Reader’s and Writer’s Block

I haven’t been able to read for a while.

I keep picking up books, but my mind drifts away and before I know it, I’ve flipped through two pages and I have no idea what I’ve read. At first I thought that maybe I just hadn’t found a good book in a while, but that’s definitely not the case. I have a plethora of wonderful books just waiting to be loved. But I haven’t been able to get through more than a few pages of each before becoming disinterested. I thought that maybe I just needed a break from reading, that I was more interested in other aspects of my life. This is rare, but it has happened before.

Then I noticed that the same thing was happening when I was sitting down to write. I would eventually get something out, but it was like I had to mine the words out of my brain with a pickax. I thought, maybe I just don’t want to be a writer anymore, but the voice in my head screamed at me for such a betrayal. So no, that wasn’t it. Writing makes me happy. Why couldn’t I get the words to come out? I realized that they didn’t want to come out because I couldn’t focus. So I thought about how I’ve been spending my days lately, and I did some research.

As The Guardian says, “we live in an always on world.” Everything is a click, a tap, or a swipe away. I like this because it’s so true. We are always connected to a phone, or a tablet, or a laptop. It’s actually expected that everyone bring their own device to all of our classes, even though we don’t have a tech class or devices listed as a requirement. If you don’t bring any tech, there’s a laptop cart available. There’s no excuse. Everyone must be plugged in.

And I mean, utilizing technology to teach is fine, but I feel like in this program, we’ve reached the point where nothing is taught without it anymore. Which is too bad. Some of the best classes I had at Mount Royal University were just a professor sitting on a desk chatting with us.

In a wonderfully titled article, “Social Media and the Death of the Attention Span,” David Burnham writes,

“Twitter allows only 140 characters, making the user cut down anything they’re saying. Vines only allow six seconds of video content. Snapchat only allows 0-10 seconds of temporary imagery. With a double tap on Instagram, everyone will know who liked whose photos online. These applications have made for easily-accessible online platforms, but it has also encouraged a detrimental change — a terrible attention span.”

So not only are we always plugged in, but our attention spans are being conditioned to last for the length of a Snap or Vine.

There is currently a global rise in ADHD. Psych Central says “a child with ADHD is four times as likely to have had a relative who was also diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.” This means that ADHD is genetic. But if we look at the way our world works–everyone being plugged in and paying attention to one thing for the length of a finger tap–it’s no wonder the diagnoses is on the rise in first world countries. We are being trained to unfocus.

I’m not an expert on this topic, and I personally do not have ADHD, but I feel like (especially lately) I have trouble focusing for longer than a few minutes–this is not something I struggled with when I was younger. I used to sit in my room and read or work on my novels for hours before I had a cellphone, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts. I used to close my eyes and just listen to music, doing nothing else. Now I’m interrupted every few minutes by the vibration of a device or the need to see if anyone liked my latest post.  I feel like I have been trained away from my natural propensity to sit down and work on something for a long amount of time. And that’s how novels get read and written.

But why am I feeling like this now? I’ve been plugged in since I was a teenager.

I feel like I’ve gotten out of the habit. This program in school isn’t challenging for me; I very rarely have to pay full attention or apply myself. So instead, I spend all day looking at my tablet, or switching to my phone to check Snapchat, Facebook, or to play a Candy Crush ripoff called Gummy Drop.Then I go home and do homework on my computer or watch Netflix. I’m staring at screens all fucking day.

And I’ve really noticed my need for instant gratification when I run out of lives in Gummy Drop. Rather than putting my phone down and doing something else for an hour for my lives to refill, I spend the fake money I’ve earned in the game which always ends up screwing me over. All I had to do is wait. I could go for a walk, or actually pay attention to class. But I can’t help it. I always spend the coins.

And I think that this need for instant gratification has trickled over and harmed my ability to write and read for long periods of time. Novels are long. They take a long time to reach the point of catharsis, and even longer if you’re trying to write one. I can’t spend any fake coins to get to the good part.

So I’m going to try and rewire my brain.

I’m not going to post anything on Facebook or Instagram (therefore I will not feel the need to check for likes) and I’m not going to allow myself to play Gummy Drop after 8 pm.

I’m going to read, write, and try to create new habits in the free time I’ll create by doing this. This might be hard with the way my classes work, but I’m going to try my best. And hopefully, I’ll notice a change.

That’s my advice to any aspiring writers as well.

Unplug to unblock.

 

A Lesson in Semantics

On depression and semantics.

I was near tears when I opened up my laptop with the intent to write this post, but the lock screen was set to a picture of a smiling sloth. It cheered me up, so if you’re having a rough day, here’s a sloth for you too:

sloth

I don’t know if I should publish this.

I often claim that I’m very open about my depression and anxiety, but the truth is that I’m really not.

As a writer, I know the difference between showing and telling.

To show, I would say, “The numbness had seeped out from the girl’s mind and into her body, paralyzing her in the dark in her bed with self loathing for eternity.”

To tell I would say, “The girl was depressed.”

I tell.

I tell people, “Why yes, I struggle with depression and anxiety,” like it’s a fun fact. I’ll bring it up to maybe explain a certain quirk I have, or to make a joke about it. I don’t show anyone why I’m too distraught to move for days. I tell them I drink so much because I love to party and don’t describe how booze fends off the panic that comes with being in a room filled with men who are bigger than me and could overpower me if they wanted. I don’t let anyone see how I rip myself into pieces until all that’s left is a handful of bloody confetti. Only my closest friends get snapshots, and even then, they’re few and far between because I am afraid. I’m afraid that if I show my darkness, what I really am beneath all the meaningless chatter, people will run. It will be too much. A burden.

In my ed psych class we’re discussing learning disabilities. My professor keeps emphasizing that if you ever hear a student say, “I’m ADHD,” or “I’m autistic,” you tell them that they aren’t ADHD or autistic, rather that they have ADHD or autism. They are not their disorders. Meaningful semantics.

I am not depressed.

I have depression.

But I don’t really believe that, not about myself or about him.

In fact, one of the stories I’m trying to get published currently is about  him, my first boyfriend who was an obsessive compulsive, cripplingly anxious, alcoholic with dissociative disorder and was an abusive mother fucker. In the story, I refer to him only as “Illness.” He functioned in social situations only by mimicking television shows; he was composed of learned wit and good timing. The only thing beneath the visage was the illness he was hiding, and I question to this day if there was even a person left amidst all of his sickness. But I loved him, whatever he was, despite the abuse.

But lately I’ve been trying to move away from relationships like that, to be smarter about who I get close to.

There’s a blogger named Jennifer Lawson who unabashedly shows and tells about her mental illness. What baffles me most about her life, is that she has a husband who isn’t mentally ill and never has been. I wondered if an unafflicted man could really understand her, really empathize, without growing weary of dealing with someone who is sick.

Her marriage gave me hope.

I thought that maybe if this woman who is so ill could be with someone who’s well, then maybe I could. Maybe the idea of a normal healthy relationship wasn’t too out of left field. Maybe a well companion could help me get well too.

I’ve been trying really hard to get better, to open up, to show. I tried in my most recent relationship, and to avoid the coldness I’ve so often been accused of. I showed, just a glimpse. And it was too much. He told me so. And I’m single again. It’s not his fault. I wanted to know, and now I do. I was right to be afraid to show my darkness.

I’ve learned that if I am depressed, then I am a burden to whomever I am with. Showing was a mistake. I need to tell, or maybe even not do that either. Maybe I should just deal with things on my own, as I always have. Hide my illness and stay on my own until I’m truly well again, if I ever will be.

I’ve been doing Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and I know that logically, I shouldn’t believe what I just wrote. Just because my illness was too much for one person doesn’t mean it will repeat every time. But logic smogic. I’m sad.

Here’s another sloth.

annother

Free Write– “Typical”

The result of a free write exercise. There are bad words, sexual references, and drugs in this post. Sounds like a good time, right?

It needs, he thought, it needs…to be held. Gently in soft lubricated hands with long fingers tipped by carefully manicured nails. It needs to be pleasured, made love to. Fucked. Hard. It needs…it needs cocaine. That was it. You can’t go wrong with cocaine. Well, maybe you could. But what did he care? His heart hurt, after all. It needed to be held, or it needed cocaine, and the former wasn’t going to happen. Not since she’d gone.

He thought of the energy infused in his muscles after snorting a line, mouth chattering almost faster than the words spouting out his throat, eyelids peeled back, taking everything in faster than possible, his energy lashing out in all directions, feeling larger than his body. And his heart. Oh, his heart would race with joy. It would thunder and leap in his chest. It would palpitate with life, with the rush. Energy. Rage. Love. He needed cocaine.

Getting up from the disheveled bed, he rubbed his hands across his unkempt beard, brushing out the stale granules of last night’s pizza from his face. He stumbled over to the coffee table, sticky with pop spilled a month ago. A month. A whole month gone by without her, his heart cold and untouched.

He’d devoured a large pepperoni pizza and two pounds of salt and pepper wings the previous night in an attempt to feed his heart, thinking that maybe after all this time that it might just be hungry, and that it was just crying for food. But his heart didn’t want pizza and wings. The food hadn’t made it happy. Instead, it had only made his skin oily and his stomach protrude with an unsightly food baby beneath the fuzz of his body hair. His bed sheets were filled with crumbs and his heart was indifferent, untouched.

He had touched other things in attempt to heal the shuttering gasping thing in his chest. In fact, his genitals were well loved—not by anyone else, but at least they responded to his efforts, like his stomach did to food. They allowed themselves to be indulged unlike his sad heavy heart.

But somewhere in the city, there was cocaine.

The thought spread in him like warm honey oozing down an aching throat. He didn’t have any coke in the house, hadn’t for years. He didn’t even remember his dealer’s name, let alone his contact information. Why was life so hard?

With a sigh that wreaked his whole body, the man fumbled with a slip of cigarette rolling paper and dumped in some green from the absurd amount in the jar on the sticky table. He ran his tongue along the paper, the moisture picking up little flecks of weed, green on pink. Bitter. Like everything in his world.

He pinched the paper together, lit the end and took in a breath matching the ferocity of his sighs. The cloud of grey smoke rushed into his lungs. It filled his whole chest, but it didn’t reach his heart. Typical.

Hamsters

On teaching, university, writing, and hamsters.

I need an attitude adjustment.

The kids in my class had swimming lessons on the first day of my first teaching practicum last semester. The hamlet I was placed in (yeah, it’s so small it doesn’t even get to be called a town) didn’t have a swimming pool, so the teacher and I loaded up the kids onto a school bus for an hour’s ride to the Bumbleton pool. I sat next to a cute little blonde girl on the bus, and she proceeded to tell me about her pet hamster while the immense flatness of Southern Alberta passed by out the windows.

I went into this practicum with an acute fear of small children. No, the words “acute” and “fear” are not hyperbolic. Children are terrifying.

The last time I interacted with more than one child, I was a child. Even back then, I detested most them, much preferring the company of older kids, adults, or best of all, books. This, as well as the fact that social interactions drain rather than energize me (which seems detrimental to succeeding as a teacher) made me incredibly nervous to embark on such a strange and uncomfortable adventure to a grade 2/3 class. My cohort spent the semester before the practicum reflecting on our feelings and why we want to be teachers. I existed on the periphery of the group, thinking, “I don’t have feelings, and I’m not sure if I even want to be a teacher” and, “I don’t like humans, I like books!” But I was optimistic, still high from my escape from Bumbleton even though my practicum would be sending me right back home; I thought I could do it. Maybe I could like little kids if I tried really hard.

So I sat on that bus next to that six year old girl, and I asked her about her hamster. I thought that if I asked, if I showed interest, that this would create my first real connection to a child. They’re all about making connections in the ed program–something else that is really hard for me.

So she told me about her hamster and a hamster that died and her horse and her dogs and do I have any pets?

I told her about my dogs, and we chattered a little bit back and forth, but eventually,  not knowing what else to possibly talk to a miniature human about, I let the conversation die peacefully. I was proud that I had tried so hard, reached out and showed an interest.

But she revived the conversation. Like Frankenstein’s monster, she sent violent intermittent bolts of lightning into the corpse over and over again; she just wouldn’t let it die.

Did I have a hamster? She asked.

Nope! Just the two dogs, I told her, raising my voice above the yelling of the other kids on the rolling yellow tin can, feeling my energy draining.

Oh…Well her hamster did this thing that was cute one time.

Wow, that is cute!

And also, more about her hamster. And also this fact about hamsters. And do I ever want to have a hamster? I should get a hamster. Hamsters have wiggly noses. Hamsters, hamsters, hamsters.

I was stuck, blocked in on the seat by her and her fucking hamsters. And it had only been ten minutes out of sixty on the bus.

I didn’t know if asking her for quiet time or if I stopped answering would do irreparable damage to her delicate child psyche, so I persisted. I continued to engage with her longer than I would ever have tried to were I not so desperate to succeed at this career.

Eventually, despite all of my efforts, I ran out of cools, and neats, and wows.

But the bus kept going. And so did she.

Hamsters!

And I thought on my very first day, “I can’t do this.”
But now I’m here in the first full week of my second semester, and I did do it.

Barely.
Since classes have begun, I’ve been debating a lot about whether I want to finish this program. There are fifty-one students in every class this semester, and we’re in a windowless room with a heating problem for seven hours every single day. There’s also another practicum at the end of the classes; the thought of it horrifies me.

The date to drop out and get my tuition back is swiftly approaching, and I’ve been trying to consult with friends and family for advice, but nobody’s input has drastically impacted my view of the program or my options. That’s very likely because at my core, all I want to be is a writer, and my friends know that, but they’re taking into consideration that whole needing to eat and pay rent thing too.

I decided today that I’m going to finish the program. Not because I want to be a teacher, but because I want to be a writer.

Since my third year of my first degree, I’ve turned into a high strung straight A student because I wanted to get into an English masters program. This still might happen one day, but realistically, it’s off the table for at least five years. I loved studying English, so devoting every waking hour to it wasn’t a chore.

But I don’t love education.

In fact, it makes me rather miserable. But I got straight A’s last semester in education, so I don’t need to worry too much about my GPA unless I start getting C’s (which let’s be real, even if I’m not wholly devoted to it, I’m too much of a spaz to let that happen). So I’ve decided that I’m going to be a writer and a student and focus equally on both goals rather than prioritizing school as I usually do. This plan is foreign to me; all I’ve identified myself as for a very long time is a lover of being educated, of being a student. But other students have families and careers and life stuff that take priority over their studies. So maybe I can make school not be number one for once either because A. I’m miserable, and B. writing is that important to me.

I’m going to create some happiness for myself while doing something tedious. At least until the practicum begins.

My first practicum experience never got better after that first day on the bus. In fact, it’s the reason why I’m so discouraged and pessimistic about the whole program now when before I was so optimistic and motivated.

A moment that perfectly represents how it went was when the teacher addressed the class after swimming lessons and said, “Alright! Everyone in the same seat on the way back!”

Writing Exercise

On Chinooks, Alberta, and an exercise to cure writer’s block.

It’s actually nice outside.

There’s a wind, but there’s always wind here. But there’s sunlight too. I’ve missed the sun so much. We’ve been in a deep freeze for the last two weeks and without a car, I’ve been confined to my little basement suite looking mournfully out at the sunless sky above. I went for a few walks outside and even a run during the deep freeze, but when I came back inside I felt like my skin had been pierced through my double layers by shards of ice.

Apparently there’s few other places in the world that get Chinooks like we do here, which is strange because it just seems so normal. According to Global News, a Chinook is when, “moist air drives up against mountain ranges. Once it rains or snows, the air is ’emptied’ of that moisture, and is then a drier air mass. The dry air then moves downhill on the lee side of the mountain range.” That creates a warm wind that melts our snow and a line of cloud that looks like this:

Chinook
Global News

The picture above is a very typical view in Southern Alberta. It’s very flat here, but you can usually see the mountains out to the west bragging about their tumultuous plains, trying to make me jealous. It works.

And no, Chinooks have nothing to do with Global Warming. *squints at Leonardo DiCaprio*

I can’t wait to get out there.

But in the meantime, I’m here to share some examples of the writing exercise I wrote about in a previous blog. It’s the exercise where you put a song on and don’t let your pen stop until the song is over. If my pen works faster than my brain, I repeatedly write the last word until my brain can catch up. You’ll see that in my first example; these are unedited and exactly like they are in my notebook.

Saturday, Jan 14 2016

Hallelujah – Michael M. Moore 3:20

She gazed out at the water. The sound of blaring car horns echoed across it, skittering across its smooth surface like a skipped stone. She couldn’t remember how she’d found this haven, this small pond in amidst the new and the steel and the crunch of of of tires on glass and trash. It was green here. And old. The trees clambered up, reaching towards the sky to scrape a puff of silk from the bottoms of the clouds.

Le Trouble – White Knuckles 2:43

She approached the tall door, a sense of impending dread clenching the inside of her from her womb. Her empty womb. She suddenly felt like laughing. Or Screeching. Maybe both. She wanted them to escape from her body and shake her into a million little pieces, falling to shards of herself on the doorstep. Shards that bitch inside would cut herself on.

Even though the grammar isn’t perfect and the writings are over all quite messy, look at what I’ve pulled out of my brain. There’s a setting and someone’s perspective of it in the first one, and there’s a glimpse of a character and tension that could easily lend itself to the plot of a story in the second.There’s also some wonderful metaphors.

All because I forced myself to write and not stop.

If you want to be a writer, do this. Do this all the time. Get a notebook and dedicate it solely to your timed writings, and if the song stops, but your brain wants to keep going, then keep going. Just write. It is without a doubt the best way to annihilate writer’s block.

An Unpleasant Discovery

On NOT feminism and submitting stories to literary magazines.

I’m not a feminist.

During my early years of university, I was a feminist as is often the case when young women are first exposed to Women’s Studies and sociology. I burned bras, yelled, “Fuck the patriarchy!” and stopped shaving and all that jazz. Just kidding. I still trimmed my mustache.

I currently no longer go by that title, and I intentionally avoid discussing gender issues because when I did carry that F word on my back, I faced not only resistance, but hatred. It wasn’t hatred inspired by anything that I had said or done, in fact, I was relatively soft spoken even back then, but I felt hatred because of the bra burning stereotype that I just poked fun at. Worst of all, I had the misfortune of meeting two people who are with out a doubt the worst humans I have ever and will ever encounter in my life. They identified themselves as feminists. Every time I spoke up for feminism, I was defending those monsters. And it wasn’t worth it anymore. So I laid down in the stream and let it carry me away rather than standing waist deep with the current bashing against me. Now I float in this weird untitled grey area where, sure, I think everyone should be equal, but if someone says a sexist joke and I open my mouth in response, it will be in laughter. And maybe laughing makes me a bad person or even a traitor against my own sex, but my laughter will never even brush the same realm of cruelty of those feminists. So I will not feel guilty for it.

I’ve been working really hard on the goals I made in this post about my delusions of power.

It still baffles me how much work it is to find just one literary magazine that MIGHT be a good fit for my writing.

But it’s enjoyable work. I mean, I’m in school to be a teacher. Or whatever. At my core, I’ve always wanted to be a full time writer, and since I’ve been working on my mental health too, I’ve actually been going out of my way to make time for my writing goals.

So far I’ve submitted my story called “What Counts” to five magazines(my goal is 50). Along my literary travels, I’ve also come across two magazines to submit a piece I wrote for a creative non-fiction class called “Contagious.” For some reason I always discount that story. I always think it’s bad, but every time I read it, I’m always impressed by it. Calyx magazine even gave me a really encouraging rejection letter when I submitted it to them. You’d think that would inspire some sort of faith in the quality of the story, but no. That’s too logical for the likes of me.

However–it makes me cringe in anticipation of the backlash I may get for writing this–one thing I’ve noticed in my travels through digital stories is an overabundance of literature by men (excluding those ‘zines that are dedicated solely to women’s works), and very little by women.

It wasn’t in every magazine, but it was enough that I noticed it when my anti-feminist brain wasn’t even looking for it.

I’ve read about an imbalance between men and women writers publishing success before, but I’ve never really noticed it until now. Even when I was a feminist, I always kind of assumed that it wasn’t as bad as it was being made out to be.

But this is something I’ve been seeing with my own eyes. Which makes me think that maybe I should take on a male or gender neutral pseudonym like George Elliot (AKA Mary Ann Evans) when I sign my cover letters to magazines.

To use a term that my boyfriend often says, it “chaps” me to think of doing that.

I’m selfish.

I want credit.

I want compliments.

I want writing fame.

I want cake.

Mmmm.

Cake.

A lot of people have discouraged me from writing throughout my life. If I ever do make it as a successful full-time writer, I want there to be no question if my work is mine. I want my name on it so I can smush it into the faces of my doubters and go, “SEE?! YOU TOLD ME I COULDN’T, AND I STILL DID IT. I’M THE BEE’S KNEES.”

But if my name really will decrease my chances of publication, the question then becomes, which is more important: my name or my dream of being a writer? Obviously the latter.

But it’s been two hundred years since Mary Ann Evans hid her identity to get published. Maybe it has changed and I’m simply over thinking it and seeing the imbalance in only a small sample of literary magazines when overall it’s really quite equal. But if I’m not, it’s a risk. My name could hold me back.

It’s something I’m going to keep in mind for now. I’m not quite ready to surrender the face smushing of my doubters yet.

In the meantime, I think I may pull a J.K. Rowling and submit stories only using my first and middle initial with my last name. It’s a fair compromise.

Chapped indeed.