Mountain, Fork

twain3-00 Ever have one of those days where the sheer amount of things needing to be done in the upcoming weeks produces vapor-lock, and you are paralyzed by overwhelming anxiety?

Yeah. That was (sort of) yesterday, and is shaping up to be today. The only cure is putting my head down and performing small manageable chunks of larger tasks, but even then it feels like moving a mountain with a fork. Self-care becomes of primary importance in situations like this–because without it, the anxiety can eat you alive.

It has, after all, happened before.

I don’t talk a great deal about my anxiety disorder. (Or the goddamn depression.) One reason is that other people speak about it far more eloquently than I can. Another is the stigma of “mental illness”–though one way to break the stigma is to speak openly, sometimes I don’t have the fucking spoons. Then there’s the inevitable response that I need to “grow a thicker skin” or “get over it”. If I could “get over it” with sheer willpower, I would have done so. Lack of willpower is never something I’ve suffered. (I am, after all, still in publishing after a decade, not to mention still alive.) I tried the willpower route for years, and even when I was seeing Calm Therapist I resisted any suggestion that perhaps I might need a little more help. I’ve tried going off the meds, with Frau Doktor’s careful help, but the side effects of that have been…well, let’s just say there’s a reason I’m still on them and never miss a dose, though I loathe the very thought of taking pills for various reasons.

I am familiar with people who go off their meds regularly and use the occasion to spiral into an orgy of emotional (and physical) destruction of everyone around them–then go back on and blame the pills for the whole thing to escape responsibility for their actions. This is, in part, why I resisted taking pills at all; I do not ever want to even get close to being That Person. I am terrified of missing a dose; this makes me, I am told, one of the patients Frau Doktor worries about the least. (Which is nice.)

I still struggle with the feeling of being “weak” or “lesser” because the pharmaceutical help is necessary if I want not to wear my body out with its wonky over-response to stress. Life involves discomfort (thank you, Gautama Buddha) but, as Frau Doktor points out often, there’s regular discomfort and then there’s your body trying to hurt itself because of genetics and upbringing, and it only makes sense to treat the latter.

Even if you don’t have brain chemistry that actively tries to do you in, self-care is important. Yes, that voice in your head will always say “people are depending on me, I have to, I have to!” That’s all well and good, but one must care for oneself so one has the resources to care for everyone else.

So I’m off for a run, despite the anxiety screaming at me that I shouldn’t waste time on that when there’s so much work to be done. And I continue, day after day, holding my nose and taking the pills I don’t want to, because doing what’s necessary even when distasteful is what a responsible adult does. There is no room for the comforts of martyrdom when one has kids and dogs to feed, not to mention a house to keep from sliding into chaos.

Anyway, that’s the state of Chez Saintcrow today. (This is also the last day of the current coupon code at Payhip, if one is so inclined.) A morning run, using a fork to move a mountain, and remembering to eat.

When I put it that way, it sounds almost doable.

Rejection Game

what i do The smartmouth genie story (with extra added Ontario Cowboy Stripper) proceeds apace. Cormorant Run is due to start stacking up a body count today, or I’m going to get cross with it. Not that this particular story cares, I suppose. That’s part of its charm. What dubious charm this story possesses. It’s eating my head and it has to get out, but I’m not sure I particularly like anyone in it.

It’s a bright morning; before I run today, though, I have coffee to finish and administrivia to wade through. That will put me in a mood to swear and sweat, I suspect. The huge glaring yellow thing in the sky is out to get me; I am a creature of cloud cover and most productive when it rains.

Rattlesnake Wind got a rejection yesterday. An editor loved it but couldn’t interest a committee in it, which is very usual for my books. (I never do well in committee.) It has a teenage protagonist, so of course people want to pigeonhole it in YA. The trouble is, it’s also brutally honest and more than a little sad, so YA publishers don’t see it as a “safe bet.” I am of two minds about this. On one hand, my agent tells me I have good prospects and a dedicated fanbase in YA; on the other, dealing with the pushback from publishers on anything they think an Easily Offended Bible Belt Housewife might possibly take an exception to is tiring. I almost want to tell my agent to submit it to litfic imprints, but since my name is openly female and I’m a genre author, I don’t think there will be much interest.

Sure, there’s a sting in being told “not good enough”, but it’s a familiar one, and caused me only about a half-hour of irritation. I did have a moment of thinking “well, let’s put a male pseudonym on this and see if it sells, JUST AS AN EXPERIMENT,” but I don’t have the time or energy to deal with the various ramifications of that strategy.

There are still other publishers to approach, but most of them are YA, so I don’t know. The chances aren’t good, and I’m not sure my heart could take self-pubbing this particular book. It was painful to write, like lancing a very deep boil. There was a certain relief to it, but I wouldn’t willingly revisit the place where it came from now that I’ve said goodbye.

This is part of the publishing business: dealing with the rejections and understanding that even things you pour your heart into aren’t necessarily going to interest the bean-counters or the marketing committees. It’s okay to finish a book and know it won’t find a home easily or at all. At least it wasn’t on spec, it was something I had to write for my own sanity. So it’s not like I was cheated out of that (unpaid) working time. It can safely go in a drawer for a while.

After 50ish books dragged through the publication process, rejection is still the name of the game. (And people wonder why authors stereotypically drink.) And while self-publishing is more available than it’s ever been, there are still instances where and reasons why it’s not the best fit for a particular book. The people who urge it as a panacea are not, I suspect, being quite honest in such urging, but that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

Miss B has found out that a little bit of my ankle is bare because of the gap between my exercise gear and my socks, and she is nosing that one part hopefully. It’s time to get out the door.

Over and out.

Today, Adulting

Escribano An incredibly productive day yesterday means I’m probably going to fail at adulting today, but them’s the breaks. If I manage to get to dinner without my head exploding, I’ll count it as a win. Especially for a Tuesday.

I’m liking transcription work. It exercises a different part of my brain, and doesn’t use up the emotional energy I need for writing. It’s a good palate-cleanser, and the best thing is, it’s really cheap dialogue training. Listening tot he rhythm of how people talk is great for one’s stories.

I’ve shelved the amulet-maker story, and am concentrating on the smartmouth genie and the rationalist insurance adjustor. (At least, I think she’s an insurance adjustor. She doesn’t want to talk about work right now, having many other things on her mind.) This story is fun, I’m mostly writing it for my writing partner. It’s also taking a pattern different than other books. Normally I write somewhat sequentially, but this book wants the arc for the two main characters mostly done before I go back and take a whack at the villains. (Who kind of aren’t villains at all, just selfish assholes who want shortcuts.) It’s very rarely that a book does this, demanding to be told somewhat out-of-order even though I know pretty much what happens in each scene.

The bulk of my effort, though, is reserved for the Rifters story, which is now titled Cormorant Run. My homage to Tarkovsky and the Strugatskys is growing into its own peculiar beast inside my head, and invading my dreams as well. I love this book, weird and brutal as it is, with the fierce love of a thousand fiery suns. It’s wanting to be written sequentially, unlike the genie book, and more excavated than written. Each day I brush away a little more dirt and debris and find the shape of a room underneath, a room needing to be emptied with a shovel or a spoon, depending. I love the books that are a whole organic thing under the surface of your brain, but the labor to excavate them is sometimes backbreaking.

I’ve written almost sixty full novels now, and each time, it’s different. Each damn book wants to be written in its own special little way, and will balk unless coaxed correctly. There are some commonalities, like the long slog in the middle with the BOOK THAT WILL NOT DIE NO MATTER HOW YOU STAB IT, but each novel teaches you how to write just-it, it alone, and nothing but it. A certain amount of submission to and trust in the process is necessary, as well as the discipline to sit down every goddamn day and get the writing done[1].

Right now my fingers are a bit chilled, so it’s time to stretch, get a cuppa–I’m trying turmeric tea right now, and with the addition of more ginger it’s actually quite palatable–and get back to the grindstone before the doldrums hit. I may fail at adulting later today, especially when t’s time for errands, but for now I have some shiny new willpower, and am going to use it.

*cracks knuckles* Tuesday? I’ll see you now…

[1] Yes, I know there are professional writers who don’t write every day. But you’re here on my blog, and I’m going to tell you the best way I know. ‘Nuff said.

Full Time

ghandi01 Moving, shifting, creaking. Sometimes getting up a little early makes one think about possibilities. Morning t’ai chi. Stretching. Plenty of time instead of a rush all day.

Then, of course, I roll over and burrow back into warmth. Screw that noise, right? Except when I absolutely have to get up and drive someone somewhere.

Anyway. I was rousted early this morning and am still absorbing coffee that became stone-cold while I navigated morning traffic. Fortunately the way home was clear, and we all made it in one piece. The rest of today is for a short easy run and all sorts of wordcount. And piano practice. I have thrown Monday back onto the ropes, but I’m not sure it will ever surrender. The best we’ll achieve is an armed detente.

I spent the weekend playing hooky with a story that isn’t one of the Three Projects. It was nice to clear my head and work on something I didn’t have a clear idea for, just feeling my way from one edge to another. Never underestimate the ability of one story to make another jealous–it doesn’t even have to be a story one plans on finishing, really. I work on multiple projects at a time in order to shift between them when one gets stubborn. The key is to keep the pressure just steady enough to provide forward momentum, and reined in just enough to make it seem like one is stealing time to work on something forbidden. That feeling of illicit work, of thieving around the edges of something else, heart in mouth and skin alive with anticipation, brings all sorts of immediacy to the table.

Now that the week’s started, though, I go back to the projects on tap, and the pressure now comes from getting wordcount in so I can go play later. So much of living is finding ways to trick or game yourself into doing the unpleasant but necessary. Keeping one step ahead of my own desperate desire to just crawl in a hole and let the world go on without me is a full-time occupation most of the time. So much so that thinking about it is a bit disheartening, so it’s time to actually go do something instead of planning.

Over and out.

Scar, Strong

109ram_icons004 Running, this morning. A poem hits right between the eyes, and as I sweat I put the lines together, shake them, see the edges. Look at how they fit.

Think about the absences. People I couldn’t save, who didn’t want to be saved. The times I had to walk away, the times I’ve shouted down a dark well hoping to help, pouring love and energy into black holes.

Run harder. The poem comes back on little cat feet.

Turn it over, shake it again. The edges come together, seamless.

Memories. Mistakes. Nothing to be done about it now, did the best I could then, made amends where I could. If it could have been fixed it would have been. All the things your friends tell you when you begin to let them in again after curling around your hurt. Their patience, repeating it until sometimes you hear it in your head because it’s sunk in, finally.

Run harder. Yes, the poem’s there. It shimmers. Not perfect, an irregular pearl, but still all mine. Grit and nacre.

It takes so much for me to give up on someone, and even when I do, I still hope. I can’t break myself of the habit. You can’t man the perimeter against the little chink in your own heart, the space where you just want people you care–or cared–for to be happy.

Glance down at B. She’s enjoying the pace, but she’s not the young dog she once was. She’ll run until her heart gives out for me, but I never ask it. For her, I slow, even though I want to run until I drop, until I pass out, until the world turns over.

I have sentinels in front of that crack in my heart. Friends. It’s a good thing to have people who give a damn, it’s a good thing when caring isn’t a one-way street with all the giving at my end. Most days I am completely baffled by it, but on the good days I know I matter as a human being to a couple people. The good days are getting more frequent. Healing is difficult, but it can be done.

Workout over. Poem still in head, a reassuring glow. B glad to stop, though she’d run more if I asked. We walk, she basks as I tell her she’s a good girl. She noses a couple lamp-posts on the way home, reading the day’s news. Still an aching in my chest, but it’s just the scar tissue.

I can live with it.

Home. B on her bed in my office, Odd Trundles still napping on my bed–he woke briefly when we returned, greeting us before he went back to his ever-important late-morning nap. My hair is wet from the shower and I’m in the clothes I wore yesterday, the poem allowed to drift free into the world. Tea steeping, other words crowding my brain.

I feel around the scars, probing, taking stock.

They’re strong. Supple. They will hold for one more precious day.

So I write.

Sugar and Toads

split infinitive The kids are home from school today, and this is the Monday I start the new habit of filing for ten minutes three times a week. Just filing paperwork, that’s all, from the gigantic stacks in my office. Because I am so very fond of putting things on a pile and thinking, yes, this is a good place for this to stay for A YEAR OR SO, sure!

I would like to say it’s the messiness of creativity, but it’s gone somewhat past that. When I’ve caught up with the filing there will be shredding to perform. I might even move my TBR pile–currently right behind my office chair–to a couple cleared shelves if I get really, truly ambitious. (No, I’m not holding my breath either.)

The sudden urge to clean and organize means I’ve hit a particular point in all three projects I’m working on. It’s past the “oooh, shiny!” but not quite in the “slog slog slog stabbity this book WILL NOT DIE” yet. I suspect the slog will be bearable this time, if only because of my time-honored habit of hitting a wall with one book and immediately shifting to another one to make the first jealous. (It works, I swear.)

So it is a rainy Monday on which I have to swallow a toad. I doubt I’ll do that first, though. Sweetening the amphibian with a bit of writing about a smartmouth genie and the spreadsheet-loving rationalist who just happens to own his “lamp” sounds like a much better deal. Plus there’s an entry into the Rift to write, and a werewolf attack in the third project. No shortage of sugar–or toads–this morning.

Over and out.

Empathy Drawback

psychoanalysed Rolled out of bed this morning feeling I could cheerfully hex the face off anyone I did not give birth to. The kids are now safely at school, and I (and my bad humor) are safely locked in the office, tapping at a keyboard. Of course, I have to go for a run later, but if I time it right (and since the clouds have returned) I may not have to interact with anyone. A mercy to all involved, I suspect.

It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s that I get so much overwhelming information from them, even strangers. Being hyperaware of tone, expression, body language, bracing myself against drowning in other people’s feelings or being constantly on guard in case they suddenly explode…it’s exhausting. Years of the habit of observation from being a writer have only sharpened childhood’s leftover vigilance, and a healthy dose (maybe an overdose) of empathy only adds to the problem. I spend a lot of energy in crowds or public places just keeping the wall between me and other people’s feelings strong enough to keep me from going under.

Sometimes I wish I could shut it off. The wish never lasts very long, because I’ve seen people devoid of empathy and I never want to risk that. I know there’s a middle way, but when I get tired, it’s hard to keep my balance. The anti-anxiety meds help, too.

Characters can be just as difficult, just as draining. I feel them just as strongly, even the villains. Getting so far inside their heads I understand each tic and tiny action takes a toll. I am not my characters, I just…feel them. Ache for them. Understand them, and try to translate that understanding.

The mornings when I wake up and feel like hexing, or clawing, or practicing my resting bitchface so strangers don’t try talking to me (it rarely works, they seem to find me irresistible, especially in grocery store queues) aren’t because I dislike people. They’re because I don’t have the time or energy to respond to an ambush of my empathy. The internet is a godsend, really, because I can limit interactions and hold the entire field at arm’s length. I don’t risk going under the waves of someone else’s feelings quite so much.

I should add that social media is only easier for me because of tools like the GGAutoblocker and a very tight curating of my FB friends. Muting, blocking, and being able to just not respond to certain things has managed to keep the regular harassment from being a Woman on the Internet (especially with Opinions) to a minimum, which is an outright boon for anyone with any sensitivity at all.

So I’m about to take myself and my face-hexing mood out for a run, and then settle into a long day of harnessing my weird brain chemistry to pull the writing plow. It makes me feel far less stabby and hex-y to realize this is probably the only job I’m fit for, and I’m definitely very lucky to be able to shut my office door and do it.

Over and out.