Keeping Score: April 23, 2021

Found this article in the New York Times (I know) that rather perfectly captures where I’ve been, these past few weeks, and where I still am: Not depressed, exactly, but languishing.

I link to the article not because it’s got a pop-culture ready mental diagnosis, but because it also talks about practical ways to cope with it. Small goals, like finishing another level in Duolingo. And any task that takes you out of yourself and into a mental state of flow, whether it’s bingeing Netflix or playing a game with friends.

Sounds a bit like writing, eh? At least, writing in small chunks, giving myself enough time to enter a flow mental state.

I think it’s that last part that I’ve been missing, in terms of my daily writing. I’ve been trying to squeeze it in, sometimes just in 15 minutes at the end of the day. Which is one day to make sure I always hit my 250 words, but is no way to let myself fall into the story, to lose myself in the writing.

So I’m going to try altering my routine a bit. Give myself at least an hour to write. No distractions, no time limits. And no pressure to increase my word count, either. If I give myself time to really focus on the story, that’ll be enough.

I’m also going to start rewarding myself, again, for hitting that daily work goal. Not sure what to use as a reward (I’m already eating plenty of chocolate). Maybe money put into a savings account, like Jonathan Maberry does? Or maybe a new game at the end of the week, if I’ve written my total words?

What do you use, if you reward yourself for getting your writing done?

42

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know!”

There are lots of ways to find out you’re depressed. For me, it was breaking down crying in the kitchen Monday morning, after berating my wife for my (upcoming) birthday present.

Not my finest moment.

I turned 42 yesterday, my second birthday during the pandemic. And I want to say I’m going to throw a big party once we’re all vaccinated, that I’m fine, everything’s fine here, how are you?

But I’m not fine. I’m tired of being scared, of having to leap out of the way of folks walking by me on the sidewalk. Of asking delivery people to back up from the door and pull up their mask before I step out to show them my ID. Of wondering if this is the week I get the call that my mom’s in the hospital with Covid, that there’s going to be another family funeral I can’t attend.

My wife says I don’t like surprises, and she’s right. This year has been one long series of surprises, one after the other, combined with constant waiting for the other shoe to drop and the disease to claim me, or someone else close to me, or all of the above.

So I’m not fine. I’m lethargic and blasé and if I pause for too long between activities, I start to cry. I can’t get excited about…anything. Not something silly like the new Godzilla vs Kong movie (which, pre-pandemic, I would’ve flipped for). Not something abstract like my wife and her mother deciding once and for all that she will not be moving in with us, giving us a sense of stability we haven’t had since 2015. I want to be excited. I want to be joyful.

But I can’t, and before my wife made me turn and look at my depression, I thought the problem was in the things themselves, not me. I had all kinds of rationalizations for why her news wasn’t exciting (“because she could change her mind”). Why I couldn’t make it through a re-watch of the first two Godzilla movies (“they’re boring”). But those were just excuses, mental defenses to keep me from admitting that I was not, in fact, doing well.

And I think I haven’t been doing well, for at least a few weeks now. I’ve just been covering it up. Hiding it.

I hope that wherever you are, mentally and physically, that you’re able to be honest with yourself. That you’ve got someone who will keep you honest. And that if you’re feeling down, that you let yourself feel it, and don’t try to fight it off or deny it, which just makes it worse.

This time will pass, as all things do. But while it’s here, let’s not pretend. Sometimes, we’re just not okay. And that’s all right.

Only a Year: A Thank You Letter to Our House

My wife and I bought the house we’re living in almost exactly one year ago. We closed (finished all the paperwork) on January 31, 2020. Started packing on February 1. And moved in February 2nd.

Anticipating all the get-togethers we’d host in the new place, with all that extra yard space.

During the move, I cut my head, bad enough to think I might need stitches. I drove the twenty minutes to the nearest Urgent Care clinic, only to be turned away. It was Super Bowl weekend, you see, and everyone was getting in to see the doc before the game started. I could wait two to three hours, or I could go home. I chose to go home, and resume moving (suitably bandaged, of course).

No masks. No fear of other people. No hesitancy in going out for fear of catching something.

Three weeks later, having finally decided where the furniture would go, we held a house-warming party. Invited friends from all over town, got a taco truck to cater lunch, filled half a dozen metal troughs with ice and beer. We thought it’d be maybe a few hours, ended up lasting all afternoon and into the night. I made a toast for the late-night crowd using Stone’s Vertical Epic re-release to talk about every significant year in our two-decades-long marriage. We had a blast.

It was the last party any of us have been to since then.

We’ve been lucky this year. Neither of us has caught Covid-19. We’ve both been able to work from home, from this home, during the pandemic. My wife took over the third (guest) bedroom as her office, a bedroom we didn’t have at the old place. We had a garage big enough to hold all the boxes for all the deliveries we started getting. We had a kitchen big enough for us to start cooking all of our own meals. A yard just big enough for our pups to go out and get some exercise, since they couldn’t go to the park anymore.

I feel fortunate and grateful, and a large part of it is due to this house. So thank you, house, for being there for us.

For not having any roof leaks, other than the small one in the garage that we won’t talk about.

For being insulated enough so that we can both be on Zoom calls in different rooms and not hear each other.

For not having any weird smells.

For being rock-solid enough to keep on trucking with your older appliances and bathroom fixtures, and yet flexible enough to accept upgrades when we could get them done (safely).

For having lots of sun for the pups to lay in (they really do seem to be solar-powered).

For being well-ventilated enough when we needed you to be, and tightly sealed when we needed that, too.

For being just big enough for the two of us, but not so big that we couldn’t keep you clean (and thanks for understanding when we felt a little too overwhelmed to scrub the bathtub that other week).

But most of all, thanks for being ready for us. And for our company, in the short time period when we could have it. I hope we can have some more company, too, in the near future.

Biden to be Sworn in as 46th President of United States

These past four years have been a waking nightmare. Every day, it’s been a barrage of lies, mismanagement, and neglect from a President with no previous governmental experience, no redeeming qualities, and no sense of duty.

2020 brought everything bad about the modern GOP right out into the open. They’re willing to let 400,000 Americans die rather than wear a piece of cloth on their face. They’re more interested in holding onto power than continuing our democracy. And they’re willing to commit sedition to get their way.

Biden and Harris will have a lot of work to do, just repairing the damage the GOP has done. But beyond that, they’ve got to contend with all the things they ignored, from the pandemic to foreign interference in our elections to the right-wing terrorists who attacked the Capitol.

And to be fair, some of the issues we need them to put a spotlight on are things we as a country have ignored for too long: racial justice, climate change, universal health care. The pandemic exposed how weak our institutions have really become, because we’ve left folks behind. That needs to stop, if we are to indeed build back better.

It’s a heavy task, but I have hope. Hope because the need for these things is out in the open, plain as the hospitals that have been overwhelmed, plain as videos of police beating up protestors and journalists, plain as the police shooting of a Black man in broad daylight as he was getting calmly into his car with his kids.

The Biden/Harris Administration isn’t an excuse for us to go back to sleep. To imagine ourselves waking up in a better country.

It’s a chance for us to get to work.

I’ll be watching the swearing-in ceremony today, live. You can view it here, on the Biden/Harris inaugural page, or on Youtube

Good Bye and Good Riddance, 2020

When my wife and I moved into our new house back in February, we thought that would be the most stressful thing we did this year.

When I backed out of working a booth at a conference in early March because some Covid-19 cases had been reported in California, we thought I was being overly cautious.

When I had my birthday party on Zoom in April, with cases raging both here and back east, we thought that would be the low point.

When May came, and protests exploded across the country, we thought it wasn’t safe to join them because of the potential for the virus to spread, never imagining that the police would be the biggest threat.

And then…and then the year is a blur for me, truly. Protests, and cops run riot, and record wildfires, punctuated by two camping trips taken in desperation, to get out of the house, to get somewhere, away from people, only to find that those spaces were crowded, too, and it seemed that no one, young or old, thought wearing a mask or keeping their distance or traveling with just their families was important.

I remember October, because for Halloween we turned out the lights and huddled indoors and hoped no one stopped by to ask for anything, for fear of them bringing the virus with them.

I remember November, because the election dragged on and on and on, and the Trump Regime launched an attack on the legitimacy of the results that failed in the courts but convinced my entire family back home that Biden is an illegitimate President.

Oddly enough, November is when I was first able to mentally breathe again.

It’s also when I started writing the novel I’m currently working on, jumping into NaNoWriMo with both feet and falling on my face, as is the 2020 way.

But I picked myself back up, and I’m still working on the book. I like it more and more, as I write it and figure out new things about it. It’s going to be different from anything else I’ve written: a fantasy with very little magic, a historical book with a diverse cast across two continents, a novel told in third-person with entire chapters written in first.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea if anyone will want to read this thing once it’s done. It’s scary, but also….a little liberating?

I think that’s something I want to take into 2021 with me. An attitude, of not quite “fuck it,” but close. More like “you have no idea what’s going to happen in the world, and no control over it, so you should write what you want and worry about selling it later.”

Which is not to say that I’ve held back from writing the stories I’d like to. More that, when writing them, I’ve aimed to write something sellable, something I think the market will buy. It’s a…pressure, I guess, that I put on myself. To put some elements in and not others, to shy away from tackling anything too big or too strange.

This novel is one step along the path of letting that go. It’s a weird structure. It’s about a time and place(s) that no one (in the US) writes about. Its main character is disabled.

It’ll probably go nowhere, even if I manage to pull it off, craft-wise. I’m writing it anyway.

So thank you, 2020, for teaching me this much: Writing is hard, so you should write what you love.

See you all in 2021.