There’s Time Enough Yet Today

Some days last an eternity. Seconds pass with the agnozing slowness of sunlight creeping across the floor, a change that only seems to happen when you find a momentary reprieve with some distraction or another. Hours pass with the glacial pace of trees growing once they’re past the point where you can use your own height as a point of reference. No matter what you do with a day like that, it always feels like a waste.

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Slow Change And Matters Of The Self

There are moments in a day, as I pursue my usual routines and common pastimes, that I find my mind at rest and my head empty of thoughts. These moments frequently arrive on the tail of simple thoughts, small ideas bouncing around my head as I direct myself toward some goal or task. A reminder to thoroughly scrub my scalp in the shower. An errant consideration about skipping the current song on my playlist. Some spark of imagination or creativity ignited by the podcast or audiobook I’m listening to. A recollection of something I meant to do earlier in this room I just entered but had forgotten until just now. As my body responds to the thought, taking action, or my mind files the spark of creativity away until I can focus on it, I become aware of the sheer size and emptiness of my mind in those moments.

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Staying On Task

I really should write down my mission statement for my blog somewhere that’ll force me to read it every time I go to write a post. Every day since I started writing these, without fail, I start writing something I feel strongly about but that makes me incredibly sad or mad or frustrated. I get through the post, calm down or need to take a break to marshall my willpower to push through the sadness, and THEN remember I’m supposed to be enjoying myself. Sometimes I’ll get it right the second time, but most of the time I wind up doing it again at least one or two more times.

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NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 15 (11/15)

Every morning, as I wake up and stare at the glow of my alarm clock while hoping it isn’t about to start buzzing with that nail-on-chalkboard screech, I begin a routine. Usually, the routine is a series of alarm snoozes so I can pretend dozing off between the alarms on my phone is enough to make up for staying up until two in the morning. Sometimes, the routine is staring at the ceiling as I ignore my alarms and slowly begin the mental process of building my ‘self’ into a person who can deal with the day. Those days are the ones I dread most of all. These are the days that not even momentum can help.

There’s usually enough of me leftover from one day to the next that I can roll from waking to walking without needing time to fix my ‘self’ up or spend time rebuilding my ‘self’ before I get out of bed. But not always. Some nights, it all vanishes in a haze of unremembered dreams whose emotions linger on, leaving me with nothing but the wispy fog of my depression turning whatever solid pieces remain into  indistinguishable lumps. As my anxieties call out from indiscernible locations, I slowly feel my ‘self’ dissolve into the fog until all that’s left is my awareness.

Thankfully, the fog is not a trap so much as the valleys around the mountain-filled countryside that is the metaphor for my self-experience. There are still the heights above the fog and a clear, sunny sky can sometimes break through it as the day goes on, but I must still escape the valley if I want to climb the mountain–I still need purpose if I want to work on my goals. Knowing the heights are there will not help me reach them. I must first build my ‘self’ back up so I can walk out of the fog.

To be clear, there are limits to this metaphor. I am still myself, even when I feel as if I’ve dissolved in fog. What I lose is direction. I am no longer a person with a point or a goal to accomplish. Instead, I feel like a lump of traits stuffed into a body and let loose upon the day. I can function like that without negative impact on my mood or health, but I do not enjoy feeling listless. I am all of myself at all times, I think we all are, no matter who we try or pretend to be, but, on these days of shapelessness, I  am constantly all of myself. I cannot focus myself to a point. I cannot assume an identity. I cannot be a person who does specific things like act extroverted at work or set aside my desire to rest and play video games for the difficult work of writing towards my goals. I cannot be one thing if I am everything all at once.

So I build. I take the central parts of myself–the things I am certain are me–such as my will to push forward no matter how slowly, and use them to create a solid base that I can trust even if it disappears behind the fog immediately. I start assembling layers on top of that, made of my fundamental beliefs about the world and the person I want to be. I call to mind my goal to leave the world a better place than I found it. I remind myself that most people are good and willing to help each other, even if they’re also quiet about it. From there I keep adding layers, using wisdom, experience, and belief to build a ‘self’ that will be able to climb out of this valley, escape this fog, and eventually climb the mountain of my self-experience again.

The last layers, the ones that add depth instead of height or size, are made up of the person I want to be today. It will influence everything, from the point I’m trying to reach in my climb to how I go about climbing my way there. It is not a decision easily made. Will I be quiet and focused? Determined to succeed at my own goals but perhaps a little less engaged with the people around me? Will I be supportive and considerate, taking energy I could have spent on my own goals to do what I can to help people achieve theirs? What does climbing the mountain even mean to me? Why am I doing it?

These are difficult questions, some days, and they require a lot of thinking. I do not always have the time to answer them while I am in bed, so it is often well into a particular morning before I am finished building. Most of my routines are not conducive to the kind of contemplation and reflection required to weigh these questions efficiently, and my job is even less so. But this last layer, the drive and purpose I assign myself, comes from thinking about the questions even if I never come up with any answers. I cannot spend the whole day ignoring it and still wish I could make myself focus on climbing the mountain.

A single day of good construction can last a while, often taking me through the entire length of a climb, but accidents can happen. Rock slides, eruptions, sudden storms. All of them are things that will wash me down into the valley again and the ‘self’ I made doesn’t always survive the trip. In the past, it has never been a problem to pick my ‘self’ up, fix my ‘self,’ and then get back to climbing, even if I wind up climbing a new mountain.

I’ve had a lot of these inclement moments in the past year, in addition to the occasional day when I wake up and have lost my ‘self.’ I am only recently discovering that repeated instances of this make it increasingly difficult to put myself together again, and not for the reasons I initially suspected. I am not losing sight of the mold, I am finding myself questioning parts of my ‘self’ I haven’t questioned in years. There is some value to this, of course, as improvement only happens through some examination and refinement, but there comes a point when any further examination is similar to repeating the word “bowl” a few dozen times. It starts to lose all meaning and what was once a simple word starts to sound alien.

I don’t think there’s a way I can hurry this process without building a ‘self’ that will be too haphazard to survive a bit of rain, let alone a mudslide or blizzard. These mountains are dangerous places and I need to be sure of what I’m doing. At the same time, I should probably do a better job of moving through the first few steps. In twenty-seven years of depression, trauma, pain, love, strength, and joy, nothing has changed my core belief that I want to add to the world. I shouldn’t take that for granted as it could lead me to overlook any cracks or flaws that might appear in the future, but I can safely assume that, if this piece of me is still in good condition, it’s going to be the base.

I can cut down on the amount of time it takes to form the basis of my ‘self’ and spend more time focusing on the more difficult parts. Perhaps I should even take some time to do maintenance while climbing the mountain instead of just pushing on until my ‘self’ falls apart. I have a lot of options worth considering and I know I need to start considering them if I am going to make it through the rest of this year. Or however long this tumultuous period of my life lasts.

 

Daily Prompt

If your protagonist was given the chance to get everything they’ve ever wanted in exchange for giving up on whatever goal they’re pursuing in your story, would they take it? Protagonists rarely have easy lives, so the offer of having their dreams come true could be incredibly tempting, especially if whatever is offering this bargain can show them the trials they have yet to overcome in their journey. Would it be an agonizing decision for them? Would it be a simple one? What would they choose and why? Write a scene today that shows your protagonist facing this sort of temptation, of having a wish granted in exchange for giving up on a goal, and show their ultimate decision. Maybe they use the wish to get the goal anyway. Maybe they wind up making the right choice by giving up on their goal and using the wish to address the source of the problem they were trying to fix according to someone else’s wishes rather than their own

 

Sharing Inspiration

One of the ways I get most of my ideas is from conversations I’ve overhead. Especially at work since I’m usually not listening for them and out-of-context quote are some of the best places to get ideas. Without the full context, things like “Spiritual Hard Hat” and “Cyborg Anatomy” are just so open for interpretation and improvisation that it almost makes it difficult to pick a place to start. Other good places to go for this are malls  and crowded restaurants during lunch hours. Just put in some ear buds in and don’t play any music. You’d be surprised what people are willing to talk about in public if they think they won’t be overheard.

 

Helpful Tips

If you pursue a career as a writer or spend any significant amount of time learning from professional writers by reading what they share on Twitter, you will eventually have to confront the fact that “Writer’s Block” is a bunch of bullshit. There’s no such thing. What is so special about writers that we can have some mysterious condition that prevents us from writing? Patrick Rothfuss has a good bit about it, making the point that plumbers can’t have Plumber’s Block. Sure, there are days when Plumbers just can’t work, but that’s not a result of a mysterious condition, that’s the result of them being sick or injured. The same is true of writing. If you can’t write, chances are good that there’s something going on inside your head that is preventing you from writing. A lot of the time, it’s the result of poor choices like not sleeping enough, not taking care of your mental health, or leaving things until the last moment so the fear of failure brought on by the nearness of the impending deadline cripples you. There are lots of reasons you might be unable to write, but exactly zero of them are “Writer’s Block.”

I’m not saying this to rain on your parade or make you feel guilty. I’m not even saying this to take away a simple explanation for a whole host of issues, much like we say we’re sick when are physical health is below the minimum required to go out and do things with people. I’m saying this because it is a truth you need to confront so you can actually work on healing or recovering from whatever is in your way. If you go around blaming “Writer’s Block” for it like it’s a problem you can only inspire away or wait to pass, you’re going to get stuck there constantly. The next time you think you’re being held back by writer’s block, take some time to comb through your mind and figure out what’s really going on. I promise it’ll be worth it.

Identity

I often ask
            myself who
                        I really am
but maybe that
            is the wrong
                        question
I am a thousand
                        different people
            all wearing
                        the same face
though the face
            changes
to reflect which one
                        I am trying to be
maybe I should
            be more concerned
            with who
                        I am
            going to be
I have a thousand
                        masks
            in my collection
                        each with
their own purpose
            and power
                        bound up
            inside the frozen
expression I wore
            when I took
                        it off
            the first time
capturing who I was
            and what I felt
            so I could become
that again later.
                        so I could be
                        someone else
            right then
and move on
            with my life
I have a few
                        I wear
            more than the rest,
but they are no different
            from the others
a decision
                        to act
a certain way
            or to play
a certain role
­            so that other people
­                        can see me
in a way
                        I can understand
they are masks
            all the same
even if they
            feel so real
                        I am transformed
            maybe the question
I should be asking
            is if there’s
                        a me
            who doesn’t wear
                        a mask
is there a person
            beneath it all
swapping masks
            from one moment
                        to the next
or am I
            my entire collection
and I just
            wear masks
to make it easier
                        for me
            to be
a person people understand

 

Filling

When the days are long
And everything turns to ash
At your touch;

When your favorite things
Are just another way to forget
The march of time;

When you pour in words
Or images like an alcoholic
Pours drinks;

When you escape with
Fleeting success the drudgery
Of your life;

When you are simply
Trying to fill the hole inside
With anything, like dropping coins
Into a well–
              Coins carrying dreams
              And whispered prayers
              As if the weight of each
              Did more than weigh
              Down your soul–
Hoping that the next one
Is all that you really needed
To fill it up;

Do you ever fill the whole inside?

It was a Beautiful Day

Today was wonderful. A hike with good friends, followed by a cookout and then swimming in the lake with the same friends. It felt amazing to finally be out and about, doing things I love with people I love. I wish I had more to write, something I’d been thinking about to share, but today was all taken up by loved ones and thoughts of loved ones.

Instead, have a poem.


 

“Who are you and what do you do?”

We often ask this complex question-
Without even the smallest suggestion
Of malice or hint of aggression-
And expect answers without suppression.
We want nothing but a full confession
That includes every single transgression,
Whatever is your chosen profession,
Have you suffered manic depression
What is your favorite possession,
Do you often have indigestion
What you did during the recession,
How goes your latest obsession,
And we listen to every digression
Hoping you fit in a single expression.

Whenever this question is asked of me
I have an answer I give with glee.
“I am me; I just be;
I like to live my life simply;
I am often sad and often happy;
I live according to no decree
And I will not change myself to be free
Of your ceaseless inquiry.”
I will ignore insult and injury
And every single desperate plea
For me to conform to your would-be
Celebrated normalcy.
Instead, I will sit beneath a tree
And continue being me quietly.

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming to Bring You…

Angst. Not really. Sort of? Whatever.

I’m taking a break from my usual writing program/schedule/practices to focus on writing that’s going to help me with some things I’m trying to work through right now. I’ve been staying off Twitter more and more, lately, and it has gotten me thinking. I’m not exactly staying away from Twitter these days so much as kind of realizing that my brain’s a bit full and having a hard time saying anything without a whole bunch of unrelated stuff coming out. I feel like I need a break, but taking a break hasn’t changed anything. I’d really like to confidently push on like I have been because determination, discipline, and hard work are my strongest virtues, but part of me is starting to believe it might be time to take a break from moving forward. I haven’t spent much time on me, and I think I need to.

You know those diagrams people are always bringing up? “Fast, Cheap, and Good. You get two.” is the one that comes up in most of my professional experiences. “Sleep, social life, or grades, pick two” was the mantra of my fellow college students. I’ve heard of several more, too. These days, I feel like I’m making a similar choice. “Hold a job that pays your bills and student loans, work on writing projects, and maintain mental and physical health. Pick two.” Job and Writing have been my choices for the past 6.5 months and I think it’s starting to show.

Which is weird because while I still feel less emotionally stable than I believe is my norm and like my health (physical and mental) is always teetering on the edge of going somewhere bad, I feel like I’m handling it better than I ever have. All this writing helps me. It provides me a sense of location and a tether so that, no matter how bad the storm gets, I never drift far from where I’ve decided to stay. This doesn’t make the storms smaller, but it makes it easier to get back to things once they’ve passed.

I guess what I’m thinking here is that maybe I dropped anchor in the wrong place? Maybe I need to drift for a little bit? Which is hard, because I’ve grown to rely on the sense of security that constant connection to something gives me. I definitely need to spend time looking inward, whatever that means for my ocean/storm/tether/anchor metaphor. The big thing is, I don’t really know what I need and clinging to what I’ve been doing when it clearly isn’t what I need isn’t going to do anything but prolong this.

Which, you know, looking back on what I’ve been producing lately, seems pretty damn obvious now. Which is also one of the benefits of all my writing. I can see some stuff float to the surface if look back at the right time. Which is to say I’m not going to stop writing. First of all, I’ve got another 6.5 months of daily blog posts to put up. That’s not going to stop because, no matter what else happens during 2018, I will end it able to look back and say “look at this awesome thing I did. I am the shit when it comes to daily posts.” Secondly, blogging my thoughts every morning is a great place to find patterns, test out ideas, and just figure out what’s going on in my head. For instance, this whole post and the decision to change the course of my blog for a bit started as a what was supposed to be a 3-tweet message about why I haven’t been on much.

I need to spend more time untangling the mess that is my thoughts and emotions. I need to spend more time figuring out what it is I want from day-to-day. I need to spend more time investing in myself because, right now, I’m about as in-need for some serious time and effort as the US’s infrastructure. Haha… Topical humor.

I deflect all real attempts at connection with most of my peers using humor and pretending to not be serious. I spend way too much time monitoring myself for idiotic and self-destructive attempts to sabotage my relationships. If people ask me what I want or how I feel when I get emotional or express dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, I honestly cannot tell them anything. I have no answer to those questions. As someone who used to pride himself on his ability to take a look inside and figure out exactly why I felt the way I did or what things were going on that were making me feel a certain way, I’ve done a really shitty job of maintaining that.

I need it back because it was what let me constructively deal with my mental health issues, grow as much as I did, and work on growing healthy relationships with my friends. It wasn’t the only thing and I’m not entirely up shit-creek without it, but it would really help me work on my mental health issues if I could actually figure out how I feel about things that come up with my therapist and what exactly I want out of… well… Everything.

Twenty-Three

Stilted prose and dirty floors
Are all that exist between the doors
Of my mind and of my home,
But I’m tempted to leave them alone.

What right have I to tell them how to be
When I am at the fluid age of twenty-three?
The age of emotion and the flower of youth:
Constantly warring with the iron truth
Of absurdity and the joy of friends
Until the drinks are gone and the talking ends.

The bitter nights of solemn thought;
The bitter-sweet kiss of love sought;
The serendipity of friendship found;
The stoic, solid feeling of the ground
Beneath your feet as you spin the tales
Of loving friendship amidst the empty ales
and liquor bottles from the night’s escapades
Believing life has dealt blessings in spades.

What right do I have to be
So sad and melancholy?

Young but wise beyond my years,
Already immune to most the fears
That keep others awake at night
Despite the fact they’re doing alright.
The envy of many of my peers
Who, despite workshops and endless tears,
Cannot seem to make things work
And wind up as some poor sales clerk.

Stability and fortune are my reward
For spending every night I could afford
Working or studying despite the call
Of friends who are out having a ball,

So tell me how I can justify
A feeling for which I do not qualify?

I have luck and skill both,
The opportunity for growth,
Talent and determination,
Praise and edification
From those who can see just how far
I’ll go and not think it bizarre
That I might have some attribute
or great masterpiece to contribute.

Yet here I am at night’s darkest hour
Wishing I could ignore the nascent power
Of my roiling emotions and troubled thoughts
That tie my gut in non-euclidean knots.
With all the clanging, clamorous noise,
One thought maintains my outward poise:

The moon is so full and bright
While I sit here alone tonight.

Saturday Morning Musing

One of the biggest problems I face from day-to-day is where to draw the line when it comes to investing my time. I like to keep myself busy or entertained, so I’ve constantly got a large number of projects I can work on, games I can play, and books I can read. I could also put in the effort to get my friends together for a movie or some kind of activity, there’s always the option of staying at work longer to get some more overtime, home improvement or cleaning projects, and almost my entire family lives three hours away, so visiting them is always a bigger investment as well. I also occasionally need time just for myself, I want to spend time with my girlfriend, and I am constantly on the verge of forgetting stuff like birthdays and Christmas present shopping. Lastly, (the fact that it is the last thing I’m listing definitely says something about my priorities), I need to make sure I get enough sleep and take care of myself.

Ideally, I’d find a way to do everything, perhaps by combining things like time for myself and my projects, games, and books, or those same things but as time with my girlfriend instead of just by myself. As long as I’m talking in terms of ideal situations, I would also clean in my sleep, take care of all birthday and Christmas stuff during drives to visit my family (along with audio books, of course), and my friends would take on the burden of planning stuff that fits my schedule. Also, I’d be a millionaire and never need to work another day in my life so I can do nothing but write or spend my time studying literature and language. Might as well dream big if I’m going to dream, right?

I want to do everything, but I’ve only got so much time an energy. Additionally, because feeling tired or over-committed for long periods of time can cause my depression and anxiety to spike, I need to make sure that I’m not constantly using all of my energy. I need to balance recharging with video games, books, or spending time by myself against things that drain my energy like large social gatherings (including family), tracking and doing chores, and working more. Too much recharging can leave me feeling like I’m wasting my days, but not enough leaves me tired and barely capable of doing anything that’s going to be draining. If that drained feeling persists, then it causes a flare in my depression and the feeling of tiredness to advance to full exhaustion. This quickly snowballs unless I can catch it, which is always tricky because managing myself in order to catch it can be tiring and discouraging at well.

As a result, I tend toward habits and repeatable planning in order to take some of the burden off of myself. Monday night is a free night to play video games online with people or read, whatever I want. Tuesday is often date night. Wednesday is my weekly gaming night. Thursday is either a social activity or reading. Friday is usually chores and a social activity or chores and time with my roommates. Saturday is all of my obligations, like grocery shopping, non-weekly chores, pre-writing for my blog, and home improvement projects. It can sometimes be a date-day. Sundays are for laundry, reading, preparation for the week, time to myself, and usually D&D. Scattered throughout is work, writing when I’m not too tired, and family on major holidays. It’s a loose system that can change as needed, but my habits from weeks past usually give me enough of a nudge so that I’m never sitting around, bored and trying to figure out what I want to do. That feeling, being bored and entirely uninterested in everything I have to do, is responsible for more depression spikes than anything else I’ve ever felt. I avoid it at all costs.

My problems always come in when someone wants to change my habits. I have some degree of flexibility and usually enough energy to add it into my week, but not always. I’m not always good at saying no, either. Not in a “people make me do things I don’t want to” sort of way, but a “I’m not very good at advocating for my own needs” sort of way. I’ll almost always go along with what someone suggested and then spend a couple of days feeling extra tired. It isn’t always bad. If I’ve done an alright job of managing myself earlier in the week, I’ll be able to bounce back just fine. If I’ve been extra stressed or away from my habits for a longer period of time, it can take a while to get back to feeling well.

I’ve struggled for years with this feeling of constantly using my energy reserves to get through the day thanks to my depression, and I’ve only ever really gotten it to go away when I get invested in some big project like National Novel Writing Month. The problem is that, when it ends, I’m super exhausted and usually spend a week or so fighting against my depression. Feelings of low-energy and minor emotional exhaustion can persist for almost an entire month afterward. I can usually deal with it by taking extra time for myself and cutting out some of my social engagements, but that often presents problems of its own. Most of my friends get it, they know I might be a bit of a hermit for a while but I’m fine as long as they can actually communicate with me via the internet.

Most of the time, I alternate between wishing I could just become a hermit and never need to worry about it again or wishing I was never alone and was constantly surrounded by people who energize me. It isn’t a good feeling, since it is a part of the “I wish I wasn’t like this” feeling that makes it hard for me to accept myself and my mental illnesses. I try not to think about it too much, but every so often I need to take the time to look at how I spend my time and double-check that I’m spending it not only in a way that balances my energy but in a way that I feel is consistent with my long-term goals and values. If I’m lucky, I need to do that only at major life events, holidays, and every few months. If I’m not lucky, it is a lot more frequent. A high frequency is usually indicative that something else is wrong, so I get to spend a few days putting it off and then my weekend trying to figure out what’s causing me to constantly reconsider how I spend my time. I’ve got a lot of driving to do this weekend, thanks to the holidays, so hopefully I’ll have something figured out by the time I’m home.

It’s like an itch you can’t scratch or the quiet, nagging certainty that you left something important behind that you won’t miss until you absolutely need it. This is going to be all I can think about today. Hopefully your holidays are going better than mine are, so far.