I finished writing the beginning of Chapter Eighteen, which begins the bridge between midpoint and climax of the book. This is always the hardest part of a story for me to write. Using handwritten notecards helped me organize it enough to get it done. Looking back, I feel like it shouldn’t have taken me so long to write so little (currently 1,138 words), but then I must remember depression and then it makes sense even though it’s still disappointing.
Last week I waited on hold with a suicide prevention chat line for twenty minutes before I gave up and logged out. I wanted to talk to someone, and I know talking about suicide makes the few friends I discuss it with sad and sometimes tearful, so I wanted to spare them.
I tried to be kind to myself over the weekend. I hung three paintings in my office. I drove to get the vegan corn dogs I’ve been craving. I drove on side streets aimlessly and skipped to songs I could sing to. I drank hot chocolate.
I had a list of things I wanted to talk to my psychologist about today, but she called out sick, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.
I’m glad I finished the beginning of that bridge. Going on from there should all come easier unless, of course, the depression…
What can I say? I didn’t recover like I hoped. If I was coming out of my depression, I never fully got there. I’m not at my worst, but
I’m still depressed, and I keep thinking suicide…When you’re done with this book, it’ll be okay to let go. My shrinks know that’s what I’m feeling and we’re working on it, hoping to find something to occupy me after I’m done.
I’m moving forward in the book, but at a snail’s pace. I reverted to handwriting on notecards to try to map out Chapter Eighteen. It feels different, not staring at a computer. I don’t know why this chapter is so difficult and I have no idea when I’ll finish it. My daily post-it note goals are far from ambitious; if they were, I know I’d be setting myself up for certain failure; I’m failing more often than not as it is.
Yesterday, I told my psychologist that sometimes thinking of suicide feels like a relief. Sometimes I even feel excited about it. She asked me what I’d be relieving myself from. I said, “Depression and loneliness.” I think it made sense to her. She nodded. I’m going to be installing an app she recommended that will help me remember our plan if I ever get close—who to contact and such. It’s in my to-do list to install today.
I don’t know if anyone reads these things. If anyone does, posts like these are not cries for help. I have therapists who are very good to me, and I have a small but strong network of friends I can reach out to. I guess I’m just writing things down for those who are wondering when the hell the book will be finished and what led up to my own ending if indeed, I end up having one.
It’s been seventy-eight days since my last author blog post, and I don’t know how to begin. My thoughts are scattered, so please bear with me.
I haven’t had a significant daily word count since May 2. Since then, I’ve posted here about the depression I’ve fallen into, my struggles to pull myself out of it, no longer loving my book, and feeling disconnected with Orly. Most days since May 2, I haven’t even attempted to write. On July 3, I printed the seventeen chapters I had and decided to reread them on paper, hoping it would help me see my story in a new light and hopefully reengage with it. I didn’t make it through the rereading until yesterday, September 5.
But something did happen on August 29. That morning I could only get myself to read the first page of Chapter Sixteen, but I noticed I finally felt differently about it. It wasn’t a feeling of inspiration or reconnection as I hoped it would be—it was a feeling of distance. I was no longer hurting from it, and that felt familiar. It was as I had felt while writing Scribbling the Eternal.
For months I’ve been saying that I feel disconnected from Orly and feel lost because of it. And now I’m saying I feel a certain distance from her story and thereby feel closer to normal. It hasn’t been easy to reconcile how both could be true. But I know I’ve been hurting a lot while writing Scribbles of the Empress. I’ve felt isolated, lonely, self-destructive, and suicidal—all things that Orly is also feeling. With these shared feelings, how could we be disconnected?
There are depths of a depression so dark that you can only be there alone. Even those who can empathize, those who are also depressed, destructive, and suicidal, still have no place to be there with you. You’re so far gone that there, yours is yours alone. It was in that way I disconnected from her. In that way, I disconnected from everybody.
I am recovering from these depths. Maybe because of time. Maybe because of meds. Maybe because my shrink finally convinced me to try doing affirmations. In my resurfacing, I’m somehow establishing a division between myself and the book so that I don’t hurt so much that I can no longer write it. I love Orly, but we are not one. We cannot be so close that we destroy each other. We might destroy ourselves, but we should never destroy each other.
This is where I’m at right now. I don’t know if it will last or if I’m assessing things accurately and won’t come to different conclusions later. But I think I can move forward and write the next chapter. I will watch Orly go to Argentina, but I may not be able to go with her.
My best friend, Amirah, sent me a Facebook memory yesterday of something I had posted five years earlier. I was shocked when I read it. The post began with this sentence:
I’m trying very hard to love my book again.
I wrote that in 2016. I was talking about The Scribbled Victims. In my post on my author blog from May 13 of this year, I wrote this about Scribbles of the Empress:
True, as time passes, I tend to become less satisfied with my work, but that’s never happened with a work-in-progress; it happens months after finishing.
My memory, as it often does, failed me, and I see now, that that is not true. This experience of not loving my work-in-progress has happened before. I found proof of this while reading through posts on my personal blog from June 2016 and I found this post from June 6:
Throughout that month, I wrote about feeling depressed and demoralized with my work-in-progress. I even posted about trying to immerse myself in beauty, looking for art to inspire me, just like I’m doing right now. (I’m even going to an art fair after I post this.)
Knowing that I’ve gone through this struggle before makes me hopeful, because I certainly got through it, for I finished writing The Scribbled Victims, and am still mostly happy with it today, and it led to Orly becoming such a big part of my life. I don’t remember how I got through it. (I didn’t even remember it happening.) Maybe it just passed. But if there were things I had done to come out of it and love my work-in-progress again, I can probably find clues by reading July, August, September, and so forth in my personal blog, until the book was released in February 2017.
I feel indebted to my BFF. Not just for sharing that Facebook memory with me, but because she has been there for me throughout this difficult period and understands how much it’s been hurting me.
Here’s to hope that I will be writing again soon and loving my work again.
Saturday evening, long after I stopped rereading chapters of my new book and feeling nothing, I began to think that what I need is something to stimulate me. I thought of getting drunk even though I don’t drink (since 2003). I toyed with the idea of drugs even though I haven’t done any since right after college. I thought of cutting even though I’ve resisted since 1995. I then thought that perhaps the problem is that since the pandemic, I haven’t been able to go to theatre or ballet; both often offer moments that touch my heart.
I slept thirteen hours and when I woke at 10:30 a.m., I played Mozart’s Requiem, hoping for inspiration. Later, I drove up to Los Angeles to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to see the Yoshitomo Nara exhibit. I love his work and hoped seeing it in person would help me feel again. The exhibit was impressive as well as immense. I stared at some of the pieces for a long time, and sometimes I could feel my emotions trying to surface, but they never fully got there, even when I admired what I was looking at. I tried talking to Orly about some of the pieces, but it felt like I was trying too hard.
It was a long drive home because of the traffic and the disappointment. But it made me realize that maybe the problem isn’t the manuscript; the problem is me. I think my heart is asleep, and I won’t be able to feel what I had previously felt while rereading my chapters until it wakes up.
I put my copy of The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing on my desk to read today as it had moved me when I read it before.
This post isn’t about Mozart or Nara not providing the stimulation I’m looking for. They’re amazing. Everyone knows that. As I said, the problem is me. I’m thinking it’s going to require an immersion into piles of beautiful art to get that alarm clock to go off. Mozart, Nara, Downing…the list will have to keep building until my heart wakes up or I think of something else. Maybe I need to adjust my meds. Maybe I need to travel. Maybe I need to fall in love. Whatever it is, I just hope I begin to feel something soon. Until I do, I don’t know if there is any point in me rereading.
Maybe I should just stop looking back at what I’ve written and just start writing again from where I left off.
I don’t know. I’m lost. I’m confused.
I see my shrink in a few hours. I doubt she’ll have the answer, but I think she’ll be happy that I’m trying and that my efforts don’t involve drinking, drugs, or razor blades.
I was pulled down a whirlpool and ended up in a really dark place around May 19 and stayed there for over a week. My depression got really bad and I struggled with persistent thoughts of suicide. I told my psychologist these thoughts were the worst they’ve been since I’ve been her patient. I actually felt worried because I didn’t feel in control of myself. I believe this was result of the failed rereading of my book that I attempted on May 8, where I went back to the beginning of the book and felt nothing but disconnected from Orly and her story. I had never felt disconnected from Orly before and I panicked over it, worrying that everything we had written was shit. Stuck in this terrible place, I decided to just put it down and step away from it, hoping to return once my mood improved.
Thirty-four days have passed since I last looked at my new book. I feel like I’ve mostly come out of the depression and am in a better place now. Fourteen days ago I began thinking I might try rereading again, but I was so afraid that I would still feel disconnected and end up back at the bottom of that whirlpool that out of fear I put it off. My psychiatrist suggested not going back to Chapter One, instead going back only to Chapter Fifteen as I had been more recently immersed in that section of the book. I thought that was insightful and considered it, but ultimately I decided against it, because I know I need to go back to the beginning to assess what I have as whole so that I can begin to write new sentences, continuing where I had left off.
Yesterday, which was Friday 06/01/2021, I saved a new version of the manuscript and marked the file title with 06.12.21 in an attempt to encourage myself to try rereading today. Now that pandemic restrictions are beginning to relax, I decided to try my reread at Starbucks store 20537, which had been a second home to me while writing Scribbling the Eternal. I had not written there since the pandemic began. I woke up early so I could pick up donuts for the baristas and get a table before they were all taken, as only half the tables are available in order to promote social distancing. It became clear to me quickly that I had grown rusty at writing in public as I found it difficult to ignore the people who came and went and not hear the music being piped in over what I heard through my headphones—two songs by Mazzy Star and three by MXMS on repeat.
Despite the distractions, I remained in my seat and began to reread. I struggled to connect to my own words and I was afraid of what the consequences of that might be. Here and there I would connect and feel like I was reclaiming my hold on my story, but then some passages later, I would feel my grip upon it slip. I stopped many times, but forced my way to the end of the first chapter. I then packed up my things and left Starbucks. I headed home where I would continue in solitude, hoping that might change things. As I read, again the connection came and went. My worry increased. I took a Klonopin and later another.
I made it to the end of Chapter Three, feeling half engaged and half empty. It was an improvement from my reread in May, but it’s not enough to feel good. Not wanting to wait to see if my mood plunges, I’m going to try to keep going, in whatever increments I can and just hope to build some momentum and find my way back to when Orly and I were in this together.
On April 30th, my beta readers received Chapters Fourteen through Seventeen of my new book. Before moving on to Chapter Eighteen I thought it would be a good idea to do rewrites of the preceding chapters in the hopes of making improvements but also because I felt like I had lost perspective on how the book was feeling as a whole, especially in tone. Something terrible happened when I began rereading—I didn’t like what was there. The emotions I thought Orly had poured out across the pages now seemed dulled. The writing felt prosaic. I made it through the first section of Chapter Three before I stopped. I was so confused because I knew I had been happy with these pages less than a year ago. True, as time passes, I tend to become less satisfied with my work, but that’s never happened with a work-in-progress; it happens months after finishing. This experience was especially jarring because I had been feeling so positive about the last seven chapters I sent my beta readers.
I decided to take a break from my book. I had written for 79 days in a row, so it was disappointing to end that streak, but I didn’t know what else to do. I haven’t written now for four days, and I’m not sure when I’ll begin again. But I’m hoping when I return to it, I’ll read those opening chapters differently, and again see what I had been happy with. But I’m really scared that won’t happen. I’m getting close to 70K words. What if I come back in a couple of weeks and think none of it is any good?
My best friend and my psychologist both suggested that what’s really happening is that I’m rereading these chapters through a lens of negativity. I’ve been dealing with a lot of low self-esteem lately, and they feel it’s affecting the way I’m reading my work. I hope that’s all it is, but I also know this will mean yet more work on my self-esteem with my therapist, and to be truthful, as much as I need to, I don’t like working on it. It’s really uncomfortable. It’s hard for me to see myself as worthy because I can’t discount the flaws. My psychologist had me take this assessment on self-compassion. On a scale from one to five, with five being the best, I scored 1.52 overall.
I talked to four of my beta readers this week regarding their responses to the newest chapters. I’m very fortunate to have them. Not only because they provide feedback but because they remain enthusiastic about the story. Their enthusiasm helps because it gives me hope that what’s happening right now really is about the lens in which I am seeing myself and my work, and that maybe I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. I want to love my book again.
Last night I was driving home and a song I hadn’t heard in a long while came on. It was by a local singer who played at a bar I happened to be at in Fullerton many years ago. He sang while playing an acoustic guitar. I was touched by his lyrics and the passion in his voice. I bought two of his CDs and transferred them to my iPod which is how this favorite song of his came to be playing on my car stereo last night. I don’t know what happened to him. Today, I searched his name on Spotify and then Google and found nothing.
Recently, I received messages from two readers who told me how my books affected them. When I recalled their words as I played the song again, I felt good knowing my work meant something to them just as this open mic singer’s song had meant so much to me.
It’s been over a month since I posted. It’s not that I’d forgotten, I’ve been waiting to have something happy to post. But the truth is, I’m writing about suicide while feeling suicidal. I haven’t mentioned it here, but I’ve talked about it in my personal (private) blog how in sync Orly and I have been emotionally while working on her final book. Loneliness. Isolation. Despair.
Yesterday I woke thinking about the James Joyce quote I have tattooed on my stomach:
“One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”
For decades, I always saw the full glory of some passion anchored in my youth—when I loved more intensely and my daydreams were larger. But it occurred to me yesterday that it is right now that I am in the full glory of some passion with Orly, as I’ve never felt so invested in something I was writing. On the one hand, this felt great and redemptive. The pinnacle of my life had not happened twenty-seven years ago as I had thought; it’s happening now. But on the other hand, it’s telling me to, or at least making me feel okay with letting go of my life when I finish writing her story. I told my shrink, two sessions ago, that I need to find something to occupy myself with when I finish this book, and I need to find it now so that it’s there waiting for me, because I don’t see what my purpose will be when I lose Orly to her story being over.
There’s a stage play I’m considering writing, but I don’t feel strongly about it, and I don’t know how to create passion. I wonder if the passion I feel right now is the result of writing Orly for so many years or because there is so much of me in her final installment. Throughout Scribbles of the Empress, I find myself offering Orly reasons to live and at the same time I’m panicking to find my reasons after it’s finished.
This isn’t a cry for help. If I want to convey anything, it’s that I hate feeling like this. The last sentence of the opening paragraph of Chapter Four is: Wanting to die hurts in a way that no other pain does. Orly and I are saying that in chorus. We hate feeling like this.
I tweeted a couple of times how I use the Freedom software to block my ability to check email and social media when I’m writing. Freedom saw my tweets and asked to interview me as an author who uses their product. If you’re interested, you can read the interview here.