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.

Reading on paper at Starbucks
Rereading on paper at Starbucks Store 20537

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.

Making edits at the library
Making edits at the library

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.

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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.

Facebook MemoryI 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:

Blog Post June 6, 2016

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.

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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.

Girl left behind the night by Yoshitomo Nara
Girl left behind the night by Yoshitomo Nara. This was one of the pieces I loved most. The photo doesn’t do it justice, the piece shimmers and the background is made up of so many colors.

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.

Book Cover The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing
The Keys to the Kingdom by Elliott Downing

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.    

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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.

A picture from Starbucks
A barista wrote on the bag containing my oatmeal, thanking me for the donuts.

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.  

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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.

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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.

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I’m experimenting with setting deadlines in the near future for me to reach the next major plot point in my new book. I’ve set one for Orly to kill a character next Sunday. I got the idea from a book that suggested giving yourself short deadlines in order to create urgency and even panic that will push you to get things done. Apparently long deadlines will slow and perhaps even kill productivity. I don’t know if it will work but already it made me sit down today for my first serious writing session since January 25. I ordered a calendar on which I plan to circle the deadline dates in bright red ink so I can’t avoid seeing the looming deadlines. I guess the test will be how well I hold myself accountable. But like I said at the beginning of this post, this is just something I’m experimenting with. If I feel the quality of what I’m getting on the page is suffering, I’ll quickly abandon it. But I hope it works because it would be nice if my productivity was more consistent and that would make it easier to predict when I might actually finish the book. And of course, if this technique could help me become more prolific as a writer overall, that would be a big improvement.

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I’ve been reading this book on happiness. One of the things it mentioned was doing things for yourself. Intrinsic motivations instead of extrinsic ones. My psychologist (whom I discussed this with today) has been trying to get me to focus on this for months; I feel like I disappointed her when I told her that this book (which she pointed out wasn’t written by a psychologist) struck a chord with me. I think I understood what she was saying in the months before, but I think now something finally sunk in. When I think about book sales, number of downloads, reviews, email subscribers, social media followers, and needing a day job, I feel bad about myself. But today, while sitting in my car, drinking chai, I realized that if I stripped everything away but the books themselves, and just imagined myself sitting with them all alone, I’m already happy.

I’ve said before that when I look back at my work I always find things I’d like to rewrite, but on a whole, with Orly’s two books, I’m pleased with how they turned out and feel I accomplished what I wanted in writing them. And with Orly’s third book, I already feel happy with it, even though it’s not even half written, because I like how the story is building, where it is going, and where I believe it will end up. It’s when I’m not writing that I start thinking about external validations, like the ones I listed above. I have to learn to stop going there and instead run to that place where it’s just me and my books.

(For some reason, today, that imaginary place is red and barren, like what I remember of a Thomas Ligotti story I read so many years ago.)

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The Fussy Librarian campaign for The Last Midnight resulted in over a thousand downloads. My goal was 900, so I’m satisfied, but the thought of that many eyes on my new words makes me want to hide behind a curtain.

Still, I hope a large number of those who downloaded will read the book, like it, and then decide to utilize the free download link to The Scribbled Victims that follows the end of the story, which will introduce more readers to Orly and sign them up for my mailing list. This reader magnet/book funnel strategy is something I learned from an indie author course I paid for. I hope it works.

Today, I didn’t write, but instead spent hours learning about keywords and book categories and incorporating the things I learned into my current Amazon listings. This I hope will get more visibility for my books which will hopefully result in more readers.

But even if none of the above works, I still feel good right now because a reader posted a review saying The Last Midnight is beautiful, and my most important goal as a writer is to write something beautiful. It’s more important to me than having a large audience or enough royalties to quit my day job. Don’t get me wrong, I want those things too, but creating something beautiful has always come first, since that night I stayed up in bed reading The Dead when I was sixteen and was awed by its beauty and its perfection.

Sometimes I think some of my sentences are beautiful. Sometimes I think elements of my stories are beautiful. And those sometimes feel like the reward of writing. But invariably, self-doubt will make those feelings recede. Sure they come back, like the tide, when I reread or daydream about what I’ve written, but hearing it from a reader means a lot because their belief in me gives me reason to question the self-doubt that obscures the beauty I sometimes get a glimpse of in my own work.

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I haven’t posted here in over a month. My depression is still bad, but I’m trying. I only wrote 13 days this month, but 10 of those days happened in the last 12 days of December. I also had a December word count of 4,347 new words when my monthly goal is 6,000. I feel these things are significant and positive and hopefully a sign that I’m picking myself back up. I just emailed Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten to my beta readers. They haven’t received new Orly chapters since July 28. A lot of that was because of interrupting my progress with Orly to write and publish The Last Midnight, but in looking at my word count spreadsheet, more of it is the result of depression. But again, it looks like I might be picking myself back up.

Today is the last day of 2020. I know it’s been a bad year for most because of the pandemic, police violence, and our election being contested, but today I’m trying to see the small positives. I exchanged video messages with my best friend nearly every day. I imagined and published The Last Midnight. I learned that I enjoy working from home. And I’ve begun to gain the courage to retire from my day job early. I’m looking forward to 2021. I’m hoping the Covid-19 vaccine will help turn things around. I’m hoping I will finish writing Scribbles of the Empress so that I can publish it in early 2022. I’m hoping I will cope with my depression and anxiety well enough to remain productive.

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