A Writer Writes

Except for when they don’t.

TWENTY THINGS I DID LAST MONTH INSTEAD OF WRITING

I’ve often said that even when I’m not writing things on paper or online, I’m still actively a writer because I am concocting stories in my head. It’s always been part of my process to mull things over for a while (sometimes a very long while) in the safety of my mind before I birth them fully-formed onto the page.

But in June I didn’t write. Not even in secrecy behind the shroud of my subconscious. I was a blank slate. And my feelings about this alternated between apathy and frustration. But mostly apathy, if I’m honest. I became rather resigned to it.

What I did instead:

1. I moved downtown. I made a bit of a disastrous decision to move out of town last year, for all the right reasons. It didn’t stick. Luckily it was fixable, but not without considerable upheaval for my loved ones. It helps that we moved to one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods ever.

2. I unpacked. In like, 48 hours. I really like our new place and I couldn’t wait to feel settled after feeling out-of-place for so long.

Leading up to our move, I had rapidly devolved into a useless lump who crawled into bed and refused to come out. I barely packed. I barely did anything. Some of this was due to physical pain, but I think it was mostly emotional. The stress of having to move and pack became this insurmountable challenge and each time I tried to fight inertia, I had a meltdown. If this infuriated my husband, he didn’t show it. I think he was just really, really concerned I was having (another) nervous breakdown. Or possibly was too busy packing to properly have time to deal with his own feelings of frustration. Either way, it wasn’t exactly a good time for either of us.

But then, with moving done, I unpacked everything. My stuff, everyone else’s stuff, all the stuff. And it was a relief. I still don’t feel perfectly settled, because there remains some art at our old house that needs to come over, but I feel more… me.

3. I stopped taking my bipolar meds.

MarketFoodMedley

4. I bought fresh produce. One of the best parts of living less than 10 minutes’ walk to a historic marketplace. Truly. I don’t even know whether the quality of the food is better… but the experience is lovely. I like strolling along outside in the open air and the fact that there are different choices every week. Grocery shopping usually bores me. This doesn’t.5. I thought about drinking.

6. I baked a lot of bread. I’ve owned a breadmaker for many years, but it had been stored away, unused for a long while. I dug it out and tried to get back in the groove of things, with initially disastrous results. First I used the wrong kind of yeast (which was a rookie mistake, and made me feel pretty stupid). Then I followed my old favourite recipe and the bread didn’t mix properly. Then I followed the same recipe, but added some water to the mix and mixed it by hand. That worked, but the bread was edible but not amazing and I was still frustrated at having to hand mix something that was supposed to be an automated process. I then tried adding a bit more water from the beginning and bingo! It finally worked. And was delicious.

The whole process annoyed the hell out of me, because my memories of making bread previously were that I was flawless at it, and I had very little tolerance for my newly discovered failures. It probably helped that my husband insisted that it was all delicious, and kept eating it… even the bits that I wanted to throw out.

7. I argued with people on Facebook. And Huffington Post. And the Ottawa Citizen. Less so face-to face.

8. I struggled with arthritis pain.

9. I bought a bench for the shower so a) I can sit down when I’m too weak to stand, and b) I don’t fall over and break my bones.

9. I craved tequila and Coke.

compotecollage

10. I made compote. I cannot explain the unreasonably huge feeling of accomplishment I experienced over this mundane achievement. Maybe it’s because it is the closest I have ever come to making jam on my own. Maybe it’s because I discovered a jam substitute which I can make without added sugar (something I’m supposed to care about as a diabetic, but usually fail at). Husband and child also loved it, which probably had something to do with said feeling. I mean, I would have gladly eaten it all myself, but I am a recognition junkie. Apparently.11. I started losing vision in my left eye. First I started seeing a lot of spots in both eyes. Then one night after being out with friends, I came home and suddenly found myself with a blurry splotch in my field of vision on the left side of my left eye. It would make sense, given my various immune disorders, that this was optic neuritis, or retinal detachment, or any number of things. I have since been to the ER and to an ophthalmologist, but they can’t find anything physically wrong. I have been referred for more tests.

12. I shaved my head. Not the whole thing, just the sides. Arthritis in my shoulders is making it harder to deal with styling my hair and I am rapidly getting more and more impatient with hair brushing against my face and neck. I also made the decision a while back to stop dyeing my hair and the whole process of ‘waiting’ for my grey to come in is going entirely too slowly.

13. Two weeks later, I cut most of the rest of my hair off, too.

bakingcollage14. I baked all the things.

15. I saw a bunch of plays at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. No acting for me this year, but I volunteered for a few shifts with my husband. With my physical health being so unpredictable, this was a scary commitment, but having him do it with me helped make it go fairly smoothly. I had to use my cane a lot, which always makes me feel self-conscious, but ultimately I enjoyed myself and it was good to be doing something theatre-related, (especially when my own acting future seems somewhat uncertain right now). Volunteering has its perqs (besides free theatre) and we also got free pizza from ZaZaZa and free poutine from Smoke’s Poutinerie. By the end of 10 days, I was exhausted, but well-fed.

16. I wondered if my eye problems were in my mind. The spots haven’t gone away. But they get better and worse. Maybe they’re in my imagination. Maybe they’re bipolar hallucinations. I don’t know what to do with that information.

17. I bought some brightly-coloured pillows for our black couch. I like them. They please me.

photo

18. I cooked a lot. I think I’ve always been a pretty good cook. But in the last few years my energy and ability to cook has been pretty erratic. Somehow the combination of fresh local ingredients and a gorgeous new kitchen has spurred me on to create. And perhaps create is the key word here — ever since my illness has made acting next-to-impossible (and with my ability to write on hiatus), I have really felt a rather excruciating loss of identity. Food has become my canvas. Which is great, really. I’m eating better. I’m feeding my family. I just worry that like most of my obsessions, this one will only last a few months before I completely lose interest again.

Or maybe it won’t. There is a constant stream of new and interesting ingredients flooding the market. At least until winter. Maybe then we’ll be back to tv dinners and takeout. I hope not.

19. I felt guilty for making everyone move. They’re happy to be here. They’ve said so. It’s a fantastic neighbourhood. We have had beautiful walks, eaten at great restaurants, met some lovely neighbours, watched fireworks on Canada Day (a 10 minute walk from the house!), and played games at the local board game lounge. But I still feel guilty.

20. I broke my toe. It hurt like hell. It still hurts on-and-off and is swollen and a sort of grey colour. Walking on it causes a purple bruise to spread on the underside of the toe and the top of my foot. It is remarkable how much one little toe can cause discomfort while walking. So I’ve been mostly stuck at home for the last few days. Whenever I venture out, it makes it worse. I try to sit with my feet up on the coffee table, but then it aches. I try to sit with it on the floor, but it aches.

So I gave up and crawled into bed.

And started writing.

/rk

(originally posted at http://medium.com/human-parts/a-writer-writes-except-for-when-they-dont-76a82f6c3331)

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Poems of Further Neglect

Well, I still can’t write.  Because reasons.  Lots of stuff stuck in my head.  But apathy.

Also, the upcoming move is kicking my ass.  Even though I’m not actually doing anything.  I kind of suspect that’s why I’m stuck in anhedonia-land.  It’s like some evil plot that mental illness likes to play: Need to get something done?  Tough!  Time to put on the brakes and completely paralyze and defeat you!  Whee!!!

Or rather: meh.

I feel like if I don’t post anything at all, I’ll completely lose momentum and also NO ONE WILL EVER READ ANYTHING I WRITE AGAIN.  Because melodrama.

So you get more poetry.  My poetry (sorry if you were hoping for something more clever).  These are from my book I Am Not These Things.  Which you can totally buy and I will be pennies richer.

~~

THE ACTRESS

There are times outside of the proscenium
When you, your tongue loosened by wine, and fire reflected in your eyes,
Become especially beautiful

Your laughter mirthful,
Alternating between throaty guffaws and the giddy giggles of guilty indulgence

You close space
And stop time

Spilling compliments and golden droplets of affection
To coat my palms And tuck into my heart’s back pocket

The waves of your hair, platinum mixed with straw
More often punished from view
Now resist constraint, twisted carelessly in a loose braid
Ready to swing away, unpartnered
Or perhaps only waiting for my fingers to cut in
And begin the dance

~~

BEAUTY

When you holler
Hey baby Hey baby
Looking good baby
Look over here, beautiful
Uh huh
Hey gorgeous

I get angry because
How do you know I’m beautiful
Just by looking at me

When you don’t even know me

~~

MOTHERS

I distinctly remember being much more mature for my age
When I was your age
And more respectful of my mother

Don’t believe your grandmother, though
Because she wasn’t nearly as understanding as I am
When she was my age
Back then

/rk

All My Best Friends Are Virtual

**UPDATE** This story was selected as an Editor’s Pick over at Medium.com

(‘Virtual Friend’ from the poetry collection I Am Not These Things)

Some say it’s impersonal
The web
But it doesn’t feel impersonal when someone says something nasty
And some of my best friends are in there
We share comfort while we share posts
Trade links instead of books
Touch base every day
From one website to the next
Different usernames, same us
We fight injustice
Battle wrong-thinkers
Those things we read in the comments
Were so awful, amirite?
Never read the comments
You should never read the comments
We always read the comments
Gosh I like you
We could meet up today
For coffee
But it’s so warm here
And the world is enormous outside
And much safer squeezed into my laptop
Where it can’t get out
Although
You seem down today
Can I ((hug)) your emoticon?
You need cats
Or a nice manatee

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Making (and keeping) friendships was always difficult for me as a child. And because of those early disasters, it took me a long time as an adult to really trust myself in social situations. What few friends I had in childhood and into my teen years, I mostly lost touch with once we went off to university and started our separate careers.

Making friends with co-workers was too complicated. Truthfully, I felt uncomfortable trying to mix social interactions with business because I found it difficult to know where to set boundaries, and to respect the boundaries of others. I’ve always been an all-or-nothing kind of person when it comes to social interaction: If I’m going to share, I’m going to overshare, and this is not the sort of thing that goes over well in a work situation. So aloof was easier, when I could manage it.

Somewhere around 2007, when I finally relented and joined Facebook (being in my mid-30s, Facebook seemed like a game for kids, and I honestly didn’t think it would hold any appeal), I was surprised by what a good fit it was for me. Not only did I end up rekindling old friendships, but I even ended up making new friends out of old acquaintances. And by that I mean — people who in our previous existence didn’t seem to have any interest in interacting with me now seemed to genuinely be interested in what I had to say.

virtual loveFacebook is often criticized as being a place for superficial friendships. For some people like myself though, social networking has proven to be a boon to my self-esteem and social health. There are certain hallmarks of having Asperger’s that make it difficult to connect by traditional means. Which is not to say I haven’t learned (finally) in my 40s that most adults are actually much more open to those who are neuroatypical than children are. Or maybe it’s simply that I’ve done a much better job in the last several years of aligning myself with others who share my perspective and are a motley crew of oddballs themselves (being part of the queer, poly, atheist and feminist communities helps: counterculture has at least one privilege: acceptance of the non-normative).

Here are my top six reasons why Facebook works for me as an autistic:

1.  Interacting Without Confrontation: No eye contact! Ever! Plus I can post about things I care about and even talk about them ad nauseam, and people don’t have to reply if they’re not interested. I don’t end up annoying people with my tendency to be self-centered or one-sided in my conversation style. I can’t interrupt anyone. Ultimately they don’t have to feign interest, and I don’t have to feel shitty when I realize I’m boring people.

2.  Oversharing is the New Normal: I am no longer the elephant in the room. When everyone else is sharing pictures of their kids, cats, dinner and discussing the minutiae of their day, my tendency to blurt out personal information fits right in.

3.  Facebook Friendships Have Lower Expectations: Comment on someone’s posts once a week, Like the occasional picture, and people are often satisfied. It’s rare that anyone gets in a huff over the fact that I’m a pretty neglectful friend who tends to be a bit limited in my ability to interact IRL. If they don’t find our interactions fulfilling, they de-friend me and I don’t really take it personally.

4.  I Don’t Lose Real Life Friendships: As per above, I can be a pretty shitty friend. I have a rather unexplainable aversion to the telephone, I don’t keep in touch via e-mail, and making regular plans tends to slip my mind. But I can follow people’s lives on Facebook, say complimentary things about their children, and share interesting tidbits from the web that I think will make them smile.

5.  People Get to Know the Real Me: It was illuminating to find out from people I’d known from high school that the reason we weren’t friends wasn’t because they didn’t like me, but rather because they thought I was shy/aloof/quiet/unapproachable/boring or any number of other things. After befriending people on Facebook and interacting I would get comments like “Wow! I never knew how smart/funny/clever/witty you are!” I don’t feel like I’m a different person, but it’s no doubt that the internet has let me operate from my default comfort zone: words on paper (er… screen).

6.  Emoticons: I feel like emoticons were invented for people with Asperger’s. Gone are the days of having to interpret the emotional intent of others. The internet is a level playing field and I’m no longer the only one who struggles for context. But more importantly, the risk of people misinterpreting what I say is greatly reduced. I tend to be very pragmatic in my delivery (which can occasionally make me seem very cold) and I also have a very sardonic sense of humour. Pop a smiley face on that sucker and we’re golden!

What I find most surprising about my experience with Facebook is actually how normal it has made me feel. I am not sure if it is just Facebook or the advance of social media as a whole: They have given voice to not just the misfits, but the misfit in everyone. Because of how open people have become with their lives and struggles on social platforms, there is no longer one single ideal of what normal is.

Facebook and social media are tearing down walls and challenging expectations. Gone are the cliques. Gone are the wallflowers. I’m not the elephant in the room; we’re all elephants.

/rk

Going to Extremes

I am an addict.

Managing my addictions is not quite as simple as managing my ‘drug of choice.’  I can turn anything into an addiction.  Drugs and alcohol?  Certainly.  Been there, done various kinds of that.  But I can turn anything into a drug.

It’s not an intentional thing, but I am vulnerable.  I am blessed with a genetic pre-disposition for both addiction and mania.  And even when I try to manage the known enemies — when I try to avoid excesses of drugs, alcohol, coffee, sugar — my brain has a way of filling that void.  Of turning interest into obsession.

Anything to turn up the charge.

I am never clear on whether it is the mania that grows from the obsession, or whether obsession breeds mania.  I only know that the second I become immersed in a thing and once it captures my undivided attention, there is no turning back.  I become consumed.  I cannot pace myself.  I can’t not do it.  Time away from that thing is an irritation and makes me anxious.

I do it with people.  I do it with activities and projects.  Until the inevitable day that I crash and burn.

Some of these episodes are short-lived, like the time I pulled an all-nighter in my early 20s determined to build a scale model of my boyfriend’s motorcycle for his birthday.

Others can go on for months:  What started out as a half-hour on my exercise bike a few times a week rapidly became spinning for 5 or 6 hours a night, anorexia and a 30-lb weight loss in the space of a few months.  And then there was the time I renovated a rental house from top to bottom, including ripping out all the carpets, tearing down wallpaper, refinishing the floors and ripping out the kitchen cupboards.  I was also rescuing, (hoarding) and refinishing furniture at the same time as part of what I imagined to be my way of making the world more beautiful and solving the landfill crisis.

I have done this with people too, and it’s one of the things that keeps me from forming close friendships.  Whether romantic or platonic, when that rush of adrenaline starts, I am prone to go to extremes.  I struggle to hold back my feelings.  I have made mix tapes, sent flowers, bought gifts and written long elaborate letters.  In my overzealous determination to get to know everything about the other person and drink them in, I can be (I imagine) quite intimidating.

And so I have to take care.  I have to take care not to take notice.  Not to over-examine.  I struggle to remain casual about things.  Not to check my weight on the scale.  To move, but not to exercise.  To be crap at housecleaning.  To let people take the lead in relationships.  To not keep lists.  Because focus becomes hyper-focus and it tips the scales into obsession and mania.  And mania can kill.

But.

There is always a but.

Writing is an obsession.  And it’s when it becomes obsession that I get results.  Where I suddenly have drive.

I don’t know how to resolve those two things.  

I know that mania is unhealthy.  I know that obsession breeds mania.  But the high that comes from writing is what keeps me going.  Writing gets me high.  Writing is the high.

And it’s more than that.  Writing at this point is both necessary and inevitable.  I have been writing for decades even when I wasn’t writing.  Even when I resisted putting my thoughts down on paper out of fear and some misguided deference to my journalist father, the words were still writing themselves in my head.

The obsession was still there.  It didn’t disappear or waver.  I wasn’t controlling anything by locking it inside.  The dam had to burst sometime.

So now I write, and play a dangerous (and dangerously satisfying) game of control — letting the stories out one-by-one, controlling the rate of flow, so none of us drown.

/rk

You Keep Using That Word

We asked for this, you know.  When they changed dictionaries to include ‘figuratively’ as an alternate meaning for literally we were basically asking for trouble.  Literally, even.

thatwordIt turns out religious conservatives were right all along:  It is a slippery slope.  And they’re leading the charge.

The number of words and phrases that are being twisted and misused lately would be humorous, if it weren’t also insidiously shaping our consciousness.  Listed below are a few of my personal (un)favourites (feel free to add yours in the comments):

Intolerance:  Accusing liberals of being ‘intolerant of your intolerance towards homosexuals’, besides making very little common sense, is simply inaccurate.  I am not intolerant of your intolerance; I am outright telling you that you’re a bigot.  People are under no obligation to accept or ignore you being shitty to another human being, whether it’s for religious reasons or just because your’e a jerk.

Fascism:  (commonly coined ‘Liberal Fascism’)  This one goes along with ‘intolerance of my intolerance’.  It gets thrown around a lot when conservatives say things that aren’t politically correct* (e.g. homophobic, racist, misogynist) and there is public outcry.  If you got to say your shitty thing and no one killed you, put you in prison, or overthrew your government by force, and ultimately all you got was your feelings hurt, that’s not fascism.  (Oh — if it got you fired, see freedom of speech**.)

*Politically Correct:  Here’s the thing:  You want to make this sound like a thing that is only correct because people are too ashamed to admit they don’t believe in its correctness.  But you know what?  Most of us just think of those things as ‘correct’.  Also decent and reasonable.  If you don’t really think they are, that’s just you.

**Freedom of Speech:  You are totally free to say any old nasty thing you want.  Free, free, free.  But stop acting all surprised when there are consequences to saying those things.  It’s disingenuous.  Freedom of speech laws like the U.S.’s 1st Amendment protect against repercussions from the government.  That’s it.  It doesn’t mean people can’t tell you you’re wrong (hey look — they have free speech too!) or that your employer can’t fire you.  I mean, when it comes down to it, you’re free to do a lot of things.  You’re free to kill people, for example, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t going to try to stop you or that there won’t be consequences for those actions.  And if your strongest argument for what you have to say is “I’m allowed!” then you’re mostly going to sound like a petulant five-year-old.

Reverse Racism:  First of all, um, that would just be… racism.  Secondly, unless you are part of a group that has been systematically and historically marginalized, then no.  You can convince me that someone was prejudiced against you and was a total jerk, but you are not being subjected to racism.

Bullying:  That one time that person was a jerk to you — not bullying.  Show me a pattern of behaviour and we’ll talk.  The latest take on this involves the new same-sex discrimination law in Mississippi, with accusations that stores that display pro-LGBT shopper stickers are bullying Christians.  Presumably because it will draw a stark contrast to those shops who don’t display them.  But here’s the thing, not having stickers isn’t what will single you out.  How you treat your LGBT patrons will.  If your real goal was to preserve your own rights, you wouldn’t care that people knew where it was safe for them to shop.  Unless maybe your goal was to institute a law that created an environment of intimidation and uneasiness where people were afraid to show their true selves and instead have to conform to your idea of appropriate behaviour lest they suffer the consequences.  You know, unless that.

Words do, it turns out, matter.  They have power.  And while you can’t restrict people’s use of them (nor should you), I think you really have to have your mind open to how they are used to manipulate.  There are very clear patterns here:  One is to co-opt words that have been used against the transgressor and to twist them around and hurl them back at the accuser.  The other is to purposefully use inflammatory words in mundane circumstances.  For example, I refuse to take you seriously if you accuse someone of being a Nazi (e.g. feminazi).  Are they guilty of the genocide of your people?  No.  Then stop using that word.

The problem with this sort of nonsense is that it tends to eliminate any possibility of reasonable discourse or argument. And I know, religious conservatives, you’re probably saying:  But all those other people aren’t being reasonable because they’re saying I’m wrong!  I’m being persecuted!  Here is my basic problem with that assertion:  You are trying to restrict the rights and freedoms of other people.  The only right or freedom that you are being restricted on is your ability to restrict rights and freedoms.  This isn’t a live and let live situation.  You want to impose your beliefs on everyone, legally and institutionally, whether they share those beliefs or not — which sounds a lot more like fascism to me.

But I wouldn’t use that word.

/rk

Unfinished Business

Since it is apparently a day for not finishing things, it would seem the only proactive solution would be to write a post about not finishing things.

I had the opportunity today watch the first episode of “Black Box,” a new tv show about a neuroscientist with bipolar disorder.  As a new show it shows promise, with great actresses (Kelly Reilly, Vanessa Redgrave), a fairly good premise and interesting cases.  But the characterization of the lead actress’ manic episodes reflected that common cliché — that mania is all elation and magical feelings.

I don’t deny that there are moments like that.  But it’s a bit like any drug — that type of high is fleeting.  You can spend much of your time chasing that high — and maybe you’ll even achieve it from time to time — but you’ll spend a heck of a lot more time on the cusp and frustrated.  The reality for most people tends to be a lot closer to what you’ll see on “Homeland” with Clare Danes’ character.  Sleeplessness, disordered thinking, angry outbursts, erratic behaviour…

Today is one of those days.  Well, not one of those days — I am medicated against such an occurrence.  Instead of elation, I am stuck in limbo.  It’s not that I can’t write — I’ve already started two other posts besides this one, and I have about five more in my head trying to fight each other for supremacy.  I just can’t stay focused on one of them long enough to finish before I lose interest and start another.  Ideas for writing flood my mind, but so do thoughts of a million other things all at once.  I am acutely aware of the clothing against my skin, my heart beating and the air filling my lungs.  I am hyper-sensitive.

If you’ve ever surpassed your coffee threshold or taken stimulants of any kind and reached that point where you feel sort of sick and spinny and irritated, it’s like that, but worse.  Because coffee and stimulants wear off fairly quickly.

Like most people with bipolar, I’ve developed tactics for dealing with these episodes.  I used to find a glass of wine effective in taking the edge off.  It’s not just me that I worry about, it’s the people around me and my relationships with them.  Because when I feel like this, I pick fights.  I get angry for no reason.  I quit things.  This is where my bipolar tends to look like a lot of other different mental illnesses combined:  ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder with a little PTSD thrown in for good measure.  Unfortunately, as solutions go, self-medicating with alcohol is a poor decision as it tends to sling-shot me backwards into depression.

There are actually several different kinds of bipolar, and I am blessed with what is considered the most severe form:  mixed bipolar with rapid cycling.  Personally I think each form presents with its own unique and special type of hell, but it cannot be denied that the treatment of mixed bipolar is the most challenging and the prognosis is poor.

I’m not certain of the value in writing when I’m in this state.  The end product (should there be an end product) is bound to be scattered and incoherent.  I find myself routinely cutting and pasting pieces of sentences into google to make sure they even make sense grammatically or if I’m just making up words or expressions.

I do think writing is better than not writing.  Not all writing is about creating perfection.  How I write is maybe as important as what I say.  My writing is about more than just relaying the ideas within the words.  It is also about showing the person and experience behind the words.

And sometimes that person and their experience is messy, disjointed and unfinished.

/rk

 

Birthday Book-apalooza

It’s my birthday!  And it’s Good Friday!  So I’m taking the day off with my dudes to head to Montreal to be tourists.  But I’ve decided to invite you to share in my celebration by gifting you with something you didn’t even know you wanted:  Free books!

From today until I go to bed on Monday night* you can download either of my e-books at the links below.  (After that, you’ll just have to go back to buying them at their regular cheapo prices!)

Cracked cover

Cracked: A Novella

http://www.lulu.com/content/e-book/cracked-a-novella/14592045

 
 
 

I Am Not These Things cover

I Am Not These Things  (poetry collection)

http://www.lulu.com/content/e-book/i-am-not-these-things/14592250

 
 
 

*That’s April 18th, 2014 through April 21st – time TBD by when I feel like it.  10pm-ish or so.  She who gives the freebies makes the rules.