Creating Light in the Darkness

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I’ve had many thoughts and feelings the past few days. I think a lot of people have. Plenty of anxiety and shock and sadness and fear. But then I started to feel something else. Something bright and sharp, like a newly whetted knife as light gleams off it or the leap of a flame as it catches kindling. It’s not hate. No, hate kills, and I’ve no interest in that. It’s more like purpose, like a certainty.

I’m no great orator. I’m not physically imposing or someone you’d expect to survive a fistfight. But I am a creator.

My words are my weapon. My songs, a balm to the hopeless. I will not be afraid, because I am in the company of the greats, among the artists and creators, the dreamers and music-makers, the movers and shakers.

I will use my stories to tell truths out of lies and to soothe the lost. This isn’t an “if” or a “maybe.” This is what I will do. Rarely am I certain, but of this one thing, I am.

To all those who create, I urge you to keep making your art. Whether it’s songs or fiction, paintings or dance, we must make art. We are the ones who hold up mirrors to the world and reflect all that is good and all that is evil back to it. We are the ones who inspire hope in dark days and light revolutions. We are the ones who change the world.

So creators, be brave! Make art! The world needs us now more than ever.

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How to Change a Life

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About a year ago, I wrote this, which was basically me being all ready to change my life and then actually not doing anything to change it. This precipitated a lot of the crap that happened last fall and the dark night month of the soul that made me realize half-assing my dreams ain’t gonna cut it. I’m either all in, or I’m not.

I love writing. I love music. I love creating. Those are constants in my life. And my current career, working in an elementary school, didn’t line up with any of those things. I knew back in November that I needed to quit my current job, but I had no plan of what to do beyond that. While pantsing it is all well and good in writing, where you can go back and revise your mistakes, you don’t get to edit life.

So what do you do?

You make a plan.

I started my planning with what I knew. I wanted to quit my job and do art. Thanks to going on medical leave and doing outpatient therapy for two months, I had time to flesh out my nebulous dream into something more solid. Doing art became having motivation/time to write and pursuing music like I had wanted to do (but never did because of fear of financial issues) by returning back to college. Once I decided on that, the next steps became clearer, even if they weren’t easy ones to make.

In January, I returned to work in order to keep insurance benefits and save up for school. With continued therapy and medication, I managed at work and applied to colleges. I got into the vocal performance program I wanted in February. I gave notice that I wouldn’t be back at my work the next year in March. In April and May, I started writing again, slow spurts, but there words singing on the page once more. Two weeks ago, I worked my last day at my (now old) job. Last week, I found a new apartment that I adore and that is closer to school. Two days ago, I signed up for classes. Today, I’m applying on part-time jobs to finance my living costs while I’m in school.

Back in November, where I am now seemed like an impossibility. It was a life I’d told myself I couldn’t have because I couldn’t take the risk. Turned out it wasn’t a “couldn’t” so much as a “wouldn’t.”

To be honest, I’m still fucking terrified at this dream life leaving my head and hurtling into reality. But I’m also more excited than I’ve been in years. I feel alive. Awake.

Who knew living could be better than dreaming?

 

Silence and Second Chances

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I’ve been trying for months to figure out how to resume blogging. There’s this fear that everything I can think of to say has already been said, or else, it’s not important enough to be said. This self-imposed silence is a staple of my existence, or at least, it has been. But I’m trying to change that.

I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with depression. Back in November of last year, though, it was too much. In fact, it had been too much since the beginning of October. I kept making bargains with myself to stay alive. Some made sense, like waiting to see a new psychiatrist and start on medication again. Some were, perhaps, strange, like waiting until I finished reading the second book of this series I had started. But at the days wore on, the game of waiting worked less and less.

My meds didn’t work fast enough. My new psychiatrist dumped me as a patient after I had a medication freak out. And I only had a handful of chapters left to finish of this book I was living to read. I had nothing, or well, it seemed like nothing at the time.

So I made a plan, wrote a letter, and had things moderately in order at work for my absence. Fortunately, I also had therapy on that day and a friend who would have called the police if I hadn’t gone. Between my awesome therapist and awesome friend, they got me to the hospital.

For the longest time, one of my greatest fears was going inpatient at a psychiatric hospital. I was convinced that if it ever happened, my life would be over, that no matter what happened after it, there would be no point to existing. I’m not proud to admit to believing this. I’d never think that of someone else. But the stigma of mental illness runs deep, I guess, even if you have a mental illness yourself.

Instead of being the end of everything, going inpatient turned out to be the thing that kept my life from being over. I’m not saying that I want to do it again or that it was in any way easy, but it was beneficial for me. It was what I needed. And, added bonus, it let me face one of my greatest fears and let me triumph against it.

There’s still a lot of work for me to do, and while I’m doing a thousand times better today, there’s still the fear I may slip back under again one day. But I have tools I didn’t before, and more importantly, I’m fighting my tendency toward silence.

Oh, and I did that finish reading that book, and the ones after it. I’m still here. I don’t need to bargain for more time anymore. For you see, I have my own stories to tell, and I’m so very far from being at the end of them.

The Magic in Appearances

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There’s a strange sort of power in appearance. Halloween tends to make me remember that, what with all the literal mask and make-up donning that goes on. It’s the one time of year it is socially acceptable to appear however you wish on the outside, and no one will judge you for it (unless, of course, you enter a costume contest).

But how many of us really dare to dress like our true selves? How many take this night, or any night for that matter, to be comfortable in our own skins?

I’ve been reading a lot more lately, and I finally fell into the Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. It was every bit as wondrous and dark as I could have hoped. I consumed it and the others in the series like one does when one finds a series that speaks to them. These books are about a lot of things: friendship, ravens, ley lines, fast cars, dreams, dead Welsh kings, curses, and the list goes on. One of the sentiments that stood out to me, though, was this internal desire/fear/wonder of looking on the outside like you feel on the inside.

Sometimes I think I might scare the world if I did that. Sometimes I kind of want to. Wearing a mask daily is difficult work when it’s not one that fits well. I’m constantly required to wear the mask of being okay, competent and calm, and a people-pleasing caregiver, when inside, I don’t feel like any of those things. Inside, I’m still working on okay, daydream-prone and passionate, and much more of an introvert who really only cares about her people (and could the rest please just go away now?).

It would be a relief to be myself in appearance on a regular basis, although it would probably make my day job more difficult. I’m required to follow a dress code, and wearing whatever I want isn’t part of it. Neither is being able to dye my hair any number of colors that I might want to, because for some reason, having purple and red highlights isn’t considered responsible. Never mind that if I dyed my hair or my tattooed skin or did any physical thing to my body, underneath, I’d still the same person.

Because appearances have power. Appearances are their own sort of magic.

But today, those rules don’t matter. Today is Halloween. Today I can decide to be more on the outside like I feel on the inside. And no one will care or think me any stranger or less for it. Maybe, in the future, I can find more days like that. Maybe we all can.

Riptides

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I’m writing now because I haven’t been writing. Again.

There will be a post, eventually, about my trip to Paris, but this is not it. This is not the post you are looking for, not unless you’re looking for something more of a confessional and less of an upbeat update.

Somewhere, in the whirlwind of returning home and the start of school, I became overwhelmed. I wandered out into the ocean of work, but instead of swimming effortlessly through the waves, I stumbled upon a riptide. It caught me, pulled me far out to sea, where I can’t touch the bottom and the beach looks like a mirage on the horizon. I’m adrift.

The thing about riptides is they’re tricky. Breaking out of one without knowledge, and without help, is nigh impossible. The other thing about riptides is that they’re deadly. You can only tread water for so long before exhaustion sets in, before surrender to the deep blue sea seems like the better alternative.

Fortunately, this adrift swimmer wasn’t alone in the ocean and has friends who carry lifesavers. I’m still caught in that damned riptide, but I’m floating on borrowed buoys without the constant struggle rather than in danger of going under at every moment. Right now, I’m simply waiting on either the tides to change or a stronger swimmer to bring me back to shore. But I refuse to sink. The ocean can’t have me this time.

I think I wrote somewhere on here that I liked to lie with my words, but sometimes I also tell the truth. It’s just easier with metaphors.

“What are you going to do with that?”

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Some people pick their jobs based off passion or a need to prove themselves. I picked mine out of fear.

I don’t write often about my day job because, well, it’s not something I love. I like the normal working hours. I like getting paid. I like having the summers off. (No, I’m not a teacher, but I do work in a school.) I’ve certainly had worse jobs in my field in the past. My current job is the lesser of a dozen evils. But do I love it? No. Do I even like it? Well, no, not really.

Growing up, my favorite pastimes involved make-believe and the arts and books. I had parents who took me to the library every week, paid for voice and piano lessons, and encouraged me to expand my mind. They also encouraged me to be practical.

When I finished high school and started college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Except write.

“Hon, you can write no matter what job you do,” my mom told me.

They didn’t want me to major in English, or well, that’s what I took from their advice. I also knew the arts were out. They had told my younger sister they would never pay for her to do theater, so of course, they wouldn’t let me do music as my major. Mind you, I didn’t bother to ask them. I was afraid of being told no.

Instead of going with something I knew I loved, in my first year, I fell into being a Classics major. I took a Latin class and enjoyed it, second to my English and Music classes, but still. I thought my parents would approve.

However, one ride on the way to school, my dad asked me, “What are you going to do with that?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just like Latin.”

His question, though, continued to haunt me. It didn’t help that my mom would ask the same. In search of an answer, I went to the career center. They gave me a link to take a personality test and left it at that. No one told me what Classics majors did, except continue to go to school or become lawyers. Neither one appealed to me.

What are you going to do with that?

No one told me about jobs that might be good for a girl who just wanted to write and read books. And I was too afraid to make them.

I changed majors a few more times. I was even, for a brief semester, an English major (going pre-med, of course, because I had to be practical). In the end, though, I left my out-of-state campus to go back home and take up a practical major.

My parents were thrilled with my decision. I had picked a direction. Finally, I had picked a major with real world application. They said it was perfect for me. Except, it had nothing to do with make-believe. Nothing to do with the arts. And nothing to do with books.

I knew, all through college, that I hated it. I spent much of my time in school struggling with depression and anxiety, which I kept to myself, and grasping for time to write. There was one day in particular, when another girl in my class asked, “What would you do if you won the lottery today?”

“Quit school and go write,” I said. She agreed, about the quitting school part, and the conversation turned to safer subjects.

It never occurred to me that maybe I should have heeded my answer. I knew I was doing something that I hated. But my dreams and passions seemed unpractical. And my parents were so happy and proud of me. I should be happy and proud, too. Besides, I could always write.

Those first three years out of school, I didn’t write much. I didn’t finish anything I started. I floundered, and not just in writing, but in every aspect of my life. Sure, depression played a huge part in it. But so did hating my job. In fact, even now, after getting treatment and being in therapy, it still comes up. At least every other month, I return to the theme of discontent about the work I do to live independently.

I’ve been told countless times, “Most people don’t do what they love as a job.”

Being told that let me rationalize staying in a field I don’t like for six years. The idea of change, of throwing my college education and six years of hellish work out the window, is terrifying. Yet every year I don’t change, I can see my future stretch out before me like an unfilled grave. Complacency. Unhappiness. Normalcy.

It makes me want to scream.

Except, I never do. I never change. I wait and dream, because it’s the only way to cope with the death of a thousand cuts you’ve surrendered yourself to because somewhere along the way, someone told you it would make you happy. Besides, “What are you going to do with that?” With your art? With your dreams? Do you think you’re going to change the world?

I never have. Not before. But I think I have to.

What are you going to do with that?

Make art and change the world. Sounds like a good place to start.

Tidying Up

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A few weeks ago, I read this book, The Life-Changing Make of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I’m not usually one to read books about cleaning/self-help/domesticity. My generally style of living is barely controlled chaos with loads of piles. Piles of clothes. Piles of books. Piles of dishes. I let things stack up until they tip over or I have to move them in order to get to something I want. I live alone, so the only one who has to deal with the mess is me, and I’ve been mostly fine with that.

My decision to go to Paris, however, had started to change the way I looked at things. I don’t actually like living with the clutter. I hate it. I’ve just never thought I could do much to change it. Enter this book, which I happened upon while reading a blog post on Psychology Today. As a book lover, I thought, “why not?” and picked it up on my Nook.

Let’s just say, since reading it, I’ve realized that I don’t just pile stuff. I pile emotions, problems, things I ought to do, etc., as well. One of the things I adored about this book is that it’s not just a revamping of your living space, but about revamping how you view the things filling your life. And best of all, it’s only has two simple rules: Number one, only keep the things that bring you joy. Number two, put everything in its place.

This is far easier said than done, of course, but the sentiment behind it was pretty much exactly what I needed to hear, a sort of spark to keep me going. It got me thinking not only about my literal clutter, but about the other clutter in my life.

What brings me joy? Where does it belong? Writing is one of those things that brings me joy. So are doodling and traveling and making music and a lot of other artsy things. Things that I hadn’t been pursuing all that much in the last year.

I’m not sure yet where to put the activities that bring me joy, but this book reiterated the fact that they do need a space in life. Right now, though, first things first. I have both material and mental decluttering to do.

Paris is Always a Good Idea

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I’m going to Paris in July.

Alone.

I actually wasn’t planning on taking a vacation of any sort this summer. My plan was to work and save up to buy a house later this year once my lease is up. Back in the end of February, I was worrying about it a lot, the idea of buying a house. I’m in my late twenties, have a steady job, and, really, it seemed like the smart thing to do. I mean, that’s what successful happy people do, right?

On top of my shady reasoning for getting a house, there were a host of other issues. Nothing in my area or in my price range was what I wanted. The timing of actually moving was going to be shit. I would have to face taking care of any problems that might crop up with a house completely on my own. In fact, all the worrying made me start to wonder why I was bothering so much with something that I clearly didn’t want.

Of course, once I realize I didn’t actually want to buy a house, it got me wondering, “What the hell do I want?”

So I did what I usually do, and I made a list. I wrote down everything I wanted to do if money and time were not an issue. One of the things on the list was to travel. I knew exactly the first place too. Paris. Within a week of my epiphany, I took the money I had been saving for the prospective house and I booked a flight to Paris and a hotel.

It might just be the bravest thing I’ve done in years.

It’s also something I knew, without a doubt, that I absolutely wanted to do. Am I scared to go alone? Absolutely. Could it turn into a disaster? Quite possibly. Will it worth it? Hell, yes!

I haven’t been this excited in years. And it got me thinking. What else do I want to do that I’m not doing? How do I start doing it?

 

I don’t know. Not yet. But I plan to find out.

The Story Only You Can Write

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A little over a month ago, I had one of those writing epiphanies. At the time, it was more of a writing crisis. I realize these kinds of crises are part and parcel for those of us who write. But this time was different.

So there’s this novel I had been working on over the past three years. It had gone from a sketchy idea to a fifth draft of a mostly finished novel. Being “mostly finished” was a large part my trouble. Anyone who reads this blog can track exactly how often I’ve been “almost done.” Somehow, I never seemed to make it to the end.

On top of being unfinished, I had long held a host of uncertainties about said novel. Not the uncertainty that the writing was crap. In fact, I’m pretty sure even now the writing I did is solid and good. And that was the problem.

The entire novel was only good. Not amazing. Not un-put-down-able. Not this-kept-me-up-all-night-give-me-more-now-please. I realize this is a high bar to hold oneself to, but at the very least, I’d like to evoke some hint of that reaction from my readers. While the story was solid and the writing was good, there was a lack of, well, heart. And I didn’t know how to fix that.

I still don’t know. Maybe it’s crazy, but I kind of think I revised out this story’s soul. That, or maybe all it was ever meant to be was a good, solid story. Maybe this simply isn’t the story I’m meant to be telling.

There’s this piece of advice I’ve heard on writing from Neil Gaiman, repeated over and over on tumblr and the like. It basically comes down to this: write the things that only you can write. The novel I spent the last three years working on, well, it could be any fantasy novel written by any fantasy novelist. It’s not something that screams, “Melissa wrote that!”

My best writing–the writing that comes easily to me and turns to fire in my hands–is dark and rich in emotion and details. It walks along gray lines and dances in shadows. I’m no poet. I never will be. But those stories, stories that are dark and personal and rife with old things, those are the stories only I can write. And, to be honest, I’ve been afraid of writing like that. It’s why I decided to try a fantasy novel with more action and adventure, something light. It’s why I’ve clung so desperately to YA for so long. I’m terrified to write in a voice that is mature and dark. Terrified and hungry, because even in fear, I long to write the things that only I can write.

So, after three long years, I shelved my “almost” finished novel. I’m not giving up on it forever. Perhaps I only need the distance of several months. Perhaps I’ll be able to return to it and make it mine. Perhaps I won’t, but I’ll use bits of it for new projects.

But for now, I’m not touching it. Instead, I’m going to work on a novel I started years ago that terrifies me. It’s dark and challenging. It’s ambitious and inspiring. And it’s only a story I can write.

Worst case scenario, I have two mostly finished novels to revise and polish to query by the end of the year. Best case, I find my voice again.

Confidence Game

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Sometimes I think I’m a fraud.

I’m told it’s a common phenomena, and not just among writers. Self-doubt is something everyone deals with at one point or another. But it certainly has been a huge hurdle for me over the past few years.

I have this belief that somehow I’m not good enough to consider myself a “real” writer. I mean, sure, I write, but I’m not published. Maybe I want to be, and that could be enough, yet I often hold back from calling myself a writer. I never tell people I first meet that I write. I rarely talk about my writing with good friends. Hell, I have trouble sharing my current draft with my Bookworm friend who has been my alpha reader for over ten years! It’s like I don’t think I deserve the attention, because, let’s face it, I’m a fraud.

The thing is, we’re all frauds sometimes. It’s what you do with that matters. Do you succumb to feeling like a wretched failure? Or do you endeavor to be the best of frauds, to be such a perfect liar, that eventually you’re not a fraud at all?

And because it makes me feel better, and is a pretty awesome speech, here’s a video of Amanda Palmer talking about the fraud police.