Load Bearing Character

•September 5, 2019 • 4 Comments

“Send me a synopsis- three pages. I’ll be better able to advise you once I have an idea of the story.”

I’d called in a favor to a former professor of mine to try to get some advice about the query letter for my novel, and after four weeks of rescheduling I’d finally managed to get him on the phone.

“Three page synopsis. End of the week- can you do that?”

“Yup.” I said. “You got it.”

I knew I already had a synopsis written: I’d managed to distill my 900 page manuscript into a ten-page synopsis several weeks earlier, and had further streamlined it down to six pages by eliminating the subplots. Now I was going to need to cut it in half yet again.

Challenge accepted.

I knew in a broad way that the story followed three conflict arcs: Man Feuds with Bandmate, Man Loses Grandmother, Man Hits Rock Bottom all under the larger thematic arc of Man Reconciles With Estranged Father To Find A Place In The Family. So really, all I had to do was eliminate anything that didn’t directly support one of those arcs.

It quickly became clear which characters were load-bearing characters: characters that were key to the structure of the story as a whole. There was the protagonist, of course, who was also the narrator. That one was easy. And there were obvious adversaries who deserved to be mentioned by name as I outlined the conflict. Proper names became a key indicator: the story has a cast of thousands (ok not literally, but there are a LOT) and it didn’t make sense to drop a bunch of names unless there was good reason for the reader to know it. The names that remained fell into two categories: antagonists who’s conflict with the narrator moved the plot forward, and characters who caused three protagonist to be in conflict with himself to move the theme forward: mentors, love interests, children, etc. It was interesting to note what characters were glossed over: some of them were quite major participants in the story, but moved in parallel to the protagonist: informing and facilitating the action but not causing change. It was an eye opening way to see the structure of my story emerge from its complicated mechanics.

I guess it’s true that you never stop learning about your own work.

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Horse Pose

•September 3, 2019 • 1 Comment

I stopped writing for a week or so. Even though my mood has been steadier lately, I was still struggling with a sense of futility, and writing a daily post felt like more work than I really had the bandwidth for. So, I took a break. I even considered, for a while, giving it up for good. (Does this spark joy? Let it go.) But here I am feeling motivated and optimistic again so I figured I’ll give it another shot.

My routine of daily goals has been slowly eroding over the past few months: for a while I was trying to chronicle my days with just a line or two describing what I did and what happened, but that fell by the wayside at the beginning of August. Next was planking: low energy coupled with low motivation coupled with summer heat made planking intermittently feel like too much effort.

And, most recently, the blogging.

Some days it seems like the only goal I still manage to accomplish is flossing my teeth.

Over the weekend I learned of a new static exercise to try called Horse Pose- a kind of wide-stanced squat that forms a useful basis for various martial arts. I was curious to know how difficult I would find it to hold this pose, so I gave it a try (I can only sustain it for about two minutes at a time) and found it satisfyingly difficult. Five minutes of Horse Pose (broken up into segments because I’m a newbie) plus five minutes of planking is enough to work up a legitimate full body sweat, and feels like a very satisfying and very brief workout. I might be adding this to my permanent rotation.

In unrelated news: for the first time in years, all my nails are looking at the same time, so I decided to treat myself to a bottle of nail polish. I almost never paint my nails, except very occasionally with clear polish. I’m not good about applying it or maintaining it, and I tend to be so hands-on with my creative pursuits that my nails are often in bad shape. So the fact they were all pretty even and strong seemed like a good reason to make an exception.

I bought a bottle of gold colored polish: fancy enough to feel special, subtle enough to feel practical, and spent some time over the long weekend applying it carefully in layers. So far I feel pretty good about the results: thereal test will be to see how long it lasts.

Re Write

•August 26, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Photo is unrelated

I thought it would be a simple fix: a few minor tweaks to streamline a chapter that was a bit on the long side and which had an unnecessary amount of repetition in it. It’s early in my novel, so depending upon how many pages an agent or editor requests, they may or may not find themselves tangled in the action. So it’s a chapter that I’ve been meaning to tidy up for a while now, and when I finally gave in last week and allowed myself to begin editing, it seemed like the obvious place to start.

Well.

You would think that a chapter that is already completely written, editing would be a simple task. Instead, I’m finding that I’m second guessing the placement and necessity of nearly every sentence. Do I really need this bit of backstory? Is that expression really true to that character? Who should motivate this mischief the characters are getting up to? Can I consolidate these two bits into one passage?

It’s a bit of a house of cards. I keep having to work on it in small doses, but I’m grinding my way through and I’m happy with how the changes are working out so far. I just need to make myself a map to keep track of all the elements.

Anyway, this is what I’ve been trying to focus on instead of my case of the Mondays. I didn’t sleep well. I mean, I must have slept at least a little bit because I remember dreaming in between tosses and turns. The stove light from the kitchen, which is always on, seemed to be shining directly under my eyelids, and I got up twice to deal with the cat puking in the lining room.

The day did not get off to an auspicious start.

It took the bus forever to arrive, and now that school is back in session, traffic was a nightmare. I made it to work an hour late: nothing to be done but send a message to let them know. And the company refuses to get a full time receptionist so I’m filling in for the afternoon but seem to be a complete scatterbrain about everything that used to come as second nature. And today is therapy day and I don’t know what I’m going to talk about.

But at least I’m not crying. So that’s progress.

New Music

•August 23, 2019 • 1 Comment

I asked for earbuds for Christmas. My standard operating procedure is to buy cheap earbuds from Walgreens for my iPod and they usually last two or three months before some internal wire begins to degrade or disconnect and I lose audio in one ear. I figured it would be a good, inexpensive gift idea for someone who wanted to give a “little something”.

The In-Laws had other ideas. Instead of a set of simple little earbuds I got a Device that no doubt styled itself as a Mobile Audio Delivery Apparatus or something similar. It was a sleek curved piece of molded plastic that you wore around your neck. It had external speakers, retractable earbuds, volume control, microphone, Google Assistant compatible, and was Bluetooth enabled. The only problem was there was no way to connect it to my iPod, which was old enough to predate any model that might be Bluetooth enabled.

“Are you ever going to use those headphones my folks gave you?” The Curmudgeonly Lion asked after the Device sat untouched for six months.

“Yeeees?” I said, guiltily. “I just need to move all my music to my phone…” I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t sure how to actually do that and was too embarrassed and unmotivated to ask for help.

At last the opportunity presented itself: I was researching DreamWorks animated films and there were a few I needed to get caught up on. The Curmudgeonly Lion was not keen on animation so I needed to watch them on my own time and my daily bus commute seemed like the obvious choice. I could stream Netflix on my phone. My phone was Bluetooth enabled. It was the perfect opportunity to put The Device through its paces.

It was surprisingly easy to pair the Device to my phone- even for a luddite like me. The sound quality was good. The earbuds were comfortable… It was nice to be wireless for a change. In the chaos of my recent emotional turmoil I could wear the Device and discreetly listen to music off of YouTube to keep myself calm. It helped. I discovered that the algorithm for YouTube Music was surprisingly good at anticipating my taste. Sure it was pairing a lot of Rammstein with Five Finger Deathpunch with Weird Al, but it happened to speak to my mood in that moment. It had been a long time since I’d gotten any new music and I was hungry for it. I started wearing the Device every day to explore some new musical directions and my horizons have expanded as a result, which is quite pleasant.

So it took a while to get around to it, but I finally fell in love with the Device.

Self-Less

•August 22, 2019 • 1 Comment

I’m beginning to wonder if my mood problems can be boiled down to a crisis of identity. It was something that Aurelius mentioned in passing at the end of our recent session and it lit up something in my brain. In other times and other circumstances I might have found this suggestion to be laughable: I’m a pretty strong-minded person and I put a lot of value in individuality- ergo, I generally think I have a pretty strong sense of self. So, in the light of all these mood swings and angst vortices and depressive phases, the more esoteric philosophical questions like “who am I, where do I come from, and where am I going” were somewhat deprioritized. Most of my attention and energy was being siphoned off into questions like “how can I get a better paying job” and “why won’t my friends talk to me anymore- maybe they hate me” and “omg I’m getting older and no one is ever going to think I’m beautiful again.” Everything that I wanted seemed to be getting farther and farther out of my reach and in the hands of somebody else who could choose whether or not to bestow it upon me leaving me helplessly at their mercy.

I’m not saying any of this was true or even rational, but it was increasingly becoming a part of my head-space that I couldn’t seem to shake.

Now, I’m beginning to think that this perceived gap between Me and Everything I Want In Life has less to do with my goals moving out beyond my reach and more to do with my identity not growing fast enough to fill the space. All my insecurities come back to the Sartrian hell of Other People: the Other People who Have Better Jobs than me. The Other People who Are Younger And Prettier Than Me And Probably Richer And More Successful Too. The Other People who Have Lots Of Friends and Know How To Have Fun.

Maybe I wouldn’t care so much about what other people thought or did if I we’re more comfortable in what I was doing and who I was. The thought gave me some comfort at the time, which seems to be lingering.

So far, it feels like a topic that is too big to be tackled head on. I keep circling around the outskirts of it, trying to get a sense of the shape of it. When did I lose my sense of self? Who am I anyway? If I’m unhappy with the trappings of my life (career, money, friends, appearance) then how do I define myself beneath all that? Did something go wrong or did I just get out of sync with myself?

I don’t have the answers, I’m still just trying to figure out the questions. But for right now I think I might be starting to get back on track.

Pinhead

•August 21, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Apropos of nothing, this was left on the printer at work.

The pill was the size of a grain of rice. And I was only supposed to take half. The pharmacy had provided me with an ingenius pill splitter for free, which was good because there was no way I was going to be able to split one of those bad boys without crushing it.

The resulting pill fragment was the size of a pinhead. This? I thought, This is supposed to hold back my mood swings? It seemed so extraordinarily out of proportion to the size of my Feelings. But who was I to judge? Maybe a little dab would so me.

So I took it. I think. It was small enough I didn’t feel it in my mouth. The next day passed without tears and without spiraling angst or persecuting thoughts. I presumed that this was coincidence: I was told that it would be several weeks before I felt any different, as the medication would take time to build up to “therapeutic levels”. Taking it one pinhead amount at a time, I could understand why. But I was relieved to feel calm for a day, even if it was only placebo effect.

So this begins my journey of pharmaceutical intervention for managing my moods. Sigh. I’m regretful that it had to come to this: I always wanted to believe that I was strong enough to withstand whatever life would throw at me, but now I’m forced to admit that even within my own mind I need help to thrive in this chaotic world. But it doesn’t have to be forever either: clearly I’m struggling to navigate a frustrating part of my life right now and it would be significantly easier for me to do so if I could just get out of my own way.

In other news: I’ve pretty much given up on the whole wait-until-after-September-to-edit-my-manuscript thing. At first it was minor changes: editing out extra “that”s, changing a character’s name to have a different first letter to make it easier to keep track of who was who (I had too many names beginning with Go), etc. But now I’m legitimately making line edits and restructuring chapters, so I guess I’m officially editing now. It’s work that I look forward to. I feel like I’m back among friends. When I sit down on the bus I’m excited to dig out my laptop. When I get off the bus after working I feel relaxed. So maybe that’s helping my mood too. I tell myself it’s ok to be this eager to get back to work: that it’s a good sign that I’m not sick of the story yet. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

•August 19, 2019 • 1 Comment

I took a week off from writing. My mood was low which meant that my inspiration and concentration were low too, and the things that were biggest on my mind: depression, frustration, futility, etc. didn’t really seem like topics about which I had anything meaningful to say. So it was easier just to say nothing for a while.

It was a week of disappointed hopes. On Monday I hoped the insurance company would approve additional sessions for therapy, with no luck. The therapist had put in the request weeks ago but still no response. I asked if it was worth me calling myself, but he said he didn’t think it would make a difference. On Tuesday mutt mood was so low I spent the morning crying at my desk like La Llorona and even seriously considered going home early, but the tide of tears ebbed somewhat around lunch hour and I was able to make it through the rest of the day. On Wednesday I stayed steady by not thinking at all if I could help it. I emerged just long enough to send a message to my new primary care physician to ask if there was anything else I should be doing and ended up making an appointment. On Thursday I found out I didn’t get the job I’d interviewed for. Either one. They were perfect jobs for me and I would have been perfect for either one, but alas, Thank You But The Positions Have Been Filled. Drowned myself in tears over it.

By Friday I was pretty burned out. I applied listlessly to a few more jobs, sent another query for my novel, spent a lot of time once again trying not to think, to breathe, to feel. I went home numb and did my best to stay that way all weekend.

So today was the doctor’s appointment in which I discussed the possibility of antidepressants for the first time in my life, and I left with a little paper bag of mixed feelings. Right now I’m sitting outside the therapist’s office killing time until my appointment time: another twelve sessions newly approved.

Today has been reasonably steady: I’ve been trying to stretch my mind around a philosophical adjustment about selflessness and Greater Purpose, but I’m not sure if I believe it yet. If nothing else, I at least feel like I’m building the professional support around myself that I need. Hopefully that will be some help.

 
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