It’s no secret that I have been dealing with dysthymia since childhood; the same way some people have a bad back or a trick knee, I have recurring low-grade depression. It’s further no secret that I have had a bad few years. I lost both parents, a favorite aunt, and literally half of my circle of closest friends, all since late 2010. Put shifting to self-employment, an extremely difficult short-sale of our house, and recurring worries about Laurie’s job situation on top of all of that, and I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m still riding a psychological roller coaster.
Nevertheless, it continues to surprise me. My emotional center is completely broken and seems to be governed at the moment by a random number generator. I get ridiculously angry at nothing; when I find myself screaming at the top of my lungs at the phone to quit ringing all the goddamn time and physically restraining myself from throwing it across the room, I know I’ve entered the land of disproportionate response. But I also can’t seem to figure out anything to do about it.
My mood right now seems to have three basic settings, depending on my energy level. If my energy level is high, my mood is either edge-of-rage angry (bad day), or crazy manic productive (good day). If my energy level is low, my mood is lonesome, self-loathing, edge-of-tears despair (every day starting around 3:30 p.m.). There doesn’t seem to be “good day” version of low energy.
I am in counseling, and we have addressed this somewhat, but frankly I am such a basket case it’s taking a long time to get around to it. But if you have observed my behavior being erratic, this is why. Thanks for being patient. I am trying to broaden my emotional repertoire: I’d like to think “quietly productive and content” is an option and I just need to find the right buttons to push to get there.
Unfortunately, as she snuck out of the building, Brigid’s cellphone began vibrating stridently in her bag, which just told her she had a lot more hell to get through before the day was over. Pulling out the phone, she barked into it, “I’m not gonna say four hours until you give me details!”
“Well that’s fine,” said Isadora’s voice on the other end. “I don’t want you to say four hours anyway! Why should I? It’s no skin off my nose.”
“Ugh, sorry Mom,” said Brigid. “I thought you were someone else.”
“Well I’m not,” said Isadora. “What’s more, I don’t intend to ever be.”
“What’s up?” said Brigid, hauling her bag up onto the bus and waving her pass in front of the sensor.
“I’m calling to issue yet another invitation,” said Isadora as Brigid collapsed into a seat. “Your Aunt Edna is hosting a family reunion two weeks hence.”
“Oh, hell no,” said Brigid. “No thanks.”
“What do you mean, ‘no thanks’?”
“I mean Aunt Edna can go hump a pool toy. A team of Navy Seals couldn’t get me to go to that.” A woman sitting across from Brigid turned her head and blinked; Brigid just hunkered down into her seat.
“Brigid!” said Isadora.
“No way,” said Brigid.
“She doesn’t have many years left in her, you know,” said Isadora.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” said Brigid.
“Don’t be cruel-hearted!” said Isadora.
“Sorry, sorry,” said Brigid. “I’m just… Mom, I can’t take family right now.”
“You’re supposed to take comfort and joy from your family!” said Isadora. “That’s what they’re for!”
“Then I should have a comforting, joyful family for that,” said Brigid. “Not Disdain McJudgealot and the Fifteen Sneerers.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” said Isadora. “In any case it doesn’t matter. We all have obligations, Brigid, and family is one of them. I understand that you don’t necessarily like them, and that can’t be helped. But you’ll be glad to have them later in life, take it from me!”
Brigid just squeezed her eyes shut. Then, quickly pulling a bit of paper out of her bag, she rapidly crumpled it up in front of the microphone. “Sorry, what’s that mom?” she said. “You’re breaking up. What? WHAT?”
“Don’t you try that crumpled paper trick on me you little–” was as far as Isadora got before Brigid had hung up on her.
Over the past few weeks, as my seemingly-never-ending house sale sits instead of going through, and my life is mostly packed up in boxes, I haven’t been able to work on art and have instead been working on one of my various mothballed novels (and making good progress, I’m very pleased to add). It is the long-theorized and twice-attempted Brigid and Greg novel, which includes several existing Fictionlets finally put into context, as well as the rest of the narrative that actually makes into a (semi-) coherent story.
One of the new things I’ve been trying this time around is that I picked up a copy of Scrivener, which is a nifty hybrid of word processor and project management software for writers. The way it works is by creating a virtual corkboard onto which you “pin notecards,” which can be scenes, sections, notes, whole chapters, whatever suits you. You can shuffle them around, put them into “folders,” however you see fit.
I may have gone a little nuts with it.
What I started with really was a list of scenes, some of which were existing Fictionlets, others were simply concepts or story beats I knew had to be hit. For lack of a better framework, I then created folders based on the five-act structure, and started putting scenes into them as made sense. Once I had the big picture worked out, I then drilled down into individual acts and created folders for individual chapters, and from there started writing specific scenes within the chapter folders. At the same time, I’ve been maintaining some other notes in Snowflake, mainly using the scene list and word-count database to get a big picture view of how long each chunk of story is compared to the others around it. It seems that the average scene in this book is about two pages long (~500 words), although a few whoppers are seven pages long (~1,750 words). The average chapter is running around 12 pages (~3,000 words), and I expect to have around 20-25 chapters, which should put me well into the 60,000-75,000 word range I was aiming for.
Considering that even the Michael Macbeth novel I did for NaNoWriMo 2013 just barely squeaked over 50,000, I’m quite pleased with this state of affairs. I keep thinking of the preface to Thank You, Jeeves…
“…Writing my stories, I enjoy; it is the thinking them out that is apt to blot the sunshine from my life. You can’t think out plots like mine without getting a suspicion from time to time that something has gone seriously wrong with the brain’s two hemispheres and the broad band of transversely-running fibers known as the corpus callosum. It is my practice to make about 400 pages of notes before starting a novel, and during this process there always comes a moment when I say to myself, “Oh what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” The odd thing is, that just as I’m feeling I must be getting a proposer and seconder, and put myself up for the looney bin, something always clicks, and after that, all is joy and jollity.”–P.G. Wodehouse
Given my writing habits, that passage has been of everlasting comfort, to me! And so far, the passage has described my writing attempts very well, to which I say if it’s good enough for Wodehouse, then surely it’s good enough for me!
One of the unexpected things I’ve learned over the course of being That Guy at Starbucks, is how much there is to learn about being That Guy at Starbucks. For instance, you discover that there’s a whole shadow-economy of That Guys, many of whom are actually women, making That Guy a terrible moniker but alas the one that has stuck in my head and therefore I shall employ henceforth.
Another thing you discover is that paradoxically, “Dream a Little Dream of Me” becomes the most un-soothing song in the world when blasting too loudly in your ear. In short, there are times when having earphones is absolutely vital. I mean, the whole point of being That Guy at Starbucks is you’re working somewhere that has noise and bustle and activity, in order to get something that feels vaguely like human interaction without any of the attendant unpleasantness of going to an actual job– but when the shady character at the next table over pitches a ponzi scheme to his mark in a voice made to rattle windows, or worst of all, some harried suburban mother brings in her five year old, her toddler, and her infant, and shoves them all at a table in the corner while she goes to grab her triple venti caramel macchiatto before she murders someone, the calm bubble of humanity suddenly becomes a loud and intrusive bubble of humanity designed to keep you from getting anything done. Your choices therefore are to take your chances with the next Starbucks over, or to put on headphones and listen to, well, sound clips recorded inside coffeeshops. Because that’s the most effective background ambience for getting work done.
You also quickly learn the importance of scouting out the power plugs, grabbing the seat by the window in the brief moments when it becomes available, knowing which cashiers actually know what they’re doing and will give your drink to the barista correctly, and by extension which baristas actually give a damn when it comes to making the drinks. A mocha made without the proper amount of syrup is much worse than no mocha at all.
Once you get the hang of these things, however, you come to discover that having offices in every city of the world is worth its weight in gold, and as I mentioned, you can’t beat the rent. The only real downside is terminally slippery insides, but even that can be managed with an occasional lemonade and judicious selection of decaf.
A while back I posted to my LiveJournal, “I left my day job with the plan of doing all these things I didn’t have the time to do before… so why am I still spending so much time not doing them?” As I’ve been exploring the issue further, I have come to the conclusion that drawing comics all day, writing short stories etc., while it’s fun and I love it, is not really what I want to do with forever.
It is, essentially, a selfish pursuit. The best metaphor I can think of, is that it’s as if I was being paid (not very much) to play Solitaire all day… enjoyable, but when it’s done, what will it have achieved? With the original Suburban Jungle Starring Tiffany Tiger, I felt like I had something to say to the world, at least. Currently I have no real message, just a series of entertaining vignettes that give me an excuse to draw pretty pictures.
I came to the conclusion yesterday, that it’s time to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. The only problem is, at the moment at least, I have no idea what that is. All of the jobs I’ve had, even if they were Srs Bzness Jobs, were not really grown up. They were what I cruised into and what was available. I’ve never really seriously studied anything but art and literature, so I’m pretty short on real-world skills. I became a graphic designer because it was kinda-sorta like doing art for a living. I became a web designer because it was like being a graphic designer except with prestige (at the time).
Right now the only ideas I’ve got are pretty nebulous and kinda random. I’ve worked the floor at a bookstore and enjoyed it, but that doesn’t pay a living wage in the long term. I have a pipe dream of owning a coffeehouse on the beach somewhere, but having worked as a barista I’m pretty sure that’s something that should stay a fantasy.
One of the “Would you enjoy a task like this?” questions I came across on a Holland Code test was “mapping the ocean floor,” and I was surprised at how interesting that actually sounded. I enjoyed “earth science” in school and always got into things like National Geographic, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, or The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and I think I might enjoy being a marine biologist or something along those lines. (That in particular would give me an added bonus of having a reason to live on a California beach somewhere. 😉 )
As I say, the ideas are still only half-baked, and I need to really work on honing in on them. To that end, since I am currently free of having a day job other than the comics, I’m going to find a career counseling program and start going through it. Right now the top contenders are The Oxford Program, which Laurie used with limited success, and the Rockport Institute/”The Pathfinder”, which my counselor recommended. Either one would be a fairly hefty investment, cash- and time-wise, but if it leads to a real career that earns me a good living, it’ll be more than worth it.
For the record: I will continue writing and creating comics. I can’t imagine that ever going away. But I am starting to think that’s something I should be doing as recreation, rather than as an obligation, because that seems to be sucking the joy and vitality out of it.
Wish me luck! If anyone has career (or other) suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
Commission for @mlp_Dreamer of the #TwitterPonies, a fun little scene between himself and @mlp_AppleJack. As fond as she is of Dreamer, she doesn’t look real happy to be answering the door at this time of night.