Looks like it's working... despite occasional problems with 503 errors when loading, at the moment it looks like Blogger's working right again. I hope so. I like doing this blog.
Wrote a little private journal on Sonata, where it's not really accessible to anything. Just brainstorming a very painful recent writing block. Marc from BookMarc at thirdage.com said that "writers block" really encompasses at least twenty different problems that all tend to the same result - slowing up or stopping writing for varying periods of time with consequent agony if you're the kind of writer who has a burning desire to write. It's very painful. It's also humbling if you've come to trust that when you need to write, you can just write and relax and do it.
This time I think a significant chunk of it is just physical limitations. I have trouble functioning in extreme temperatures, either direction. Another wave of hot days flattened me and I didn't get much done - and didn't manage to sleep much during the heat of the day. I wind up getting so exhausted that as soon as it cools at all, I fall asleep and then sleep a long time, eight or ten or twelve hours. Then I get a few hours in the morning, just time enough to read and post on message boards and maybe do mail, before the heat kicks up to unbearable levels again. After that point I'm a little dazed and have a hard time even making a coherent post.
For completely unknown reasons, at the moment I'm in the middle of a bad back night too. Joint pain, because it's also hitting my knees, ankles, elbows, all my joints and body aches. That's something to do with the weather possibly. It may also relate to something that the repeated heat problems do to my system, like lack of salt or something. But the idea of eating anything salty is a bit repulsive, and I don't have chips or anything around. Or it might not be salt and electrolytes. It could just be fatigue - but that's so frustrating when I've got that much that has to get done and most of it takes effort, concentration and willpower.
Caffeine comes into it too, because if it's too hot I'm not drinking my usual pot or two of coffee and I may be getting some caffeine withdrawals going on. I picked up a 2 liter of Diet Mountain Dew to test that proposition, having heard that Mountain Dew has a lot of caffeine in it. I'm also trying to make a point of remembering to take the dang daily vitamins, because I'm prone to malnutrition if I forget them and prone to forget them like anything else. I've remembered to eat and remembered to get food that didn't need heating or cooking, some cold cuts to have sandwiches.
I'm going down a checklist right now to eliminate common causes, because I've got a crawling horror at myself for not having gotten much done and I need to know why. I need to eliminate all those causes or reduce them as much as possible, because I have a whole lot that needs to get done. I have things that have taken a lot longer than planned and those missed deadlines are riding me like the Furies.
That is a pattern and it has happened all of my life.
I overestimate what I can do and even taking some slack time into account, I do not account for lengthy health crises like "weeks on end when it hurts and I don't get much done." Or the loss of will power that comes with weeks of recuperation when I've thrown my back or wiped out on my leg or anything like that. I tend to get way too rough on myself with my expectations and have got a lifetime of actually busting ass living up to what bad bosses, teachers and the like demanded - breaking my heart giving it all that I've got and then not getting anywhere.
When I hit "blank page syndrome" and sit down to write and literally nothing comes, that is an indicator about like bending over to pick something up and not being able to stand up again till the spasms go away. It's happened before. It happened between December 2000 and about April 2001 when I heard that I had housing and week after week was told "You're going to look at the place in the middle of the week (X day) and then be moving on the weekend) and I lived packed and ready to move and unwilling to start something major because I knew I'd be interrupted by the move. Four months of hurry up and wait. That drove me nuts and I wasn't able to stay focused on my writing enough to get anything done, didn't want to start because I knew I couldn't finish.
I've got that happening again.
I emailed my lawyer, Mary Grace, about having gone to enough therapy sessions to get the PTSD stuff documented for my Social Security case. No reply yet. I know she's busy. Legal aid lawyers like her do get a heavy case load. She really does understand my situation and she's done a lot for me already. She got me hooked up with the Phelps program in the first place. The weight of almost five years of this trying and waiting and putting up with a lot in the meantime including literal physical damage from some of the endurance walks to make the appointments, the things like that cab ride, wear me down.
One tidbit that I picked up many years ago from an article in Psychology Today made 100% sense then and now. Worrying is imagination gone wrong. Planning for contingencies is useful. It's kept me out of more trouble than I can count, and my mind's quick and I've usually got good plans. When they are well polished and settled including backup plans for the backup plans and nothing happens, that is just stress - and when I can't get out of myself to immerse in a fictional situation where the problems don't begin to relate to what I'm really going through at the time, either because I based them on something I already licked or went way out into left field with an apocalypse or plague of vampires or something off the wall that isn't my problem, that's when all the daily life stuff starts grinding me down.
When I look for and count up all the stresses, long waits are a big top of the list. Toshi still isn't here, so I still haven't gotten the network hookups done and shoveled around my backups and catalogued everything and organized my writing. Like getting the house clean, that will relieve stress. Like setting up that blasted still-boxed bookcase, that's been driving me nuts every time I go in to look for a file. It turned out Greta wasn't able to get transportation to come in and clean the house, so I will have to default to calling agencies or at least looking for supermarket cards for independents - a lot better if I can talk to the person and get to know and trust the individual than going through an agency for that when I'm that frustrated about people in general and have had that many embarrassing encounters with people who help the disabled - and expect them to either be utterly dependent or that AND completely "normative" in their habits. If I get one more blank look over the presence of books and absence of TV it will drive me batty. If I'm disabled I'm supposed to be addicted to cable and sports and Current Events of the sort I usually try real hard to ignore, like the latest grisly murders. So that is something that needs to be taken care of soon.
SelfHelp needs to get moved. I've gotten a couple of good stories in for it and I can fill out the fiction section with one of my own. It's not like I don't have plenty of them in the hard drive. Got a lot of good articles in, for which I'm very grateful. But that still needs a consultation with Dstar at a time he's free and I'm awake and not in pain. That will happen soon, its deadline is coming up real fast. Launchpad's is way past and I need to get that out of the way.
The heat wave's been killing that because every time I get fed up and want to go in and just immerse and do it, that's when the temperature climbs and I wind up getting sick and losing judgment. I've got a whole summer of this ahead and the only way I'll get anything done is to get and stay back on my night schedule. It's just now starting to cool off enough that I can think and the ibuprofen is kicking in on my back. That's a good thing. About two hours ago I was borderline weepy and banging my head on the desk feeling as if everything was impossible. That's what sustained exhaustion and heat exhaustion can do to the mind. If a temperature drop does that much to my morale, then that tells me it's a big part of the problem and in this apartment, which I am likely to be stuck in at least until fall, I have to just work around it the best that I can.
I've got my grandfather's tendency to work till I drop, and then when I drop it's a hard crash.
Looking at my safety valves, one of them has been cut off by the Death Challenge. My long posts served an important psychological purpose - that was where I'd write and relax and enjoy without worrying too much about whether I got it right or got it perfect. I've edited about three quarters of the posts I made today and it takes effort every time I make a short post. I wind up cutting off just as I get going much of the time. Or editing to get as much of my point in as possible, which is making them readable, eloquent posts but really cutting down on their effect as an outlet. It has me off balance. I was starting to get used to them and just making more separate posts, when I slipped on one and blew the whole thing.
I managed to come up with a solution and a counterchallenge. I've even gone more than a quarter of the way into the counterchallenge now, well over 100 posts toward the goal of 400 posts that don't go over. But that's a quick tight stressful reaction to recoup from a disaster, and it was a hellish knock to my morale in general when I blew it. I need to recharge. I need to recharge in a big way, and a long blog entry, this one, is a step toward doing that. It makes sense to me, when I look back at the rest of my life.
There were way too many other situations in my life where I knocked myself out and did my best and doing my best just wasn't enough. It did not help that I wound up raised in a situation where the penalties for any infraction, anything, including being sick or needing anything, were extreme, disproportional and random. When I literally didn't know at any point if the look on my face would get me a week or a month's hell or a sudden disastrous punishment. It burned me out on punishment.
"You look guilty. You must have been up to something."
Four or five gruelling hours of interrogation with screaming and threats later, I'd wind up confessing to things I hadn't done just to make it stop. Then I wasn't sorry enough.
It burned out guilt. It burned out any trust in authority. It burned out any respect for punishment or any idea that it means anything. Also, and this is something people in dysfunctional situations may recognize, the pressure to trip up and do something wrong would mount the longer I hadn't. Every effort at not screwing up was met with the stakes being raised, again and again, till the expectations were so high no one could have done anything and the first thing that went wrong was my fault.
If I failed it meant I wasn't really trying, no matter what I put into it.
If I succeeded it was only one more grudging "not this time" after long interrogation sessions including accusations of cheating. I'm depersonalizing where it all came from because it wasn't just at home. I got a lot of it from the school too. It did something to me. It got me to a point where I didn't care at all about school or grades or schoolwork and all of that was just another torture I had to put up with while I did time as an underage slave waiting for emancipation by calendar.
That came up and it hurt a lot and I had to get it out. Because I have to face the stupid fact that I got conditioned into looking at life that way when that is not how I look at life, and that when I am too tired, too sick and too hungry life looks like that again. It looks as if necessities are going to be taken away because I wasn't worthy of them. The simple kid punishment of going to bed without supper is very hard on a kid who was half starving all the time because he was on diets and his body needed that energy both for growing and because any activity took four or five times the energy it would anyone else. I think about that and wonder how I survived the winters. It wasn't starvation as in total starvation but I suspect given my body's needs and what I was eating that malnutrition came into it, along with a personal malnutrition of eating the wrong things for my blood pressure and energy needs and so on. I look at what I know now about my body and mind and goals and I'm amazed I lived through it.
But that's where all that shame got driven in. That's where I wound up learning to look over my shoulder and live in fear and live with fear - it's still a problem today, when teachers back up the bullies. That they have anti bullying programs now is a major step forward. Those work in the schools where they're implemented. Most kids are so strongly against bullying it's about the only issue that would unite them. I stood up to it. I stood up to it more effectively than most of the kids that ever went through it, because I did have something that mattered to me that was entirely within me and not dependent on their opinion of me. That didn't change the way that wore me down - or the way a reprise of it like that cab guy wears me down at this age.
I never could run. I had to learn to fight.
I had to learn to fight in a way that used my strengths and distracted from my weaknesses. That was writing. That was words and mind. I'm finding that again in this blog entry. Thanks for plowing through it if you've read this far down, because it started out in a mind-body crash that went way down like bending over to pick up something and being unable to get up, and at the moment recalling the hells I went through in childhood, that's reminding me this DOES work.
And that priming the pump with nonfiction works if I am too fried to write good escape fiction. Even if what I crave right now is to write good escape fiction. The block of too much pain and fear held pretty much nonstop for YEARS while I was a child. My writing dried up at age ten except for occasional fragments, and the fragments weren't that good. I was afraid of being caught. I was afraid of being caught writing and most of all of being accused of hallucinating, of delusions, of taking my fiction as reality. I did know the difference. Dear Gods, did I ever know the difference, because if any of that, a tenth of it had been real or seemed real my assorted creatures would've come roaring into my life to intervene against the assorted bullies. I knew darn well I did not have a tyrannosaur in the backyard to come following me up toward the bus stop and eat ethe big dogs / other kids that used to terrorize me. It was a wonderful fantasy, but that tyrannosaur died millions of years before I was born and wouldn't have distinguished me from the predators anyway, would've just gone after the one that couldn't run.
The vampires, on the other hand, probably would have appreciated intelligent company. Some creatures are more plausibly allies than others.
I know where that block came from. That was when it first happened. I had clinical depression. I had suicidal feelings, they were stronger then. Duh. The causes for them were at their worst then, literally I was forty miles from anything and only ten and knew I could not survive either living on the land or hitch hiking to whatever implausible shelter involved other people taking me in. I was trapped. They eventually noticed. They also took my journal, with its unlabeled contents that included fragments of story and poetry and dream records interspersed with the few entries about day to day life, mostly undated, and turned them over to a psychiatrist who exemplified what was wrong with the mental health system of the times. In 1964, imagination was suspect, per se. McCarthy had only just slid into history. Conformity was lauded.
Everything in that journal was held against me and they sent me to a therapist who reported to the psychiatrist. I was open with the therapist. I actually had a chance to talk about what meant everything to me: my writing. The parental disapproval got weighted by psychiatric disapproval of reading imaginative fiction let alone trying to write it. And every bit of it was sorted for morbid content. I was routinely, repeatedly punished for being unhappy with being treated like dirt and put under irrational, extreme expectations - and the once in a while that a therapist didn't go with the program of my being the family scapegoat, that one got replaced in a hurry. I remember one of them was a woman with beautiful hands, who was surprised when I told her that I thought her hands were beautiful because she hadn't painted her nails or done a lot of feminine things to them, they were just long graceful beautiful hands. And she liked my poetry. And they pulled her as soon as we'd had the session where she told me she thought I did have the makings of a serious writer like Poe and that if I held onto that dream, I'd make it real. She didn't think that was unbelievable, she was about the only one of them that didn't think that was unbelievable. She believed me when I told her that I made up all of that because I wanted to write like Poe and Bradbury.
Most of them distrusted imagination.
At fourteen that went to the final family argument and I wound up locked up under assorted flat wrong diagnoses and I had the same killer depression on account of writer's block, because I hadn't written anything for four years and the pressure was more than I could take and I didn't care any more. About anything. I told them I had nothing to lose. That scared them. That scared everyone, because most human beings who have nothing to lose become deadly violent.
They don't become deadly violent if they are fourteen year old dedicated pacifists fervently against any and all forms of violence. A tiny bit of content left out of the equation.
I spent a year in a mental institution with assorted peculiar regulations and rules, with weird demands and yet a certain horror that it wasn't as bad in there as it had been at school and home, because in there no one had any expectations and no one else expected the staff to be fair or the rules to make sense. I got solitary confinement my first three days, euphemistically called "seclusion" just to soften me up. It didn't. Solitary confinement applied to writers makes them think and it disconnected me one stage farther from caring about what the other kids thought of me unless they were personally friends. I was one of three self labeled political prisoners, which did gain me a couple of friends, which was a lot less alone than home was. The system was visibly, provably unfair, which home and school pretended not to be. There was a certain brute honesty in the situation. I wasn't complaining about nothing any more. I wasn't crying over nothing and I sure wasn't spoiled, they could not call me spoiled in there.
Its long term effects came from discovering over months of putting up with it that I could do time. That I could endure unlivable conditions and still get into the next day and the next month and eventually stumble out into a different living situation having waited out what went wrong, but still living in fear of the other shoe dropping. In some ways I think I "maintained" till I was 21. Just went through the motions through a lot of high school, with Art as an outlet and the Art Club as a private life I had on the side when allowed and when I had transportation, which my grandparents were generous with.
I did a lot of things that didn't mean much to me and some of them were fun.
But the deep block was still there and I had a hell of a time writing. I fell into quarterly depressions on trying and trying, without being able to get through that deep fear of being caught writing.
Reprise the whole thing at the shelter, the first shelter, when I had nothing to lose and had hit my physical limits and could not earn enough odd jobbing to pay for a rooming house when there wasn't adequate housing in the area. Reprise the others in the situation, suspicious of books and people who read and violently resenting anyone with those advantages, which to them meant better jobs and economic security. Back to being accused of being spoiled because I'd actually managed not to throw away everything good in my life in the process. Back to institutional hells - and I wrote like a madman. Reprise the crash at the point I realized I might not ever get out, and the Valhalla nightmare with drugs and real hallucinations and a very real threat that they could permanently drug me into the insanity they'd claimed I had as a kid. I always knew what was real and what I made up. That's the point of my writing fiction. It's a story. It's a good absorbing story that takes me out of whatever rotten thing it is in real life for a mental vacation somewhere that the stakes are different and the means of fighting for the right are quick and dramatic, pull a sword or a zap gun or an impassioned speech and deal with the problem.
Going over all this again is letting go of the parts of it that are not immediate current stresses.
It's helping me ground and remember that at the moment I really am almost done with the long Social Security run, something very like the last month or two at that mental hospital as a kid or the last few months at the shelter before I got an apartment. And that now, outside the shelter, I'm not alone. I am so far from being alone that it's hilarious. I'm part of a community where I am so typical a weirdo I could be called normative, right down to having health problems. I'm sure not the only writer out there who's struggling with disability or health problems or back trouble. I have a beautiful cat on my lap. He just demanded a two handed scritch and cuddle. He's wonderful. He really is my Carpal Defender.
He purred. His love is mostly unconditional, he will firmly remind me if he needs something like his bowl filled, his water changed or his box cleaned. Other than that he just trusts that if he walks onto my lap he'll get loved and I love him so much that the sight of him awake or sleeping, playing or being quiet, always delights me.
I needed to drop the Inner Censor and now I have a face for the Inner Censor, a composite. That's also given me some real insight on the fear of doctors. What it's tied into. What gives that phobia so much meaning and resonance, because I have been in those prisons and I have survived them. I have outwaited them and not given up on my writing, but no one alive has infinite stamina. On one level I dread what I've survived, not knowing if I have the strength to go through it again. On another, I know that I didn't really survive it, especially the first time around, that getting out of that first place led to what, about a decade of block and looking over my shoulder fearing that I'd lose all of my rights as a human being if I dared do the one thing that really mattered to me and admit I cared more about that than about the opinions of people who don't like me? The fear was real.
Jealousy from people who are in positions of immediate power or advantage is a continuing theme. One that often just breaks my heart, because I want to scream at them that if they want what I've got, they can have it just for the doing. That if they really want it, they can sit down with an empty notebook and try till it works. I had to do that. It didn't all come fast and easy the way it would have if I'd had the freedom to use that notebook as a kid. If some time traveler caught me at eight and whisked me into some different situation where I was encouraged rather than forbidden, I honestly believe I'd have been a prodigy published in kids' magazines by 13 and pro published before getting out of high school - and then just lived the life, just gone with the ups and downs of it throughout, almost taking its troubles for granted by being used to them.
Some people do and some people did.
I console myself for that loss by reflecting on how few public, published embarrassments are sitting in my backfiles. That my early stuff would've been kid stuff, definitely that, and obviously that to any skilled eye. Including romping around without any real experience under it. I can't say that I am happier, but that does take some of the edge off of the regrets and the grief. More that what I have now is tonight and a future that I am making for myself, that it is actually in my hands and I can do this thing. I know what I'm doing. I am doing it and if I've got new and different opposition out in the physical world, I'm not alone when I get online.
I would love to tear all that down for good and change it for the future. I would love to put a stop to it and scream "never again" and make that stick. Some of it's washed away in the historical changes of the times, some of it hasn't, and it will eventually erode completely. It ought to.
Maybe I can lighten up enough to write something heavy now, and when I've regained a bit more energy I'll bounce back into a good mood. I do comedy when I'm in a good mood and nothing hurts. It just takes a little work to get to the level where my sense of humor comes back.
Robert and Ari >^..^< (At least he knows when to quit typing and pet the cat)