“Detox Day” 1/2

It went pretty well, actually.

I did not end up turning off my laptop, sadly, but there are just not many places in the house where I can both focus and have all my stuff ready to hand. Also didn’t get any drawing done, which is a shame.

However, I got a lot of important stuff done, so I don’t think it was a huge failure or anything. In fact, I’d call it a very well-needed and long overdue step in the right direction, and one that I do think I can keep up going forward. This is what I want my “day on” to look like when I take it, and I do think I need to actually have a proper weekend for it, not just one day. Make my weekends a little bit of a workshop for recreation and soul-searching.

Because I like soul-searching. I used to do a lot more of it, in my teen years; true, I also had a lot of horribly toxic habits in my teen years and the amount of introspection I did only served to make them more malignant in a lot of cases, but I’m past a lot of that shit now, and this is less introspection than it is data-collection and analysis. I identified some really key things, most of which I already “knew” but, let me tell ya, it makes a difference to actually sit down and work through it on paper:

  • I gravitate towards ideas that put a twist on some kind of established status quo, whether that is an external status quo like the tropes of a genre, or an internal status quo like my own tastes
  • I get excited when an idea answers an unasked but obvious question (for instance, in UF: why the “masquerade”?), generally in a way that does not reinforce the status quo (it is kind of stupid, how about we just get rid of it) (it’s not an original concept but you get the idea)
  • I get discouraged when things don’t immediately look/feel the way I want them to (often not having done enough research to make the world/characters/situations feel “authentic”)
  • Restrictions are great but also suck (can foster creativity, but can also make it feel like I’m obligated to include certain things that just don’t matter to me for the sake of things “making sense”)
  • I am a huge perfectionist and it needs to stop

Those are the main ones I’m taking away from my results so far; this will be an ongoing process because I can tell I’m only scratching the surface. It’s also ended up killing several birds with one stone, because in doing this I’ve (obviously) gone back and revisited some of my old ideas, like I wanted to a week or two ago, and lo and behold I actually do want to go back to them – especially after seeing that my reasons for not following through with them are almost unbelievably inane and pedantic. Pedantry, it seems, is my Achilles’ Heel.

And there are patterns, and that’s great. I am interested in what works, but also really interested in what doesn’t work, and what doesn’t work for me seems to be the aforementioned lack of immediate gratification, but the perfectionism thing – it’s just so weird. Like, I’ll have the idea, and it’ll be a pretty clear idea, and then once I start thinking about doing it “for real” my parameters shift suddenly, and instead of it being about me doing this cool thing I thought of it’s about “getting it right”, not for me but for some other consideration that comes up only after I’ve started, which sucks all the life out of it.

Basically, I shift my own goalposts, and if you’ve ever had that done to you by somebody else you know how shitty that is, so imagine how shitty it is to discover that you’ve been doing it to yourself for years as well. Of all the things I’ve identified about my process today, this is probably the most significant: I sabotage myself, constantly, by shifting the goalpost in terms of what I am trying to get done.

There’s obvious merit to the idea of adapting your plans if you have new information that changes the context of those plans, but for me there really hasn’t been that. It’s just been my own bad, unhealthy, self-hating habits, not allowing myself to follow through in the ways that I want once I get started, basically giving myself false advertising. “Hey, here’s a cool idea you can work on!” “really? yay, let me devote time to doing it!” “great, now that you’re here you’re actually going to do this other thing, because really the first thing was stupid don’t you think it was stupid, and also made you a bad person?” “I mean, I don’t want to be a bad person, but that really makes me not want to do this anymore” “that’s okay, it just means you’ll be a failure for life and never accomplish anything because of your lack of discipline and deserve to die of shame!”

It’s actually really gross, and I had no idea how gross it was, the way I’ve been treating myself all these years, until right now. So yes, today has been a good, valuable, health-improving day. In short, the lesson I have learnt is that I need to be aware of the way in which I kill my own momentum by insisting that what I do is dictated by some kind of arbitrary “need”, instead of the initial “want” that got me all excited to do it in the first place. And I need to stick with that “want”, commit to it, do right by it, in the hopes that, in time, my perfectionist goal-shifting inner demons will shrivel up and die from lack of sustenance – or that I’ll just get good at ignoring them.

And on that note, I have a few old projects that I want to start getting back to. As for drawing – that’s why I need a weekend, I have decided. I want a nice, cosy stretch of time to get all my shit done, and one day is not enough for that. A Weekend On. That sounds good. If it’s anything like today has been, it will be.

And it was enough of a detox to make me feel a lot better, rejuvenated and refreshed, even with the laptop. But I am looking forward to trying it without the laptop next weekend. It will be good.

So sayeth the Ubermensch! (yes, that is coming back)

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Other responsibilities

The plan is still in motion – or, well, it’s in place to be in motion. I had to watch Garden State for my upcoming research essay today though, and that took a lot out of me. I understand it very differently to how I did when I was 17, which is very fucking relieving, and I appreciate the good bits a lot more while loathing the bad bits all the more in proportion.

In order to cleanse my palette, I watched a bunch of my old Dragon Ball Z AMVs, made between the ages of 14-20. Every time I watch them, I try to re-inhabit the way I felt and thought right around the end of that phase, because it was liberated and exciting and I felt really authentic. Mind you I was also prone to bursting into tears and literally terrified to go into the city or out in public in general for fear I was going to run into Wickham, but you win some you lose some. I try to recapture the high highs, and even though I don’t really think about it like this at the time, if I had to take the low lows in order to get them back, I’d take the whole package.

Maybe.

Actually probably not.

And the feeling has never come back to me, maybe because I’m trying too hard to get it back or some other zen “you’ll only get it when you don’t want it” crap. Which does seem to be true, which is super-frustrating when you currently want stuff and don’t know how to turn it off.

What I did manage to recapture tonight, though, was the sense that I had the time to do these indulgently creative things – that I wanted to fill my time with doing not just any old thing, but this very specific, creative stuff. I was on such a high when I was 20 after parting ways with Wickham that I even looked forward to doing household fucking chores. I think I probably need to develop more respect for the fact that this high came from one of the most stressful and paradigm-shifting events in my life and accept that, without that kind of tremendous emotional impetus, the high isn’t going to come and shouldn’t come, because it won’t be healthy. But on the other hand, I got a little bit of it back right now. And it comes from not knowing what comes next.

And I’ve been trying to get that feeling back ever since I finished my last day of undergrad study. It was intoxicating, the sense of openness, feeling like I’d reconnected with the time-stream and had become a tangible being once more, rather than one whose existence had been spoken for by his schedule. What I now feel acutely aware of at 1:40 a.m. is that this division between having a schedule to fill out your destiny for you and having the freedom of “what now” that comes with having no schedule is something that I’ve kept alive, not something natural or automatic that happens without my participation.

I could continue to buy into my schedule, my responsibilities, the idea that they’ve taken up my entire life and now speak for my every waking moment from here unto infinity.

Or I could just do shit, and get used to the idea that, even if I know what happens next …

Well, I don’t know what happens next. You never can.

I could be homeless tomorrow; I could win the lottery. I could have a brilliant idea that needs to be marketed at once and make millions (I actually did have a decent idea a couple of days ago that I’m semi-seriously trying to think of how to actualise, so more on that if anything ever comes of it); I could break my leg; I could remember a long-forgotten life event that abruptly and significantly changes my outlook on life forever. I could get retrograde amnesia and have the chance/be forced to start over afresh (a morbid fantasy I’ve had more than once). I could discover that all the toxic habits I’ve developed over the course of my life have mysteriously evaporated into nothing, that my depression and anxiety have finally clocked out and I’ve got myself back.

I could do anything, and anything could happen to me. It’s usually too big of a concept to be very comforting, but tonight/this morning, I’m down with it. I’m feeling it right now. I’m not going to complain.

I have other responsibilities other than those that I’ve been leaning on as they shove me ever-forwards along the pre-determined track of my schedule, my life plan that I’m not really cool with.

And I think that’s because I’m not cool with a life plan in general. I mean why bother? Unless it comforts you, and it doesn’t comfort me. Much as I want to be a published author, I actually don’t like the idea that it’s a plan that I have to become a writer. Because maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll end up as a lecturer, or a martial arts instructor, or a doctor, or a filmmaker, or a YouTube celebrity, or a silicon valley billionaire. I do have a dream, but it’s a waking dream, and I don’t want to cling onto it so tightly that any other dreams I might have can never have any air.

This is more than just wanting to do things that I want to do instead of things I feel I have to do; this is realising that the things I want to do may well change, and that would be okay. It would be okay if I didn’t end up achieving my present dreams and goals. Because fuck it, I’m just a person. There’s a lot that I don’t know, and a lot that I haven’t considered, and a lot of that can be attributed to just trying to ride out my schedule of pre-assigned tasks and responsibilities. I’m definitely not going to let uni stuff slide. On the contrary: I actually feel more enthusiastic about doing it now than I did an hour ago. Because it’s something to do, something to fill up my life with, rather than be dragged along behind whether I like it or not.

Maybe it’s just that, the sense of control, knowing that unless I do these things they won’t get done at all, and that that’s more powerful than whether I’m obligated to do them or not. But even if that’s all it is, it’s getting me enthusiastic about life.

And after watching Garden State and having gone two days without revising and still silently freaking out about everything, I really needed this.

It’s not what I felt when I was 20. It doesn’t feel quite that momentous.

But it’s still doing the job.

I think that’s the important thing, in the end.

Tribute

I’m still not really over City of Bones. The second time around I just couldn’t help picking at the holes in it, but that first impression has stayed with me. It woke something in me, a memory of how much I used to love these kinds of stories – but more than that, how much I used to want to tell these kinds of stories.

The kinds of stories that other people were already telling.

That sounds really, well, lazy, doesn’t it? But it’s exciting. It’s exciting to have all of these tools at your disposal and this formula to work with, and there’s a sort giddiness that comes with each ‘and then that bit goes there’ moment. Know how it’s supposed to look, and being able to make it look that way yourself.

And then there’s the really fun part, where you take it and just make it better.

I remember – or I think I remember – being about 12 years old and just being really honestly aware of how mature I was. It happened again when I was around 18; it only lasted for about a day, but it still happened. It’s the sense that you know who you are, what your limits of understanding are and what those of the people around you are. It’s not a sense of superiority or anything, just of honest awareness – yep, I’m more advanced than this person, while that person has some things over me, but then I’m particularly good at these things and don’t know much about this other stuff, so on and so forth. It’s that kind of feeling that comes from taking a recognisable story structure and laying it out the way you know it’s meant to go, and then taking each key moment of storytelling, each structural narrative node, and using those walls to bounce off of like a rubber ball on crack.

It’s taking those to-the-letter letters and making them spell things more articulately, more excitingly, more originally – just more betterly than they’ve ever been before you came along.

Okay, so it’s a bit of a sense of superiority. But it’s the kind of superiority that can only come from being a true fan of something.

I guess the other half of this equation is not being afraid to rip things off, and use them for your own purposes.

Which is good. Very good. That’s necessary to tell a story anyway. Well, no, it’s probably not, but I can’t imagine the kind of story that would come about through a totally isolated process – and perhaps that’s why I borrow so much from other stories. I just now remember how much fun it is.

It’s the whole fan fiction thing, only the aim of this process is not to literally take somebody else’s story and tell it better; it’s to take the way in which that story was told, and others, and put them together, and then make that better. A mixture of one-upmanship and paying tribute, finding a way to outdo the things that inspire you, because they inspire you. Not to show them up, just to improve on the formula.

And you can’t do it this way, there’s nothing to enjoy about this process, without there having been somebody telling a story before you did. A story that meant something to you, that stayed with you, and that you told to yourself over and over again even if you never physically came back to it. A story you’re glad to have had in your life, and that makes you want to find more stories that make you feel the same way. That’s the real beauty of it, the thing that makes it feel so exciting, because it feels interactive. You’re not just consuming the stories that come to you from the minds of others; you’re taking those stories and using them to tell new ones, ones that come from you. It’s the kind of process that leads to terms like ‘prosumer’, a combination of ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’, that we tend to associate with New Media technologies. But it’s been around for … well, I imagine as long as there have been things to copy, really.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here.

I think it’s something like: I’m really enjoying writing this new YA romance/action/comedy/thriller/horror/sci-fi novel, and I’m so happy that I saw City of Bones and had this specific kind of enjoyment reawakened in me. One that loves to take existing story structures and, through copying them, finding a way to apply them that feels better than what they were when I first found them.

It is kind of prideful. But as Gary Oldman said of acting: ‘You’ve got to have a bit of an ego to do this in the first place’. You’ve got to think you’re good, which doesn’t necessarily mean ‘talented’ or ‘hard-working’ or ‘committed’ – it just means you’ve got to think that you’re going to not just do a good job, but a better one than what you’ve seen done before you. To focus in on those moments that you know have to happen and simultaneously expand on them, make them really come to life in ways you only saw in the form of raw potential, a potential that you have to act on.

So. How do you tell if you think you’re good?

Well, if you’re telling stories because you enjoy it, then somewhere deep down – or even not so deep down – you think you’re good, because otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it at all.

And as such, you should keep right on thinking that.