On the Sidelines

Stairs_in_Madrid_(Spain)_02

Dear readers, it quite literally pains me to say this, but I have fallen down the stairs.  It may have happened almost a month ago, but the lingering after effects are still with me: though my scaphoid bone is intact, my ligaments are uninjured, and my bruises have dissipated, I’ve had such a hard time using my hand and wrist that typing for work – let alone for pleasure – has been a real burden.

This has been problematic, considering typing is actually my job.  I’ve been taking it easy for a while, as I slowly work my way through a deeply unhelpful healthcare system only to be told that there’s nothing actually wrong with me and I shouldn’t be in any discomfort.  The fact that I am in quite a bit of discomfort seemed of little concern to my orthopedist, but that’s between me and him.

All this ruckus has kept me from pursuing my two favorite hobbies.  I haven’t touched Book Three (AKA Dark the Chains of Treason) for several weeks, and I haven’t been to the archery range in what seems like an eternity.

I am slowly going mad.

Well, maybe not so slowly.

I am anticipating only a few more weeks until my wrist gets well enough for me to start returning to normal levels of activity, but in the meantime, I’m mostly just moping around, watching a lot of BBC costume dramas, and frantically trying to catch up with work-related tasks as I fail to keep my mounting frustration at bay.

I say this not so you should pity me (although if you are so inclined, please feel free), but because writing something down and opening it up to other people quantifies and contains things.  Sharing these facts makes it easier for me to view a fallow period for what it is: a temporary happenstance that will eventually pass, even when a storm of circumstances makes that feel impossible.

For someone who’s more than optimally prone to seeing the end of all things in every little thing, pinning down the chaos on a page is a very helpful form of therapy.

It’s why I write anything at all, I think.  Writing shapes our ideas for communication with others, and to do that, we must have order in our own minds.  We must understand ourselves, and have control over ourselves, and have the patience to comb through the noise and pull out what makes sense.

For any of you who have experienced the anxiety and depression that can consume the soul when something hurts – when many things hurt – and there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do about it, you’ll know this isn’t always easy.  Life so often seems like a series of terrible, hurtful things punctuated by stretches of crushing boredom, and its sheer relentlessness can make you feel so very alone.

But it will eventually pass.  I’ll get back to writing.  I’ll get back to archery.  I’ll do everything I need to do at work.  I might even reorganize my closet one day, if I am feeling particularly bold.  My stupid hand will heal up, my blog posts will get cheery again (sort of), and there will be a period of blessed calm before everything starts all over again.  Hopefully, another fall down the stairs won’t be part of my future, and I can focus on getting  to work again soon on the things that keep me going.

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Where the Light Bends at the Cracks

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I’ve been quiet lately.  Usually when blogs go quiet, first for a few days here, then for a few weeks after an apologetic update, it means they’ve started down an irrevocable road to the dusty, inactive server rooms of purgatory.  The number of blogs that are eventually abandoned is staggering – up to 95 percent, some sources claim – and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t contributed to that number three, four, maybe even five times before.

But this is not one of them.

The thing about writer’s blogs is that you only really have three options.  One, you document the ups and downs of your process in painful, monotonous detail, and bore everyone to tears.  Two, you turn it into an angst-dump for everything but writing, laboring under the mistaken believe that anyone cares about the reasons you’re not working on your magnum opus.  Three, you make yourself into a resource by gathering news and information, interviewing authors, writing book reviews, making connections, and generally offering a place for people to get something back from your work.

I’ve done all three to various degrees (I’m doing number two right now), and I’ve learned that the only blogs that even have a chance of surviving the depressing rate of attrition are the ones that tackle option number three and truly take off.  I think I’ve had moderate success starting to build a resource for people, and I like doing that.

The problem is that it takes time and investment.  Plenty of it.  I know this because that’s what I do for my day job, and it’s a lot of work.  In the past, I’ve had the luxury of having a few spare minutes in the afternoon and evening to pound out a few hundred words of helpful self-publishing know-how, or brainstorm a short story just to keep my fiction muscles limber as I work on bigger things.

But as most of you know, this has been a hard winter for me.  I’ve been sick – and I’ve only recently acknowledged to myself that that’s what has been happening.  Sleeping poorly has always just been a fact of my life, and I never considered it anything other than an annoyance that I needed to push past and get over.

Starting in September, for whatever reason, it turned into a full-blown chronic illness that needs medical treatment (on top of all the other conditions that contribute to the problem and are hellishly difficult to manage), and the process of receiving help has been so slow and torturous that I’m still waiting to set up an initial appointment with a second specialist who may be able to help me at some point – if I can get my insurance in order.

The tale is not unique.  If it was, I wouldn’t have a day job writing about how to improve patient management in the healthcare system.  And my problems aren’t as bad as other people’s problems.  I’m generally healthy; I can walk, breathe, see, and hear; I have full use of most of my faculties; I am not suffering with anything that will kill me sooner rather than later.  I’m grateful for that.

But it’s hard to be wake up every day so fatigued that my brain doesn’t have a chance in hell to hold back the depression and anxiety constantly waiting to pounce, or so groggy that driving to work becomes impossible, or so shattered and drained that I can’t do anything other than stare at the TV and eat things that are bad for me and cry and wait for the day to be over so maybe I can try again next time to stop wasting precious hours of my life.

So if you want to know why I’ve been quiet, it’s because I am keenly aware that the only things I have to say are gloomy and frustrated, negative and off-putting, and I’d rather go dark than spend time broadcasting the fact that I’m just not feeling well enough to do anything else.

I don’t like making the things that are wrong with me into the central feature of who I am.  I don’t go on message boards and hang out with other sleepy people, and I don’t want an Insomniacs Anonymous badge to wear on my lapel so everyone will ask me about it.  Sickness is a transient state of being: a separate entity that sometimes latches on to you, and I prefer to remember that instead of making my entire life about one single that’s happening to me.

Luckily, being sick hasn’t entirely stopped me from getting things done.  I’m doing very well at my job, because I’m pouring all the energy I have into it.  I still go to archery every week, whether I feel too tired or not, because I need to relieve my stress.  I’m still working on my fiction, albeit a little slowly.

Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow is a book full of frustrated people facing obstacles much bigger than themselves, and I think that editing it while in such a mood is a benefit rather than otherwise.  I’m very nearly done with a major pass at it, and I’m pleased with how it’s coming along.  It’s going to be a great book, and since I never heard back from that agent who expressed interest in the first one, I will probably be self-publishing it at some point during this spring or summer.

So there are things to look forward to, and reasons to keep my blog alive.  I’m not giving up on self-publishing.  I’m not giving up on anything, really.  I’ve just got to break this siege before I can attack the next targets I’ve set for myself.  I’m going to keep chipping away at everything, because the problems I’m facing are solvable.  The time will pass.  The appointments will get made.  The answers are there.

For those of you who want to stick around, thank you.  For those of you who don’t…well, I doubt you’re even reading this right now.  But I hope you will all come back for my next book release, whenever that may be, and celebrate the fact that no matter what you’re facing, there’s always a way to get things done.

Balanced Billing

10256824_892949739505_3732630825468783304_nThere are few really great things about living with depression, but I think one of the most frustrating has to be the unpredictability of it.  One moment, you’re humming along just fine, feeling competent and capable – maybe even a little bit optimistic, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep – and then the next minute, something small and stupid sets you off, and you go tumbling into a hopeless pit of despair for the next three days, all raw edges and helpless weeping, scraped and bruised and certain that you’ll never recover yourself ever again.

It’s hard to think about writing in times like those.  It’s hard to do anything other than slog through the workday in a sludgy daze, longing only to slink into bed at the end of it, pulling the blankets up over your head and ignoring the puzzled, mournful mewing of the cat who expects his dinner. *  The day can’t end quickly enough, and the endless stretch of time between coming home and reasonably being able to turn out the lights seems like nothing but a bottomless sewer that can never be filled, no matter how many episodes of Downton Abbey you add to your queue to pass the hours.

It’s times like those, when my projects stagger to a halt under the weight of self-doubt and self-hatred, that a writer (and any person, for that matter) can feel most alone and most defeated.  It takes so long to climb back up to my feet sometimes that I wonder why I try to create anything at all.  My characters seem dull and lifeless, my plots seem frayed and directionless, and my prose seems pathetically amateur.  Nothing works, nothing sparkles, and nothing seems worthwhile.

I can’t control when it’ll happen, nor can I just snap out of it through my own strength of will, as so many people who have no experience of the matter often try to suggest.  It’s inconvenient and aggravating to be struck by sadness at the most random times, especially because I feel so completely the opposite when I’m at the top of my game.

Most of the time (well…some of the time, at least), I feel totally fine.  There aren’t enough hours in the day when I’m doing well.  Work is easy, and there’s never enough of it to tackle.  I can crank out 4000 words a day with little trouble, and they’ll be good words that are worth keeping.  I can come up with ideas for three different books at the drop of a hat, and draw maps and design covers and take great pleasure in the process of creating new worlds using nothing more than a pen and some imagination.

I’m in one of those acceptably buoyant periods right now, I’m happy to say, after a few rainclouds earlier in the month.  After doubting the direction of my series-in-progress, and taking some time to get over a few personal things that I won’t really bother you with, I feel like I’m back on the horse for the moment.  A few crucial plot points, newly revealed to me, have reinvigorated my sense of the story, and a couple of characters are finally starting to come into their own and take charge of themselves.

It’s a wonderful feeling, and in one sense, it’s made even more wonderful by knowing that it won’t last.  As difficult as it is to wait out the fallow times – because waiting it out is really all I can do – I think feeling down once in a while help me to appreciate when I’m up.  Would I enjoy a more balanced existence?  Of course.  I’d rather spread out the ickiness rather than swallow it all in one big, choking lump.  But for the moment, I’m stuck with what I’ve got, so I might as well try to make the best of it.

The point of all this, I guess, is just to mark the fact that right now, I’m doing all right.  I’m writing, I’m creating, I’m enjoying the summer, I’m nearly done rewatching Downton Abbey, and I’m feeling like it’s important to talk about the things that affect me most.  Will it last?  Not indefinitely.  But let’s get a few thousand words down on paper while it does.

 

* Don’t worry.  Oliver always gets his dinner.

"But not fast enough."

“But not fast enough…*sigh*”

Madly, madly on

dragonflyHi!  Um, yeah.  Sorry.  It’s been a while.  But remember me?  I’m still knocking around.  Thing is, I’ve been kind of busy, but you’ll be happy to know that I’ve been busy writing, among other things, not just slacking off.  Not exclusively, anyway.

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks.  My office moved locations, so there’s been a new commute to get used to, and I’ve been working pretty hard on The Paper Flower after reexamining the whole enchilada after my last post.  Now I feel a lot more settled – both at my new desk and at the keyboard at home – and things are pretty good.

The problem with The Paper Flower was that I was falling into the classic trap of the depressive megalomaniac: sometimes I get so wrapped up in my head, spend so much time poking and prodding my miserable feelings, that I give those emotions far too much power over my better senses, and I get trapped in my own sticky tar pit of woe and wailing.  That’s something I wanted to examine through Sareisa and her world, of course, but it isn’t something I should be doing at the same time as my fictional characters.

So I’ve pushed past the worst of it, and I’m back to personal agency and adventure and treason and murder and all those good things.  I’m about four-fifths of the way through my first draft of the first book, which is very satisfying indeed.  I don’t know when it’ll be on the shelves, though.  Part of me wants to write the entire trilogy before I release the first book, just so I don’t write myself into a corner and can’t change it because you’re reading the first installment already.

Besides, I’ve barely done any marketing for The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun at all, and I really need to spend some time on that.  Bad self-published author.  Bad girl.  No biscuits for you.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in and assure you guys that I’m actively working on stuff, and feeling better about the direction I’m taking.  I write way too many of these “I haven’t forgotten you, honest” posts, but hey.  You’d rather I write books than blogs, right?  Right?  Right.

Close to home

IMG_9215With The Spoil all grown up and free to wander the big, wide world, I’ve started to turn my attention to my next project.  After spending so much time and effort getting that behemoth out the door, it feels weird not to have a document open every evening, either to tinker with or guiltily ignore.  Next on the list is supposed to be The Paper Flower, but I find that I’ve run into a couple of big roadblocks already.

I’ve been toying with this book (or trilogy, for so it shall be) for more than a year, developing characters I like but changing the plot at least three different times, moving people around like chess pieces to try to figure out where they belong and what they should do within a general framework that I’ve never been quite happy with.

Last year, I wrote what I thought was the entirety of the first book, but abandoned the second less than a chapter in.  Why?  Well, a few different reasons.  One was that it sucked.  I mean, really sucked.  People were wandering around, moaning and wailing, not really doing anything besides dropping cryptic hints once in a while about an event that never materialized.  My main character, Sareisa, was gloomy and indecisive, struggling with tragedy after tragedy with no redemption in sight, and the entire novel was weighed down with grief and sadness.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Characters have to struggle in order to eventually triumph, and things need to go wrong in order for people to make them right.  But I wrote Sareisa at a time when I was caught in my own battle with depression, feeling lonely and abandoned, stuck in melancholy that I thought would never clear.  I got better, and I thought Sareisa would get better as I looked at her in a new light this time around.  I’ve made her character stronger, more resilient, and less self-pitying, which works for the book.

But reading some of the things I wrote back then has been hard, because so much of Sareisa is simply a reflection of myself.  Even if some of the events that she goes through are (thankfully) nothing like my own life, her emotional trials, her thought processes, her fear and yearnings, her indecision and pain are deeply personal to me.  There are three paragraphs that make me cry every time I read them, because they are, essentially, a distilled version of my own battle to feel like I belong in the world, that I am worthy of love, and that some day I will find some sort of happiness that will overcome the sense of isolation that has been so deeply ingrained in me.

That this small, human thing seemed like such an unthinkable possibility was the great, hidden sorrow of her life.  However hard she tried to resign herself to her fate, it was that tiny kernel of hope which kept her awake far into the night, begging the gods for some relief from the torment: acceptance of her current state or a solution to it – anything but the terrible pain of hope deferred that tore her brittle heart into pieces.

I find it hard to write a story so steeped in sadness.  When I read, I want hope and adventure and glory and all the things that are missing from my own sense of self.  When I write, I want to be swept away on the tide, not reminded of my own failings and shortcomings.  I hate writing this book.  I hate codifying and exposing these things about myself.  I hate Sareisa – I condemn and revile her – because I hate that she is so similar to me, and can’t overcome the things I fight with every day.

And yet, this story is a powerful one.  It’s a story I want to tell.  It delves deeply into the lives of women, rich and poor, constrained and free, in a society that alternately reveres, ignores, frees, and cages them.  They say an author must feel everything they want their readers to feel.  If I ever buckle down and write the story that must be written, I will be happy if my readers feel even a fraction of it.

But for now, I struggle to find the inspiration, the drive and the motivation.  I struggle to grasp that moment of clarity, where the plot falls into place like the last piece in a puzzle, and the way forward is as clear as day.  I haven’t had that moment yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.  Like Sareisa, I must push on through the dark, and hope, with no real assurance, that there is a light on the other side.

L’shana Tova

Rosh HaShona, the Jewish New Year, is a little bit different than the secular one that falls on January 1st.  Instead of beer snacks and champagne, we have apples and honey; instead of interminable football games, we have interminable synagogue services, and instead of getting drunk, we get very sober and reflect on the year just past, preparing ourselves for the other major holiday, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which comes just around the corner.

Even though I don’t go to temple anymore, and I’m only Jewish in the sense that I make a hell of a brisket and will plotz if you don’t finish what’s on your plate, I try to make some time in my life to privately observe the High Holy Days and honor the culture that made me who I am today.

It’s been a tumultuous, painful, amazing, eye-opening, disappointing, progress-filled year for me, and I think it deserves a bit of a retrospective.  This time last year, I was in the (unknowing) final weeks of my first job out of college, one that taught me so much about what to do – and especially what not to do – in the working world.

I was also, as some of you know, very, very deeply mired in an episode of clinical depression that completely changed my outlook on life.  At the end of October, I would do the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and begin a course of anti-depressants, but I spent the majority of 2011 crying.

Really, just crying.  When I woke up, when I went to work, when I got home, before I went to sleep…I don’t understand how I even functioned at the very minimal level at which I was operating, but it was my reality for so long, and I was so deeply enmeshed in my own sorrowful ruminations, that each day was little more than an obstacle I wasn’t sure I could face.

There was nothing I could do to stop it, even though I had started therapy in the fall of 2010 (and it’s helped me in more ways than I could possibly list here).  A “good day” was one where I successfully persuaded myself to do the dishes, or didn’t sneak off to the bathroom in the office for ten minutes and stand in the corner with my hands over my eyes, shaking in silent grief and desperation over one of the many triggers of my despair – and the fact that I had absolutely zero control over my emotions, zero ability to motivate myself into changing anything, and a deeply misguided fear about what taking medication really meant.

I got let go from my job the day after I finally worked up the courage to take my first Prozac.  At the time, I thought it was a sign.  I didn’t realize it would be a sign that I’d be unemployed for an entire year, but it was definitely an auspice of my freedom: freedom from the darkness  – the chemical illness – that had engulfed my mind for so long, and that had kept me chained to a life I didn’t want.

A lot of people find all of this uncomfortable to talk about, or tell me I should have just snapped out of it, or ignore me all together when I try to explain how profoundly it altered who I thought I was – and who I wanted to be.  I don’t care.  It’s not a shameful secret, in my opinion.

It was an illness, and one that I suffered through alone, because that’s the nature of the beast.  I’ve met many, many other people since then who have struggled with the same thing, and are better off for talking about it, taking action, and owning it as part of themselves.

A month or so after I started on my pills, I was writing again.  I was smiling again, and crocheting, and even dating a little bit.  I was doing things I thought were completely beyond my capability: things that were proving to myself that no, I wasn’t just a waste of space that had no business believing life could ever get better.  I was someone who could live, and try, and even fail and be okay.  I had something to contribute, and I knew that I had to attempt to, because I had wasted enough time.

I kissed someone.  I started cooking again.  I published a book, and shared a piece of my soul in the process.  I started a blog, and made beautiful things for my friends and strangers out of yarn and imagination and love.  I embraced the idea that I’m a writer at heart, and that’s not something I have any need to run from.  I tried, harder than I’ve ever tried to do anything before, and I don’t think I’ll ever be as proud of myself as I was this year, when I pulled myself up out of a deep, deep gutter by willpower alone.

That’s what this year meant to me.  A renewal.  A chance.  A hope.  A solemn lesson on my own fragility, my own character, and my own strength.  I will forever be a better person because of it – because I know that I never, ever want to fall that far again, and that’s something I’m glad I learned while I’m still young.

You might not have had such an eventful year.  You might not be Jewish.  But on this beautiful autumn weekend, when the world is in flux and change is coming, I urge you to take a moment for your own reflections about where you’ve been and where you want to go.  Munch on some apples and honey and just remember that life is sweet, but the warm glow of progress, even if it’s something as simple as doing the dishes, is sweeter still.

L’shana tova, everyone, and may you find health, happiness, and fulfillment in this new year.