One Step Closer

(TW: suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety)

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I last made revision notes on Tallulah, and about a month since the last post I made here. I see the semblance of a pattern.

This chapter is one that I originally expected to cut completely, for its utter irrelevance to the story. Having gone back through it – I’m still not finished, and have given myself one hour a day to revise exactly so that I get used to doing it systematically rather than just on a whim – I have found that there’s actually so much key information about the characters and the overarching themes of the story that I’m very relieved I didn’t just write it off without even looking at it first. Not that I was planning to do that, but I feel like in another life I would have just scrapped it based on memory and started my revision using a manuscript that didn’t have it included and accounted for.

This book needs so much work before it’s ready to be submitted. I wanted to submit it at the end of this year, but I think I’m going to have to set my sights on maybe around this time next year – and, thinking a bit about it, that’s actually probably a better plan. Not so much because it gives me more time to revise (I certainly don’t want to over-revise, and a shorter deadline could help with that), but because from what I hear the end of the year is a really busy time for publishers and agents, being flooded with manuscripts. So if I wait for next year, after the rush, I might have a better chance of getting noticed and picked up. I’ll definitely need to do more research about this stuff along the way, too.

There is actually a reason I decided to go back to revision today. Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, died on the 20th from suicide by hanging. That kicked me right in the guts. I know people like to talk shit on Linkin Park for being melodramatic, angst-ridden, and weirdly sanitised despite their subject matter, especially in their early songs. I got less and less involved with them as a band as I grew older and discovered other forms of emotional catharsis through music other than the anger of metal, but I had always been hugely emotionally invested in the band, even when I wasn’t a huge fan. I didn’t realise just how much I still cared about them until I heard the news, and I have no shame in telling you all that I am absolutely going to go out and buy those two albums of theirs that I didn’t really like. I’m a sentimental mushball and proud of it.

It hit me like no other celebrity death has – maybe Carrie Fisher. They were both such huge parts of my life, especially my childhood and adolescence, but I felt more familiar with Chester, just because I kept up with the band ever since they released “One Step Closer” and made me the happiest little angry kid on the planet, along with all the millions of other angry kids exactly like me. Carrie Fisher I knew as Princess Leia, and that was about it until quite recently. I definitely wish I’d kept up with her as well in hindsight.

But the point of all of this is that Chester’s death was a wake-up call to me. People talk about this sort of thing all the time, and there have been times when I’ve felt like I should have felt it but didn’t. Somebody famous and influential dies, and people get motivated to get their shit together. I hate that I’m getting motivation from somebody’s death, especially one as horrible as this. There’s something morbid about taking inspiration to live your life better just because somebody else’s has ended. But it’s because it’s pretty relevant to me. I lived with depression for a long time; I still get depressed every now and then. The bigger issue for me is social anxiety, but both of them come with a lot of feeling stuck and unable to do anything about it. I realised when the news broke that I needed to fucking move. I’ve known that doing things is the best solution to the problem of feeling stuck, yet I just consistently don’t take that solution because, well, I don’t feel like I can when I’m in a rut, which I usually am. Anxiety and depression are paralytics, and they’re hard to fight against.

But I have to. I have to get this shit done. I don’t even know what book I want to work on, if I even do, or what my other options would be, but goddammit I need to figure it out, and the only way I’m going to do that is if I actually do it. It’s basic logic; it’s nothing I didn’t already know. But that could have been me, and for all I know it still might be one day. I hope not, and I feel like I’m in a much better place than I have been for a long time, better enough that it is probably quite unlikely. But I also know that I have a history of suicidal thoughts, and that this sort of thing can come back sometimes. It’s just life. I’m not feeling grim about my prospects; I actually feel better about them than I ever have, however much of a slog this year has been in terms of motivation.

What I’m saying is that I have some now, and for the first time possibly ever I am determined to jump on it and make the most of it, turn it into a routine while I have the energy to support my initiative. I don’t know what I want to write, I don’t know if it’s anything I’m currently writing or if I need to find something else. So I’m going to write what I’ve got and see what comes of it. Every day. I have alarms on my clock set to remind me to revise, write, and even look at my CV throughout the week. I haven’t been using them, really, but I’m going to start. I have already started. I made some revision notes, and it turned out to be a very fruitful endeavour. But I need more than rewards. I need habits. I need to get into a whole bunch of new habits, and to stick to them as hard as possible, to keep going even when it’s not immediately rewarding because there’s a long game to play as well, a big picture that will make all the little, momentary frustrations worth it.

I’m also putting in forced breaks. That’s why I didn’t finish making revision notes on the chapter I was looking at today: my alarm went off and told me to stop, so I stopped. I need to get good at getting work done regardless of motivation, but the same goes for taking time for myself to just do whatever, including absolutely nothing. And from experience, arbitrary time constraints work pretty damn well for that.

I feel like I’ve taken a step today, towards the way I want my life to turn out. One step closer to something I’ve only ever fantasised about, occasionally following a burst of inspiration to move towards it for as long as the motivation lasts and giving up as soon as it gives out. No more. Motivation can kiss my ass. From here on, I’m here to work. I’m here to do better by myself.

So here’s to doing better. It would feel very wrong to link “One Step Closer” here, not just because I made the pun already. This song is one whose meaning has changed for me, and not just because of Chester’s death. I’m just in a different place now. Back when this first came out, I sort of dismissed it because it wasn’t the same tense, viscerally angry music that I loved LP for. Now that I come back to it, it’s basically a really corny, really earnest motivational track, and I am so happy to see it in this new light. I never thought I’d appreciate LP for being corny, but I really, really do. And I can only see it this way because I’m in a different place to when I was when I first came across it. Just like leaving Tallulah to sit for 2 years, I can see that part of my past with a new perspective, and see the path forward. And to walk it, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

(There is always a burst of discussion around mental health awareness when a celebrity figure commits suicide, which is kind of insulting to me, because it reminds me that this is still kind of the only time the discussion enters into mainstream consciousness. The fact that this discussion is still so stigmatised is hugely symptomatic of why mental illness is so much more difficult for people to seek help for than other kinds of illness. So to anyone who needs someone to talk to – please talk to someone. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant or irrational of a reason you might think it is, and you probably do, if you’re anything like me. Treat it like a strange lump that suddenly turned up on your body: get it checked out, because it might be nothing, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Treat it as a practical, personal responsibility that you have, like paying rent. Look up hotlines you can call for free; look up options for counselling that you might be able to afford. If you have friends or family you know you can trust, take advantage of a shoulder to lean on. Look after yourselves. I’m not just putting my latest life-changing plan into action because I want to write more. I want to take care of myself, because for the longest time I just haven’t, and I’m only recently starting to learn how. I want to learn how to do it better, and the best way to do it is to, well, do it.)

Doing is believing

Last night was pretty rough for me. Having anxiety involves a lot of lying awake in bed and ruminating over all of your moral shortcomings and mortal shames. Thankfully, at this point in my recovery – it’s odd to think of it as a recovery, but it is, an ongoing one – I wake up from those bad nights feeling cleansed and unburdened, and even with a few solutions to deal with the various grievances aired, vented and exorcised in the night.

One of these is writing. I have lamented so many times about letting opportunities to dive headlong into a writing project pass me by, about intentionally keeping myself from taking opportunities to enjoy writing because, I dunno, toxic habits die hard, and a particularly toxic one is the “but it’ll take effort” excuse. It’s not a rational excuse, which is why I keep making it. Mental illness will do that to you.

But no more. The Ubermensch has spoken!

Because this year, I’m going to finish my god-awful fucking YA werewolf novel, and then I’m going to go back to my Christmas story. I’m going to read over it and make notes, and I’m going to read over it again and make different notes, and then I’m going to discover that I have a plan and fucking execute it.

I’m going to do this because I do have good ideas, and they deserve to be worked on – but more than that, because this morning I’m feeling optimistic and life-affirming: because deserve to work on them. To have awesome ideas and stories to be responsible for developing. It’s a good feeling.

And it won’t get done unless I do it, so I’m going to make myself do it.

It’s the same obstacle as it always is: getting started is the hardest part. I still want to finish Tallulah as well, and it’s much closer to being completed than my Christmas story, but I want to get started on this Christmas story first because, well, I wrote it first, and it’s been way too long. I’m fed up with letting good stories go stagnant; I want to get into the habit of obsessive working when it comes to stories of mine that I really like, which I keep myself from doing these days.

Of course, while I’m reading this Christmas story I can also tinker with other books I’m writing. I need to get better at setting limits on my self-directed work; I started at the end of my MA, and I can see that it needs to continue going forward, as opposed to almost every other thing I’ve learnt or experienced as an academic that has pretty much fallen out of my head. My limit with this Christmas story is reading. Writing – that’s not even something I want to think about right now. Just reading. Getting out of the fantasy of writing something or how it’s going to be when it is eventually one day written, and focusing on the actual writing process, which is always more fun.

And goddammit, it’s been too long. The werewolf thing didn’t even feel like part of the writing process; I hate to say it but, as much fun as I’ve had writing it, I can’t even remember the fun times. But working on something over a long period of time like I did with Tallulah, or the Christmas story before it – that I remember. It feels awesome. And I like feeling awesome.

It feels awesome to be doing shit, and yesterday I realised, for what is surely at least the hundredth time by now, that the reason I’ve been feeling kinda “meh” not just recently but for what is now the majority of my entire life, is due to not doing shit. So I’m going to do some shit. Reading and writing, in particular. I have an actual book to read as well: Succubus on Top by Richelle Mead, which I think I may finally be in the correct mindset to read without getting pedantic about realism in this book about a fucking Succubus was the pun intended I’ll let you decide it’s going to be a good time.

And then all the Christmas books I bought myself last year and haven’t touched since they arrived. I have a goddamn Wonder Woman omnibus, the George Perez stuff when he rebooted her in 1987, which was when I was born, that explains a few things if you buy into superstition when it’s convenient to your self-narrative, which I totally do. I have Neil Gaiman’s latest collection of short stories: Trigger Warning, which I haven’t read partly because as somebody who understands the need for trigger warnings the title just feels very exploitative, but don’t judge a book by its exploitative title or whatever. I have Clariel by Garth Nix, which I tried to read when I got it and then couldn’t because I remembered that I fucking hate high fantasy, even when it’s Garth Nix apparently. I have The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, which I got because werewolves. I have Kindred by Octavia Butler, because for some reason I decided not to buy The Parable of the Sower on the day I made these purchases, but it’s Octavia Butler and I feel morally obligated to read one of her books. I might actually buy Parable today, or at least get it out from the library again. I have the first Dragonriders of Pern book by Anne McAffrey, and the first book in the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, because aside from Harry Potter and literally 4 other books in my entire life I have read zero high fantasy written by women and that shit needs to change.

Speaking of which, I also have the Earthsea Quartet to finish, which I’ve had since 2011. I finished the first 2 stories and liked them a hell of a lot, despite obvious problematic elements, particularly in the first one. Also the rest of the P.C. Hodgell omnibus I have; the first story was very enjoyable, and it’s high fantasy written by a woman and starring a woman, and it is the last high fantasy book I’ve read that I actually enjoyed because it was about character and story – episodic though that story might be, but I like episodic – set in a rich, well-developed world, rather than about a rich, well-developed world infested with sentient life-forms that the writer feels forced to spend some time on to fill a quota, which is what a lot of high fantasy feels like to me. I also have The Swan Maiden, which is a retelling of an old Irish fairytale – a really fucking depressing one, because Ireland – and the only thing I can remember about it is that I opened the exact middle of the book when I bought it from the library and read the phrase “he hefted her pale globe in his hand”. I’m not sure why this was a selling-point for me, but I did buy it, along with Grimm Tales by Phillip Pullman. I respect Phillip Pullman quite a lot, but really did not like The Amber Spyglass and find his writing style … well, it might work a lot better with fairytale retellings than it does with child psychology.

Man, I actually have a lot of shit I could be doing.

The Ubermensch approves!

 

More of the same

I didn’t do Nanowrimo, and I don’t regret it. I just hope I am in a place to take advantage of the next one when it rolls around; I really was not this November. I submitted my MA, finished my contract as a tutor at uni, and am now watching my bank account grow steadily smaller with each passing week while settling in to live out the prologue of The Hunger Games with the rest of the Western world.

No, I’m not going to talk about that – I was going to write a huge ranty piece about how liberal media is all a doom-and-gloom circle-jerk that has nothing of substance to offer the people it supposedly represents, and how Dungeons & Dragons is the answer to all of our affirmative action problems in this age of “slacktivism” and “keyboard warriors”, but after trying and failing to write that piece multiple times I just ran out of steam, and I take that as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. I would have made it happen if I really wanted to. Just like I would have made Nanowrimo work if I really wanted to.

All of this means, writing-wise, that I haven’t been doing very much of it – well, not much Writing, at any rate. Producing words is a different story. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with D&D 5e – I’m still picking it up, but the main issue I immediately took with it is how much Rangers suck. They suuuck. And being me, I spent literally a week revising the Ranger to a point where it seemed playable and fun. I have way too many words devoted to that practice, but at least I finally came to the sobering conclusion that until I actually run a game as DM where I can inflict my homebrew class variants upon other people or become a lead designed for D&D, all of this is just a distraction, and I’ve been feeling it hard. I’ve been really bad about exercise lately, been feeling really shitty – more shitty than usual, which is saying something – and just ultimately finding it difficult to focus on anything that I want to do. Distraction is a buzzword nowadays within certain groups, most of them with a technophobic bent that I am not at all fond of, but there’s something to the whole boredom vs distraction dichotomy that keeps popping up. I’ve been distracting myself for the past month, and it’s had the same result as it’s always had: absolutely none. It’s like trying to pause your life, but we don’t have that mechanic.

I do need to get good and bored, but I also need to have something to do with it.

Thus, I have finally returned to my shitty YA werewolf thing after a month of distractions and lamentations. It’s as shitty as ever, perhaps even shittier now that my brain is so overstuffed with random garbage after not letting myself think clearly for a full month that it’s all coming out when I write. I’m looking at this story I’ve written and … I mean in a sense it’s perfect. It’s really shitty. It’s practically textbook in terms of the way in which it’s shitty, the kind of shitty that snarky internet book reviewers rely upon for their livelihood. I love snarky internet book reviewers for that reason, but I’m including them as part of the formula here because it’s kind of my hope now, that I will achieve critical Toxic YA Novel mass by the time everything is said and done. It’s a kind of achievement. It’s just taken so fucking long to complete, though, that any chance for a genuine sense of accomplishment I could have taken away from this enterprise has long since passed. I’m just forcing it through to completion because I told myself I would, and I have no ideas or plans to replace it. Rote follow-through for the win I guess.

There’s still the possibility of going back once all of this is done and writing the real werewolf novel I started out wanting to write last year, right at the start and height of my werewolf kick. It wouldn’t necessarily be a YA novel, not in the stereotypical way most people think of them at least, which is where most of my existential entertainment has come from in writing this book. It would actually just be kind of a straight-up gothic horror novel. I could get behind that.

I’ve also been finding ways to put off getting really invested in my D&D-inspired fantasy novel, which would have also benefited from more haste on my part; I missed the boat and the momentum is gone now. I keep fucking letting that happen and it’s infuriating. Part of it is that so many of the ideas that I have for that particular story come from other stories I’d like to tell someday, and the overlap bothers me. I’m learning more and more how anal I am about this stuff recently, and beginning to think that there might be more to it than just being anal. I wonder if maybe I have incredibly mild OCD, because while it doesn’t necessarily stop me from functioning, it certainly keeps popping up, and has been this way since I was very young. Hence spending a fucking week revising a class that I will probably never play, even in its official form.

But that’s something I’d like to do: actually find a D&D game to join, or even start one myself. The main issue there is having access to the core rulebooks, which are fucking expensive; yes there are basic versions you can get for free as PDFs and trust me I have those, but I want something more than a trial account, especially if I’m going to be bringing other people into a game that I’m running. But it could be a lot of fun, with the right people. I don’t know who those are, partly because I just generally don’t know a lot of people, or at least don’t know them very well. But it’s an idea that I like a lot, and hopefully will pursue in the near future.

As for the werewolf novel – and all other novels – I really do need to just get away from my distractions for a while. A long while. I’m on my third fucking rewatch of Critical Role, and much as I love it I’m also aware that I’m not really watching it so much for fun as for company, and that’s quite obviously a plan that is never going to work out. And part of why I’ve been putting off my writing projects, much as I enjoy the idea of them, is that they’re also not doing anything to improve my social life. Which is not in and of itself a reason to not write them, but it’s always what I end up thinking when I think about finally getting around to working on them: what they’re not.

Still, better something than nothing, right? I’m going to be trying to hold onto that thought going forward from here; there’s no sense in depriving myself of something I find fulfilling just because it’s not some other thing that I also find fulfilling, and much harder to come by. I’m really wishing my parents had gotten me a therapist when I was 15, when all of this social anxiety crap started. I doubt we could have actually afforded one, but if we could have it might have helped.

Well, too late for that now. This shitty novel is almost finished, and I need to go for a walk after at least a week of not going for walks. I do have some things to do. I should go do them. No more missing out.

So sayeth the Ubermensch! I need to get more mileage out of this stupid gimmick that only I care about. It’s kinda fun.

 

Belaboured Fruits

I have written the first draft of an MA and almost a full novel in the space of 13 months.

I was made aware that this was, in fact, something that I had done when I went out to dinner with a friend. It still hasn’t sunk in; I still don’t feel like “that guy”, the guy who can Do Everything At Once without breaking a sweat. I still see myself as the WOW-playing procrastination champion of the world, where the world is my bedroom and it may as well be to me because I hardly ever leave it; I don’t Get Things Done. But apparently this self-deprecating perception I have of myself is, if not wrong, at least incomplete. Because while I certainly do play WOW and procrastinate, apparently I have also written the first draft of an MA and almost a full novel in the space of 13 months.

That’s … I should be appreciating that fact more.

A lot more.

I hate these kinds of revelations. They come with the kinds of angst that #firstworldproblems are made of, such as “the only reason I’m doing an MA is because I just don’t know what to do with my life and have no sense of purpose, is there anyone in the whole world more pathetic than me, yeah I didn’t think so either”.

In order to be doing an MA you need pretty fucking good grades; you get pretty fucking good grades by demonstrating a pretty fucking good understanding of relevant knowledge within your field of study; and you demonstrate a pretty fucking good understanding of relevant knowledge in your field by DOING WORK.

Also, you need to BE AT UNIVERSITY.

I study – and now also teach – at a WORLD-RANKED UNIVERSITY where I have DONE ENOUGH WORK to warrant my doing a FUCKING MASTERS DEGREE, as well as having written almost TWO ENTIRE FUCKING NOVELS OVER THE COURSE OF MY STUDIES TO THIS POINT, and I LITERALLY DON’T BELIEVE IT. What is WRONG WITH MY BRAIN.

No but I know what’s wrong with my brain, and that’s the really frustrating part for me. I’m hard-wired to focus exclusively on the negative, to the point where recognition of positive experiences instantly evaporates upon making contact with my cerebral cortex, the data fried by the energy it takes to create synaptic links that would, in a less poorly-constructed cerebrum, create a memory. Not only can I not remember positive things that I’ve done or that have happened to me, but I over-remember bad things, which are sometimes events that I actually have reason to feel shitty about, but are also equally random self-hating mind-rants that have no basis in reality yet still manage to take memorisation priority over actual events in my life.

Basically, not only am I super fucking privileged, but I’m also so psychologically damaged that I can’t even enjoy the fun stuff that comes with it. I can, however, feel guilty about it and continue to hate myself, thus perpetuating the problem that I am currently facing, so that’s something.

But no! The Ubermensch does not fall prey to such petty things as basic psychology and brain patterns. The Ubermensch will Ubercome!

That sounds wrong! I mean like overcome, because “uber” means “over”! I think!

The Ubermensch has spoken!

So what I’m going to do in order to drill out this mental plaque that is preventing me from feeling like the badass I apparently am: finish that fucking shitty YA werewolf novel, because goddammit it has long outlived its usefulness as a fun, frivolous writing exercise and it’s time for me to get with the times – the project has changed, and I need to change with it. I will give it a second purpose: to be the second novel I’ve finished in the past 3 years. Obviously this isn’t counting revisions – but, on the note of completing novels …

November isn’t too far away.

It’s kind of scary how fast this year has gone by. I think the same thing every year, but this one seems to have been especially brief.

I don’t want to still be writing this shitty YA werewolf novel come Nanowrimo.

I want something new to work on. And I think that something new is only going to come to me once I have put this shitty YA werewolf novel to bed. I might do a brief revision, but this isn’t going to be a Serious Project, because it was never meant to be. Although having said that, it has taught me a lot just by virtue of it taking so damn long to write. The obvious lesson, which I learnt very early on, is that novelty wears off really fast, and that this kind of writing exercise is awesome if you can get it done quickly. The second lesson comes from the fact that, despite allowing myself to use whatever ideas worked, no matter how problematic or cliche (which are often virtually synonymous), so long as it made the story “feel like a story” … half the time I have spent writing this novel has been putting off these last 2 chapters, because they suck. They don’t even have the twistedly seductive allure of being problematic-yet-effective-from-a-formalist-perspective storytelling; they’re flat and dull and just fucking blow. The lesson is that “cliche” is not, in fact, a synonym for “easy” when it comes to writing, and I’m glad I learnt it. As Jim Carrey once said, you can still fail at something you hate, so you may as well try to succeed at something you love. He also said that vaccines cause autism, or probably has since he’s an anti-vaxxer, goddammit Jim why.

Anyway. I gotta do this just to put more evidence on the board; my plan of gauging my personal achievements/progress in my self-project on a week-by-week basis rather than moment-by-moment is actually kinda working as well, so this seems like a good next point to put on the board. I sometimes wonder what this blog would be like if it wasn’t for my mental health, or lack thereof, colouring my attempts to get shit done. And my conclusion is that I would really rather like to find out.

Here goes.

 

Stupid logic always ruining everything

I DON’T WANT TO SEND MY DEEPLY TROUBLED MAIN CHARACTER TO THE FUCKING SCHOOL COUNSELOR TO TALK ABOUT HER GODDAMN PROBLEMS THAT’S NOT ANGSTY ENOUGH

There’s this notion that us writers can write ourselves into a corner. We can set things up for ourselves in such a way that there is only one way out, and the implication is that it’s a way out that we don’t want to take. I find myself in this situation right now, and because I’ve spent all day waiting to be able to play the Heroes of the Storm alpha only to find that it’s undergoing extended maintenance and probably won’t be available until tomorrow and have therefore gotten precisely fuck all work of any kind done, it is a corner that I very much want to write my way out of, right the hell now.

Now, there is a very simple way to avoid this cul-de-sac where writing enthusiasm comes to die: write something else. See, this corner that I’ve written myself into is not set in stone. It’s made out of thoughts and words, not physical matter. I can turn it into a highway, or a meadow, or a fucking swing-set if I so desire. In every important sense of the word, there is literally no problem here.

Except.

Except for the fact that, as somebody who is a stickler for “realism” … certain things have to happen.

And because of that, this corner that I’ve written myself into is, in fact, unavoidable.

Unless I stop caring about realism.

This was actually something I got excited about a few days ago; I felt actual EXCITEMENT at the merest NOTION that I could potentially not give a fuck about what makes sense in real life and instead use story-logic to solve my problems. The giddiness that almost swept me away at that prospect was really quite delightful. And now it’s gone, because I am a miserable perfectionist and I really wish I was not right now.

But okay. Self-awareness time. I mean that’s our thing as human beings, right? Self-reflexivity and shit? Surely if I know what the problem is, I can work out the solution to it.

Surely if I know that I’m in a corner, I can leave it.

But is there any choice in where I end up?

When I started re-reading Twilight this year, and then stopped soon afterwards, two things struck me at once. The first was that Bella had depression and possibly social anxiety.

The second was that Stephanie Meyer was not aware of this.

Other than suddenly feeling very concerned for Stephanie Meyer, I really did not like that there was this very obviously mentally ill young woman on the page who was not getting the help that she needed from the story that she was the central focus of (thus I was also prepared to be very angry with Stephanie Meyer). Mental illness is something that our society is still really shit at helping people cope with in a healthy, safe and respectful way, because our society is not healthy, safe or respectful in many ways that it desperately needs to be. The last thing that I want is to perpetuate this toxic ignorance in my own works, especially as somebody who at least had and possibly still has depression and at least mild social anxiety (hence why I identified what Bella was going through, even if Stephanie Meyer didn’t), and I can’t help but think that if Bella had gone and talked to a counselor …

What am I even thinking. No mere trained mental health professional could ever understand why a nondescript 16-year-old white girl, whose parents are separated and has just moved to a new town to live with her father while her mother goes on a baseball tour with her stepfather, feels the way she does. How could I be so crass as to even suggest such a thing.

*cough*

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a positive depiction of a counselor in a film or book; I’m sure they’re out there, but I have yet to see one. The closest you generally get is the Wise Old Mentor character. Dumbledore was a pretty blatant example of this, with each book save the final two ending with what I came to call the “post-traumatic-chat-with-Dumbledore”. Dumbledore then turned out to be a manipulative utilitarian asshole, so once again the counselor character fails. And that’s only assuming that the Wise Old Mentor is anything like a good substitute for an actual counselor, which they aren’t. It’s a parallel at best.

Because here’s the thing: getting an answer to your problems is not exciting, not by conventional narrative wisdom anyway. You gotta have tension, drama conflict. I think that’s probably why so many counselor/therapist characters end up being useless in mainstream media: the people who are creating these stories aren’t trying to be true to life, but true to the agreed-upon rules of storytelling. It’s cheap and lazy, as far as I’m concerned, but I do get the logic behind it, assuming that “logic” here means “doing what you’ve been told you’re supposed to do”.

It seems as though, if you’re going to write about mental illness at all, the corner is written for you already, and it’s only a matter of time before you end up in it. And as far as I can see, there only seem to be two ways out of it:

  1. Have the counselor be dysfunctional in some way (for a particularly chilling example, see Dressed to Kill or play Alice: Madness Returns) to create drama
  2. Have all problems solved and lose all stakes

That seems to be the dichotomy that storytellers feel they are faced with when attempting to incorporate these kinds of issues into their work.

Here’s the thing, though: actually seeing a counselor is anything but a magical solution to your problems. It’s a whole story in and of itself. It’s probably the most Hero’s Journey scenario you will ever enter into in real life: you come from the Ordinary World (your life before seeing a counselor), get a Call to Adventure (making an appointment), and perhaps you end things there and never see the counselor again (a lot of people know that there’s help out there but simply don’t want to seek it out, often because of the ridiculous social stigma around even admitting to having mental health issues, let alone seeking help for them) – but if you do go back, then it’s straight up crossing of Thresholds and confronting Gatekeepers (working through and confronting your issues) and finding the Elixir (hopefully – this is the part where your counselor helps to identify what’s bothering you and what steps you can take to make things easier for yourself); and after that you’ve still got to go back to the Ordinary World, taking the Elixir with you while you are Pursued on the Road (to recovery, in this case), and then sharing that Eilxir with the world, changing it forever (putting what you’ve learnt into practice). “Getting help” is not synonymous with “solving all of your problems effortlessly”, especially in the case of dealing with something like depression. Because quite often, people see multiple counselors, or see the same counselor over a long period of time; people relapse or find themselves stuck in different ways – life is messy, and some solutions are not permanent. Many are on-going. If that’s not enough drama for a story, I don’t know what is.

So by this logic, Twilight could have had a counselor character in it who just came in much later because Bella didn’t want to accept that she had a problem that needed looking at in that context – maybe they could have been a sort of less awful Van Helsing kinda person, if we’re going with the Wise Old mentor archetype – and still kept the story moving. In fact it might have made the story move quite a lot more if that were to happen.

And okay, there’s one instance of showing that there’s far more than one way out of the corners we can write ourselves into; that’s good, yes? I can now apply this insight to my own writing and proceed with renewed confidence because I have seen that I am not locked-in to just one outcome, right? That’s what’s happened?

Is that what’s happened?

It’s not, is it?

Dammit, brain!

It’s been an ambition of mine to be less of a perfecitonist; I seem to sort of yo-yo on that front, sometimes able to suspend my pedantic fastidiousness and still enjoy what I’m doing, other times paralysed by unappealing choices that seem like the only “right” way to proceed.

It’s infuriating. But I’m sure, eventually, I’ll think of something. It may mean coming up with new stuff. Maybe I’m okay with it. I mean I was pretty excited for that a week ago.

It’s just that, if I’m going to do that, I may as well just write an entirely different story.

Maybe I should just write an entirely different story.

UGH fuck this shit I’m going to bed.

Filler update thing

I’ve been working on a blog post for two days, not including the week or so I spent on it back in April/May. It regards the issue of authenticity in writing characters – I talked about the moral and ethical side of things in this post, and from there I started thinking about the technical side of things, as well as the conceptual side, issues of subjectivity and objectivity, and the relationship between what’s authentic and what’s real.

However, it is currently 4:01 a.m. and, after two days, this post is still not ready to go. It’s definitely too long, but I have a lot to say. A lot of it, I realised, was pretty offensive, so part of why this is taking so long is because it’s taking me a long time to work through the process of checking my privilege, as it were. The rest of it is my general lack of planning, or rather my inability to stick to a plan. I just follow whatever train of thought pulls in to the station, and while that certainly takes me places, it’s harder to find my way back.

Also I haven’t even finished reading chapter 2 of Tallulah, which I have like five days left to do before uni starts, and I discover once and for all whether I’m cut out for Honours – at least Honours in arts. I’m not sure if I want to be. I kind of feel like if it wasn’t for the tight time-frame I might have decided to go back to psych and get into counseling, but it’s way too late for that now. I just think that if I need something to fall back on if writing doesn’t work out – and let’s be real, up ’til now I still have never been paid to write, unless you count my ever-growing student loan – then I want to be able to do something that I find meaningful, and helping people with problems that there’s still a considerable cultural stigma around even recognising as problems to begin with seems like a pretty good way to go.

So now on top of worrying that I’ll end up sabotaging myself at Honours because it’s not what I really want and leaving myself with no option but to try and deal with my lingering depression and social anxiety to find a job, not getting any work done on Tallulah and just generally having no fucking clue what to do with my life, I have this stupid goddamn authenticity post to draft.

But what else would I do? This is what I want to do. I want to write about this stuff; and I want to write my stories, and I want to make movies, and music, and teach myself to draw, and get fit, and help people. If I want to do all of that, then I have to actually do it. So, may as well do it now.

And now to go to sleep, or at least bed, before I sound like any more of a broken record than I do already.

Facing reality

It’s a pun. It’s also not a pun.

FEAR THE POWER OF THE WRITER.

*ahem*

I am currently making progress with this essay that should have been finished about five days ago, progress that has required pushing through shame and nausea in order to make anything happen. Momentum has occurred, and the only reason I am pausing to write this post is for the sake of my mental health.

This semester has gone horribly.

Not because of my grades, because they have been some of the best I’ve ever had, which is very frustrating, as it’s also been my lowest-attendance semester ever. It’s been horrible because I failed to achieve the goal I set out for myself of keeping on top of things, which basically meant keeping up with weekly readings and viewings, as well as following through with the attitude towards assignments of “just hand something in”, as opposed to fretting over how I could (or couldn’t) make it perfect, and thus circumventing my ongoing and rapidly increasing trend of handing in assignments late (which is another reason this semester has gone horribly). If the grades are good – and by and large they are, excepting my grades for the paper I’m writing this current essay for – then all that’s really left to complain about is what I’ve taken away from this semester in terms of personal development and/or reflection, and I honestly don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know where the responsibility lies. I don’t know if it’s my anxiety crippling me or my failing to challenge my habituated laziness that has led to my abysmal attendance and deadline-meeting this semester, and while I am somebody who can just choose not to care – a skill I spent a fair amount of time perfecting, also for mental health reasons – I don’t want to not care. I want it to be important to me that I get things done when it is my intention to get them done, and I want that importance to hold me to task.

Overall it’s been a very confronting semester, and I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit back and reflect, to face that confrontation and really absorb it. I don’t like this direction I’m heading in; I know at least that much. The ability to persevere in shitty circumstances (like the one I’m currently in) is a good one, no doubt, but the ability to, like, avoid said shitty circumstances – as much as is within my power anyway – is also good. And that’s the one I’m lacking in, or it feels like I’m lacking in, and again it’s frustrating not knowing how much of it is in my control and how much isn’t. And there was the stress of moving house all throughout the semester, and the fact that my shiny new laptop didn’t (and still doesn’t) quite work properly, and my ambivalence about going to see a counselor to handle these various stressors all throughout the semester tied up in notions of self-worth and personal growth – none of that helped, and to some extent none of it could be helped. But I still know I could have done better this semester, easily. Maybe not a lot better, but some degree of better, and it may have been enough to avoid my current predicament of having a late final essay to finish tonight, and then three essays all due tomorrow (and one overdue, because writing this essay has meant not writing the one that was actually due today), and a general bitter taste in my mouth with the sense of how I’ve let myself down.

And it’s also keeping me from doing the things I actually want to do, like finishing Ni No Kuni, an awesome JRPG with animation from Studio Ghibli and music by Joe Hisaishi; getting a bike and starting to get back into exercising regularly; finding time to draw and learn guitar and experiment with YouTube and maybe dancing; reading copious amounts of YA novels to satisfy my morbid fascination with problematic teen romances – and writing my own fucking goddamn novel. That was another missed goal this semester: finding time to revise while studying. To be fair, it went a lot better than it did last semester. There was improvement on that front, so I guess I have to take that for what it is – improvement. Not as much as I wanted, but improvement nonetheless.

And focusing on improving as a writer. I talked about that a little while ago and never really went any further than that. Yesterday I was having lunch with my best friend and the issue of faces came up – she was asking about this woman in one of my tutorials and I was trying to describe what she looked like – and it brought home to me the fact that I feel really uncomfortable describing people’s faces. When it comes to faces, I feel like I have to be really literal; I can’t just give a general impression, because that wouldn’t be perfectly, totally, completely accurate. No, with me it has to be clinically exact, and I don’t know why. I guess my perfectionism isn’t only limited to assignments.

I’m great with landscapes, with moods, with internal monologue and simile. I’m good with body language, speech patterns, tics and revelations. Hell, give me random objects and I’ll infuse them with more meaning than they deserve, just because I can. But give me faces (or clothes, actually) and I’m reduced to a blubbering Frankenstein, tormented by my inability to perfectly articulate the exact literalness of every specific detail, because for some reason that’s what I think matters.

I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. It’s just fucking annoying.

I’d better finish this essay.