The Blue-Green Pill

Glasses

“You take the red pill, …and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Some small part inside me loves Morpheus’ challenge: Do you have what it takes to see and accept the truth? While others might settle back down on the couch, chewing another handful of Cheetos, I foolishly stand.

Truth is a deep motivator for me. I cannot be fully religious because of this, by the definitions of many sects. I squeeze under the radar of my current denomination, by telling myself I trust it will all be cosmically explained someday.

My rational voice, upset by a few years of Atheism, plays Devil’s Advocate (ironically). It warns that no explanation will come when I cease to exist.

Why bring up such things? This is where my mind goes; this is the side effect of swallowing the left-hand option.

Surely my mindset, worldview, and even depression are Truth. They are me, as much as my blood type or detached earlobes. I need to be true to myself, to accept myself, and -above all- to not smother my emotional expression.

And yet… my daily red dosage has somehow morphed to a less-swallowable shape.

I noticed a slightly misshapen quality when I began listening to a counselor. “Your core is never negative,” she told me. Furthermore, she said my depressive reactions and tendencies were all learned behaviors.

I read self-help books on the subjects of happiness and self-esteem. They made valid points as well; like, that people honestly can raise their baseline of happiness.

However, all the psychological affirmations and literary anecdotes in the world were not enough. With or without seeking Truth, it came anyway. It laughed at my hopes and optimisms as I repeatedly returned to the dark corner of my mind.

On Facebook, I wrote the following:

When I spoke fluttering lies and raised my smiling mask, I cried inside.
But you didn’t know.

I tried to write about sunshine, as my heart grew ever overcast.
You didn’t look between the lines.

I sat in my small, shadowed corner at home, as you visited each other and laughed.
And didn’t care.

Sometimes I curiously contemplate the world without me there. Surely my departure will cause a ripple somewhere.
Instead, you’ll stand with the friends you always do, and say, “I didn’t know.”
And forget what was never known.

I got a few internet hugs in response. I felt morosely validated that, yes, they did not care.

The problem is that there is no red pill. We cannot be freed from our minds, because we are delicately and intricately attached to them. And, Truth is always, always affected by our perceptions.

Had real-life Neo entered my counselor’s office with me, he may have been given a third option: a doctor’s referral.

I’ve been dreading medical intervention for years; assuming, as I said earlier, that I would lose myself. I also assumed I would only ever have the option of anti-depressant, horrible-side-effect, me-changing medication.

Instead, I have been offered the blue-green pill.

It’s a small dose of seratonin: popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.

I’ve swallowed it once daily for the last three weeks. I thought there to be no difference, but my husband disagreed. Given that I’ve had only one depressive episode since first taking it, he may be right.

In fact, I have been able to think in a manner that is less depressive just this weekend -a first for me. I attended a few social events Friday and Saturday; and did not feel the lingering effects of my usual, self-critical social hangover.

I feel able to agree with and utilize the strategies outlined, previously, by my paid friend and the self-help book.

I see, now, the red pill was the placebo all along. To change my life for the better I needed a new perspective -not some supposed Truth. It could not come from only me, however, since I stand a few feet lower in the ground than others.

Are you, like me, sunk in the Swamps of Sadness? Affirmation will not work. Get someone to look at all your options. Even if the dry ground you need is found through heavier medications, I can now say it’s worth it.

Advertisements

Aoede’s Influence

My mind feels nothing lately. I sit here, at a computer desk, fingers poised over keys, typing emptiness.

“Ah, you have writer’s block,” you may observe. I love to disagree, but I feel the word block indicates that there was some flow previously.

In considering my lack of creative energy or inspiration, I reflect on Muses. I’ve been reflecting since reading over Mike Allegra’s and D. Wallace Peach’s characterizations of Muses. The former described his as an ice cream-stealing rat (an intelligent, domesticated one), the latter claiming hers hired a mercenary.

Mine, in the meantime, is beyond fashionably late.

She or he or it is not entirely necessary for writing. However, I need something to create what lays before you, or what fills the space between pictures of my content-writing job.

I try. I do.

The ceremony to call upon a Muse can be much like a séance, conjuring, or sacrificial ceremony. “Here, take my children,” I say to the television screen. “And, here are the five pounds I managed to lose last month,” I tell our chocolate stash. I light the computer’s candelabra and pray.

Despite my best movie marathons or sugar-splurges, my efforts usually summon Muse’s distantly-related cousin’s best friend’s significant other: Motivation.

And even she often shows up hungover. It’s time for something stronger.

Before turning to literal flames or pentagrams, I turn to my gym bag. Inside, twisted in on itself, rests my mP3 player and headphones. Besides the creative gifts we enjoy, headphones are the greatest blessing a distracted artist may ever receive.

Properly attired, I may focus on the influence of Aoede instead of the distractions of everything.

Stephenie Meyer, that author who wrote something a few years back, was one of my favorites to read. No, not her actual published works (at least, not openly.) I am referring to her honest descriptions of writing, publishing, creation, etc.

I can relate to her, since both of us have at least three boys. Did you know she also used music? That she has a playlist posted?

As mentioned at the end of the lame, rambling autobiography (nobody got that far, did they?), I can’t write without music. This, combined with the fact that writing Twilight was a very visual, movie-like experience, prompted me to collect my favorite Twilight songs into a sort of soundtrack for the book. This list is not chiseled in granite; it transforms now and again. But, for the moment, here’s the music I hear in my head while reading the book. (stepheniemeyer.com)

Her website has songs for Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.

We’ll need to talk more about tempting Muses in other fashions. Perhaps you even know a secret incantation.

In the meantime, what are your favorite tracks to play for inspiration?

Kick It up a Notch, AKA How to Improve a Snippet of Writing

Hello, class, and welcome to another session of writing instruction. Today we will be discussing that little extra flavoring that will take your excerpt from blasé to at least palatable.

In layman’s terms, we’re going to start with a frozen pepperoni pizza and make it a meal from Mickey D’s. With practice, we may go as classy as Texas Roadhouse.

We’re going to need a lame sentence. No, not that one I just wrote. Or any of these descriptive ones.
Sheesh! You’re so literal!
How about, “When he saw her face, he knew he was in love.

Woman lights

This is not a terrible sentence. For one thing, it has my first step:

1. Please ensure that your subject matter is interesting.
Something readers want to read is the somewhat-necessary skeleton we need to even start improving that sucker.
Besides our example, you can go with topics of Science Fiction (The alien moved closer to the frightened child), Dystopian (No one had eaten for days since The Great Famine), Horror (She heard the heavy footsteps drawing closer, though she saw no one), or Fantasy (Erglefigman took the Staff of Woidjkin boldly, saying the magic words…).

2. Name your characters. If you’re running with that fantasy idea, name him/her/it with a more simple title (please!).
Does this idea seem daunting? You have the internet; use a name-generator.
Applied to our example, we have, “When Steve saw Elisa, he knew he was in love.
Yes, I used the name generator.

3. Don’t be afraid of other words. You’re a writer: words are the prismatic expression you splash upon a ready canvas.
Unsure what to say? As I have already mentioned in other How-To’s, Thesaurus Man has got your back. Don’t leave him hanging.
Looking up “saw,” “knew,” and “love,” we can spice things up to, “When Steve glanced at Elisa, he realized he was smitten.

4. Show, don’t tell. Yep, you’ve heard this one. Seriously -you read it three seconds ago.
Yes, sometimes you need to tell. A full-length novel where every single action was described instead of named would be torturous.
Instead of “He stubbed his toe, dropping the pizza sauce all over his father’s sleeve,” you might have, “A loud exclamation fell from Todd’s lips as pain spread upwards from his injured toe. His father, meanwhile, felt the stinging heat and saucy redness of pizza sauce spread upwards from his shoulder.” Yes, it’s more interesting -but, only in some ways. Always writing like that would be laborious to the writer and unclear to the reader.
So: show, but don’t be annoying about it. We’ll settle on keeping what we have and adding a sentence of detail. “The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes. When Steve glanced at Elisa, just then, he realized he was smitten.”

5. Add dialogue. Do your characters have the ability to talk? Then, they should.
Vocalizations are normal; we all express ourselves. They can, and would, be used during action scenes. They need to be sprinkled in naturally around adjectives, reactions, descriptions, etc.
A conversation can also be used to show, not tell and thesaurusize your story.
The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes.
‘Yes?’ Elisa asked. She’d noted his glance.
‘Um,’ Steve replied. He realized he was smitten.”

Man Phone

6. Inject your flavor of writing.
Everyone has a writing style, a flavor, a way of expression. If you feel you still haven’t stumbled upon this illusive thing, you’re in the same boat as many writers. In fact, I’m certain we’re about cruise ship-sized over here.
I am equally certain each artist has one, and that it will be uncovered the more one practices one’s art. You will lean to using certain patterns, words, jokes, phrasing, or anglophilic references.
Since I am the one writing this, our example has had my flavor this whole time.
Someone else creating a story might go with word patterns, nonsense terms, different ways to interrupt the actions and descriptions, or other things said and observed.

7. Go a tad over the top with characteristics, actions, settings, etc.
I mentioned several of the writing steps we’ve gone over so far in a previous post, including the advice to be specific. Being specific is important, as is writing believably, so the story is relatable. However, the general public also likes extremes of personality and actions.

For example, all of the characters in Harry Potter are distinct. Even minor ones have odd foibles like a weird goat fetish.
The adventures are outlandish, like allowing a 12-year-old to face a full-grown wizard after other deadly dangers. But, people ate it up.

On the flip side is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. If not for the audio version, I would have quickly lost track of which person was penning which letter and why that mattered. I found myself wishing for more differences of personality.

I’ll add a bit more to ours, and then leave it to cool on the windowsill. Hopefully it’ll garner a few stars of a passing critic’s famished review.

The softly glowing lights reflected from her cupped hands to glint, temptingly, in her brown eyes. Night sounds of distant traffic far below joined the background conversations of party guests. Steve felt frozen in sound, feeling, and time.

‘Yes?’ Elisa demanded. She’d noted his glance, and wondered at his expression.

‘Um,’ Steve replied. He realized he was smitten.

Pop! The first forgotten bulb broke against the patio floor near Elisa’s bare right foot. Pop! Clunk!, then a swishing coil of overlapping noises echoed from the walls and stairs nearby as the remaining lights slid from her careless arms.

Unencumbered now, she drew closer, stepping over the discarded strand. Steve saw her dainty feet illuminated from bulbs below as she stepped; noted her slight waver, her impending nearness, and the way a sudden rooftop wind pulled at her black skirt.

Steve knew life would never be normal again, and that he would never regret the inevitable upset. His eyes found hers, even darker now. She walked to stand right in front of him; poor, hypnotized fool.”

Life Cycles

Running Shoes

Sometimes I leave the house, pay the child care, and run round the track at our tiny neighborhood community center. It’s called exercise: this monotonous plodding round and round.

Fourteen laps is one mile.

For inspiration and distraction, I listen to music as I jog the endless circuit. I pick adrenaline as I lag, interest to keep enduring, or awesome bass for confidence.

Still, I need to run. I need to run the same path. I need to run the same path fourteen times. I need to run the same path fourteen times with only myself to think to, and the songs to divert me.

Life is repeated monotony, and I try to switch to a different track whenever the boring frustration drives me crazy! -even that, in a repeated pattern, though.
There is no escaping the circuit, but it needs to be the cog of life and not a mouse exercise wheel.

I always play the same song for my final lap. I get excited to hear it, and know my heart rate increases in anticipation of finally getting to sprint one instead of shuffle-jog thirteen. The introduction plays, and I nearly Whoop! aloud.

Get a song to anticipate, a time to finally reward yourself, a goal to sustain you through the doldrums. Otherwise; you’ll break stride, stop for a drink, excuse yourself to favor a small pain, check your phone, or push too hard in panic and not have the energy for your favorite parts.

And you won’t want to miss your favorite parts.

Invaluable

Self-esteem is a tricky little bugger.

I’ve always had issues with mine; I mean, with the small amount that I even allow to exist.

Perhaps it’s my childhood? My sometimes non-religious views? A realistic attitude about what I actually provide to the world?

After reading a very good article written from the perspective of an artist this morning, I attended a local Mothers Of Preschoolers group my neighbor told me about. The article, about devaluing, opened my mind. The MOPs, whereat a fellow mother honestly detailed her life with anxiety and depression (and OCD and body image issues and …well, you get the idea), opened my heart.

“I’m sure men and boys experience it too, I know they do, but in my personal experience it’s women who consistently undervalue their work, their time and their talent and it’s women who desperately seek approval by making themselves small,” Johanna (the artist I mentioned) notes.

Caroline, the brave MOPs woman with constant struggles, spoke of a lifetime of hiding. She thought others would only want to see the perfect her, the one she wasn’t ashamed of. She was flawed.

Although I have not been diagnosed with a specific condition (yet), I felt like these women were speaking to me, or even about me.

Woman Alone

“…I had subconsciously believed that valuing myself meant devaluing others which would make them feel bad which would make them not like me.” Johanna continued, “I had kept myself in a nice little box that would be no obvious threat to anyone.”

I feel my own box. Like a bad mime, I keep people away from the invisible walls with my facial expressions, body language, and comments. I push away, instead of invite in. Sometimes the box is literally my car, my house, or my closet.

Sadly, Caroline felt similarly. She spoke of assuming her own family wouldn’t want to know this dark side. She described herself thinking how her husband and child would be better off without her in their lives.

This is an extreme position to take, a sure sign that you need to talk to a counselor.

It is also one I understand, and have felt. Blearily, tiredly, I’ve looked around and seen the only problem is me. No self-esteem. The only logical parts able to stop anything remind me that death would screw up my children psychologically, or that I might fail and be stuck as a vegetable.

If I was truly logical, however, I would see that my thinking is, as Caroline said, twisted.

I have spoken with a therapist, a counselor. When I mentioned how deeply I’d allowed myself to sink into self-loathing, she agreed the thinking was wrong. “You need to see a doctor,” she said. “You need to test your hormone levels,” she said.

We wonderful, emotional women are extremely down on ourselves, and it’s often because of hormones.

In fact, hormones can be blamed for everything. Of course, despite my pleas to my husband, we cannot simply be rid of them. They are essential to other feelings, and to basic body functions.

Woman Sun

Aside from functionality or regulation, I would also like to applaud an approach Johanna details partway through her crafting article.

She wrote the post to talk about an art submission to Craft Town, and how she had mentored applicants for this event in the past. “(A)bout six years ago, I banned my students from saying the word sorry, and we did a little experiment. They had to present their work without saying a single negative word about it, and throughout the exercise they would have absolutely no encouragement or feedback from me whatsoever. So no negativity from them and no approval from me.”

The results? “What happened shocked me. Some students weren’t even able to begin speaking. They looked at the floor, they took deep breaths, they took several minutes just to find words to begin with that wouldn’t include any sort of apology. Some were even brought to tears by the sheer frustration of not being able to criticise themselves.”

Can you make something, gift an item, talk about yourself -without devaluing? I cannot.

Well, I can. But, I don’t. I believe I should try.

Why? Fabulous results. From Johanna, one last time:

There would be a change in tone and volume that was so moving, so utterly inspiring that I can’t even describe it to you. They would speak without apology, explanation or expectation, about what they loved about their own talent. Then they would realise that no one was laughing at them, no one was horrified, no one had stopped liking them, and that they weren’t in trouble, then their voice would get stronger and clearer and calmer.  And when they shone, something would happen to the other students in the room, and to me;  we’d feel just a little bit closer to our own value because we could see someone else connecting with theirs.

And, what about Caroline from the mothers’ group? She admits to still struggling. However, as a plug for the group, her help came from joining MOPs but also from opening up. Instead of apologizing, hiding, pretending, she wore herself on her sleeve.

We are valuable women, valuable people.

Self-esteem has to come from within, my paid friend tells me. Johanna and Caroline have given me some tools to begin with. I hope we’ve helped you as well.

Compression, Tension, and Stress

Egg Mallet

As a young adult, I anticipated the job interview question: How do you handle stressful situations?

It concerned me so much that I’d think over what an interviewer would say as I dragged a screaming child off his brother or blearily and mentally blocked off life in the closet once my husband got home.

I thought that we need to withstand ever-increasing pressure whilst smiling.

In truth, we are a construction like a bridge. Or, a rubber band. Or, sometimes the three eggs with pieces of carton on top you’re using as an object lesson. You and your audience pile books on excitedly till finally –crack!

We have computers and mathematical software to know exactly how much weight a bridge can support before structural failure. After many years of living with ourselves, we have a similar mental gauge. However, guilt and comparison and self-judgment glare at us to keep piling on.

Stop before structural failure. I’m not judging. Given that most people laugh empathetically when you relay an everyday story, I know that everyone goes through it and honestly doesn’t mind if you stop.

It’s easier than piecing eggshells back together.

A Muse, The Blues, Some Clues -AKA How to Write Poetry

Lo! What light, what cackling sun
Burns your eyes?
It laughs as you run;
Jumping, grasping, to
Catch the poem…

If you thought that was bad, you were right. I literally wrote that without any thought, direction, or meter. I took about fifteen seconds.

Don’t get me wrong -sometimes people like that crap. Sometimes the Crap Off the Cuff really isn’t bad. However, poetry is just like any other crafted item: the more practice you have at your skill, the better anything you make will be.
Translation: those who are experts can write a decent impromptu poem, and the stuff they worked longer on is even better.

So, *ahem.* Let’s stop mucking about and finally jump into A Few Steps for Writing Poetry:

1. Don’t.
Seriously, there are already a lot of good poets out there who have already written your idea in a better way. Thanks to Google, you can probably find it.
There are also a lot of terrible poets who have murdered your idea and now it’s bleeding by the side of the road begging people to stop clicking that they Like it.

2. Still determined? Good! You’ve passed the first test: that of true motivation for verse. I feel that motivation, a muse, hangover, emotional distress, late-night deadlines -whatever your name is for it- are vital to writing a poem.
Even if you don’t have a clear subject or good structure, the sheer determination to express what you feel will squeeze something out.

3. Actual Guidelines
So… there is this type of meter I poked fun at initially. It’s called free verse. Let me tell you, from my extremely limited experience, that freely versing can be a BAD idea. It’s the commando version of creative writing, and needs a brave, strong, experienced writer to handle it.
My recommendation, therefore, is to follow a meter. No, you don’t have to go full-out iambic pentameter. Only do so if you wish to be counting on your fingers and looking up rhymes for “depressed” all evening.
A good start is to come up with a few lines in your mind, then count the syllables (and pattern of stress/non-stress) and roughly follow that for the remaining lines.

4. Stress and Non-stress
Really quickly: this is where we put the emphasis on our words when we speak. I threw it in here because I mentioned it in the previous step, and you might be scratching your head over it.
Sometimes, I write a poem and there is one line that is really bugging me. Usually, it’s because I followed my syllable count, but did not follow normal speech rules of emphasis.
Because of that, the syllable count is actually off. Readers (including you) will do a mental glottal stop to be able to stress the words where we are accustomed to.

5. To Rhyme, or Not Some Thyme?
This one is up to you. I mostly rhyme for mine, every other line.
The length of each line and how often you rhyme (every single ending word, halfway through, every other, or randomly) will determine whether your poem feels like a poem, Dr. Seuss, or a rap song.
Keep in mind that even Seuss mixed things up a bit. One of my favorite stanzas in The Cat in the Hat is:

So, as fast as I could,
I went after my net.
And I said, “With my net
I can get them I bet.
I bet, with my net,
I can get those Things yet!”

Try it; it’s fun to read through.

6. Word Choice
Let’s say you want to emote about love and loss of said love. You are going to make us all feel something different than affection if you literally use the word “love” more than about three times. Sometimes, my limit is even one.
This is where your friend, Mr. Thesaurus, comes in. I mentioned this in my How to Not Suck at Writing rant as well, because it’s really important.
Let’s say you’re not that into synonyms. Too much woooorrrrkkk.
You will sound way more mysterious and intelligent if you do it. Like, “I loved and lost and lost my love” could become “Adored, then absent; Carelessly cherished.”

7. More Word Choice
Poetry is all about obscurity. Even when it’s a straightforward tale of a path diverging in the forest, everyone still says the poem is about something deeper.
So, use your new thesaural friend to obfuscate your terms, or make the simple description of your plush tiger on the shelf sound like it represents your childhood memories of being abandoned.

8. Practice and Preparedness
This goes for anything, but especially creative writing.
Read other poets, and copy their style. Keep a notebook to jot down random lines that come to you on the train. Try, try, try again. Everything you read and write will give you experience.

Now, go! Make the world a poetic place.

Eat, Pray, Love, for Tomorrow We Die

Why does losing ourselves in the service of others help us find our true selves?

I don’t know. I’m with the view of the world: that our true self can be found Eat, Pray, Love style in a soul search involving a year off for pleasure, meditation, and sex (I think).

A glaring problem I’ve noticed with that approach is that I can’t get a $200K grant from my publishing company to pursue this idea. My husband (our current bread-winner) only fronted me his salary, and my children can’t even grant me two minutes off.

Another problem many people don’t seem aware of is: you may find yourself, but who is that and do you really want to be stuck with her?

Before anyone attacks me, please listen.

I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book I mentioned. I could relate to her dissatisfaction, her depression (GREAT chapter, by the way), and addictions to needing someone.
The end, and follow-up reading about her, were what bothered me. Concerned me. Gave doubt to this approach.

I read some of the social media posts she’d made since. They were the same issues she supposedly admitted to and embraced and addressed a third of the way into the book. Back again to old habits.

I watch others and envy them. I’m not naturally sweet or optimistic. I worry that this is my core person; and, believe me, she’s not one you want to be stuck in long hours with -if she could get those hours.

I live in a community of people that are very service-oriented. Like any good thing, we can do a few things that should be better compensated from following this mentality.
However, maybe service is the better philosophy.

Just me in my corner gets nothing done except permanently imprinting the carpet.

In service, I’ve formed a human chain to move a truckload of sod to a rooftop garden. I pruned my great-aunt’s backyard roses with my cousins. I made meals that helped someone who couldn’t cook. I benefited far more from my neighbor’s social company than I know she did from me, by asking her to a weekly lunch after her husband passed away.

In this selfish world, the gullible serve. Helpful people get screwed out of their money. People accepting handouts often use them misappropriately.
The concluding lesson? Think of yourself, find yourself, pamper yourself. Teach the rising generation to give in to selfishness. Then, wonder at the results.

I keep thinking my true self is the person I’m stuck with. “You learn behaviors and follow those synaptic connections because it’s easier,” my counselor said. She thinks I may be negative, but I can change

I hope she is right, because not changing is slowly killing me.

Maybe I need to come out of myself to find the better me. We’re told our true self may be something divine, and it’s a valid idea that we need to connect to our family to uncover that heritage in all of us.

Whether we connect with something divine, recall our ancestry, or improve through true self-healing with a therapist; we still need to step out of ourselves.

I will not become different squatting forever in my carpet spot, lamenting my personal defects. I certainly will not feel loved.

Love Language

Life is not scripted.

We forget this, and also that others are ensconced in their own feelings and thoughts -and can’t hear and feel our own. In pain inside, we say something to convey our discomfort. Then, we are surprised at a negative reaction.

So many times two people just need to hear love, but speak hate and receive it back. Feeling dejected, they further barrier themselves against affection till all that’s apparent is their horse-chestnut shell that gives you foot slivers in the grass.

Horse Chestnut