control issues and an obsession with mortality

I sat down at my desk with the mindset to do some character work. The plans were in place, and enough thoughts were bouncing around in my head that there was no question about the amount of material. I spent the whole weekend filling up my mental bucket. I had certainly lived life for a few days between all the hiking, gardening, family time, and mini-breakdowns. I put my fingers on the keys and wrote a generic, easily deletable first sentence then stared at a blinking cursor with a blank mind.

Instead of staying in the document and doing what needed to be done, I pulled up my browser and googled stomach issues and smoking cigarettes. I’ve been trying to quit smoking. I hit 13 days without one on Saturday. It was one of those long and trying days but the kind that’s completely on my shoulders and can’t be pointed in any other direction. I’ve been experiencing stomach issues (which seem to have gotten much better without dairy and excessive alcohol), and smoking isn’t helping.  But Saturday night after skipping lunch, freaking out about my inability to collect my plot-related thoughts, and throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum, I bought a pack of smokes and lit up. I’ve had four since.

I’m prone to anxiety, by prone I mean consumed by it a lot of the time. So smoking is a way I deal with that and have ever since I was twelve when my mother handed me a cigarette after the worst day of seventh grade ever. The monkey has been on my back ever since—one of the many things I can thank her for. I also hate not being allowed to do things. So telling myself, I can’t have one makes me want one even more. The kicker here is lately my anxiety has been focused around my health.

When it’s time to write or sleep or relax, my eyes fix on the mole on my arm or the gurgling in my stomach and think of all the horrible ailments I have. I’m not at my healthiest at the moment, my eating, sleeping, and drinking habits haven’t been great. I’m working on it. Smoking and panicking about health issues don’t go together. Yes, I could die at any minute. Some elements make the possibility of dying sooner and in more painful ways more likely, but this isn’t something I have control over.

I have no control over when I die. None of us do, and that scares the shit out of me. I think about it a lot. Death is a reoccurring theme in my writing. The loss of someone, the desire to live forever, how someone lives on if we come back, the afterlife. I read about it and write about it and am currently revising a world built on it. The fear of death isn’t my own. I know many share it, but it isn’t a fear I had for most of myself. I didn’t suddenly become terrified of dying the moment I got married of became a mother, or a mother of two. Almost two years ago I looked in the face of mortality as I watched life slowly leave one of my best friends. She was the kind of person that was so sweet and comforting that I could only feel like a bitter asshole because she was so naturally and genuinely sweet. Her smile was so bright. Lit up eyes in a sea of freckles, framed with red hair.

She was sick for roughly eight months with persistent pancreatitis and other aliments before we learned her cancer was back, everywhere, and untreatable. The moment she found out, she got to work on writing forty years of birthday cards to her children as well as other gifts for her loved ones, wrapped Christmas presents, and organized all her items and made labels for who they went to, so the grieving didn’t need to worry about it. I spent as much time as I could by her side in the last few months feeling humbled and broken. She’d call me her angel, and I only felt like a fraud, a useless cog in the wheel of life.
When she passed away, I wrapped a blindfold around my eyes, dove into one project after another and picked up drinking. Looking back at it I guess I could have handled it all better. I could have let myself really see my surroundings and how it felt. The writer part of my brain scolded me for running when I should have been inspecting. If I’m honest, I didn’t only grieve for the loss of one of my favorite people, I also mourned all the future deaths I couldn’t control, including my own.

Suddenly I was surrounded by the lack of control we all have in this big game. The rug can be pulled from us at any time and in an endless amount of ways. My death could be quick and unexpected, or it could be slow and painful and known. There is no way to know until we are there.

All the painful words and drugs and traumatic moments between my mother and I have helped me become the person I am today. Somedays I like that person better than others, but for the most part, I think I’m okay and know I’m lucky. I have my family, the one I built, and it’s beautiful.

I experienced a personal epiphany this weekend while I was hiding in the dark of my backyard behind the pine trees sneaking a cigarette like a troubled teenager. There were clues I had been ignoring but at that moment both disgusted and entranced by the act of smoking my first cigarette in thirteen days it hit me.

I have control issues, and it’s because I’m terrified of fucking up my life through a dormant chain of events I set in motion the way my parents did. I can flicker through my memories and see my house around age six, and everything seemed together. Maybe it never was Okay, but there was a point early on I thought it was. Every year things got worse. Disorangzation and house cleanliness were the first to go. It was addiction and misunderstood mental illness the moved the storm through my family, through the cookie-cutter house I grew up in that stood in line and looked like all the others. On the surface, we just looked messy, but no one really knew how bad things were on the inside. So between watching how things can fall apart so tremendously and how disfunction can pass as function messes with my head. I have trouble just living and going with the flow. I’ve been under this misconception that if I make enough lists and check off enough items that I’m in control, that I am not like them and my kids will let me be apart of their lives when they are grown up.

I do think there is some validity to that. Business needs to be tended to. Bills have to be paid, and meals must come together but being so wound up and terrified of losing it all isn’t a way to live. I don’t have to run and hide to avoid a verbal attack when a door slams but there is still a part of me that feels that need to squirrel away and protect myself.

Self-management and care are important. I think part of me is scared and the other part wants to chill and enjoy. So, maybe there is the halfway mark where I can build a tiny house and find some peace and balance.

That’s a good note to leave on. I’m going to eat some lunch and get back to character work instead of googling all the ways I could be dying. I have to remember the lesson that was so fresh in my mind while I was losing my friend to cancer or while my mother destroyed all my father was trying to hold up on his own. Life needs to be lived. There is no giving up. We will all die at some point and all the moments we missed worrying about all we can’t control will seem silly and a complete waste of time.

 

heroes and holes to different realms

I think about Alice in Wonderland a lot. Leather bound and aged. Aside from the story being one of the first I can point to for having opened the literary realms to me, the meaning of the story and feeling it gives me adds to my daily thoughts. Seeds and caterpillars. Dreams and age. Creatures and villains.

The hero’s story is one of change and purpose. An often grabbed trope in this arc is the loss of innocence. It is something we all go through. The journey through fallen dreams and life-hardened perspectives aren’t possible without it.

The manuscript that is being edited right now was a trip I enjoyed so much I decided it had to be a series. A world I want to stay in. The project out of my hands leaves a sour hole in my chest. Something I need to fill. I’m someone that has to have something to obsess over—ideas to hobble together. Drafting the second while the first one fed through the grinder didn’t seem like something I could do at the moment. Juggling fire on a tight rope blindfolded. At least one eye. But like ideas and gardens and stewing plots, I had projects and characters on the back burner. I pumped out three short stories. These were swirling around for a good while. They came right out. Cleaned up nicely and off they went.

“Okay,” I told myself. “It’s time to dive into the manuscript concept burning a whole in your back pocket.”

Because it has been trying to come out for years in different ways. I found the story and what the characters were doing. I sat down.

Nothing.

Some words.

Five different tries.

Feeling nothing. Oh wait, panic, that’s right.

I don’t know how you guys are with ideas. But, they feel like my air. When I can’t grab one I ask myself, “Was that it? Is that all I have? Am I tapped out?”

One thing that I am learning right now—something I should have probably known already but didn’t look at it as it stood in the corner pointing at me—writing sometimes means not writing.

Sometimes wandering and living and walking nowhere is how you write, how I write. Getting lost to find things. It’s hard for me not to work. I have yet to reach my career goals so most of the time it feels impossible to justify not working. But working means different things. I’ve been lucky the last nine months. I’ve been flush with ideas and energy to pump it out.
I spent four days not writing, it felt like torture, but now I have the format and voice I was looking for.
I’ve heard so many writers say, “The path to every book is different,” I can’t even count. Like so many sayings that are used too often, they lose their weight, but they exist for good reason. Every path is different. Each story has a rhythm, their own beat, and heart and blood.
So, yes, my mind is in a better spot right now. I’m getting into the groove with this book, but I’m not diving so deep in just yet. Edits for my other project will be dropping in any day. Then these ideas will wiggle and work stuff out in the background while I go through the edits.
Part of me is excited to get them back and eager to get my fingers in there and get dirty. But, I’m also nervous—before-you-get-on-a-really-loopy-rollercoaster nervous. I’m not sure what to expect. I have an idea, maybe. Guesses. The unknown is always intriguing to ponder.
The dance between liking and loathing lack of control.
I think that wraps this up, for now, I’ve gone on long enough. I’d like to sink my teeth into some drafting this strange, scary, and heartbreaking new project before my stomach and brain demands lunch.

Wednesday Morning

I like the idea of writing a blog post every day. I don’t do it. There is a good possibility it would help me keep a clearer head. Perhaps that isn’t pain I need to inflict on you fine readers….

Well, yes I’m writing a post which means, I am at my computer trying to draft, and it isn’t clicking. I don’t believe there is such thing as writer’s block. It’s a farce. A legend. In the way of the unicorn. But there are things that can hinder the flow.

Obscured vision: I have to ask myself, “Why are you writing this scene?”

Focus: Am I giving myself an opportunity to create or am I pacing back and forth thinking about all that I’m doing wrong?

Hunger: Self-care is important. Meals. Exercise. Breaks. It’s nuts, but I swear when I’m swamped those are the first things to go. *Writes “take shower” on list of things to do.*

I ate brownies at 11:30 last night as I stood over my computer staring at my story map. Not a great decision. My dreams were weird. This entire concept is hard and dark and a little twisted. I woke up grumpy and clogged. So I am trying to work it out so I can put a respectable count to my day.

There is something about starting this new project that has my bonnet wrapped in bees. This is a concept I’ve had on the back burner for eight months. The ideas and want are there. When I actually work in it, words comes out. I have a good sense of where it’s going and the tone. Part of my mind keeps wandering over to the manuscript that’s in editing and its future. What will the notes be when I get it back? How close was I? How far? But, I have to get better at blocking that out. Being a working writer means writing, a lot—acting like a professional. (Another skill I’m learning as I go.) So that’s what I’m doing. I’m building, and it will come. It is coming. There is so much on the horizon, but on this Wednesday morning, I do not love all of it. I’m angsty and grumpy and feel like there is an elephant I can’t see.

I am going on a walk with my dogs then I’m sitting my butt down without distractions and working. It’s a simple as that.

Wish me luck. I wish you luck, And, as always thanks for listening to me ramble, rant, and complain.

Writing, worry, and focus

I’m sure that I’m in a dramatic state of mind when I say this, but, I’m all out of sorts. Like, really, really in a mood. I have been in one since Monday. It’s the first week back to work (after one off) since I submitted the dystopian to several carefully selected agents. I can’t seem to climb out of this funk and focus on anything for very long. I gotta say I wasn’t expecting this. Just like every other part of this project these feelings are new to me. My over anxious, fiction-swallowed brain wonders what this means. It’s not my lack of confidence in the work itself or how I presented it. I feel good about both of those things. So, what’s my problem?

Writing that down led me to this answer: I’m burned out.

I burned myself out, and I’m still recovering. Sure, the unknown of what’s ahead is certainly eating at my feet, but that’s not the only thing going on. I pulled something crazy off, and now I’m paying for it. I suppose that means I will be slowly getting back into the groove of things. Perhaps leaning into this rather than fighter it would allow me to unclench my shoulders. After writing solely one story for so long, spreading back into multiple projects (nonfiction work included) feels strange.

Creating a world and spending time not only inside of it but obsessing over each detail fitting into place was fun. If I’m being honest, some of the most fun I’ve had. What I experienced with the book I just finished is something I’ve always fantasized about. Perhaps some of what is going on is that I actually miss the world I created. Does that sound completely crazy? Maybe, but I run that risk every time I open my mouth.

I’ve been cleaning and organizing my house. I’m in no way naturally domestic. I’m just so damn anxious, and cleaning helps. Also baking.

Again, I know I’m being dramatic, but I feel lost this week. I have a pile of work, but I can’t stop vacuuming or putting things in themed baskets. Waiting is part of it. I’ve got to find a middle ground, perhaps have more patience with myself. It’s hard to feel like I’ve accomplished anything when nothing is final yet. Again, part of the gig, I know. I just have to suck it up. Christmas is around the corner, and I need to sell more articles, so I have to find a way to ease my mind where it needs to go. Maybe whisper to myself, “Don’t worry, it will happen.” Who knows?
So basically, I’m just whining here right now, feeling sorry for myself when nothing at all is going wrong. But, my mind does feel clearer so for that thank you.

Wouldn’t mind being the mother of dragons.

Okay, so I didn’t get a post up last night. I happily passed out on the sofa watching Game of Thrones. Since I am late adapter to the show, I have the benefit of being able to do some of the best binge watching on record. It’s been a week full of long days and nights. Part of juggling multiple projects means there really isn’t enough time in the day. It’s all good, though. I actually love holding up in my room, laying in bed at night working. It mixes it up from being in my office. Really, if I’m writing, I’m usually happy.

At some point, I got too caught up with goals. I wouldn’t say I lost sight of the what I was writing. I’m just saying I have been artificially stressing myself out. When I actually let myself relax, I write my best, and I’m rather happy doing it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what draws me to a fictional character. It’s the imperfect and tortured characters that usually pull me in. I want someone to root for and someone to cry with. I am far from perfect, as are the majority us, and I like finding shared oddities, even if it’s with a fictional character. I’ve been (as you know) working on a wide variety of short stories for multiple projects at the moment, all fantasy but lots of subgenres, which means I’m hoping in and out of magnificence worlds. As I write all these very different stories, there is one thing they all share in common, at least one very flawed character.

I am always reading. As I go through books, I gradually add to my list of characters I’ll always remember. Most recently, Finch from All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven got on the list. Amazing book. Brilliant character depth. Since it’s summer and most of the shows I like are on break, and I’ve recently allowed myself to discover the fantastic world of Game of Thrones, that’s pretty much making up what I’m watching. The show is overflowing with complex characters and stellar, intriguing, and sometimes disturbing subplots. I’m continuously wowed and inspired.

Life is people. Stories need strong characters. I realize I’m saying a lot of what you already know. But one thing I’m finding oddly funny lately is how one can understand a meaning but without allowing it to fully sink in. We are all in a rush, ya know? But, seriously just spending a few moments and thinking about the endless possibilities of what can add complexity to a person is a worthy exercise. Small things can accumulate over time and transform the people entirely, but it takes years to see the other. There are some moments where the crash and bang of it all is suddenly drastic and life-altering. The truth is everyone is complex, again this we all know, but, it’s how one becomes complex that’s the story.

The world and the people in it.

You can listen to my most recent episode of Too Many Words with guest Antony Johnston  on iTunes and Google Play
Have a good night, and enjoy the Elliot that’s posting tomorrow.
-J

The Woman Me VS. The Mom Me

Am I a fool?

This is something I ask myself often. Because I gotta say, I often feel foolish. Perhaps that’s what it takes to work toward a dream.

Sometimes I check in with myself.

Why am I doing this?

What are my goals?

Now I take an alligator-like escape route there, but I come to where I’d expect at the end of the spiraling path of thoughts. I am building something all my own to hang my hat on.

I tend to do things out of order, or at least in a different way that most. By age six I had an overwhelming sense of wanderlust, and by age nine I knew without a doubt I was a writer. I went to junior college at age sixteen and two kids by the time I was twenty-three. Now, I am career hungry and success thirsty pushing thirty.

I have come to the conclusion that I need to allow myself a day at least where I can work whatever my mind does naturally. I have things to take care of, sure, that’s also important. Writing needs to be crafted, but my ideas need a way to develop before they are directed into a certain form. You’ll often hear me saying, “You can’t edit what isn’t written.”

Balance is where I constantly need to watch. I’m not a balanced person. Maybe it’s because there was only chaos in the house I grew up in, or maybe it was the build-your-own-curriculum Montessori school I spent my elementary school years going. Guess what I did? I only focused my lessons on reading and writing, not very much on math or science. When I got to middle school, I was kicked in the teeth, but all other subjects. For the most part, I stick to that now with my job and hobbies. I do adore history and science, though. I rediscovered them through researching for different books and pieces.

Who knows, whatever the reason, achieving balance isn’t that easy for me. I often get reminded that I’m working way too much without truly recognizing what I’m missing while I do that.

Last night I mentioned to my kids in passing that I was going to come to Tae Kwon Do class the next day (usually just their dad takes them) and the kids were so excited. They both said they were surprised I wasn’t going to work.

Well, at that moment I felt like a giant asshole. The mother and wife part of my brain hates that I am someone who works too much. The just me part loves it. Working hard and earning my own living is something I need for me. Sometimes when I don’t succeed, or it takes longer that I expected the mom and wife version of myself kicks the just me in the face. The two don’t always get along.

It’s so hard to know the right thing. I am committed to doing both. I can’t be domestic all the time. Sometimes, I really envy those that do.

Balance with my work itself is even a struggle. I am not just interested in earning a living; I want to really succeed at everything I do. There are times when a whisper of doubt breaks through. They ask me, “Really? Is that realistic goal?”

I can’t play that game. I don’t have the room to doubt what I do. I’m willing to hack away at it because that’s what it all takes.

Free time to just write whatever is just as important as sticking to the schedules. Adventuring as a family is just as important as relaxing as one. The way I am, of course, I need to schedule the free time. Now that I have, and it’s making a difference.

My hope is that as long as I continue to be aware of it and adjust it when necessary, I’ll continue to make it work.

Episode 12 With Neil Clarke is up

Neil Clarke is the Hugo Award-winning editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, as well the editor of Forever Magazine and several anthologies including his first Best Science Fiction of the Year anthology, which releases on June 7th. He shares what started him on the journey to building Wyrm Publishing and the awesome community and magazine that is Clarkesworld, his book collecting, and why 2016 is an exciting year.  Before Neil comes on, I babble how about my faults, imagining Raiders, and what is in the works.

Listen on iTunes and Stitcher