Stress and the inconvenience of being a writer

In the last few days, things have become increasingly stressful. Sometimes life throws a curve ball–or fifteen–at you. As a long-time overthinker I have put that character trait to work by allowing myself to get the overthinking down as writing. The big problem with that, however, is writing is no longer optional. In order to wrap my brain around things, I have to put these thoughts down onto the page.

There are times when talking to someone else about things would be wonderful. This is what you get out of therapy, when someone else can see things through a different lens and offer their thoughts that aren’t boxed in by your own perceptions. Sometimes talking to friends helps, but friends don’t (and shouldn’t) want to spend all the time an overthinker needs to spend on a problem. They have their own problems, or after a while they just become exhausted by what is going on in your life. Sometimes I think of how great it would be to have a cooler older brother or sister to chat with. Someone who has their life together and can just floor you with a simple solution that works to fix everything.

But life isn’t like it is in the movies. You don’t go through two acts and have Robin Williams show up and say “It’s not your fault, chief,” and everything is suddenly better. This is another reason to get the words down. You can be your own Robin Williams. And you don’t have to put the heavy burden of being your Robin Williams onto those you care about.

Writing things down can help you make things linear which are difficult to make sense of, given a general mosaic of chaos. You can go through everything one step at a time and fight your battles in succession, rather than facing an entire angry mob of emotions. You can even come back to them after the storms have passed and remind yourself that even though it felt like the world was coming apart at the seams, you survived and those challenges which seemed so insurmountable then would not be so hard now.

├ůs for the good things, I enjoy writing about those too. Putting those thoughts and feelings down on paper allow you to step back in time and always have that memory with you. The scents, the way the light was falling on a hillside, the wind, the rain, the roar of a crowd, or the hum of tires on the road. Whatever you decide to put in that stew of memories will bring about all sorts of levels of flavor later on in ways you never imagined.

Anyway, even writing these thoughts down has helped and now maybe they will let me do something else with my talents, which until now I have been too rattled to focus on for very long. It’s always something, so they say. Right now I have a lot of challenges ahead of me and it’s hard to see what lies over the next hill or turn of the road. All I can do now is to continue driving ahead, moving forward.

Let’s see how this all works out.

My New Normal

These days my sleep cycle is more or less shot. I’m not sure what to make of that. I don’t know if this is a new thing, or an emergence of something I used to deal with twenty years ago or longer. When I was in my 20s, living alone, I worked a mid-shift doing tech support for Apple computers. I worked the 10-7pm shift, and the little apartment where I was living had no air conditioning. I used to stay up until 2 or 3am writing, reading, and generally just sweltering until sleep finally took me in the early hours of the night. I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of green lacewings which had found their way into my apartment. I didn’t have a lot of friends and back then, rather than welcome the silence, it terrified me.

These days feel a little like those days of the past. Tonight, I went to bed at around 11pm and woke up at 12:30am. I’m not even sure if “woke up” is the right words to use, since I don’t remember actually sleeping. Time passed, I suppose, and for a while my thoughts were still. In deciding to tackle the idea of writing as a full-time job, there are a few adjustments that I am making in my life. One of them is the reality that I have no real set schedule these days unless my son is with me. As much as I would like to be the kind of writer who gets up at 7am and exercises, eats, sits down in the chair at 9am and sets their fingers on the keys and gets to work, that has been difficult. Fruitless even.

I don’t know why I have been applying the old ways to my new life in this way. I don’t see much of a reason to do it anyway. My natural state of operation has hardly held onto the mores and rhythms of a traditional worklife. I’ve always wondered why people get up, spend all day working and then clock out at 5pm, especially in the summertime, where the heat of the day is oppressive and a nap feels like the best thing imaginable at around 2 in the afternoon. Or how there are times I would love nothing more than a quiet house in which to work, but have to plop myself down in a hot room with the TV blaring in the next room and the sounds of one of my sons video games filtering back through the walls, complete with him making a running commentary.

Tonight reminds me of one of those nights when I lived alone, before I had kids. So quiet and still. My son is finally asleep and quiet in his bed, and I have just pulled myself out of my own, unable to sleep. The sounds of my own thoughts crashing against the inside of my skull like waves on a rocky shore. I know it will be just another sleepless night of lying there in bed. The hot and cold of a restless summer night, the sleep schedule determined by a world that has abandoned me. The clock that had to get punched. The schedule that was like everyone else’s.

Ever since I was a little kid, I was a night owl. I remember when my dad worked the late shift or graveyards at the mine, I would be up at all hours of the night, playing Old Maid and UNO with my mom until he walked through the door. As a little kid, I remember watching John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live and even shows that came on afterwards. Of course in those years, I was up with the sun, watching cartoons while my parents slept. Tonight I decided rather than waste a quiet night with worrying and random thoughts, I might as well put my words to the page.

It feels so right to do this. I think one of the things I resented about my job was the loss of my nights. I missed staying up late and just working things out on the page, falling asleep when I was too exhausted to continue, my fingers working still even after my eyes had closed. There were some days when I would look at what I had written the next day and not be able to make sense of some of it. I had been dreaming and writing.

The path I have been taking lately has been jarring, like trying to feel your way through the gears without using a clutch. I had almost forgotten what it meant to work at the times I wanted to work. When the house was quiet, when my thoughts had settled, and there was almost nothing to distract me. When I could pour a cup of tea and write as it steeped, listening to crickets outside. Knowing that sleep will take me when it is time and I don’t need the soporific effects of alcohol to still my mind just because I’m supposed to go to sleep at a certain time.

Today, I wrote. It took a while to get the words down because they were dry and somehow I had to come up with 2,000 words for what a contingency fee was for a law firm. That’s it. That’s the only guidance I had other than “be vague, dodge the question.” I wrote it. I dodged. And I watched the hours slip past. Had I been punching the clock, I would have put in a late day. It’s hard to shake that kind of thinking. I have to think more now about “Is the writing done?” rather than, “Did I take up enough time between the hours of eight and five to justify my worth?”

At 12:35am tonight, I decided the writing wasn’t done. I had an idea for a podcast I want to do soon. A friend informed me of another podcast idea too, this one about white privilege and other concepts that are important to the collective conversation as well. My friends at Dutch Bros. this morning wanted to know if I had written anything about the state of the world yet. They valued my thoughts. Unfortunately, I’ve been wrapped up in my own drama so much lately, I haven’t had much to say about it. The revelation that struck tonight told me that I have plenty of time in the day now to do all of these things. I’m not held to the hours of a timeclock anymore. These ideas will find a place on the page. The world is beautiful and vibrant at 1:30am, and the ideas flow freely if you let them.

My dreams lately have been for shit. I keep having the same dreams over and over. I don’t remember much about them when I wake up, other than it was the same dream. More of a thought process than an actual dream anyway. The concept is the same. A train that goes around a forested mountain. Or sometimes a road. And all that matters is the shortest distance from point A to point B to meet the path if I leave the forest. That’s it. There’s nothing else in the forest. Just the mechanics of “how do I get to the path from here?”

That’s not the kind of rest you look forward to every evening. It’s an exercise in efficiency. It baffles me, much like people who play Sudoku to relax.

I know what isn’t working. Taking a shot of whiskey to trick the brain into a chemical reflex to shut down. Counting sheep. Exercising to the point of exhaustion. Thinking about happier times, holding hands on moonlight walks, singing along with the radio on road trips, seeing that smile that still haunts my memories. That just makes me toss and turn some more. Beating myself up for another moment gone and lost forever. Its shadow burned into my writer’s brain like the ghostly image of a shitty arcade video game into the screen of a CRT screen after 20 years of running in the back room of a pizza parlor.

All I really want is that decent shot of dopamine to the brain for having accomplished something during my day. Give me that, and I’ll sleep like a baby, even after three shots of espresso.

I’m up. Time to get to work. Sunrises are overrated. Especially on hot summer nights such as this. To hell with the way things were before. They never really suited me all that well anyway.

Is it lonely at night? Yes. Blissfully so.

Beating yourself up

I get that things are weird. I understand that none of this is normal, or really healthy at all, but today I really feel like a fuckup and I am beating myself up.

I had writing to do. I did a little bit of it. I need to pick up the pace, but lately, I just stare up at a mountain of work, whether it’s making my goal on paid work, doing the other things I need to do for my freelance work, or just taking care of daily chores. I make lists. Sometimes I check things off. Sometimes I just make more lists.

I feel that Resistance as sure as if it were a brick wall. It’s hard to drag my ass out of bed. It’s daunting to sit down and put words down on a book that A) will probably suck B) nobody will read C) will just prove to be more ambition that never went anywhere because I’ve been in the habit of making things work for other people so long, that I don’t know if I ever knew how to make it work for myself.

Lately I have been having a hard time with solitude.

I try to reach out to people, but they just don’t reach back. Fuck, I’m back where I was in 2015 when I was starting my life over from scratch, only this time, I don’t have the stability of the day job to keep me focused. It’s difficult to say the least. And sad to say, but sometimes when I do talk to someone during the day, I just don’t feel that connection, like they are interested in sharing time with me at all.

It’s all a distraction anyway. A good way to waste time, because I’m scared shitless of doing the work. Failing, or worse yet, success. I’m just so tired. Empty. I haven’t got a lot left in my tanks anymore, and if I couldn’t keep a relationship together that seemed to be going well, I don’t have a lot of confidence in a career that is just a dream right now. Just another pipe dream. Just going around telling people I am something, when I’m sure I’m an imposter.

I miss having a person. Someone who got it, and didn’t just leave my messages on Read. All my life I’ve felt like I’ve been on the outside looking in. At this point, I have stopped caring. One day, I will get my goal which is just to walk away and start my life over again, but this time it will be on my terms. There are days I get so weary of the world that I just don’t care anymore.

I know it’s the depression talking. I know it’s a constant shadow on my shoulder I have to ignore every day. Some days I’m “amazing” and other days, I’m just a collection of old junk, moving it from one side of the garage to the next, instead of actually getting rid of it.

Today, I didn’t do what I wanted to get done. And I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.