PeterMBall

Addendum to “You Had One Job” at Writerly Scrawls

The nice thing about being a writer is that you do things and you send them off and they frequently appear in the world at unexpected times. Case in point, my guest-post-turned-essay about writing processes and mental illness went live at Kylie Thompson’s blog over the weekend, giving me a little snapshot into the way my life was running a few months back.

So, here’s an addendum to that essay: I wrote You Had One Job back in April. At the time I was writing a novella that didn’t quite come together the way I wanted, and I’m not sure whether that was because it was actually bad or because anxiety got its hooks into me and started me obsessively rewriting the opening scenes over and over.

And despite ending my guest post on a relatively positive note, the days that followed writing that post were all kinds of not-good.

I knew this was coming, to some extent. Back when I was blogging for Queensland Health, I discovered that writing about depression and anxiety frequently caused me to become depressed and anxious. I thought I’d prepared for that, but I hadn’t.  I sank. I flailed. I panicked.

This is the challenge of writing about mental health. Stories and essays and blog posts end, because they have a structure. Life…it just keeps going. Good days turn into bad ones, and bad days turn into dark periods before you’ve noticed what’s going on.

Towards the end of April I finally pulled my shit together and called the psychologist my GP had recommended way back in January, which I’d been putting off for months because I kept getting an answering machine (I hate answering machine. They make me incredibly anxious. Making this call meant spending a week writing a script I could follow, even if I ended up ignoring it, and keeping a lid on the anxiety that then told me I should call back consistently until I got an actual person on the line).

Things got better, after that.

It’s been a familiar rhythm over the twelve months since I first went to my GP and said there’s something wrong.  It’s rebuilding stage by stage, fixing things as they crop up. And so the pattern continues: Things are okay, then things get worse, then steps are taken and things get better. Where I once felt broken, I started feeling merely cracked. Then, where I once felt cracked, I started feeling merely dented.

I’m remarkably okay with being dented, given where I was last year.

To Solve That Particular Problem

At the start of this year, when everyone was flush with New Year Energy and optimism, I had a bunch of conversations with various peeps about the way I used whiteboards and bullet journals and generally planned my life.

At the same time this was happening, I was basically packing in all of those habits and letting them lie fallow for the summer. Not because they were bad habits, but because they were responses to specific situations where conflicting priorities and time-crunch made my natural workflow untenable and inefficient.

Basically, once the scholarship kicked in and my thesis was underway, I didn’t need to plan so heavily because a) I rarely needed to be anywhere, b) most of what I was doing was reading things and noodling with ideas, and c) it didn’t matter if I destroyed my sleep schedule by staying awake and working until 5 AM, because it wasn’t like I needed to get up at a specific time. I could get away with a monthly plan, a list of upcoming deadline, and a quick whiteboard schedule on the busy weeks when I had a lot on.

The needle swings back the other way this week. Quarterly checkpoints, monthly checkpoints, weekly checkpoints, daily plans in the bujo. Detailed project lists where I adequately scope out what needs to happen and why. Partially this is because it’s July, when my commitments ramp up a bit due to book launches and writing events. Partially this is ’cause I’m a relationship, and I find myself syncing in with someone else’s schedule – I want to be free when they are free, and I do not want to be distracted by a nagging feeling that I should be working.

Mostly, it’s because the mandatory classes associated with my PhD ended and I am largely left to my own devices again, which means I am more likely to waste time if I am not mindful of it.

The temptation with any organisational or time management system, when you first come across it, is to embrace every aspect of it in the hopes it will make you suddenly superhuman. A dynamo of getting shit done, buoyed up by the glorious certainty of your to-do list.

I’ve done that in the past. And things rapidly fell apart.

Any productivity system I trail is there to solve a particular problem. Productivity systems are a tool, not a superpower.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

My thesis prospectus was submitted on Friday, which means I get to shift gears and focus on creative work a little more for the latter half of the year. This week, that takes the form of a story that will either end up being a novella or novelette about an broker of occult artifacts and the trouble he runs into when his best friend cuts him out of a deal.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I read CS Pacat’s The Captive Prince in preparation for an In Conversation that’s happening a little later in the month, and it’s an intriguing book to look at in that context. A lot of the hype that surrounded it’s original release was all about trying to position it within the marketplace, and there were a *lot* of references to the series as an erotic Game of Thrones. That undersells the book quite considerably, and misses what’s really interesting about the series.  It’s doing a lot more with the traditions of romantic fantasy – quite intentionally, would be my guess –

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I need to critique a friend’s novel this week and it’s not currently accounted for in my to-do list, and I’ve got two weeks to do a bunch of reading and notes for the next phase of the thesis (aka writing the chapter that I’m actually doing the thesis to write).

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Working on the same short story as last week, and finishig off uni assessment for the semester.

What’s inspiring me this week?

No Middle Name, the collection of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher stories and novellas. It’s been a useful collection to look at in light of the PhD topic, and Reaxgee’s status as an iconic rather than a dramatic character.

What part of my project am I avoiding?

Still getting in the get swing of working during regular work hours, rather than being free to work at all hours.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Still working on short fiction this week, and my goal is to finish a story about coffee carts, families,and the end of the world that I’m trying to get done by the end of the month.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, which started out as a thing I planned on reading for fun and quickly revealed a metaphor that’s going to be incredibly useful for explaining a part of my thesis. The book itself is an interesting mix – frequently smart and funny, but occasionally marked a tendency to separate “nerds” from “normals”in a way that frequently feels uncomfortable.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I’ve been slowly building up the writing muscles after a slack period, but I’ve been reluctant to move back to a daily quota system where I active track time or word count to measure progress. It’s probably time to start looking at the twenty-hour writing week as a default thing again, working regular hours and filling in time-sheets. It’s worked pretty well for me in the past, particularly when I need to maintain focus, but I keep avoiding taking that step at the moment.

The Flaw of “Not That”

I’m halfway through Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusader, a book that traces the evolution of Batman and the rise of geek culture. It is, at alternating intervals, fascinating and smart and very, very funny, but it also loops back to a series of conceits and bits that irritate the fuck out of me.

Mostly, it comes down to one word: normals. It gets used quite often throughout the text, the distinguishing term that others non-fans in a meaningful way, and it gets used because it’s a thread that runs through fandom in so many ways. It is, at least, nowhere near as bad as the mundanes, but it matters so little to my tooth-grinding dislike of that artificial segregation that it barely helps.

It is incredibly easy to define an identity and a subculture based on your dislike of what you’re against. Pointing and saying NOT THAT is considerably clearer than saying, TOTALLY THIS (and yes, I’m totally aware that I’m totally falling back on Not That right now; I’m embracing the stupidity of this).

But Not That eliminates the possibility of nuance. It eliminates the possibility of having an AND. I am this AND this. I am for many many things.

And the reasons behind Not That invariably, rapidly become uninteresting to me. I am much more interested in listening to people talk about the things they love, and why they love it, than I am hearing about the things they dislike intensely.

The Narrative Demands It

I’m on the highway, heading south, on a particular June winter morning. I’m doing hundred and the sun is shining and the road is almost empty. Just a few cars, far ahead, well past my turn-off, which means I get some space to myself in a world no longer fond of space.

I’ve had the stereo playing ever since I left home, and I find myself listening to the Stranglers Golden Brown for the first time in years. It occurs to me that I love this song. I’ve got things turned up a little louder than usual, and I turn it up a little more, and the music fills my head and obliterates everything else. I’ve got the car and the road and the ¾ rhythms of the keyboard and the harpsicord, Hugh Cornwell singing about the texture and sun and finer temptresses, that slow rise-and-fall of the music wrapping itself around my day like the last touch of a dream.

I feel good. I’m in the moment. I’m not thinking about the things I’ve done wrong, or the things I’d like to do right. I’m just driving a car and singing off-key and god, it’s so bright out there. The road is so empty. It’s perfect, in a way, for the length of a verse; the kind of scene that appears in movies, right before a character has a heart attack, or gets attacked by zombies, or finds themselves blindsided by a truck. Happiness as a portent of doom, because happiness does not last unless it occurs at the climax and becomes part of the denouement.

It occurs to me, any moment now, I need to die quite horribly. The narrative demands it.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

I’ve got a few minor tasks to do for the thesis prospectus, but my attention gets to drift back to fiction this week. Current plan is to put together a short story draft together.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’ve read a lot of Joan Didion’s essays over the years, but somehow I’ve managed to miss The White Album until now. This is incredibly unfortunate, since it’s fantastic essay and I immediately wanted to a) go and write things after reading it, and b) annoy everyone I know by posting quotes to Facebook and Instagram.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I’ve stopped paying attention to refilling the well over the last few weeks, with a lot of my reading being either thesis-focused or me falling back on well-worn comfort reads.Necessary for recharging, but not great at actually pushing me into work, so I’m pulling together a small pile of books and starting to track my research-reading again.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Working through the feedback on my thesis prospectus and putting together the final rewrites of the supporting documents that go in with it.Things turned out to be in much better shape than I thought when I sent the draft through to my supervisor, so I’m hoping I can have it all out of the way by this time next week.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I know I’ve said this before, but I re-watched the first few episodes of Riverdale this week and it’s a very different experience where you know what they’re building towards in the season finale. There’s an incredible amount of stuff built into the show that you don’t notice right up – little cuts away to minor characters for reactions, or making use of a character’s sight lines to convey things in scenes where they don’t have dialogue – and it’s a lot easier to see the meticulousness of what they’re doing.

I really am going to read something in the coming week, though. I’m starting to get twitchy about the lack of finished books.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I really, really need to schedule work this week. The last seven days have been weirdly intense and busy, and it’s started to affect my mindset a bit – I’m wavering between intense bursts of doing everything and seeing everyone, alternating with long periods where I’m semi-comatose and unwilling to do anything. That’s a pretty good sign that I’m going to burn out real soon, so actually thinking about my work/relaxation split and planning it out instead of just doing whatever comes up is getting pushed to the top of my priority list.

Progress Report

I frequently get the shits with antidepressant medication and seeing my psychologist and all the processes that are necessary for managing the inside of my heaf. Part of that’s the ongoing struggle with self-stigma that any of it is necessary at all, part of it is the annoyance of the month-to-month cost of keeping my shit together, and sometimes it just feels like it’s not goddamn working and all the time, money, and effort is going to waste.

It’s not. I spent a good chunk of last night taking a really long walk, ’cause I was starting to get a little squirrely and fragmented. Two years ago, I would have disappeared into a week-long TV binge or computer game obsession where I skipped sleep for days on end, so even when three hours feels like a failure, it’s not.

Where I once used to stress-eat incredible amounts of junk food and cola after rising at midday, I will now usually respond to long-term stress by eating a considerably healthier breakfast at my local cafe.

I have slowly, painfully, gotten better at acknowledging that I occasionally have feelings, and will even discuss them with a select group of other human beings from time to time.

I no longer remember the last time I felt like a fake human being, merely presenting a clever facade to the world, or a bundle of incoherent rage lurking beneath a thin veneer of civility. Intellectually, I know it was about eleven months back, right about the time virtually everyone I know said get help, but it feels further back than that.

Progress feels weird and invisible. Sometimes it’s just swapping out really bad habits for less destructive ones, but it’s still progress. Not always as fast as I’d like, or as thorough as I’d like, but it is what it is. 

And when I get shitty with the process, I try to focus on that. I am not where I was, and that is a good thing.