a Final Girl somewhere inside.

I hate horror/slasher films. I hate visceral visual gore. I had bloody squelching body horror violence. People becoming meat and fluid. I always cheer for Final Girls, because surviving all of that is, to me, akin to living through decades of chronic pain in every way. I've always seen the Final Girl as a subtle representation of a life of physical, mental, emotional, neurological pain and trauma. I don't know if that makes much sense.

And when I read your piece, I was struck so intensely that parts of me reacted in compartmentalized ways, and I felt as though I was coming apart and then coalescing into a single deep exhalation. I was actually shivering. Thank you for that.
18th-Apr-2014 03:43 pm (UTC)
in all these 35 years I've had so many battles that I barely paid attention to because they were so intrinsic and so organic.

Yes, this.

I've always seen the Final Girl as a subtle representation of a life of physical, mental, emotional, neurological pain and trauma. I don't know if that makes much sense.

It does to me! And I'm glad this piece resonated with you like that. :)
18th-Apr-2014 07:45 am (UTC)
I am a horror fan, and a fan of underworld girls and Final Girls and thank you for this gem, for showing me that I can have more forms and use them and not try to beat my writing into something else.

There are so many amazing lines, the images are as visceral as the corpses of those who didn't make it.

The final girl wakes at 3:00 every morning. She walks to her door, presses her hand against it, knows that there is something on the other side.

I love that image.

Thank you. Thank you for all these stories.
18th-Apr-2014 03:44 pm (UTC)
I can have more forms and use them and not try to beat my writing into something else.

That was such an important and freeing thing for me to learn, and I've been so much happier with my writing since I learned it.

Thank you. :)
18th-Aug-2014 08:47 pm (UTC) - Catching up...
When the news about Robin Williams came out, I was angry and heartbroken that another one of us - another mentally ill recovering addict had been broken, and didn't get a happy ending. My mantra that day was "Just for today, I'm not going to let those motherfuckers win." But then someone pointed out that he made it to 63, which is eons in depressed years. He had 20 years of unbroken sobriety - all of those one days at a time were victories. And I say yes, I have won one day at a time for a long time now. But some days are still incredibly fucking hard.

So maybe I will be the Final Girl of my own life. The killers that follow me have killed and will continue to kill, but just for today, I'm still here. Clean and breathing.
20th-Aug-2014 01:29 pm (UTC) - Re: Catching up...
Thank you. I am so, so glad it's helped.
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