Learning How to Have Bad Days

Of all of my annoying personality traits (and I have so many), being too hard on myself is easily in the top twenty. Maybe the top fifteen. I have no ability to cut myself any slack whatsoever. In my perception of myself, there is no reason for me not to do or be or achieve and my failure in that regard is glaring.

The fact that I didn’t own the world before I was 30 has weighed heavily on me.

For most people, a bad day is just that. It’s one day in which things are shit for whatever reason. It’s a blip on the radar screen of life, an expected anomaly that happens on occasion. It’s just a garbage day made to be thrown into the trash and forgotten about in time.

But for me, a bad day turns into a confirmation that I am, in fact, a garbage person.

The days that I’m feeling physically puny for whatever reason, that I struggle to get through my workouts or maybe I don’t even get through my workouts, just confirms that I am a lazy piece of shit. God, other people are doing much harder workouts. All I’m doing is some belly dance and yoga and a few push-ups. Being tired isn’t an excuse. Feeling fatigued isn’t an excuse. Being sick or feeling unwell isn’t an excuse.

The bad brain days that make thinking hard, concentrating difficult, that make writing a struggle, those days just confirm that I’m an unambitious, lazy piece of shit. God, it’s not like I’m doing anything hard, right? I should be able to get much more done, much more written, much more revised. Other people are doing a lot more than I am even on my best day. Being tired, having a headache, being overwhelmed by dark thoughts, anxious thoughts, depressed thoughts, is not an excuse.

Notice how I equate bad days with being lazy. There’s no bigger fault in my stars than being lazy. Had that one drilled into me. It’s fine for other people, but not for me.

I am learning, slowly and the hard way because that’s the only way I can learn anything (easily in my top five annoying personality traits), how to have a bad day. That it’s okay to have a bad day. Well, maybe not okay because nobody wants to have a bad day, but I’m slowly learning that having a bad day is not a moral failing. Bad days happen to everyone indiscriminately. The biggest asshole and the sweetest saint have bad days. The bad day isn’t the issue. How I respond to the bad day is.

Slowly, I’ve let up on myself when having a bad day. I’ve stopped beating myself up on those days, stopped stomping myself into the ground when I’m already feeling low. No more insults to my injuries. I’m training myself to rethink those days.

On the bad days, I try to focus on what I do get done. Yes, it wasn’t the greatest belly dance routine of my life, but I got through it. Yes, I sort of rushed my yoga routine and didn’t get as much focus from my postures as I normally do, but I did find a bit of peace while doing them. I didn’t get as much revising or writing done, but I got something done and when I come back to it tomorrow, that’s less that I have left to do.

My brain is a real stubborn bastard and it’s not easy rewiring its thinking ways. But I’m doing it.

It makes the bad days a little easier to deal with.

The Winners Have Been Announced…And I Am One

If you’ve been reading this blog or following me on Twitter or familiar with me on Facebook, then you know all about the Prose Simon & Schuster Challenge that I entered. You know it because not only have I blogged about it, but I’ve also been encouraging people to read and comment and like and repost on social media. Not only was this an actual contest for the intended prize, but also a personal challenge for me.

Last night, I received an email that the 50 winners were chosen.

Imagine my surprise, delight, elation, and absolute “oh shit, what have I done” dread when I saw “Take the 55 North” on the list.

That’s right, kids. Your Aunt Kiki placed in the top 50.

This means that in accordance with the challenge, those in the top 50 (determined by the Prose folks who read every entry and made their decision based on likes, originality, and grammar) will be read by Simon & Schuster editors and if they like what they read, they’ll be in touch.

Just typing that released a flock of Mothra-sized butterflies loose in my gut.

Because this could not be happening at a more batshit time.

Last week, my laptop borked. It is done. Work potentially lost unless I can salvage the hard drive because I backed everything up last month, but not yet this month. A monumentally frustrating occurrence that led to me having a bit of a meltdown and questioning whether or not this was a sign from the Universe to just stop writing. I realize how ridiculous that probably sounds, but I am a ridiculous person. I was also in desperate need for some self-care when this happened and this was more than enough to push me over the edge. Flipping my shit over my less-than-two-years-old laptop biting it was the opening of the ultimate release valve to alleviate the pressure before I went critical. Dramatic, but necessary.

So, while my sanity has been momentarily saved, I am still without a laptop, at least until the new one is delivered. Which may be as soon as next week. Or as long as July 5th. Now here I am, potentially on the brink of something new and wonderful and important, and I’m sans the thing I really need (this blog post is being written courtesy of my roommate Carrie letting me use her laptop). Only so much can be done from my phone.

Or only I can do so much from my phone. Some people can work their whole lives from a phone and to them I tip my hat.

Anyway, in addition to this laptop madness there’s also the sudden realization that I did not think things through. For someone who does such a good job of thorough planning in so many areas of life, I am really bad at it for some things that deserve more forethought.

Like this challenge!

I submitted a story that will ultimately be part of something bigger. However, this something bigger is right now only a sketch. I have very little actually written and the outline is at its most basic. Now, this may not prove to be much of a problem, but knowing that if this story generates any interest, I have almost nothing else to show them in regards to this specific project and that causes me some anxiety.

I was not prepared for this. Because I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just thinking about submitting something, getting some people to read a story, practicing my self-promotion, and then nothing coming of it. Because that’s what usually happens. But this time the usual didn’t happen. And now, here I am. Not ready.

Boy, those Mothra-butterflies are really feisty.

The truth is, nothing could still come of it. It’s entirely possible that my story is very nice, but not for them, and they’ll pass. And that’s fine. That’s a kind of rejection I understand. Considering that I’ve already accomplished more than I thought I could with this challenge, I’m more than willing to call this a victory. And honestly, my anxiety probably wouldn’t mind because right now it’s screaming in my ear, “What have you done?! You’re not prepared for this! Are you crazy?!”

To which I reply, “Of course.”

Because as unprepared as I feel that I am, as disconnected as I feel that I am without my laptop, because as overwhelming as I feel that all of this is, I’m game.

I’m already on the roller coaster.

Gotta finish my ride.

June Writing Projects

Last month was fairly easy. All I had to do was revise Come to the Rocks and outline season 2 of Murderville. Which I did.

But that left me with time on my hands. Like two weeks worth of time on my hands. Which meant that I needed to find a way to occupy my time. So, I ended up revising “Take the 55 North” for the Simon & Schuster challenge on Prose and then revised and posted another, related story called “Items Left Behind”.

And then I proceeded to drive myself crazy trying to come up with something to enter into the Writer’s Digest Annual Contest. I ended up writing the first 15 pages of a new script called Stateline, which is a rewrite of a short story I did years ago and decided that was the winner. Okay, not winner, but the one that I felt had the best shot at earning my entry fee back.

And then I wrote a little short story that’s set in the Murderville universe that’s going to serve as the teaser for next season. But you’re going to have to wait (and pay) for that.

This month is all about writing Murderville season 2 and hopefully giving it a title.

And because that’s the only thing I have planned to do this month, you know what happens if I finish early.

It’ll look like May all over again.

The next episode of Murderville: The Last Joke, “Finding Chester R. Ewins”, goes live June 13th. Become a patron, catch up on the last five eps, and be all set to read the latest. Reminder that $2 patrons receive bonus content, so treat yourself!

Let It Be

I have a yearly motto.

Well, I do now.

It started unofficially last year. I wrote a question on my quote board so I could see it and ask myself throughout the year: “What would someone who loved herself do?” And this became my sort-of-motto for the year. The idea was to ask myself this question in certain situations as a way to break me of constantly shoving myself down on my own priority list. It allowed me to be selfish in a healthy way.

This year I intentionally set a motto: Let It Be.

Yes, I know it’s also a Beatles song/album.

The point of this year’s motto is for me to learn not to obsess over and try to control things that don’t need to be obsessed over/controlled.

I have a tendency to fixate on the speed of things. I need everything to happen sooner than it does. And I obsess over the fact that things aren’t progressing at the speed that I wish them to progress. And I try to control that speed.

What I have discovered in doing this repeatedly over the years (because you know I do everything the hard way) is that it only succeeds in driving me crazy and sometimes forcing things to happen before they should happen, usually to unfortunate ends.

Because I am a hard-headed donkey of a person, it makes sense that I would come up with a motto for 2017 to remind me to…well…let it be.

Put in the work, put in the effort, do what needs to be done. Then let it be.

Let things happen when they’re supposed to happen.  Let it be.

If you have to force it (most of the time), then it’s not ready/time/whatever. Let. It. Be.

I am hoping that a year of this motto will drill it into my fool head that my time can be better spent doing something that’s actually productive rather than screwing myself into the ground trying to control something that’s not meant to be controlled. Maybe I might learn that it’s okay to not control everything. Maybe I might learn that it’s not really me giving up control, but in reality recognizing what I truly do control.

Not something exactly revolutionary to those not prone to being uptight (and man, can I be uptight about some things), but I think my blood pressure will thank me in the end.

Yeah, man. Let it be.

Am I Numb or Zen?

peaceIf there’s anything funny about my dealings with depression (and there’s little really ha-ha funny about it), then it’s how paranoid it makes me when I’m feeling okay.

I wrote about how my holiday blues in 2015 started too early and ended up deepening into a nice depression that hung around until April like an in-law in a not-funny sitcom. Because of that experience, I was paranoid about that happening again this past holiday season.

We’re talking extremely vigilant.

How am I feeling? Am I sad? Do I hate everything? Am I operating on the frequency of do-not-want more often than not? Do I want to run away? Do I want to give up? Do I want throat punch people for a legitimate reason or just because?

This sort of interrogation happened on a nearly daily basis starting at the end of October. I thought that not dressing up and passing out candy to trick-or-treaters might be a sign that the holiday blues were settling in early once again. But upon reflection, I realized that I was just burned out and not feeling the spirit and therefore, I didn’t feel like forcing myself to do something my heart wasn’t in.

Okay. That’s cool. Very reasonable.

As the holiday season progressed, I kept waiting for the blues to hit, to come rumbling through, maybe dragging a semi-trailer of depression behind it.

Only I kept asking the questions and I kept responding that I was okay. No, really. I’m okay.

This okayness, in turn, jacked up the paranoia regarding my mental state.

Was I really okay? Or was everything in the world at the moment such shit that it fit my mood and it only felt okay? The latter might have been true to an extent. I didn’t even get a real dose of the holiday blues this past season.

So, here I am, a couple of months into the new year and I’m still feeling okay. Things that should be throwing me into a rage, the little things that I’ve become so used to pissing me off, aren’t having that effect on me. I feel okay. I am maintaining my okayness.

Maybe it’s the shift in thinking that occurred at some point late last year. Maybe it’s my 2017 motto, “Let it be”. Maybe it’s the nightly meditation I’ve been doing since late December, which includes chanting certain mantras designed to calm me and keep me optimistic.

Maybe I’m fucking zen.

Or maybe, as my paranoia has repeatedly suggested, I’m numb.

Maybe I’m existing in some sort of dulled stated that has rendered me non-reactionary to certain stimuli in my daily life. Maybe my depression, which I’m so used to operating in a certain way, has now taken on a new dimension, a dimension of numbness that resembles okayness and therefore tricks me into thinking I’m okay when I’m really depressed.

Boy, that mental health paranoia is a real dick sometimes.

But those mantras I’ve been chanting at night before I go to bed have influenced me to think positively about this. Instead of caving to the ravings of my paranoia (which has a long track record of being wrong), I’ve chosen to view this period of mental calm as something to be embraced. It’s almost like I’ve achieved a kind of clarity here. I’m not numb; I’m just not at the mercy of my emotions and my hellscape brain. For now.

I am okay.

I am zen.

I Do Not Christmas Well

cookiesYesterday, I made some sweet treats for the Christmas Eve get together that will happen later today at my mom’s. I normally do not contribute because between my mom and my nieces, plenty of sweet treats happen. But this year I told my mom that I’d made puppy chow for my sister and brother-in-law and she requested some.

And I also said that I’d make sugar cookies.

Here’s the deal.

At Thanksgiving, my great-aunt gave me two batches of sugar cookie dough that she’d made from my great-grandma’s recipe and colored red and green with food coloring. Now, I do not bake. I have no baking skill. I can fuck up cookies from a tube. But my great-aunt thinks that because I can cook, I can bake cookies from pre-made dough without incident. She also thinks that I will eat red and green cookies. I will not. My issues with that is worthy of another post.

However, red and green pre-made sugar cookie dough was right up my nieces’ alley. I was going to take the dough to my mom’s house for my middle niece’s birthday Sunday and let the girls bake them.

Then winter happened. Between the ice and cold, I wasn’t able to see my niece for her birthday (we have a plan B for after the new year; such is the life for us with winter birthdays).

When my mom requested the puppy chow, she also mentioned that my youngest niece wanted sugar cookies.

“Oh, I’ll bake the sugar cookies that auntie gave me and bring them up,” I said.

And so my fate was sealed.

In addition to my lack of baking skills, the stove in our house is questionable. My mom bought it for $100 at a yard sale in 1986. Really. It no longer heats quite evenly, you can’t tell when it’s pre-heated, can barely read the numbers on the knobs, and sometimes it will electrocute you. Really.

The potential for disaster was high. Just the kind of thrill seeking I like.

I baked the first batch of cookies, the red ones, which were more pink than red, and looked like I was trying to bake Laffy Taffy.

They…survived.

It was impossible to tell if they were done because red cookies don’t brown like plain sugar cookies. But the bottoms of them were browned to just before burnt, so they had to be done, even though the tops looked not done.

For the second batch, the green batch, which also looked like Laffy Taffy, I figured out that I had to put a second pan on the bottom rack to help diffuse the heat, rotate the pan of cookies half-way through baking, and pray constantly to a crotchety baking goddess.

The green cookies came out a little better, but any sort of browning on colored cookies just looks wrong.

I’m told from my taste tester that the cookies are fine. Which is good. I hope the nieces enjoy them.

But they look better in the container.

“Stop Working for Free in 2017!”

flame box elder penThe title of this post came from a tweet in my feed. No, it wasn’t spam or some other kind of sponsored content, though it can read that way, I suppose.

To me it reads as the truth.

I have often struggled with the concept of getting paid for my writing. I feel like I’m imposing on people by asking them for money to read my work. “You’re an artist!” a voice in my head yells. “You’re not supposed to be doing it for the money!” And then another voice pipes up and says, “Dude, seriously? You’re writing all of this shit anyway. Get paid, man.”

But still, I struggle.

The second voice is right, though. More right than the first voice. I don’t write for the money. If I did, then I’d be writing to the trends, pumping out thin stories with excellent dressing, capitalizing on whatever looks like it will be selling in the next few months. Publishing trends can be hard to predict, but they’re pretty easy to get in on, especially now with the convenience of self-publishing (not at all putting down self-publishing as that has been my primary means for the majority of my writing career). Writing, revising, and self-publishing a decent novel in a few months that fits in with a going trend is possible.

But I don’t do that.

In fact, when people ask about the nature of my career and why I don’t sell more books and why I don’t have an agent and all of that, I tell them that my biggest hang-up is that I don’t write what other people want to read. I write what I want to write, what I want to read. And my tastes are apparently far from the mainstream. It’s hard to find any traditional success when you write stuff that can only find a small audience, no matter how loyal. Publishing, after all, is a business. They are very motivated by the money.

Still. I should get paid for what I do write. There is no shame in this. I’m not asking for a handout. I’m asking to be paid for my work. It’s no different than when I get paid for child learnin’ or working floorset. Just because the paycheck isn’t as regular doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve it.

This is the mantra I’m carrying into 2017. I’m not working for free. This doesn’t mean I won’t be doing anymore freebie stories on occasion. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to start charging you guys to read these wonderful, informative blog posts.

It means that I’m not going to act like I don’t deserve to ask for money for my work. Because you know what? I do. Because writing IS work. It IS my job. It’s the job I’d like to be living off of instead of my day jobs. How do I do that? By insisting that I get paid.

The Patreon project is a step in that direction. Adjusting the prices for my existing self-published works will be next. Working on something to get traditionally published is on the To Do List.

Come 2017, I will get paid.

Those Self-Destructive Weeks

mushroom cloudI have a bit of a self-destructive streak that I try not to indulge actively. It’s not a seriously overt thing, really. I don’t take risky gambles with my life like challenging biker gangs to duels or riding a unicycle along the edge of a cliff or attempting to bake. I just actively don’t care about myself.

I did it again last week.

Most of the time, these self-destructive days, or in this case a whole week, aren’t planned. One thing sets it all off, like lighting the fuse on a string of fire crackers, and I’m just like, “Fuck it.”

What set me off last week was a Cubs playoff game on Monday night that went into extras. The regular nine innings didn’t get over until midnight and four more innings were played after that. The game didn’t get over until quarter til two in the morning. Had this been the regular season, I would have bailed long before midnight as I was looking at working both day jobs the next day. But this is the playoffs, man. If the Cubs would have won that night, they would have clinched the NLDS. It was important that I stay up and watch this game, grown-up obligations  be damned!

But they didn’t win. They lost. And I didn’t go to sleep until 2:30 that morning.

Fuck it mode engaged.

Because I knew I wasn’t sleeping Tuesday night either because I work until midnight for floorsets, if I’m lucky. I got out of this one late. And then had to drive home. Another two in the morning bedtime.

These two sleep-deprived nights were used as an excuse to self-destruct for the rest of the week. It was the excuse to eat like garbage, to continue to not get adequate sleep (except for Wednesday night when I slept a solid 9 hours because exhaustion couldn’t be beat), to drink way too much coffee, to not exercise (outside of my hour-long walks; somehow I still managed that), to drink more beer than I should when I shouldn’t, to basically just wreck myself.

And I knew that’s what I was doing, too. I knew that I shouldn’t, but I did it anyway. I looked at it and went, “Well, I already started this shit show on Monday, so I may as well just finish it out.”

I don’t recommend this tactic. By Sunday night I was feeling like hot garbage and eating Tums like they were my favorite candy. I also didn’t like myself very much for not hitting the emergency stop on like Wednesday. I admit that I could stand to loosen my grip on my control issues once in a while and let things flow, but this is not one of those issues. I wasn’t particularly thrilled about not being able to get my shit together in a timely fashion and instead just gave in to the chaos.

So, this week comes what I like to think of as the hard reset.

This week I have to go to bed at a decent hour (this is an ongoing struggle of my life, though, so…). I have to mind what I eat closely so my gut can recover. Ditto minding the coffee intake. I have to make every workout. I have to put off finishing that six pack. I have to get back into the regular, boring-old groove.

Build myself up again in time for the next spontaneous combustion.

The Generosity of the Universe

coinsI’ve not gotten much in the way of creative work done this month. I’ve got several different ideas for projects. I’m working on several different projects. I’ve written or started writing a couple of blog posts that I never got around to posting. But I haven’t had much energy to really put into it. Most of my brain has been wrapped up in trying to come up with the money to pay some bills.

When it comes to the generosity of the universe, I believe in it, but with an asterisk. As in, I believe in it for everyone else, but not for myself.

As a rule, I don’t think I should ever ask for help. Period. End of. Never. I believe that if I want something, then I should work harder and if I need something and I’m not getting it, well, it’s my fault because I’m not working hard enough. I don’t think these things about other people. They ask for help, they get help, sometimes I’m the helper if I can, and it’s all groovy. But me? No.

And on the rare occasions that I do ask for help, I’m usually turned down. I’m either ignored or given an excuse or worse, told that they’ll help, but then they don’t. It’s hard for people to help someone that never asks for it because they don’t know how to respond to it. It’s foreign territory.

Anyway, with the bills looming, I knew that I was going to have to come up with something to at least cover part of them. I’d had the idea for the Storytime Jukebox, but I knew that if I did it, it would probably be ignored. But it got to the point that I had no other option. So, I said “fuck it” and got it going. I decided that whatever I got from it, I would be grateful for it. Any little bit helps.

I did my best to maintain that attitude towards it. Gratitude. Be grateful for every retweet, every like, every link share, and every penny I got. And I did think I would get a few pennies. I knew some people would be game and give me a couple of dollars for my stories and I would be happy with that. I chose to approach this with gratitude.

Maybe the Universe appreciated this. Maybe I just underestimated the current people occupying my bit of world. Maybe my gratitude brought out the generosity. Whatever it was, the response to my request for help was overwhelming. It was more than I had expected by a long shot. At one point I thought if I raised enough money to just cover the cost of renewing the blog, that would be a huge achievement. In the end, in only a matter of a few weeks, the entire amount I needed was covered.

In addition to getting the money I needed from some pretty spectacular folks, I also learned a valuable lesson that I was long overdue for learning.

The generosity of the universe is a real thing and since I am part of the Universe, that generosity applies to me, too. I’m not exempt from it.

And my gratitude is endless.

August Writing Projects

sunIt’s August and I’m thinking I’ve hit the dog days of summer. Or maybe it’s just a bit of floundering on my own part because I’m not sure what I want to do this month.

I finished the revisions on Open Christmas Eve so, while not spectacular, the script is long enough to not be considered bullshit and I’m good with that. I no longer feel like a fraud, just a hack, and that’s my default, so it’s fine.

I also got the Storytime Jukebox up and running, which was a thing that I wasn’t sure I could or should do, but in the end I felt like I didn’t have a choice. The response I’ve had in the few days it’s been up is more than I actually hoped for and I hope it continues. I so appreciate the help.

It’s times like these, when the malaise and scatterbrainedness hits me, that I’m glad I have an epic To Do List of Doom. I may not know exactly what I want to work on, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have plenty of options.

So at some point during this month I will probably-

-Revise a couple of more stories for the jukebox and/or

-Write the first drafts of some short stories for the next anthology and/or

-Finish the first draft of one of my other test scripts for practice and/or

-Something else I can’t remember even though I just looked at the To Do List of Doom like four minutes ago.

Yeah. The scatterbrained malaise is that bad.

But August won’t be. I will be productive.

I will get at least one thing done.

I wonder what it will be.