Reshaping

Tonight, I came home from work (late, as usual) and curled up on the sofa with the iPad again. This time it was to
work on my novel — the one from the 2007 NaNoWriMo. The one where I won, but the story was far from over.

By my rough estimate, I wrote around 3 pages tonight, which doesn’t sound like much if you don’t account for the time needed to get dinner, eat it, and zone in and out of the Phillies and Flyers losses.

I missed going to martial arts tonight, but my arm still aches from the shoulder strain I got a week ago, and my mind is on fire with characters and ideas. I dont know how long I’ll be able to sustain this pace before the creativity drains out, but it feels as good to
be writing again as a long workout would have made me feel.

I feel alive.

Needs, or, pruning in order to grow.

The world is trying to shake me at my roots, and I’ve been resisting.

I read an article years ago called The Sex & Cash Theory which says, in short, that if you want to be happy with your life you have to balance the things that pay the bills against the sexy, creative stuff. If you let your life swing one way or the other too far, chaos will ensue.

I’ve never had the problem of letting my life swing too far into the creative endeavors.

I get up, take care of the dogs, go to work, try to solve problems and occasionally create things that are useful. I sometimes feel like I’m genuinely making things better. Whether I succeed or not, it’s exhausting work of juggling competing priorities, competing egos, varying interpretations, and menacing deadlines.

When I’m done working, I come home, take care of the dogs if Nighthawk hasn’t beaten me to it (some days run, well, loooong….), source and prepare some sort of foodlike objects, and try to find something that will take my mind off of the work I left and the work I’m going back to the next day.

If I’m lucky, I get six hours of sleep. If I’m really lucky, it’s not filled with nightmares about work. Then it starts over.

(As an aside, have you ever tried to type around a dog? Chance says hello.)

Even as little as two years ago, I had the energy and drive to create after work. I drew a comic. I worked on the five novels I’ve got written in various pieces around my hard drive. I knit. I cooked crazy-ass things. (I’m pretty sure the peanutbutter fish story has never actually made it into this iteration of the blog. Someone remind me someday…)

But slowly those things have been sliding out of my life. The novel writing was displaced by the comic authoring (except for every other November). The comic was displaced by martial arts. That, in turn, has been forcibly displaced by injuries, health issues for Nighthawk, the holidays, more back issues, more health issues for Nighthawk, a conference, family vacation, and just when I thought I’d be going back, a strained shoulder. And a work deadline schedule that pushes and pushes and pushes. Oh, and more health issues for Nighthawk.

Slowly I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, mentally, physically, or emotionally.

Nighthawk’s health has recently provided me with an extremely large burst of nervous energy. On May 12th he’s having oral surgery, but not like the nice friendly “let’s pull a tooth” surgery. More like the “let’s put the lung patient on a respirator, do all the work, take you off the respirator, and give you soft foods for at least a week while trying to keep your calorie count above 3000/day and your blood sugar normal” oral surgery. Not. My. Favorite. Kind.

What do you do with a nervous breakdown on the edge of your peripheral vision? Well, if you don’t have a creative outlet for it, you take it to work and try to get it to be useful. This is somewhat akin to putting a bellman’s uniform on the most violent rabid dog you can find, and chaining him up outside your cube, where he’s in charge of greeting everyone. Not necessarily successful, and generally requires a mop.

The universe has decided to combat this insanity by making April into “Kirabug reassesses her values” month.

The first shake-up came from the conference at the beginning of April. An Event Apart re-fired my desire to create, but not my ability to find an outlet. The inspiration-with-no-outlet problem made everything else worse.

The next shake-up came as a Studio Ghibli movie watched on my iPhone while I was feeling burnt out and sick and tired. Whisper of the Heart reminded me that creation is hard work, and you don’t get better from hiding from it.

When I started writing the thyroid cancer part of the comic, which Christ knows I’d never intended to write back in 2004 when I started the comic, it got hard. No, let me reword that. It got haaaaaaard. I lost the enjoyment of the craft because I was frustrated at my lack of skill. And I lost focus when a new sexy toy (martial arts) caught my attention.

But creating stories is what I was born to do. I create stories in the shower, on the way to work, in the comic. Some of my best web design was expressed in a comic strip, not a wireframe. New ideas are literally scrawled in every file and on every note of every piece of paper I get my hands on. I haven’t stopped creating stories, just because I lost time and motivation. I just started drowning them out in news feeds and bad TV and RSS feeds and comic strips and timewasters.

(By the way, Whisper of the Heart is my new favorite movie. It requires two things: one, that you remember how it felt to be sixteen. Two, that you forget how it feels to be your current age. If you get those two reversed you’ll think it’s horribly corny.)

So I threw out a bunch of distractions. I cut from 78 webcomics to comics folder to 36 core stories I’ve been following for years and still love. I threw out all but 15 RSS feeds (down from 50-ish.) Repeat ad nauseum through Twitter and Fark and Facebook ad nauseum.

Progress. Still, I felt lost, like I’m not sure what I’m creating for.

But tonight Nighthawk and I watched Train (or How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design. Now, Nighthawk turned me on to Brenda’s twitter feed months ago. He happens to know that I’ve wanted to write RPG video games ever since I discovered Final Fantasy in high school. And game design is a bit of a passion for him as well.

Brenda reminded me tonight that I create to grow. Not everything I create is going to be pretty. Not everything I create is going to be valued. Certainly not everything I create is going to be useful. But everything I create helps me step forward.

I have neglected the pruning. The grass has overrun the garden, and the important branches have been left to wither.

I need to walk away from martial arts. It’s a great experience I will return to, but I can’t fit martial arts, work, and my home life all in the same jar. I certainly can’t do all those things and add any other form of creativity into the jar.

I need to leave work at work.

I need to do hard things again, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

I need to reconnect with my characters and find out what they have to say, before I forget how to speak their language.

I need to give this nervous energy someone to chase that doesn’t wear a tie. Figments of my imagination are suitable candidates.

I need to listen to the earth, stop resisting who I am and what I do. At least for a little while.

Lessons from a 33-year old green belt: sparring

Sparred yesterday. Sore today. All good things.

Yesterday I learned that music is your friend. If there’s loud music playing, watch your opponent, and at some point he or she will start reacting to the beat of the music, and that makes predicting their movement a heck of a lot easier. This could be handy in a bar.

The corollary for most people is “don’t fight during music”. As for me…

Tales of a 33 year old green belt: returning to the flock

Had my first martial arts class since – ohIdunno – August, maybe earlier, tonight. To tell you the story of that, I have to tell you a different story first.

Why you always read your mail from the pharmacy

I mentioned in the last post that I’ve been kind of checked-out for a while, and there are a lot of reasons for that. One is a very slow slide into depression that started probably last summer. It was one of those insidious unnoticeable deals where I didn’t realize I was depressed until I also realized I was eating maybe once a day, stopped listening to music, stopped calling friends….

So, angst, stress, depression, coupled with the pressure I put on myself to do something about the angst, stress, and depression. And I thought I’d had all the crazy under control, so add on the angst, stress and depression of feeling like I’d lost control of the crazy. At some point, I started to get nightly heartburn from the stress and it was the general all around miserable feeling that finally drove me to see a counselor.

The day after I finally saw a counselor, I got an email from our pharmacy. Now, keep in mind that the pharmacy doesn’t know about the counselor, but they do know that I’m already on prozac. Their email said, in short “Hey, that exercise-induced asthma drug you started last summer? You might want to know it causes…

Cough; dizziness; headache; indigestion; nausea; stomach upset or pain; stuffy nose; tiredness; trouble sleeping; weakness. Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); aggressive behavior; agitation; dark urine; fever; flu-like symptoms; hallucinations; irregular heartbeat; mental or mood changes; new or worsening wheezing or other breathing problems; numbness or tingling of hands or feet; seizures; severe or persistent stomach pain; severe sinus inflammation; suicidal thoughts or actions; swelling; unusual bruising or bleeding; upper respiratory tract infection; yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Hmmm, stomach upset, nausea, agitation, mental or mood changes…. boy, that sounds familiar. Would have loved to know that THREE MONTHS AGO. Might’ve saved me a trip to a counselor….

So, off I went to the doctor, who immediately pulled me from the asthma drug and bumped my dose of prozac from “infinitesimal” to “tiny”. And what do you know? The heartburn is gone. A big portion (but not all) of the anxiety and depression are gone. The appetite is back. The clouds are gone. Life is great!

….And the asthma’s back.

Don’t know what you’ve lost ’till it’s back

I didn’t leave Tang Soo Do because of the depression. I left because Nighthawk was hospitalized and after that we had a bit of getting our lives back in order to take care of. But for almost 6 months I did nothing involving Tang Soo Do. I didn’t study my Korean terminology. I didn’t study my one-steps or forms. I didn’t stretch. I didn’t even do side kicks to loosen my back up.

On the other hand, I did wear my MBTs every day and I’ve been walking the dogs to various degrees every single day.

Today I learned..

  • I’ve lost some speed, and some power in my kicks.
  • I’ve lost what little technical finesse I had. I look like a flailing loon.
  • I’ve lost the callouses on my feet. My big toes both blistered, popped, and blistered again this afternoon. Ow!
  • I’ve lost my confidence that I know my stuff, even though it looks like I’ve retained more of my forms and one-steps than I thought I knew in the first place.
  • I’ve gained some balance, and some (but not a lot) of core strength, thanks (I think) to the shoes.
  • And I’ve regained the asthma.

There’s nothing so delightful as being out of breath for the first full 20 minutes of an hour-long class. It’s so incredibly hard to concentrate on having good form in your kicks when your brain stem is screaming AIR GODDAMMIT WHERE’S THE AIR?

And I do martial arts in part to learn self-defense. Something tells me that if I ever am mugged, I won’t be able to stop the mugger and say, “Hey, can you wait 10 minutes while I hit my inhaler and then we can try this mugging again so I can kick your ass?”

So, Monday, I’m back to the doctor. The goal is an asthma drug that doesn’t come with a side order of crazy. Wish me luck.

Tales of a 33-year-old green belt

So. Sewing.

When I joined Tang Soo Do, I was issued a uniform, and because I am obese (as the squeaky voice on the Wii Fit likes to announce to the world every time I use it) and Tang Soo Do uniforms aren’t sized for chicks shaped like fireplugs, I needed to significantly hem that uniform.

Being a white belt of unsurpassing optimism, I promptly bought a sewing machine.

Now, here’s the thing. I’ve sewn before – enough when I was in my teens to decently hem a pair of pants or fix a cuff or patch a knee or any of the other things someone at 5’2″ tall and klutzy would likely need to do. I know how to use the iron to press the seams, turn a corner by keeping the needle in the fabric, and sew in a straight line.

Or, at least, I did.

The hemming of my white belt uniform could definitely have gone smoother, but I figured hey, I’m a beginner, and I’ll re-learn how to sew while I learn all this awesome martial arts stuff.

As a green belt, I’ve gained just a touch of wisdom. Or rather, I have gained the ability to recognize that I need the ability to recognize a mistake when I’ve made it. The mistake I made tonight was listening to my inner white belt. She said that I’d improve on my sewing by sewing with every uniform upgrade. She said that by the time I’m a black belt, hemming my own uniforms would be a practiced skill.

She LIED.

See, it turns out that hemming uniforms once every year and a half doesn’t make you a seamstress any more than doing a side kick every three months makes you a martial artist.

I started hemming two green-trimmed uniforms at 9:00 tonight, and I just finished 10 minutes ago. 4 hours to hem two pair of pants (badly) and sew on a total of six patches. I didn’t even bother hemming the sleeves after botching the pants and pulling out more seams than I swore I sewed in. My sewing machine is full of demons. Every 15 minutes or so the thread would break or the sewing on the underneath with the bobbin string would just go haywire and I’d end up pulling out stitches. It took me 10 minutes to figure out how to put the bobbin back into the machine after it emptied and I had to refill it — I was holding it backwards. You’d think the phrase was “cursed like a seamstress” not “cursed like a sailor” the way I went about the task.

God bless all those who really can sew, and more importantly, enjoy it. I do not think I will become one of those people in the next two years, or twenty. If I’m going to get eye strain staring at tiny strings, I’d rather do so tying a knot to hold a hook onto my fishing line. There’s more bobber to me than bobbin.

Tonight was a subtle reminder that as a green belt I must learn to recognize those things I cannot do, without sacrificing the unbridled optimism of a white belt to try those things I might be able to do, but have never tried before.

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