Guest Post Redux

Since it’s mental illness awareness month, and I have all these great guest posts about said illnesses scattered about the place, I thought I’d put up links to all the guest posts in one place. La voilà:

Fear and Writing – Ann Becker

Learning to Deal – Seamus Bayne

My Pet Depression – Spencer Ellesworth

Serenity through Iron-Fisted Control – Anon.

Shooting the Wild Duck – Bill Blais

Taming the Wild Voices – Chang

The Rules – Anon.

The Wee Hours – Anon.

What is Submitomancy?

Note from Gwen:

Firstly, all things said about me in this post are very, very true. Secondly: This is a post from Sylvia. Sylvia is a brilliant woman, to a degree which I suspect would make her head explode if she knew it. Thirdly: I will do a lot of work for internet/video game badges. It makes no sense, but that’s humans for you.

And now . . .

sub

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

I’ve designed Submitomancy to help writers submit short stories and poems to publishers. It’s sort of like speed dating, but for imaginary people.

I aim for maximum efficiency: I have this story, there are all these markets, one of them is going to fall in love with my story, it’s just a matter of persistence.

But not everyone works that way. If I want my submission tracker to be useful across the board, I have to consider writers who work differently.

Like Gwen.

Gwen doesn’t like submitting. Gwen writes excellent fiction, fascinating, fast-moving stories of space fun. And then (correct me if I’m wrong, Gwen), she’ll put off sending it out for as long as she possibly can. Like, forever.

So the perfect submissions system shouldn’t just be super-efficient for me, it should also support Gwen and encourage her to submit her stories more often. The question is: What can a piece of software offer to make this happen?

Badges. Shiny badges. Possibly with sparkles.

Submitted something? Have a badge. Submitted your first poem? Have a badge. Submitted a story a week for 52 weeks? Have a HUGE badge and a kitten.

Submitomancy has to be efficient and easy to use, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too. I know that a lot of writers dread putting their work out there and if I can create a system that encourages them, then everyone wins.

Because the system needs a funds and a critical mass of users, I’m asking writers to show their support now. If you think Submitomancy is a website you would use, or even if you just want to see Gwen submit more stories, then please support the Indiegogo campaign and tell your friends.

http://www.indiegogo.com/submitomancy/

If Submitomancy gets off the ground, I’m going to ask Gwen to come and use it and submit her stories like crazy. And I’m going to tell her to do it for the kittens.

She doesn’t stand a chance.

kitten

The Update

Doc’s response: The worst of it is over, and there’s no point in going on a low dose and weaning off now. Don’t do it again. You did not ‘break your brain,’ as you put it; your brain will be fine.

He said that the human body basically doesn’t like things that happen quickly. Quick force being applied generally results in a broken bone; quick withdrawal generally confuses the little receptors. They will adjust. A three-month period should be long enough for me to know whether or not I’m now a naturally happy gal.

And really, the worst of it does seem to be over.

And that’s all I really have to say on that topic, so . . . world’s shortest blog post? Sylvia’s guest post should have gone up two days ago and didn’t, so this will be a two-post-day. 🙂

Guest Post: The Wee Hours

This is about addiction, and isolation, and recovery; and it is written by one of the bravest people I know.

The Wee Hours

(Anon)

You know, after countless hours of talking from behind podiums, in intimate irregular circles and in classrooms, you’d think I’d have some clue on how to start a short written piece about my experience with addiction and how it relates to depression. But I don’t. Luckily, Gwen has taught me something that can be applied–she probably doesn’t know she taught me this; in fact, she probably doesn’t know about a lot of the things she’s taught me (I bet she’s squirming right now just reading this happy crap) but she has taught me a lot, and something I will now apply is that in order to write anything, you must first WRITE SOMETHING.

So hello, I’m an Alcoholic, (among other things) and I’ve been in recovery (successfully, thank God) for about 4.5 years now, and everything seems to be going very well. For those of you reading this who know me, note that I’ve chosen to remain anonymous, and I ask that if you feel the urge to comment, please respect that. Okay, onward.

I feel it’s necessary to point out that I have a unique perspective on what ‘going very well’ means, and the gratitude that comes with such a statement. For years things did not go very well at all; things were dark, and terrifying, and sometimes in the wee hours before dawn, when the fog cleared enough for me to look around and see what was really happening, things could be hopelessly unbearable. But the feeling I remember the most, the one that made all the difference, that made the dark darker and kept the shades drawn tight, was the feeling that I was completely, utterly alone.

And that, I think, is where we may relate.

I won’t go into the tale of how I became an alcoholic. Needless to say I always was, I just wasn’t allowed to express it for a long time – so when the opportunity came, I took it.

I spent my drinking years in a strong denial of what was happening to me, but those ‘wee hours before dawn’ were the rare times when I was sober enough to see that my life wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t see how it could. I didn’t understand how the rest of the world functioned – how people went out and lived life without a substance was a myth to me, and I believed – to my core – that I was the only one.

Nobody felt like me, nobody had the same problem as me and if somehow my terrible secret were ever to get out, nobody would ever, ever understand me. I was unique. Terminally so.

I think this feeling extends to many mentally based illnesses (or conditions or situations or whatever label makes it okay for you). This feeling of being unique, of being the only one – drowning in a world where somehow the rest of the race seems to have learned to walk on water.

So what’s the deal? Did I miss that particular class in kindergarten when the teacher said “Oh, and by the way, the following short video will teach you how to be normal.”. I don’t think I did, I just think my–or dare I say ‘our’–view of normal gets horribly out of sync. We look at the rest of the world and we see a bunch of swans gliding gracefully across the water, but we forget that just below the surface, they’re all paddling like hell. If you think about it, the best part is that to someone else, you’re the swan! You fluffy little devil, you.

The scariest thing for me about getting sober was my family finding out. I can tell you, addition is a full time job – it takes 24 hours a day of lying, hiding and switching masks on a per-person basis to keep those who love you from finding out that you are literally killing yourself – but I did it, because in my mind (and that’s the key right there) them finding out would be worse than death itself. In fact, I used to be scared sometimes that I wouldn’t wake up – not because I would be dead, but because of what they would find out. I was okay with dying, but I wanted a bit of warning first so I could, you know, shine the place up for the wake.

If it wasn’t for the feeling that I was oh so unique, I may have known long before that it’s okay to say “hey, I’m having some trouble and I think I need some help”.  I might have realized that the people who loved me, actually loved me, and that means they’d do anything to support me. I thought the word ‘help’ meant ‘fail’. It doesn’t. To me, saying ‘I need help’ is saying ‘I am human’. We all need help – It’s like when you’re sitting in a classroom and you don’t understand but you’re too afraid to put your hand up and say so. What we don’t realize is that NOBODY understands. Next time, put your damn hand up, ask the question and watch the heads nod. Us upright waterfowl gotta stick together.

Alcoholism is a strange thing. I once heard it described as the only disease with a ‘fun phase’, but we who are in recovery have each paid a hefty toll, and although we sometimes laugh at the impossible situations we’ve survived, we do so out of gratitude for the second chance we’ve been granted, and for the knowledge that no matter what someone has been through, someone else has gone through it before. I think that two of the most powerful words you can say to someone else are ‘me too’. One brain is not a big enough place for the shit we live through in this world, so share a little pain and get a little hope – nobody is ever the only one.

Guest Post Friday: The Rules

 

Guys, I’m not going to lie to you: This is some heavy shit.

I’ve written and deleted about three other lines, so that tells me that I actually have nothing else to say. I’m going to let this post speak for itself.

 

THE RULES

– Anonymous

 

You may not kill yourself when drunk.
You may not kill yourself while listening to the “sad songs” cassette.
You may not kill yourself in direct reaction to anything someone says that is hurtful.

Later amended to add: You may not kill yourself over a guy. Ever.

When I was a teenager, I knew the rules. They were important: a promise to myself. I would *never* promise not to kill myself. That option needed to remain open, an escape from the pain. I knew it would be a selfish act, turning my back on my life and the people in it. I also knew that it would be a relief – for me and also, I believed, for my friends and family. Maybe not immediately but in the long run, certainly. But it wasn’t really about them, it was about me. About the constant effort to just make it through the day and acknowledging that I might not want to keep making that effort. I might choose the peace and quiet of giving up.

I knew other people weren’t like this. I devoured books on crazy women: Sybil, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bell Jar. I wondered if that was who I was.

In my twenties, I changed the rules into one simple one.

You must give twenty-four hours notice before killing yourself.

I remember standing at the top of a sheer drop, on the edge of a cliff, staring down at the waves dashing onto the rocks. It was a long drop, a few stories high. I would probably break my neck in the fall. If not, well, I would be too broken to swim, so I’d drown, eventually. The neck breaking would be better, though. “So fine,” I thought. “tomorrow evening, if I still feel the same, I’ll come back here and I’ll be allowed to do this.” Because that was the rule: 24 hours notice.

I wasn’t so sure, when it came to the next day. The broken drowning option sounded pretty awful. Maybe give it another day. Maybe do it then.

And the day after that, my clouds lifted and I saw the beauty of the cliffs and the sea and the sun setting low across the mountains. And I was glad that I hadn’t jumped and I renewed the promise to myself again: that when I felt that way, I would wait the twenty four hours. I never promised that I wouldn’t kill myself, that was a step to far. But to wait a day, that I could do. I promised myself, again and again and again. And day by day, I made it forward.

This is what life was like for me. Weeks of normality, of happiness even, and then it would start. The first sign would be bruises. I became clumsy. “The ground is uneven under my feet,” I wrote in my diary, code for the depression descending again. Then the overwhelming hopelessness. Everything was futile. I couldn’t cope with the world. I was a waste of oxygen. People stared at me in the street. On the bus, no one would sit next to me, people would stand rather than get too close to the crazy. I felt nothing, I felt everything. I burned my soft skin so I could feel something comprehensible. I regularly took time off work, unable to get out of bed.  When it got bad, if I couldn’t retreat, then I would lose the ability to speak. The words pounded against my throat but I couldn’t get them out. When it was bad, I knew I wouldn’t kill myself because I was too useless even to do that. And I hated myself for it.

That’s what depression was like for me. And now, twenty years later, I still thank fortune every day that I don’t feel like that anymore. Every time, I pray to gods that I don’t believe in that I will never feel that way again.

And still the promises remain. I live on stable ground now, the sidewalk rarely shifts beneath my feet. But if the darkness descends, I can’t promise that I’ll be strong enough to keep fighting forever. But I do promise I’ll make it through one more day, to give the light a chance to break through.

 

Guest Post Friday: Learning to Deal

Today’s guest post is from a very dear friend of mine. Seamus and I were at VPXIV together – Seriously, current grads, keep up the friendships/oaths/S&M relationships/whatever you forged at VP – and he went on to co-build Paradise Lost. The amount of energy that he puts into the various parts of his life coupled with the ridiculous level of outgoing that he has achieved, makes it easy to forget that there’s still a lot of introspection and careful thought going on inside. Seems to be a repeat lesson for me, over and over, in these blogs: books, covers, the not-judging-of. You know the one.

His blog is here. You should go read these.  But read this first, because it’s part of the sad/touching/balls-to-the-wall-honest thing we’ve got going on here.

 

Learning to Deal

By Seamus Bayne

Sad Pumpkin is sad, and smells a little funny.

  Depression isn’t something people like to talk about. It is a ten-letter word, and comes loaded with lethal assumptions and triggers. Just writing about it unnerves me. First, because talking about my own experience scares me. Second, because it is a dangerous subject. There are few conversations that start with, “Let’s talk about depression,” without a pregnant pause on the part of the audience.

My experience with depression is 21 years old, but the scars and emotional clear-cutting are still part of the landscape of my person. In some ways, they define me more than any other experience in my life. You see, I do not think you ever get over depression. You hear people say, “Just snap out of it.” Which is as helpful as telling a burn victim to just stop being scarred. You can get better, and you can put miles and decades between you and your experiences, but the scars are there, and they always will be.

Mine come from the death of my father, when I was nineteen years old. I had a wonderful father, whom I loved dearly. He was one of those larger than life people who lived the edge of being a caricature of American archetypes. I, on the other hand, was quiet, nervous, shy, bookish, fat, and desperately trying to live up to my own perceived expectations of what he wanted from a son, and needless to say, failing badly at it. If he read this now, I have no doubt he would be horrified and hurt to know how deeply I felt I disappointed him. It horrified me to think he perceived me as a screw up. So, his existence defined my own, completely, and in a sense placed a capstone on the expanses of my own ability to imagine who I could be, or was. I did this to myself, and it deeply limited my ability to develop as a person, because I could not be my father. I was never meant to be him, and if he were here today, I would like to think he would hug me and tell me he never wanted me to be.

Knowing this, and knowing how he defined me, when he died unexpectedly from a heart attack at forty-six years of age, it left me alone in an uncertain world, bereft of the confidence he would protect and guide me, and struggling to understand the scope of my new role as the oldest male in my sadly shrunken family. It opened up a place inside me into which I fell, and stayed for years after, perhaps as much as a decade. This was the mouth of depression, swallowing up my childhood, stealing the innocence of youth and leaving me with the weight not carried by most adults until they are well into their middle age and life has prepared them better to understand themselves and the burdens of grief, both personally and as part of a family.

The months following his death I did what a dutiful son does, but I could feel little emotion for anyone, or anything. The world became flat, gray and threatening. To this day, I feel my capacity to trust and love greatly diminished, and only with great effort do I allow myself the luxurious risk of caring for a small garden of friends and family. I spent those years of my life struggling, from nineteen to twenty-six, I fought hard to find some ground on which to stand and figure out who I was. It was not until I was in my early thirties that I sought out a therapist to try to understand my history of mood swings, drinking, drug use, and why I struggled to sustain lasting relationships and friendships.

My therapist looked at me during a session and said, “Well, obviously you were deeply depressed. I wish you had sought help earlier, you could have saved yourself years of suffering.” I recoiled at the thought that I could have been depressed. Depression was for the weak. Right? What did he mean I was depressed? I was furious with him. He was gentle with his application of the two by four of knowledge in explaining my symptoms and how lucky was that over time I had learned ways to cope with them and eventually got better.

Nevertheless, I am still someone who lived with depression, even if I am no longer depressed. I am still someone who has something like a whole decade of his life defined by it. The adult I am today is someone who was born out of learning to deal with that struggle. My cynicism, my anger, my ambition to acquire wealth and power to surround myself with protection. These are all the acts of someone who once had the rug pulled out from underneath their feet, and fell down hard. Someone who knows how fragile life is, and who will always live with that fear, and struggle not to let it define them.

The path of crawling out of depression is how I became who I am. It made me strong, hard and capable. It forced me to trust in myself, and to be mindful of my own goals and needs. It taught me that life is hard, that what other people think is rarely important, and that social convention and rules are made to be broken, if you must.

I could never have climbed so high, if I had not fallen so far, and that is something so few are lucky enough to experience. For that I am thankful.

-Seamus

Guest Post Friday: In Which a Mysterious Stranger Visits

Back at it, after a moderate absence. This is a post from an anonymous friend and fellow writer, about whom I can tell you no more, as this person is an enigma wrapped in a brilliant mystery. This is worth reading – no matter who you are, what you do, or what kind of day you’re having.


Serenity through Iron-Fisted Control

By M. Stranger

I have a number of times in my life had cause to be reminded of wisdom of the Serenity Prayer, though I can only ever remember the Calvin and Hobbes version, which I like better anyway, so I’ll quote that instead and trust that you’ll remember the real one:
“[Grant me] the strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can’t, and the incapacity to tell the difference.”

I went to graduate school for engineering, finishing some years back after a fairly lengthy and sometimes painful program. Along with the ordinary difficulties of getting a PhD in a technical field, I had an advisor who was difficult to get along with: she always had one student that she really liked, and treated the others as pests. One of my fellow pests described her management style as “all stick, no carrot.” Another demoralized student became fond of repeating that old saw, “The beatings will continue until morale improves,” which admittedly doesn’t say much until I mention that this fellow had been a Luftwaffe drill instructor. For my own part, I preferred to say that she praised with faint damnation. It was all the worse for seeing a small number of students treated very well, and to hear them insist that she (and invariably they called her by her first name, while the rest of us called her “Professor”) was very easy to get along with, really, why we just had lunch… You get the picture. I don’t mean to say that she was deliberately cruel to her students, or even a bad person, but that she was (as is regrettably common in academia) that awful combination of a maladept and inattentive manager with the confidence and manners of a talented engineer.

If I can chuckle at it all now, there were periods then of grinding misery. Having so much of one’s life and self-worth in the hands of someone who doesn’t really care all that much can be brutal. At one particularly low point I displayed uncharacteristic self-awareness and got myself a therapist. We talked about a lot of things, but one thing she said stuck with me: the path through these things is to focus on those things that I can control. I could not control my advisor, only my reaction to her. I could not control the past, including arguments and the decision to work for this advisor, only what I did from then on out. There are dragons who are not slain, only accommodated.

I can’t say it solved all my problems, but it resonated with me. You see, my particular field of engineering was control theory: the science of feedback. I had been trained to think in terms of control signals, positive and negative feedback, and in general making an electrical or mechanical system do what you want it to. The idea of applying this to the problems of my life appealed to me. I began to look at things in terms of what I could do, and what I couldn’t, and if I was occasionally (hah!) told to do things I couldn’t do, then I did my best, recognized it as my best and tried to treat the opprobrium like so much thunder and rain: unpleasant, but uncontrollable. Dear reader, I graduated.

Fast-forward some years to my time at Viable Paradise. I’d had some small success at writing fiction again after giving it up in grad school; I’d quickly realized that the world of professional fiction was full of pitfalls, and that my work was not as good as I thought it was. I heard there some familiar advice: when planning your goals, focus on what you can control.

Just like my advisor, you can’t control your readers and you can’t control your editors. You can’t control the people who nominate and vote for awards. It feels a little unfair: these are the people who have so much say over whether you achieve your goals, whether they be getting a story published (or at least getting a personalized rejection), landing that great agent, or winning that Hugo that would go so nicely on that shelf by the window. And when you’ve been grinding away for a few years without achieving any of those things, it can become all the worse to see people for whom these things appear to come easily (though really, they almost never do) and who all of a sudden seem very cool and casual about it all: editors are so easy to get along with, really, why I just had lunch with one…

Part of the problem is that the resolution to focus on what we can control is only part of getting to that state of serenity. If you feel that you’re not writing enough, you can define a goal that you can directly control, like finishing more stories or writing more words. But let’s be honest, those can feel like fake kindergarten goals sometimes. We know what we’re really after, and it hurts when we don’t get it. And worse, we feel like we can sort of control it: at the very least, we seem able to torpedo our chances, which is a KIND of control, right? Really, we need to feel like we’re doing everything we can; the whole serenity prayer really boils down to that third part: the wisdom/inability to tell the difference. I think I can offer some insight into that.

In control theory, you’re presented with a system that has variables: A car has, say, its speed, position, acceleration, and orientation. A writing career has variables, too: words written, chapters written, stories completed, stories submitted, stories sold, awards won, readers-who-you-made-cry, etc. Some of these things you can plainly control, some of them you plainly can’t. And some of them feel like you ought to have some control over, but don’t see how.

There are two complementary concepts here. Controllability, you probably have a pretty good handle on already. I can’t directly control my car’s position. (Trust me, if you’d ever seen me try to parallel park…) I can only directly affect the engine torque, via the gas pedal, which on a good road controls acceleration, which in turn controls velocity. Velocity plus orientation determines position. At any point in the chain, you can lose control on everything after, such as when hitting the gas on an ice patch. In the same way, stories sold depends on stories submitted, depends on stories completed, depends on words written, depends on getting your butt in that chair and typing. While we can’t completely control some things, then, we can crudely affect them — at the very least we can avoid yanking the steering wheel in the wrong direction. The farther along that chain we want to control, the harder it is.

But there is a second concept that does not get as much attention: observability. Just as we can’t control all variables equally well, we can’t see all variables equally well. I can’t directly control my car’s position, but I can observe it, and by seeing the effects of pushing the gas and steering the wheel I can learn and internalize a process by which I first learn to intuitively control my velocity. With enough practice at that, it can feel like I’m directly controlling position. It’s the combination of controllability and observability that allows for a feedback loop and actual control.

The danger to the writer is that observability is not the same as controllability. Duotrope is dangerous in this regard: we can see response times and how our own stories seem to stack up, but there’s no real feedback loop there, only watching. It looks observable, and so feels controllable. But while editors’ responses are (partly) observable, they are not nearly as controllable as we think, and readers’ responses are frequently neither controllable nor observable.

There are four categories, then, of variables in our writing careers:
1) The things we can both observe and control;
2) The things we can observe, but not control;
3) The things we can control, but not observe;
4) The things we can neither observe nor control.

Looking at our careers in terms of those variables that are observable, controllable, both, and neither can be a way of understanding what’s going on as you progress through your career, and for evaluating the kind of goals to set. Getting awards is clearly out as a goal: the end result is not controllable, and the intermediate steps (getting recommended for nominations, whether any given reader had a bad day before picking up your book, etc) are neither observable nor controllable. You’re probably happier if you think of awards as basically random events. But we should maybe also reconsider that Google Alert on our names: ramping up our ability to observe may only make us miserable. Observability and controllability are not in themselves constant: Coming out of Viable Paradise, I hit a bit of a slump because I could all of a sudden see many things that were wrong with my stories, but not a way to fix them. Controllability, to some extent, can catch up, but from what I hear from more experienced writers, it never quite does. (Which reminds me: talking to those writers about their careers and experiences can be a way of indirectly observing your own, but beware if it leads you to believe that you should therefore be able to follow in their footsteps!)

When it comes to setting goals, I would argue that we are happiest when our goals focus on those variables in the first group. Being able to not only directly plot our paths but gauge how far along we are, is important. Finding ways to move things from the third group into the first expands our options: joining a critique group, for example, helps you make observable variables that otherwise aren’t: “Is this funny to someone other than me?” “Will readers think this ending is a cheat?”

All this is not meant as advice; rather, it’s a toolkit. These are the mental tools that I try to use when I’m thinking about my career and my goals. They help me identify those things I can see and control, and they help me figure out what more I need in order to see or control more aspects of my writing. Finally, they’re useful when evaluating other peoples’ advice, so that when people tell you that you need to join a critique group or get your butt in the chair, you can see that those things are meant to address observability of some of the intangibles of your writing, or increased control over number of words written. Put that way, it’s easier to decide whether those things are actually going to be useful for you in achieving the goals you set.

A Thousand Rotting Baby Seals, or: Guest Post Friday, The Spenceration

I’m getting really overwhelmed, you guys.

Overwhelmed by all the honesty-balls being thrown at my head. Overwhelmed by the sweet, funny, sad, strong, fight that lives in all of these posts. Amazed that when I met these people, they were all the smart and secure ones, and there I was, all alone in my fool insecurity – but the whole damn time, there we were, going ’round and ’round in our own heads.

Well, this is Spencer. Spencer is all ‘pinnacle’-ey: That is to say, he’s clever, a great writer, (you may remember him from Mount Rainier’s struggle with depression in this post) married to a beautiful and supportive woman, and has evil-gorgeous children. (You know. Evil gorgeous, like they could get away with murder. Kittens and puppies have it too, but it’s lessened because they can’t talk. Thank the gods.) His work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Intergalactic Medicine Show and Brain Harvest. He also has one of them day-job things, and blogs, and twitters, and somewhere on this inter-web of horrors there is a link to his band, but I can’t find it and it’s late at night and he’s probably doing something clever, like sleeping. Here he is, in letter-form.

(And by the way, I don’t think this is ‘my’ internet, exactly, but I DO think that the CIC is a great idea)

Updated: Look what I found! http://www.reverbnation.com/pawnbroker

Updated Again: Links to Spencer’s Stories!

BLADE AND BRANCH AND STONE
THE DEATH OF ROACH
THE DEVIL’S REMATCH

My Pet Depression

An Essay By Spencer Ellsworth

You know the old adage: “If you’re going to confess embarrassing things, do it on a Canadian’s internet.”

So confession time, people.

At every writing-related-thingie I go to–convention, workshop, get-together–every one–I cry at some point.

This is not because something beautiful has been shared. This is not because I have connected to my muse. This is not because I wrote something really fucking amazing.

Don’t get me wrong.

(I’ve written some fucking amazing stuff.)

It starts when I come in contact with a lot of people who have had more success than I have, or who seem to be writing about something amazing, or who just enjoy writing more than I do.

I look into my soul, and I think about my own writing, and I think about how I’m not so hot on it, and that one novel needs to go out the door, and I wish I had more short stories out.

And I think about lots of stuff. Sometimes I think about how I was supposed to do more with my writing by now. I made myself a promise as a teenager that I would be all famous n’ shit. I question whether or not I really like writing. It sure is hell sometimes.

The frustration and sadness and etc all wells up, and then it taps into something much darker.

This CIC (Canadian Internet Confessional) is The Thing That I Like Least About My Depression, and teacher, here is my long-bandied thesis statement: I hate that my depression has latched onto my writing.

Yes, that nasty creature I call my depression, squinty eyed and cackling, waits for me to weigh my worth as a writer. Then it pounces, bowler hat perched on notched cat ears, and says, “I’ve been telling you for years you were worthless. And I was RIGHT!”

You, Wise Reader/Writer, may be Wise enough to have avoided this trap.

If you know what I’m talking about, though, even a little, I hope you recognize that this really has very little to do with your writing, and more to do with that nasty little creature, Depression, squat, hobbling around on stork legs, in a dinner jacket with a wilted purple rose at his lapel, under the embroidered words, “You suck.”

When I hadn’t sold any stories, he constantly reminded me of the fact. “How can you call yourself a writer when you haven’t sold stories?” But now that I have, he hits just as hard on other things. “You haven’t been nominated for awards.” “Nobody cares about another dumb SF writer.” “You haven’t sold to this long list of cool guy markets.” His breath rasps in my ear, stinking of a thousand rotting baby seals.

And he WILL make my cry.

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different tactics, not least of which is personalizing the bastard. Last time I did the Mid-Writing-Retreat-Cry, I ran into a friend who suggested, “Go on a run. I know that makes you feel better.” So I did run, a lot. A little over seven miles. At the end of it, the adrenaline washed the emotion from my system and I was able to story.

Sometimes I call my wife and she talks me down a bit. Sometimes I just take a walk or otherwise take myself out of the situation. It helps to remind myself that there is more than just the writing world.

But I will cry.

To further deal with this black-pupiled, purple-irised bastard, I’ve been studying mindfulness meditation a great deal lately. Both in Thich Nicht Han’s famous book The Miracle of Mindfulness and Williams, et. al.’s book The Mindful Way Through Depression. Mindfulness is just awareness, really. Pay more attention to what you eat, do, love, and less attention to what you want.

In mindfulness, he’s still there. I wish I could say he went away. I suspect that the only way to really conquer him might be to put my arms around his pebbled, warty, mildew-ridden skin, pull him close, and tell him, “You’re part of me, and I love you, but you’re wrong. Writing is not about these things. Writing is about Story, and Story is bigger than the both of us.”

Because frustration is normal. Sadness is normal. Comparisons to other people are, as unhealthy as they are, normal. And his shifty purple eyes, pebbled skin and cracked fungus-ridden fingernails are the yang to the muse’s whispering crystalline wings. He is me, in the same way the muse is. He comes from dark places I don’t understand, but they’re still my dark places. Call them chemical imbalances, childhood trauma, bits of both… he is me. He is my darkness, and I need my dark places.

I’d like to end this blog with the conversion. And then there was no more depression, just like when we got rid of racism and war. But that’s not it. I get to live with it, and I get to fight it over stupid things related to writing, and you might too.

Nope. He’s still there. But so is Story, and whether I outrun him, out-think him, or pull him close and acknowledge that he is mine, Story will be calling in the background, and once he quiets down, I’ll hear it.

Guest Post Friday: Chang, on Where to Put Your Ass.

Well, I don’t even know how to introduce this – it’s an amazing post, and I feel very lucky to have it on here.

Chang came to visit my class at Viable Paradise and teach us yoga. At that point I hadn’t slept for a couple of days, my writing was pissing me off, and the most I’d done in terms of actual movement was to migrate from one chair to another. Chang’s class brought me back into my body, settled me down, grounded me – all the things that yoga does – and reminded me why I love it. And – surprise! – my writing stopped feeling like a fight and started feeling like a flow.

Anyway, that’s not all that this is about, but really, I don’t know how to introduce this. Chang is Chang. He’s awesome, and a brilliant writer, and has a big-safe-warm-kind of energy. He’s a rare human. His website is here and he tweets away as @bigbadchang.

And now…

Taming the Wild Voices

I’ve got voices in my head.  Voices that are telling me I was a fool for thinking I was qualified to write about yoga, writing and mental health.

“You’re a basket case, man.”

“When was the last time you wrote anything good?”

“When you do yoga it looks like a bad Dali painting.”

I hear these voices all the time.  But what I know is this:

I’ve started this post three times so far and not even come close to saying what I want to.

I’ve written four novels so far and not even come close to writing what I know I’m capable of.

I’ve been doing yoga for 11 years and not even come close to the full potential of what my body can do.

I’ve been on and off anti-depressants, ritalin and xanax and yet nothing gives me the calm of a great yoga practice nor the satisfaction of writing.

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I began writing at the age of 12, pursuing it on an off for the next twelve years before bailing because after several failed attempts at “mainstream fiction” I hated everything I wrote.  Similarly, I’d exercised on and off for years before giving up and resigning myself to the fact that I was just going to get older and fatter.  I figured I’d just have to keep seeing mental health professionals and occasionally drink myself to sleep in order to find peace.

Then one thing in particular changed everything.

Power Vinyasa Yoga.

The hot, sweaty stuff.  Not Bikram. The other kind.

When I began doing yoga my life was a mess.  I was unemployed, my marriage was under duress, I was stressed and becoming unstable.  My wife began doing yoga and loved it.  One night she begged me to come to class with her.  Two weeks late I finally did.  At first I thought I was going to die.  Then I made it to the end and left feeling better than I had in…  well… ever!

Within a month I was going 3-5 times a week.  Soon I was volunteering at the studio.  Then working there.  After six years I opened my own studio.  Since 2006  we’ve taught to over 10,000 people, seen their lives change before our eyes and grown an amazing community.

All this because I know that without my yoga I would be dead, divorced or worse.

My yoga practice has made my body stronger and my mind calmer.  I think better than I used to, with greater clarity and focus (for a guy who couldn’t drive without 30mgs. of ritalin coursing through him that’s a pretty amazing change).  People find this hard to believe but I’m completely serious when I say yoga helped me understand sequential logic, vital to such things as programming, algorithms and even math (back in the day I had the SAT scores of 750 verbal and 340 math.  Couldn’t add my way out of a paper sack but damn if I could read!).  The constant repetition of a set series of postures that can be arranged in a modular fashion to produce a certain end (work the hips, work the spine, work the heart, work the shoulders, etc.) all require a certain routine and path to achieve completion.  This helped me to understand the order of operations in everything from modular synthesis to HTML – even jazz!

Yoga got me writing again.  I missed the mental effort, the workout writing gave me but hated what I was writing because it was what I thought everyone wanted to read.  When I finally gave in and began writing science fiction I felt liberated and I’m writing better than I ever was.

Yoga has especially helped me understand the craft of writing better.  My yoga practice helped me realize that for me to have a strong functioning spine I would need to maintain consistency, practicing regularly and often.  Our bodies are made to be moved physically and when we don’t do that we allow them to break down faster than they really should.

Through yoga I began to understand that the same thing happened with regards to writing.  To write well, pretty much all the great writers have said the same thing:  one must write regularly and often, and read often.  It’s really only through a regular discipline that we can achieve mastery at anything.  Stephen King says “Writing equals ass in chair.”  I say to my students “Yoga equals ass on mat.”  Not on a SUP board.  Not while eating chocolate or watching TV. You’re either doing yoga or you’re not.

In writing we learn to keep only the essentials, remove the excess so that all there is on the page is what we need to say what we want, no more and no less.  Similarly, in yoga we learn to weed out the extraneous, remove the excess and arrive at a place of simplicity; a clean and unadorned mind and body (tattoos and jewelry are okay, though).

Another parallel between yoga and writing is that there is no end state, no goal state. No one practices yoga to suddenly find themselves blissfully at the top of the highest mountain peak with no one there beside them, having achieved it all.  There are peaks and valleys and plateaus upon which I as a writer land and occasionally lament.  Eventually I find what I need to move beyond this plateau, either by pulling back from where I’m at or pushing myself slightly.

Same goes for writing.  The best writers keep evolving, challenging themselves and writing new and different works.  The human brain, of which I assume you the reader are in possession of, thrives on challenges to maintain its strength and growth.  Without this, it will stagnate and often degrade sooner.

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Yoga has brought me many things but the main thing it has brought me is a sense of calm and peace with myself.  I still have challenges, I still have dark days, days when I’m pretty sure it would have been a better idea to stay in bed not just for that day but for the previous week.

Through yoga I’ve learned to accept these things as they come, not change them but to simply be with them.  Sooner or later things change and the obstacles are gone and the path is clear once more.

Yoga may never get rid of the voices.  It hasn’t, in fact.  It’s added to them.  Now instead of just voices I have that say, “You suck” and “Give up, loser-king” I hear ones that say, “Write shit and edit later” and “Get on your mat for an hour then the world will seem normal, possibly better.”

And those are the best kind of voices to hear.

Guest Post: Anne Becker on Fear and Writing

Anne was my roommate at Viable Paradise. Between forcing me to eat, telling me to stop over analyzing my writing, and on one special occasion going all drill-sergeant and making me do push-ups, she was the very best roommate a girl could have had. She also bought candy corn, and I sure do love that sugar-flavoured wax.

Anne paints amazing miniatures, breeds Shiloh Shepherds, has many blogs – this is the latest, created for Blazie. In between, she writes brilliant fiction. She’s got some association with theatre that I don’t remember, and thus you may read the words below in a strongly projected voice, because that’s Anne.

As I read this post last night, I was nodding all the way through it. Yep, I’ve done that – I’ve felt that way – yep, this is the life of a writer as I know it. You think you’re the only one?

 

Fear

I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m too busy today.

There are other things that are more urgent.

No way—not tonight. I need a mental health break tonight.

I’m tired. Why don’t I have any energy?

I just don’t have enough willpower to follow through on anything these days.

I’m bad at self-discipline.

Why the hell did I even want to do this? Why did I even sign up when I knew I would just—

Fail.

That’s right. You know those voices in your head, don’t you? The ones that start all in innocence. There’s always tomorrow, right? Gosh what a day. I just want to go home and sit around and watch a movie. Everyone deserves a break, even me.

Then there’s the guilt: I can’t neglect my kids/husband/girlfriend/cocker spaniel/goldfish. They get so little of my time as it is. It’s not fair for me to take time for this away from them. And I have so many chores to do.

Then there’s depression: Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. My life conspires against me. I never seem to finish anything, why should I be surprised?

And then anger.  At yourself. Or at someone else within range.

Why?

Because you started—or considered starting—a project that you care about. A project that you’re doing just for you. And the fear sets in.

For a long time I was in denial about the fear. I’m terminally busy and easily distracted and addicted to multi-tasking. I would add things to my plate until I was so stressed that I was ready to scream and then I would cancel them all because not having any free time to work on “my own stuff” was driving me crazy—only to relax for all of a week before committing to something else and beginning the cycle anew.

Why? Because when I had free time I didn’t have any excuses. All the responsibility for getting something done or not getting it done was mine. All that was waiting for me when I came home was the blank page—be it a sketchpad or a word processor screen.

So I sought distractions. Lots of them. And I didn’t even notice what I was doing when I opted to read instead of write, or post on discussion boards instead of getting out the drawing pencils.

I would even give myself a little salve to convince myself that I wasn’t really avoiding my creative work. Like, I would tell myself that I would catch a few minutes to draw on lunch, and I would pack up my drawing pad and all of my pencils. I would feel great hauling that stuff to work, parking it right by my station.

Did those ever come out of the tote bag come noon? Nope.

Same with writing. I would tell myself that I would clock out for a late lunch in the afternoon and do a fifteen-minute writing challenge.

You guessed it. Something—extra work, lunch with friends, lack of inspiration, or just getting distracted—would intrude, and I would end up not writing.

A couple days and I’d start feeling guilty. A few more, and depressed. Then in a couple weeks the anger would set in and I’d sit there trying to figure out why I was in such a bad mood, why I felt like striking out at something.

I think it wasn’t until I read the introduction to Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist that I started to get a hint of what I was doing. Paolo writes in that introduction about the obstacles that rise up between us and accomplishing what we really want to do with our lives. Most of them are rooted in fear.

Fear of gambling all this energy and effort in pursuit of something that I might fail at—worse, failing at something that I really cared about. Fear of losing friends or hurting loved ones by prioritizing something for myself ahead of other obligations. Fear of appearing “selfish”. Fear of proving that I really wasn’t capable of succeeding at my dreams. Fear that what I thought was my life’s calling really wasn’t.

It took a while to absorb this after the initial hit. Slowly I chipped away at what I was starting to perceive as a self-destructive cycle. Slowly I became more aware when my brain did that little skip and slide away from sitting down and working on my writing or art.

Then one day when I was in one of those funks (meaning I felt that I’d failed, again, and was tempted to give up, again) I found one of my previous journals. I opened the first page in that journal and I read it.

It shocked the heck out of me. There in front of me was the proof of the cycle. The me that had written that page was feeling exactly the same for the same reasons as the me who was sitting there, moping and angry and reading it.

That was the breakthrough. In that moment the Fear was seized by the scruff of its scrawny neck and dragged out into the light, mewling and hissing. There was no way that it would ever hide from me again. Now I know its face.

So these days, I’m not perfect. I still slack, and I still let myself get distracted when I shouldn’t. But now I’m conscious of what I’m doing. I come back around to my goals faster.

I know that if I avoid, I’m really giving in to the fear. And that usually makes me mad enough that I squash the fear back down into its hole, kick myself in the butt, and get that butt into the chair in front of this computer.

Whether I succeed or fail…it’s the only way I’ll have a shot.

(Author’s note: Anne Becker was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to write about this stuff all that well…but at least she faced up and wrote it.)