With a Little Help from my Friends (It’s Getting Better)

I was really surprised by the response to my last post. I really appreciated all of the responses and felt less alone in my momentary darkened slump, however, I did feel that I must have hit a nerve about the lives of writers and how we all seem prone to fits of depression. Then I read several more posts from other writers about the same topic and I thought, “what is this, some sort of dark epidemic?”

No, not really.

My fantabulous father, ever the magnanimous therapist, even in retirement, put his mind to the problem and sent me some words of wisdom that not only made a world of sense, but calmed me right down. I thought I would share them. They came from a post from Elizabeth Moon, a science fiction/fantasy writer, see full post here.

One enduring myth is that creative genius and depression go together, and thus a writer who tampers with endogenous depression is going to damage her creativity. “I don’t want to be drugged into a numb state where I can’t feel anything,” says the suffering writer.

The facts are otherwise. Yes, writers do suffer from depression at a higher rate than the rest of the population. No, it doesn’t do their writing any good. Writers suffer from depression for all the usual reasons (innate biochemical susceptibility, early life experiences, etc.) but they also live lives full of contributing factors. Isolation, introspection, lack of physical exercise, irregular hours, less than perfect diet, and lack of exposure to sunlight–all may cause a depression, or worsen one. So also do financial and professional uncertainty–the lack of control of events which writers experience in every aspect of their work. To these, some writers add alcohol or drug addiction (yup, these do contribute to depression); others are taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs which enhance any tendency to depression.

In fact, if you wanted to make a cheery person with no predisposition to depression depressed, you could stick him in front of a typewriter or computer for hours a day–feed him a typical writer’s diet–forbid him to exercise, isolate him from friends, and convince him that his personal worth depended on his “numbers.” Make him live the writer’s life, in other words, and watch him sag.

Sound familiar?

She goes on the recommend a book on cognitive therapy by David Burn called Feeling Good, which my dad said he used all the time and he highly endorses as well – can’t beat that. Since so many of you shared your feelings with me, I thought i should share this with you. Let’s all make an effort to get away from the isolation this week, maybe get out into the sunlight a bit.

For my part, I’ll  be out in the sun plenty today, slathered in SPF 1000, with a whole team of people walking for my son to raise money and

Our Team Last Year Ready to Race

awareness for autism in the 6th annual Ready, Set, Run Event – GO COMPANIONS OF TREVOR! Let me know how you plan on combating your writer’s depression.

How Bad Am I Sucking at Keeping Up with My Goals? (a #writemotivation weekly check-in)

I reached a state of immobility during this past week. I found myself frozen, unable to even begin anything, let alone make any positive progress . I sometimes have these moments of self-doubt that are overwhelming and cause a complete halt in activity. i withdrawal from everything, tuning out the phone, internet, etc., and envelope myself in a world of ice cream and self-loathing. I tend to think it’s linked to some sense of fear – fear of succeeding, perhaps.  Just when things seem to be going really well –  receiving awards, wining contests, hearing great feedback on my manuscript – then this little voice creeps in and asks, “Are you sure you’re up for this? Can you handle what comes next?”

That’s when my brain screams out, “No! My story is crap and I am a monumental fraud. Soon everyone will see it!” right before I curl up in a fetal position with my blanky and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk. It takes a great deal of effort to push past this wall of negativity, put away the frozen chocolate delights, reconnect with my confident self, and start working again.

I am recovering faster than I used to – I was mentally comatose for  just a few days this time – but still I hate that it happens at all. Gotta focus on baby steps of progress, one day at a time; that’s the only way I make it back from the edge of the depressive abyss. One thing that’s helped me move forward is getting excited about my critique group meeting this week. Maybe a dose of  “me time” with my fellow writers is the solution to my paralytic funk. And taking a shower might help, too.

So just for the hell of it, let’s review my #writemotivation goals:

1. Revise the query for my completed YA manuscript until it’s tight enough to bounce a quarter off the sucker.  A little more progress made – revised a couple more chapters. Would like to make a lot more progress this next week.

2. Research prospective agents to whom I want to submit my completed YA manuscript. Okay, I actually made some progress on this, too. I’ve added a few more potential targets to my attack list.

3. Once items one and two have been successfully achieved, submit to at least three agents at a time. Nope. No progress here. I didn’t send out anymore submissions. I did, however, check my mailbox several times a day like a crack addict waiting for my fix of rejections. So far, nada. At least I haven’t had any immediate rejections – holding on to the positive here.

4. Get cracking on the next YA manuscript I have planned so I don’t check my inbox every thirty minutes awaiting responses to my submissions. While I have done some mental writing and introspective reflecting on this project, little actual word count has surfaced.

Some minute progress made! Who knew? My suckage level isn’t as high as I thought; I feel better already. Here’s counting on a much more productive week coming up. How is everyone else doing?

Lipstick Isn’t Love – Teaching Our Daughters to Love Themselves

Am I kissable?

The recent uproar surrounding Ashley Judd and the ugly media speculation on her changing appearance and her thoughtful response really got me thinking about a conversation I had with a close relative (who wishes to remain anonymous). It started something like this:

“I need this new lip gloss.”

“What? Why? You have tons of makeup.”

“It will give me more confidence.”

“What!?!”

“That’s what it says.”

“You’re joking.”

She was not joking.

That was the beginning of the most disturbing conversation I’ve ever had with her. Voices were raised. Tears were shed. It was very uncomfortable for both of us. When we finally got down to the heart of  the matter, she revealed that she thought of herself as some disfigured troll that couldn’t go out among normal, flawless humans without a coat of protective camouflage hiding all of her most hideous deformities, and that she actually needed this new lip gloss to feel better about herself.  The Kissaholic Lip Gloss from Victoria’s Secret did not promise to boost one’s confidence as it turns out; it only promised to “increase lip volume for a fuller, sexier, more kissable pout”, apparently something my young anonymous female relative, who has very full lips to begin with, was in desperate need of acquiring. The advertising went on to say that it was “infused with an exotic blend of aphrodisiac ingredients designed to inspire desire.” How embarrassing to have to explain to me that she wanted, needed to feel desired by someone. And how embarrassing for me to have to explain that she had been duped by a marketing campaign aimed at her vulnerable heart.

I was in shock. Did she really think that beauty was all she had to offer anyone? Had I myself influenced this young woman in any way to be so dependent on her looks for her self-esteem?

I hoped not. I knew better. I had taken some enlightening college courses in the past and I was amazed at what I learned from a paper I read on toy advertising; how we as women are subjected to not only societal expectations, but blatant marketing strategies encouraging us even as young girls in toy commercials to find satisfaction and pride in our physical appearance and care-taking skills, unlike boys who are encouraged to take pride in skills like problem-solving and risk-taking.  One of my favorite passages came from another paper I read entitled Analysis of Gender Identity Through Doll & Action Figure Politics in Art Education by Anna Wagner-Ott, an associate professor at California State University at Sacramento:

“It is from popular culture that most people weave their identities and establish their relationships with others and the environment. Mass media images saturate our lives, structuring much of what we know beyond personal experience.” (Duncum, 1997, p.70)

She wanted her paper to help other art educators to “gain insight into how cultural forms, marketing, and aesthetic productions are generating gender identities” and to help them emancipate their students from these contemporary forms of domination. Heavy stuff.

After studying these subjects, I wanted to make sure my own daughter knew that she was more than just a pretty face. I made sure I told her often that she was smart, compassionate, a talented artist, and a tough soccer player among many other things. I couldn’t help it that she heard from other people that she was also beautiful.

Then puberty hit and that struggle to find her unique identity within the crowd and “Mom you couldn’t possibly understand what I’m going through” period came along with it.  Although I do know exactly what she’s going through, there is no way she’ll believe it and there’s no way I can make it any easier for her. My compliments hailing her many fine attributes now fall on deaf ears. She’ll have to survive her own battle of self-esteem.

So how do you fight against that overwhelming tide of societal norms and let your children know it’s okay to be exactly who they are and that they are more than a beautiful face? As with Ashley Judd’s comments, I am reminded just how much other young girls – other women – help perpetuate the obsession with YOUTH and BEAUTY and devalue those who stray from this path.  How quick are we to say something snarky about someone else gaining weight or a cosmetic surgery job gone wrong? How many women hold real positions of power? What do we say about them? Do we value each other as women for traits NOT tied to appearance? Do we cheer other women on for their accomplishments or tear them down? If we want our daughters to be valued and teach them to find value in themselves, we need to lead the way. Do you agree? How do you teach your daughter to love herself for all that she is?

I leave you with a fantastic performance by slam poet Katie Makkai that I am stealing from another awesome blog. (thank you, Cassie.)

Barbies on Fire

I was once like many young girls who worshipped at the alter of Barbie. I coveted the Malibu Dream House; I longed for the Pepto pink convertible to drive around my less attractive friends. I wanted to accessorize my troubles away. And then one day something in me just stopped believing the hype that my self-worth was tied into my appearance and I couldn’t be one of those girls anymore. I don’t know why it happened, but the glitz of Barbie’s world lost its charm; all that sparkly sequins seemed tacky and life started being about swimming against the current…and it has been ever since.

I blame my father.

He always treated me like I had a brain that was useful for more than organizing sock drawers. We would have long talks about everything where my very inexperienced opinion was just as important as anyone’s. He also made me do everything that my brothers had to do; mow the lawn, cut and stack firewood, and wash the dishes. There were no gender-specific chores at our house.

And reading was encouraged.

My dad was and still is a voracious reader. Not surprisingly, I became an unstoppable reader myself. One of my fondest memories as a child was the night my dad started reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to me. I was so captivated. Not only did I have my dad all to myself, but we were sharing this amazing adventure in Narnia together. If only I’d been patient enough to wait for him to read the rest of the story to me. When he couldn’t read to me the next night, I took off on my own and never looked back until I had devoured the entire series. I re-read those books more than any other throughout my childhood. I even saved up my own lawn-mowing money to buy A Companion to Narnia by Paul Ford printed in 1980 that I still have to this day.

I’m pretty sure that’s when the writing bug sunk its teeth deep into my skin and made itself at home in my soul.

Fast-forward thirty or so years later and it hasn’t let go. Now I’m deep in the process of writing my second book and enjoying (almost) every facet of it. This one may actually be worthy of publishing. We shall see. I’ve learned a few things along my continuing journey to be a children’s writer, mostly from making a slew of mistakes – but isn’t that the most memorable way to do it? This blog is my latest leap into the unknown, trying to push myself further and keep on swimming upstream. I hope you’ll join me.