Wednesday, October 3, 2012

twenty-six (or, space-weasels, aloe, and the deeply confusing blackberry patch of the mind)


Things are a little nuts here in real actual Hilary-land, because Techie Boyfriend and I have just decided to go to Morocco for the winter and possibly forever. Naturally, we have allotted ourselves approximately four and a half minutes in which to move out of our mountain cabin, renew our passports, and find a new home for our long-suffering Norfolk pine, because lots of panicked last-minute scrambling is just how we roll. If you live in Northern California and would like a Norfolk pine, as well as an aloe plant and several rain sticks (don’t ask) please get in touch.

This last year has been an interesting one, if by interesting you mean challenging, and if by challenging you mean “characterized by a constant parade of self-imposed crises.” I’ve never been an agonizer. I chose my university based on a glance at a pretty photograph. I moved in with Techie Boyfriend a few days after meeting him on a hitchhiking trip to San Francisco. I started writing the INTERN blog fifteen minutes after hatching the idea for it. I can’t even remember how I started writing WILD AWAKE—it just sort of happened. I was never conscious of Making Decisions—I always just did things and they always seemed to work out.

But this year…this year’s been different. This year, it feels like there’s nothing I haven’t agonized over. Where to live. How to write a second novel that will please everyone in the universe, including Martians and Venusians and moon-people and space-weasels. Whether Techie Boyfriend and I should work for the moneys so we can eventually buy a piece of land, or if we should spend these years frolicing and being poor and freaking out because we never know where to live and our van is leaking in six places.

I realized I am angry at myself almost all the time. I am so inefficient! I waste so much time! Every day that goes by is another day in which I have not written the manuscript to end all manuscripts, have not figured out whether forty acres on a steep and flammable hillside is really a good idea, have not hatched an ingenius business scheme that will allow Techie Boyfriend to play his tanpura all day and never program again. Some days I feel like I’ve killed my own spirit, murdered whatever it was that let me write and hitchhike and fall in love. I used to be blithely unaware that there were such things as “wrong decisions,” but this year I’ve seen them for the first time, pressing around me like ghosts. I have become anxious, and angry at myself for being anxious. It’s a poisonous loop. Bad trip-esque: What if I’m stuck this way forever?!

But what I’m starting to think, trusted reader, is that this loop has nothing to do with forever and everything to do with being twenty-six and encountering new pressures—real, imaginary and straight-up hallucinated—for the first time. It has been scary. And, far from charging triumphantly into my new identities as Author and Adult and Person Who Should Really Know Where to Live, I’ve spent most of the year bushwhacking around this deeply confusing blackberry patch of false starts and second guesses. My internal compass is way fucked up, and I’m only starting to repair it. There are so many these things I’ve gotten backwards and upside down, and my brain sort of feels like the scene of a crime or a violent party I can hardly remember attending but must now clean up as gently as possible.

Things change when you get a book deal. Things change when you start weighing a million possible combinations of work and freedom and money and no-money and present versus future time. Things change when you’re twenty-six and have somehow fallen into the illusion (silly you!) that you not only can make the “right” decisions, but must.

**

I clicked “new post” with the intention of writing a fun personal update about Morocco and announcing the cover reveal for WILD AWAKE, which is happening on Monday, and in celebration of which I will be giving away query critiques and hand-written postcards from Fez and possibly a few rain sticks and one aloe plant, slightly damaged. But now that I’ve written this post, I think I really will be ready to celebrate in a way I wouldn’t have been before.

In the meantime, I would like to know: how have you gotten out of your own loops, writing-related and otherwise? What’s the one thing that kills your creativity, and what brings it back to life? Is there any way to avoid falling into these bad trips, or are they a fact of life? Links on this subject appreciated!

20 comments:

  1. Hilary - decisions are horrible things. But love & writing will see you through any mis-steps (and sometimes mis-steps are inevitable! And totally not productive or spiritually strengthening). I've been trying to learn these things over the past 3 years. Love & writing. Taking big, slow breaths.

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    1. thanks, helen! thanks especially for saying that mis-steps are sometimes NOT productive or helpful. I once had a great conversation with a friend where we decided that every day DOESN'T count. it felt good to reject the self-helpy narrative of living every day to the fullest, and being okay with some days being shitty instead of trying to convince yourself otherwise...

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  2. When I'm too scared to physically face the computer, I buy an absurdly large pile of chocolate and keep myself physically present that way - plus I'm convinced the sugar high helps stave off the insecurity gnomes for long enough to get started.

    Louise Curtis

    Incidentally, I'm 30 and I feel like my life has just all fallen into place. My twenties were horrible and packed with emotional, mental, and existential crises. Luckily, all my friends went through the same thing at the same time.

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    1. Actually, I had the same experience with my 30s. Suddenly everything didn't seem so personal. I was much more confident all of a sudden.

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  3. My only method is BIC + allowing self to do a less than great job. This will get the wheels turning, and as you know, you never know.

    Best to you on all fronts. Waiting for the cover---

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    1. "allowing self to do a less than great job" = important, especially when it comes to first drafts...silencing the Critic, and all that. what is BIC?

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    2. I would agree with Mirka on this. BIC = Bum In Chair. The only way I can create is to stick myself in front of the computer for a set amount of time and tell myself to create something. The stories have usually been writing themselves in my head in the confused and bitty way they have, so the BIC bit is just the discipline of extracting them from my head and putting them on my hard drive. The really hard work is the editing, of course, but you can't edit what you haven't written.

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  4. You, miss, are in my head WAY too often. Out. Of. There!

    :-)

    Actually, it's bad news for you, in a way, because it proves that the same analysis paralysis is possible at 40 as it is at 26. I'm just as hard on myself (and my work, or lack of it) for all those same reasons. Time slips away and I feel I have nothing to show for most days.

    Except... the dinner I just made everyone and that loaf of bread cooling on the counter and driving kids to two different schools, and making sure I make eye contact with my husband often enough that he still remembers my name.

    I'll hang in there if you will too!

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    1. awesome to hear from you, sarah! you know, I'd never heard the expression "analysis paralysis" until this year...but if I could disconnect those neurons, I would.

      PS Am loving Blurb is a Verb!

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    2. When I was 22 I bought a tee shirt on a street corner in NYC that said "Free Floating Anxiety." There was some cheeky graphic of little anxieties floating around on hang-gliders, or similar. I forget what they looked like. I only remember that I bought it because it seemed like they made it just for me.

      I'm glad you're enjoying Blurb is a Verb!

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  5. That's a tough question! When I'm dwelling on things too much, I remind myself that the mind automatically goes back to the thoughts it's been trained to focus on the most, so I try to give myself better thoughts to dwell on, in the hopes that I will default to those. I see it this way: Our bad experiences and mistakes serve to teach us, but after a while if we're still dwelling on them, and we've gleaned all we can from them, we have to force ourselves to move on. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it just feels like denial. It took years to get to this point, though, and I'm not as good at it as I'd like.

    When it comes to writing-related angsting, though, that's harder, since writing means dealing with rejections and critiques. Even the nicest of critiques, if they're effective, will catch something, which can sting at least a little, leading to self-doubt. The only things I've found that really help are working on something new, re-reading something I've written and am proud of, or connecting with my writing friends.

    Good luck! Sounds like you're going through a time of huge transitions, which can be difficult, but I'm sure it will be worth it and someday you won't be able to picture your life any other way.

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  6. I think that the fact that you've already got a book deal shows that you've accomplished a lot by the age of 26. I'm 31 and I'm still trying to figure out how to live my life, so don't worry too much if you're still figuring everything out too. It's an ongoing process. And I think it's great that you're traveling. That's something that I wish I'd done in my twenties. I spent almost all my time working at my various jobs instead, and I wish I had taken more time to see the world.

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  7. ::hugs:: I know the feeling all too well! For me, the secret to getting out of it is throwing myself into the work I love doing, which fortunately for me is also what I get paid to do. If that alone seems hollow (which it sometimes does), I try to remember to be good to myself and allow myself a bit of time off for introspection. I let myself read good books and talk to people I admire, and I ask myself what I really want my purpose to be and how I want to affect the world around me. And then I try to take steps to have that effect, every day, in at least one small way.

    It doesn't make the decisions any easier. The fact that I love what I do doesn't negate my worry that if I did something else I've always wanted to try, I'd love it just as much or more. If you ever find a way to silence the stabbing regret at walking through one door while knowing that leaves three or four others unexplored, do let me know. But finding a purpose in the greater scramble does help me steel my resolve and settle on a door.

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  8. I realize there are good and bad decisions, but I don't believe there are WRONG ones. You make your decisions and learn from them, either way, right? My policy is, if I learned something, it was worth it.

    And, if I met up with my 26-yr-old self, I'd tell her to stop being so cautious and stop worrying about what's expected of her or what will earn the most money, etc. I'd tell her to go to Morocco! (or Paris or Prague or Rome or wherever). Trust me, being an Adult and a Person Who Should Know Where to Live is not all it's cracked up to be.

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  9. "But what I’m starting to think, trusted reader, is that this loop has nothing to do with forever and everything to do with being twenty-six and encountering new pressures—real, imaginary and straight-up hallucinated—for the first time."

    The thing is, though, that this loop has more to do with the kind of person you are and the kind of person you want to be than it does with age. You sound like you're aware of yourself enough to (a) recognize the pattern of the loop and (b) that you don't want to be the kind of person who spends her life stuck in that loop. This is a very good, healthy, and wise thing.

    LIfe sometimes hands you Moroccos. I think each Morocco deserves serious consideration -- Adventure (yes, with a capital A) should be a wonderful thing that is embraced whenever possible.

    Besides, you can write pretty much anywhere. Right? : )


    -- Tom

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  10. Oh, and one more thing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itFXxDobKlI

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    1. HAHAHA! I had to wait until I was somewhere with fast internet to watch this. but it cheered me up. thank you :)

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  11. Unfortunately I have no real advice for you, just a big fat "DITTO." But maybe that's because I'm also 26 (for a little while longer, anyway) and we'll both get the answers in time? For now I'm resigning myself to the "loops," or the "ping pong nature" of my mental/emotional state, as I like to think of it. (From high to low and back again, endlessly.)

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    1. Hm, wait, that sounds way more pessimistic than I intended. Because I don't think these loops/ping pong games are the worst thing in the world. They're only hard to weather because at the low point, we worry we'll never come up again. But that's why I resigned myself to them: so that I could learn to accept that I WOULD come back up, in time. Patience, I think, is the key for me. Reminding myself that there is time -- time to write, time to not write, time to succeed, time to fail. And most of all, time for everything in between those seemingly-but-not-really binary states.

      Instead of grading myself and my days, I just need to live them.

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  12. Relax. Mistakes are both inevitable and universal. Your next book will be better because of them, not in spite of them. Embrace the mistakes... because nothing in this world lasts forever.

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