Still Alive, Still UPBEAT

So I finally quit my soul-sucking job as a grant writer. I didn’t last very long (six months), but I got tired of applying to jobs in the meantime and waiting to hear back before I put in my two weeks. Luckily I have good friends, supportive parents, and a very stable girlfriend. I’ve taken a significant pay cut but now I’m working for a bookstore and life is slightly less heavy.

Untitled by jamieswang on Flickr.

Untitled by jamieswang on Flickr.

Mostly every day is still a struggle between problems with self-worth and anxiety. I’ve found that working in retail helps twofold (kinda) because I’m on my feet all day and I’m mostly smiling at customers all day, which convinces my brain to think, “Hey, we must be happy!” It’s nice to be working in a more open environment, surrounded by things in which I’m interested, as well as to be working with more amiable coworkers and managers.

Still, the struggle to remain UPBEAT continues. It’s been about two years since I started my novel and I am still struggling on the precipice of the 50% mark. About a quarter of the time I wonder if this project is still worth the struggle when I could just as easily take up something new. Another quarter of the time the apathy takes over and I distract myself with reading and crocheting and all the shiny new TV shows Netflix has to offer. The rest of the time is taken up by Real World concerns and the slog through the actual writing, novel or otherwise. (Shameless plug: I am still regularly writing on media representation and diversity for OKPotato and we should all be proud!)

So, here are some great distractions for the rest of you also struggling to write!:

  • Anything by Helen Oyeyemi. I’ve seen her name on Tumblr for a while, so I picked up Mr. Fox and White is for Witching and added them to my To Be Read pile. I’ve only gotten around to both recently and they are fantastic. The former is about an author’s muse confronting the author’s penchant for killing off his female characters. Together they rewrite fairy tales, transforming the real world into Mr. Fox’s stories. The latter novel is a challenge well-worth it, a Shirley Jackson-esque gothic house horror mixed in with racial politics. Oyeyemi’s other books include Boy Snow Bird (a twist on Snow White) and The Icarus Girl (a horror story with Nigerian mythology).

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  • I recently spent some much-needed and precious alone time with my girlfriend and we made the mistake of deciding on my Netflix DVD queue to help us bond. We watched South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film, Stoker (2013). We knew it was a psychological thriller going in and we were excited to see Nicole Kidman angrily acting opposite Mia Wasikowska but we also had no idea about any of the plot points.

    The movie follows 18-year old India (Wasikowska) following the death of her father. Her grieving mother (Kidman) accepts support from her long-absent younger brother-in-law, Charlie (a very creepy Matthew Goode), who immediately moves into the house and begins to approach India as a kindred soul. (SPOILER ALERT) Basically this turns into the incestuous serial killer romance I never knew I wanted or needed, complete with piano orgasms, hunting metaphors, and lots of dramatic dysfunctional family yelling.

  • Lastly, if you’re as stressed as I am, I highly suggest crocheting and heading over to my friend Jojo-gurumi‘s page for some really cute, fairly simple patterns.

Got any more distractions for me or words of wisdom to keep me from going astray, readers? Let me know in the comments. As always, check Chebk and I out at OKPotato for book reviews, writing tips, and discussions of diversity in books, movies, and more!

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NaNoWriMo: Day 9 & 10 (Mental Health and Writing)

Despite surviving my marathon writing this past weekend, it pains me to inform you, readers, that I am still actually behind on my word count.

As some of you may recall, Chebk, the platonic mistress of my heart, had challenged me to writing 75K this month, as opposed to 50K. She argues that she believes in me and my writing abilities and that 50K is cake for me — but the truth is simply that she revels in my tribulations and bathes in the tears brought on by lack of ideas and awkward sentence structures. She is the Lady Bathory of my writing life.

To catch up, I will be writing about 3500 words per day to make 37K by this weekend but, readers, I AM SO TIRED.

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I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.

I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.

And by tired I mean it is getting hard to write, for various reasons. Which brings me to the topic of this post: Mental Health and Writing.

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression in the second half of my freshman year of high school. At this point, both were debilitating. I could not get past second period most days and was going home by 10 AM every day approximately 80% of the week. About eight different doctors declared me physically fine. My parents were upset, my teachers were upset, I was upset. At this point in my life, there was zero writing happening unless you count maybe Xanga or MySpace (yeah, yikes, went there). I lost about 15 lbs, which is significant for me as I stand at 4’6″ on a good day thanks to my Asian genes.

After about six months of crying every morning, knowing I would have to go to school and get through it, nauseous enough to be relatively useless, and angry that this was happening at all, I had a mental breakdown. I had newly discovered a fair coping mechanism in the weeks before this: screaming into a pillow. It was effective up to a point. Now picture the small Asian girl unable to stop screaming or crying until hyperventilation kicked in and parents had to knock down my bedroom door to get in.

Okay, what does this have to do with writing?

Okay, sure, writing is a good way to vent and all that, which, don’t get me wrong, it is. I will testify to this until my lungs fall out. Nothing feels better than a good midnight vent to Mic Word that I can save to a folder no one will ever see. It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be on the screen and out of my veins. I get that. I advocate it.

Yes, although maybe less masculine tears than Hemingway’s need to be shed.

The reality as a writer is a little harder. I’m never going to publish those late night spiels, for instance. So when you have to put your nose to the grindstone and get down to your novel or what have you, how do you write while still depressed? Aye, there’s the rub.

It’s not like there is exactly an uplifting answer here. One version is that you sit down and get to it, come hell or high water, but I mean, those are pretty words in the face of depression. I dealt with the rest of my high school years by continuing to blog, turning real emotions and problems into convoluted imagery and run-on sentence ideals. If I could turn everything ugly into something I could feel relatively proud of, it was worth the continuing battle. Making my life into a story made it manageable, quantifiable. The story of my first girlfriend and our subsequent break-up(s) became a twisted story of our one date in Chinatown. The pig’s heads that hung in the butcher’s became the main image and my narrator walked through the filthy alleyways with a bloodied head in hand, a burden and companion. Similar to reading a narrative that plays with your emotions, writing out the situation detached me enough to find a way to at least a satisfying ending (even if at the moment it came out in vengeful, bitter words). I could put the emotion to rest for a least a moment and catch my breath in the real world. It helped me keep moving.

This continued well into college, going through different stages of evolution. Towards the end of my graduate courses, it had become somewhat an obsession. I was trying to examine my own mental illness in my writing like a constant tic, especially my anxiety as frequent panic attacks have plagued me for the past ten years (though gotten significantly better in the last five). Part of my justification for this intensely introspective, somewhat morbid prose was that readers deserved better media representation of mental illness in literature, ones that didn’t always end with a happy-ever-after cure but that focused on how the main character would be dealing with this daily, every day, maybe even forever. The harder part to justify was trying to figure out what exactly went wrong with me to make me this way.

How do you write when you’re depressed and want to do nothing, including not writing? If you’re me, you burrow into the depression itself to try to figure it out in words. Words are the only thing that have ever given me solace or made sense in the midst of madness. The stories of others that were easy to empathize with gave me hope — that’s generally what they’re there for, I assume. I suppose my advice would be to find something you can latch onto that lets you get catharsis from your writing. Throwing yourself or your problems into your characters may not give you real life solutions but it can give you reason to believe that by trying to make your characters better, you have a chance at building your own narrative for the better, too.

This is probably not very helpful, but it’s what I got.

Link to my Tumblr for a reference post for various mental illnesses and related resources. We’re all gonna get through this, friends.