Every year when our ML’s ask for pep talks, I shrug and say, “Well, if I think of something, I’ll let you know,” with an air of, but I can’t really think of anything. And every year, I suddenly have an idea in a shower. It’s usually something I need to hear, and so I say it someone else in hopes that maybe I’ll take my own advice.
This year, I wrote a week two pep talk about trusting yourself, about doubt, and about not giving up on your work.
I start drafts with a final picture in mind. A mood I want to achieve, a sort of story I want to tell, an atmosphere I want to capture — whatever it is, that’s where the story starts in my head, and I reverse-engineer the pieces from there. I find creative bursts to be wonderful, but they don’t sustain me through the drafting process. For me, writing a novel is a puzzle, a collection of pieces that need to be organized and slotted into the right spots to create that final picture.
Here’s the thing about puzzles: you have that box with the wonderful picture on the front, but what you’ve actually got is a jumble of pieces that, individually, look nothing like the picture. No one expects to open a puzzle box and find a perfectly formed puzzle put together for them. Expecting it from the first draft of a novel is just as absurd.
And yet, that’s the trick to drafting for me, and the thing that stops me from writing. I’m motivated by gazing upon my final product and seeing it put together, and thus I find drafts hard to finish and easy to abandon at the first stumbling block.
I have a very buzzy brain. I tend to go off in tangents, and think in a lot of directions, and lose my place easily, and get distracted between several interesting tasks*, and find myself frazzled. I get anxious in addition to this, and these two tendencies are terrible bedmates. Left to my own devices, I can silently work myself right up into a panicked lather over relatively small things that remind me of something else anxiety-inducing.**
In the last few months, after a few bad postpartum visits and a few stern looks from my really great OB, I started taking an antidepressant and started seeing a therapist to deal with my periodic inability to cope with, like, existing. She and I have discussed coping strategies I sort stumbled into over the years, and she’s pointed me at more deliberate and proactive coping mechanisms. (She’s rad. I like her.)
Since I’m supposed to be doing this therapy homework, I’ve also given some thought to these accidental coping mechanisms. Enter the single song, of all the songs I’ve obsessively listened to on repeat, that I find 100% soothing if I’m trying to settle some anxiety and slow down a little bit.
Like, it’s known that I’m a fan of The Lonely Island and Andy Samberg. There’s a brand of humor there that appeals to me, but I discovered before a presentation while I was in school that this song also mellows me the fuck out, and I would like to present it as Very Credible Anxiety Song if you experience anxiety in the way I do. (Because I’m sure there’s someone out there for whom it would have the very opposite effect; everyone experiences their shit differently.)
The easiest thing: it’s got very chill, steady music to it that’s still upbeat. If you’re the kind of person who has a physical reaction to music, that’s just gonna ease you down without bringing you down. I noticed this earlier today.
But what also works for me is the utter absurdity of the song. If you haven’t listened to it, and don’t plan to start, the lyrics are ridiculous. Like I said, I like the Lonely Island, and the style of humor works for me. The song makes me laugh, which goes far when I’m trying to calm down — I can laugh a lot off.
Another thing happens: it’s such over-the-top nonsense thinking that also reminds me so much of my own, that I listen to it and I’m like, “This is silly. This is no way to be.” And while it’s just the way I am, it does somehow help me logic myself through whatever thing I’m freaking out about. I mean, “two words about furniture: killing machines” deserves its own award. That’s silly, and so is panicking about a presentation to ten people in a class about digital media.
* Right now, I have this tab, two to confirm that I’m using the phrase “taking an antidepressant” correctly, and another because I just remembered a headline about Chrome OS running Linux apps and I want to know more about that.
I would later go on to Google how to spell Andy Samberg, hey, who is his wife — wait, do I own the therapist’s office a bill? I should go check that. Phew, I don’t, that’s good. Maybe I should format this footnote differently…
You get the idea.
** Ask me about the three weeks I spent terrified to carry my baby near my staircase! Or watch my husband carry the baby near the staircase! Or think about my son walking past the staircase to use the bathroom!
I have been struggling to write about the 70 pounds I gained during pregnancy. And a little bit about the 10 pounds I gained in school before that. I tried not writing about it, and maybe writing about literally anything else, but it sits there like a stone at the front of my mind. I can’t seem to get around it or over it, so I’m just gonna have to break the stone apart bit by bit so that I can stop trying to work around it
I want to parse the thing — to look it in the eye and accept the facts for what they are — but it’s hard. When the decision and action of losing weight is seen as a success, gaining weight can only be a failure. When I spent the last several years doing so many awesome things, like building a great baby and raising a kid and doing well in my classes, I am loath to look at any of the side-effects as universal failures.
I also don’t want to further stigmatize other bodies like mine by using my own as a public punching bag. I recognize the axis of privilege I represent, and in many ways even at my current weight and even at my highest weight, I do not have it as bad as others. That’s a fine line to walk, for me, I usually walk it by just not putting Words to Paper about my body, and saving it for private conversations with my comfortable people.
I also don’t necessarily want to look it in the eye. Because despite what I know logically, there’s a part of my brain that says, “You knew this was happening and you didn’t work hard enough to stop it.” That’s somewhat true, while also being entirely bereft of the reality of how I deal with stress. It’s half a fact, and one that acts as though the weight I’ve gained is the worst thing that could have happened as a result of my schooling and pregnancy.
Anyway, all the intense thinking I’ve spent the last several weeks doing have brought me to a simple conclusion: there’s no way to win. To discuss my weight loss at all is a sin to the fat communities I’ve spent almost my entire life a part of, and to have gained the weight back is a failure to the weight loss communities that I oddly thrived in. I’ve constantly felt torn between those poles — that has not changed.
Consider, by the way, how fucked up it is to exist in a society where half of it demands an apology for your fat body, and half of it demands that you demure about choosing to change that body. It is draining to feel like any decision was the wrong one.
The year is coming to a close, and I — like everyone you know — am taking the time to review it. Obviously, this is my favorite thing that happened:
I did a lot, though. My husband and I moved in together and got married all in the same month. I changed positions at work, started school, had some pretty stark mental health issues there for a bit, and have been just generally dealing with Adult Stuff a lot. It was a busy year, both externally and emotionally.
I have not written as much as I’d like, though.
As such, I’ve been reviewing my writing habits, as well as goals, and thinking, Okay, where do I go from here?
The real answer is: I don’t know. But I have some ideas.
I’ve been quietly stepping back from the Internet, mostly on accident. I got extremely busy over the summer and didn’t have much time. When I started to have slightly more down time, I began to notice how increased time online was both hurting me and making me angry. Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been distracting myself from dealing with real feelings by instead focusing on why every time I get online, I walk away quickly feeling frutrated and tired. (Emotions my real life has enough of in spades; I don’t need to add more.)
One of my favorite websites ran an article that has sat with me for a while: How the Internet Flattens Generations. In my increasing frustration with the Internet, I come back to that thought: the internet flattens generations.
My husband and I have been talking on-and-off about how the Internet narrows our focus down to really minute places. We don’t see whole pictures — we get really hung up on minute-to-minute dissections of tragedy and horror and human pain. We tend to get over the happy endings and the resolutions of issues pretty quickly. Oh, ho hum, story over — where’s the next piece of tragedy porn for me to obsess over?! We’re gobbling up the Internet’s obsessions with bad news after bad news after bad news — then going out into the world with a conclusion that the world is exclusively bad.
A sidebar: I don’t think that addressing the problems in our society, the horrors that occur worldwide, and all of these things is a problem. We need discussions of the bad in the world, because if we cannot see the bad, we cannot be good and become better. Making the world better for everyone can’t exist in a vacuum, and is impossible if we refuse to even see the problems. But they have to be discussions, not just endlessly yelling LOOK AT THIS BAD THING IT WAS SO BAD I HATE THIS BADNESS THIS WORLD IS BAD END IT IN FIRE.
(I think this is how Batman got his start. BRB becoming a vigilante.)