In spite of heading into 2018 with a fair amount of optimism, it was a pretty rough year. So rough, in fact, that this is my 3rd attempt at writing this retrospective post. Somehow, I did less and feel worse coming out of 2018 than I did 2017–probably because 2017 ended with my completing NaNoWriMo for the first time ever and then securing a new job doing what I’ve wanted to do for years and getting a much needed and frankly life saving raise from it, while 2018 ended with no NaNoWriMo, the D&D game I was running quietly fizzling out, and one of my grandparents now fully in the throws of Alzheimer’s.
A quick recap of 2018:
- My grandfather passed away in February due to cardiac issues right after I started my new job.
- The son of one of my colleagues died in May on Mother’s Day weekend.
- My wife’s grandfather was hospitalized and eventually passed away mid-year as well.
- We hit yet another massive financial expense that would have been utterly destructive if we didn’t know some very good and amazing people.
- My own mental health issues got so bad that at one point, I was convinced I had no friends left and spent probably the entirety of October and possibly November as well in the grip of a perpetual, slow rolling panic attack.
- Work, although a godsend of unimaginable luck and opportunity, has also been very stressful.
- My grandmother’s mental health since the passing of my grandfather deteriorated at an alarming rate with Alzheimer’s now tragically catching up with her, putting enormous extra stress on my mom and the family that lives close to her.
- Our government started locking children in concentration camps, and then ultimately shut down entirely because our president and the Republican party would rather hold the country hostage to waste billions of dollars on a wall that would be ineffective in its stated purpose, instead simply serving as a monument to the ego, bigotry, and hatred of a petty, cruel man.
It wasn’t all bad–work has, for the most part, been enjoyable, and I’m thankful every day for both the position and the money that bailed us out of what was an unsustainable financial spiral. That said, some of the other financial things we’d hoped would come along…didn’t, so we we’ve been stuck in the small, cramped apartment, and with many of the same financial annoyances we thought would be in the past.
Additionally, I didn’t complete any of the writing goals I set for myself in 2018. I didn’t finish my novel. I didn’t write any short stories. I barely blogged–many of the posts that ended up here were actually done well well after the fact, such as the D&D campaign diaries, and simply backdated to reflect when they should have gone up.
By April or so, I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to write anymore, that I’d lost the taste for it. The idea of sitting down and trying to come up with things to say filled me with anxiety, guilt, and exhaustion, and I told myself if that’s what I’d turned writing into, there was no point in continuing anymore. Writing was supposed to bring me joy. It’s not my career. I have no financial or professional obligations to it, so if I didn’t like it…why keep doing it? So, I didn’t.
That’s not to say that I shut myself down creatively. In April I started a podcast with my brother called Eerie Earfuls. I am a huge fan of analyses of pop culture, like Lindsay Ellis’s video essays and The Faculty of Horror podcast. Inspired by them, we tried to take an academic approach to analyzing movies, taking two movies with some shared theme, setting, character, or plot aspect, and comparing and contrasting them. It was a ton of fun, in part because I love movies, and in part because I love my brother. He’s incredibly smart and was game to participate in this weird, goofy project.
Unfortunately, editing podcasts is a lot of work. I used to do some audio work in college, so I knew my way around Audacity, even if it had been a few years, so I nailed a pretty professional sound after a couple episodes of trial and error. However, to get that level of quality, it took nearly all of my time. I wanted to remove all of the ums, the uhs, the breaths, the mouth smacks, and cut the silences down to improve the pacing. Plus, given that our initial conversations were frequently around 3 hours, trying to condense that down into 1 hour was a pretty monumental task.
I knew I was burning myself out, and I tried to trade off editing with my brother so I was only doing every other episode, but it took him even longer to edit than me, plus I still ended up re-editing parts of it to tighten things up further. By October, I couldn’t keep going. It sucks because I was and am extremely proud of our work, but ultimately, it was just too time consuming between watching two movies at least once, taking notes, doing research, recording for a few hours, and then the INTENSE editing.
In August, I also started DMing a D&D campaign with some friends from work–my first time to actually DM before. That may have been the most satisfying of my projects this past year. I was able to craft fun, dynamic stories WITH my friends. Each week, I had a rough outline of what I thought would happen, but being able to improv based on what my players decided to do, and seeing their faces as I built on their ideas and choices and worked them into the narrative was incredibly gratifying. I was probably at my happiest at this stretch.
Unfortunately, as I suppose all D&D games tend to do, after about 4 months, my work friends started rescheduling games with increasing frequency and it was pretty clear they were wanting out.
Where does that leave me now? I don’t really know. I’ve spent this past weekend doing some administrative stuff. Until I can go see a doctor and get some proper treatment for my mental health (my depression, my anxiety, and my possible ADHD), I’m trying to create ways to help me navigate online life a little better. How, you ask?
Well, first and probably the most obvious, I cleaned out my inbox. I went through and deleted years and years and years of junk. And then there’s this meme that’s been going around — the #10YearChallenge — where you post a picture of yourself in 2008 (or 2009, it’s varied), and a picture of yourself from 2018 or 2019. There’s humor and horror in seeing us all aging and changing, but it in conjunction with dredging up nearly decade old emails got me reflecting on things about my life.
I’ve been what I would call “an adult” for about 10 years now. I met my wife in 2009 and married her 1 year later. Unlike many of my peers who have been living the single life and dating, I moved out of my dorm after getting married and got an apartment and a job to pay for it. In that 10 years, I’ve graduated college, changed careers a handful of times, bought cars, gained a house and lost it, and moved far more times that I’d like. And consistently throughout it all, has been writing. And in reflecting on the creative side of my life, I’ve noticed a pattern of self-sabotage.
When I started this blog, back on Blogger, when I was basically copying Allie Brosh, I started getting a little attention from folks. Not any large amount, but there was starting to be an uptick in the people who read my stuff. Ultimately, I decided drawing was too much work, too much of a time constraint. Then, I started reviewing books, and people started contacting me to have their books reviewed. But I didn’t pursue that because I didn’t want to review the books, I wanted to write the books. I started reviewing movies. Then comics. I started a podcast. I abandoned all of it.
It’s not that abandoning projects that are too labor intensive or take away from what I really want to do is bad. It can show maturity and self-reflection. But only if I actually do the things that I say I want–writing, editing, submitting, and working toward, if not a career, then at least a side-gig in fiction writing.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that, although I’ve dipped my toe into online communities, I’m not very good at maintaining those communication lines. I used to wonder why other folks seemed to talk to each other so frequently, and why it seemed like people rarely talked to me. But the truth is, I rarely interact with people online. It’s easier than in person, but I find myself passively witnessing interactions, but can never think of anything to say, or worrying that I’ll be butting into someone else’s conversation.
So this year, for 2019, I’m trying a few things out.
1) Blog More
I’m going to try blogging more. This place is basically my diary, and I like being able to look back on how I was doing at any particular time. What I blog may vary–I may copy and past movie reviews over here from Letterboxd. I may write up campaign diaries (I’m starting a new D&D campaign soon–very excited!). But I think I’m going to try the weekly wrap up posts I used to do on Wednesdays again, although this time maybe on Fridays.
2) Write AND SUBMIT
I’m going to try to write AND SUBMIT a story a month. I’ve been working on one this month. I’ve been having some trouble with it. I feel rusty after having not written for so long. And I have a LOT of self doubt. Part of me wonders if this will be worth it–who really cares if I don’t ever get anything published? What do I have to add the already overwhelming chorus of voices out there? But I know I love writing, I just lack self confidence, and moreover, I don’t think I’ve ever truly and properly TRIED before. I’ve always gotten more wrapped up in the image of writing–reading the books, listening to the podcasts, posting about it on social media–rather than actually really trying to do the work. So I’m going to use this year and really try to give it my all.
3) Participate in the JOURNEY–ie, SOCIALIZE
One of the reasons that I think I haven’t been particularly successful in my writing goals in the past is that I’ve been trying to go it essentially alone. I’ve made some friends along the way, but I haven’t really tried to utilize groups or friends either for critique nor for cheerleading. I’ve only ever had one close writing friend, Brooke, but we have such different tastes that we’ve never really relied on each other. Brooke, however, has been active online. Not just posting, but actually active. She participates in groups, chats with folks, makes connections, and in turn has friends that cheer her on, folks she can lean on for support when she has doubts. I have kept that part of my life closed off from others for the most part, I think, ironically, because I’m afraid of the rejection.
So how to fix that?
The obvious answer is to put the SOCIAL in social media and actually participate and make friends. That means challenging myself to jump in and talk to folks, even if I feel anxious or stupid doing it.
Another way to deal with that is to try to manage my signal to noise ratio. I love Twitter for two reasons that, I think, are diametrically opposed. I love it for the easy way you can make connections and friends online. I also love that it gives you an easy window into many different insights on history, politics, sociology, and pop culture. One is a more intimate form of communication. One is essentially drinking from a firehose. And I’ve had a very, very hard time balancing that. But I have a plan.
I’ve created a new Twitter account with the specific purpose of being what I call “The Firehose.” It’s all of the Twitter accounts I’ve come across that share interesting perspectives and information. I can dip into that when I have the mental health and soak in information, news, hot takes, what have you. I’m keeping my original Twitter account separate, and only following people that I interact with. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “personal” Twitter, as I plan on it being my “storefront,” so to speak, on Twitter that I can point people back toward to follow, and I’ll still tweet from it. But hopefully I’ll spend more time on Twitter interacting and socializing and less time feeling exhausted.
4) Don’t beat myself up, but don’t let myself slide
This may be the most difficult thing for me. Namely, I want to stick to my goals and really do my best this year to try to pursue writing for publication. That means setting goals and sticking to them, not just on my overall monthly goals of submitting, but the actual day-to-day goals of writing, however that materializes.
I’m not sure how I want to pursue this exactly. Right now, I’m setting myself 30 minutes each day to try to write (and hopefully giving myself more, but that’s the minimum). In the past I’ve tried a word count, I’ve tried only writing on certain days, I’ve tried only writing on weekends. It seems like there’s always something that comes up that keeps me from doing it. Some of those things are acceptable–plans that get in the way, life events, etc. Some of those things are…squishier at the very least. For example, if I get stuck in a story, I will sometimes quit writing in an effort to give myself some distance and think through a problem. However, I frequently don’t go back to it for weeks at a time. Or I’ll feel too tired after work and don’t feel like I have the brain power. Or I sit down with the intention to write, but I get distracted by the siren song of social media.
Some of those things, like feeling too tired from work, happen when you have a day job, and there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that you need a break. But letting that break become days or weeks of not writing, usually accompanying a shame and guilt spiral where because I haven’t written, I get filled with anxiety and want to avoid writing because thinking about writing reminds me of how I haven’t written and haven’t been sticking to my goals. This isn’t exclusive to writing–this is just how I am about everything that has deadlines, particularly self-imposed ones.
I need to do two things: 1) commit to a writing schedule of some kind and holding myself accountable to that schedule, and 2) recognizing when life and/or my health will not let me meet that schedule and being okay with it. So that’s what I’m trying. That’s part of the idea of being more interactive in the writing community–so that I can have other people that can tell me the stuff I refuse to hear from myself.
There are OTHER things that I want to accomplish as well. There’s dietary and health related stuff and work related stuff and other personal life things, but this is the thing that’s been on my mind this year, and the BIG thing I want to try to accomplish after years of pussyfooting around.
So, I hope to see you all more often in the future, and feel free to comment here, drop me an email, or hit me up on Twitter if you want to chat. May your 2019 be full of joy and prosperity.