On Seasonal Angst & Being Content

I don’t know what it is about summer, but it always seems to bring out my angsty/philosophical side in a major way. Or put more basically, I over-think things even more than I normally do. It’s irritating, and frustrating, and I generally end up annoyed with myself and my life for a good majority of what, for most people, are the best months of the year. I know. It’s messed up.

What can I say? I’m a fall/winter girl.

In any case, I’ve been over-thinking, over-analyzing and generally driving myself *insane* for the past few weeks, and it needs to stop (it’s starting to spill out of my head and affect other people, which really isn’t acceptable). I have nothing to be unhappy or discontented about, and in a seriously screwy plot twist, most of my angst comes from having too many “good options” on all fronts – so many that I’m frustrated that I can’t take advantage of them all no matter how I try to work it.

My mom always pounded it into our heads that we could have/do/be anything we wanted to – no limits. It’s a great sentiment that builds confidence and optimism for kids, but ultimately, she was wrong, damn it. There’s a yin-yang balance to life that automatically kicks in whether we want it to or not – and part of that is, whenever we get something, we give something up, and vice versa. I spend way too much mental energy on the things I can’t have due to choices I’ve already made. And my practical/logical side wars with my creative/emotional side far too often for my own comfort (hint: it’s easier – and probably better for the long run – when I let Logic call the shots. Just not as exciting).

Ironically enough, a lot of times when we’re able (or we decide, rather) to be content with what we have, things click into place that allow us to have more than we thought we could. It’s all about state of mind in so many cases – and mine has been spectacularly bad lately. Mea culpa! An unfortunate side-effect of my control-freak nature colliding with my constant desire for variety in all areas of life.

For me, part of my problem is hormones (say/think what you like – but in my opinion/experience they affect more aspects of our lives than we generally want to admit – for both women and men), and the other part is a choice of focus…that is, focusing on the wrong things. I’m getting better at managing the hormonal element through exercise & diet, and the choice of focus…well, that kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it?

To that end, my mission this week is to focus on being content with what I have, and to not be so fatalistic about the things that seem out of reach. One never knows what will happen in the future, but being content with how things are now ensures that I’ll be in the right frame of mind to take advantage of opportunities later.

Life is strange and constantly changing. Trite as the saying is, attitude really is everything.

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On Brain Drain, Craft vs. Art, & Mountains

If you saw the post-that-was-not-a-post I put up yesterday, then you know that while I was off work for the holiday, I was finishing up one of the three outstanding drafts I want to get done before NaNoWriMo starts on November first (now two, thankyouverymuch). I was especially motivated to get this particular draft done for my horror/suspense alter-ego because it’s scheduled for release on Halloween, and with time for editing and formatting, etc, I’m cutting it pretty close. I was supposed to have it done last weekend, but decided to add another plot twist to the end that required extra words/writing time. And then even this weekend as I was writing, I twisted it yet again. Such is the way a pantser works – my plotting often happens right in the middle of scenes, which is a fun way to work, but not necessarily the most efficient.

It’s hard to describe what my brain feels like for the rest of the day when I finish a draft. It’s difficult to really do much thinking about anything, because there’s this…void in my head that makes me feel like every thought is sucked into a black hole as soon as it’s formed, and I can’t quite hang onto it long enough to actually process or dwell on it. Just writing this post is an exercise in extreme determination. I tried several times earlier tonight (it’s around 12:30am on Tues as I’m writing this), but my mind just couldn’t handle the focus required (and it’s still fighting me – crazy).

Once I sleep, I’ll be fine. It’s like my brain just needs a hard reset before it can fully recover from that intense “zone” I get into when I’m nearly at the end of a draft. I feel fortunate that I’m only down for the rest of the day, and not weeks like some writers are.

In any case, as I was finishing that draft this weekend (and surfing social media on breaks), I came to some realizations about the craft of writing vs. the art of stories, and which might be the weaker link(s) for me and how to fix it/them. My brain being the swiss cheese that it is, I’m not coherent enough to discuss it now, but I think there’s probably enough material there for a weekly discussion feature, either here, or over at The Drafting Desk. Your thoughts? Any opinions?

Finally, as I was writing I was thinking about some different discussion topics for Alex’s blog about certain parts of the story – like setting. And thinking about the setting for that story got me thinking about my settings for other stories, which made me realize that I haven’t been up in the mountains for awhile. Like, years. I was born here in Montana, and escaping the heat of the city by heading up into the mountains was just what we did in the summer. Aside from church camp up on the Boulder River every summer when I was a kid, my parents used to take us hiking and backpacking for family vacations. I remember one backpacking trip particularly well – I couldn’t tell  you where we were, but I can still see the multi-colored shale cliffs towering over an impossibly blue river and a dead elk on the trail with bear tracks nearby. I even had my own backpack that trip – not just a knapsack like you toss over one shoulder in college, but a big, bonafide, steel-framed pack I was pretty proud of that year. No, I don’t remember the year, or how old I was at the time. I’ve never been good at keeping memories on a timeline.

And then came adulthood and responsibilities and laptops and yes, laziness.

Long story short (because I need to sleep), I realized that I miss the mountains. I miss hiking on rough trails, hearing the wind in the trees, and the insects buzzing. The sound of a natural waterfall and the river it flows into.  But apparently I’ve become a city-slicker…it’s been years since I’ve been anywhere even remotely wild.

I think next summer I’ll have to fix that. I’m more than happy to skip tent camping, as sleeping on the ground has never been something I liked even as a child, but there are gorgeous mountains just 20-30 minutes from where I live, and plenty of good hiking trails. I should probably warn my husband, so we can both start getting in shape now…but next summer, there will be hiking.

Sometimes, a girl’s just gotta reconnect with her roots. Doesn’t hurt a writer to get a refresher course on how things look and smell and feel and taste either.

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Monday Musings: On Want, Regret, & Recovery…

As I mentioned on FB last week, I’ve had a good pout going on recently. Why? The same reason anyone pouts, really.

I want something I can’t have.

Yes, I know “can’t” is a relative term, but quibbling the semantics would take awhile and far more details than I have any intention of giving out, so just assume I’ve done all the math and angsting over real & opportunity cost and the things I control vs. what I don’t (you know me…I over-analyze everything), and know that “can’t” is reasonably accurate in this instance.

Pouting, of course, isn’t terribly conducive to actually getting things that need to be done, done. And while I think sometimes we need to just acknowledge the fact that we’re sad/annoyed/upset by something, keeping that mindset for any length of time tends to spill over to those around us – and not in a good way. We act differently. Treat people differently. Jeopardize good relationships. It’s a very destructive place to be, mentally speaking.

Naturally, there are lots of things I can’t have, so it’s not like I get everything I want all the time. Most of those things, I just let go, without issue. The things I pout about though – those are the things that I really feel like I might regret either doing or not doing, whichever suits. In my case, I tend to regret “not doing/getting” more often, simply because I’m really not much of a risk taker, so I tend to err on the side of caution more often than not. For all that caution though, I don’t really have many actual regrets. I tend to look back on my actions and know that at that exact point in my life, with the knowledge that I had, the choice I made was the right one for where I ended up. But I can never see that when I’m trying desperately to find any which way I can to make something that just won’t work…work. Reality TV has nothing on the drama that sometimes goes on in my head.

It gets a little chaotic. And stupid, to put it bluntly.

So how do I escape such destructive mental acrobatics? The first thing I do is admit that the desire for whatever it is I want isn’t going to just go away. It’s there, it’s real, and I need to learn to live with it (or duck tape it and lock it in a dusty back room, in any case). It’s sort of giving in, but it frees up that energy I’ve been spending fighting it for other things, like the next step, which is keeping mentally busy.

The more I want something I can’t have, the more I obsess over it (which is just not healthy no matter how you spin it). So the second thing I do is bury myself in projects at work, and more projects at home (organizing, writing, cleaning, crochet, etc), to the point where it crowds out everything else. It’s less about running from whatever’s bugging me and more about letting my subconscious figure out how to deal with it while I get on with my life. It’s not like the subject doesn’t still pop up in the brain all too often, it’s just more manageable when my head is full of other things, because I’m not obsessing (over that, anyways). Eventually things quiet down again (as much as they ever do, anyways), and I’m able to manage the “want” far better once I’ve throttled it’s presence in my head. Much like any problem, I guess – stop thinking so hard about it, and the answer will generally present itself.

I also find it’s important to get more physical exercise. Exercise raises endorphin levels in the brain among other things, and while the advice to exercise more is trite, it’s also true. A friend of mine is “nagging” me by request for a week with daily emails to ask if I’ve worked out yet. I have to do at least some sort of workout every single day now. And it’s definitely helping – my mind is clearer, my focus better, and my attitude is a lot more positive as well.

Last but certainly not least is to focus on what I do have, and what I’m already happy with. Maybe I can’t have everything I want, but I can have a smaller part, and there’s no reason not to focus on/enjoy that, rather than focusing on wanting more. I have a very bad habit of getting caught up in the “all or nothing” mentality, and so often in life, that’s just an unnecessary restriction. It’s actually the root cause of a lot of unease…if I can let go of that and just live in the moment, I can avoid a lot of angst.

Easier said than done, of course, but still true.

Needless to say, my head is in a much better place than it was just a few days ago, thank goodness. I’m optimistic for the week…

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