Tag Archives: writing

An Insidious Affliction

WritingIt has been way too long since I wrote any kind of blog update in general, let alone any kind of update at all. I last wrote in March to sum up my Oscar picks and I’ve been having trouble keeping up with this blog ever since. So much for my New Year’s goals that I set for myself, although I could still engage in that now. Speaking of those New Year’s goals, you might remember that I mentioned in that post that I had trouble with writers’ block, although I believed I understood what the problem was at the time. I had said that I wasn’t ready to say anything about it yet, but that I might in the future. In light of some recent events, I think I may want to discuss that now.

As many have heard by now, Robin Williams committed suicide. In a statement, his manager stated that he had recently been suffering from severe depression. This comedic genius who had branched out and proven himself to be more than just a comedian suffered from an insidious disease that afflicts many people, even those that don’t recognize that they have it. I know this because I’m one them.

I’ve suffered from depression for quite some time. It was something that I didn’t want to accept but ultimately needed to if I was going to get better and have any quality of life. And depression is incredibly difficult to combat. It is not a simple sadness or just feeling down that someone has to snap out of, like many people think. It’s currently believed to be an actual chemical disorder in the brain, the organ that one needs to get out of it. I would use the following analogy: Imagine that you’ve busted both your hands very badly to the point that you can’t hold anything. However, the hospital will not admit you to have your hands treated until you fill out the correct paperwork. You are alone in the waiting room with no one to help you (and loneliness in a crowded room is something that depressed people can sometimes feel). And you can’t hold the pen in your hands to fill out the paperwork, preventing you from getting your hands fixed. Eventually, you might finally be able to grip the pen in your teeth and very slowly and imperfectly fill out the paperwork to finally get the ball rolling, but it is extremely difficult to do.

So, it’s not something that can simply be snapped out of or be a passing mood like many believe. I’ve had problems where I’m extremely tired and want to do nothing but sleep all the time. I know that many have had that happen now and then depending on how well they’re sleeping or the weather, or even had Mono like I did years ago, but when it starts happening everyday, it becomes a cause for concern. I’ve had trouble focusing and keeping my thoughts in order. I’ve had trouble with my short-term memory (interestingly, my long-term memory seems to have remained intact). I’ve had trouble with my attention span. So, it’s not just feelings of sadness but can become an all-encompassing illness where many don’t recognize the signs of depression.

It got really bad for me recently, and I’ve had to start taking medication. I’ve also recently had to seek counseling if nothing more than to have someone help walk me through the steps to recovery. Fortunately, I’ve had encouragement from people in my life to seek treatment. There are many others who aren’t so lucky. I’ve never had a suicide attempt or considered it, so again I’m one of the lucky ones, but the overall effect of it has still been very damaging to my quality of life and in seeking to achieve my goals. I haven’t been writing, something which I find enormously satisfying and fulfills a need, nor have I been taking care of other parts of my life. I’ve let this blog slip and needed to start writing again.

Depression is one of those weird things where the research seems to change frequently. Well, maybe not change, but it gets added to and adjusted. To me it appears that we have only developed a basic understanding of how the brain works on the whole and how disorders can affect thought processes, but this understanding is incomplete. But one thing that seems to remain consistent is that the problem is physical, not purely mental. Our current understanding seems to show that depression is often caused by a depletion of monoamine chemicals in the brain, namely serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. So the previous hand analogy may not be very far off.

One little side note that I thought was interesting is how the use of antidepressants can increase the risk of suicide. I know that doesn’t make sense until you understand how recovery from depression works, which I didn’t know until recently when I asked. The first thing to happen in recovery is not an improvement in mood but rather an increase in energy. Where a depressed person would feel down but not have the energy to do anything, someone starting recovery will often still feel depressed but now have the energy to do something about it, hence the reason suicide risk increase in the beginning stages of recovery. Again, I haven’t been this bad, but given the impetus for this post, I thought it was important information to get out there.

I’ve decided to come out about this problem to prove that there’s nothing be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, writing about this feels freeing. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have been tested to have above average intelligence. I have a loving and supportive family. I’ve led a decent life and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had time go on a sort of walkabout and figure out who I really am. So when I look at these aspects of my life, it has not been a bad one by any stretch. And yet I still suffer from depression. It can strike at anyone under any circumstances. While Robin Williams death is indeed tragic and we’ve lost a man who brought joy to so many people, one thing his death has done is to shine a spotlight on depression, and hopefully it will inspire others who have had these problems to seek help if they haven’t done so.

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Reflection on 2013 and Goals for 2014

ThumbnailWell, 2013 is nearly wrapped up with a nice little bow, in the bag, and on its way out the door. It’s been a mixed year. 2012 was a year that sucked pretty hard. I can’t say that about 2013. It’s been a year of ups and downs, some really good moments and some really bad moments.

I got married this year. That’s a big plus. I never managed to write my reflections on the wedding as I’d intended. I think the whole thing was so big that it got a little overwhelming when I sat down to try and write about it (yes, I did actually try to write about it, but never finished it; some photos and eventually video posted to my Facebook page will probably need to suffice; no, I haven’t posted any video yet, that’s forthcoming). It’s been a year of change. Our marriage has provided some ups and downs, but that’s mostly due to us adjusting to living life together rather than alone, which is something that we’ve both been used to. But the future stretches out before us, and walking that path together will in no way be bad.

On the negative side, I’ve continued to struggle to find regular work again. I’ve also lost some family and friends along the way. I didn’t achieve some of the resolutions I had set out for myself at the beginning of the year, such as my writing or fitness resolutions. And that’s why I’m taking a different approach to 2014. In intend to make 2014 a year full of positive changes and self-improvement, because if I don’t work to make myself better, who will? In that vein, I have decided on only one resolution:

I will not be setting resolutions for 2014.

In my mind, when we say we have New Year’s resolutions, they are things like “watch less television” or “eat healthier.” I’ve never felt that things like this need to wait for an arbitrary date. If you want to do it, then why not start now? There’s no reason to wait.

While I feel the same way about goals, I’ve been thinking a lot about them over the last couple of days, so by coincidence, I will be doing something a little different for the new year. Instead of general resolutions, I have decided to set specific goals to meet for 2014, using actual numbers and dates to meet wherever I can. My New Year’s Goals for 2014 are as follows, along with subgoals to help reach the major goals:

  1. Lose 50 pounds, with the first 30 pounds lost by my birthday in March; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Walk at least 30 minutes every day;
    • Drink at least two juices made with our juicer every day as a meal replacement;
    • Stop eating out and make as much food as possible at home from scratch;
    • Bring my blood pressure down so that my diastolic pressure is below 80.
  2. Have something that I feel ready to edit or send out for consideration by July, even if it’s just a short story; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Write a minimum of one hour every day, with a goal of 1500 words per day, but more if I can;
    • Continue the book reviews on this blog, but expand into movie and television reviews (open up a little);
    • Write a non-review blog post at least once per week, if nothing else than to keep the writing wheels greased.
  3. Have regular work again by the end of January.
  4. Read 52 books during the year (that’s one book per week).
  5. Complete my backlog of review books and write reviews, even short review, for all books which I have already provided ratings for by the end of 2014.
  6. Start clearing out my storage unit and admit what I’m not actually going to use or keep; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Donate old furniture that we won’t be using ever by the end of January;
    • Begin clearing out and selling old video games which I genuinely won’t ever play; have it sorted and some sold before my birthday.
  7. Practice handling my personal anxieties better; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Don’t be afraid to be an asshole; in other words, be more assertive and don’t be so concerned about feelings and opinions in business dealings if I know I’m right.

And because not all goals should be serious and we need to have a little fun:

  • Have watched, rated and/or reviewed a total of 2000 movies on my Flixster account by the end of the year (the current number is at 1825).
  • Due the same Oscar project I did in 2013, which is to watch and write mini-reviews of every Oscar-nominated movie in every category, then write a summary blog post of my personal picks before the actual awards ceremony.

By creating goals instead of resolutions, it feels that I am actually setting measurable and achievable changes to accomplish, and it feels more solid and less nebulous. Still, it’s still entirely up to me and there’s not much in the way of consequences if I don’t achieve them other than heavy self-criticism, but I still feel that setting these goals at least feels more concrete and creates a way that I can measure my progress.

I’ll probably check back in during the course of the year, especially with my goal of a regular blog post per week. In the meantime, goodbye and good night to 2013, and welcome to the future of 2014, which will soon be the present and then the past.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Why I Review Books

ThumbnailI’ve been reviewing a lot of books on this blog lately. The question comes up about why I review these books. Do I get paid or what? Well, let me tell you how it started.

I started this blog a little while ago just to have a place that I could write in long form, have a bit of a soapbox, and to publicly talk about what I was working on or what was going on. I’m still working on my writing. Actually, lately, I’m picking up the pace, although the novel I have been working on has taken a bit of a back-burner right now while I try to develop my skills a little more. It’s a project that’s really important to me and I want to be sure that I can do it justice. Being able to publicly talk about it creates a feeling of accountability. Admittedly, it does help with marketing if you know how to leverage it, which is something I’m working on. So, it’s not entirely for art’s sake.

I started reviewing books on this blog mostly because I needed content. It was very early in my blog’s life and I need to add content. At the time, things had kind of come to standstill with…well, everything. So I started putting my name on lists for review copies of books in several locations and began receiving some. The caveat with getting these is that they want you to provide them with a review, which is only fair. They give you a free book, you pay them with an honest review. I started putting these reviews on this blog and there you have it. It just became a thing.

I enjoy doing it because, aside from writing, I also enjoy reading. By reviewing these books, not only do I get to share my opinions and potentially help some authors, particularly new authors, but I get to reflect on what I just read and chew it over a little more, making sure I really understood it and got the most out of it. Do I get paid for it or do I want to get paid? Well, I don’t really get paid (with the Bizarro Brigade, I earn points toward receiving a free book, but that’s it). As for whether would I like to be paid, sure. Everyone would like to be paid for just about everything they do. I’d like to get paid for breathing, but that’s probably not going to happen. But if I were to ever get hired by a website or other publication to write reviews, I wouldn’t object. And I’m hoping that when I do start publishing my work (soon, I hope, once I get what I’m working on to a state I’m happy with), that they might return the favor of reading and providing an honest review. I can take criticism, and really I prefer honesty over anything else.

I did get myself into a situation a little while ago where I wound up receiving so many review copies that I couldn’t keep up. I’m still catching up, but I’m making a lot of headway. So if you’re a writer, editor, or publisher who needs a review and you want to send me a review copy, you’re welcome to contact me at the link above, but remember that I’m still catching up, and I’ll get to your book as soon as I can.

To Sum Things Up…

ThumbnailI think I know why I haven’t been making many personal blog posts lately. When I get behind, I feel I have to talk about too much, so a blog post with personal thoughts or a life update becomes a daunting task. And as more time slips by, it becomes ever more daunting. Kind of like how you can be given a deadline, which is easily met if you start right away with little effort, but you procrastinate constantly until the deadline comes up, and then it’s extremely difficult to get everything done quickly.

So, I’m going to do a very quick summary about things of late or that I’ve wanted to talk about in order to catch up, and hopefully “clear the table,” as it were, so that I can handle everything else as it comes up instead of just keeping this as a review blog.

To start, things with the wedding are now progressing at a breakneck pace. We’re in the final month, which means that bills are coming due, meetings are happening, and stress levels are high. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fiancé and want to marry her, but I’ll admit that the stresses of having a fairly large wedding are getting to me. Honestly, I think I’m going to be glad when it’s done. It’s helped that we’ve had family and friends helping us with various aspects of it, and my fiancé was just thrown a lovely bridal shower last Saturday, which was wonderful (I showed up at the very end to help her with the gifts; you know, the important stuff). That’s all I’m going to say on that at the moment.

Unfortunately, with the stresses of the wedding, I haven’t been eating very well, which I openly admit. So I haven’t been losing weight, but instead gaining. I need to get this under control. At least lately I seem to have stopped gaining weight, so the chart is no longer going up. Now I need to refocus on actually losing weight.

Both my fiancé and I are looking at going to grad school, although for vastly different things. I’m looking to finally apply this year and make the deadlines for school to start next year. She’s looking to push hers up to this year. Wish us luck!

My mother had to go back in for neck surgery again. Although, this wasn’t related to here previous surgery exactly. It sounded like it was a similar problem as what made the previous surgery necessary, but in a different area of her spine (above where the last one was). While she’s still recovering, she is saying that she’s feeling a lot better than she was before the surgery. Hopefully she’ll be okay by the wedding.

On the death of Roger Ebert: Yes, I do want to say something here, especially given my own penchant for critiquing movies and books. His death is a huge loss to the world of criticism. Ebert was brilliant in how he could say things, and his review of “North” was easily one of my favorite of all time. While I did disagree with him, not only on his opinions of some movies but on his ideas about story, such as how video games could never tell a truly compelling story, I could at least respect him for his opinions because he would give well-thought-out reasons for those opinions. So, it’s not just a loss to movies and criticism but to reasoned argument as well, and it seems that there’s no real heir apparent to fill the void.

As for my writing projects, there’s not much movement. I’ve been having some trouble focusing for a while now. Okay, a lot of trouble, which is not helping me much in any aspect. I don’t know if it’s full-on writer’s block, but it is in some form. I’ll say more on this later, because it deserves it’s own post.

Opinions of world event:

The panic over North Korea makes me laugh. It’s the exact same crap they’ve pulled before, and it’s meaningless. It’s nothing but the new leader Kim Jong-un, trying to establish himself as a strong leader, but his inexperience is showing in that he’s pushing the joke too far.

Margaret Thatcher died. Mixed feeling there, but many others have explained those mixed reasons better than I have, so I don’t feel the need to repeat them.

A pope resigned, and there’s a new pope who seems like an interesting person. I’m taking a wait and see approach on this one.

On gay marriage, I’m for it, and I honestly don’t understand the arguments against it. The surprise on this was Bill O’Reilly, who said on his program (paraphrasing here) that all the arguments against gay marriage amount to little more than Bible-thumping. I couldn’t have said it better.

I think that will cover it for now. Hopefully, this catches me up and I can blog regularly and not just review stuff. Wish me luck on that, too!

‘Til next time…

We’re Off to Camp NaNoWriMo

WritingDespite the number of book reviews that I’ve been posting lately (this was really never intended to be a review blog, but I like to help out other writers and small publishers), I have been spending a fair bit of time writing other stuff. I’ve made some progress in “Payroll” but it’s slowed down a bit, and I’m feeling like I need a short break from it to refresh my brain.

Since I’ve been getting a lot of ideas for short stories lately, and I want to develop them, I’ve decided to participate in the spinoff from the National Novel Writing Month, Camp NaNoWriMo this year. Given that it’s not the real NaNoWriMo (okay, it kind of is, but I consider the real one to be in November), I don’t feel too bad about setting my own goal for it. For those not familiar, NaNoWriMo occurs every November, and the goal is to write a fifty-thousand-word or more novel in 30 days. Camp NaNoWriMo is similar, but it occurs in June and August.

Anyway, I’ll be making June my short-story month. My goal is to write ten stories that are five thousand words or longer in length. It will amount to a full story every three days. So I will still have a fifty thousand word goal, just not as a single story. The stories will likely not be interconnected, at least not on the first run through.

My goal is two-fold. First, I want to branch out a little and not be so focused on writing my one novel at this moment. Secondly, it will give me more to work with, stories to submit to publications, magazines, etc. I may even throw a story or two up here for sample purposes if I feel comfortable enough with what I produce. Which is the tallest order of all, since I know that I’m my own worst critic. And it may give me ideas for other stories or expand to full novellas or novels at a later date.

I’m not sure what I will be writing these stories on. I’ve got a few ideas, but if anyone has any thoughts or has calls for submissions, I would be happy to incorporate it into my little collection to be written during the month of June.