Back to Earth

•October 29, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I spent the weekend in Taos, New Mexico to be a part of the Hot Air Balloon Rally with my youngest sister, Filbert. It was a wonderful trip: plenty of excellent food, good conversation with family friends and fun adventures, and I returned home to wild fires and a two-and-a-half hour morning commute thanks to some Yahoo who decided to snarl traffic by threatening to jump off the Hollywood Avenue overpass onto the 101 freeway. Huzzah.

Nothing like Los Angeles to bring a person back down to earth.

The trip was a much needed break from the routine. I love a good routine, but lately I’ve been struggling to break myself out of some less-than-constructive patterns. It’s not easy to do: if your days all follow the same template then it is easy to find yourself going over the same ground again and again until you wear it into a rut. For me, this happens a lot with my thoughts: if I get into a pattern of negative thinking then it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Everything becomes tagged with negative memories and associations so that the more I try to put it out of my mind the more it digs its claws in.

The trip helped me break a bit of that.

For four days, I traveled around New Mexico. I kept off Twitter and Facebook. I left my laptop and novel at home. I gave myself permission to eat anything I wanted. I gave myself to spend money. I gave myself permission to just go with the flow.

Taos is both home and away for me: I lived the earliest years of my life there, but have only been back a handful of times since. We have a life-long family friend who lives there: the kind of sardonic, artistic, Vodka Aunt that every girl should have in her life and who has been a part of mine since literally the moment I was born.

She was kind enough to put us up at her house and make introductions for us around town among her wide network of friends. She knew someone who knew someone who sponsored a hot air balloon. She knew someone who knew someone who was a successful author who was willing to talk to me about publishing. She knew all the good places to eat and all the interesting nooks and crannies to visit. She knew all the scandalous drama lurking below the surface of a town like Taos: a small town at the crossroads of Odd and Inspired.

Exhibit A:

Me: We got really good spicy hot chocolate at this cafe downtown!

Her: Oh yes, that place: the owner was MURDERED, horribly, in a field.

Exhibit B:

Me: What was the compound your friend was talking about?

Her: Oh, yes, it was a compound full of extremists who were practicing black magic. The FBI raided it a year or two ago. It made national news…

Never a dull moment in Taos, New Mexico.

At any rate, it was great fun to get out of town. I feel like I had a chance to step outside myself and now I’m glad to be back, even though Los Angeles is doing its best to be on its worst behavior. Le sigh. If I’m lucky, I can now get a toe hold on a fresh start.

Evolution

•October 23, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I took three chapters out of my book.

It began as an experiment: I’d gotten a note from one of my beta readers that the first few chapters felt different in tone and objective than the rest of the book, and it was true: they all took place on the road in kind of a road-trip vibe and leaned heavily on ‘shenanigans’ between the characters as a way to introduce their various ways of interacting with each other and with the world. They felt like solid chapters and I was proud of them, but I wondered, you know, just theoretically, what it might be like if I took them out and began the story with the character’s arrival in Chicago.

I decided to give it a try.

I saved the prologue and the first four chapters into a new document so that I could cut and paste freely. Then I went through and highlighted the most important bits of exposition: character descriptions, important props, and characters and events that get mentioned again later and will need to be set up. It seemed like a surprisingly manageable amount of content to be redistributed. I felt optimistic.

I began to fiddle with bits and pieces: replacing dialogue, removing minor characters, re-prioritizing what themes and plot elements got introduced. I found that I could set up nearly all the information that I needed in a few pages by having the character relay the information to the audience directly instead of showing it blow-by-blow. It’s not a technique I like to lean heavily on because it can slip into a kind of “Harry-The-Explainer” voice very easily, but for the sake of my experiment it worked pretty well, and for the sake of my wordcount it helped me eliminate about nine thousand words.

More dead darlings.

I feel like it’s safe to say that I’ve gotten enough “distance” from my work to be able to make the deep cuts.

It would be easy to dismiss these chapters as not being necessary. Maybe the agents that I’m querying out there are throwing up their hands in exasperation saying “we TOLD you to send us your most polished version! Why were these chapters even in it if they were so easy to cut?!” But they were necessary at the time. There was a book I needed to write and it was nine hundred and twenty seven pages long. And now that I’ve done that, I need to hone it down into something that can hold an edge.

So, I feel good about the progress so far. The overall arc of the story is in a bit of disarray at the moment while I tinker with plotlines and character arcs, but it’s exciting to watch it evolve. It keeps me distracted from the rejection letters that continue to filter in (just got another one today), and help me to remember that the project is alive and needs to keep growing. And when it’s ready for the world, the world will be ready to welcome it.

Emotion Explosion

•October 22, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I had another appointment with the new therapist yesterday. Afterwards, I experienced a nearly panic-attack level mood swing while driving home. I made it home safely and had to sit in the car for five minutes sobbing before I could pull myself together enough to go inside, at which point I spent another twenty minutes sobbing into the Curmudgeonly Lion’s shoulder, into the bathroom sink while brushing my teeth, and into the carpet while doing my planks.

Depression is a helluva drug.

Unsurprisingly, I feel pretty wrung out today, and my eyes are so swollen I almost don’t recognize them.

I find it frustrating to still be struggling struggling with this kind of low mood and volatile mood swings: at after all, I’ve changed my job, I’ve committed to therapy, I’m on medication and have been steadily upping the dose (as per the advice of professionals), I’m in good health and I’m now exercising daily. Something should have helped by now. Or so it feels. And yet here we are.

The therapist theorizes that this is the result of Adjustment Disorder: that my system is overreacting to the fact that I’ve made so many changes and is piling on extra helpings of depressive and anxious feelings as a warped form of compensation. Delightful. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

The good news is: if he’s right about these feelings being the result of Adjustment Disorder (and I suspect that they are- that assessment rings true) then the effects are transient and will go away after after a while. I presume this will happen naturally, just as I get used to all these changes I’ve made, although the underlying depression will still be there lurking under the surface for me to tackle. Still, I feel like it will be progress just to make it back to level ground.

To be fair, I have already seen some progress: I actually feel like smiling in pictures again for a change which is a BIG difference from Labor day when I couldn’t even bring myself to manage that much. I no longer sit at my desk and fight tears for eight hours while trying to power through the feeling that every minute that goes by is a waste of my life. I’m slightly less defenseless against intrusive thoughts and persecuting voices, but I’m still exhausted of fighting. I’m tired of being so sensitive to EVERYTHING.

In spite of appearances, I believe that this most recent an angst spiral was actually a good sign: the feelings were certainly unpleasant and intense, but I suspect it is because they were built up from the three or four weeks of transition where I didn’t address any of them. I want to believe that the fact they are coming out now is a sign that my body thinks it’s safe for them to come out now: the way that a toddler will blow up at a trusted parent after a stressful day of school. It’s unpleasant, but I’d rather get it out of my system if I can. Maybe this is what letting it all go looks like.

One way to find out.

Red Brogue

•October 21, 2019 • 1 Comment

It was time, once again, for new shoes.

With all the change of the seasons, it was time to retire the summer sandals: both because the weather was getting to be too cold and also because they were starting to stink. I resolved that the next set of shoes that I bought would be a variety that I could wear with socks.

A friend of mine had sent me a gift card to DSW as a congratulations-on-the-new-job gift, for which I was stupendously grateful, so on Saturday I took myself shopping and browsed the clearance racks. I found a pair of perfectly serviceable walking shoes that felt nice and were well within my price range, but found myself feeling disappointed that they weren’t more…interesting. I wanted something a little inspiring. So much of my wardrobe is dull: black and gray and understated-professional. I wanted something a little bit special.

I was just about to resign myself to function-over-fashion and head to the register when I spotted a pair of red brogues on a lower shelf that I hadn’t noticed before. They reminded me of a pair of red shoes is worn for my first day of first grade, and I knew almost almost before I tried them on that they were exactly what I wanted.

So I got them.

(I also got the walking shoes- I figure if I’m going to be walking three miles every day I should have something practical to pound the pavement with- I can change into my dress shoes when I get to the office.)

I’m breaking them in today, which is to say that they are actually breaking me in. I can already tell I’ll have blisters on my heels by the time I get home, but once they soften up I know I will be getting a lot of mileage out of them.

Grinding

•October 18, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I woke up in the middle of the night to find the Curmudgeonly Lion’s finger in my mouth. Apparently, I’d woken him up by grinding my teeth in my sleep, which I did periodically without realizing it. I wasn’t really surprised: my mood has improved lately, and I don’t feel anxious per se, but I do find myself in a state of constant tension: clenching my jaw, chewing my lip, knotting my shoulders, pick-pick-picking at my cuticles and skin. Some days my chest is so right it is hard for me to take a full breath, and on the occasions when I succeed it sounds like I’m heaving an enormous, beleaguered sigh.

“Why the big sigh?” The Lion asks, worried.

“No reason, just breathing.” I reply.

I don’t remember what it was that had me tied up in knots during the night. I don’t recall any dreams disrupting my sleep. But I’m glad it’s Friday. This week felt really long: not in a bad way, just in a time-moving-slowly way. I’ve settled into work. I’ve settled into the new commute. I’ve settled into the changing season (as best as I can). I suppose that after all the changes in my life from the past few weeks just get feeling settled must be having an effect on my sense of time and progress. We’re fast approaching the time of year in which all my other goals and intentions fall by the wayside and everything becomes HOLIDAY PLANNING.

It’s coming.

We don’t have plans to travel this year which is a relief, but there’s still plenty of year-end tasks that always seem to get away from us even if we’re staying local. It’s just about time to make The List of things that need to be handled between now and the me new year.

Ugh.

No wonder I’m tense.

Bookish

•October 17, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I finally finished reading “Lullabye” by Chuck Palahniuk. For a smallish book it took me an embarrassingly long time to finish it. I’ve been carrying it around for weeks catching a few pages here and a few pages there over lunch hours and in waiting rooms, but whenever I had a significant block of free time I would want to spend it on my writing so the book kept getting put to the side like a second thought.

It was a good read. Profoundly strange, but good. I liked the concept (a reporter discovers a magic song that can kill people has been printed in a book of children’s poetry) and the beginning had a nice momentum to it, but about halfway through I lost my sense of direction and want sure what the point, theme, or objective was anymore. Maybe that was the point, for all I know. It’s hard for me to say whether this confusion was because of the books structure and plotting or if it was because my focus was so divided between reading and writing and I wasn’t giving it the attention it deserved.

It probably didn’t help that I was also reading another book at the same time: “The Snowman” by Jo Nesbo. Or rather, I was listening to “The Snowman” on audiobook every day on my commute. It was the book we selected for our book club, and I didn’t want to risk not finishing it by the time the next meeting rolled around, and I figured I could listen to the audiobook in the car. It turned out to be a good way to make rush hour tolerable and as a captive audience for two hours of the day, I managed to finish it in one week. As a mystery/thriller, I like to think I would have gotten through it quickly on the natural suspense. I figured out who the killer was almost as soon as he was mentioned, but had to wait until nearly the very end to find out whether or not I was right, so it was still good entertainment.

Anyway, I’m onto a new book now but haven’t quite gotten into it yet: another crime fic/mystery that I pulled off the shelf for the sole reason that it had the Chicago skyline on the spine, so we’ll see if it is any good.

Hot Throat

•October 16, 2019 • Leave a Comment

“Don’t forget to take your pill.” The Curmudgeonly Lion reminded me before bed. That’s the time when I normally take my anti-depressant so that if there are any side effects like drowsiness or nausea I can sleep through them.

But, of course, I forgot.

I was already in bed by the time I remembered. The light was out and so were my contacts, and I didn’t feel like getting up just to get a glass of water. The pills were small- I figured I’d just gulp it down dry for once and it would be no big deal.

Well, it was a big deal.

I gulped down the pill and lay back down in bed to go to sleep, but clearly it didn’t go down my throat the way it was supposed to and sat somewhere behind my tonsils to slowly dissolve. I became aware of a burning sensation. At first I thought I must have dislodged a pepper flake from dinner and gotten it caught in my throat. I’d opened a new bottle of hot sauce: habanero. It certainly felt hit enough for a pepper, but I couldn’t taste anything on my tongue and the burning sensation just kept getting worse. It felt like a hot lump in my throat- hot like a coal. Radiating heat. I could feel my pulse in my throat and hear it in my ears.

“What’s wrong?” The Curmudgeonly Lion asked when I got up.

“My throat is on fire.” I said. I put on glasses and went into the bathroom to try to look down my throat: one side was red and shot through with blood vessels standing out from the pink flesh. There was a whitish spot on the back of my throat- was it strep? I’d had strep throat enough to know what it felt like when it came on and this wasn’t that. It was too far back for me to prod it without gagging.

I tried water. No help. I tried milk. It soothed it for as long as I was drinking but the pain came back right away. I tried baking soda in water: same effect.

Nothing seemed to help. I turned to Dr Google.

Throat cancer!

I was pretty sure it wasn’t throat cancer. I was pretty sure it wasn’t acid reflux. I was petty sure it wasn’t strep.

Esophagatitis?

Maybe. Could be caused by pills. Seemed the most likely.

I propped myself up in bed assuming that esophagatitis would not require a trip to the emergency room and that I was just going to have to tough it out. I did eventually fall asleep, and today decided to look up “burning throat” and the name of my medication to discover that, yes, this was a thing that could happen to people who took their pills dry, and could have necessitated a trip to the emergency room if it had gotten lodged further down in my throat and burned through the lining. The internet was rife with horror stories.

So, I learned my lesson the hard way- or, at least, the hot way: always take this pill with water from now on.

 
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