The Sleep Thing, Blogging, And Writing Without a Net

rp_Sleep-Cyborg-150x150.jpgThe sleep thing. The apnea. The bad habit my body has developed of asphyxiating me a couple of dozen times an hour, while my body drifts into a REM state. I’ve called it all sorts of things over the last nine months, but it always opens up a quiet moment of panic inside me. It lies at the heart of a very specific debate I have, regarding social media and being a writer.

Because I do not know where the line is, when it comes to discussing it. It came up a few times, over the weekend, and figuring out when I’d crossed over into the territory where I’d become the guy banging on about something everyone else was done with got difficult even when the non-verbal queues were present.

I do, after all, have a tendency to bang on about things when I’m trying to figure them out.

Usually, long after everyone else is wishing I’d shut up.

And that presents some issues when it comes to blogging. This post is…well, not necessarily soliciting feedback, but it’s definitely thinking out loud.

A large chunk of my Melbourne trip was spent pondering the blog, and why I’m doing it, and what I’m hoping to achieve in 2016. The sleep thing is on my mind because I can’t quite pin down how it plays into my habit of talking about writing here. And, oh hell, is it on my mind a lot. I’m still trying to figure it out.

For me, there are two issues in play.

FIRST: ALL WRITER BLOGS ARE A CURATED EXPERIENCE

Decisions are made about what goes up and what goes down, even if the writer is making those decisions subconsciously. A blog may be honest, but it’s the kind of honesty you bring along on the first date, where you try to present the best parts of yourself in the hopes of charming a stranger into seeing you a second time.

Apparently, the version of myself that I bring on first dates swears a lot, yells a lot, and talks obsessively about writing. This qualifies as me representing my good side, which explains all sorts of things about my love life.

Most writers blog the shitty parts of their process. They don’t blog the self-doubt or the moments of loathing, the fear that things have finally reached their end-point and they will never get published again. You may see the occasional post about them, but they don’t become a theme.

When those posts appear, they will frequently be a one-off that curates the process as something faintly amusing – oh look, isn’t this quaint, I’m having a moment of doubt or fear, but tomorrow I will be my witty, charming self again.

Constant gloom is a terrible sales pitch, on a date or when you have written a book.

So you curate that shit out, for the most part, so you’re not sending a constant message with the subtext that you hated every minute of writing your book, ‘cause it was long and hard and the world is fucking insane, and there is nothing more terrifying than trusting your rent will be paid for by shit you made up inside your head.

And in this respect, the sleep thing presents a problem for me.

I’ve not been on a date since I started treatment – I’m not a date-type person at the best of times years – but in the back of my head, I’m utterly aware that one of these days I’ll have an awkward conversation that needs to be had. At some point during that courting phase, I’ll need to be yo, so here’s the thing, when I sleep…well, I’m hooked up to a machine that would make Darth Vader proud. This means there is very little chance of spontaneity when it comes to the subject of staying over and such.

I have the same problem here.

I’m blogging again. A lot. About writing.

And when it comes to the subject of writing, the apnea is omni-present for me. A problem that needs to be worked around, a millstone that hung around my neck for far too many years when the doctor thought symptoms were a sign of other conditions. It’s been nine months since I started therapy, and not a day goes by where I don’t think fuck, if we had just discovered this back in 2012 and started this process then…

Editing it out of my experience with writing is rather like trying to write a novel without using the letter Q. Technically possible, and an interesting exercise, but every now and then you’ll go searching for the right word and discover it’s off-limits.

My instinct is always to give a hearty “fuck you,” to limits placed on writing. And yet, consciously, I’m very aware that limits can be a good thing for creativity. When you’ve got something to work against.

So I waver, going back and forth. Mention it. Don’t mention it. I honestly don’t know.

TWO: LIVE, AND WITHOUT A NET

The number of times I’ve written a post this year, then deleted it because the apnea shows up without being the actual subject, it’s crazy. The sleep thing colours every aspect of my writing and it’s hard to curate it out of existence.

And it is not going away.

The phrase I kept coming back to, when I put together notes about blogging and 2016: perform live, and without a net.

Some history: I benefited a lot, when I first came to writing speculative fiction, from the community of emerging writers who were active on livejournal. Lots of people who were in the process of writing and selling their first few novels were in a space where they could write about their process and experience, sometimes in a brutally honest fashion.

I’d lurk and pay attention and generally take notes. That community of writers taught me a whole bunch of things about the business of writing that I didn’t know, at the time.

One of the phrases that stuck with me, from that era, is working live, and without a net. You do what you’re going to do, and if you fuck up, you fuck up. There is nothing to save you if you botch the trick and fall. If you fail, fail publicly and let people see the mess.

It was an enormous privilege to be able to watch a lot of writers figuring shit out in public and, sometimes, they did fuck up. They fell, and there was no net, and they lost readers or seemed like cranky mother-fuckers or they just plain hit the ground, hard, and broke things.

That’s not the internet we live with, anymore. Livejournal got hammered by the advent of Facebook, then disappeared into the wilds of Russia. Authors kicked off blogs on websites, which encouraged a different kind of posting and drew a different kind of audience.

But you can still learn shit, from seeing writers show off their warts. There is an advantage to working live, without the god-damn net, ‘cause you get to see the glimpses of real truth and frustration that exist beneath the curated, idyllic experience that gets present on the blog.

I don’t want to exclude the apnea from things because it’s so fucking common it hurts. A half-dozen writers I knew emerged when I first posted about it and delivered advice from their own experience.

Another three people I know have gone through sleep assessments in recent months and started on CPAP therapy.

I’ve had a handful of conversations with people who were like, well, how did you know? And the stories they tell me about doctors’ visits and exhaustion and falling asleep while driving cars begin to sound very familiar.

And the sleep thing? One of dozens of conditions that can derail a writing career. There are writers out there working around all sorts of shit: medical conditions, mental conditions, major life-upheavals.

My apnea was no small thing. It fucked with my life in all sorts of ways, particularly when it came to writing, and I’m only just starting to unravel some of the messes it made.

It still fucks with my life. It still fucks with my writing.

Writing about process or business or craft without acknowledging that is not presenting the best version of myself – it’s closer to outright lying.

AND THAT IS THE CONUNDRUM

Half of me wants to talk about the apnea far less. Half of me sees the long-term value of just being upfront about it. Both sides have pretty valid arguments for doing so.

It’s complicated by the fact that a blog is not really a first-date. Every post is the first time someone reads you work, a chance to make an impression and come off like a charming mother-fucker. But it’s also a second or third date for some readers, and a long-term relationship for others. It’s…

Well, that metaphor is getting uncomfortable for me, but I think you get my drift.

Blogs are complicated spaces when it comes to engaging with your readers. I spend a lot of time relying on instinct and luck, hoping to get it right, and this is one of those spaces where there is far more luck than instinct.

I don’t know if I’m going to get it right. I suspect I will not. I keep thinking up solutions – putting a little (context) tag next to apnea-related asides where I don’t want to explain things – but I’m not sure they’re the right move.

And yet, for the moment, I’m erring on the side of without a net. If acknowledging the apnea, talking about it, is going to be a fuck-up, I’m okay with it being big and spectacular and leaving me a mess on the ground.

  4 comments for “The Sleep Thing, Blogging, And Writing Without a Net

  1. 17/11/2015 at 10:16 AM

    These feels, I know them. Not so much with the chronic fatigue which, duh, makes it super hard to write anything on the regular. But when my anxiety was not sufficiently medicated and I had less tools in the toolbox… well, my anxiety was in EVERYTHING. So I either never blogged, updated, statused, etc, or I brought my irritating little sibling along for the ride.

    I noticed it was so easy to get pissy about the need to mention it over and over, to want to just speed my way through those parts… but fortunately my psychologist is big on mindfulness and that approach helped a lot with the writing. I am here now. It’s not particularly relevant whether this now resembles that other one. It still IS.

    Thus, I find your sleep thing talks to be not in any way problematic. I actually enjoy seeing any situation examined from multiple angles, especially by intelligent personages such as yourself.

  2. incognitiously
    17/11/2015 at 10:18 AM

    You answered this question for me in our talks about my blog. I told you I backed out of writing a ton of things because I would reach the point of "who cares what I think?"

    And the point you made to me is that though I may address topics thousands of others have addressed before, no one thinks about that topic in the same way I do, and there's value in sharing that.

    You are a writer whose life and work is heavily influenced by apnea. While there may be others in your same boat, your thoughts about it aren't the same as theirs, and we can all learn from you thinking things out loud. I don't have apnea, but I do have ADHD, and it impairs my ability to do all kinds of things, including write. I find your insights extraordinarily useful.

    You're right; a blog is not a first date. And while I see your point about curation, the blogs that appeal to me the most are the ones that are the most honest, warts and all. So I'd encourage live-without-a-net, especially since you already have an audience who is invested in what you have to say, and who is likely to be quite forgiving of any "failures". I know that's the case for me, because to me, bloggers (that I trust) are are being generous with their time and thoughts.

  3. 17/11/2015 at 10:12 PM

    Without a net works for you. Personally I get a lot out of reading your trials and tribulations if for no other reason than I am a writer who probably should be using her cpap machine.

    As for the uncomfortable parts, they’re part of life. Piggy tied a face hugger to his mask one night which gave me a pretty spontaneous reaction. And if she can’t laugh, not worth screwing with. (In both senses of the phrase. )

    • petermball
      18/11/2015 at 11:12 AM

      The not-using-a-cpap-like-I-should thing is kinda fascianting to me. I was talking to the folks at the sleep clinic about it, \’cause they were surprised by the regularity of my usage, and I couldn\’t wrap my head around not using it now that I\’ve got one. The difference it makes is just too great.

      What made you set it aside?

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