Filling the Void

(Or, Why We Don’t Write When We Finally Have Time to Write)

I never thought I’d be the type of person who hates being home all the time. When I had school, or work, or something to focus on, all I wanted was a couple days to stay in my pajamas and write. I never minded if some weekends turned out to be less full than others. The more time I had to myself, the better.

These days I have all the time in the world to stay in my pajamas and write. This drastic change in schedule alters my perception of what’s “work” and what’s “play.” Writing a novel and creating blog posts are now the things I should do, not the dreams that get me though the day. Focusing so much on hobbies then puts more pressure on producing an actual result. Without external motivation, or milestones achieved, it’s harder to delude myself into thinking my hobby will lead anywhere.

The absence of external stimuli creates another problem. Writing becomes much harder when thoughts calm. I think it’s why a blank page intimidates us. An average day provides us with menial tasks and responsibilities, so when we find something shiny to distract us (like a story idea), we grab onto it. That motivation is nowhere to be found when we finally get home and sit in front of our computers. Again, writing becomes the responsibility, not the distraction. We want to relax, and in that particular moment, small accomplishments like chores feel more satisfying than a few pages that probably won’t be any good anyway.

Hell, maybe this is just my version of “writer’s block,” aka “I don’t want to put real effort into my writing so I’m blaming the world.”

It’s partly because I’ve been writing for such a long time. I feel like I should have several stories published already, if not a novel. Once in a while I have to step back and remind myself there is no “deadline” in life, that everyone achieves at their own pace. A couple months ago I posted some of my original work to Scribophile. This might not seem like an accomplishment to anyone else, but it is for me because I never sought out constructive criticism like this before. Sure, I’d post on websites where I barely got readers, or send it to friends. Scribophile was the first place where I submitted my work for professional-quality criticism. All readers had good things to say but they also made me see that publication was a long way off, even further away than I’d thought.

But then, I suppose you could call that a milestone. It only took more than fifteen years to submit my writing for detailed feedback. Maybe I’ll submit to a publishing house in another fifteen years. I’m sure tons of writers are published for the first time in their 40s. How old was J.K. Rowling again?

This uncertain time in my life is messing me up. It looks like a chance to start over and finally start a career in writing, but in reality, it’s whatever I make of it. If I’m not ready, if things don’t work out, I have the rest of my life to try again. A writing practice happens without formal guidelines and restrictions, so I think sometimes our brains settle into a rut. We hold ourselves to outdated standards and forget to re-evaluate our goals. To use a smartphone analogy, it’s like we’re trying to operate a new phase in our lives without updating the software.

Going back to the blank page after a busy day, I think self-imposed timelines tie into  the “work vs. play” dilemma. It’s easy to fantasize about writing when we can’t actually sit down to write. When we do sit down in front of a computer to type up a masterpiece, we subconsciously pressure ourselves to write something good. We have limited time so we want to be productive when we do write. What we don’t realize is that, when we aim for perfection, we don’t write at all to avoid failure.

Maybe we should redirect this pressure. Maybe it’s time to view the blank page as a bigger failure than bad writing, that typing out crap is better than not typing at all. If we make an effort to write crap on a semi-regular basis, we might eventually produce non-crap on a regular basis. So for the moment I’m forgetting about publication, ignoring all my experience,  and aspiring to crap.

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Coping Mechanisms

I’m weird, and one of many reasons why is that I like having extra time to process things. Most people say “oh, get it over with sooner!” but I turn things over in my mind, over and over, until it doesn’t seem so scary. Then I like to put it out of my head until the day it happens. I’m talking about the inevitable stuff, such as my upcoming surgery or a doctor’s appointment or…I don’t know, the SAT’s.

(My former coworkers and I were talking about that at breakfast this morning. I’m pretty sure I did nothing for the test and still managed to get into the college I wanted – but that’s just me.)

Up until recently I was relatively fine. I need this surgery. My aunt is a good preview of what will happen if I don’t do it, and I’ll probably be worse off since I have trouble even now. It’s not even that bad because I’ve been through worse, really. Just a little arthroscopic procedure and I’ll be out of the hospital the same day.

Then I make the mistake of thinking about the specifics. What about my other knee, is that going to be secure while they’re doing this? (I’m sure it will be, and if it isn’t, I’ll be out cold.) What if I can’t figure out how to get around? (I will.) It’ll be weird having my knee straight for so long, won’t it? (I’ll adjust.) Going to the bathroom and showering will be a major frustration. (…that one might be true. The downstairs bathroom is tiny.) All these “what ifs” swirl around until I feel too overwhelmed to think about anything. They still annoy me, even though I can give myself a rational answer right after asking myself an irrational question.

Up until recently I could deal because I had time. I could lose myself in day-to-day stuff because the surgery was so far away. Well, now it’s next week. Gotta admit, I’m freaking out a little. You can tell by my use of non-word “gotta” in a sentence.

I’ve resorted to distraction, and fortunately in the era of Netflix, there’s always plenty of that. The anxiety returns on occasion, but I’m usually okay if I’m watching Charmed (my current marathon show). I’m also okay when I’m writing. I’m speeding through my novella lately. I might even try to finish it by next Friday. Normally I believe in facing fears – or in this case, the root of my anxiety. This is not a normal situation though. There’s nothing I can do, and if I get too nervous, I might convince myself to postpone it. I think the best thing to do is write…or watch Charmed, whichever works.

 

Maybe It All Worked Out for the Best

This has been a favorite saying of mine since I heard my job was closing. It’s more than me trying to make myself feel better. If you look at all the pieces, you wonder how everything fit together without any planning. Some would call it God’s plan. Maybe that’s true, but I also think of it as unfortunate events leading to fortunate coincidences.

The transition began New Year’s Eve and Day. My 70-year-old aunt was turning in her car because she has Parkinson’s and can no longer drive it. While sitting in my other aunt’s living room on NYE, watching either the New York or Miami special depending on the moment, my family half-jokes that I should buy my aunt’s car. They know I’ve been looking but also know I’m seriously procrastinating. I don’t want to drive period. I’ve had my license for a while now, and I’m aware it’s a necessary evil, but I kept putting it off because I didn’t need my own car. I’d been planning to look for a better job though so I resolved even prior to NYE to finally bite the bullet. I could probably afford something decent too.

So, my family plants the idea, then the next day I’m like “well, why not? The four-door sedan has like 9K miles on it after two years and I won’t have to pretend I can find a decent used car on my own.” Problem solved. Within a month I’m at my uncle’s cousin’s dealership in New Jersey signing a stack of official documents.

I like the car. I really, honestly do. I just don’t drive it on a regular basis yet. Miraculously I passed the test to get my license, but I still need practice before I’m zipping around town by myself.

Soon after I finally made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon my stepfather’s sister recommended. My knee cap dislocated December 2014 but I’d been trying to…well, walk it off. I’d done it plenty of times before. This time my walking and balance didn’t recover fully, contrary to other dislocations in the past. My mom and I went to an orthopedic last year but we did not like him. Again, I meant to make an appointment with someone else sooner.  Again, one reason or another, I don’t pick up the phone to call until early February. My appointment is set for March.

Late February. Cue the announcement that the company I work for is closing. No one saw it coming, or at least, everyone expected to squeeze out at least another two or three years. Shock, anger, fear of the unknown, it was all there. Then when I calmed down I began to review the last few months.

Let’s put this into perspective.

If I didn’t buy my aunt’s car, I wouldn’t have gotten one. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get one from a dealership until I started earning a salary. I wouldn’t have a car to drive to the many interviews in my future.

As for my two knee surgeries, if I still had my job or started a new one, I’d be a nervous wreck about keeping it. If I’d found a better job, I might never have gone to the doctor. Getting this surgery is important to me because the aunt who has Parkinson’s also has bad knees like me, and can’t walk without her walker. Both she and my cousin have outright insisted I get surgery so I don’t end up like her.

Now I have time to recover. Going back even further, if I’d moved out of my family home (in a far-fetched alternate reality), I’d be right back there anyway because of this surgery. I’d have to give up whatever apartment I’d found and felt like I was taking a huge step back in my life overall. Instead I feel like I’m moving forward.

Divine intervention? Coincidences? Rose-colored glasses? I have no idea what any of this means but there’s a big silver lining running through it.

 

 

 

Anxiety stems from knowing there are goals we should be achieving, but due to circumstances that seem beyond our control, we aren’t. This could be any goal no matter how big, small, or completely inconsequential it might seem to those on the outside. Obsessing leads to fear of accomplishing these goals, to avoiding them, to becoming what people label as “insecure.”

I have no idea what I’m saying. Sounded good, right?

This tumbled around in my head while I thought about the next couple weeks after my job ends. I’d like to believe I’ve grown a lot over the last few years. My job has almost been like College 2.0, a training ground where I adjusted to a typical corporate environment, bonded with my coworkers, and took on more responsibility. I can still be a loner introvert, but I’ve noticed that I’m way more likely tell people exactly how I feel and brush off daily obstacles. I also take on new challenges without worrying as much if I’ll be able to figure them out on my own.

The Internet helped. I’ve become even more honest on Twitter and other platforms, while pulling back stuff that made me look stay-the-hell-away-from-that-girl crazy. I’ve met some really great people online, and almost never got negative feedback from strangers. I’ve been lucky in that sense.

In the past I always earned above-average grades, but didn’t have confidence outside of school. The year after college was a nightmare because I wasn’t getting interviews and struggled to set realistic career goals. I didn’t want to be a “regular” print/broadcast journalist even though I had a journalism degree, but I didn’t know what else to do either. Why don’t they have college classes that tell you what to do after graduation? Why don’t they have classes on pursuing a career related to your field, even if it’s not exactly what the major’s for, or not making an ass of yourself during the job interviews you eventually manage to get? Where were those classes? Hell, why don’t they at least tell you HOW IMPORTANT it is to amass an insane amount of internship experience so that employers look at your resume for longer than half a millisecond?

I started at the pulmonary rehab/sleep center over four years ago thinking I would only be there four months to scan patient charts into the computer server. Eventually I worked more and more hours until I had full-time. For the most part I knew I needed something better, but it was so easy to settle in for a while. I did send out my resume on occasion, going to interviews…and still making an ass of myself. Much like putting off a dentist appointment in spite the cavity you pretend isn’t there, I forced myself to believe that maybe this job would change in the long run. Maybe I’ll work my way up.

Yeah right.

Referring back to what I said before, while I didn’t earn a livable income, I still gained valuable experience. I got more interviews when I did send out resumes. At first I was awful, but the last couple interviews I went on actually weren’t so traumatizing. I don’t think there’s a trick to it, or I could’ve landed a better job earlier if only I’d done that. I needed these years to grow. Right now I’m not looking because of the impending knee surgeries, but when I do have to apply again in about six months, I won’t be so nervous. I’ll know what job posts to seek out, if the requirements fit me, what answers to have ready for the interview. If a tiny bit of luck is on my side, I might even do some freelance writing and editing during my recovery.

So I realized all this is why I’m not so anxious anymore. It’s because I have more faith in myself. I can be cynical, and pessimistic, but I won’t let fear of failure stall my ambitions anymore. Then again it could be my pessimism speaking. After the company you work for closes, there’s nowhere left to go but up.

 

 

 

Seeing all sides of an issue doesn’t always seem like a gift. I’m better at coping with situations, and I can get along with most people even if I’m not crazy about them. I’m grateful that I almost never direct my anger outwardly. If there’s any anger at all, I keep it inside until it passes or distract myself with writing. When someone needs to hear someone I tell them, but to me, I have to be willing to risk the possible consequences. Will I stand my ground if my “honesty” leads to very hurt feelings?

This is why I don’t discuss politics, or religion, or anything I don’t 1000% believe in. And it’s impossible for me to 1000% believe in most things. An open mind means questioning what many never question their whole lives (and a part of me envies those who are happier for it). Maybe I’m not an atheist, but I’m not sure which religion I’ll end up subscribing to for the rest of my life – if I pick one at all. I received Communion, made Confirmation, all before I really thought about what I was signing up for. How are kids supposed to decide what religion they want to follow? Two of my friends were brought up Catholic, went to Catholic school with me, but now refuse to label themselves as such.

Politics drives me crazy, simple as that. If I ever come across a law that drives me to stand up and fight, sure, I’ll rally the troops. I’ll even support a cause that moves me. Most of the time though, I’m more concerned with the day-to-day. I’m thinking about the company I work for shutting down, the MRI I’m going for soon, Mother’s Day gifts, what my friends and I should do this weekend. I don’t want to upset myself by getting into a “healthy debate” with someone who won’t change his or her mind anyway. My friends are very liberal and I don’t always agree with them, but I won’t try to burst their bubbles just for the hell of it. In a way it’s nice to see them so enthusiastic even if I don’t share their enthusiasm.

(I’m aware of the election but don’t want to support anyone. Do I have to vote?

…yeah, yeah, civic duty, I get it…)

My chronic ambivalence has led to a “to each their own” philosophy. I support LGBT mainly because it’s none of my business. I mean, why not? If two consenting adults love each other, have at it. The transgender bathroom issue has me scratching my head more than anything else. I wonder if I would even notice a transgender person walking into a public bathroom with me. Usually I’m busy, you know, running for a stall. I can’t say I’ve looked around at other people much before going in.

I think way too much.

I never liked keeping journals. This always bugged me, because as a writer, I should have a journal. I should have dozens of notebooks filled with my life’s stories by now. Half a dozen blogs, even a LiveJournal later, nothing ever stuck. Maybe the moral here is my daily life doesn’t compare to fiction. Why write about myself when I can make up much more interesting characters?

That was true for a long while. Now, I can’t make this stuff up.

It’s all 2016’s fault. Everything was fine until – literally – New Year’s Day. I decided to buy a car. Why is this a big deal when I’m 27-years-old? Well, um, as a New Yorker, I got by for years without driving at all. I didn’t get my license until I was 24, and even then it must have been a belated Christmas miracle when the examiner passed me on December 26th that year. I’m talking like, an actual angel sitting next to me in the car and taking pity on my soul. I’m still not comfortable behind the wheel even though I’m now paying for the car and insurance every month. The plan was to practice constantly then bring it home from my aunt’s house, which is an hour away.

Let’s save that for another post.

Soon after, things started getting crazy at my job. Naturally, right? I finally buy a car and the big boss decides to retire? Oh yes, the company is closing after being in business for thirty years. I’ll be unemployed in a couple weeks tops, if that. Bright side here is I never would’ve bought the stupid car if I’d had any inkling of what was going on before I signed my life away. Also fortunately, that’s an exaggeration since I have enough savings to keep me going for a while. At the time I heard this I thought, well, unemployment sucks but at least I’ll have a car when I look for my new job.

Then I met with an orthopedic surgeon in March. This is also another post, but the highlights? I need two consecutive knee surgeries. My knees have always been bad and I wanted to get them fixed, but I thought it was just the one I didn’t have done ten years ago. Nope, both, one after the other.

So driving, and the new job, will have to wait until I’m all recovered in about six months.

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This blog was created out of desperation. If I write down some of my thoughts here, maybe they won’t turn over and over in my mind during the day.