Drowning

I used to be confident that, if nothing else, I had a way with words. I thought I was a writer. I thought …

I don’t know.

I’m tired. I can’t say anything right. I can’t get the words to line up right.

If I can’t convey meaning in my own life; if I can’t navigate basic conversations within interpersonal relationships, how can I possibly write a book? 

Isn’t that the pinnacle of hubris, to think I can convey ideas, thought, and meaning to an audience of thousands–to move them emotionally and connect with them– when I can’t even cross a solitary communication divide?

I’ve been lying to myself. 

I have nothing. 

I am nothing.

on the misrepresentation of artistic suffering

I strongly object to the kind of romanticization of creativity and/or genius associated with mental illness seen in this NAMI post

While I understand the desire to highlight positive aspects of a life altering condition, it’s a bit like saying, “This anorexia is fantastic for helping me lose weight!” or, “Yay, cancer! Now I can smoke weed!” It’s just irresponsible and, on a social/ representation level, dismissive of the very real devastation caused by the symptoms of untreated/ unmanaged illnesses. 

I hate, too, when films/ TV shows come out with leads or villains whose “superpower” is a one-dimensional representation of mental illness; like in payment for the suffering, it grants those afflicted with talents beyond mere mortals. Most people with mental health issues are just ordinary people, dealing with the same problems as everyone else in addition to the weight of their symptoms. 

It is a disservice to suggest the illness is a conduit to creative success or genius, because the logical conclusion is that by eschewing treatment, one cultivates creativity/ genius and therefore success. I have lost far too many loved ones among my friends and family to this dangerous mythology.

I think it’s interesting, too, because of the class myth about the starving artist, which is often unconsciously referenced in justifying the payment of artists in “exposure” or “experience,” neither of which can pay the bills. 

Both of these myths serve to create a link between creativity and suffering; creativity as the natural result of pain — and while perhaps an argument can be made in that regard, it does not then follow that all creators must suffer for their work to be valid, and it certainly doesn’t follow that the best work comes from instability and suffering. 

The best creative work results from access to resources, time, support, and the artist’s emotional/ physical health allowing consistent practice of their craft, which leads to growth and regular productivity. All of this requires a modicum of financial security, emotional stability, and reasonably good physical health.

An starving artist working two shifts just to pay the bills will be hard pressed to find funds for materials, let alone energy or time to create.

An untreated mentally ill artist who chases flights of hypomanic or manic creativity for inspiration will find their output sporadic, disconnected, and unreliable — which doesn’t pay the bills, resulting in stress and spiraling despair. It doesn’t matter how talented a bipolar, schizophrenic, etc. you are; if you are homeless and lacking resources for treatment or artistic creation, those flights of “creative inspiration” are merely symptoms of the illness.

A physically ill artist lacking the financial resources to access good healthcare resources or caretakers, who must expend what little energy is available to them navigating complex healthcare systems, appointments, treatments, and specialists with little to no assistance is unlikely to have the emotional or mental energy for creative output.  

The notion that suffering equates to creativity is a dangerous and, frankly, classist myth. Only wealthy artists or those with financial benefactors/ networks can actually afford to risk their livelihoods by chasing sporadic manic daydreams of creativity.

In defence of ‘worthless’ pretty things

I like flowers.

There. I’ll admit it.

It is not a popular opinion among my peers to like flowers. To want a bouquet of cut flowers on the table. But I do.

I like the brightness of them, the pretty freshness.

A waste of money,” sniff my friends disdainfully. “I’d rather have a garden, or potted plants.

I would not. I’ve never had a talent for plants. I always manage to kill them. My heart droops when I’m gifted with one, or entrusted with the care of one. It terrifies me and stresses me out.

I like cut flowers. I cannot kill that which is already dead.

Why do we give the mutilated sexual organs of plants as a love token, anyway? It’s just stupid Hallmark marketing,” a fellow feminist wittily jokes, rolling her eyes at the idea. I smile uncomfortably, quietly signaling an agreement I don’t feel.

It’s not Hallmark marketing. Flowers have been a token of affection, of friendship, of regard, of love, for centuries. Hallmark is a pretty new company on the historical timeline. Maybe there’s an argument for the romance marketing of it, but know what? Don’t care.

They’re pretty. They’re bright. They say, “Hey, I saw these and thought of you.” 

I like that.

I like the idea that during the course of a day, someone saw a bright bouquet of golden roses, or cheerful wildflowers, and was reminded of me. I like the idea of being associated with something so inherently happy. 

I secretly envy people who get flowers often.

Ugh, what a waste of money,” kvetch the practical-minded of my peers, when such purchases come under discussion. “Useless and dying! Who would even want a gift like that?

Yeah. Exactly. They’re temporary — a gift that doesn’t clutter; something I don’t have to store or display forever or dust or remember to wear on special occasions.

They’re just there, brightening my life for a span of time, wordlessly saying, ‘hey, someone loves you,’ with a splash of color … and then they’re gone. 

As ephemeral, brief, and delightful as spring. A beautiful memory, captured in a photograph and a warm smile.

I am practical, and a feminist, and not known for being particularly feminine. I like dresses, but find pants more practical for most activities. I prefer boots to high heels. I’d rather spend money on books than makeup, or motorcycle gear than expensive jewelry, but … flowers, I like.

I just wish I didn’t feel so guilty about it.

collections of words

As I write this, it’s 9:21 in the morning. I woke at 7:30 am, and all morning I’ve been thinking, Maybe I could write … 

I always hear about parent writers/ authors who “wrote the book in the morning, while everyone was sleeping,” or “wrote at night, while everyone slept.”

It must be nice to have a household with such reliable sleep schedules. I’ve never been a morning person, but it’s a trait I might cultivate if there was any guaruntee of sunrise privacy … alas, there is not. I am by nature a night owl, who’s given in wholesale to the wide-eyed exhausting temptations of nightlong creative binges — but I am no longer the only night owl in the house, and insomnia fueled nights no longer have the upside of hushed shadows cultivating creativity.

I wonder if those writers had an office, or like a sort of private room the rest of the family didn’t really intrude into even if they did wake?

I’m not writing because my son has been awake since 7:45, and every 15- 20 minutes pops out of his room to rifle noisily through the kitchen pantry before checking in on me with another joke or quip. I think the timing might have something to do with matches in his computer game? Also, any minute now my husband will wake up and come out to turn on the tv. 

Just now, as I was thinking, its been two hours … husband isn’t coming out anytime soon to turn on the tv … and then Son swanned out of his room with a shit-eating grin, blasting the Jurassic Park theme from his phone in triumphant accompaniment, and declared, “I’m alive!”

Obvious statement made, he and his musical accompaniment returned to his room.

It is precisely these kinds of unpredictable interruptions that make writing around family so difficult, and why if they’re home — even asleep, even in another room — I find myself too tense, too on guard, too suspicious of interruption. 

The worst/ best part is if I do cave, and I do write, once I sink into it, I’m lost. The words, the concentration of it, the beauty and rythym of language — I lose track of time, of other people, of everything. So in the past, my husband has come seeking me, or son come swanning in with a joke, and beckoned, I swim up through the gauzy layers of another world to focus my irritated gaze on them and snap, “What?”

Of course I see the hurt, the rejection that causes. So it’s easier just to … not. To wait until no one’s home, so no one can interrupt, and no one can feel rejected because they interrupted.

Bleh.

I meant to write about ECCC. It was fun. Son and I enjoyed slightly different things, but I think we both had a good time. It ended up being a long, exhausting day, and if we go again next year I plan on bringing my husband and possibly getting tickets for two days so we can spread our activities out. I was really happy about meeting Kristen Britain, who I got a picture with and who answered some of my questions about her books. She also autographed my Nook cover and a copy of my SIL’s book. I wanted to buy a copy of her new release for her to autograph, but they were sold out.

I had an epiphany on the way home, spurred in part by a sense of intense maternal guilt about my desire to attend the writers panels and author signing with Kristen Britain, which conflicted with my son’s desire to not listen to people talk about books.

I realized I don’t really get to talk about books/ writing/ publishing much in my everyday life, and certainly not in my preferred way — dissecting plotting pace, foreshadowing, characterization choices, character arcs, effectiveness of set and setting, language/ description/ wordplay choices, and so on. I don’t get to talk about writing struggles very often with people who relate–drafts and edits and trying to craft a sentence just so, and trying to find critics who give better critique than, “It’s good, I like it,” or copyedit (which is useful and all, but not exactly helpful for pacing/ characterization), and don’t fall into the type of in depth critiques which are basically recommending changes to make the writing more like theirs, eg, “Add more romance,” from a romance writer, or, “Take out the sci-fi, make it magic,” from a fantasy writer, or, “I don’t understand why she’s a girl? Soldiers are usually boys, so it would make more sense if she’s a boy. Add more action language and gunfights. Less tech,” from another sci fi writer.

So I realized the reason I love these sorts of oppurtunities to listen to author panels and talk to writers and published authors afterward is because it’s so nice to talk to people who speak my language. Who care about the things I care about. Who have more to say about a book than, “It was nice. I liked it.”

It feeds something deep in my soul, like rain in a desert, and it felt a little selfish to go to the author panel when my son wasn’t interested … but it was also irresistible when I won’t have this opportunity again until October, and that’s no guarantee.

Squeeeee

Yesterday was the release date for Firebrand, the 6th book in the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain. Which means that aaaallllllll day, I’ve been seeing posts like this in my feed:

And I am like unhhfhkfhh I waaaaant. 

I could get it on my Nook. Actually, I probably will, lol. But I was also planning on picking up a hard copy, and recently I learned the author herself is doing a panel and author signing at ECCC, which I just so happened to have bought tickets for as my son’s birthday gift! 

Sooooo I figured I’d just kinda delay on picking up the hard copy until I was at the author signing, bc its less stuff to haul around the entire day. I’m already bringing my Nook and a few books for the other author signings.

This birthday gift is really working out well for me, haha.

I’m so excited — I nerd out a little at the prospect of author panels. Love love love hearing writers talk craft. I didn’t know ECCC had a whole section for writers, and I kinda feel pissed/ like I’ve been missing out. 

I’ve only been to one other con — a Wizardcon in Portland a few years back. I was not impressed by the experience. 

See, I’d been to Wordstock (also in Portland), now the Literary Arts Fair. It’s this big, multi-day event all about, well, books. And writing. The first year I went, the door/ entry fee was like $10/day (free for students), and I think it’s $15/day now (but still free for students). With that entry free, attendees get a book coupon, entry to a bunch of author panels, and access to this awesome two-story book fair with tons of cool books, book-related merchandise, and literary arts activities (like poetry readings, typewriter free-write, finger painting, etc). It’s super fun, just for the basic entry fee, and you get to talk to all kinds of cool writers and authors and meet with indie publishers and stuff — but, if you’re willing to pay a bit more, it gets better (Is that possible?!? Yes! It is!) There are writing workshops, and they’re pretty good. I shelled out a little extra a few years back and took two. Worth it. That said, even just going and listening to the author panels can result in some incredibly insightful and helpful advice, so I strongly urge any aspiring writer to find a literary arts conference and go!

Anyway, I assumed Wizardcon would be like Wordstock, with the entry fee giving panel access and all the activities and free signings and things. But it was more like a swap meet with cool costumes that I paid $40 for the privilege to peruse the overpriced wares I had no intention of buying. Boooooring. I was like, “Wow, this is a con? What a con!” And just kinda wrote off all cons because I didn’t realize there are (apparently) huuuuuge differences between the different cons?

Anyway, my kid had waaay more fun at Wizardcon than me (he was at the age where drooling over Star Wars toys and staring wide-eyed at people wandering by in crazy costumes was entertainment enough), and has been begging to go ECCC ever since. The last two years the tickets were sold out by the time I remembered to check, but this year–ah ha ha, this year I mommed the hell out of it and got him those tickets. Boom, baby! So stoked.

Then I got their email with the day planning guide and was like whaaaaat is this? It’s more than a glorified nerd-targeted swap meet with costumed fans wandering the premises? There’s a gaming floor to try out new board games and VR and video games? There are panels about cosplay and gender roles in comics and content creators talking narrative in film, comics, and games? There are author panels with some of my favorite authors talking feminism, sci-covering and fantasy?!?? 

And these have been regular features?!? Like, annually? I could have been dropping my son and husband off on the gaming floor and spending the entire day in a blissed out haze of writer panels and author signings all these years?

I’m so excited. So so so excited. Possibly more excited than my kid at this point.

the nightmare mind

Depression is a familiar, yet strange nightmare. A shapeshifting demon I know too well, but always fail to recognize.

When I was little, I used to be afraid of the witches in the closet. At night, with the bedroom lights off, the moonlight cast shadows across the bright Sunday dresses and turned them into a rustling coven of witches. I would lie in bed staring at them, unable to sleep as my overactive imagination warred with my reasoning mind. Sleep. It’s just your dresses. No, no — see, it moved! Dresses don’t move! Eventually I would leap up, risking a spanking, and turn on the light to check. Magically, the witches would resolve into an inanimate garden of dresses, innocuous and cheerful — but as soon as the lights were off and shadows turned the colorful fabric dark, the witches would return with their whispers and rustles.

Insomnia and anxiety have been the long-time companions of depression in the war for my soul. By my teens I knew the necessity of girding myself against them to the best of my ability, but I was resistant to actually implementing any of the advice offered by my well-meaning parents, therapists, and counselors.

I am, by nature, a night owl. I prefer long walks in the moonlight, under the stars. I prefer the silence and emptiness of abandoned streets at 2 a.m. I prefer puttering quietly around the house when all are asleep, each careful movement calculated to preserve my precious solitude. My therapists kept telling me I had to resist it, that I couldn’t lean into it — that I had to at least try to sleep. I would smile tightly, a combination of irritation and frustration: didn’t they think I would sleep if I could? Did they think I liked staying up all hours until I dropped from the sheer, worn-out exhaustion of a 36 hour insomnia?

Then again back then, there were no real consequences when I ignored their well-meant advice. I had that special privilege of a secure childhood, with all the privileges of outsourced responsibilities. Dad used to wake me up for school, shaking my foot and singing the BYU fight song. Mom woIuld drive me if I missed the carpool, and pick me up after school. She set my medications out for me in an egg cup every morning, so I never forgot to take them — and that’s just on the micro level. On the macro level, my parents handled all the day-to-day of household management: income earning, budgeting, meal prep, laundry, shopping, and various errands.

Sure, the kids contributed to chores … but if we didn’t? If, say, I stayed up all night reading, or sneaking out for early-morning walks, or hyperfocusing on an art project, then collapsed in useless exhaustion just before dawn? Eh. Chores still got done. Meals were still made. Household still ran. wasn’t the key element there; my parents were. I mean, sure, I was utterly useless in school — barely functioning — but my parents made sure I still went. I can’t say my high school career was in any way, shape, or form a shining success, but in retrospect, I have to admit my poor showing it wasn’t due to my lack of ability or any lack of support from my family. It was solely because I didn’t give a shit, was bored by the system/ didn’t see the value in it, and was both overwhelmed and intimidated by the amount of personal responsibility required I was required to take on to succeed. It was easier to fail on my own terms than try to succeed and fail on someone else’s.

Maybe that’s the story of my life. Maybe that’s what I’m still doing.

 

When I became an adult/ partner/ parent, suddenly I was responsible. It sucked. It still sucks. I miss being irresponsible. I hate watching clocks and making lists and worrying about schedules. I miss being the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants girl. I miss being the spontaneous girl. I miss being the idgf girl. I miss being able to stay up all night and not having to worry about whether or not I’d be in any condition to wake up my kid and drive him to school in the morning. I miss being able to get in the car and go, and not having to worry about all the stupid adult responsibility-type things, like whether or not the stove was turned off and did we close the bedroom door so the cats wouldn’t piss on the bed and did we let the dogs out and did we bring snacks for the kid and do we have the insurance cards in the glove box and did we remember the documents for crossing the border and is the front door locked.

But the thing is, it’s inescapable, and I recognize this: it’s not “being a parent,” or “being a partner,” that forced responsibility onto me. It’s “being an adult.” This is adulthood. This is what it is not to have my parents taking care of things. These are the things they took care of when I was young, and now I have to take care of them. They aren’t here. Now it’s me and my partner–and if I wasn’t lucky enough to have a partner to help shoulder the load, it would just be me.

I learned, abruptly, how to manage my insomnia shortly after my son was born (when I say “shortly,” I mean within a year or so). All those tips my therapists had been telling me through my teens, it turns out, work. Lights and computers off, no electronics up to half an hour before bedtime, and when you think you’ve been lying there forever and clearly won’t sleep, don’t get up. Stay in bed and start counting backward from 100, or something equally boring to you (I tell myself overly-detailed stories).

I also thought I got my depression under control, but then I realized I didn’t have it under control at all: it shifts, and comes at me from different faces, masquerading as external stresses like post-partum depression, grief, outside stress and trauma. The old footsoldiers of anxiety and insomnia wear masks of introversion, self-doubt, and sleep debt, but they’re all the same old stories once lodged inside. Parasite nightmares.

I was so proud of myself for conquering my insomnia, but as the years slip by and my son grows up, I notice my sleep debt increasing. The sleepless nights shade inches longer, an the yawning abyss of daytime exhaustion increases a few days every year.

Sometimes I realize, with a creeping sense of dismay, that the only thing hinging me to a responsible sleep schedule is the necessity of waking up my son in the morning and driving him to school, and when that is no longer required, there is almost nothing beyond the thin thread of my self-control to prevent my worst insomniatic impulses.

I find myself, I lose myself.

I don’t know where I am.