Reading Relief

It’s no coincidence that the last blog entry I posted here was just before the inauguration. I came into 2017 with the best of intentions for creative output, and then the political shit hit the fan and ever since then I’ve had trouble producing anything. My journal entries have gone from three pages a day to perhaps a page every other day, give or take. I spend way too much time scrolling through Twitter, trying to keep up with the daily outrages coming from the new US administration. Intellectually, I know this isn’t healthy, nor is it ultimately helpful to simply consume outrage on a daily basis, but it has quickly become a habit I’m hard-pressed to kick. I am naturally a nervous, worst-case scenario person, so to be in the middle of such a tumultuous time, with such easy access to up-to-the-minute information and misinformation, is a perfect recipe for obsessive anxiety for me.

Needless to say, “obsessive anxiety” is not a mindset that is terribly conducive to creativity, or to productive focus of any kind. I find myself constantly wanting to do something, while having absolutely no idea what to do. With a pen in hand, it seems all I can do these days is fidget and sweat.

I’ve been able to compromise somewhat by focusing on reading. If I can’t produce, at the very least I can turn my attention to the creative work other people have produced, quite separate from the world of soundbites and Twitter feeds. In January I read seven books, which was a personal record for me, and I’ve already finished one more for February. I am turning to books as a kind of salve, a way for me to escape from present day events and to engage my mind even though I am having trouble producing words or ideas of my own. I am hoping that if I steep myself in other people’s prose, rather than the internet’s sputtering daily outrage, I will eventually reach some level of stillness and clarity once again. I’ll be able to order my thoughts. I’ll be able to write something more substantial than, “THE WORLD IS DOOOOOOOOOMED!!!!!!” over and over again.

For those who are curious, the books I’ve read so far this year are:

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

I have enjoyed them all, despite their stylistic and thematic differences, and I want to continue my reading momentum, reaching out into different genres and subject matter as much as I can. I want to cope with the difficulties of the present day by learning as much as I can about as much as I can, and by engaging with as many diverse stories as I can. In a time when I have such a strong urge to do something but don’t know what, reading feels like a good start. It opens up worlds and possibilities that might not otherwise occur to me, and perhaps in doing so it will also suggest solutions to the problems that have been so rattling my nerves.

It’s certainly worth a shot. Now I just need a few more bookshelves…

Things That Have Gone On

In my true, undisciplined fashion, I have once again let this blog languish for a couple months without updates. I’d like to say I didn’t have the time, but though there has been plenty going on in my life, the truth is I have also had plenty of time to plop down a few words, and I just haven’t done it. I mean to rectify this now!

I won’t be so bold as to say I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to write regularly, as making that kind of statement seems an almost surefire road to failure. But I have, after a couple months of creative stagnation, committed myself to filling up three pages of my fancy-pants Moleskine journal every day. It’s a very modest goal, and I could do more if I chose, but I just need to get myself back into the rhythms of daily writing, even if that writing only comes in brief bursts. I’ve made no such commitment to updating this blog, but I would hope that a desire to blog more is a natural consequence of my setting pen to paper regularly.

Though I don’t use them as an excuse for letting my output dwindle, the last few months have been a little odd, for lack of a better term. Since my last posting:

  • My boyfriend and I adopted a dog, Duke. No one can agree on exactly what he is, though we suspect he is mostly Redbone Coonhound, and when we take him on walks around the apartment complex, we are frequently met with comments on how attractive he is. We feel very much like proud parents now, and are quick to forgive the animal, even after he ate an entire loaf of bread off the kitchen counter while we were away.
  • Shortly after rescuing the dog, I reached a level of frustration and anxiety that convinced me I needed to go back on antidepressants after a four-year hiatus from them. It was something I had been mulling over for a while, but I was determined to be better all on my own, determined that I had gotten past that stage in my life when I needed better living through chemistry. It got to the point, though, where I started to recognize the signs of depression that had snuck up on me all through my adolescence and into my twenties, which five years ago transformed into a perfect storm in which I had a total breakdown at work for no reason at all and finally decided to go to therapy the next day. My mental state had not gotten quite that bad this time around, but I could see the worst coming, and decided to head it off at the pass by reluctantly going back on medication. And regardless of what the skeptics say, it very much helps me. The feelings of panic and despair that so often ate away at me during normal daily activities has subsided, and I feel much more clearheaded and ready to take on whatever challenges lie ahead. I am far from perfect, but I am much better.
  • Meanwhile, my dad officially started to come out to people as a transgender woman. This has been common knowledge in my family for several years now, since my parents’ divorce (which was precipitated by my dad’s newfound commitment to his true identity). There are a lot of things I could say about this, but at present I’m not confident enough to put any of my thoughts together in a coherent fashion. All I can say is that I’m glad my dad finally feels comfortable enough to be who he truly feels he is, and at the very least I am grateful that my parents, though separated, can still get along quite well, spending holidays together and quietly commiserating over their delightful children.
  • Four months after moving in together, the week before Christmas, my boyfriend and I moved yet again, to a different unit in the same apartment complex. If possible, it was a more harrowing experience than the first time we moved, from two separate apartments miles apart on the hottest day of the year. The distance moved was smaller, but it seemed greater, as we moved from a second floor walkup to a third floor walkup in a different building, this time with a 72-pound dog in tow. Despite the aggravation of the experience, though, it was a worthwhile change, as our upstairs neighbor in our previous apartment had the infuriating habit of stomping back and forth across his apartment for hours at a time like some kind of power-walking Frankenstein monster. To this day we’re not sure what the guy was doing, but to give some context, when we were almost done moving out, our downstairs neighbor appeared shocked, having no idea that we had been moving over several days. At the same time, our upstairs neighbor made enough noise that we thought for sure he was moving out, though that was hardly the case. We are now on the top floor and much happier, more relaxed people because of it.

Other things happened in this period, obviously. I went to NerdCon: Stories (perhaps the last one ever?). I got a significant raise at work that makes escaping my office job any time soon seem much less reasonable. I have deleted all the games off my phone and committed myself, along with writing more, to reading more this year instead of idly poking at Candy Crush. I am currently almost finished with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which despite its intimidating size is an engaging, fantastical read.

Looking back, there has been no real lack of activity in my life lately, though I do keep waiting for something else to happen. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for, but I’m frequently keeping an eye out for the next thing, the next step in my life, whatever that may be.

I’m looking back on this blog post and thinking to myself that it’s sloppy and not particularly engaging or well-written, but part of my commitment to writing more requires not overthinking what I do write. The practice is worth a lot, even if the execution isn’t the best. (At least until the execution really does matter and there’s a six-figure advance in the balance. But that’s not going to be on the table for quite a while, if ever.)

So I will remain sloppy for the time being. Sloppy and searching, and hopefully learning a few things as 2017 progresses. Here’s to the process, whatever form it takes!