Saturday, July 14, 2012

Character Interview: Carly and Dylan of You Can't Shatter Me

I recently had the pleasure of reading You Can't Shatter Me, an exceptional YA magical realism novella by author and Awesome Indies founder, Tahlia Newland (please see previous post for my review), and I’m thrilled to have here today the heroine and hero of the story, Carly and Dylan, who agreed to chat a bit about their experience and this unique novella as part of Tahlia's blog event:

Hi Carly and Dylan.  I enjoyed your story so much and it’s great to have you here.  You’ve both had a recent experience with a very difficult situation that many people have had to deal with or are dealing with – bullying – and I think your insights could be extremely beneficial to others.

 Carly, when you saw a fellow student at your school being bullied, you stepped in and tried to diffuse the situation.  What motivated you to get involved when many people would choose not to for fear of reprisal?

I’d just read a book with lots of violence in it and I was so sick of being in that world that I chucked the book across the room. Then I started thinking about what kind of story I would write and I decided that my main character (me) would be a superhero who protects the weak. The very next day, our resident bully went into action in front of me and I just felt that I had to do something. I guess I wanted to live up to the superhero idea and not be a coward, besides, I really hate bullying and violence of any kind.

Carly and Dylan, you both used two different but, I’d suggest, closely-related techniques not only as you dealt with bullying at school, but also in working out other stresses and challenges in your life.  One was using analogous imagery in a very creative way to mentally and spiritually tackle the issues before physically working through them.  Can each of you tell us a little more about this practice and how such creativity can aid in overcoming problems?

Dylan: We’re both into visual arts, so I guess that’s why we both have very visual imaginations. For me, imagining things that I’m dealing with in a visual way, like seeing my thoughts as words flying around the room,  helps me to have a better perspective about what I’m doing mentally and emotionally. I can see more clearly what I need to do. In this case, I had to get rid of the words that were attacking me. Seeing myself hacking at them with a sword just made it easier. I felt as if I had some control over the situation. I wasn’t at the mercy of my mind anymore.

Carly: Analogies help me remember what to do. Like with the fishing rod, it’s easier to not react to taunting if you remember that it’s like bait on a hook. If you grab the bait, you get hooked, and that’s what the bully wants, so you don’t do it. Aunt Anne talked about the Doubt Dragon and seeing my own doubt like that helped me to recognise and face it. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have even realised I was doubting myself, let alone try and overcome it.

Another thing you both have in common is a more physical extension of this practice.  For you, Carly, this is meditation and dancing, and martial arts for you, Dylan.  Both of these physical practices have a very mind/spirit-centered focus to them.  Can you share some of your insights on this and some good beginner exercises with readers?

Carly (giggles): I think you should ask Aunt Anne for instructions. I’m really not very good at it. Though I do find thinking of the sky helps to clear my mind and putting the sun in my heart makes it easier to feel kinder towards people.

Dylan: I don’t know about dancing, but if you have a good martial arts teacher, or sensei as we call them, they will teach you the mental aspect of the art as well, and it is about staying calm and clear in the face of threats. As for beginner exercises, I couldn’t make any suggestions that didn’t require you to start in a basic karate stance, so I guess you should visit your local Dojo. That’s what we call where you train.

When someone is hurting us, we tend to react without thinking on either the “fight or flight” response, so that, when bullied, often the natural reaction would either be to strike out in return because of our hurt and anger or to retreat, our self-esteem damaged – something that, with repeated attacks, can lead us to believe that we really are inferior.  How do you think that the two above practices, the mental/spiritual and the physical helped you both not to give in to one or the other of those natural tendencies and can you talk a little about your effort to imagine walking in the bullying person’s shoes?

Carly: Gee, you ask really difficult questions. I’ll hand this one over to the brain box over there.

Dylan (chuckles): She’s just using that as an excuse to wimp out, but I’ll give it a go while she thinks of something. I don’t think I succeeded really well with this actually. I had a lot of trouble not punching Justin’s lights out. I don’t believe in violence as a way of solving problems, but some people just seem to not understand anything else, and when he kept hassling Carly, my protective instincts came to the fore.

Carly: That’s so sweet.

Dylan:  Yeah, well, I guess all guys still have a bit of the Neanderthal in them. Anyway, when I gave Justin a bit of his own verbal crap back, I didn’t realise at the time that I was being as bad as him, and Carly’s less than enthusiastic response to that made me want to look at things a bit more deeply. When I wondered what life was like for Justin, the reality of it just came to me like an insight. I think that if we consciously ask ourselves how it would be to be someone else, some understanding comes quite naturally.

Dylan: Your turn, Carly.

Carly: Um. It wasn’t easy, but the rock in my pocket really helped. When I remembered it, I remembered to be strong like a rock in the ocean and my thoughts and feelings were like waves bashing at that rock. They couldn’t harm me if I stayed still inside and didn’t get caught up in the waves. When I managed to turn it all around and send love to Justin instead of hate and fear, it was the most awesome feeling ever. Kind of like using love as a weapon. It made me feel really strong.

Related to this, some might suggest that the idea of dealing with hurtful people by trying to love them or feel compassion for them is na├»ve or that those kind of people don’t deserve our love and compassion.  Can you share with us why you disagree and why you think that learning to love and have sympathy for those that hurt us can also be good for us?

Carly: I thought like that at first, until I realised that filling ourself with love acts as a kind of mental and emotional shield. Aunt Anne said that it’s like throwing darkness at light, for so long as the light’s there, the darkness just dissolves, and that’s what it feels like. It won’t stop a punch, and it won’t stop you hurting physically, but it will stop you hurting emotionally and leaves you feeling stronger instead of weaker.

As for the bullies; everyone deserves our love and compassion really, no matter how they are. And it doesn’t really take much thinking to realise that anyone who hurts others for the fun of it is pretty sick, so they need all the help they can get to get out of that sick mind state. And it isn’t just about having love and compassion for them, but for ourselves and everyone else as well. It is a kind of radical way of thinking, but Aunt Anne says it’s not new. People in the East have used these ideas for over two thousand years.

The boy who was bullying you had a very difficult life and his bullying was his way of trying to deal with his own pain and feelings of inferiority.  Not all people who bully are acting out of a sense of powerlessness, hurt or anger.  What are some of the other reasons people bully others and do you think the techniques that helped you in dealing with Justin’s bullying would help in some of these other cases too?

Dylan: According to Carly, I overstepped the line and bullied Justin the day he ruined her beautiful little pen and ink drawing. I just did  it to protect her and I only did it once, so I didn’t consider it bullying at all, but it shows that maybe some people don’t realise that they’re acting like a bully because they think they’re doing it for right reasons. That’s like those who bully people because they’re gay or a different race. I think the bullies feel that it’s their duty to rid society of anyone they consider not acceptable. 

Carly: Some do it to try to prove that they’re better than others too. They don’t realise that bullying always makes them worse than the person they’re getting at.

Dylan: It’s all about power in the end, and only someone who feels powerless would need to make themselves feel more powerful by bullying.

Carly: I think that the methods will always work for the person using them. Whether it has any affect on the bully or not isn’t the point. If you expect that sending love as white light to someone will change their behavior, you’re likely to be disappointed, at least in the short term, though you may be pleasantly surprised too.

Dylan: I’d say it’s worth a try.

If for any reason the bullying becomes something we can’t deal with, such as it turning to physical violence, what would you suggest to those who are being attacked?

Dylan: I had my share of that when I was little, before Mum sent me off to karate, and there’s lots of advice around to help people. The big issue is getting over the stigma of being the victim of bullying so that you do actually tell teachers and parents, because you really do need their help. You have to realise that it isn’t your fault. There is nothing wrong with, in my case, being skinny, really bright, loving books and doing well in school, or whatever the reason is that the bully is picking on you for. It’s not you that has the problem, it’s the bully.

I tried to stay out of the bully’s way and did things like make sure I didn’t walk home alone. I also made a bit more of an effort to be friendly so I had people to sit with at lunchtime, that kind of thing. If you Google it, you’ll get lots of sites with this kind of advice. That’s what Mum did when it happened to me. She also trucked on down to the school and made sure that they had an anti-bullying policy in place. She followed up with them too and asked them what they’d done about it.

Physical attacks were rare after the school took action, but they only stopped completely after I took up karate. I actually punched the guy back one day. Then I ran all the way home and was terrified that he’d try me on again. If anyone had seen me do it, he probably would have, so I don’t recommend that approach. He and his mates kept taunting me for years, but I didn’t let it bother me. Even when I wasn’t very good at it doing karate made me feel strong.

Are there any other personal insights you’d like to share with readers who have gone through or are going through this painful experience or are dealing with other stressful or difficult circumstances in their lives?

Carly: I think you have to get rid of the Doubt Dragons first. That’s what stopped me from even trying this at first. If you doubt that you can do it, or you doubt that it’s a good way to deal with problems, then you’re sabotaging yourself before you begin. My Aunt said that we all have love inside us, but I had to feel it before I believed it, and in order to feel it, you have to be open enough to sit still and find it.

Filling yourself with love feels sooo good that it will help in any circumstance, but you actually have to do it. That means, and I hate to say it because I am really bad at following this advice, you have to practice it. There’s instructions for how to do that at the end of the book.

Dylan: I’d say do anything that clears your mind and helps you to step back from the situation a bit so you don’t get so entangled with it all. I look at my life as if it’s a movie. Humour is good too. Don’t take anything too seriously.

Carly: I can’t believe I’m giving advice on this. Aunt Anne would be proud. I guess I learned more than I realised.

Dylan: She’s a superhero.

(Carly punches him playfully and he rolls off the chair in mock horror.)

Thank you so much for visiting, Carly and Dylan, and for sharing with readers.  Your story is wonderful and has so much that can be beneficial to others, not only those who are struggling with bullying, but which can be applied to other challenges and situations in everyday life.

For more information about You Can’t Shatter Me and author Tahlia Newland, please visit her at:

And to check out this novella on Amazon, just click on the book cover link below:

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