Archive for the 'falling down' Category

Jul 16 2011

Body Memory Quirks

(EDITING NOTE: Sorry about the run-together editing fail on this post; I’ve tried a couple of times to fix it and can’t seem to figure it out at the moment, and have run out of chemo-patience to keep trying at the moment.  enjoy the post anyway and I’ll try to make it prettier tomorrow.)

One of the repeated lessons of cancer (of course it can also be learned elsewhere) is how impactual and overwhelming the body’s memory can be.  Apparently according to the Urban Dictionary, the phrase “body memory” is often used to imply repressed memories of physical abuse, but that’s never been how I use or even conceive of the phrase.

This is not to deny that sometimes, some kinds of touch can cue legitimate, real memories. However, to infer abuse from physical symptoms in this way is utterly invalid, as is the inference that conscious, recallable memories can be stored in muscle tissue.
That last phrase is the part I think I disagree with, based on personal experience, though I concede that there could simply be a better or different phrase to describe the phenomenon to which I refer.  (Or more likely, a part of the brain that runs so deeply it never shuts off even at densest sedation.)
Last year, for example, I recall the first day coming home after the mastectomy surgery, where there’s no possibility of actual, full-night’s sleep, sitting propped up with pillows all around with my mind in a twilight state.  These strange images and feelings of sharp lines being drawn across my mid-chest, and dark shadowy forms looming over me kept recurring.  It wasn’t at all like a normal “dream”, and at some point in some story I’m sure I’ll try to better describe it to delineate the difference.  It very much felt as even though my mind was under general anaesthesia, my body was remembering the experience of people standing around me cutting me open and removing pieces of my body — which was indeed what was happening at the time.
This time around, I find that even though my mind is certainly ready to go home, be with my family (including new baby!), and continue my LIVING, non-hospital life with joy in every day and every breath, my body experiences a hitch of panicked feeling when trying to think about the process.  This totally feels like it’s happening because my last memories of being at my home are of being partially paralyzed — stuck in the kitchen, unable to move my leg unless I was physically picking it up, crying and terrified with no help and no way to fix it, (TMI WARNING AHEAD) wetting myself because I couldn’t get to the restroom because I was literally unable to move my left leg forward no matter how hard my brain sent the signal to my body.
And of course I know that won’t happen this time.  The reason for the paralysation is literally no longer there (the culpable tumor that was pressing on my spinal cord is according to the doctor “gone gone gone!”); I’ve been walking in the hospital around my room for weeks now without assistance (from people; I’ll be using a cane and walker for a while to come).  I’ve been working with physical therapists while here to relearn what proper movement and alignment feels like.  I’ll continue that work when out.  We have live-in help lined up to make sure that in a sudden resurgence of worst case scenario (that won’t happen because of regular scans and constant work and vigilance) I won’t be stuck with no help.
And still there’s that hitch moment, that brief flash of panic, that seems to come from the body itself, its own memory of what happened, overriding any rational thought or mind memory.  Of course I’m talking about it in therapy sessions, and working through it, and it won’t stop me or slow me down any more than the rest of this has, and less than most of the bad things slowing me down.
Life is a strange, strange thing.  Does anyone else out there have their own “body memory” stories to tell?

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Jun 30 2011

Despair’s Siren

It’s been so long, and so much has happened between last post and this one, that the temptation is to give up telling the story.  Despair’s temptation is always that siren call, to give up the fight, give up the effort, just…stop.  It seems so much easier.  To go backward and tell the stories, the trials, the information that feels like it needs to be told but takes so much effort to elaborate (emotionally and energetically and other words starting with “e”)…well, it feels easier to just let the stories slide into forgetful memory.  To move forward as if the last couple of months haven’t changed everything.  To not move at all — to let the darkness of closed eyes become the all of one’s existence.

That isn’t the right description, however.  There is so much to tell, and tale, and teach, and talk about of this cancer process as well as so much else that surpasses mere survival, that going backward to tell tales becomes going forward into living.  As a writer at the beginning of her career, still, frustratingly so thanks to so many health and other set-backs over the past few years, despair trickles even here.  The messages from other well-meaning loved ones ring the same again and again:  you can’t worry about that now, your health must be your focus, healing your body, fighting the cancer; all the other efforts drain energy and need to happen later, once you know you’re still here to fight those fights.

And in many senses, that’s so very true.  The emotional trials have been so much worse this time around that it tempts despair’s presence to even come close to articulating the feelings involved.  It’s been both infinitely more and infinitely less easy to emotionally survive this round of cancer, for a variety of reasons — many of which I’ll probably write about, many of which are still ongoing, many of which I’ll lose to the sands of time or vagaries of memory fog we all encounter.

But as a writer, at the beginning of her career, still, and still fiercely dedicated to succeeding at that and so many other of my (both short and longer-term) goals, surviving cancer can’t be all of it.  Simple survival can’t ever be all you do, to be human.  Life is ever so much more than just getting through the day, whether you’re a shut-in with only internet friends or a best-selling dynamo or a physics genius or just one of the many solid people that fill the world each day with the simple things they do for others as well as themselves.

I close my eyes, and there is the stasis, awaiting.  The despair, regardless of what good news arrives daily, that the dreams are dead, the goals are withered, that the blackness will be all that remains.  That the stasis reality is the real one, and we fill our lives with the illusions of the rest; that reaching out to others will always result in not…quite…touching.  That I will float in that black and so will all the rest of you, islands lost in our seas of aloneness.

But as a writer, at the beginning of her career, still, every word I type changes that reality, moves that perception into something else, changes despair into hope.  Each complete breath can be as a person; and as a mother; and as a lover; and as a friend; and as a writer.  There is no way to illuminate the blackness that I know of, except by deciding to do.

And the feeling of futility is great, often, when making that decision, because there is so much, so very much to do daily just to survive, to keep breathing, not even counting all the other goals one might want to set for oneself.  Even with the enormity of the support group I have surrounding me, cheering me on, encouraging me to go and do and live…each new breath is so very hard to believe matters in the world, matters to others, matters at all.

It’s like creating a novel:  if I look at it as the entirety of what it is, it’s easier to never get started, the complexity and intricacy and fullness are overwhelming.  So I shall attempt to break it down into manageable pieces, bite-sized chunks, little posts like this one that shine lights of understanding onto pieces of the whole, in the hopes that one or more of those pieces will reach you, Fearless Reader, and touch something within your brain, your psyche, your soul, your selfness, enough that you want to pass it on to another, who will turn and share with another reaching traveler on this spinning ball of beautiful and terrible dirt we inhabit.

And whether that contact results in the culmination of my goals as a writer, lover, or mother, it will add to the strength to keep breathing as a person.  Because the struggle to live, just survive, is itself fierce and fragile, for all of us from ants to assholes.  The kinesthetics of contact, touching each other, is the first and most important sensory experience of our lives from the moment we become aware we’re enveloped in the womb.  The tragedy of so many of us leaving this world bereft of that same all-encompassing embracing is part of what is worth combating while we exist.



1.loss of hope; hopelessness.
2.someone or something that causes hopelessness
–verb (used without object) losegive up, or be without hope (often followed by of ):to despair of humanity.
–verb (used with object)
4.Obsolete . to give up hope of.
1275–1325; Middle English despeir (noun), despeiren (v.) < Anglo-French despeir, Old French despoir (noun), despeir-, tonic stemof desperer (v.) < Latin dēspērāre to be without hope, equivalentto dē- de- + spērāre to hope, derivative of spēs hope

1.The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best: to give hope.
2.a particular instance of this feeling
3.grounds for this feeling in a particular instance
4.a person or thing in which expectations are centered:
5.something that is hoped for
–verb (used with object) look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence. believe, desire, or trust
–verb (used without object) feel that something desired may happen
9.Archaic . to place trust; rely (usually followed by in ).
10. to continue to hope, although the outlook does not warrant it
before 900; (noun) Middle English; Old English hopa; cognate with Dutch hoop, German Hoffe; (v.) Middle English hopen, Old English hopian

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Feb 26 2011

Blog quasi-hiatus

I am not online consistently at the moment, due to a pregnancy complication (massive hip pain and misalignment) that is giving me an ugly mix of sleep deprivation and constant pain. This combination has achieved what cancer or pregnancy hormones couldn’t achieve, which is temporarily stop the flow of words written. I’m hoping the physical therapy will help this improve, and I can get back to writing and blogging, but figured you lovely and fearless readers deserved to know what was up.

If I can I might try to do some shorter, more personal posts about various life stuff, including the many ways pregnancy is Not Like cancer. But right now just dealing with the hip issue is top priority, so have patience and I will be back again soon, regardless.

For anyone who is interested in helping out with baby-things acquisition (or who has no-longer usable baby things from a recent new human themselves), here is our sharable Google Document where we’ve compiled a wish list and continue to update it as we receive new gifts from people. Just make sure to let us know if you’ve shipped or are planning to deliver a gift so we can keep the list current and not have too many duplicates!

Baby Stuff Wish List

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Aug 02 2010

Cancer Chronicles: Denying Death’s Due

Had a conversation with a friend yesterday that was interesting (as all of my friends are).  She mentioned that she thought she had been in a lot of denial in the few weeks leading up to my surgery when I was, essentially, dying.   That she just refused to think about how sick I actually was and what that meant.

I agreed with her, remarking that even though I knew what was going on, I wasn’t articulating it, to others or myself.  Facing likely death, having chosen life over and over since my birth, I relied upon the strength of the genetic impulse, the need of “life” to persist.  I did not deny what was happening to me; I calmly went about the “last rites” of preparing my will and medical power of attorney documents, contacting family and friends and spending time together where possible, paring down to what absolutely mattered for survival.

That last week, what mattered most was the other people, the wonderful loved ones that kept coming over, vigil-like, to share their time and witness my living, witness my life burning up every resource in my body to remain here.  That last week, I’d run out of energy.  The will to persist was there but the flesh was finally faltering.  When that strength left, there was always someone else’s to take up the slack, someone else’s presence to remind me of why it was so important to continue breathing, to deny Death’s right to take me.

It was only after surgery, when my body was free to finally start healing and bringing life fully back into me, that I was able to directly face the cold fact that I had almost died, that I now had an insider’s perspective on what dying felt like.  Death walks at our shoulders from the moment we draw breath, and part of the vibrancy of life comes from how easy it is to forget that fact, to live as if we’ll live forever.  I read a lot of denigration of that illusion/delusion, and I can certainly see where it gets our species in trouble to follow it.  But I can tell you that it’s part of why we are still here.  Because we are sometimes able to face death’s certainty and not just laugh in its face, but deny its power over us when it matters.

Of course, the other side of the spent coin for those of us who have refused Death’s surcease directly is that we never again get to share the illusion of Death’s absence with our fellow humans.  But that’s complicated enough that it should probably have its own post, another day.  Fearless Reader thoughts or shared experiences?  Please comment here!

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May 23 2010

Cancer Chronicles: Not Dead After All

(continued from this entry)

Obviously, this chronicling is taking a while, in part because while recovering and healing, it’s not the most pleasant time in my life to remember.  On the other hand, in a major traumatic event like that there’s a bit of a delay in emotional processing, and now that I’m a couple of months out from the event it starts becoming the tiniest bit easier to remember almost dying.  Enough that I can start catching up on these posts a bit, but ooof.

My doctors totally saved my life by the speed with which they moved once we figured out the problem.  It was six days from official cancer diagnosis until I was on the surgery table. We talked last time about the prep leading up to the surgery day. It is very obvious during this whole process, but especially in the hospital, that my support network is much larger, more varied, and more solid than most of the people who come through the cancer ward.  This is a sad thought (one of many) that I won’t have time for until much later, so I stick it aside.  There’s no energy left at this point, for me, to do anything except keep breathing, move zombie-like where people tell me to go, and stay focused on my loved ones near by.  My mom, dad, step-dad, brother, husband, and boyfriend are all present, though arriving in different vehicles they all get there before I am wheeled in for the actual surgery part.

We arrive at horrible-thirty in the morning, since they have to do paperwork mounds and prep me with a radiological dye that will allow them to determine which lymph nodes they will need to take on the right side. (They inject the dye in several places on the right side of my chest that spreads to indicate which is the main sentinel node for that breast and which are its main support nodes.) They have to inject me six times with something that is supposed to hurt — enough that they tell the truth about it hurting before injecting me, which is always a bad sign.  It’s a worse sign of the state that I’m in that I don’t even feel the first two injections, and the next two don’t hurt.  Those last two suck pretty badly, though.

Now we have to wait for two hours or so for it to trickle through enough to do its job.  They do a couple of other medical prep checks on me but otherwise I’m left alone to doze and chat with family.  Not surprisingly, we don’t have much small talk left, and all the big things necessary have been said to everyone. (I made sure during vigil week to communicate my love directly to each person in words, in the larger social swirl.  If I missed you it wasn’t intentfully, let’s get together and make up for it if so!) It is still good to see everyone there again before going under the knife, just-in-case.

Nathan goes back with me into the pre-surgery prep room while the others go to the waiting room.  He and I have grown so much closer during all of this hideous crisis, and there’s still so much not said, not shared.  After all, we’ve only been together less than two short years at this point.  Not anywhere close to the lifetime or three we want to share with each other.  Not even a blip on that scale, really.  He asks me to come back to him, post-surgery. I tell him the last thought I’ll take with me as they put me to sleep is him, of my life with him, our lives together, and of me staying around long enough to get that life-extension technology with him that’s just around the corner so we can do it another hundred years.

Of course there are tears.  I can’t even write this entry two months later without crying.

I’m upset we didn’t get to this sooner, time runs out all over. In the prep room I use Nathan’s phone to record a message to The Kid, just-in-case.  I have to do two takes because my voice breaks down entirely on the first attempt, and the second one isn’t much better but there is just no time left at all, now.  I tell him how amazed and proud I am of him every day, how he’s the best kid I’ve ever known in a long line of really damn awesome kids I have known, how honored and proud I am to have been his mom even for just a little bit, how strong and resilient he is in the face of so much unfair Life Bullshit.  Nathan loses it a bit here but we’re both strong, so we calm quickly when it is time for me to go, enough to kiss farewell.  I don’t want to think about how hard it must have been for him to watch me wheel away.

(I’ll have to get back to the story in another entry of the recovering addict in the prep bed next to me and the surreal conversation happening while the rest of this was going on.)

They tell me they’re going to inject me with the anesthetic now, and the main weird note here is that no one counts backwards for me, like they do on TV.  It almost distracts me from holding onto my thoughts of Nathan and then


For the first time in my life (possibly ever, as my brain never shuts up even in sleep), my system is taken offline.  The world is, and then it is not.

And now the unpleasant thought to leave you with, balanced with the reminder that it IS me typing these up which means I do survive the story (so far): In 2010, our modern medical technology can do amazing things, including remove a 13-centimeter tumor from someone’s breast and send them home walking the next day.  But for everyone going through surgery, there is still a dark-ages barbarism lingering in the system, and that place is the Recovery Room, a harmless-sounding name for what must be one of the worst areas in the building.  I can not imagine the emotional drain it must be on someone to work in such a place, but I am very glad that there are people who do so.  Medically we’re still at a place where our doctors feel they can’t safely give pain medication to someone until they have successfully awakened from surgery. (I am not blaming the doctors here, but the Puritan-infested system that continues to decide that pain is somehow still character-building, ok, or suspect when absent and therefore doesn’t put research dollars into such things.)

It is an affront, nay a violation, of my world that this level of pain still exists for anyone in the 21st century, with all our ameliorative capabilities already known.  Why the hell we have not freed ourselves of this tyranny is one of the many neuroses our species will have to answer for, if there is a cosmic scale of judgment anywhere.

I awake into pain beyond all meaning, pain that breaks consciousness in a body that has already recently experienced some of the worst pain measurable with the tumor’s growth.  This is the Recovery Room.  And in true asshole-writer style, I’ll leave you with that emotional cliffhanger (and a reassurance that the pain mentioned will not last long in actual minutes, though the subjective is another thing entirely).  I need a bunnies-and-kittens type break after this entry, and the Recovery Room needs its own entry anyway.

(to be continued)

Love and hugs to anyone who needs ’em.

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May 07 2010

Cancer Chronicles : Vigil Week (bare bones version)

(continued from this entry)

This is a hard week to write about. Hard to think about, too. This is the week I was literally dying, incrementally and tangibly. We’ll probably revisit this time once or thrice before we’re done.  For now, just the facts, ma’am.

We meet with the surgeon in charge of my surgery, a brisk but competent-seeming guy (Dr. Uecher – gotta check spelling on that one) who is willing to be asked and answer our many questions.  He does his duty in describing the options that are normally explored with malignant breast lumps, but agrees with our assessment that in our particular case, it is surgery first and ask questions later given the nature and size of the swollen left breast. We also receive the official diagnosis of breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma) in this visit, and report to the doc that the lump the first specialist originally palpated in the right breast hadn’t been further examined by anyone since, and I’d noticed in the last week it had started to hurt similarly to the other breast pain.  He looks irritated at this and gets a sonogram machine brought in so he can scan the right breast and get pictures of that.  (So far we haven’t managed to get our hands on a copy the ultrasound pictures, but we think we will soon.)

After the scan, he announces that he’s concerned about this lump too, so we agree that they both should come out.  He tells me that I will be scheduled for a modified radical mastectomy on the left side, as it is so swollen and we know so little about it that they plan to take as much of the affected breast tissue as is needed — up to all of it — as well as the nipple, all of the lymph nodes feeding to that area, and enough surrounding tissue to test clean.  I ask if they are going to have to take the muscle, and he tells me honestly that he doesn’t know.  They can’t tell how far into the chest wall the tumor extends, based on the pictures, and given the size he isn’t all that confident that they won’t have to cut deep.  They inform me what I already know from research, that if they have to remove some or all of the muscle I will have permanent crippling effects on arm mobility.  On the right side the lump is much smaller, and he feels confident he can get away with a lumpectomy (which he calls a partial mastectomy for precision’s sake) and possibly only one lymph node removed on that side.  They leave the room to consult and find out when my surgery can be scheduled.

They return shortly and tell us that it is scheduled for Wednesday March 24, only 6 days away.  The speed of the surgery scheduling is directly related to their concern about the tumors, especially the left one.  They decide that I can’t safely be drained further before the surgery, so I have to deal with feeling myself slowly inflate again over the coming week.  They describe how it will go: after surgery prep, they’ll first remove the sentinel node for the right breast (the main one that drains the breast) and flash-biopsy it to see if the cancer on the right side has spread to the lymph node.  They’ll get the results of this back while still in surgery, so if it tests clean they won’t remove any more lymph nodes from that side. While they are testing that they will get to work on the left breast, removing all of the stated areas, then finish up by removing the lump on the right side.  They will flash-biopsy the surrounding tissue after removing the tumors and cut more tissue away on any questionable areas until the slides show clean non-cancerous cells, then remove a tiny bit more of the clean layer to try and minimize the chance of cancer returning.  I’ll have side drains installed, possibly on both sides, to deal with the excess fluid production.  They estimate only an overnight hospital stay, assuming no complications.

They ask if we want them to go ahead and install the catheter port for the permanent site for needle sticks in my chest that they have to put in chemotherapy patients.  I say we want to get through the surgery and learn more about what the heck is actually going on before we make a firm decision about chemotherapy, and they agree the port cath can be done as a separate day surgery if or when it’s needed.

We enter a very trying wait, pre-surgery.  Externally, I make sure the important things get done that need to before I’m put under – last will and testament, medical power of attorney, durable power of attorney, last wishes reminded to the people who needed to know them.   Friends ask what they can do to help and all I can ask for is “shared time”; the people are the only thing still keeping me here at this point, because internally this week, the lights are going out one by one.  I can actually feel myself dying, feel the cancer growing (it did increase in size from the first scans to the surgery), feel my connections to everything I care about life and the loved ones around me becoming harder and harder to hold and touch.  My color melts away from my face and I am a ghost still walking and breathing.

Four days before the surgery I had a sharp internal downward turn, and spent most of the day asleep trying to get enough energy to fight for just a few more days.  The last few days pre-surgery, our house was never empty as a stream of friends and family came to share their time and their love and their energy with me in what had to be a scary time for all involved.  I got calmer and calmer even as I grew more distant from life and the world.  The last three days, I could tell that it was only my strength of will COMBINED with the physical presence of all our guests that allowed me to make it through to surgery day still breathing.

I am 32 years old.

And that’s a good place to pause the accounting, in quiet thanks for all of you who made it possible for me to have enough extra energy to keep up the fight.  Next time, we’ll learn about surgery and the absolute worst area of the hospital — the Recovery Room.

(to be continued)

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Mar 09 2010

What to do when your block isn’t a block

We’ve talked several times on this blog about creative “blocks”, and some ways to cope with and get around such things. One of the things I’ve slowly come to realize over the past several months, however, is that often something that looks like a “writer’s block”, might not be quite that. A friend pointed out a similar struggle in her own creativity recently, thus the topic (and title) of this post.

What do you do when what feels like writer’s block is something else? To clarify definitions for purposes of this discussion (though you can argue my parameters in the comments if you’d like), “standard writer’s block” often arises through struggles with regular writing routines, or insecurities or doubts about the worth or quality of one’s own work. What’s the point of all of this? or why am I trying something I’ll never succeed in? or I’m not that good a writer anyway are common refrains from the internal judges and censors in many of the blocks you might encounter. And we’ve talked before, and likely will again, about different ways to hack around those sorts of bumps.

There are several other life reasons you might need a break — or at least a slowing down — of your regular creative process. Because we’re used to the blocks we know, often these other reasons will feel like standard creative blocks, to our internal emotional perceptions, because those are the well-traveled neural pathways. For example, Elizabeth Bear refers to a state after she finishes a major project she calls “post-novel ennui”. She describes it feeling as if her brain’s insides are scraped clean, or the creative pool has been emptied and needs refilling. It’s taken her several novels to better understand her own patterns, but she’s found that if she gives herself the few days or weeks she needs to recharge — read books, do physical activity things, learn something new, watch TV shows, and just the minimum maintenance needed on her writing obligations — she can get to functional creativity on the next project much more quickly than if she just tries to push ahead immediately after finishing the previous project.

What if your need for hiatus is different than arriving at a project’s end? Major life changes can be stressful whether positive or negative, and if there is enough upheaval present, it can quite legitimately disrupt the energy available for other things (at least for a while), including your creative projects. Sure, you’ve spent time and sweat making sure you will keep writing anyway, even when life gets tricky, but what about when it gets extreme enough that taking a break would actually be more advantageous to your later creativity? A promotion, household relocation, or new addition to the family are all situations where it’s possible to keep creative flow going…but depending on the specific circumstances, it’s also possible a break would be better for long-term creative health.

Or what if your need for a pause is darker than that? Major life trauma will, if not bring your creative progress to a halt, at the very least cause extreme disruptions in your routine. It could affect which projects you continue working on, or even want to work on. Loss of a job, loss of family members or children, major physically debilitating or activity-changing illness, all these and more can make you question the very reasons you create at all, not to mention whether your current work is worth the work you’ve put into it. Depending on your emotional state, you may not be able to access the same creative energies that you could before. A project that was conceived and begun when you were in love and on top of the world is rather difficult to connect to, if you’re currently in a bleak and despairing place emotionally.

So what do you do when this sort of thing is on your plate?

First, you have to find the space to give yourself to take the needed break. In order to do that successfully, you’ll have to avoid the common habit of punishing yourself for the break-taking. For those of you inclined toward this behavior, a guilt-free break is harder than it looks.

(quoted from, quoting someone quoting someone else clever)
“flamingnerd writes:
I asked her, “do you have any negative self talk?” She burst into laughter and said, “Do I ever fart?!” And I got it. EVERYONE has negative self talk. And some people are more flatulent in that
regard than others. And it’s ok. It’s normal, not some great tragedy.

She went on to tell me of a talk given by a young Buddhist priest. “When you beat yourself with a stick just beat yourself with a stick and don’t beat yourself for beating yourself.”

Thanks to nationelectric for sharing the good reminder.”

For me, in my own recent-past traumatic experiences, I found that giving myself the space for a creative pause and recharge to happen wasn’t an adjustment I made overnight. It was a few months of struggle between what I felt I “should” be doing at a particular point in time, and what I knew internally needed to be happening if I was ever going to create regularly again. It was slow progress, a bunch of baby steps and “two steps forward, one step back” frustrations. It also required a lot of practice in trusting myself, in my ability to assess internally what I “knew” I needed to heal, and to ignore the conflicting inputs externally from people or sources less informed about my situation. Plus enough stubbornness to keep going on all of that when I didn’t “do it right” the first time or three.

When you’re in brownout mode, the pause is likely to be longer than you want it to be. Yes, that means your patience gets practice along with everything else. Fun times, eh? You are worth it, even the waiting. One day, finally, you might find yourself with a little more energy than you’ve had. The next day, more. One of the trickiest parts, at this stage, is not overloading yourself the first time you have energy to do more than just get by. That’s asking for a relapse, and that won’t help you get more functional. Add some small creative act into your daily routine, and stay with that for a bit, give your artistic muscles time to stretch after some disuse.

Soon enough you’ll notice that you’re a bit bored or frustrated with doing just one thing. This is probably a good sign that you’re ready to do more, but keep the lessons you’ve learned throughout this time in your mind, as you progress back towards more fullness of functioning. Push your limits, but in the spirit of a good workout, not burning yourself on as much as you can do. Let your momentum creep back in a healthy bit at a time, and use those healthy bits to springboard even more positive change.

Trusting ourselves is part of how we better learn to love ourselves. Your baby-steps will make progress. Heck, even 2 steps forward, 1 back will get you there eventually. When you start making visible progress and changes to your routine toward your goals? Don’t forget to notice it, and congratulate yourself. Ideally you have a couple of close friends to whom you can brag about your progress, however incremental, and have them support and cheer you on as well. But at the very least, make sure you give those kudos to yourself. Noticing all the work you’re doing for yourself is one of the best ways to get more such work out of you!

Throughout all of this process, spend time figuring out what really matters to you in this incarnation, regardless of which past goals or projects were important before. Allow your goals to change as you change, throughout your life. It is not a failure to survive and keep creating, even if your process is different than before — even if your work is different than before.

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Feb 13 2010

How far will you go, artist?

The question of how far down the rabbit hole to fall, when working on a creative project, is rather an interesting one. The possibilities are legion for hacking, warping, and weirding the mental processes to create art. However, an artist of whatever stripe often runs up against their own self-boundaries, in such explorations. Sometimes they’re self-imposed limits that should probably be pushed against; other times they might be coping mechanisms for biochemicals that really need to remain at certain levels, thankyouverymuch. Finding the line between what to give to yourself and what to give to that art can be difficult; even for how many artists have gone before, there just aren’t universal roadmaps for making good, deep, provocative art and staying “sane”.

So where do the compromises come in? There’s a wide range of individual choices. We’ve all heard stories of the people who ultimately lost themselves — either the qualities that made their work stand out or their life itself — to the imbalance between care of self and creation of art. And if you aren’t willing to take at least some risks with your own psyche, you’re likely to have a shallow or surface-level artistic end-result.

For me, it’s usually about finding the balance point that allows me to push forward. If I’m going to be doing some crazy internal meanderings, delving into the Shadow self, finding the locked-box memories that are still raw with emotion and creative potential and dragging them out for a look…then if at all possible, other areas in my life should be as stable and least-disruptive as can be. If everything else in my life is chaos, or my own internal landscape is unstable, and I’ve already considered and rejected taking a creative break for whatever reason, then it might be better to steer toward the more “brain candy” level projects. I can keep creating but not get so locked up into my work that I lose myself in the rest of the instabilities. It’s why I don’t believe in the myth that every work must be a Masterpiece For the Ages. Heck, even the master painters of the Renaissance and other eras still took portrait commissions to pay the bills, it wasn’t all frescos and finery.

Sure, they were Really Good portraits, and taking a brain candy creation path during stressful times isn’t license to avoid doing the best work you can, either. But hey, if all you get written during a rough time is a silly zombie story (to pick an Entirely Random Example), you still maintained the creative drive so that it’s available for “more serious” work later. That is definitely good work done.

And when you do give yourself the opportunities and stability to peer into the abyss…how far will you look? How deep can you go and still come back to yourself, or at least a version of you that creates and with whom you can live?

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Nov 22 2009

NaNoWriMeet: this is not your regularly scheduled post

Or, Murphy REALLY loves me.

But we knew that.  At times his is a particularly sick and twisted love, as in this week.  Yeah, that nice 6 pages I wrote?  The next afternoon, Steve’s dog’s tail knocked over a coffee cup that Nathan had accidentally set too near to my netbook…

That’s right, computer number 2 is down for the count.   So after two days of bargain shopping around town as we don’t really have the pennies to spare right now, I am now on my third work computer for the week.  As cousin Charlie would say, good grief.

On the plus side, thanks to my trusty half-terabyte, which thankfully did NOT get bathed in coffee, my paltry 15 pages so far this week are still existent.  I’m back on the internet (again-again), and tomorrow we’ll try again with your regularly-scheduled post and some written pages to report.  In the meantime, the word of the day from the Chicago Manual of Style is “integument”.

Also, in case you’re not keeping up with industry recent events, Ms. Figart’s blog has a nice perspective on the recent Harlequin faceplant.  RWA, MWA, and SFWA have all issued censures in various forms against Harlequin as a result of their recent decision.  Remember this mantra, dear writers:  Writers sign checks on the back.  Be highly suspect of any situation, no matter how vanity-pretty, that looks to make you sign on the front for your work; it’s likely otherwise known as a “scam”.

One response so far

Nov 17 2009

NaNoWriMeet: Murphy loves me

Yesterday was nicely summed up by the following:  “It’s a good thing that I’m not so weak-minded as to be driven in my behavior by omens and portents.  Otherwise the universe would definitely be telling me to quit writing.”  After my first really good day back on the project, I received a major piece of upsetting family news, and my laptop broke.

I continued in the back of my mind to keep writing as a goal throughout the day, and it was not entirely the tragedy it might have been.  Last night, right before powering down the laptop and bed, I made sure to copy my first 9 pages of the current chapter to my external hard drive.  Hurray for being a Smart Writer!  I already have my music and the rest of my writing on the drive, so except for some links and maybe a randomly missed file or two I’ve lost no important data even if I can’t recover this laptop.  Moral for this part of the story: save your work, often, multiple places.  Email your chapters to yourself if you have no other option; there’s not a single writer woe I can think of that is more likely to make you stop writing than losing days or months of hard-earned words in one stupid digital or electronic storm.

The second part was actually harder to deal with.  There’s an artist myth I’ve always been skeptical of, the tortured artist who must suffer for their art in order to create.  I’m leery of it in general, since I suspect it’s one of those sneaky ways humans devise to keep themselves miserable, but in specific I know for sure it’s inhibitory rather than inspiring.  On days that I have extreme emotional distress, I find it insanely difficult to write.  Perhaps not for everyone, but certainly for me, the energy for dealing with the consequences of strong emotional surges and the energy for writing come from either the same internal pool or closely interconnected ones.

It didn’t create a block on the words themselves; I still know what comes next for several pages.  I’m certainly in a very different emotional place than my characters right now, which makes it harder to empathize with the scene.  In today’s writing, depending on if the difficulty lingers, there are two obvious solutions to attempt.  One is to just skip that scene and go write one where the emotional state I’m currently in IS more conducive to empathizing with my characters.  The other is find some way that my emotional state can be related to something happening in the current scene, even in disguised form.  For example, one character is in a pretty good mood, the other is fairly agitated, maybe even a little aggro in response.  That second emotion isn’t quite where I’m at, but emotional agitation in general can give you more insight into a specific emotional state that’s similar even if not the same.  Hopefully I can turn the internal agitation into a powerfully charged scene.

As you might have guessed, by the end of yesterday I hadn’t written any words, not even a sentence.  I was so drained from processing that it was easier to just get some rest and start fresh tomorrow.  And that’s what I’ll try today!  Got some errands in the first part of the day for work, and a poker game this evening, but there’s time around those for writing and I can always sit out some card hands if I need to write instead.

What is something you’ve struggled with in the past week, relating to creating your art?

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