Sorry about the late and rather short entry this week. Summer schedule at the day job has kept me on my toes and I keep using up my free time to rest and recharge rather than getting anything substantial accomplished. My goal for Camp NaNoWriMo this month was 31 hours of editing, but I only managed to reach 10, and most of that was typing I should have gotten done in June. So I’m about a month or more behind everything, but the forward motion does continue, albeit at a crawl. And as summer winds down, hopefully there will be enough opportunities to recharge my low battery, at least enough to get me through to the beach in September.
I hope to give you a more substantial Cat’s Cradle entry and better report of my artistic endeavors in August.
I’m sitting on the front porch in a set of “I Love Coffee” pajamas, basking in the summer warmth. The wrens bring food to their babies nesting in one of the hanging flowerpots. (They are surprisingly loud for such little birds.) A copy of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistresssits on a stool beside me, the bookmark nestled almost a quarter of the way through. It has been a quiet, lazy kind of day, and I dread returning to my day job tomorrow morning. Feels like I could use a few more days like this to just…chill. Reorganize. Reboot.
It’s good to remember that we are walking meatbags subject to all kinds of influences, both within and outside of our control, and that it isn’t a good idea to make decisions when feeling emotional extremes.
I say this because I’ve been feeling cranky and irritable for the last week or so, beating myself for being a lazy writer, a bad friend, a horrible housemate, and pretty much every other nasty piece of self-loathing I could hurl at myself… only to wake up on Saturday and realize that all of it was most likely due to PMS.
And that scared me a little. As I’ve gotten older, the PMS mood swings have gotten worse. Fifteen years ago, I would get a little achy, a little tired, but that was about it. Now it’s risen to “I-hate-everyone-and-everything-don’t-you-dare-talk-to-me-or-I’ll-rip-your-face-off” levels. If I don’t remember to count the days, it can be easy to mistake this regular hormonal change for a flare-up of depression or some other more serious issue.
Fortunately, I didn’t have any major decisions I had to make during this past week… but what if I had? I have no control over what my hormones do and the effects have gotten more extreme, so I have to be careful to not let mood swings lead me about by the nose.
I’m fortunate that, once the monthlies actually hit, the depressive mood disappears. I was especially fortunate this time to have a nice, quiet, sunny weekend spent on the front porch reading Songs of Giants: The Poetry of Pulp illustrated by Mark Wheatley and The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion while downing cups of tea and chocolate sea salt caramel ice cream. Days where I can proceed at my own (admittedly slow) pace without being pressured by outside forces are rare, and I desperately wish I had more of them.
But the moral of this story is that we are physical creatures with a lot going on, both internally and externally, that can affect us in ways we may not be aware of. Since we artistic folk are especially neurotic, we have to pay even more attention and make sure that the decisions we make are based on rational thought rather than our easily influenced, mind-altering gut.
Now, back to the July Edition of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve got a book to finish.
Since making my declaration about getting back into The Mariner Sequence, specifically Ravens and Roses, I haven’t actually written anything. And yet I feel like my mind is more in “writer mode” than it has been in a while.
Looking back over the last two weeks, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been writing, yet two morning walks spent talking to myself have solved some major plot problems that had troubled me for years. It just goes to show that, while a writer may not always be putting words on a page, when we have a goal in mind, we can feed everything we do into the compost of our subconscious and see what happens. It’s a weird and diverse process, one that is nonlinear and sporadic. Many of the things don’t seem to relate to writing. After all, what do the following contribute to the writing process?
Camp NaNo in April didn’t go so well. In fact, I haven’t done so well on my writing for a while. I’ve been trying to move ahead with “quick fix” projects, the ones that on the surface don’t look like they require as much time and effort and therefore would be ready for the “Agent Auction House” sooner. I seem to have creatively shot myself in the foot trying to take these shortcuts. I made the mistake of getting caught up in the idea of production, of “being productive” and just pouring out words. And there is a time and a place for that. But I’ve been wallowing in these isolated shallow pools for a long while now, not willing to take that step back into the ocean.
Well, it seems like some of my 2017 goals kinda sorta came true. I have learned to like writing again, at least in some aspects, although I’m still not as regular and disciplined as I would like to be. I’ve also made more of an effort to write letters, but not as much as I would like, and the exercise/being healthy part has really slipped in the last few months. I do need to take some time in the last week of 2018 and first week of 2019 to really assess what I have, where I want to go, and how to get there. Part of the reason a lot of my yearly goals aren’t really coming to pass except by accident is because I don’t have solid plans in place to facilitate getting them accomplished! Still, I think I did okay overall in 2018.
Belief is a funny thing. It’s a word that gets tossed around in a lot of discussions, debates, and outright arguments without ever being properly defined. Granted, the idea of belief is a slippery concept to begin with, especially since it is so easily personalized and adapted to fit almost any mindset. In onset of the holiday season, combined with my recent read of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and rewatching Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, got me thinking about the nature of belief and its place in stories.
As someone who is trying to be a good skeptic and humanist, I’ve developed a weird, slightly uncomfortable relationship with stories about the importance of belief. I read and watch a lot of stories that emphasize how important it is to believe in something fantastic, even if there doesn’t seem to be a good reason or at least nothing solid. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt for not playing with my Barbies, dinosaurs, Hot Wheels cars, and My Little Ponies anymore, but I still won’t donate them. I feel like I’d be giving up on them, or that they would feel sad (never mind the fact that they’d probably prefer to be played with!)Dream a Little Dream by Piers Anthony and the film version of The Neverending Story feature worlds and characters whose very existence depends on being believed in by real people, especially children. If that belief fails, they don’t just die… they cease to exist. Being forgotten is worse than death. For someone with a highly active imagination, I think stories like this compounded a bunch of my weird neuroses (which thankfully got used to fuel writing rather than sending me to the loony bin. Although that could still happen…)
It seems that when I am working on a novel, especially during an intense stretch like NaNoWriMo, I should not be allowed to read, watch, play, or listen to anything that does not contribute in some specific way to that project. I get derailed way too easily.
For example, I was plodding along pretty well through most of NaNoWriMo this year, and stayed more or less on topic. I wasn’t actually expecting to reach 50,000 words this month, but I had hoped to reach at least 40,000. (Instead I got almost 37,000, which is still quite respectable, but a bit less than I would have liked.) If you follow my LeNoWriCha Logs, you’ll notice that I made two mistakes that severely cut into my word count. The first was at the beginning of the month when I watched Star Wars Rebels. That put me in the mood for Star Wars fan fiction, and my FC Tenko is very persistent in taking over my headspace. I managed to shake that off, and then made the mistake of going on Steam during their Cyber Monday sale. I got completely and utterly mentally derailed by an otome game called Amnesia: Memories for the last week of November. Like, the staying-up-until-3:00am-staring-at-the-computer-screen-until-my-eyes-felt-like-they-were-going-to-burn-out-of-my-skull kind of derailment.
It’s a little frustrating that I have to think twice before exploring any media because it can quickly blossom into an obsession (albeit a short-lived one) that drags my attention away from what I’m working on. But is that because I have an addictive personality, a short attention span, or am just bored by my current project? All of those reasons are a little depressing.
I’ve learned that I don’t do “intention” very well. Habit and convenience are extremely powerful and seductive forces. It’s easy to sacrifice long-term gains for short-term pleasures. As someone with an addictive personality who doesn’t handle discomfort well and struggles with self-discipline and depression, I feel pretty susceptible to these temptations. It seems like the bad habits, such eating too much sugar and compulsively checking Facebook, are the ones who gain a foothold. They sneak in and become difficult to dislodge, probably because they appear harmless and require little to no effort.
This year, I took a four-day vacation by myself to the beach. I decided to do a mini-digital detox by wearing a watch instead of keeping my phone with me and spend as much time outside as I could, as long as the weather held. I also planned to spend any rainy hours in a comfortable room continuing to write or read. But things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned. While the view of the ocean from the motel was lovely and the weather remained good, the room I was staying in was… well, not very pleasant. Musty-smelling, moldy, and so saturated with humidity that leaving anything outside a plastic bag meant it would be damp within a few minutes. On top of that, even though the motel technically had wi-fi (which I could get if I sat out on the balcony), I couldn’t get it in the room itself.
I was rather upset and frustrated at first, but I soon realized that this could be a blessing in disguise. A gross room with no wi-fi meant I had to stay outside during 90% of my visit. It forced me to be parsimonious with my time on the internet. If I was going to use it, it had to be for a specific purpose, not just random searching or mindless scrolling. Get on, get off, and save data for the GPS. On the beach, I discovered the joy of wearing a watch. You might wonder what the point of a watch is. I mean, you can just check your phone, right? But opening that phone also opens the temptation to “just check one thing” and before you know it, what was supposed to be a 2-minute check-in turns into a 2-hour deep-dive. A smartphone can do too much. A watch only tells time. That is it’s sole purpose. Using a watch instead of a smartphone and being cut off from the internet meant the number of distractions dropped to near zero. I literally had nothing to do except read, write, walk, and think.
I started this entry in October 2017. With a few tweaks, it is just as relevant to my state of mind today in September 2018 as it was then.
The problem with being responsible at a day job is that so few people are, so you get more responsibility and expectation heaped upon you until you start to smother. I don’t know if it’s because of how stressful the year has been or what, but my focus has dropped and I’m retreating back into long-running TV shows and oldie-but-goodie favorite movies to cope. While I love me some good stories, I can’t stay there forever.