The little things that save my life

I've been depressed lately. A lot. In a very real, very scary, very hide-under-the-covers-and-never-come-out way, a very quit-your-job-and-disappear-into-the-woods way. In a way that called up all the memories of past depression. A way that felt like it would totally sink me. It hasn't sunk me yet, though. I'm still plugging onward, as much as I wish I could get a doctors' note to take a three-day break from, well, everything. I'm still going.

And as a gratefulness exercise, here's a list of the small things that save my life regularly. Well, they're not all small, not to me. They're huge to me. To those around me, they might seem miniscule. I guess it's just a matter of perception...

  1. The sounds of Brooklyn life amplified by an open window on a warm-ish spring day.
  2. "No, Karis," as said to me by all the guys in the kitchen, a thousand times a night. The way they tease me and ask if I'm going to cry again today.
  3. A silly texting conversation about crushes with a refreshing friend.
  4. Being told I'm "cute, fun and interesting" by a date who is taking a few moments to recover from finding out he's the first date (LOL).
  5. That specific chill that comes in April and May, that sun-filtered kinda-warmth that's not cloying or thick, not summer yet.
  6. The messages of love, hope and encouragement sent on Facebook by people who know I'm struggling.
  7. Being taken seriously when I seriously say I wish I were not alive.
  8. Sheila taking the time to say hello.
  9. Selling one Margherita and one coke at 7:45 p.m. every night to the same bright girl.
  10. Having crushes again.
  11. Bashful looks and prospects.
  12. Young adult novels — writing and reading them.
  13. The resurgence of hope that comes after a deep low.
  14. Rowan, and Nick, and Chi, and my Connect Girls, and Bethany, and my roommates (all of them), and Becca and too many more to name.
  15. You guys.

I dunno, I'm sure there's more. This is just my way of saying: it's the small things, guys. The smell, the sound, the taste of spring. The silly shenanigans that go on at work. The friends that laugh at my jokes even when I'm so sad. The adrenaline rush that comes from performing, even when you're not on stage, even when you're just playing the role "charming pizza-slinger." The hope of traveling to new places. The knowledge you can't experience anything new if you're dead.

These are the things that keep me alive. These are the things that help me go on.

And this — this blog post. Writing. Using words to spread a message. Seeing that message read and understood. Connecting with someone because of how I string together some letters and words and form a sentence and weave an image.

It's the little things.


Stephen King and my writing revolution

Stephen King writes good books. I think even dislikers of the horror genre (Exhibit A: me) can agree to that.

So when my good friend Sarah gave me his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft for my birthday, I was looking forward to seeing what this talented and successful writer had to say to me.

What I didn’t expect was for him to revolutionize my writing life. And yet that’s exactly what happened.

You see, King spends half his book going through various things aspiring writers can do to go from competence to “goodness.” (There’s a whole thing about poor, competent, good and great writers, but I won’t spoil that for you if you haven’t read it). Anyway, he spends quite some time talking about the importance of just writing consistently.

It’s easy to think writing is all about quick moments of inspiration that come upon the writer and overtake her. In these moments, you think, the writer throws everything aside, be that work, family or friendship, and battens down the hatches, so to speak, writing until the inspiration well dries up.

No, no, no, King says. That’s not how you do it. You write every day. You set goals for how much writing you want to get done on a certain day, and you stick to them. You choose a space dedicated just to writing, and you go there every day, lock yourself in and write until you’ve reached your goal. Most importantly, you do not wait for the inspirational muse to come to you: you go to her (or him, as the case may be).

Yeah, there’s a whole section on the muse which, again, I won’t get into since he’s already said it, and quite well at that. The point of it, though, is that if you sit around and wait for the muse to drop by and sprinkle fairy dust on your typewriter, pen or computer, you’ll never write anything.

The secret to writing, King says, is just do it.

So I did.

In the middle of reading the book, and in a fit of excitement and passion for the future, I set all of my alarms to 6:30 a.m. I added it into my calendar: from 6:30-6:59 a.m., read Bible and pray; from 7-7:50 a.m., write.

I’ve been doing it since Sunday. I amended the second part to say, “write for 50 minutes or 1,500 words, whichever comes first,” and every day I’ve hit 1,500 words within about 30 minutes. So in the past four days, I’ve cranked out 6,000 words. And all before 8 a.m.!

Which is great, because it leaves the rest of the day for me to, say, go to work, then come home and chill out in the evening. Whether that means taking a nap, watching tv or reading a good book is completely up to me.

And I feel great about it. I mean, yeah, I’m tired by the time I get home from work, but most days I’m able to push through that. And like with anything, the ability to wake up early is a mental game. As soon as I set my mind to it, I was good to go.

When I say Stephen King revolutionized my life, I mostly mean my writing life. But I am a writer. My writing life is intimately connected to my soul life. Plus, now that I’m getting up early, I do have time to spend with God (there’s perks to everything).

So there you have it: the master of horror, the one genre I mostly shy away from, snuck in and changed everything in my life. And for the better.

Maybe now that I’m following his advice, I’ll follow in his successful footprints, you know what I mean? J

The Idea Machine, or, how to actually write a good story

A while back, a friend asked me how I get my story ideas. I told her I have a machine in my bedroom, and anytime I need a story, I crank the lever and it shoots out an idea. It's kind of like a pitching machine, so I have to get all geared up in my helmet and gloves and I have to dive for it to catch it before it vanishes into thin air and never gets told.

That's a total falsehood, by the way. I did not tell her that; I just thought it might make the story better if I took some liberties with it. Which, now that you mention it, is how I get most of my ideas anyway: I hear a story, a snippet of conversation, a characteristic, and I expand on it and fluff it out until it becomes something bigger, sometimes even bigger than myself, and I write a story.

I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that my most recent novel idea came from a news article I read about a woman who tried to kill her children. As little as I know about her story, it gave me the seed of Keira's story, and I've spent the past couple of months--and will continue to spend the next few months--delving into her life and seeing where it takes me.

Because the other part of that story I told that's a falsehood is the concept of the Idea Machine. There is no such thing. There is no magical machine, no fairy godmother, no fount of inspiration writers use to pull novel and short story ideas out. There is only life.

Which, frankly, is so much better than any magical water or glitter-blowing old lady. Life itself provides the inspiration for stories. And what more intriguing, mystifying experience is there than life? Created and woven together by a Master Storyteller, billions of insignificant creatures, moments, exchanges coming together to form a beautiful tapestry of a story. And us puny human storytellers, sitting in front of it, picking at threads and seeing if we can weave our own small replica of the Master Tapestry.

I think I just mixed about three metaphors there, which you're totally not supposed to do. But I like it, so I'm just gonna leave it there. Life is the only thing we've got to inspire us, but it's the best thing we could ask for.

Just think about how many times you've looked at someone else's life and wished it was yours, or contemplated how fantastic and unreal it seemed. You look back at your own life and all you see is a blob of tangled threads. But take a few steps back and you can see that your life tapestry is just as intricate and beautifully woven as your friend's. Multiply that intricacy and beauty by seven billion, and that's how many different tapestries you have to choose from when picking your story.

It's totally okay to mix and match when writing. Take your good friend's perfect hair, your best friend's skills, your sense of humor, your favorite TV star's problems, and voila, you've got a brand new story that's never been told before.

To write a great story you don't need a magic machine. You only need some creativity, a hefty amount of attention to detail, and a good bit of conflict. Mix it all together and start sharing. There you go: you're a storyteller. I can't wait to hear what you've got to say :)