Write it out…

Not long ago I listened to a radio interview. This was one of those entertainment pieces, the kind of thing you listen to because it isn’t about politics, murder, or other such real-life nastiness. Asked to make sense of a recent experience, the guest offered the simplest of replies:

“It’s hard to say…I haven’t even written about it yet.”

This little gem caught my attention so much I didn’t really hear the rest of the interview. The details didn’t matter; what stood out was this tiny, piquant glimpse into how meaning gets made – the process of coming to terms with an experience. It also likely grabbed me because here’s someone else suggesting they have to write about something in order to make sense of themselves.

Admittedly it lands a little close to home because I’ve found myself trying to make sense of several things lately but lack the words to describe it. This blog has been the place where I write “randomly”, letting words fall out in order to see what’s rattling around in my head. But with recent events, that hasn’t happened. The words don’t seem to land on the page and continue floating around in space, morphing into other shapes or sometimes disappearing altogether.

This is your brain…if your brain were an egg talking to itself

I’ve guessed it’s because the events are happening too fast, too quick for my brain to fully pull together. Or maybe it’s not a brain thing – maybe the issue is that these things are all too visceral, too emotional, for the brain to catch them. There are feelings and motion, but sometimes the event demands a reaction and the brain just has to respond to what is there without having the luxury of making sense.

Curiously the events I’ve been thrust into lately are brain related in other ways – a relative expressing a high degree of neurocognitive disorder (that’s dementia to everyone else) and my own battle with migraines. The brains have gone on strike, it seems.

Attempting to reign mine in, we tried medication that resulted in me having a great deal of difficulty completing sentences. Try writing a book in that condition. Anomia (inability to remember the names of everyday objects) makes it kinda hard to complete a paragraph, or at least construct one who anyone other than the author can understand. I couldn’t even remember the word “anomia,” which meant when I tried explaining this to my employer, I sounded something like this:

“It’s sort of like you are coming up to what you know is supposed to be there but you can’t quite find it so you skip over it hoping you can come back around to it and it’ll slip into place, but it doesn’t really happen so you’re just left looking at this empty hole knowing something is supposed to be there but you’re the only person who knows what it is.”

And then your employer tells you to go home because they think you’re drunk. My brain had a great laugh at me that day. It also gave me a migraine.

The fact that I can write this suggests a change occurred; deciding the cure was worse than the problem, we discontinued that particular medicine. But this is a continued experiment – and gets into that euphamistic “lifestyle change” thing. I’d have loved it if taking a pill were the only thing one needed to do to conquer something like migraines. But as with most chronic health problems, the treatment isn’t a 45 second commercial promising bliss and small-print debilitating side-effects. It’s a long process of discovering what could work along with what doesn’t – which means learning a lot of what you thought was okay about how you live your life falls in the “doesn’t” category.

For the short time my brain was on holiday, I took a brief walk into my relative’s dementia land. I am not in any way claiming I had the experience of someone who is falling into a cognitive decline. What I am claiming is that as the medicine’s side-effects starting taking away my ability to think, react quickly, solve problems, and use words, I realized that the me I thought I knew was disappearing like a ghost. It was terrifying and I had no idea what was supposed to be in its place. An athlete who loses their leg, a painter who loses a hand – it is an experience of being confronted with our primal fear that without what we can do, we become no one.

I’d like to say that I plowed forward and found myself, but the truth is I called the doctor and said “I can’t handle this.” A 3-day migraine attack was better than disintegrating, and at least I know how to survive the migraine. So I don’t have a pithy answer for how to deal with that harsh look in the existential mirror. But I also don’t think there is a pithy answer – it is something that takes time to figure out, presuming it can be figured out.

When I sit with my relative, we have conversations that follow no chronological, or any-logical, order. The bedroom we sit in morphs into a type of Tardis as we travel across space and time:

“Are you here to help me pack?”
Where are you going?
“Ohio.”
When do you leave?
“Any moment now. We have to get on the plane.”
How long have you been here?
“I just got here.”
Why  are you going to Ohio?
“For work. Shouldn’t you be in school?”
I don’t have school right now.
“Did you pass all your classes?”

And on it goes…in the same sentence I am a working adult, a grade-schooler, a parent, a teenager. Dead relatives are resurrected, and last night’s baseball game is recalled play by play. My children’s names are forgotten.

I’m living in the sandwich of my generation, but I can’t tell you anything about how it tastes. No one really asks for this, but resentment seems pointless. How do you hold a grudge if the mistakes of the past no longer exist? The way you knew yourself in response to this person must also become someone else, because the person before you floats trans-dimensionally and you’re just trying to not get lost. There are many people living in this, and information exists to explain it. And yet, if you ask me to make sense of it all…

I haven’t even written about it yet.

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When not writing is writing…

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necessary distractions

I find it ironic that my last post was meant to rejuvenate my blog, get me back on track, and increase my writing volume. Here it is, one month later, and I’m now composing post #2 about my writing journey. That’s about the same pace I was on before I “rebranded” my blog, and also a great example of how rebranding is a big lie, directed mostly to ourselves.

Curiously my lack of blog posting is not an expression of a lack of writing. Since my last post, I managed to 1) finish my fiction novel, 2) finish and submit an academic article, and 3) finish and submit academic book proposal #2. That’s not bad, really. I did not make much progress on academic book #1, the one I’m supposed to be writing. But it is fair to say I had to get #’s 1-3 dealt with so academic book #1 could move to center stage.

That seems like another great lie, that we have to clear off the plate in order to start the next meal. I have told myself on plenty of occasions, “after item X is done, I can start the next thing.” It’s just that “item X” can become anything, from preparing a syllabus to weeding the windowbox full of old, dead flowers that I don’t like in the first place. Over the last several years, I’ve slowly learned to make item X be more relevant and less distraction, but I have to admit that sometimes distraction is a good thing. Sometimes I really can’t clear my head unless I complete the deluxe enhanced expanded expansion pack for here unnamed Xbox epic dystopian role-playing game. Sometimes I need to know what will happen if I pull up the loose, flappy sliver of wallpaper. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night unless I binge-watch all 12 seasons of senseless crime drama-come-sitcom-com-secret sci-fi romance thriller show. I must scroll to the end of the “now trending” Netflix column or life will be incomplete.

And whoever invented the “autoplay” default setting on YouTube should be beaten about the face, or given a huge raise.

What was I saying…oh yeah, distractions. Anyway, I imagine most writers suffer from self-induced ADHD on a pretty regular basis. In actuality, it probably is a good idea to include some distraction time in the writing schedule. As some famous neurologist probably said, the brain never stops working. Many times an idea has worked itself out during these periods of nonwriting, and it appears later on the page.

Of course, one does need to make oneself write. The idea that writing just springs forth like a geyser is the biggest of all lies, the dumbest of all “ideals” to live up to. Writing comes from writing. Admittedly I am not as scheduled as some of my peers, although this does not mean I am not as disciplined. My life circumstances mean I can’t hold a fixed timeline, but I can designate which days of each week are devoted to any particular project. Sometimes on that day, I write; other times I research, and other times I doodle. Each of those activities moves the project forward (including doodling, my brain’s best way of working through abstractions). When words do appear on a page, I don’t concern myself with whether or not they are the “right” words. Sometimes I have to write some pure shite in order to figure out what I meant to say. Other times I look back and wonder what the hell was I thinking. But it all progresses, and most importantly I can feel and see that progress, which makes my next designated project time feel worth it.

Next up is outlining Chapter 1 of academic book. That means looking at what I’ve compiled and determining what else I need. So not sure if I’ll write a paragraph that day, but the work of the project continues. Note that focusing on these little steps keeps me from getting distracted by the big fear that no one will want to read the book. So far, that’s been the real bulwark to working on the project. While finishing the other 3 projects did provide an excuse to stay away from the book, their completion also gave me something to bolster against that fear – namely confidence. I don’t know if anyone will read academic book #1, but I do know I can write it.

 

(and a shout out to R. Keith Sawyer and Paul Silvia, two authors whose work on creativity and writing has helped inform my writing. Ok, reading their stuff was also a distraction, but one that continues to pay off.)

 

The Business of Writing…

This blog, like many creative things, has evolved since I started it 6 years ago. (Six years! Did that happen? You’d think I’d have more followers. Maybe I need to post more kitten and puppy pictures. Here’s one:)

kittens and puppies
awwwww

Anyway…I’ve found having a journal of sorts lets me work out all kinds of bumps and wiggly bits clattering inside my head. It’s sort of a mental massage; occasionally it’s of the soft, fluffy Swedish type – other times it’s a full-on deep tissue-come-rolfing battering session. What results from this written free-association sometimes helps me organize my ideas, other times process complicated emotions, and occasionally make avant-garde garbage. I don’t claim to be an amazing artist (which is probably good if we get back to that lack of followers thing). But writing, in general, helps me do stuff, whether it is providing a simple creative outlet or a sounding board for generating ideas that turn into other things. And yes, it has also been a place for me to rant on about crap because if I didn’t do that here, I’d be screaming in the middle of a bridge on a pretty regular basis.

My intent at this point is to use this platform to maintain some sort of personal accountability as I’m embarking on my first book. I’ve always had a creative writing streak; as such I have stacks of incomplete short stories littering my home office (and basement, attic, bookshelves, and just about anywhere else writers store their half-baked creations. Are there others out there who can’t seem to find a way to end the story they started, but also couldn’t dream of throwing it away?). But now I have an official contract, one that says at a specified date I am to deliver a finished book some 70,000 words long.

70,000 words?!? Am I insane? Why did I sign up for this. What was I thinking – now I have to write and FINISH the damn thing. Giant OMG in supercaps, what have I gotten into?

This is exciting, and it means a publisher and hopefully others want to read it. Yet in the middle of exciting sits scary, because 1) I have to get it done and 2) once it is done, all the critics will get a chance to rip it apart. It may seem premature to fear rejection before the book is completed, but it is likely because I’ve been down the rejection road that fear looms in the background. I’ve had my share of bad critiques and I can accept that criticism can make your work better. However, that doesn’t mean I like going through it; you don’t really want your partner to tell you how fat you are when the clothes come off.

I do believe I will learn a lot about this process, and likely myself, before this is all over. That’s part of the motivation to do it; I grew tired of asking myself if I could and decided to just do. So in some ways, I can live with it if the book flops. But I don’t want to find myself years from now asking why I never finished it, or worse, why I never started it. In that way, I’m already on this journey, and I don’t know where it ends.

So back to writing and this blog – I hope to chronicle the process (that’s so meta, to write about writing) so later on when I feel discouraged I can look back and remember what I’ve done. Plus, it’s an old trick – invite others into the process so it’s no longer me alone with my thoughts; the project is in the open for others to be aware of and ask questions about. And I’m sure I’ll write about other things as well since my brain will continue to fill up with clutter and need some occasional clearing out. But for now –  on to the business of writing. First – I should make a list of what to do. I should make a list of what not to do. I should make a list of lists about what to do and not to do. Oh look, puppies. What was I saying? What am I supposed to –

(I suppose if any other fellow story-makers, book-writers, or general project-embarkers happen to be out there and want to know someone else is out here freaking out with them, feel free to “follow,” or drop a comment from time to time. )