On Taking a Lunch Hour — Or Not

Fellow wool-gatherers
Fellow wool-gatherers

On advice from my friend Elizabeth, and as mentioned in my last post, I tried to take lunch hours this week. There’s a reason why they’re built into the 9-to-5 work day, after all. It makes sense to give ourselves a break for refueling on all levels: food for the body, relaxation for the brain, maybe some socializing for the soul.

From Tuesday on, I managed to get out of the house for my lunch hour around 5:00 p.m. Not exactly optimal, but still, I counted this as a step in the right direction. Elizabeth and I had been talking about how I can get at least one measly hour’s worth of fiction in each day during the week. Hence, a lunch hour.

The key is to actually leave my home and my WiFi. And, in fact, it did work even though my lunch hours occured so late in the day. I managed a few hours worth of fiction while sipping a nonfat, decaf latte in my favorite coffeehouse. And this helped my mood, yet…

Why did I still feel like crying sometimes? I don’t know what’s going to become of me. Honestly. I feel cornered by all the decisions I’ve made in my life that have landed me here: Knowing which work will truly make me happy, not knowing how I’m supposed to save for retirement and all that practical stuff…

So, though I’ve halted the descent down the depression slide, it’s still there, lurking. I still wonder how people with real lives — real career, kids, tons of responsibilities — get their novels written. Don’t they need tons of downtime to let the brain juices burble and sift? Maybe not. But I guess I do.

A Little Sanity

Weekend writing spot: Laptop, dog, beans and rice, what could be better?
Weekend writing spot: Laptop, dog, beans and rice, what could be better?

I think, but I’m not sure, that I started off this week a million times more sane than last week. Don’t get me wrong, at various points over the weekend stress nipped at me, reminding me of its existence while I went about my business trying to have a weekend away from the work.

That was my main goal for weekend — SAY “NO” TO WORK — because I needed, wanted, had to work on short story edits. This story will be published in an anthology, and I’ve been sitting on the editor’s notes for weeks, closer to two months. I’ve longed for the brainspace to sit down with the story and clean it up. But until this past weekend, I was out of my mind.

This weekend I was only a little out of my mind. In fact, I’d say SAYING “NO” TO WORK and forcing myself to ignore the stressed heart-thumps and chest pressures did me a world of good. I feel better for having time with my fiction.

(Unfortunately, I did work over the weekend, but just a little on Saturday morning and last night. Mostly, I had my weekend.)

In fact, the anthology’s editor called me Saturday morning. I rushed to assure her that the short story was open on the monitor. Apparently, she wasn’t concerned about the edits though. She was concerned that given my fragile state of late, I’d take this blog post the wrong way.

I had to laugh when I read the post, and I’m looking forward to hearing her rude-writer tales. You’ll also see my comment. Rest assured, I’m not one of the unprofessional writers she was talking about. Why? Because I communicated with her along the way — and I know how to format a bloody manuscript! (Aspiring writers: heed her post.)

She’s smart. She suggested that I might feel better if I left my apartment for a real lunch hour. That seems obvious (so why hadn’t I thought of it?). I didn’t try this today; instead, I clowned around outside with plants, a neighbor, and my dog. That counts for a lunch hour though.

And it helped!

You know what else helped? Instead of stumbling straight from bed to drowning in work-muck without coffee (much less breakfast) until hours later, I took thirty minutes to shower, say a quality “hello” to the animals, fix coffee, dress in real clothes, and step out onto the deck for a few quality inhalations.

I can’t remember the last time I showered in the morning. Usually, I get it in whenever, which is often right before bed. Amazing what a difference that makes…sigh…

Cheering Myself Up

easterI’m sitting here on Easter Sunday, staring at a section of manual entitled “Target Settings.” I’m editing this section (fiction feels far away, needless to say), and I’m missing an annual Easter brunch with some of my best friends in the world, a couple of whom I went to college with and who know me well enough to know that I’m not there because things ain’t exactly right with me at the moment…

This is not to say that I’m forgoing all social activities this weekend. Yesterday, after five hours of work that didn’t lead to any forward progress with my many overly project-managed deadlines, I went to a friend’s house to dye eggs, drink, and eat. We consumed lilac-colored martinis made with Parfait Amour liquor. Yummy. I drank one too many.

That was good. I needed it. Not feeling tip-top right now, but I just now decided that I AM going to this same friend’s Easter dinner. I’m not going to miss both of my Easter Sunday engagements because of the work — no, no, no.

Dogwalking with camera in handThe thought of a traditional ham dinner cheers me up (as food usually does), and just now, staring at words like “configure” and “properties” and “redirection,” I got to thinking about cheering myself up in general.

Yesterday I bought an “anti-gravity” (i.e. reclines) chair for the deck so that I can sit comfortably out there with my laptop (or not) when the weather warms. I’m looking forward to this. I’m going to pot flowers too.

But right now, what? Blogging seems to be helping, actually. I’m glad to be here, writing this, blowing off the work for 30 minutes.

And what else? My camera. I remembered it a few days ago. Snapping pictures soothes me. Any mundane image will do. Here are a few other things that cheered me up this week:


Easter treats to share with friends
Easter treats to share with friends
Wildflower fields
Wildflower fields
New ring for spring
New ring for spring

Getting Depressed

I think I’m getting depressed. I can tell because in any spare time I carve out from the day-job, all I want to do is sleep and read. I want to slide away from reality, and in feeling this way, my fiction dream feels like it’s sliding away too. And so goes the depressive cycle.

It’s funny, people who don’t get depressed probably don’t get what I’m talking about. Not truly. Their reaction might be, Just get on with it, Lisa; don’t read and sleep — write fiction! — in those carved-out hours. In my normal head, I do just this. But when depression weighs me down…Let’s just say there’s a whole ‘nother set of rules required to get through the days. It’s hard to explain the weightedness; the lurking sense that nothing’s worth it, that it’s all meaningless anyhow; the enervation (even when thinking about fiction); the sense that even the most mundane of tasks — like tidying the kitchen — are monumental.

I have to get the day-job stuff done because I need the money. It’s taking all I have. At the moment, the only thing I’m managing well is getting the dog out for walks.

I often try to analyze my way out of depression. Try to figure it out. Try to come up with alternate routines to jolt myself back into a good fictional brainspace. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Right now, it’s not working. On Monday’s post, I seemed to be equalizing, but that was apparently a commercial break from the main programming going on inside my head.

There’s the problem of partitioning, too. I need time and space away from stress to function well. At the moment, I can’t separate myself from the day-job chaos that’s swirling around me. For example, every time I check my email there are 15 new messages — it’s taking over my life. I haven’t been in this position in years — it’s wearing me out, sapping my creativity.

When I open the manuscript, nothing happens. I’m not the type to wait for inspiration. I get down to work and do it. But, like I said above, that’s when I’m in my normal head. Depressive head doesn’t function the same; I look at my prose and it reads like a bunch of blah-di-blah. I have no feeling for my own words. There’s no “just doing it.”

People who get depressed understand what I mean by “normal head” and “depressive head.” To put it in fictional terms: They’re totally different interior landscapes.

The day-job stuff is the trigger, for sure. Before the writing grant, I worked part-time, from home — just like I’m doing now. But it was different, more easygoing. I easily partitioned it away from the rest of my life. (Sidenote: This is a new kind of part-time called “full-time.”)

I’m hoping that I’ll get used to this day-job; and once I do, the stress will lift; and when it does, I’ll be able to partition; and when this happens, I’ll return to fictional brainspace; and when I do, my depressive state will lift. But seems far away from now, in a galaxy far far away from me.

All I know is that right now, sitting here at 1:30 p.m. with a grumbling stomach and a headache because I haven’t eaten since last night, I feel like my fiction dreams are seeping away, that I was so close…I’m going to take a nap now…

Self-Help Books

smalllastlecturecoverIt never fails: When I’m unsteady in life I buy a self-help book. It comes over me, this desire to read the words of someone else, hopefully someone wise, hopefully someone whose words get me thinking about my life in a new way, or at least optimistically.

So, the other day I bought a little book called The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I haven’t started it yet. In fact, it’s sitting on the dining table. It looks inviting. Knowing it’s there soothes me.

A strange coping mechanism, I guess. But then, I don’t have religion to fall back on. I don’t have a therapist (though my friends are wonderful stand-ins for that) either.

I do have the writing. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that sinking into the writing wipes everything else out of my mind. I’ve been working hard, in fact. Could writing be my religion?

Hmm…Was that a sacrilegious thought? Or  blasphemous? And what’s the difference between those two words?

If, as I believe, there are as many ways to find faith or succour or simply steadiness as there are people on Earth, then why not fall back on writing? Now that I’m thinking about this, I realize that I stopped looking for a system of belief when I got serious about my writing. Whatever it was I’d been looking for my whole life, I’d found.

Comforting, that.

Still, like I was saying, in times of excess turmoil, I like a self-help book too. And I’ve got some doozies on my shelves, I’ll tell you that much! It’s kind of funny, actually. And, it may be weird, but then, context is everything. I hail from lapsed Catholic stock, and my parents’ stock was VERY Catholic. My parents moved from the Midwest and eventually settled in one of the most liberal, swinging areas of the United States. This was the 1960s. Dad wore Berkenstocks instead of ties. Mom took ceramics classes and baked her cookies with wheat germ, whole wheat flour, and brown sugar. She was a health-food nut before it became the rage. I detested her healthy pancakes and always tried to finagle a sleepover at my friend Kathy’s house so that I could indulge in Bisquick pancakes.

I remember the big leather-bound Bible on the bookshelves. It was red with gold leaf and a section of pretty pictures. (I still remember the burning bush, but I couldn’t tell you the story behind it.)  It was just another book, squeezed in between Jung’s Man and his Symbols and Dad’s Arquitectural Digest magazines. I guess that says it all about our heathen ways.

Anyhow, what I going to say is that my parents were amongst the original New Agers, before New Agers became a thing and got a bad rap for rubbing crystals. (My parents weren’t of that ilk.) My parents like a good self-help book, so I suppose this is where my predilection for them comes from. It’s my brand of comfort the way Sunday service is for others.

To each his own, right? What are your comfort coping mechanisms in hard times?

On Honesty in Blogging, Part 2

(Continued from yesterday’s post.)

And you think: poor baby, a real job. But I’ll die a slow death of the soul. I can feel it already. I’ll have to give up my fiction for the most part. My fiction will become the thing I try to fit in, like a hobby, and that feels so wrong to me. So wrong. That’s not what my soul wants to do: FIT IN the fiction. No.

The 9-to-5 world sucks me dry. Maybe it’s my temperament, maybe it’s the florescent lighting, but it really does sap me of energy. I never did get much fiction accomplished during my salaried days. I don’t know how Bloglily and Nova do it, frankly. I have a lower energy threshold, I suppose, and that’s what I have to accomodate to get the fiction in–which is why I put myself at risk outside the system, so I’d have sufficient quiet time plus sufficient writing time.

At the moment, it feels like the risks haven’t been worth it, feels like I’ve given up a whole helluva lot (my life, basically) for the fiction. Feels like I’ll never have anything to show for the sacrifice. How’s this for wallowing and honesty in blogging?

Obviously, I’m emotional right now. The rawness will pass, but I’m depressive, too, so I hope I don’t fall into that stupor over the rest of the winter.

Even as I write this, I know that I’ll adjust as necessary to keep a roof over my head. It’s just that I hate feeling shriveled down to survivalism. I’ve never worried about money before. I’ve never felt that anxiety before. I’ve never felt the pull of money at odds with the pull of my dreams. Going for fiction never felt like risky behavior until now. I always assumed it would happen.

If this is a process, then I’m in the midst of just another obstacle, right? A deep and wide obstacle, but only an obstacle. If this is so, why does it feel like the end of my dreams?

The economy will improve, money will free up again, but that’s THEN, this is now.

On Honesty in Blogging, Part 1

This blog, it’s supposed to be an honest reflection of my writing life. It’s supposed to highlight my thoughts on craft, my fiction-writing trials and tribulation, my bumpy road toward publication. I thought my blog might inspire other fledgling novelists. I thought it might inspire because I was optimistic that the low points would be the run-of-the-mill frustrations. I even count the literary-agent setback in that category because it’s a common story.

But now, I’m in a bad way, a very bad way, and here’s where it’s hard to be honest. It’s making my soul clench to have to write this — and maybe I want to cry just a little — but I honestly don’t know if publication is going to happen for me. I might have to quit my dream, or at least sideline it for a long while. But sidelining it feels like quitting.

I feel weak and fearful right now. I’m not used to feeling like this. I don’t like it.

I thought I’d be well on my way toward publication by now. I had two years worth of stored money (most of it by way of the writing grant mentioned in the sidebar) to see me safely through to a contract. Hah–that’s VERY optimistic, I know. I thought at the very least, no problem, because I’ve never had trouble finding part-time freelance work.

The reason this post is difficult to write is because it’s all about money. Every struggling artist’s nemesis. Who likes to be honest about that? It’s yucky.

I’m in a bad, bad way. I had money to last me until July 2009. I had two freelance jobs lined up for right know, lucrative jobs that would help fill the coffers so I could continue on past July 2009 in this writing life of mine. Who knew when I quit my job in July 2007 that everything would go to hell?

The freelance jobs never happened. The bad economy sucked them dry as well as most of my remaining grant money.

I realized my dire financial straits this morning. It hit me like a massive coronary. And since the optimal freelance jobs have dwindled, I found myself looking at ACTUAL JOB ads within my previous career: technical writing.

Ugh, I’m getting so depressed thinking about this–I’ll continue my train of thought tomorrow.

It Is What It Is

Sunshine picture for a sunnier perspective:


I’ll admit, I’m still unsettled by last week’s setback. My energy’s low. I want to take lots of walks, which is a sure sign that I’m melancholic. It’s not about the agent mishap. Not really. That was a trigger for other thoughts. The bigger thoughts about my life, the writing, what’s going to become of me, and so on. You probably know how that goes — pretty common, I’d guess.

However, one thing about me: I have a knack for stepping outside myself at the same time I’m falling into mini-funks. The detachment doesn’t diminish the funks, only allows me to see them for what they are: transitory.

Can anyone else relate to this?

So, yes, I’m in a mini-funk. I see the funk. I accept the funk. And the funk is what it is. Over the next week or two I’ll probably be doing a lot of thinking (not always beneficial!).


Meanwhile, though distracted and unmotivated, I’m working anyhow. I’m reading through the manuscript that I’d worked on with Erstwhile Agent, trying not to dwell on all the ways the first 25 pages I’d changed per her suggestions (to speed up the beginning) don’t feel right.

Meanwhile, two quotes I’m liking at the moment. I wrote this one out large on several sheets of paper and taped it to the wall beside my bed:

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it. (Thomas Jefferson)

This quote reminds me to quit with all the thinking already!

Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is alwasy rich and sufficient within itself. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything. It is open to everything. (Shunryu Suzuki-roshi)