Stages of Grief, or Stages of Writing?

This morning I read this post by Chuck Wendig. Of course it made me laugh, but it also made me realize something about my own writing process: I think I may be stuck in the “Depression” phase. And that makes sense, sort of, in the grand scheme of the things that are my life and personality.

I’m prone to depression. Notice I didn’t say I “have” depression. I think that may be because a large part of my family still harbors some of society’s stigmas toward depression. I’m not sure why that is, but I know it’s affected me and the way I talk about myself and my emotional and mental struggles.

I get depressed over the strangest things. You may have noticed, for example, that my posts fell completely off with no warning and no reasoning. I made a very brief attempt at weekly review posts rather than biweekly ones, and it proved more stressful than I thought. I like reading at a slow pace and giving myself time to process what I’m reading; otherwise I find myself reading just to be reading, and I don’t retain anything at all. Months later I may even entirely forget I’ve read a book if I read it that way.

When I realized that weekly posts were probably going to be too strenuous, it hit me hard. Harder than it probably should have. Instead of telling myself, “that’s fine, just adjust the schedule again. People will understand,” I told myself I was a failure, a horrible writer, and no one followed my blog anyway so what difference did it make. Of course, these are horrible things to tell yourself, and I know that, logically. But that doesn’t stop Scumbag Brain from being a scumbag.

So of course the conclusion Scumbag Brain reached was to just. Stop. Blogging. And somehow, I was mostly okay with this. I would get a twinge of guilt here or there, or really miss writing, or have a great idea, and yet somehow I’d dismiss it all with some lame excuse or self-deprecation.

But then I read Chuck’s post. And I get that it wasn’t specifically talking about my situation, but it seemed so relevant. It really struck me that this is what I’ve been doing with my writing for years; I get started, somehow get discouraged, and I get out. I put it down and never go back to it.

I’ve decided in recent days that I want to change all that and let myself be the person I want to be. I need to get out of my own way, basically. So I signed up for Habitica — which is already making a difference in the way I think about my free time and my priorities. I did some research on online graduate schools and got some input from some of my career mentors. And most terrifying of all: I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve signed up for it before, but this time, I mean it. I work at my alma mater, so I enlisted the English department chair to help keep me accountable, and I added daily writing to my Habitica tasks. Plus, last fall I was able to attend an excellent character-writing workshop with Mary Robinette Kowal, and I’ll be drawing heavily from what I learned there, not to mention using the completed excerpt I ended up with as a basis for my concept.

I’m really excited about what’s in store. I’m just hoping that I can hold on to this momentum, because life isn’t always a stroll down a sunny lane. Recently, husband and I moved into a brand new home and, while of course it’s exciting and wonderful, it’s also very stressful and a little scary. Part of me wants to stay home all day in my pajamas and enjoy it to the fullest, and part of me wants to be ten years old again so I can stay at the home I grew up in in my pajamas and not have anything to worry about, apart from which flavor of Ramen I’ll eat for lunch and whether I can sneak a second soda.

Chibird's penguin encouragement :)

Chibird’s penguin encouragement 🙂

But that won’t do either. It’s time for the Acceptance phase.

I can do this.

So now I’m going to go do it.

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Tuesday Reviews Day: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

stn_smg

Even if you know only a little about me, you may expect that my list of completed books is a staggering one, with a host of diverse characters and authors.

It isn’t.

For someone who spent the majority of high school and college on track to become a high school lit teacher and then graduated with an English degree, I’m still floored by the authors I haven’t discovered, the genres I haven’t fallen in love with, and the female/minority leads I’ve been missing.

But I am still trying to keep up with that reading challenge that I told you about awhile back. So when an author I follow on Twitter asked for people to review her debut novel, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been getting more adventurous with my reading choices of late, and the last several risks I’ve taken have really paid off. Signal to Noise is no different.

I am beyond glad I read this novel, even if it was one of the most difficult books I’ve read in a long time. More on that later.

In case you’ve forgotten, the summary section of these posts may feature some heavy spoilers. Skip to the recap if you haven’t read this one yet! Continue reading

©Jessica Hoffman

A Much Needed Break

So, recently I told you that my World Book Day post had to be backdated because of other things I’d tell you about later. Wow, that sounded ominous, didn’t it? It wasn’t anything bad; quite the opposite, really.

Kris and I celebrated our fifth anniversary this year, and thanks to all the time and money we’ve been pouring into the house, we weren’t able to do anything huge. But we decided not to swap gifts and instead take a whirlwind, twenty-four-hour trip to a city we haven’t been to in at least a decade, and never together: Savannah, Georgia. If you’ve never been to Savannah, start making plans now. Well, after you read my post. And maybe also share it. I don’t know. Let’s not talk about all the time I spent completely panicking because I thought we weren’t going to be able to find any available rooms and have to stay home for our first milestone anniversary.

I crawled the city’s CVB site looking for cute places to stay and found this utterly adorable B&B in Savannah’s historic Old Town called Zeigler House Inn. The owner is a positively delightful woman named Jackie, who greeted us with a map of the city and proceeded to plot out dinner recommendations, sightseeing points, and weekend activities.

©Jessica Hoffman

Zeigler House Inn

She explained that we could use the house’s parlor, porches, and library at our leisure, and we should help ourselves to the cream sherry and fresh-baked cookies, fudge, and cupcakes in the dining room. There were movies to borrow and books to read, umbrellas in case it rained, and a single-cup coffee maker. In our room a closet had been converted to a small kitchen complete with mini-fridge and a full set of silverware and china. Jackie had baked giant muffins (they were to die for), strawberry turnovers, and ham-and-cheese turnovers for breakfast. The bathroom was amazing, the bed was ultra squishy, and the whole room was just so relaxing and plush and perfect.

©Jessica Hoffman

Our cute room!

We tossed our bags down and headed to a restaurant really close by called Crystal Beer Parlor. We got nachos topped with pulled pork and jalapenos and sampled some of their beers. Kris had a bison burger that he loved, with sweet potato fries, while I stuck to local shrimp (they were enormous!) and tried-and-true hand-cut french fries. We didn’t do anything else that night; we’d driven there after working all day, so it was pretty late once we left the restaurant.

©Jessica Hoffman

Delicious dinner!

 

Friday morning — our 5th anniversary, yay! — we got up late, lounged around and chit-chatted with Jackie before paying for the room (an excellently affordable price, all things considered) and heading out to face the day. We had talked about doing a trolley tour, but we ended up finding a parking garage and spending literally the entire day walking around and getting lost. It was amazing.

We found art galleries by the dozens, with pieces by local artists that were stunning. There were so many adorable and amazing places, and we soon ended up in touristville, a.k.a. River Street. We watched an employee at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen make saltwater taffy on a 100-year-old taffy puller; bought pralines at another shop; and ate a delicious lunch at Fiddler’s Crab House overlooking the water. We also found Savannah Bee Company, where I nearly had a heart attack because one of their employees sounded exactly like one of my college best friends, whom I haven’t seen in several months. I spent far too much money there. Honey is delicious.

©Jessica Hoffman

Making saltwater taffy

Also on River Street was a craft fair, which was pleasantly empty thanks to unusually cold and wet weather. We met a wonderful couple of musicians named Glen and Joyce who create jewelry from used guitar strings. Proceeds go toward their nonprofit they founded to help mental illness survivors and their families. We turned out to have a lot in common, and we talked for a long time about oddly personal things. It was a beautiful and healing experience that I think I’ll hold on to for a long time. I got their card and bought a beautiful ring Joyce had made moments before I walked in their tent.

©Jessica Hoffman

River Street

We walked around more, and found hilarious little stores, quirky — and occasionally creepy — bars and live music venues, ran into a St. Patrick’s Day themed 5k, and found the most fantastic interior design store called 24e. Kris wanted to go in but I didn’t; their window display alone was intimidating. But Kris is fascinated by art and design and I have a serious love for interior design, so in we went. Yes, it was pricey. But almost everything in the store is one-off, and a lot of it is reclaimed or created by local artisans. They even had a table made from a bowling alley lane, so of course Kris wanted one. We’d have to take out a small loan to pay for it, but hey, who knows; our next house may very well have one. I’d love to make that happen for him — he does so much for me. ❤

©Jessica Hoffman

It actually made a beautiful table, surprisingly

We got a grand tour of the store by one of the designers and took his card home. Even if we don’t get that insane(ly awesome) table, we’ll certainly be picking up a few things from them.

We wandered a while longer, not quite sure where to stop and not really wanting to anyway. But we were starting to get hungry so we made our way back to food, stopping to take pictures of an historic African-American church and a beautiful monument to African-American soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

©Jessica Hoffman

The story of the drummer boy was my favorite.

After that, we finally found our way to Jazz’d, an underground tapas and jazz bar, I guess? There’s a delicious tapas restaurant in our home turf so we were looking forward to it, but this was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We ordered their Tapas for Two, which got us two appetizers, two tapas each, and two desserts. It was a ton. of. food. And every bite of it was amazing. She-crab soup, orange-glazed pulled pork with red cabbage, seared tuna tacos, barbecue shrimp-and-grits, lamb lollipops, creme brulee and a chocolate torte so good we just had to bring home the leftovers. Service was so fast we could hardly keep up, and the atmosphere was a comfortable mix of after-work and nightlife crowds; not too dressy, not too casual.

We went straight home after dinner and ate that torte for breakfast.

All in all, I have to admit – it was probably one of my favorite vacations so far, and I can’t wait for our next anniversary. It’s really great being married to your best friend.

©Jessica Hoffman

But first, lemme take a selfie

A New Chapter

Today is an exciting day for us. We’re moving!

It’s also a terrifying day. We’re moving!

Ha. But seriously, this is only my second time putting my life in literal boxes and it’s almost as nerve-wracking as the first time. I lived at home ’til we got married and now we’re moving back into my (grand)parents’ home. We’ll be helping pay for utilities and groceries of course, but they’re gracious enough not to charge us rent (though, can I say that makes me uncomfortable? I know they don’t mind but I don’t like feeling like a moocher.). I’m nervous about the move not because we don’t all get along (we do), but because things are different now. Sure, it’s still their house and their rules, and I respect that, but Kris and I have built our own home with our own rules and routines, and it’s going to be strange getting used to sharing those things with someone else.

Plus, everything is more terrifying exciting when you have an anxiety disorder. Suddenly, you’re not just packing your dishes in a storage unit, you’re trusting your life’s treasures to a metal box that suddenly feels really far away and how are you supposed to know no one will get in there and these are your good dishes and what if they break despite the ten feet of foam paper and bubble wrap, and how are you just supposed to leave your books packed up for months? Your books! And what if we really need this thing we haven’t used in three years and it’s all the way in storage in this box in the back, and —

It’s exhausting. Not just for me, but for Kris, too. I’m sure he’s tired of hearing the same senseless worries. And granted, it’s probably not silly to worry someone might break into your storage unit. It probably is silly to think they’ll break in and steal only my boxes of books.

In the moments of clarity, I’m able to step back and acknowledge that there really isn’t much left to do. We still have another week before the house is officially on the market (a perk of being able to move out before listing) so we only need to pack and move our essentials for now. We have time to make a few last minute updates, stage the home, sort things for the Great Moving Sale of 2015, and do a deep-clean, which I can honestly say is probably going to be my least favorite part. I am a messy creature. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Outwardly I think I’m doing a good job of appearing to maintain my sanity. Inwardly, I feel like a hummingbird, zipping to and fro: but we have to clean this, we need to paint here, why isn’t the grass growing in this spot, why is it growing too fast in this spot, should we leave the herb garden or no, is anyone even going to like our house — which is, you may notice, an extension of “is anyone going to like me.” I’m struggling to detach myself from our home, thinking if someone doesn’t like something about the house, it’s a judgment of us and the quality or quantity of work we’ve done to it.

Of course that’s not true, but with anxiety disorders, lack of truth in a thought doesn’t stop you from thinking it.

So I’m excited about this. I’m trying to focus on the fun parts of it, like staging the house and showing it to potential buyers. (Yes, we’re selling it on our own.) And I’m trying to remember that our historic little haunted house isn’t perfect — but neither am I, and the right person found me and fell in love even with the ghosts and the cracks in the walls.

Finding my way back … to myself

People always talk about finding themselves and to be honest, it was something I thought I’d never experience. But you know how a few months ago, I just disappeared, and I told you I’d explain it later? Well, here we are.

I have never really been someone who stood out. I’ve just been myself, mostly quiet when surrounded by strangers yet annoyingly extroverted and shameless when I’m with friends. In high school I had my punk rock phase, my goth phase, my preppy phase, and then my “who really gives a crap about any of this” phase. (I fluctuated between all of these, but the last one was basically my default setting. It was always running in the background.) My best friends were mostly older than me, I hated everything (now I guess you’d have called my high school self a hipster), and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I still don’t.

And the honest reason for that is I just generally do what people expect me to. I made good grades because my teachers expected me to based on (most of) my older siblings. I went to a local university because I thought I was supposed to. (I do freaking love my alma mater though. I am super proud of that school.) I took all the classes I was told to take, pursued a degree everyone told me I’d like (I did enjoy it, and in some alternate reality I probably did stick with that path). I look back sometimes and wonder what I’d have done differently if I had done all the things I’d really wanted to do. Some of those things were incredibly stupid ideas, and sometimes I think I’m glad I didn’t do them. But what if I had? What stories would I be able to tell my eventual kids?

Did I ever tell you about that time in high school, when I …

Did I ever tell you about when I was in college …

But I don’t have any crazy stories to tell my kids. I never really did anything bad or unexpected or scary. That’s not an exaggeration, not me pretending to be the perfect kid. I wasn’t. But probably the worst things I ever did were miss curfew by an hour or slam my door during a one-sided screaming match with my grandparents. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing awe-inspiring.

And now I realize I’ve carried that into adulthood, and it’s sadder now even than it was then. I don’t take risks, I don’t really do anything that scares me or excites me or inspires someone. I think too much about: well, what will people think? What will people say about me? What if they think I’m a failure or a fraud or just stupid?

So in January I decided that this year, as my New Year’s Resolution, I was going to do something a little different. Instead of resolving to lose weight, hit the gym more often, cut back on sweets and soda, I was going to start living for myself. (And Kris of course. We’re a team, obviously.) I was going to stop bending to what I thought everyone wanted and expected for me, living the life and being the person that I perceived I should be. Because the reality is, no one was putting these weird pressures on me but myself. My family wouldn’t love me less and my friends might give me side-eye but they’d support me no matter what, and anyone who wouldn’t doesn’t deserve front-row seats to my life, anyway.

It was a good goal, I thought. One that would require real changes and serious effort on my part. Step 1: Do something scary that I’ve always wanted to do.

Ink by Matt Skin

Ink by Matt Skin

So I got a tattoo. I love tattoos. I only had one, and it’s relatively small and no one really notices it, even though it’s not hidden at all. But I’d wanted this design for a long time, I knew I would be happy with it, but I kept getting held back. It’s too big. I’ll get bored with it. Everyone will hate it. What if I don’t find the right artist, and it turns out poorly? I ran through every excuse in the book, even while I researched local artists and shops, settled on the perfect guy, and doodled hot air balloons on every page of every notebook I wrote in for over a year. Finally, just before Christmas of last year, I printed out the painting I liked, took it to Matt Skin and asked if he could do it. Obviously, he could.

It took awhile to do (of course) and after the first sitting I went into panic mode. I completely shut down and freaked out like I haven’t in a long time. After a few weeks I realized my freakout was normal, and reminded myself how long I’d wanted the tattoo. I got some predictable responses, but by the time they arrived I had discovered a part of myself that I thought was lost: the part that cared more about what I wanted and what I liked than about what other people wanted for me. So when I heard the first “but your legs were so beautiful” comment from a family member, I told her I hadn’t gotten in a car wreck, I’d just gotten one of them painted, and if she wanted to see a plain leg she could look at my left one instead. Not even a month before that happened, I’d have broken down crying and left.

In the months since I got the tattoo complete, I’ve been making strides toward my goal that are visible even to myself. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m doing well. So it was time for Step 2: Make big decisions based on what’s best for myself, not on what I tell myself is expected of me.

So I put in my two weeks at my job. I know some of my coworkers might read this, but that’s okay. I don’t really have much to say on this front, just that it became startlingly clear that it was time to move on, and work-related stress was wearing me thin and disrupting my relationships and my personal life. I do think that my anxiety disorder has worsened in recent months, but it’s a chicken-or-egg question at this point. It’s scary for me, because I don’t have any prospects. But I know that I’ve made the best decision for myself, and if it upsets someone’s apple cart, then that’s their responsibility, not mine.

I know for a lot of people, these things all sound like common sense. And for high-school-me and even college-me, it would have been common sense, too. But somewhere along the way I really lost myself in the sea of projected and perceived expectations, I stopped pursuing things that made me happy, and I became someone I wasn’t really proud to be.

But the old me—the one who didn’t care about being called a bitch as long as she was with people she liked, who wore clothes she thought were cool even if no one else agreed, and read manga tucked into her history book as if her teacher didn’t notice—the old me I think would be proud of this new me, this me that I always really wanted to be anyway.

Aside

Patience

I know it’s been an abnormally long time since I’ve posted, and I’m sorry about that. But I’m sure you’ve seen the hints and maybe outright omissions here and there that I struggle with anxiety disorder and probably depression. I’m not on anything for it, though that isn’t a mark of pride for me or an attempt to demonize people who are. I’ve been really struggling lately and have not felt at all like myself for at least a week, perhaps longer. The mere thought of writing left me drained and when I tried to anyway, nothing came together how I wanted and it all seemed pointless.

I am blessed with an amazing support system of family and friends, and while I’m sure some of both groups will see this and think, “But I had no idea,” or “Well, she didn’t tell me,” I hope they don’t also think that’s because I don’t trust or love them. I confide in as few people as possible during the difficult times because spreading a wide net does not help me. Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to write a longer post about my struggles recently, and I’m sure by then they’ll seem silly and we’ll all have a laugh over how overblown I made the whole thing. But right now I am healing and I am doing much better. Taking one day at a time. I hope you’ll understand and perhaps look forward to a blog post soon that I’ve been very excited to write … you might want to go rewatch the series finale of Breaking Bad. No more hints though.

Paper lanterns

Vegas, Solo Flights, and Trying New Things with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Paper lanterns

Paper lanterns. Art by me!

I like trying new things.

Well, not all new things. I’m not going bungee jumping, and no I won’t taste that mayonnaise, and seriously you cannot convince me to watch The Purge.

But I like tasting (most) new foods and visiting new places and learning new things. I actually enjoy flying and I don’t mind driving, so visiting new places is especially fun. However.

I also have an anxiety disorder. I tell myself it’s not that bad, but it’s cost me a lot of things in life. A Master’s degree, I know that much. Probably a few friendships here and there. Definitely some new experiences.

Something changed with the New Year, though. I decided not to set some BS resolution I was never going to keep and instead decided on something more practical. I decided to allow myself to make decisions based on what I really want. Not what I think other people want me to do or what I think will keep my nerves in tact. So when my jewelry team started talking about going to convention in Vegas, I decided to go. And not just go, but to leave Kris at home.

I know.

It wasn’t bad at first. He couldn’t get off work to drop me at the airport, so my grandparents took me and we said our goodbyes and I sat in the terminal, watching ESPN and listening to soldiers fresh off the local base comparing station orders and I tried not to throw up. I’d never flown solo and I was no longer excited about it.

The first flight wasn’t bad. It was a short trip, just under an hour and I’d be in Charlotte. I scored a few Mii friends on my 3DS and played some games and it was no big deal. The flight from Charlotte to Vegas, though, was terrible. I had nice neighbors who were just chatty enough but once they fell asleep I got sick. I stayed sick through the entire flight.

#

I’d never been to Vegas either. Guys, it is beautiful. It didn’t hurt that we stayed at Bally’s, right on the Strip with a view of the Bellagio fountains.

Bellagio's fountains

They’re awesome.

The room was nice, the company was nice, but there’s something else I didn’t mention. I’ve never been a big sorority person. I was in one in college and still have some great friends and memories of it, but it just wasn’t my thing. So a weekend surrounded by women I didn’t know half as well as I knew my old college girlfriends was, to me, not the idea of a vacation. My nerves started fraying  just thinking about it. And don’t get me wrong, they are great ladies, all of them. But to my frazzled, air sick, and jet lagged self, the weekend was stretching out before me like a long highway through Awkward Town, population: Me.

Things got better and I kept trying to put myself out there but I am super awkward in real life. Seriously. It’s not that I’m shy or introverted, I guess I just don’t like small talk or feigning interest in things I don’t like, and so people tend to think I’m stuck up or something. Who knows. If you find out, let me know?

#

Convention was pretty fun once I let myself enjoy it. My nerves got the best of me one night and I spent the majority of it texting my sister and a few friends who completely understand life with severe anxiety. It’s not just being uncomfortable in a new place. It’s being utterly convinced that you’re a sham who shouldn’t be here and everyone around you knows it and why are you even still here, because no one in this room likes you.

I wish I had made myself enjoy it more.

#

One of the women took me shopping and it was crazy fun. I got along with her like a house on fire, and I think that was the turning point for me. But Sunday was the big test. I was going to have the hotel room and the whole day to myself, and I could do anything I wanted. Part of me, the anxious part I’m sure, wanted to sit in the room all day and watch movies. You can’t walk around the streets alone, people are crazy, you’re not from around here. Cabs are too expensive and cabbies are weird. Didn’t you see that episode of SVU? Nope, no cabs. No walking, either, or someone will just snatch you up off the sidewalk and you’ll never be seen again. Better stay inside and watch Disney Channel.

But then I reminded myself this was the Year of Me, not the year of my nerves getting the best of me or the year of letting opportunities pass me by. I called Kris, tossed some stuff in a handbag and got dressed.

“How far is the Venetian? Can I walk there?”
“Sure. Cabs are too pricey and it’s a pretty cool area. If it’s a nice day, you should walk.”
“……..But is it safe?”
“Jess, yes, it’s the middle of the morning out there, you’ll be fine.”

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it went, but close enough. I grabbed my 3DS and headed out.

#

It really was a beautiful day. I walked to the Venetian, back to Caesars, to the Miracle Mile and then the shoe store in Paris. I didn’t buy much; just a wispy maxi dress from BCBG and some shoes to match from the Paris shoe store. I took tons of pics, texted my friends while I was out, and kept my earbuds in just so people wouldn’t talk to me. I don’t think anyone even noticed me and it was awesome.

Back at the hotel that night, I had dinner with the only other woman from my group still in town and got ready for my flight the next morning.

The flight home was much better, despite being a total idiot and missing my flight out of Charlotte. I got home okay, just late and pretty pissed (mostly at myself, but don’t tell anyone) and actually found myself wanting to go back.

“Kris I was right,” I said. “Vegas totally looks like a Carnival cruise ship.”

#

Vegas Strip

14th floor view of the Strip

Paris LV sign

Happy New Year!

Mer-horse?

I want this fountain.

Chinese New Year display

Chinese New Year is a big deal here.

Caesar's Palace

“Did Caesar actually live here?”

Caesar's Palace fountain

I also want this fountain.