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.

Self-Care When You’re Lousy at Self-Care

peaceSelf-care is important. It’s how one can maintain a happy existence even when life turns into a pressure cooker and your juices are threatening to boil. For some people, self-care comes so naturally that they don’t even have to think about it. They take time out to recharge their batteries, make time to do it. They take care of themselves with no problems. They relax without guilt. They don’t even think about not doing it. It just happens.

I am not one of those people.

Hell, I’m not even exactly sure what self-care really means. I know for some people it’s a reminder to take care of the basics because they get so wrapped up in stress that things like eating and drinking and sleeping and such get neglected. For me, self-care is more of a reminder to just take a break. To leave whatever stress or turmoil or work or whatever where it sits and walk away. Leave it alone, let it rest, and go soothe my soul with some kind of peace.

And I am garbage at that.

I’m one of those people who never works hard enough, is never good enough, and could always have done more. I’m one of those people who never deserves a break, never earns one, and I feel guilty if I even consider taking one.

For me, self-care is a struggle. Not only do I battle the inner narrative that I’m being lazy if I’m not being productive, but I also live in a world in which my attention is demanded. Alone time is hard to come by. I’ve learned to work through interruptions for the most part. Now I’m learning to self-care through them, too.

I’m learning to self-care, period.

As much as I long for a day (or a week, sometimes) of peace, I’ve learned to take it where I can get it. When I’m actively practicing self-care, like I did this past weekend, I accept that out of a day, I might get a broken hour or two of peace. Asking to be left alone for a while is not an option. The request either isn’t respected or if it is honored, it comes with hurt feelings because opting out of being someone’s personal audience for a day is considered a personal affront. So, I’ve found that it’s in my best interest to make the most of the time I can get. Little sips of peace. Not exactly full-on refreshing, but still nourishing.

As for the actual method of self-care, I relax best by doing something I really want to do that isn’t related to work. This past weekend, I did marker art. Sometimes it could be finishing a book. Other times I’ll dedicate my peace pursuits to studying some subject I’m interested in for an hour. It could just be a twenty minute dance party. For me, doing nothing is hard. There’s too much guilt and anxiety that comes with me doing absolutely nothing. If I do a little something amidst the nothing, then that lazy narrative has nothing to say. A gentle mix of productivity and rest.

I have found that, with continued practice, I’m getting better at this whole self-care business. I’m recognizing when I need to take these breaks and then I’m taking them. Before, I’d run myself into the ground and then run myself into the ground a little further before making the very slow climb out of the hole and feeling like a lazy fuck every inch of the way. Now I’m refusing to let myself get to that point.

Slowly but surely, I am getting the hang of this whole self-care business. I can’t say that it’s becoming more natural for me.

But I can say that I’m doing a much better job of including it in my world.

I’ll Just Write Around You

flame box elder penMany of the successful writers talk about writing without being disturbed, with the door closed so to speak. Writing time should be treated as sacred and interruptions should be of the emergency variety only and kept to the bare minimum (sort of goes without saying that emergency situations in general should be kept to the bare minimum). They will happily tell you that this is a very important part of their success as writers.

I agree with them. My writing time is sacred. I take my writing seriously. Like all writers, I’m a good procrastinator, but I’ve managed to curb that somewhat, and having two day jobs helps because I can only write during specific times and that definitely makes a difference. My writing time is important.

However, I’m the only one in my house that thinks so.

I write with my door closed, but it does not stay closed. The people in my house cannot stand a closed door.

I live in a house with my dad and a friend. During the day, the two of them will make multiple trips into my room to talk to me. They talk to me about things they’ve read on the Internet, episodes of TV shows (that I don’t watch and don’t want to watch), whatever is going on in the news, celebrity gossip, the latest political bullshit, this, that, and the other. Sometimes the conversation is only a few minutes; sometimes “I just need to tell you one thing” turns into thirty minutes to two hours. This happens every day. And it happens when I’m writing.

It’s happening right now as I’m typing this blog post, actually. My roommate has been talking to me about Project Runway (that I don’t watch), asking questions about the movie I’ve got on (The Ghoul), asking about arranging a movie date with her and my nieces, telling me about what the cats did upstairs.

I pretty much wrote everything until this point while she talked to me. That’s how I end up having to get my work done a lot of the time. I just write around the people in my house. Because if I don’t, I will get nothing done.

I can’t do this all the time. Sometimes, whatever I’m working on requires more attention than I can manage while listening to someone else talk and sometimes, whatever someone else is talking about requires more attention than I can manage while writing. Which is pretty frustrating because that means I either don’t get everything done that I want to get done in the allotted time or I end up working much later than I anticipated and other things I wanted to do don’t get done.

Why don’t I say something to them? Well, I have. But, since my writing schedule is inconsistent due to my day jobs and the demands of whatever project or projects I’m working on during any given day, they can’t tell if I’m working or not. And if I tell them I’m working, they either get offended that I don’t want to hear about the latest episode of Bar Rescue or about what Abby Lee Miller did now, or they assure me that whatever they have to say will “only take a minute” and talk to me anyway.

Why don’t I go somewhere else and write? I would, but I’m actually not really comfortable writing in public spaces. I would prefer to write in the space I’m most comfortable in as I tend to be the most productive there and that place is…my room.

Which sometimes reminds me of a bus terminal during bad weather and all of the buses are late: you can’t escape from the conversations.

My dad and my friend aren’t bad people. It’s not that they don’t care that I’m trying to write. It’s not like they’re purposely trying to sabotage me in my efforts.

It’s just that my writing time isn’t important to them. But it’s sacred to me.

So, I write around them.

That’s Just the Self-Doubt Talking

esteemIn several areas of my life and in regards to several aspects of my existence, I am a confident person. In fact, I have been told that the confidence I carry from knowing who I am and how I relate to the world, from knowing my job and doing it well, from being smart and funny and tossing that 1-2 punch like I’m going for a knockout is really intimidating. From certain vantage points, it looks like I actually have my shit together and I know what I’m doing.

And then there’s the rest of the time.

While my self-doubt is always present in a few areas of my world, right now it is really rearing its unattractive head in terms of my unsuccessful writing career.

Here’s how it goes: I get the idea to do something. I think it’s a great idea. I think it could work. I think I could pull it off. I get gung-ho. I start to work towards bringing this idea to fruition.

And then I realize that it’ll never work. No one will go for this. I’m not popular enough/charismatic enough/smart enough/good enough to pull this off. It’s wasted time and effort because for this to work, people will have to participate/pay attention and nobody wants to do that. Nobody gives a shit what you do and they don’t want to play, Kiki, so stop wasting your time.

And then I get really bummed and start questioning what the hell I’m even bothering with all of this for.

It’s not just a vicious cycle, but it’s also very effective at ensuring that I don’t even try to do something because, hey, what’s the point? I’m just going to fail anyway and haven’t I landed directly on my face enough?

The latest aborted idea was the giveaway of one of my “wrecked” print copies. At first I thought, yeah, this will be fun. A few of my friends and family members will enter it. Nobody will get uptight if it doesn’t go completely smoothly because it’s my first one and I’m still learning the ropes and they’re my friends and family. It’s all cool. A practice giveaway! What fun!

It didn’t take long for the self-doubt to come strolling in like Blair Warner on a mission to out-snob somebody.

“Nobody wants one of your crappy wrecked copies. That’s a stupid idea. Nobody’s going to enter. They’ll just ignore you like always. You don’t even know how to run a giveaway. This is going to go tits up and you’re going to look like an idiot. Stop yourself.”

I don’t think I need to say that my friends and family don’t always ignore me. They don’t, of course. But my self-doubt is no dummy. It knows that I’ve been overlooked. It knows that I’ve been dismissed. It knows that I’ve been patted on the head and told “that’s nice” in order to be placated. It knows that people have shown absolutely no interest in anything I’m doing. It knows that I’ve been kicked aside in the rush for folks to surround someone else.

It knows.

It knows and it uses this to its advantage and I hate to say it, but I’m not completely up to the task of battling it every time it decides to make a grand entrance. My self-doubt gets a lot more encouragement than I do, unfortunately. Not always intentional, not always actual, but my self-doubt will bow to even an imagined applause.

And so I continue to struggle and I continue to fail through lack of action, but I keep coming up with the ideas and I keep trying to actually carry them out because one day, I might actually succeed.

But I doubt it.