An Explanation is In Order

The short of it is simple: a combination of continued medication adjustments and then also a total lack of motivation contributed to my posting nearly nothing in two months. I am doing better now, and then I also wanted to hit 50 posts here by the end of the year, so here I am again.

The long of it… is hard to remember. I don’t really know what I was up to all that time. I mostly just existed. I got obsessed with amigurumi (crochet dolls and toys, basically). I had my birthday, which was uneventful as heck. I saw a couple movies. I felt happy and depressed and sometimes both in the same day. I have nothing to say for myself, and yet everything.

I don’t know what I’ve been up to. I know I haven’t been posting and that’s not great, but I can’t explain why I didn’t post almost anything over two months. It just sort of happened. I didn’t have anything to write about. My motivation was shot. I was doing NaNoWriMo, and then eventually failing at it. I was baking things like pumpkin snickerdoodles and apple crisp. I was failing to read any books or watch any other movies. I basically did a whole lot of nothing.

That isn’t very interesting, but it’s the truth, I suppose. I will try to be more present in the future. I want to be more present. I am doing better now that I’m not wallowing in self-loathing. Things are still iffy from time to time but I am getting better. Kinda sorta.

I don’t know. I’m here now, at least.

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A General List of General Goals

i.e., what I want to get done in December. Hopefully. Maybe.

I made up this list of goals when I was in, shall we say, a Bad Mood, so they’re very general and very informal. Oh well? I don’t care?

Anyway, the goals:

  • Try not to overeat in the face of the holidays. (Put another way: don’t get fat(ter).)
  • Finish that knit cowl, you’re so close.
  • Make cookies or something.
  • Get up to 50 blog posts on the blog.
  • Get to 50 movies watched.
  • Get to 25 books read.
  • Carve out non-internet time.
  • Write 1k maybe.
  • Stuff & things & ugh.

I already feel like I’m shooting too high, but I suppose I have no one to disappoint but myself. Which. Okay, whatever. It happens. I’ve made some tentative plans in re: those “get to” goals, so maybe I’ll surprise myself at some point this month.

I’ll make another post here in a couple days about where I’ve been (nowhere) and what I’ve been doing (nothing). Anyway.

Thankful.

My family, for loving and supporting me.

My friends, for being there.

My mental health team, for helping me be better.

Other things, too.  My freedom to dissent, to believe or not believe. My abilities in a variety of areas. My pets.

A lot of things to be thankful for.

The Indelible Joy of Making

I made beignets this past Sunday (my parents bought me a Cafe du Monde mix when they were in New Orleans in April). There was something about the making of them–mixing the dough, rolling it out, cutting it, and frying it up–that put me in an extraordinarily good mood. I can’t identify what it was, exactly, but it stayed with me almost all day, and I loved it.

I get this feeling whenever I bake something, or when I finish a doodle or a knit piece, or anything like that, really. I like doing things with my hands. It’s a lot of work, sometimes, but it’s always worth it, and I love when people compliment what I do complete. Gratification keeps me going, and I love that, too.

I was talking with my therapist recently about all my life stuff, and how I set high expectations for myself almost all the time, and she brought up the fact that a lot of my activities–writing, big knitting projects, and so on–are very long term things. I don’t get that sense of gratification until much, much later, and that means that the activity turns into work, and the work becomes something I avoid, and the avoidance sends me spiraling into depression. So she’s asked me to work on finding things that are short term to get done in a day, so I can feel accomplished instead of depressed.

I’m probably going to bake something today. I’m thinking an apple crisp, since I have a bunch of apples sitting around, and I also was thoroughly disappointed by Arby’s new cinnamon apple crisp earlier this week. (It was more of a cake with some apple crumble on top than a crisp.) So I’m probably going to google a recipe here in a moment and get that made up, because I like making things. It’s work, but the end result is a delight, always.

I like to make things. My whole life has been a series of making things, whether abstract or concrete, and it’s something I want to continue into the future. So at the least I will make things now and then every week, to capture that feeling once again, and hold it tight to my chest like a candle flame in a dark and dreary world.

Doctor Who S5E04: The Time of Angels

Episode four of Doctor Who’s fifth series sees a return of two elements Steven Moffat brought to the show under Russell T. Davies: the Weeping Angels, and River Song. They’re each unique, full of the timey-wimey-ness that is almost fundamental to Moffat’s Doctor Who.

Alex Kingston’s River Song is a delight from beginning to end, of course, strolling onto screen in those sky-high Louboutin heels with a distinct sense of badassery we only got hints of in her debut episodes. She has almost instant chemistry with Matt Smith’s Doctor, and the relationship between River and Amy Pond is immediately friendly and warm. We get hints of her past that weren’t really there in Series 4: she wasn’t always a professor, and she is, for some currently unknown reason, in prison.

But the true heart of this episode’s energy lies in the return of Moffat’s Weeping Angels. There’s only one to start off, but eventually, in a brilliantly constructed twist, we find out there are a great many more, more than enough to be thoroughly terrifying. As with River Song, new information is divulged about these monsters, and new abilities given them, such as the ability to project themselves out of images. This makes for a terrifying scene midway through the episode, which pits Amy against one of these images—and once again shows how clever Amy can be by having her outsmart the angel.

What I enjoy most about this episode, however, is the twist I mentioned: it turns out all the statues in the Aplans’ Maze of the Dead are not tributes to a people long gone, but angels themselves, weakened and half-dead. The twist depends not only on the characters’ anthrocentrism, but the audience’s as well: we’re so used to seeing things that look like us (particularly aliens in shows like Doctor Who) that we don’t even question the appearance of the statues. Even when the Doctor reveals the Aplans were two-headed, it takes a moment for the truth to bear down upon us. Even Cleric Bob’s claim that one of the statues looked at him is an early hint, but dismissed by every character onscreen as mere jitters. In every way, this twist is an example of what Steven Moffat is capable of as a writer. As we’ll see at the end of the season, he constantly leaves hints for the viewer, hoping and believing that we will figure it out. The reason so many of his twists seem “obvious” to some is that they’re meant to be.

Amy’s actions in this episode are also interesting to me. As I said before, she displays that observant cleverness we’ve seen in her again here, realizing she can stop the angel in the dropship by taking away its image. She also shows some real bravery, too; she’s willing to be taken by the angels if it means River and the Doctor, and Octavian and his clerics, will be safe. While she does sort of go the whole “don’t tell anyone you’ve got a zombie bite” route with regards to the angel in her mind, it isn’t as big a deal here, I don’t think? This subplot all comes to a head in the next episode, so it might be meet to talk more extensively about it there.

All in all, however, Time of Angels is a taut thriller of an episode with a magnificently executed twist and a hell of a cliffhanger. It really shows the whole gamut of Steven Moffat’s skills, and its second part, as we’ll see next time, takes it to whole new heights.

Pushing Daisies: A Little Show of Pies, Whimsy, and Murder

So in the summer of 2007, I was going to the movies with my brother when, in the pre-show commercials, there was an ad for a new ABC show called Pushing Daisies. It had a fairly simple conceit at its center: it was about a man who could, with a touch, bring the dead back to life. Another touch would put them back to being dead. If he left the dead person alive longer than one minute, however, another person in proximity would die in their place. He worked with a private investigator to solve murders. The show had another element as well: the man used his power to bring his childhood sweetheart back to life, for good, which meant they could never touch or else she’d die again.

Needless to say, I was very struck by this ad, not least because it didn’t look like anything else I’d seen before. The colors were bright, the dialogue snappy, and there were elements of whimsy that just weren’t seen on TV back then (or even now). So I resolved to check it out when it came on.

I was not disappointed. What followed was a sharply written fantasy with delightful characters, twisty murder mysteries, and endless beautiful colors. I loved it. And then the writer’s strike happened, and ABC, to the show’s eventual doom, opted not to bring it back after the strike was over. Nevertheless, I loved what I’d seen, and took to the show with a great deal of enthusiasm, watching my taped (yes, taped on VHS) episodes over and over until the DVDs came out.

When the show came back in 2008, none of its glamour had faded it. It was brighter than ever, with brilliant costumes, silly storylines, and dialogue as sparkling as the first season. Unfortunately, the ratings were in the toilet, in large part, it seemed, because no one remembered the show from a year ago, or something like that. I can’t say I know for sure. I actually wrote letters to try and convince ABC to save the show, complete with enclosed origami flowers. The show was a happy place for me; I watched my taped episodes to cheer myself up after bad days, and remind myself of the beautiful things in life.

Unfortunately, the letters I and others sent did no good. The show was cancelled about seven or eight episodes into its 13 episode order. ABC aired the rest of the ten pre-Christmas episodes, then sat on the remaining three until May, much to everyone’s chagrin. The producers had to scramble to put together an appropriate ending, given the show ended on a cliffhanger (several cliffhangers, actually), and what they came up with didn’t please everybody, but was good enough for me.

I suppose now is where I talk about what the show meant to me and means to me still, having not watched it in a few years now. I suppose mostly it reminds me of a bright candle in a dark world. I was living with undiagnosed depression when it was airing, and I wouldn’t get a proper diagnosis for several years after it was off the air. It was there for me when I felt like nothing else was, and it reminded me how to be cheerful despite the demons I fought on an almost daily basis.

More than anything, it showed me how good television could be. It didn’t have to be gritty and awful all of the time; it could be bright and cheery, but with no less drama. Another show I watched at the time was NBC’s Heroes, but I gave up on it in 2008 because it was getting too convoluted and depressing for me to continue on with. It’s no coincidence that some of Heroes’ best episodes in Season 1 (particularly the pivotal “Company Man”) were written by Pushing Daisies’ creator Bryan Fuller. Fuller knows how to write drama very well, and some of his previous shows–namely Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls–show that he can incorporate comedy to great effect.

All in all, it was the little things that made me love Pushing Daisies. The chaste but passionate relationship between Ned and Chuck, the show’s romantic heroes. The hilariously suspicious coroner. Emerson the P.I.’s knitting habit. Olive Snook’s outbursts of song. Chuck’s highly eccentric aunts, Lily and Vivian. The increasingly wacky murders. Just… everything. I loved the show wholeheartedly, and I’m still sad that it’s gone, that it didn’t get six seasons and a movie and so on and so forth.

But I’m glad that it was here and that it brought, if only for a little while, a little brightness into a world that sometimes shuns it.

Pomodoro Productivity

So I’m trying something new to get my productivity in order. The Pomodoro Technique involves timers and set work times and small breaks, and so far, it seems to be working for me quite well. The gist of the technique is this: you set a timer (traditionally for 25 minutes), and work as much as you can until the timer goes off. Then you take a break (traditionally 5 minutes). Then you set the timer again, and repeat the whole thing until you’ve done (traditionally) four sessions of work. Then you take a longer break, and then you do the whole thing all over again.

What this reminded me most of was the 30/10/3 technique for writing that Chris Baty introduced in his NaNoWriMo guide book, No Plot? No Problem!. It works the same way, but with thirty minutes sessions, ten minute breaks, and only three sessions per round. I’ve used that method to great effect during my NaNoWriMos past, especially when the November 30 deadline loomed large. So given all this, I thought I’d give the Pomodoro Technique a try.

I downloaded an app, then grudgingly paid $2 for the “pro” (i.e., fully customizable) version. And I have my rounds set up rather like Chris Baty’s writing method: three 30-minute sessions, with ten minute breaks in between, and a longer 30-minute break at the end. I’ve only been trying this out for the last three days, but it’s working quite well thus far. At least as long as my day doesn’t get derailed by the unforeseeable, that is, like trips out of town to visit family.

I suppose what I’m really hoping to get out of all my pomodoros is a sense of accomplishment, and real movement forward on all my goals. I’m trying to do three rounds a day, which comes out to nine sessions, which is about six hours and change altogether. I certainly have enough time in the day to do all that, it’s just a matter of turning my distraction brain off and getting to work. It’s not really accountable to anyone but me (and the graphs in the app I’ve got), but it’s something. I will cling to anything if it can help me accomplish what I want.

Have you ever tried the Pomodoro Technique, or timed work sessions of some sort? How has it worked out for you? Do you have a different productivity technique that you use? Let me know in the comments!

You Know What Else is Hard? Writing.

Back at the beginning of the month, I set this little goal to have a short story written by the end of October. Well, it’s almost October, and guess what? I have almost nothing to show for it.

Writing is hard. It’s even harder when you’ve got depression. My moods have been up and down all month, and none of that is particularly conducive to getting words down on paper, especially when trying just makes you feel like tearing all your hair out and running into the night screaming. Ugh. So yeah, I’m one of those awful writers who waits for ~inspiration~ in order to write, because if I don’t I end up sometimes literally trying to hurt myself. Which is no good all around.

I have a short story idea. It’s actually a redraft of something I wrote in college. I’ve decided to expand it a little to see what I can get from it. I have a rough outline, and an expanded rough outline, but no actual words written. I’m hoping to change that today, but you just don’t know when the muse is going to cooperate. The only deadline I’ve got is a self-imposed one, unfortunately. I’ve started a little accountability club on my writing group’s forum, and that is something of a help, but that’s about it.

I guess I’m mostly writing this to defend my position. Like. I know the best way to write is to wrestle “the muse” into submission, not patiently wait for her to deliver. I know that waiting for inspiration to hit is a good way to never get anything written. But if trying to write is so awful I want to throw and break things, then that’s not good for me or my writing. Odds are anything I write while I’m so frustrated is going to crap anyway, so why should I torture myself in the name of writing every day? I’d rather write when I’m in a good mood to, and feel I can accomplish things, than make myself do it and turn the whole process into a chore that I hate.

So that’s where I am with the whole writing thing right now. It’s tough, and it’s frustrating to be making so little progress, but I live ever in hope that things will get done. I am giving the whole pomodoro method a whirl today, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to get some writing done while I’m on it.

***

I suppose I could tell you a little about what I’m trying to write. The germ of the story arrived when I was introduced to the TV series Pushing Daisies and the film which inspired large parts of it, Amelie, in short succession. I was taken by the narration of both of these stories–very precise, often funny, and adding a great deal to the hyper-heightened reality of both properties. So I set out to tell a story in this sort of narrative style. I wrote a 2k version of the story, which was about a young woman who was hit by a car and dies, but gets to decide in purgatory whether or not she can keep on living.

The story and the idea have stuck with me in many ways. I used the aftermath of the story as the basis for a short screenplay in university. I rewrote one of the scenes as a writing prompt just last year. And this year I took another look at it and decided a major revision was in order. So I’ve got this idea, and some further ideas about what to do with it. The death and life-choice stand on their own as one piece, but I have since the beginning entertained ideas of making it something bigger.

Right now, however, I just want to focus on getting the short story version written. Maybe we’ll think about doing more… but later. Much, much later. For now, “The Death and Life of Caroline Carver” is a short story.

***

It’s tough when you know you’ve got a half-decent idea, but you can’t seem to draw out the right words to make it happen. I’ve got so many ideas like that. Sometimes it’s mostly planned out in my head, but making it work in actual prose is more difficult than it initially seems. I can’t even say that I put in a decent effort every day, because I don’t. I think about it a lot, but I don’t make things happen on paper. I’m always hoping I can change that, and always disappointed when I don’t follow through for myself.

Oh well. Such is life, I suppose.

So It Turns Out Getting Your Sh*t Together is Hard

It’s been a month, almost exactly, since I outlined my plan here to get my collective shit together and start acting like a productive person for once in my life. This mostly revolved around schedules and keeping to them, and… well, it’s a month later, and suffice to say it’s all kind of fallen apart. Whoops?

Part of the problem is that you can’t really schedule your life. There are always going to be things getting in the way of your schedules, and rolling with the punches is harder than it looks. You need to know about all the spontaneous things in advance, which kind of defeats the purpose of spontaneity. So I’ve had more off-schedule days than on. Part of it is things like day trips and family dinners getting in the way of things. The other part is that it turns out I’m not good at keeping to a schedule.

It’s funny. I was always so punctual in school, and I continue to be punctual and semi-organized in my adult life–just not with personal projects. I was reading up a storm the first part of September, and then, as the schedule fell apart, so did the reading. Ditto writing (well, let’s be real, that never got on track). If someone else or some other entity (like Failure) is holding me to a schedule, I will keep to it almost religiously. If I’m holding myself to it? Eh, whatever.

I wish I knew why my brain operated like this. I don’t care enough to get things done, but somehow I care enough to guilt myself about the things I don’t do. I want to have a finished short story by the end of next month, and here it is nearly October, and I don’t even have a first draft yet. I have a pile of books all due in a few weeks at the library, half of which I’ve renewed, and one of which I’ve actually renewed twice. I wanted to have the first three rows of the afghan done by the end of this week, but sewing the pieces together is such a chore that I keep putting it off. I don’t understand myself and my actions. I don’t understand how I can visit the same six sites online over and over for hours at a time, but concentrating on writing something for thirty minutes is an enormous difficulty.

These are probably things I could address with my therapist. Hmm.

The fact that I’m trying to introduce new things like exercise isn’t helping. I can barely do the three things I mainly want to get done, and now I’m putting new shit on the list? What am I, crazy? Yes, as it turns out, I am. Just not a productive kind of crazy. I want to make things happen, but I’m not sure how, and I’m really not sure how to hold myself accountable at all. I’ve started a writing accountability thread on my writing group’s forum, and it’s going fairly well so far, but that’s about it. And it doesn’t cover all the other things like exercise and knitting and reading books.

Nevertheless, I suppose it’s a credit to me that I keep trying anyway. I’m going to exercise here in a little bit, and I am hoping to sit down and binge-watch The Handmaid’s Tale while I sew afghan pieces together. Never mind writing and reading. Where do all the hours in the day go? I got up at 4am (AGAIN) this morning; why haven’t I accomplished more?

I think part of my problem is that I feel like I have to do All the Things every day forever. I can’t be okay with just doing Some of the Things. They ALL must be done, no matter what. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for the spontaneity of life, for example, or for bad things happening, like my cat dying. I need to focus on what I am capable of doing, day by day, and work things out from there.

Now I just need to convince my overachiever brain of all that. Definitely a task for my therapist, then.

I’ll be working on it, and I guess I’ll keep you all updated. For now, what do you do to balance what you need to do with what you want to do? How do you get things done instead of just sitting around online in all your free time? Let me know.

That Time I Played Dungeons & Dragons (And Had a Lot of Fun)

So a week ago I visited my brother and sister-in-law, who live about an hour from me. I was bringing them their anniversary gift, and just hanging out, because my parents were out of town and I highly dislike spending vast quantities of time alone. So I went for a visit.

My brother and SIL have both recently gotten into Dungeons and Dragons; they play a game with friends of theirs, and my brother recently began DM’ing for some of his work friends. I’ve been kind of interested in it, but I don’t have any local friends to play with, so… yeah. Then my brother asked me, when I arrived last Saturday, if I wanted to play a game while I was here. Just a one-shot, he said, no pressure. I agreed.

I had, by unlucky chance, been awake since 4am that day, which meant when it was time to start our post-dinner game, I was very tired. I kind of half-understood all the mechanics of character creation, and as it complicated, I was wondering if I’d even be good at playing. I’m not a great improviser, to be honest, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go. Nevertheless, I created a wood elf sorcerer named Thia Galanodel, and that was that. My SIL created a half-orc rogue named Lucius, and my brother had a brief adventure written up already (I believe he used it for the first session of his work friends’ game).

What followed was, in short, a great deal of fun. There was much joking around, and I had a very good time. The game started, as such adventures do, in a tavern. Thia and Lucius were grudgingly sharing a table in a dark corner of the barroom (one of many such tables; we decided the tavern had at least a dozen dark corners with occupied tables). And then a human farmer burst in, exclaiming that his son had been kidnapped by goblins. Thia and Lucius tried to make an exit, but the farmer lit upon us before we could. (Good old railroading.) The farmer promised us a considerable sum (60,000 GPs, because we cannot resist an Adventure Zone reference, it seems) to bring back his son, and we agreed.

Soon we found ourselves tracking the goblins through a forest. We settled down for the night, only to be attacked by a pair of wolves. It was a short-ish battle, not without its casualties. Mostly here I mean the wolves, but we lost some HP ourselves. After the wolves were dispatched, we continued our rest, recovered, and followed the track to a mausoleum in the heart of the forest. A single goblin guarded it. Lucius hit upon the idea of talking to the guard rather than fighting straight out, which I thought was dumb, so Thia left him to it while she faded into the trees.

While Lucius’ idea did not end in disaster, it did end in the goblin going into the mausoleum for reinforcements. Lucius returned to me, and when the goblin reemerged with two fellows, we decided to give this talking thing another go. The goblins were nervous, but Thia, with her high Charisma and +5 to Persuasion, managed to convince them to take us to their leader. (The goblins’ names were, hilariously, Dishrag, Soaprag, and, uh, Ragrag.)

We were taken into the mausoleum and into the crypt, where we saw that the goblins had, in addition to the farmer’s son, kidnapped quite a few halflings and gnomes as well. Their leader, Grishnak, who was trying way too hard to be a badass. He had a ruby-encrusted eyepatch that he didn’t even need, and he apparently had “bad motherf*****” tattooed on his arm in Goblin (not that our characters knew this, since neither of us spoke the language). He demanded from Ragrag to know what was going on, and what we were going to do about his bounty.

Thia and Lucius exchanged a look. “Just give us the boy and we’ll get out of your way.”

Grishnak was stunned. He didn’t want a couple of pragmatists only in it for the money, he wanted heroes! He wanted a nemesis, dammit! It had taken him forever to gather up all these folk and cage them! He was going to sell them for a lot of money, too!

We politely inquired how much Grishnak expected to get for his haul.

“Three silver pieces,” he replied.

Thia and Lucius exchanged another look. “We have ten gold pieces between the two of us,” Thia said. “How about we give you that gold in exchange for the boy? Would that be amenable to you?”

I rolled a heck-a high persuasion check, and Grishnak agreed. Our adventure seemed to be done, and we headed out of the mausoleum with the boy, heading back through the forest to return him to his father.

Until.

As we made camp that night, we were set upon by none other than Grishnak, who cried out, “I CHANGED MY MIND!!” as he attacked. Thia fired Magic Missile at him, with the three bolts going right through his ridiculous eyepatch. He was dead in an instant. Being the pragmatists we were, Thia and Lucius searched his body. We got our money back, and Lucius gained a better weapon while Thia took the goblin’s Bag of Holding. We also took the eyepatch so we could pawn the jewels on it.

And that was basically that. We returned the boy, got our considerable reward, and a good time was had by all, both in-game and out.

***

Obviously this was just a for-fun game with no real consequences or anything like that, but hot damn was it fun. I definitely want to play DnD again sometime, but it’s hard to tell when I’ll be able to. In the meantime, I’m going to at least work on my character when I’ve got some spare time, and get her figured out so maybe I can do something with her in the future. I’m not ruling anything out.