Dearest Storytellers of the In Between & Down Below: I Am Proud of You

Head noise has exhausted me for the past six weeks or so. Incoherency and lack of direction: exhausting. I’m finally burrowing out of the funk, though, swimming to shore [insert other apt metaphors here]. My elderly dog needing extra attention, people in real life suffering loss and obstacles, realizing that I hadn’t gone to an eye doctor in four years … everything just piled up on me. Then a terrible proof of the novel I tried to make available for print was the final straw that pushed me down for good. Because I am, apparently, fragile and ridiculous. Trust me when I say that it’s been very necessary to embrace the knowledge of my fragility and stop trying to deny the fact, stop trying to pretend that I’m tough and resilient and badass. Facing facts is exactly what gave me the strength to burrow out and look up at daylight again.

Right now, I’m trying to explain to myself that this will all happen again. Inevitably. And I have to remember. Head noise is a sure sign that depression is about to suck the bottom out of my little paper lifeboat. All the noise eventually becomes incoherent. And I forget how to want to do basic stuff, like use shampoo and sweep the kitchen and plan out an eight-hour workday. Forget dealing with other peoples’ mood swings or offering any consolation to dear ones having a tough time. I just can’t do those things well. My days began to revolve around my little elderly dog–helping him to remember where his water bowl is, helping him get up and walk, or sometimes just holding him in my lap until he fell asleep. I finally realized I was in trouble when the highlight of my day became the hours–HOURS–I was spending on a phone app game. Finally, my brain cleared enough to say: Stop.

Inside this past six weeks a lot has happened: family tragedies, world tragedies, national tragedies, elections, medical miracles, family gatherings, tiffs and breakups and reconciliations. My little dog has his good days and bad. But he keeps on trying. He wants to be outside in the sun whenever possible. Even in his days of dim memory and confusion, he wants to eat at precisely 6 am and 6 pm. I will give him what he wants.

Thursday morning, I started trying again. The 2nd Edition of Ramshackle Houses & Southern Parables is now available in print–my author copies will arrive December 8–gifts for family and friends. Creating a 2nd edition became necessary in order to include an essay about my favorite uncle and include some dedications as I should have done in the first place. Prior to deciding to do the 2nd edition, I had already begun the frustrating task of learning to format, so it was a no-brainer to apply what I’d learned thus far. I’m fairly pleased with the results. And the practice. At some point during the foggy funk of the past six weeks, confirmation of the copyright for Out Here On Your Own arrived–shockingly, that didn’t cheer me up much. It’s still sitting on the dining room table. But Thursday morning, I finally got over myself.

I took notes on that terrible proof and finally gathered the gumption to correct as much as I could and sent off for another. Proof #2 should arrive in a week. Out Here On Your Own will be in print before Christmas. I originally wanted all four of my books printed by year’s end, to be able to hold them all in my hands and stack them on shelves in my personal library, gift copies of each to my closest family and friends. But that funk, round four for the year, delayed progress.

I’ve had these extreme mood crashes before. Countless since my thirties. And every time I would fight, gnash my teeth, pump my fists and scream NEVER AGAIN. I am tough, I am resilient, I am badass! Well, with age finally comes wisdom. I am fragile and ridiculous. The funk will kick my butt again. Eventually. In between now and the next round I’ve got to learn how to take care of myself and my time. I’ve got to learn how to rest, and savor, relax into the fact that I’m not tough at all. I don’t have to be. What I have to be is smart, limber, and savvy. Not forgetful. I think the worst result of those bouts of funk is the time waste. Sure, the unnamable, unmappable pain, sadness, irritability, lethargy, and absence of inspiration are all terrible, but the worst of it is definitely the realization of time just … gone. Irretrievable.

A week or so into that last bout of yuck, I was working on a story–I wasn’t sure if it would be a novel or end as a short story, and just couldn’t put together the bandwidth to decide, so I posted a couple of chapters for people to read in the hopes that I would be able to decide. Well, I still don’t know. Despite all the friendly reader comments here and in person, I ‘ll have to put Family Dinner aside for a while. Maybe the New Year will bring new inspiration and understanding. Most of all, I hope I buckle down into old writing/editing work ethic and luck in the New Year. I want cover art for my first novel and my second poetry collection, and I want to be able to look at the last page of my third novel with the confidence that I looked at Out Here On Your Own and say out loud: Now that’s a novel!!

I want a lot, right? Yeah. And as I wrote in my Acknowledgments page for Out Here On Your Own, I’ve decided to keep on wanting. The act of wanting isn’t what causes those mood crashes and bouts of yuck. I think I’ve discovered that part of the cause … maybe … is feeling guilty for wanting so much. Feeling inadequately prepared for stepping out to grab at so much. Stupid little feelings with unknown origins that set me up for failure and disappointment. Those stupid little feelings will likely plague me again and again, so I’m going to have to remember to stay smart, limber, and savvy. I can’t whip those bitches, but maybe I can outmaneuver them.

Maybe.

In the meantime, and hopefully despite any mood swings or day job stress or whatever is happening in the world, I will continue to take care of Oliver. This Christmas he will be sixteen. He has been my best friend, my road trip buddy, my truest companion. I would totally shove you in front of a zombie to protect my boy. So don’t ever question that. He is frail now. With long weary days on weak legs, fighting off lack of memory and security, but even in those bad days, sometimes he looks up at me and remembers that I am his friend. His truest companion. Mama with the bacon. There’s going to be days ahead that Oliver is my only priority.

I’m okay with that.

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