Monthly Archives: January 2015
Hello! Guess what day it is? It is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, wherein for every text message sent, mobile call made, Tweet using #BellLetsTalk, and share of the Facebook image, Bell Canada will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives. Besides raising monies, it’s also a day to promote awareness and combat stigma.
As most of you know, mental health is a cause close to my heart. It’s a factor in the lives of people I love, mental illness affects creative types at a disproportionate rate—and as my much wiser boyfriend says,
We all have a mental health.
Whether or not there’s an active illness, taking care of one’s mental health is important for all of us.
As I’ve been made aware (often painfully so) in the past. I’ve always been pretty open about anxiety. And it’s the anxiety I want to talk about today, since it’s the one I live with.
So, Let’s Talk:
Anxiety is a tricky beast. It is defined as “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” Which tells us some things, but not all of the things.
Anxiety comes in many flavours
Let’s line up ten people with anxiety. While there may be similarities between them, there may also be ten different types of anxiety. Kierkegaard over here has existential anxiety. Sally Student has crippling test anxiety, a diagnosable form of social phobia. Billy-Bob has Generalized Anxiety: persistent, disproportionate worrying and an inability to let go of worries.
I have social anxiety. Which means that I approach social interactions with the profound dread of doing something wrong, I become easily overwhelmed, and I constantly second-guess my ability to read social cues.
Anxiety does not hit with the same intensity all the time
This is a frustrating one. “Okay,” you say, “you have anxiety. Except—hey, last time, you talked to people just fine! Therefore, you are better! So why is this time such an issue?”
Beats me, and I wish I knew. The stimulus that provoked a strong response last week might be manageable this week, and next week, it could be worse again. Generally speaking, the more familiar anxiety-sufferers are with a situation/person, the easier it is—except for those times when it’s not.
“But you’re so social and outgoing!”
I’m a writer. I can also act when needed. So joking around on panels, being gregarious on podcasts, bantering with visitors at the museum—I might be super familiar and comfortable with the situation, but there is also a really, really good chance that I’m faking it.
The better you know me, the more likely it is you’ve seen me in the grip of a meltdown.
The play’s the thing
Going along with the acting metaphor—anxiety hates uncertainty. Hates it. I do not do well with ambiguity at all. So, what’s the answer to that?
This is why it’s actually sometimes easier to be thrown into a group of people I don’t know well. There is a script for such situations. Ask about their jobs, family, hobbies. Make small talk about a Topic Of Common Interest. It’s a formalized, ritualized way of interacting. Anxiety doesn’t mind that, because it can predict what’s coming next.
(This is also why I’m a boss at tours and presentations, by the way—I don’t just have a script, I wrote the f****** script).
So…for whatever reason, we’ve hit a point where the anxiety becomes greater than the person’s ability to contain it. What happens then?
Honestly, depends on the person. Some people lash out. Some people have panic attacks. I withdraw. It’s awful and I hate it. Imagine a really heavy, cold blanket slowly draping over you. You can feel yourself going numb, getting weighed down, slowed down, but you can’t do anything to stop it. The voice goes flat. Emotional affect dampens. It’s like when your computer overheats and triggers an automatic shut-down. Whatever the response is—it’s no one’s fault.
But as it’s not fun for anyone, prevention is the key: heading off the anxiety before it hits that point. There are many ways to do this. Exercises from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy were developed for people with borderline personality disorder, but they can work well for anxiety, too. Since sensory overstimulation can be a thing with me, I sometimes take my best sense (my ears, yo) and selectively flood that—music is a godsend when my brain is spinning too quickly.
Kind of like writing, though: there’s no One True Way, you just have to experiment until you find what works for you.
To close things off, let’s talk about labels. Sometimes, labels can feel helpful. It is awfully comforting to be able to put a name to the feelings and experiences you’re having—and being able to name it gives you some power over it. At a basic level, it certainly helps you find other people who are going/have gone through the same thing.
The thing to remember with labels, though, is that they are a starting point, not an ending. So, you can name this creeping dread “anxiety.” Fantastic, now you can more easily find resources to help, and maybe talk yourself down better (“This is not my thinking—this is anxiety”). It becomes tricky when the label becomes the be-all and end-all; when it becomes intrinsic to your self-conception. You are not a label. Whatever you have, you are not it.
As always, I’m glad we talked. Yes, it can be difficult, and awkward, but opening the dialogue is hugely important: for ending stigma, and for helping others find the support and help that they need.
Kids Help Phone: http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/teens/home/splash.aspx
Canadian Mental Health Association: http://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/find-help/
Centre for Suicide Prevention: http://suicideinfo.ca/
Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/help
American Crisis Hotlines: http://suicidehotlines.com/national.html
British Mental Health Infoline: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/advice_lines
Mental Health Council of Australia Helplines: http://www.mhca.org.au/index.php/help
New Zealand Ministry of Health: http://www.health.govt.nz/yourhealth-topics/health-care-services/mental-health-services
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand Resource Finder: http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/resourcefinder/listings/resource/73/support-groups/#content-222
What I’m Listening to This Week
This week, it’s “Fac ut ardeat cor meum” from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Once this movement starts, it doesn’t stop—I’ve actually heard it run faster than the version below. “Make me feel as thou hast felt,” runs a loose translation. In essence, this piece is a plea: and done well, it is hugely emotional.
Baroque music pleases me because of how precisely constructed it is. Again, done well, all the parts fit together like clockwork. Here, that’s particularly noticeable with the runs of three quarter notes at 0:18 (the “ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” bit)—the soprano is rising higher, the countertenor steady underneath, and then they come together so perfectly.
I’m back from my Stonecoast residency: ten days packed full to bursting with workshops, presentations, seminars, readings, and the occasional shenanigan or two. (I saw Val Griswold-Ford! It was awesome!)
So, we’re a year into this MFA. Those of you with good memories may remember that I spent my first semester at Stonecoast thrashing Heartstealer into shape with my mentor, Theodora Goss. Since Heartstealer is coming out in March and all, I figured it’d be a good idea to tell her in person, rather than letting her find out through the internet.
I was a wee bit nervous. Writing books is one thing. I’m absolutely fine to share them and get feedback. But talking about them still feels strange and frightening to me. After some thought, I decided to break the ice by showing her the beautiful cover designed by Starla Hutchton.
“That’s it,” Dora said. “That’s the cover! That’s what it looks like!”
Starla’s work tends to have that effect on people. That’s what I said when I saw the finished product, too.
Then I explained that Heartstealer will be out in March (I say now, fingers and toes crossed). And she was very excited, which left me feeling warm and glowy. The conversation moved into some of my dayjobbery, and she said, “I don’t know how you do all you do—it’s very impressive.”
The consummate cool cucumber, I froze, taken aback. All that I do—what exactly do I do? Impressive? Huh? Stonecoast’s faculty teach at multiple programmes and institutions, they have families, they’re all working writers with countless projects at any given time. Then I listed everything out to myself and had a terrifying moment of vertigo.
Here is something that I learned this past semester, though. During one of my Skype chats with my mentor Nancy Holder, she asked if there was anything else I wanted to discuss. I hesitated, and then in a rush, blurted, “It’s not related to Stonecoast, but about my dayjob…”
She listened, and gave me advice, and then said, “You know, you shouldn’t divide things up in your head like this—Stonecoast and Not Stonecoast. All of these things are part of who you are as an artist.”
She’s right, of course. In some ways, it’s obvious, as when my beloved buildings and creek bleed into my novels and short stories. But it goes the other way, too. I’m lucky enough to do some creative work for the dayjob. Of course, of course everything I’m learning from Stonecoast and from my own muddling shows up there as well.
That being said, there is still a stubborn part of me that clings to some writing as “mine.” Looking closer, though, that doesn’t hold. Heartstealer was mine, and then it was for Stonecoast, and now it’s mine again. My short stories were once for Stonecoast, and I’ve got an eye on them for my thesis, but now they’re mine. My colleague Katherine is experiencing something similar with her podcast. There seems to be a constant dialogue between my MFA programme and me. I think that’s the way it should be. I’ve always liked collaboration, intermedia writing, and cross-genre work—so why should this be any different?
Maybe this holistic approach to the creative life is why it doesn’t feel like as much stuff as it is. Sure, I distinguish between projects (three big ones right now, two potentials on the horizon), but the lines between the spheres of my life apparently got blurred without my noticing terribly much.
That doesn’t sound unappealing, though. For me, the best thing about writing across genres and disciplines is that you can foster connections and inspirations you wouldn’t normally get.
The vertigo is better now.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Apropos of historical things, I’ve been listening to The Ashokan Farewell by Jay Ungar. This piece was written in the 1980s, but most people think it’s from the nineteenth century because it was the theme of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. It’s a heartrending, exquisitely beautiful piece, with the violin entering into dialogue with the other strings.
It makes me want to write.
I seem to recall saying that 2013 was a lost year, and 2014 would be a year to build. By and large, that’s pretty much what happened. I started my MFA. I learned an immense amount through a writer’s internship. I wrote lots—no novels, but more short stories and scripts than I’ve ever done before.
One of those short stories was my goodbye to my friend and colleague P.G. Holyfield. It still doesn’t seem entirely real—dude, I just saw him at Balticon. In fact, I was recently collating lists of voice actors and podcasters I know, and I got halfway through typing his name before realizing what I was doing. So I was very grateful to editors Tee Morris and Val Griswold-Ford for giving me the chance to have one last Tuaca with him. Just a reminder: all funds from the anthology go towards P.G.’s kids. If you haven’t already done so, please consider starting 2015 with fiction honouring our friend.
This is usually the part of the blog post where I’d talk about upcoming projects in 2015.
Um. See, well, I can’t actually really talk about most of 2015 yet.
Let’s go through the year. In a week, I’m jetting off to Maine for my third Stonecoast residency. As a third semester student, I’m expected to complete a major project over the course of the semester. I’m doing something vague and boring. A paper. Yeah.
However, my colleague, Katherine Sinclair, a bright young thing who may as well be my alter ego, is putting together a serialized podcast/transmedia project. She’s very excited. Not only is Katherine looking forward to podcasting again regularly, but she’s planning on using blogging and Facebook as part of the project. Katherine is also looking for voice talent: interested parties may enquire at email@example.com.
She’s pretty cool, you guys.
After returning from Stonecoast, I fight off polar bears here in the Great White North for a few weeks, and then I’m fleeing south again, this time to Virginia to spend some time with Pip, Tee, Boom, and kittehs. That trip is getting piggybacked onto a writer’s retreat. I’ve never been on one, but the idea of spending a week with friends and colleagues, working very intensively, is thrilling.
I’m devoting that week to a project that I’ve been noodling around for a while. It’s different. That’s all I can say right now.
Then I come home again. And then, a few weeks after that—
Well, I’m publishing the Dark Victorian Fantasy.
Heartstealer, as it’s actually called, drops on March 12th. I have a gorgeous ebook and print layout courtesy of Imagine That! studios, and a cover from Starla Hutchton that makes me swoon every time I see it. I’m sitting on details for a bit longer, but that’s coming. Because of course I would release a novel whilst in the middle of my third semester project and getting ready for my dayjob…
So those are three big things right in the beginning of the year. The second half of 2015 is my thesis semester. This time next year, I’ll be getting ready to graduate.
So there’s all that to look forward to. 2014 was indeed a year of building, laying foundations, and preparing. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings.
All right, all right, here is another new thing I would like to do. See, whenever people talk about popular music, I feel completely lost, because my tastes are…eccentric. I love music, I’m realizing more and more just how much I need it. So I want to try and explain what I love, since I can’t usually join in on conversations.
What I’m Listening to this Week
What I’ve been listening to for the last month. Bogoroditse Devo is a stunning piece by Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). This is a Russian setting of the Ave Maria. The beauty of this piece is all in the dynamics. We start super soft and gentle, the runs of notes falling over each other like streams. About a minute in, the altos start driving, the tenors and sopranos fading in and out…except when they’re in, they’re getting louder, almost imperceptibly, until….
OMG fortissimo out of nowhere, on everyone, and the basses come back and the tenors and sopranos are blasting away on a high G (which is really fun, FYI), and the heart just soars with them…
And then we come back down.
Gentle, soft, so very delicate..
It makes my heart catch, every time.