No, I didn’t have surgery…
I FINALLY hoed out my closet. This is a task that has needed attention for the past few years (obviously!) but I have dreaded it. Finally it came down to a safety issue. I had to clean it out before the weight of hanging clothes snapped the bar and buried our cats beneath years of accumulated clothing.
Once started, the entire process didn’t take very long. You get into a rhythm and before you know it, all the clothes that have been crammed into the closet for years are piled on the bed and tossed into piles on the floor. At this point, I realized that I really didn’t want to be doing this task, but it was too late to turn back.
I actually sorted everything by type and season! I give it a week before things start to get mixed again. I just don’t have the energy to be that organized. Of course, the next day was chilly since all my fall/winter/long-sleeved tops had been relegated to the back of the closet til autumn returns!
The problem with finally accomplishing this task is that I
- felt like a complete pack rat and started to fret about being chosen for a hoarders show
- realized exactly how many items in my closet I bought even though I really didn’t like them
- realized I was still holding onto many items that I haven’t fit into in a number of years
- realized how many other closets/drawers/cupboards in the house need my attention
I was not nearly as ruthless as organizational experts say I should have been. I didn’t go through and toss any item I haven’t seen or worn in over a year. See, I have been in a bit of rut with my wardrobe and had I done that, I would be down to a handful of shirts! I was a victim of the oh-I-forgot-about-that-top! syndrome. Maybe if I haven’t worn them by next year they will finally find their way to the donation pile.
I also was not able to part with EVERY item that doesn’t fit. I have weeded it down to about five or six “wishful-thinking” shirts though and that is a major improvement. If I ever do fit into them again, I can only hope they will have come back in style. Maybe I will just consider them a measurement tool – I won’t actually wear them in public, but I will congratulate myself when they are the right size again.
The biggest problem with finally cleaning out my closet is realizing that I really should do this to all the other closets, drawers, armoires, kitchen cabinets and so on in the house. I was so whipped from the one closet that I couldn’t even bring myself to attack the dresser that holds tees and shorts and socks. Maybe next time…
I will say that I did feel a huge sense of accomplishment. My closet is now manageable and kitten-safe. No avalanche of clothes threatens to bury them alive as they snuggle into the bottom shelf of sweaters in the back. (Actually, I removed all the sweaters from the bottom shelf in the back of the closet and put down pillows and old quilts, creating a little kitten getaway in an effort to save my remaining sweaters from further cat hair accumulation!)
I am thinking that removing clutter from my life may be a very freeing experience and am now looking forward to taking one or two areas every week or two and clearing them of the detritus. Making more room in our home and lives for new things, for open space is a challenge, but one that I think will go a long way toward healing my spirit.
I have been away from my blog now for a few weeks, something that I swore to myself would not happen during my self-imposed break from all things writing. But in the midst of the forced relaxation, I fell.
I have been here before, this mental state. In past posts, I have mentioned my bouts with depression in past posts, but I have never talked about it specifically. A year ago I came out of the writer closet, so to speak, and now I think it is time to come out of the closet about my disease. It is the only way to be completely 100% authentic here, and that has always been my goal.
Let me start by saying that I don’t think people who see me in my day job have any idea how dark a place I have been in. I am very open about my depression and anxiety because I think many people suffer from these in silence and never seek help. By being up front about my issues, maybe I will help someone else realize that it is not something to be ashamed of, or to try to fix on your own.
Yet, despite openly admitting that I have a therapist, or I take medication, I don’t talk too much about the actual disease and how I feel. I don’t tell people who I come into contact with during my work day that I have been on the verge of tears for weeks on end, or that I feel like curling into a very small ball in a corner somewhere and just staying there. I do not mention the complete feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that can overtake me at odd times for no apparent reason. I try not to let them see the anxiety and self-doubt lurking just behind my smile.
People have their own problems to worry about without having mine dumped on them as well.
I would like to think my act is a good one. I have practiced it long enough that I should be a master by now. But sometimes the mere act of showing a brave face to the world is enough to break me.
I have never had suicidal thoughts, and for that I am grateful. But this pit I fall into has a very deep bottom. The walls are steep and smooth and impossible to climb some days. Often, I feel like I am barely hanging on by my fingernails and if I let go I will never be able to crawl out.
I don’t feel like this all the time. I have months and years where this darkness is kept at bay. But sometimes when it comes, I can’t help but worry that this time I won’t be able to shake it. This will be the time when I will just give up and lay like a lump at the bottom of the pit forever.
When I do share my depression with people, they offer many bits of well-meaning advice. And on the surface, they are all excellent ideas. Change your meds, change your doctor, exercise, punch something, journal, scream, just let it out, get a makeover, get more “age-appropriate” hobbies (? That one really confused me, too!), just get over it, fake it til you make it, etc. Perhaps if I tried all of those things at once, they would work!
Unfortunately, depression saps my energy. Exercise seems like too much work. Writing seems like too much work. Going shopping, a task I despise, seems like too much work.
Changing my meds… that is a terrifying concept to me. So many antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds have pesky little side effects – weight gain, sleep disturbances, lethargy – all things that would further my depression! There are medications that can be taken in conjunction with antidepressants to make them work more effectively. I made the mistake of reading about them online. Their side effects are even worse! Big time weight gain, fun little muscle spasms that can make your limbs flail around for no reason, making your cholesterol and blood sugar go wonky. No, I don’t want to go down that path. I am comfortable with my current regimen. Any side effects have long since been left in the dust.
I have been mulling over the options. The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to take meds for the rest of my life and that I want to continue with my therapist. I have come to believe that most people in this world would benefit from a good listener and objective insight into their problems. I always feel better after a session, like I have been heard, and I can handle whatever is bothering me.
As many of you know, I have always been a learner, a book-geek– give me any topic and I will find a million books to add to my reading list to help me learn it. Though I have only been on meds the last ten years or so, I have suffered from depression since college. In the past few decades (Yowza! That makes me feel old just typing that!), I have accumulated books on all sorts of topics to help me tackle the way I was feeling. I think my home library covers every topic from nutrition, to spirituality, to meditation, to brain science, to psychology, to mindfulness, to exercise, to body image, self-esteem, journaling, you name it. All very positive information and habits to acquire.
The problem is the depression-induced lethargy that makes every idea seem like a ton of effort. I read a book on meditation and think this is wonderful! I need to try this! And then I take a nap instead.
I am coming to realize that depression is a crafty foe. Whenever it sees me making a small step toward getting healthy mentally it smacks me with an urge to nap that cannot be ignored. It throws an even heavier cloak of hopelessness over any little light I start to follow. It cannot thrive without the darkness. It feeds off of my despair.
Well, quite frankly, I am getting sick of it. I think I am going to be throwing everything in my arsenal at it going forward. I am going to force myself to change my habits and climb out of this pit. And once I am standing on firm ground again, on my own two feet, I am going to do everything humanly possibly to never fall into it again.
I realized this week that all these years that I have sought treatment for depression and anxiety, I have approached it as something that will be fixed from the outside. A pill will work on my brain chemistry; a therapist will listen to my woes; something or someone outside of myself will fix me. I have been pretty passive in my approach. I remember joking with my therapist that I needed her to wave her magic wand and fix me.
This is not the answer. Pretty obvious to those of you standing outside looking in, I am sure, but when I am in the pit, I can’t see past the darkness. Often there is a fear that we will not be able to recognize ourselves without the depression, that it is so much a part of us that we will not be ourselves without its heavy presence. I am ready to take that chance. Right now, I am seeing a light at the end of a very long tunnel, and I intend to follow it.
A funny thing happened on my self-imposed writing vacation.
As most of you know I decided about a week or so ago to step away completely from my work-in-progress and my do-it-myself crash course in self-publishing and take a much needed mental break. I had been feeling overwhelmed with information and my to-do list was growing exponentially with every class I took and every book I read. The idea of self-publishing my book had started to lose its shine and was looking more and more like an insurmountable wall of impossibility. I was quickly losing my nerve and had realized that my inner critic’s voice was the only one that I was hearing any more.
So I stopped.
No writing, no editing, no researching. No classes, no googling, no brainstorming. I stopped reading books on the more technical aspects of writing, put away my stack of reading material about formatting e-books and marketing strategies. I didn’t even allow myself to flip through the library of books I have accumulated that deal with publishing, querying, and how to use social media as a tool in my arsenal.
It took a few days, but I was finally able to allow myself to relax and sink into fiction – for fun! Now there is a novel idea! (no pun intended!) I realized that while I always seem to have at least one fiction book out on the coffee table, I haven’t let myself get lost in one in quite some time. I am a reader, always have been, and I get downright squirrelly when I don’t read fiction for a period of time. Part of the reason I was starting to feel so stressed and unhinged must have been stemming from my lack of fiction in my life! All work and no play – you know what I’m talking about!
Now, I must admit that I was a little nervous about declaring a work stoppage on the writing front. Would I lose momentum? Would I be able to start again, or would the idea of it make me run screaming in the other direction? Would I forget everything I have crammed into my brain in the last three months about the business of writing? I had reached the point where I had to take the chance. Continuing to push myself and fill every waking minute with research and new information was causing me to feel a little violent.
So this morning, over a bowl of cereal and my second cup of coffee, I was reading The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa, and it suddenly hit me! Even though I truly had not been thinking about it, an idea for how to solve a problem with my novel sprang to mind. It was a niggling little issue that had been bothering me since the first words were typed into my Alphasmart NEO on November 1, 2007, my first NaNoWriMo, and suddenly, out of the blue, an answer arrived shimmering in its very simplicity.
I sat there, a little stunned, and grabbed my iPad. Despite my promise not to research, I had to do a quick google to put the icing on this little aha moment. After a brief consultation with my husband on the matter, I was satisfied with the solution and made a note to myself to address it in my novel when I took up the pen again.
I went back to my book and my breakfast, and Wham! I suddenly had a thought as to how to address a major plot problem in NaNo 2008, a novel that I honestly have not given a thought to in over four years. Yes, I put in the required 50,000 words that month to “win,” but that novel was a mess. There was something major missing from the story and I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Not to mention, as anyone who has ever done NaNo will tell you, there really is not time during the month to contemplate plot holes. Solutions either come to you on the fly or they wait for post-NaNo editing. Needless to say, by the end of the month, my second novel had meandered all over the place and I was pretty sick of it. So I filed it away and haven’t taken it out since.
So suffice it to say, I was a bit surprised that I was having writerly visions about how to fix it. I hadn’t even considered that novel as the next in line to be edited! So, here I go, writing some notes and tucking them away for the day I start revisions on book two.
I do have a point in all this rambling… Conventional wisdom will tell you that you need to show up every day, plant your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard, and write in order to lure the muse to meet you. This is true to a point. You can’t get the work-in-progress in progress if you don’t show up and do the work. But I just learned a very important lesson.
Sometimes, the muse is there, hanging out in the background, drinking a warrior-sized, skinny chai latte and waiting for you to start paying attention. In the last three months, I had stopped all creative writing while I focused on the business aspect and I was feeling decidedly UN-creative. I felt like I had lost that muscle. I thought the muse had deserted me. But really, she was just hanging out, buried under a lot of busy work, waiting for me to get back to work on the most important part of the whole process.
My muse is very loyal, but she needs to be fed properly. She cannot thrive on caffeine and sugar alone. My work-in-progress vacation allowed me to step away from the project. But I did not step away from what feeds me, and in turn my muse - fiction and words. I immersed myself in novels, wallowing in three a week. I continued to read blogs that inspire me and stoke the fires of my imagination. I didn’t stop feeding my muse; I just allowed her time to break out of the mess of research that she was trapped under. And now, here she is, right by side, tossing ideas into the spring-time breeze for me to catch.
Your muse is loyal, too. What have you done lately to feed her?
Well, my four-day weekend is over, and my first day back at my day job is behind me. Whew!
Why is it that it took a massage, a ninety minute nap, and a bottle of wine to get me relaxed last Friday? I blame all the busyness in our lives. Our spare time is so filled with to-do lists and chores and errands that we never actually get true down time. And down time where we can actually relax completely and let our minds just wander is so important to creativity, as well as sanity.
I spent some time Saturday running some errands even though I swore I wouldn’t do it. But I did go to my first cookout of the season so I think that offset the errand-running. Then Sunday, I had lunch with an old friend who I haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk to in about twenty years! How sad is that?! It was so good to catch up.
Yesterday, I purposely curled up on the couch with some tea and a good book and refused to get up. I haven’t done that in a very very long time. It took me a few hours to quiet the little nagging voices in my head that were trying to make me feel guilty. You know the ones… They poke at you and say you should be doing something productive. You should be writing, or blogging, or cleaning the bathroom. You should take this day and spend it editing your work in progress, cleaning out your closet, putting down new contact paper in the kitchen cupboards, weeding the garden. I heard all the voices and listened to their suggestions and firmly told them no. It felt really good to do that.
Of course, I felt a lot of guilt about doing absolutely nothing. We are a society of do-ers. We groove on the busy drug and if you tell someone you literally did nothing on a day off, they almost don’t believe you. It is that rare a gift to give yourself. I told one of the doctors I work with that I laid on the couch and read a book all day long and she responded, “What a luxury!” Yes, it was. And it is a luxury I intend to give myself a lot more often.
Do you find it easy to allow yourself the luxury of down time? Or do your little voices nag you?
I think I may have overdone it the last few months.
In January, I took an all day workshop on publishing and speaking with the lovely Yvonne Conte. I learned about self publishing and becoming a keynote speaker.
In February, I did the first ever online WANACon for three glorious days! I learned about book formatting, query letters, Amazon SEO, blogging, writing villains and antagonists, types of publishing, Twitter, Facebook, social media, marketing, finding an agent, building a platform, copyright law, using LinkedIn, quality control, ebooks, revision, contracts, phew! You get the idea!
In March, I took online classes through WANA - a four-week one about Twitter for writers and a two-hour seminar on developing loglines, taglines and pitches. I also took a six-week class in February and March with Gwen Hernandez on Scrivener where I learned all the ins and outs of this incredible program.
This month, I am obsessing about music.
I think the problem is information overload. I spent three months collecting information and advice about starting a publishing company and self publishing. I have a notebook overflowing with notes and power point presentations from all the classes. I have been trying to sort through and transcribe my wildly scribbled notes and ideas from the classes and conference into a Scrivener document that will better organize it for easy reference. I have also been reading books that were recommended to me regarding publishing and marketing and social media and copyright and Scrivener and blogging and SEO optimization and formatting ebooks and… well, you get the picture.
So this month my brain seems to have completely switched gears on me. I can’t seem to focus on any of the books on writing. I can’t seem to focus on my writing, and I sure as heck can’t seem to focus on starting a publishing company at the moment. It feels like my mind slammed a concrete wall down between me and all the information it was trying to process about the next steps in creating my book. I can’t seem to find the energy to look for a way over the wall.
At first I felt a bit panicky about this. Time is slipping away! Oh my God, I have to get this published and start working on my next book! What am I doing wasting time on something completely unrelated to writing?
What am I doing? I think it’s called a vacation, a respite, an intermission, a holiday, a recess.
Some people may say no, don’t slow down. You have to keep pushing, climbing, fighting or you will never get there. To a certain point, that is true. You can’t give up. You have to continue the climb because no one else is going to do the work for you. But I also believe that you will be no good to yourself if you are completely wiped out and frazzled from all the pushing. Sometimes it is important to slow things down a bit so you are not rushing into decisions that you will later regret. It is also important to remember why you are in the struggle in the first place.
I love writing. I have written five books and am exploring self publishing. I do not expect to be able to quit my day job because I am realistic about children’s book sales. I am in it because I enjoy it and love it. And if it stops being fun and starts causing me stress, I need to stop and catch my breath.
Yep. I am taking a mini-mental-vacation from writing and publishing my book. It won’t be long, I promise. In no way should this be construed as my giving up. That is the farthest thing from the truth. This book will be available hopefully by the end of 2013, or early in 2014. But for the moment, I think I need this more than an earlier release date.
I need to be lazy and read fiction for the fun of it. I need to journal and not worry about plot points and character arcs. I need to pull out my violin on a daily basis and crank out some fiddle tunes to re-acquaint myself with it. I need to goof off on the piano, ukulele and mandolin. I need to wallow in the piles of fabric I have in my sewing room and work on a quilt. (I also need to start exercising but why ruin a good dream at the moment!)
I will definitely continue blogging. I have a good time with it and it will keep my writer’s mind in practice. But the book writing and publishing push is on hiatus for a brief time. I just need to clear the mental file room a bit before the next WANACon in June!
This past weekend I was feeling out of sorts. On Sunday morning, I told my husband that I felt like taking a swing at something. This is definitely not a normal state for me, and the fact that it was so unusual for me to feel mad at everything made me feel even more uneasy. He suggested I play some music and I thought it was a perfect idea.
I had started violin lessons when I was in my late 30s and had enjoyed them. When I turned 40, I needed to get braces on my teeth and stepped away from my music lessons because I didn’t feel right spending the same amount each month on violin as I was on my dental health. I promised myself I would keep playing and start lessons again as soon as the braces came off.
Eighteen months later, I was once again metal-free, but life has a way of coming between us and our dreams. So here I am four and half years out from my last lesson and I don’t think I have opened the case more than a few times.
The thought of reconnecting with this beautiful instrument made my heart lift and I told myself I would sit down and play through all of Suzuki book 2 and 3 to refresh my memory. I had been somewhere in book 4 when I stopped, but I was not going to be unrealistic about my chances of playing at the same level. I fully expected to be out of practice.
I went into our “music room” and dug out my violin. Oh, I had forgotten how much I loved the smell of rosin and wood! Why had I neglected my instrument for so long? I set myself up with a freshly rosined bow and my music and tuned up. A small miracle but my lovely violin did not disappoint! It had held in almost perfect tune.
I opened book 2 to the middle and started playing a Brahms waltz that I had loved when I was first introduced to it.
Yikes! Everything felt off. My posture, my grip on the bow, my death grip on the neck of the violin. I knew none of it was right, but could not seem to make the necessary adjustments. Valiantly, I continued, cringing as each note sounded. Huh? My intonation was all over the place. I could hardly remember the bowing technique and my rhythm was a mess. I stopped, stretched a little, and turned back to the beginning of book 2.
Trying another piece, I started sawing away at the strings. Every few seconds I would call out to my husband about how bad it was. I stopped and stood up, stretching some more. I walked over to our shelves that are jam-packed with music books and started rummaging. Aha! Book 1. That ought to do the trick.
I opened it to the very first page – no more false illusions about the level my playing was currently at. Variations on Twinkle Twinkle. Surely, I could play this. I did. It wasn’t pretty, but it was recognizable and I know I had the bowing right because there was no trick to it. Just up bow, down bow and repeat. I made it through two pages of different rhythms and was exhausted.
I noticed I had been not only pressing the instrument tightly between my shoulder and jaw bone (a no-no) but I was actually clenching my teeth. Why was it so hard to hold this thing all of a sudden? Why couldn’t I get comfortable? I repeatedly removed and adjusted the shoulder rest trying to make it sit more comfortably on my collar bone. Nothing seemed to work.
I placed a soft cloth between my chin rest and my jaw and attempted some scales. I can do scales and I figured it would help with the finger placement. Wow! Those were NOT pretty either. What the heck happened?
I packed it up, pet the cat, and left the room. [By some miracle, one of our cats, Lily, stayed in the room, ears laid back but determined to nap. (Personally, I think she stayed because she knew all the other cats had scattered at the sound of my case opening and she wanted them to leave her alone. As long as I was making a racket, she was safe.)]
I felt even more depressed and out of sorts than when I started that little musical adventure. I shared this with my husband. He laughed and asked if I really expected to be able to pick up my violin after all this time and just be able to play it.
I paused for a moment and thought, well, yes! Yes, I did! And how crazy and naive that was of me. Playing an instrument – any instrument – takes time to build up muscle memory so that it becomes more natural and my muscle memory is gone! Kaput! I had done absolutely nothing in the last few years to reinforce it.
Muscle memory is defined in Wikipedia as “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.” In simpler terms, it is what occurs when you practice a motion over and over until you can do it without thinking.
Musicians do this. It is how they are able to play their instruments with the proper amount of tension and pressure in the body to make the music soft, loud, pizzicato, legato, and so on. Although I have never been an athlete, I imagine they develop this too. How else to throw consistent curve balls, or make a double axle look effortless? Take any activity that requires muscle coordination and strength – riding a bike, lifting weights, knitting, drawing- none of these tasks are easy and smooth the first time you do them. Even walking took us quite a bit of practice to get down at first.
Any time you take a large chunk of time away from any of these activities your muscle memory gets lazy. You are not exercising it and strengthening it. Just like an ice skater who doesn’t get out on the ice for a few years, your muscles will be weak. It will take time to build up that strength again. It will take time for my fingers to remember where to go and what to do. It will take time for my arms and shoulders and neck and jaw to adjust again to supporting a violin.
The same is true for writing. The muscles in this case are in the brain. It takes time to build up your ability to focus and create. And if you step away for a while, you need to give yourself time to relearn the skills. One of the things that drives new writers away is that belief that they will be able to sit down the first time and write a masterpiece. But it takes practice to make dialogue flow, and characters come to life. We cannot expect it to happen the first time we sit down, or the first time we sit down after a long absence. We have to train ourselves – mind and body – to be able to sit for long periods of silence and solitude and spill our words out onto the page. It can be exhausting, but the reward is huge.
I am hoping that my muscle memory with the violin comes back to me quickly. I know it will take practice and time and focus, just like my writing. But if I am passionate about it, it will come to me. I will no doubt never play Carnegie Hall no matter how much I practice, but I know that the reward for me, mentally, will be huge.
I had all sorts of plans for posting last night and then I saw the news. All of the channels showed a continuous loop of footage – first the bombs at the finish line and then the blood, the pain and confusion, the chaos. Everyone I have talked to in the last 24 hours or so has asked why? how? I am sure that when we learn who did this and what their reasons were it will not make any more sense to us than it does now. The millions and millions of viewers last night could not do anything from their living rooms except watch in horror and pray for the injured, the shocked, the dead. We can simply pray that our leaders find the responsible parties and bring them down. We couldn’t help lift the debris off of the victims, but we can help the state of the world by remembering that despite all evidence to the contrary that flashes daily across our news channels, there is more good in this world, than evil. We can carry that good along in our hearts and let it touch those around us. We can bring love and healing to the world. Only through that will the hatred and evil be abolished.
As Patton Oswalt said, “… when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’ “