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Category Archives: Self-Reflection

(Writing) The View From 10,000 Feet

Self Improvement 150There are a few things that are preventing me from finishing up stories on a consistent basis: a general lack of self-discipline, toxic perfectionism, time management skills, and an inability to stick through the end of a project. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about how my brain works, I’ve realized that developing a process for these things is probably the way to go. By breaking down each story into a series of actionable steps, the focus becomes about getting to the next part — not this free-floating, vague goal to eventually finish a short story some day.

Now that I’m nearly done with the editing pass for “Stable Love,” this monstrous commission that I had taken on years ago, I’m ready to move on to new stories — which is an excellent time to take a step back to develop some basic framework for how to move through writing them. This will be a work in progress, no doubt; I also realize that not every story is going to take to the same basic process, and some modifications will be needed from time to time. Still, we have to start somewhere, so let’s call this the beta version of my story-writing process, meant to take me from idea-generating to a story ready for submission or publication.

Since my big weakness is structure, I’ll need to take care that I pay attention to that in both the pre-writing and editing stages. With pre-writing, I’m hoping I can use character, setting and scene summaries to dive deep into the things that excite me most about the story, refining the core kernel so that it extends through pretty much everything else. What am I really doing with this story? What do I want to communicate to the reader? What do I want the audience to feel once they’ve finished? Answering those questions up front will give me something of a ‘north star’ to guide my decisions in writing and editing after that.

Pre-Writing. This is obviously the first step. I’m a bit of a pantser, mostly because attempts to plot my stories ahead of time don’t go so well. Main characters fight the plot, with some previously undiscovered trait or desire. I’ll think about a scene or direction for the story and decide that some other thing is way more exciting. Usually, the story is unrecognizable halfway through my planned outline because various changes add up.

So there has to be a better way to outline. In pre-writing, thinking about the kind of story I want to write, the effect I’d like it to have, and what the journey of the main character will be like is essential. Everything extends out from that, right? Especially in a short story, where there’s limited space to get the job done, you pretty much have to have that north star guiding every decision you make.

So: step one is figuring out the theme/purpose of the story — even if it’s just to titillate or have fun. After that, writing up the main character, the arc of their journey, and the conflict they need to deal with is the thing to do. From there, brainstorming other characters, situations and ideas to support that main theme should round things out from there.

When I’m done with pre-writing, I should have the main theme, the main character, the primary conflict and resolution, supporting characters, setting, and a rough skeleton of how things should go. For now, I’d like to stick to ‘tentpole’ plot points — the things that NEED to happen in order for the story to work — so I can forge a path towards them however the characters dictate.

First Draft. Now that I have a general direction for the story, the first draft is the pass with only one goal. FINISH. No editing, no doubling back, no overthinking. I’ve got the plan; stick to the plan. FINISH. There will be time for editing and revision later, but the most important thing is getting to write “THE END”. Once that’s done, chances are I’ll let the story marinate in its own juices for a few days to clear my head a bit and get the chance to look at it with fresh eyes.

Second Draft. After a few days’ rest for the story, I’d like to take it out of the drawer and read it over to see how much of it works. Here is where the bulk of the revisions will come. If there’s a better idea for getting the effect I want, or if the characters decide to take the story in a different direction, here is where that will happen. This draft, I think, will be the one where I look at all of the major stuff — theme, setting, character — to see if these aspects are consistent, interesting, and hold up well.

To be honest, I think this step will be the most difficult for me. It’s hard for me to read my own work, especially with a critical eye, and feel like I can actually work with it. I don’t know how many other writers have this problem, but I really hate reading my own stories — things will come off lame, or repetitive, or just boring. It’s much easier to just write something and throw it out there, forgetting about it once it’s been thrown up.

But honestly, that’s a form of cowardice and certainly no way to get better. Being able to take a hard look at your own work with an eye towards making it better is essential if I’m going to expect to get better as a writer. It’s also a way to encourage self-awareness, which might be the reason I have such a hard time with it. Right now, writing is a sensitive area for me, and most of us don’t like working with the parts of ourselves that get hurt easily.

Beta Read. Once the second draft is done, I’d like to submit the story to a few folks for a beta read. Depending on the story, the beta readers could be anyone from my writing group, a few close friends, or the patrons who are encouraging me to write more and write better. The feedback that I get from this group will help me know how close I’ve hit the target and which scenes, characters, or themes I should work on moving forward. It’s important to know that the story isn’t complete here; that it’s still a work-in-progress, but at this point it’s a good idea to show it to others for additional perspective.

Third Draft. This is where the final version of the story takes shape, more or less. Armed with the feedback of my beta readers and a clearer sense of what the actual North Star for my story should be, I can take a hard look at the pieces of the story — scenes, characters, transitions — and figure out how to make them strong and lean. Things that I like but don’t quite serve the story are excised here, and the basic structure of the narrative is set. This is also where I can settle in and try a new thing or two, planting seeds in early scenes that will bear fruit later. Since I know where the story is going, I can look for opportunities to plant signposts with that knowledge.

Polishing Draft. After a few more days in a drawer, it’s time to take out the story and polish it up. The plan is for this to be the final draft; knowing that the bulk of the story is where I want it to be, I can spend some energy “punching up” scenes, descriptions and characters so that they pop in ways that make the story as enjoyable as possible while also emphasizing the things that I really want to lean into. Once the story goes through it’s polished fourth draft, it’s ready to be submitted to a website or publication with the hope that it’ll be selected for something neat.

I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to write a story under this process; if I outline a week for each draft, that would make it a month for each one. I’m sure that’ll get faster as I become more confident and capable as a writer, and I really don’t mind the long gestation for the story. A story that makes slow progress towards publication is better than what I have been doing.

I read a blog entry on another site — I forget which or else I would link to it — that likened editing/drafting passes as hitting one circle closer to the bull’s eye each time, and I like that. That first draft, unless it’s a total disaster, should hit the outer ring of the target. Each edit should feel like a better shot, until at last you hit exactly where you’re aiming. As a young writer, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to settle for a more generous definition of the bull’s eye, but that’s OK. Getting closer with each story will almost certainly happen, and there’s simply no such thing as a perfect story.

Hopefully thinking of my writing process this way will encourage me to push through the difficulty of finishing up the draft as well as the humbling experience of reading over it and picking it apart. I know it’s silly to not want to read my own work while simultaneously hoping other people will (and like it), so that’s definitely an impulse I’ll have to get over.

What do you think, dear readers? Is this a fairly decent plan, or have I missed something? What are YOUR writing processes like? I’m really curious!

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2017 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Writing) The Anatomy of the Story

Writing 150This summer I want to take the time and get really serious about my writing. That means working on it every day, reading stories from friends and colleagues as much as possible, and thinking about the aspects of my craft that I need to work on. When I asked my husband — the accomplished writer and wonderful dragon The Pen Drake — what I should work on first, it didn’t take him long to answer with “narrative structure”. After a moment’s consideration I totally see it. Plotting is one of those basic tools in a writer’s toolbox, and it’s one that I haven’t learned to use very well.

Plot is basically the series of events in a story that leads the characters through their arc. Ideally it should be interrelated with the character’s internal progression AND their external conflict; the main character’s main flaw is a significant barrier or source of conflict that needs to be overcome before the plot can be resolved. The main character is motivated to resolve the plot because it’s the only way they can get the one thing they desire. So the way the plot unfolds is inextricably linked to the internal world of the protagonist; the mistakes they make and the ultimate solution they come up with is based on who they are.

I think the main problem I have with plotting is, weirdly enough, having the protagonist actively work to achieve their goals and dealing with the consequences of those actions. In most of my stories the main character is little more than an observer, there to witness and chronicle the things that happen in the story. The protagonist takes in the action, but rarely actually initiates it, and the external stimulus is absorbed into their internal mental and emotional process.

What ends up happening is a lot of description; what’s happening in the world, immediately relevant to the viewpoint character, and how it makes them feel or changes the way they think. To be honest, I really love exploring how people are changed by the things they experience, and I love describing fantastic situations to explore how they’re interpreted through the lens of a particular person. But that’s only one half of the story; the insights you gain mean nothing until you put them into practice. You have to come down from the mountain, as they say.

So what I need to do is move further with the basic situations in my stories. It’s all well and good that a character’s life has been changed by something that’s happened, but what do they do about it? How does it get them closer to what they want? And what are the consequences of their actions on the world around them? What does that say about their priorities, and the setting?

The next Patreon serial I’m working on is a good opportunity to think about that. The plan is to make the protagonist the captain of a starship tasked with exploring the frontier and helping out in any way they can. In the first story, the crew of the ship contracts a disease that severely hampers their ability to carry out that mission; anywhere they go is now at risk of contracting the disease as well. How does the captain deal with that situation? How are his personal flaws going to make the resolution more difficult to come by? How do his actions affect the rest of the crew as well as anyone else they come into contact with? And what finally allows him to overcome those personal flaws to resolve the problem?

If all goes well, this will be the first serial of many in this setting. In future serials, the viewpoint character might shift so we’ll get a sense of how the captain’s resolution spins out to affect other officers and members of the crew. It’s ambitious, but that also means that the resolution of one plot becomes the catalyst for another — and that’s an exciting idea. To be honest, that’s what really attracts me to serialized fiction in the first place. Stories are never self-contained; they’re ripples on a continuum that keep extending outward.

Anyway, as I keep working on the pre-writing for this and other stories I’ll talk about my progress with this particular aspect of the craft. For now, I’m probably sticking to basic plots just to make sure I can construct a solid skeleton for the story I’m trying to tell. As I get more comfortable, I can move on to more complicated plots or figure out what kinds of twists I like.

If you have any advice on plotting, or any resources that have helped you figure out how to get better at it, why not share them in the comments? I’d be grateful for the help!

 

(Writing) Professional Deficiencies

Writing 150It feels like it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve talked about writing. When the Spring semester classes for college started, that ate up most of my time and what wasn’t claimed there was spent on family, work, or my social life. Then my sister passed, and life since then has been pretty full dealing with the fallout from that. I’ve withdrawn from this semester of classes, but it hasn’t felt like a lot of free time has opened up.

Slowly but surely, though, things have begun to settle. Now that I’m away from school I’m beginning to wonder if pursuing a degree at this point is something I really want to do; it’ll take me over two years of constant work (taking classes during the summer and winter breaks) just to get an Associate’s Degree with an intent to transfer. After that, it’ll likely take me three years at least to earn a BS in Psychology.

I think there are better ways I can help, right now. Volunteering with NAMI, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or any number of other organizations geared towards mental health might be a more immediate way to work with those who need the most help right away. I can also study outside of classes, learning more about mental health issues, the state of current treatments for them, and the barriers that so many different people face in getting the help they need.

But that’s a post for a different day. I’ve got a minute to think about writing, so let’s reflect on where I am with that aspect of my life.

The short answer is not well at all. Going to college was difficult, as I expected, but I also underestimated how much time it was going to take away from everything else. Work has been pretty hairy even though customers have been quiet — shifting to ten-hour days four times a week means free time during work days are at a premium. A lot of what’s happened over the past several months has forced me to become more organized and focused, which needed to happen. But it’s also made it all but impossible to focus on my writing.

Now that I’m not taking classes for at least three and a half months, I can start turning my attention back towards writing. I’m not sure if it’s possible to develop a full-fledged writing practice, but I’m sure interested in trying. So I’ll go ahead and announce my intention to write 1,000 words a day every day from June 1st until September 1st. The best part is that intention will face a pretty stiff test right off the bat — I’ll be going to Biggest Little Fur Con at the beginning of the month, and fan conventions are notoriously difficult places to write if you, say, have ADHD.

But that’s a good challenge to start off with, right? If I can nail 1,000 words in the chaos of a furry convention in Reno, I can do it pretty much anywhere, at any time.
I also know that I don’t read nearly enough, and that’s something that pains me greatly. I’m never going to get better as a writer if I don’t read voraciously, and I’ve struggled with that for an awfully long time. Life is so busy that it’s hard to find space for something that feels like a rare and idle pleasure, and these days it feels especially difficult to single-task in the manner that reading requires. But that might actually be why cultivating a reading habit is so essential; it forces you to slow down and pay attention to what’s right in front of you. It’s hard to fall under the spell of something you’re only giving half your attention to.

There’s a tremendous stack of books to read on my shelf right now, and it’s time to start making a dent in them. I’d like to write more short stories, so focusing on those is a good idea to start with. A couple of friends bought some really neat short story collections for me and I’ve subscribed to Apex Magazine, Fireside Fiction and a few other publications that have choice works out right now. There’s no shortage of things to read; it’s just a matter of building the hunger for it.

So, I resolve to finish “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin by the end of the month and start going in on short stories, novels, graphic novel collections and other things soon after that. I resolve to talk more about the things I’m writing and reading, the lessons I’m learning from acting and observing, how my skill and understanding as a writer is developing.

I know that I have a tendency to over-commit to things, so I’ll be careful — I’m setting my sights low, but I also need to make sure I’m devoting a significant amount of time to this to prove my intention. Resolving to read and write every day — and finding ways to create time for both of them — is something I can do for at least a few months; once September rolls around, I can take a step back and see if this feels better.

Also, hopefully, this will let me make more polished posts here and accelerate the development of my voice, which I’ve always wondered about. What will I sound like when my mish-mash of influences coheres into something unique? It’s an exciting thought. I’m looking forward to finding out.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2017 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

(Personal) The Best Thing About Tragedy

Myth 150Pixar’s Inside Out is an amazing film, and I’ll get into exactly what I think about it later. But for now I want to talk about one perfect moment of many in the movie because I keep thinking about it recently. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry — I won’t spoil too much about the plot or anything. It’s a small thing, but like the best emotional beats it opens directly to the heart of things when you look into it.

The premise is that the emotions we all experience — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust — are people whose job it is to make sure our emotions influence us to take action when necessary. Each emotion has a situation it’s designed for, and Joy (our main character) is really dedicated to making sure her person has the happiest life. This, of course, puts her in direct conflict with Sadness.

A character that Joy and Sadness meet while traveling suffers a loss that affects him deeply, and Joy can’t seem to snap him out of the funk he’s in. Exasperated, she steps away; Sadness sits next to him and encourages him to talk about what’s upsetting him, getting him to move through his pain instead of avoiding it. Once he’s had a good cry, he stands up and announces he’s ready to move on. After that, Joy realizes Sadness’ purpose — the pain we experience allows us to have empathy for others, to help them move through pain that can feel unbearable at times.

This first week of May was one of the hardest I’ve ever experienced. My sister was the one person who would have gotten me to go back to my hometown of Baltimore, and her sudden hospitalization found me on a plane there without hesitation. I got the call on Friday morning, arrived early Saturday, and saw my mother for the first time in 19 years that day. The next day, I met the father of Teneka’s children and my two oldest nephews for the first time.

That was the day we were gathered in a conference room with a small team of doctors and social workers and told that my sister was brain dead. My heart broke, not just for my loss, but for the loss of my nephews’ mother, my mother’s daughter, my brother’s partner in life. Our grief in that room connected us, as painful as it was; I can’t speak for anyone else, but being comforted and being able to comfort my family made me feel just a tiny bit better.

The following week was a struggle to absorb the twin tragedies of my sister’s passing and the cold realization of how much my mother’s health had deteriorated over time. She was a small but ice-hard woman, and she kept a clean home. Walking into the house I grew up and being hit by the smell and sight of what it had become is a shock I won’t forget. As soon as I saw her, lying in her bed, I knew that I would do anything to get her out of there and into a better situation.

My husband paused, allowed himself to recover, then immediately went to work helping her. His aunt did the same when she drove with me to help prepare for my sister’s memorial service. I hadn’t seen my mother since the day she told me not to come back all those years ago. Ryan only knew of her through the stories I told him about my upbringing. His aunt had never met her — she was a country girl from Arkansas stepping in to an inner-city home for the first time.

None of that mattered. Time and again, I found myself helped through this terrible time by friends and family stepping up to share my grief and take on a burden that wasn’t theirs. When someone else needed my help, I stepped in without hesitation. Knowing that there were so many others who would do — who had done — the same for me made it easy.

Over the week I was in Baltimore, I was able to heal the rift with my mother — who loved my husband, by the way. I was able to meet my nephews for the first time, and get close to someone who loved Teneka as much as I did. Our family came together in a way they hadn’t in quite some time, and I forged a bond with friends and neighbors that allowed me to reclaim my past. Most importantly, the beautiful, graceful connections that we formed helped ensure that my grief for my sister was tempered with an appreciation for her life and all of the people she had touched.

Our ability to feel pain is also our ability to feel empathy. We can know what it’s like to lose someone and reach out in ways that can genuinely help ease their suffering. As hard as it was to deal with everything back in my hometown, I keep going back to the people I bonded with, the deep and lasting connections we formed, all of those times where love filled the room and allowed us to be open and honest and kind. I feel sad, and I will for a long time. But I also feel incredibly fortunate to have the friends and family I do, the support that carried me through all of this, the ability to witness the best in people.

Even in heavy grief, my heart feels lifted by gratitude. I don’t know that I can express how much I appreciate the kind words and deeds of everyone who reached out over the past few weeks. Thank you all, for everything you’ve done.

 

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(Personal) Eulogy For My Sister

Myth 150When I was younger, I used to make plans with my sister to run away from home all the time. We always thought that the way our mother treated us was grossly unfair, and after a particularly hard day we would pack up a few days’ worth of clothes, make a couple of sandwiches, and sit beneath the porch of our childhood home to plan our escape. Of course we never went through with it; when the time came to pull the trigger, we always found a reason that the timing wasn’t right or why tomorrow would be better.

Only, as time went on and we grew up, we both did run away in our own sense. I fell into a ton of extracurricular activities in high school and when I graduated, I worked two jobs and spent the rest of my day at the library until it closed just so I wouldn’t have to go back home. After that, I tried really hard to be an active Jehovah’s Witness. When that didn’t work, I fled to college in southern Maryland.

My sister literally ran away without me when I was 13 or 14 years old. Suddenly, she was gone for months and neither my mother or I had any idea where she was. I was so stunned that I couldn’t think of anything to do except sit and stare at the wall for hours after school. It was safer for me than feeling whatever it was I felt. I knew the emotion was too intense for me, and that I would end up doing something to purge myself of it that would not be good.

I didn’t realize that was grief until just a few years ago, and since then I considered myself lucky that it had been the closest I’d come to the pain of losing someone so close to me. I can’t think of myself as that fortunate any more.

My sister died on April 30th, 2017. She had been found unconscious and unresponsive in her apartment a few days before, and when the paramedics arrived it took over twenty minutes to get back a pulse. She was on a respirator for days while the family gathered and doctors performed a few tests. By the end of that weekend, it was clear that her brain had died even though her heart was still beating. We heard the news as a family — my mother was there with me, and so was the father of her two oldest children. It shattered us; each of us had a complicated relationship with my sister that took us further away from her, then closer, over time. I’m not sure any of us understood how much she meant to us until we were told that we would never get to speak to her again.

In a lot of ways, I felt like I had already mourned my sister the first time she ran away. She came back and ran away a few more times before I left home for good, and that pattern would be repeated over the years in several fights with my mother. The last time I spoke to her, she had come back from going “off the grid” again for a few days, ready to work with Mom to get the house in order, take care of her children, and start the long hard road towards being a mother, daughter, caretaker and everything else folks wanted her to be. I didn’t think it would last, but I never could be sure because I didn’t know my sister — not really. The sister I knew had “died” the first time she disappeared without a trace, and all these years later I was still feeling my way around this changeling that had taken her place.

But of course that’s not the reality of the situation. Of course my sister was the same girl who plotted escaping home with her quiet, nerdy brother — just with more experience, an adult’s understanding of the childhood pain she carried with her for her entire life. When I think about what my sister went through in her too-brief life, I’m stunned by her strength and the realization of how much she loved people, how much she sought love and acceptance. And it breaks my heart that I realized that only now, when it’s too late to do anything with that knowledge.

Like all of us, my sister had mental health issues that had been inherited by our biological mother. Unlike me, though, she still lived in the heart of Baltimore City where these issues are largely unrecognized and go untreated. When she tried to talk to her friends about them, they would tell her that she was “making things up” or that she just had to think about her problems the right way to see how ridiculous an idea it was to have “anxiety disorder”. Over time, my sister learned to nurse her issues silently and even when asked she would be reluctant to talk about it. She had to bear the burden of her own faulty brain while stepping up to be strong for everyone around her. She worked so hard to clean and care for my mother, who only gave her scorn in response; she tried hard to provide a good life for her oldest son, even though his mental health issues will make it extremely challenging; she had to fight an uncaring bureaucracy for any help she could get, even though she had been punished for having such a hard time by losing her two youngest children to foster care.

Thinking about what my sister had to go through, it’s no wonder that she turned to drugs when she did — and that it was so hard to kick the habit whenever she tried. The comforting oblivion of being too intoxicated to think or feel is an extremely tempting one, especially when just piecing together a life for yourself is so hard and thankless. Still, she knew that she needed to stop for the sake of her children. The fact that she ultimately failed is a tragedy, but it is not one of personal deficiency. She needed a support network that believed in her and worked to validate her experience, one that would give her hope that she could still live a happy life. In the depths of depression surrounded by the craziness of the inner city, something like that can feel as impossible as flying to Mars.

Still, she stayed. She stayed because she was the only one who could care for my mother, an exceedingly difficult woman who pushes away anyone who gets close enough to help her. She stayed because her children needed her, and she tried to get clean for them. She fought and fought and fought until she couldn’t any more; but she never gave up. She gave her family everything she had and then some; she hid how much it hurt when she was told again and again that it wasn’t enough.

At last, her pain is over. Her struggle has ended. I wish this wasn’t the way it happened, and I’ll regret not doing more to do right by her for the rest of my life. The only way I can prove how sorry I am is by being as strong as she was, as giving and hopeful and tenacious. She eventually fell to her demons, but she never stopped fighting them. I can’t either.

Because of my sister, I will run away from my fights much less often. Standing my ground and fighting my battles is the legacy she left with me with. For that, I sincerely thank her.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2017 in mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

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Zen & The Art of Getting Shit Done

 

Buddhism 150It’s been a hard couple of months for me, mostly because of a few unexpected emergencies. I got into an accident at the end of February that totaled my car, and it took about a month for my insurance company to make that decision and offer me a write-off settlement. I had spent a bit of time researching available cars for a while, but past a certain point I had to blitz through buying a car because of the other sudden explosion — family. I’m still working through that one, and it looks like I’ll be devoting time and energy to that for a while yet.

My ADHD intersects with my Generalized Anxiety Disorder in weird ways. I’m not sure if I’ve talked about my anxiety disorder, but here’s a quick summary. Emotions are like the dashboard warnings on your car, right? They’re indications that there’s something you should pay attention to. Sometimes, the sensor and trigger for those warning lights can be faulty or over-sensitive; so you’ll feel angry at the slightest provocation, or your body will suddenly panic for no real reason. In my case, my anxiety trigger is really sensitive — it doesn’t take very much to trigger it, and that makes it harder to absorb new sources of stress when they arise. It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed.

When that happens, my ADHD kicks in. It feels like I have…hummingbird brain, let’s say. I’ll flit from thing to thing, rarely staying in one place or on one thought at a time. The more I try to settle down to focus on a problem, the more my brain slides away from it, distracted by the nearest shiny thing. Because there’s an urgent matter that needs my attention, some part of my brain will send an anxiety response to draw it back, but I can’t focus and I’ll slide to another distraction. This happens again and again, and I end up spending so much energy trying to get my brain on track that by the time I’ve wrestled it into submission exhaustion has set in and I don’t have much energy for whatever problem I’m dealing with.

It’s frustrating and awful. It means that instead of having the capacity to deal with what’s in front of me, my anxiety will throw me into a state where that’s more or less impossible. Flight becomes my default response, and I’ll get caught in an anxiety-flight loop until I’m too tired to run, metaphorically, from my problems. But I’m also too tired to deal with them.

This is one of the reasons that self-care is so important. I know that laying a foundation of care allows me to absorb stress better, recognize when I’m about to become overwhelmed, and pull back to manage stress as necessary. It does mean that things get done more slowly, but the process is a whole lot faster than letting the hummingbird tire itself out and trying to deal with things that way.

A big part of that self-care is taking time to practice meditation. Allowing myself to do whatever it is I’m going to do helps to ground me. It’s like…setting aside space to honor the hummingbird by letting it flit as much as it wants; sometimes it settles down to sip the nectar of a particularly attractive thought and I discover a solution for something I need to take care of. Sometimes, it simply gets tired and goes back into its cage of its own accord. Either way, meditation helps immensely to replenish my capacity to absorb stress and deal with unexpected things as they arise, without attachment or judgement. I can enter a state of flow more easily, and it’s not quite as devastating when that flow state is broken. Panic happens less often, and even if I’m tired at the end of the day it’s not that raw and troubled exhaustion that happens after time fighting anxiety; it’s a contented kind of weariness, knowing that I got shit done.

Those of us who have to deal with mental health issues have all kinds of other considerations that others might not. Whenever someone comes up to ask me something or make a bid for attention, there’s an instinctive rise of concern about how much this exchange will take out of me. If I’m dealing with a lot of stress-inducing stuff at the moment, I might not be able to spare much energy at all, but I want to help and I want to listen, connect, work with people. If I wake up too late to meditate, I realize that I’ve compromised my ability to deal with difficulties for the rest of the day and my focus will suffer. I worry a lot about being understood or communicating my internal life to others in a way that they will get or care about; it’s hard for me to open up or be spontaneous with people. There’s all this damage that makes the regular stuff so hard, and it’s hard to explain that in a way that doesn’t feel like a bid for pity or a plea for recognition.

With self-care, it can often be that a small change yields big results. Without stress management or coping mechanisms, the medication I take for ADHD can make it more likely that I’ll hit “hummingbird brain” — which is counter-productive to what the medication is supposed to do. Taking just 15 minutes in the morning to encourage quiet and focus can be the difference between a hectic but successful day and a total hot mess of wasted opportunity.

It’s important to do what you need to do to make it through the day; we all have those things that make us better people. It could be exercise, or conversation, or medication; writing, or singing, or hiking. Whatever it is, do it — and make space for others to do what they need. We never know what burdens other people might be under. We scarcely know how our burdens will affect us. But if we encourage and support one another, it makes everyone’s burdens a bit easier to bear.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2017 in Buddhism, mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

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(Personal) Technical Difficulties

Myth 150The thing that really sucked about 2016 is that I never saw it coming. I went into the year with the sense of excitement and optimism one usually does, confident that I could get my shit together a little more and find success with things that had always eluded me. The Jackalope Serial Company started in January with an ambitious first serial, a novel-length story that would take me the entire year to complete. Now that I had my mental health issues figured out, more or less, I was impatient to get to all of the things that I was too busy fighting my own broken brain to get to. Of course, that boundless energy and optimism didn’t last long.

As the year wore on, I found that it was a bigger struggle than I thought to undo three decades of bad habits and poor decisions; the serial faltered, then stopped altogether. In the wider world, political discourse had gone from rancorous to toxic as Donald Trump somehow managed to beat 16 career politicans (and a few outsiders) to take the Republican nomination for President. Great Britain surprise-voted themselves out of the European Union, kicking off a wave of far-right xenophobia and racism that would be repeated on this side of the pond months later. Surprise that Trump made it this far into the Presidential process turned to shock, and disgust at his incompetence and inexcusable behavior became horror, when he became President thanks to razor-thin victories in three states that gave him all of the electoral votes he needed.

As we were reeling from the shock and facing down the prospect of a disastrous four years of a Trumpist administration, I thought that I could be prepared for 2017 knowing that it was going to be a rough one. I expected that there would be a lot of hard days ahead, and most of my friends would be frightened, depressed, in trouble, and struggling. I resolved to plant my feet and stand my ground as best I could, help out however I could, resist and endure. While I was facing the oncoming tsunami of political bad news, I was blindsided by a few personal crises.

First, my family. I received a letter in the mail asking me if I was related to a child whose name I didn’t recognize. Sure that it was some kind of mistake, I brushed it off until I received a follow-up phone call that told me my sister had been deemed unfit to raise her two youngest children and they had been placed in foster care. The woman on the other end was a social worker looking for relatives to take them in indefinitely.

Suddenly, my husband and I were faced with the prospect of raising children. As an adoptee myself, I know how important it is — but there was no way we were prepared for such a huge task. I couldn’t ask my husband to blow up his entire life for children he had never met, and I knew that saying yes would put all of my plans on hold for who knows how long. There were a lot of hard conversations and frenzied calls to family; I finally got to reach my sister and pledged my support, but I told the social worker there was simply no way we could take them in.

Since then, I haven’t heard anything from either of them. I have no idea what’s going on, despite repeated attempts to get in contact.

Two weeks ago, I was involved in a five car accident that pretty much wrecked my car. Since I rear-ended the car in front of me and the driver of that car was able to avoid the “main” accident I was deemed at fault and will have to pay a huge deductible if the cost of repairs are under the car’s value. Since that’s looking less and less likely, I should be OK with the total write-off but I’m not looking forward to the rise in my insurance premiums later this year. Besides the stress of uncertainty about the status of my car and the fact that this was my first major accident, things turned out a lot better than they could have there. Still, it’s been very stressful.

On top of that, we’ve had persistent plumbing issues with our kitchen sink over the past couple of weeks that got progressively worse until we learned that the sewer line from our kitchen had been corroded completely. That’s been repaired, but now we’re back to square one — our kitchen sink drains very slowly, as if something is not quite blocking it. A fourth/fifth visit from the plumber is likely later this week.

The family crisis, accident and plumbing issue has been taking up a good deal of my focus; the Argumentation & Debate class has been eating up the remainder. As a result, I’ve been stressed to all hell and those old avoidance behaviors have been creeping back into my days. If I’ve been flighty, distant and unreliable online that’s why. I’m feeling overwhelmed with everything going on and I’m just trying to tackle the biggest problems with what limited energy I have. I have to reserve a lot to fight my worst impulses, which makes it even harder to deal with anything new.

I’m hoping that things will shake themselves out in a few weeks or months, but in the meantime things will continue to be a struggle. I haven’t had the spoons for activism or volunteer work yet, and it bums me out. I know that the administration of 45 and the Republican party are up to their persistent fuckery, but I just don’t have the emotional space to tackle that right now. I need to step back and try to right my world for a little bit.

Of course, this blog post means that I’m digging myself out of the hole, bit by bit. Hopefully I can return to a regular posting schedule soon.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2017 in mental-health, Self-Reflection