Archive for July, 2015

There’s an evil genius lurking over at terribleminds. Some day he may use his powers for good, but until then the cornpunk puppet master known as Chuck Wendig likes to torture us less worthy creatures with writing prompts. Thanks to him, I’ve come up with ideas for several stories that I hope to eventually put together into an anthology and release into the wild. And I’ve experienced how much fun it is watching other people tormented by toddlers while enjoying my bourbon and chocolate undisturbed.

Also thanks to him I’ve learned just how much I’m not a writer.

His latest prompt wasn’t to inspire fiction, though, but to inspire thought. Hence the title above. My first response was “fuck if I know.” I just write. Sometimes it’s simply out of habit because I’ve been doing it since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Sometimes it’s therapy as I try and work through emotional issues. Most of the time I just need to escape to a place I haven’t been able to find otherwise.

And that’s where I started to really think about why I write.

I was unable to be very active as a child due to a congenital defect in my knees known as bilateral discoid meniscus. Back in the dark ages of my childhood the medical field didn’t have the imaging capabilities or the orthoscopic surgical procedures it does now. Which means most orthopedic surgeons probably didn’t know as much about the defect as the Wikipedia page I linked to above. It’s not that I couldn’t walk or run or jump: I could, but I would pay for it days afterward, with swelling and intense joint pain. Such results kind of discourage a kid from trying to do any of that stuff, so I spent most of my time indoors. When I wasn’t doing schoolwork or practicing my music, I was reading.

I devoured books by the truckload, and read far above my age/grade level. As a child growing up in the Air Force in the middle of the Space Race, science fiction made more sense to me than anything else. So while most other little girls were giggling over Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, I was digging through Herbert and Heinlein and Asimov and Bradbury, and fighting my sister over who got to change the TV channel to Star Trek (the original series, in it’s original run. Yes, I’m that old…*sigh*…).

Reading and science fiction opened my eyes to worlds only a select few seemed to see. It introduced me to physics, genetics, psychology and all those other scientific fields. It showed me equal amounts hope and despair for the human race. And it wasn’t just the gadgets (though, where do you think flip phones and iPads came from?), but the exploration of ethics and morality that stuck with me. Science fiction could delve into touchy issues with less flack than regular fiction. Race relations, discrimination, sexuality, and dozens of other taboo subjects were the meat and potatoes of science fiction. I was given an education in humanity unparalleled anywhere else.

I began writing in junior high (middle school to some of ya’ll). First as an assignment in English class for a scary story at Halloween. Then as extra credit when the teacher told me how good she thought I was and read my stories in class. And finally because I just couldn’t stop, despite the teasing from the other kids about how I was obviously an alien. I had worlds to explore and people to meet and great adventures to live. It was somewhere to go where I was cool and heroic, instead of dorky and invisible.

It still is. As the real world progresses and descends deeper into madness, the need to go somewhere else increases. I read what’s out there today, and I can’t connect with most of it. The shallow characters don’t resonate with me, and the stories are often so far out there, I have no idea what they’re trying to say. It’s almost like we’ve lost touch with what it means to tell a real story, depending on gimmicks and gadgetry instead. Maybe I’m too old and set in my ways to understand this new way of things, or maybe – just maybe – the Emperor has no clothes.

Whatever the truth, I will continue to translate the voices in my head into words on the page, and hope that one day someone else will stumble upon my ramblings and discover a place they can hide for awhile, too. It’ll be nice to have the company.

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Habits are strange. It seems inordinately easy to fall into a bad habit, while way too arduous to build a good one. And vice versa. Breaking bad habits (smoking, over-eating, drug abuse) are a grueling trek akin to hiking Mount Everest, while establishing good habits (exercising, eating right, writing everyday) makes that little walk to the top of the world seem simple.

I bring this up because after two months of complete and utter brainlessness, trying to get myself back into writing – AT THE VERY LEAST – a weekly blog entry is sort of like swimming the English Channel with no endurance training. Yeah, I can swim, but, man, that water is cold and choppy, and the other side seems so very far away… What the hell was I thinking???

Most of the time I sit down at my computer and have no idea what I’m going to say. That’s just the way we pantsers do things. I might have a kernel from a topic in the news or something that happened, or a general (read: extremely vague) thought I want to share. Sometimes all I have is a really cool title. I have several short stories like that right now – really cool titles, and not a word more. Someday the stories will show up. I hope.

Anyhoo, here I am trying to get back into a good habit. When I went wandering around in that great empty space of my mind, I found that there actually have been several cool things that happened lately. On the grand scale, the US Supreme Court (finally!) decided that marriage is a legal right accorded to ANY two adults willing to make the commitment, regardless of gender, sexual identity or orientation. And Iran (grudgingly) sat at the bargaining table with the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, and hammered out a deal on their nuclear technology – a diplomatic resolution to a potentially devastating future for all concerned.

Of course, American conservative politicians are frothing at the mouth over both of these, ranting on about the fall of civilization and the destruction of “good Christian values.” Neither of which any of them seem to actually understand, or we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I’ll never fathom why they continually want to run around in fear screaming about the sky falling and needing to condemn everyone else for not doing the same. It seems a lot of wasted energy for nothing. Just think how wonderful the world would be if they worked that hard to actually accomplish something positive? So I have two things to say in response to the fright-right: 1) stay in your own bedroom, and 2) give peace a chance.

I could go on and on about both topics, but don’t really see the point when there are already millions of words on the Internet supporting all the various sides and arguments. Go forth and laugh and point, as you will.

No, I’d rather talk about something far more important that happened this weekend, a combination of events that really helped me feel better in so many ways.

It rained.

And I don’t mean the usual spit-take we’re offered here in SoCal, I mean an honest to goodness, rip-roaring, pouring-assed-rain thunderstorm. It seems there was a bit of a hurricane down off the west coast of Mexico, and the remnants of it splattered ashore here. It clouded up a little on Friday (which had it’s own excitement as a wildfire closed down a major freeway here. See: “Wildfire on SoCal freeway…”), then we had some drizzle and then actual rain on Saturday. My husband and I went out back to enjoy the weather, startling a stray tom that had taken to one of the doghouses for shelter. He bolted off and we laughed in the rain.

Sunday saw more of the same, off and on for most of the morning. And then in the afternoon, the skies opened up and we had a genuine gulley-washer. It poured. It thundered. The rain sluiced off the roof in great sheets. The brittle little nubs of grass we had left in the yard were drowned. For a good while, the water running down the street (what SoCal calls rain gutters, the rest of us call useless) was even with the sidewalk and threatening incursions into the yard. It was glorious!

We stood on the front porch a long time, basking in the thunderous energy. I tried to capture some of it on my phone, but the video quality was poor and didn’t really do it justice. It went on for some time, and then we finally wandered back into the office to get back to our lazy Sunday afternoon of Internet cruising and videos. Something caught my eye as I was about to sit at my desk. I took a better look through the blinds and realized that the stray from the day before was back in the doghouse, nonchalantly bathing himself as if he owned the place. We don’t have dogs right now, so I guess he’s claiming squatter’s rights. I didn’t mind. The Goddess had seen fit to give me a thunderstorm and a feline visitor on the same day. A nice double play if ever I’ve seen one.

It was something I really needed, a pleasant helping of my favorite things to drag me out of my slump. Feeling content, even happy, I’ve been given a reprieve from the darkness. Oh, I know it’s only temporary – such is the nature of depression – but it gives me something to work with and for. It gives me hope.

Here it is in the waning hours of Tuesday, and the stray is still out back. He’s a lovely ginger with beautiful gold eyes, but very skittish and obviously in need of some TLC. Somehow a little canned chicken made its way out there, right next to a bowl of water. I have no idea how that happened (wink*wink). But four days later, he’s come to some level of understanding that this is a safe place to be. At least for now. Being on the animal underground we could be just a way station, or we could be the forever home. We’ll just have to take it one day at a time, just like everything else in life.

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Sometimes you have to take a vacation. From everything. Usually you’re allowed to plan such vacations. You need to request the time off from work, clear the kids’ calendars, buy the tickets, pack the suitcases. When you get wherever you’re going, you turn off the electronics, throw on the flip-flops, and chill out with your favorite beverage next to your favorite person.

Occasionally such vacations are forced upon you. Family emergencies. Accidents. Major depressive cycles. Zombie apocalypse. You don’t get to plan for those – they just happen, and you simply have to ride them out.

Sorry for not being around these last two months, but that forced vacation thing hit me. My absence started as a simple lack of planning and time management as we prepped for, and then went to, one of our historical war weekends at the end of May. It was a lovely weekend, too. Overcast, cool, with occasional light rain and drizzles. My kind of weather. I slept well, we had excellent sales in our merchant booth, we visited with great friends, and we came home exhausted but happy.

I did have a minor mishap as we were packing up to go home. I was carrying a bundle of camp trash to the dumpster when I stepped in a camouflaged gopher hole. If you knew my history with wars and gopher holes (I’ve broken both ankles at various events this way), you probably wouldn’t be all that surprised that I managed to find another one. But it’s a long way down when you’re as tall as I am, and a hard landing to boot because I’m carrying so much extra weight. The left ankle screamed as it was twisted, the right knee bruised and swelled as it made impact with the hard ground, and the left elbow went for the all-of-the-above option as I finished my topple. Don’t ask me how I managed to do that left-right-left thing. I think it has something to do with gravity and chaos theory, but I’m no physicist.

Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any serious damage. Just some sprained joints and a bruised ego. I hobbled around, taking care of business as best I could. I cleaned up our camping gear from the war, I did laundry (lots of laundry), updated our business records, paid bills. The hubby and I went to our annual check ups at the doctor’s, where I refused the recommendation for a second blood pressure medication, mainly because I’m a stubborn idiot. I got new glasses (I can see! Well, better anyway. Still not fully corrected. Additional options are being explored). And somewhere along in all that, the fog closed in. A black, unrelenting fog that left me adrift in a sea of crushing exhaustion, fiery body aches, and virulent self-loathing.

Depression is the Cthulhu of emotions. It’s a little of this and a little of that, combined with some of this other stuff, and overall an evil sumbitch that sucks the life out of everything it touches. It’s not just feeling sad. It’s not just something that I can “snap out of.” It’s not all in my head. It’s a biochemical shit-storm that turns an otherwise intelligent human being into a drooling crybaby who’s only thought is “I suck.” Nothing can be accomplished because nothing is worth accomplishing. Nothing is worth the effort of even trying, least of all me.

I couldn’t write. I couldn’t do anything creative. All the usual voices in my head disappeared, replaced with the constant mantra of self-hate. The only desire I had was to crawl up into a little ball in the dark and just disappear – forever. Just turn myself off and be done with it all. I hid a lot. I spent an inordinate amount of time in bed because I just didn’t have the strength or the will to do anything else. When I wasn’t there, I was at the computer, hiding in my fantasy games or watching hour after hour of videos on Hulu. I was incapable of doing anything else. I didn’t cook. I didn’t clean. I didn’t get out of my pajamas. I’m not even sure I showered. Much of the time is lost behind a black veil of murk.

It took a chunk out of my life. It’s only been in the last couple weeks that I’ve been able to catch glimpses of little patches of blue in that otherwise stormy sky. I’m slowly creeping out from under it. I’ve done a couple small things creatively – I stitched up some lavender sachets, and played with beads to put together several scissor fobs. I even jotted down a couple notes for a short story idea. But it’s an unrelenting struggle. Every day I wonder what the hell I’m thinking, trying to start a writing career at my age. Each positive thought I generate is countered by a dozen negative reasons why none of it will ever matter. Who am I kidding? I claim to be a writer and yet it’s been months since I did anything to support that claim. No new words on the page, no queries sent out, no contests entered, no submissions e-mailed. I don’t even have the obligatory cat mascot right now. What a loser.

Yet, despite all that, I’m still here. I’m still trying. You should, too. Don’t believe those evil voices in the dark – they lie. Believe me, I know how hard it is. And sometimes you just have to close the blinds and crawl into bed and ignore the world for a while. But don’t do anything more than that. Hold on until you reach the other side. It’s a fine line we walk, those of us with mental illness. Constantly bobbling to one side or the other, desperately flailing our arms to keep from falling. And it’s a merciless battle to keep doing it, year after year after year. Keep doing it anyway. Keep working on getting the right balance of meds. Keep going to therapy. Keep talking to friends and family. Keep exercising. Keep eating right. Keep looking for the triggers. Keep doing SOMETHING to fight back.

Say it with me: it will get better. It will get better. It will get better…

Because it’s worth the fight. So are you. And so am I.

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