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.

Share This Post

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.    

Share This Post

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.  

Share This Post

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.

Share This Post

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.

Share This Post

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.)

Share This Post

I never went back to writing Orly’s book while waiting for the rest of my beta readers on The Last Midnight because I fell into a depression. It was pretty severe. I’m still not out of it, but I am functioning and have been working with my psychologist and psychiatrist to deal with it. I heard back from my last beta reader a few days ago and as the stress of the presidential election passed yesterday, I finished my rewrites. Today, I sent it to my sister for editing. I’m tempted to contact my typesetter and cover designer because it feels exciting to go into production, but I’m still not certain I will publish this story. I want to but I’m scared.

Speaking of my cover designer, she’s been working hard on a new concept for the Black Wax Vampire Trilogy book covers. I was very happy with my previous covers, but a book consultant recommended I go with something that suggested vampire. The updated covers are now live on Amazon and Audible for The Scribbled Victims and Scribbling the Eternal. Even though Scribbles of the Empress is still being written, she made a cover for that too. What do you think?

Share This Post

I haven’t written for fourteen days, but this was planned with my psychologist after the mental and emotional difficulties I had earlier this month. She thought it best that I take some time off to just rest and I thought it would be helpful to clear my head from the new book since I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it. I’m hoping when I return to the manuscript and read it again, fresh eyes will show me what’s missing.

In the time I haven’t been writing I’ve been reading and making linocut prints. Linocuts are something I used to do years ago as form of therapy. I carved a new one today and inked it. I’d post it, but my psychologist wants me to consider not sharing them. She’s interested in seeing what it would be like for me to have something creative that I do just for me. The thought being that perhaps I was happier with my writing before I began to publish it, making it public, which led me to start caring about response, feedback, praise, and criticism.    

My two weeks off ends today, so I could start writing again tomorrow, but I don’t know if I will. I still have a lot on my mind. I miss Orly, but I don’t know that I’m recovered enough to struggle with her story.   

Share This Post

In my last post I mentioned the anxiety attack I had while writing and my discussion in the therapy session that followed with my psychologist. We talked about it again this past Monday, largely because I was still experiencing a lot of anxiety that I felt was tied to the new book. She asked me if I could take a couple weeks off, perhaps as long as until July 17 when my fiscal closing will be complete at work. I thought it was a good suggestion, but I told her that I would feel bad if I didn’t write during the three day July 4 weekend. So we agreed that I wouldn’t write again until Friday, which meant taking only three days off: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. She suggested I do something for my well-being during my time off, and so on my daily walks during those three days, I tried to run a little too.

Yesterday was Friday. I finally wrote again. I netted 713 new words, which was largely the first section of Chapter Seven. My anxiety was minimal, so maybe the three days off helped.

After my writing session, I watched YouTube for a little while. YouTube recommended a video to me about the final episode of The Sopranos. Last month, creator David Chase let it slip in an interview that Tony Soprano died in the final scene of the series. I hadn’t seen it that way. I felt the series ended with the message that Tony would forever have to be looking over his shoulder, but that he didn’t die there in that diner with his family. When I learned of the interview, I felt really hurt, and it told me how attached I was to his character. When I saw that video yesterday, which provided evidence that there was foreshadowing of his death throughout the final season, my heartache returned so sharply that I couldn’t sleep without taking an Ambien.

I woke up today wondering why I feel so strongly about this. After all, I thought I liked sad endings. My favorite films (Cinema Paradiso, Roman Holiday, The Lion in Winter, Before Midnight) all have endings that I find sad. In crime related shows like Scarface and Sons of Anarchy, I’m okay with the deaths of the protagonists. That left me wondering what was different about The Sopranos, and I think the answer is that I didn’t see Tony Soprano’s character arc as complete. I ended the series thinking life would go on, and that there was more to do. But the more I think about it, and the more I consider that video I saw yesterday, I’m seeing maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it was over. The show’s creator seemed to think so.

So what does someone like me do in this situation? I try to ignore it and remain in paradise.

I believe in my Black Wax Vampire Trilogy I’m writing sad endings. I considered it a success each time a reader told me they cried. I don’t know if I should feel differently about that now. I would want my readers to feel sadness that is bittersweet, like the feeling I get when I watch Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck say goodbye in silence at the end of Roman Holiday, but I wouldn’t want to hurt them like Tony Soprano’s death is hurting me right now.

Before I began writing Scribbles of the Empress, I sent a survey to my beta readers asking: Which character would it hurt the most to see die in the new book? Most of them said Orly. Berthold came in second. Although I’m into the Second Act, I still see two possible endings. If Orly dies, I hope I am able to give my readers the bittersweet sadness rather than the painful kind.

On another note, is it ironic that in my next session I’ll be talking to my therapist about The Sopranos?

Share This Post

I’ve been writing pretty consistently which I’m both proud of and amazed by because I’ve been dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety lately. On Monday I had an anxiety attack while writing. That’s very unusual. I had a video session with my psychologist later that day and we talked about it. At first I thought the anxiety stemmed from the feeling that the first four chapters were basically finished and that someday readers would be seeing them as they are. But the more we talked, I realized that beyond the stress of publicly sharing what I had written, a lot of my anxiety was actually about finishing the book because it’s the last in the trilogy. I realized I’m upset because I’m not ready to let go of Orly. And as Orly Bialek was inspired by Ashley Vargas, my illustrator who died at nineteen, I feel finishing this series is like letting go of her too. I feel like after I put this book out, I’ll have nothing left to give Ashley, and that hurts me because my distorted thinking interprets that as forgetting her. Therapy sessions are often not as long as they need to be, and I still haven’t worked this out. We’ll likely talk about it again on Monday. But I know the best thing I can do for myself is to keep going, to keep writing, even if it does mean eventually getting to the end. Hopefully by publication, I’ll be convinced either by my psychologist or by my friends that finishing doesn’t mean forgetting.

Share This Post