The tumblers are drained and then flooded, again and again

I had a dream the other night. All my friends were angry with me. I kept trying to fix things, but just made everything worse.

No place feels like home lately except being alone on my couch. Everywhere is empty. I don’t want to be here, so I go out. I don’t want to be there, so I go home. I feel trapped in a perpetual state of flight.

I keep asking the question, “What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing is wrong with you,” my friends say.

“Nothing is wrong with you,” my therapist says.

This is normal.

This is not normal. Everything doesn’t have to feel like it’s falling apart. Everything doesn’t have to feel like it’s broken.

Two steps forward. Two steps back. They’re the only dance steps I seem to know anymore.

“This place is a prison. These people aren’t your friends.” It feels true and then it doesn’t. I trust nothing. Love has become a vapor, subliming from my skin.

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A bundle of nerves in the fire

I hate this. I feel alone and afraid and on edge. It makes me want to be with people and avoid everyone. I hate staying home. I hate going out. I seek distractions, but when those run out I get sucked down again almost immediately.

I can see the fractures in everything. There is no aspect of my life that isn’t exceedingly fragile.

I don’t know how to ask for help because everything hurts in some way. I cry. It doesn’t help. I try to ignore it, I get panic attacks.

I just got home from Chicago and CONvergence. The con was great. I was able to catch up with people who are very dear to me.

But there was another voice running in the background: give up. You are not a part of this community anymore.

In Chicago I didn’t tell anyone I was coming home except my family. I couldn’t do it. I just wanted to read. And I did. I read five books in a week, which is excessive even for me.

And when I came back home to San Diego, it finally hit me that I’m never going to see or talk to my dad ever again. He didn’t want me to come see him while I was in town (he hasn’t been answering messages from me or my mom), so I figured that would be that.

But it’s just hitting me harder now.

I am not okay and I don’t know how to fix this.

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Thirty-Three, Four, and Forever

I’m 33 now. I’ve been waiting to be 33 since I was 15, when I decided that 33 was going to be a magical age. There was no good reason for it. It just seemed like a good number.

Of course at the time, I never felt like I was ever going to be 33. Time moved so achingly slowly at that age that even hours were an eternity.

But now time slips by so damn quickly. Years pass without me even really noticing, and all the time behind me that was so full of agonized waiting is compressed into an instant, ready to reflect on whenever I please.

No one ever mentioned your relationship to time changes as you get older. That daydreaming about the things you might one day become slips over into reminiscing about all of the stupid things you’ve done or wish you’d done. Or maybe that’s just me. The looking back versus forward shift is subtle, but persistent. It been making me both happy in sad in very peculiar ways.

Regardless, 33 is off to a good start. We recreated my 11th birthday by eating pizza and going to see Jurassic Park, then some friends and I went up to LA where we all got to dress up. Stef and I went as Jane and Daria. We saw the sun come up and all was right with the world.

* * *

It’s been four years since I graduate from the Viable Paradise Workshop. They just announced the new incoming class and I’m filled with an excitement for them.

It changed everything for me, I can’t even begin to describe the web of ripple effects that cascaded from me being accepted and attending this workshop. I couldn’t imagine my life without the lessons and people it brought into my life.

* * *

My dad’s dying. This is complicated and difficult to write about or even think about. Since finding out I feel like my emotions have become more unpredictable and close to the surface. I don’t like being this volatile. It makes me feel like I’m losing control of everything.

We hadn’t spoken in five years for reasons I won’t go into here. I knew this was going to happen eventually and I didn’t know what I was expecting to feel.

Not this.

Some days are okay – the days I can pack with distractions.

Some days I cry while I’m reading something neutral. Everything reminds me of him. The grief comes in waves, sometimes small, sometimes in swells, sometimes cripplingly sudden.

I don’t know how to do this.

I’m scared for him.

I’m scared for me.

I’m just scared.

I don’t know what I would do without my girlfriend, secular sea witch coven, friends and art. I really don’t. It makes me grateful every day, which helps.

* * *

Here’s to thirty-three.

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Art, Guilt, and Motivation

I consider myself to be pretty good at dealing with rejection. It’s something that, as a writer, is as commonplace as breathing or chocolate or bourbon.

But sometimes, when you get a bunch all at once, it brings up the old weasels that whisper things like, “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Is your opinion of yourself so skewed from the reality of your skill level that you think someone’s actually gonna buy that crap?”

It’s like all of your carefully managed and long-suppressed neuroses bubble up to the surface.

When you’re starting out, you hear the advice that you shouldn’t take rejections personally. Everyone gets them. Even the pros. Yes, the story may be broken, or it may just not be to the taste of the editor. Send it out. And as VP reinforced, keep sending it out until hell won’t have it.

But writing can be a very emotional thing. If you’re doing it right, you’re pouring bits and pieces of yourself into a story, so when you get that note back that it wasn’t what they’re looking for, it hurts. It feels like the judgment is being passed on you, not the story.

And when you’re starting out, the rejection feels like it’s rejection your dreams – you want to be a writer? HA! Nice try!

But when you’ve been doing it for a while, the personal edge to a rejection is not about you being a writer. You’re still writing, so you ARE a writer. It instead can become an indirect critique of your process, which is something that you DO have control over. If a story failed in a certain vain, it’s because maybe you haven’t failed in that way before and you needed to learn that approach won’t work. Or maybe it just wasn’t to the taste of the editor, but even so, there are the weasels there, endlessly extrapolating.

Why, then? Why do we keep doing it?

I have a lot of arguments with my therapist about the role of guilt in art. She argues that it’s counterproductive – that it distracts from the sitting down and doing of the thing. I argue that the magnitude of the guilt corresponds to the magnitude of desire. It’s an emergent property of motivation.

I think we’re both right to a certain degree. Guilt flows easily from the feeling that you should be doing more, which is tied into deeper motivations for wanting to do whatever it is that’s making you feel guilty.

I know I could be doing more. I sometimes have escapist fantasies about what being able to write full time would be like – the eschew all social obligations and just come home, sit down and write until I’m too tired or braindead to keep going. But I don’t even do that when I get home from work because sitting down to write is fucking hard. It’s emotional, full of equal parts self-criticism and delight. When it’s going, oh man, it’s the best feeling in the world. When it’s not, the questions turn inward:

Why can’t I do this right now? Isn’t this what you WANT to be doing?

And it is. But that new story idea gets you so excited to sit down to write comes out different than you expected once it’s written. It’s broken and weird and overstuffed. Then you’re left wrestling with a broken thing, trying to make it work and do the thing you wanted it to  do. But it won’t. It’ll become its own thing. And after reading it over and over again, and tweaking it and obsessing over it, you are no longer able to see it for what it is. Eventually you get comments on it, wonder what it is that other people are seeing in it. You get it as done as it’s gonna get and you send it out, unsure it does the thing you wanted it to do, but hoping that it does.

And then you get the rejections and you have a decision to make: is this really done? Should I send it back out or agonize over it and re-edit it, suspecting it’s broken in some way you can’t put your finger on.

Do this enough times and when you sit down to write, you remember all of this, know that whatever this new story becomes, you’ll go through the same thing. So the rejections become as much a critique of the story as they are of you and your process. Maybe if you’d done more, been more thoughtful, more diligent, that story wouldn’t have been such a mess.

But you keep doing it anyway because when you don’t you feel guilty. If you felt nothing, you wouldn’t keep doing this to yourself, because your art is too important to you to not do it.

And that’s the thing that on mornings like this, where I’ve got a whole damn day to write. I need to give my guilt some chocolate, Tom Waits, kind words from friends, and a hug from my girlfriend, to get over itself.

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Everything reminds me of everything else

A while back I got the Postal Service’s Everything Will Change Live DVD. I’ve never seen Postal Service before. I had seen Death Cab for Cutie at an outdoor show in Chicago in 2004 when they released Transatlanticism. I still wear that t-shirt, but it wasn’t the same.

I mainlined Give Up after a college breakup, and I stuffed Ben Gibbard’s voice* into my head the entire summer between college and grad school.

I adored both of those albums. I still do.

I love the way they can both still reach straight down into me and pull new shit out. There’s comfort in albums like that.

I just put it on to watch again and, understandably, it’s amplifying all the good stuff in my life.

* * *

I got a poop transplant. The third c. diff infection made me fail the prednisone, which technically meant my colitis was being classified as having failed traditional therapies and therefore the next step was immunosuppressant therapy. My doctor and I brought up the poop transplant idea simultaneously, then she talked to a few people, made a few calls and three weeks later I was up on the table being introduced to a bottle of poop from MIT’s OpenBiome project.

Go over there and read about it. And here. I am so grateful for what they’re doing because it seems to have worked. And no surprises there.** This treatment has over a 90% success rate.

They knocked me out, repoopulated me and sent me home with no antibiotics and no steroids. It’s been three weeks and no sign of further infection. No flare up symptoms. Things are even better than they had been before I got the colitis diagnosis.

The only thing I’m disappointed about is that my superpowers haven’t emerged.

Yet.

But seriously. This has been such a fucking relief. I’m slowly starting to relax and I’m starting to think I might actually be back to having a relatively normal life again.

* * *

Which also means that I’ve been getting some writing done. Rainforest Writer’s Retreat came and went again this year. Despite getting some pretty awful news right before heading up to Seattle, I got to see lots of people I care deeply about and writer friends I don’t see often enough and quietly type beside them for five days.

I finished edits on a story I’m actually pretty proud of about cognitive neuroscience in an homage to Hitchcock thrillers.

I wrote a mash note to my partner for her birthday.

I reworked the outline for the novel, which fixed some problems with the opening third of the book, and rewrote the opening scene (and actually wound up making me really excited about the book again).

Since then, I sent that thriller short story out and wrote a flash piece about antibiotic resistance and sushi. I sent that one out too.

Now I’m working on a love story about death. You can probably guess what’s been on my mind lately. It’s weird to be neck deep in both at the same time. I really like this story idea and I don’t want to fuck it up.

* * *

I hope there comes a day with writing when I don’t fuck up the thing that exists in my head by putting it down on paper. I wonder if that’s even possible.

I am getting a little bit better at focusing my first drafts. Before I would throw everything that I could possibly think of that was thematically or emotionally or intellectually related to the general feeling I was trying to capture with the story.

I think that’s where the impossible comes in. You can never capture the full beauty of an amorphous emotional state. It’s layers upon layers of memories, hopes, fears, feelings. Stacks of different versions of yourself, superimposed into a single blurred form. Once you start teasing it out and making it linear, you lose it.

* * *

Thankfully we’ve still got music for that.

*And Morrissey. SO. MUCH. MORRISSEY.
**I even found recently out that it wasn’t as much money as I had originally been told by the dude checking me in for the procedure. It’s still a lot, but not a scary lot.
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I Should Live in Salt

Another c. diff infection.

Each time, it gets a bit harder to believe that I’m ever going to have a healthy year again. That this is ever going to be manageable.

When I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I initially shrugged it off. Another chronic condition? Sure. Why not. I’ve had asthma my entire life. Horrible allergies. A bad back since I was a teenager. Chronic conditions are my thing. Gimme the three pills a day. I’ll add them to my morning cocktail, no biggie.

But I’ve not been in the “normal” group for UC. I’ve now had three c. diff infections in the past year. This made it so in 2014, I was actually sick for more days than I was well.

This is a fucked up thing to realize when you’re 32.

The post-diagnosis depression had more to do with the other thing it could have been. The potentially fatal thing. It made me ask myself the question, “If you’re dead in a year, will you have been happy with how your life has gone?”

And the resounding answer was, “No.”

That’s a fucked up thing to think when you’re 30.

I use to have a really fucked up definition of “happiness.” I’m a workaholic. I consider a day a success when I’ve barely had time to sit down. I can manage this for weeks at a time. I know it’s unsustainable, so I go through periods of feast and famine, where the periods of famine are filled with me beating myself up because I don’t have the energy to do anything productive.

And when I’m depressed, everything is famine.

But since then, I’ve actually started to change that, so the point that I felt like I was finally starting to break apart that cycle. Prior to this latest c. diff ordeal, I could actually say that I was happy without having to kill myself with work. I started to think that maybe the depression wouldn’t be able to touch me again.

A week ago, I went out to dinner with a friend. He had some minor upset the next day. I have now been on and off the toilet for an entire week. It’s scarier this time. More sudden and at a greater magnitude.

And I find myself asking new questions that terrify me. Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like? I’ve been unlucky with the UC odds so far, does this mean that I’m going to be one of those unlucky people who this kills?

Don’t Google “C. diff., constipation, ulcerative colitis,” after your doctor doesn’t respond to an e-mail asking about how worried you should be. Just don’t.

I’ve woken up the past few mornings with the thought in my head, “Maybe today’s the day you develop a fever. Maybe you’re dead by the end of the week.”

I’m really trying this time be optimistic, but every time it’s harder, and I can feel that black pit opening up beneath me again.

I started another round of the same antibiotics as the last two times. The kind that are $2500 for a month’s supply. My insurance company denied the prescription for the other antibiotic. The new one that c. diff isn’t resistant to yet. It’s $4000 for a course.

Things appear to have settled down a bit today, and for the first time in over a month I finally got a good night’s sleep (the Prednisone has been giving me insomnia, and between the chest cold and the c. diff, sleep has not been a consistent thing). I made a list of errands I could run. I read at a coffee shop for a few hours this morning and had a bagel.

I can see you sitting over there in the corner, Depression. Sipping your espresso and smoking your cigarette.

Man. I don’t want to be sick anymore.

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Maybe I have to think it’s funny if I want to live before I die

Time’s weird.

I started reading Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking, last night, and it made me cry. Repeatedly.

It’s strange to be reading this book now, on the other side of the chasm, where I picked up her story to begin with.

I first heard of her on Neil Gaiman’s blog. I had just started trying to figure out how to write fiction again, so I must have been 26. I was in grad school. I was depressed. And I felt utterly lost.

I no longer wanted to be what I had thought I wanted to be, and there’s no feeling quite like the moment you figure this out two years into your doctoral work. I was flailing, trying to find something else to give me a sense of purpose, terrified of what would happen if I didn’t find it.

But I found it. And started working stalwartly towards finally feeling like I was living instead of waiting.

I always feel like I’m waiting. Even now. And waiting feels like failing. Waiting is the place between nostalgia and dream. A place where nothing ever happens.

I read her book and I remember the person I was when I first hopped into the audience that has been watching her life as an artist. I remember how much I lived in fantasy, of what my life would be like as soon as it finally started. I remember writing my first ever book draft, dreaming of how much more fun it would be to write when I became a better writer, while listening to Who Killed Amanda Palmer on a loop. I remember the way that going Australia randomly to see her play in Melbourne, and the people I met there who opened their hearts and homes to me, made me start to hope again at a time when I felt like I would never get to where I wanted to go. I remember interviewing her and Jason Webley in Los Angeles, and what Amanda said to me backstage inspired me to be more forgiving of myself. Less afraid of what would happen if I failed. I remember how someone reached out to me after that interview to tell me that I’m not alone, and how in the months to follow she helped me more than she’ll probably ever know to get through a very difficult time when I didn’t know if I could do it after I had cut away my safety net.

That all started six years ago.

In reading her book, I am reliving that most painful part of my life, where I can see now that I’ve grown more as a person than I ever thought was possible, even though I felt like I was still just waiting the entire time.

Since then I’ve become a writer. And a musician. I’ve known what it means to be truly loved. I’ve lived more in the past six years than I had in all of the 26 years prior.

And yet, I still feel like I’m waiting. Waiting for when my life is the way I want it to be. I know it makes me miss the right now: the waiting place where all living actually happens.

The basis of waiting is fear. Fear of failure or success. Fear of heartbreak or of pain or of love. There’s always going to be stuff I’m afraid of. There are always going to be things I wish I were better at. The difference is that I am trying to no longer see that end goal as happiness. I can be happy in the waiting place where I fail daily, where I’m perpetually heartbroken for one reason or another. Unfortunately, it’s the only place fear lives. We forget the fear of the past because we lived through it and came out the other side. And a fear of the future is nothing more than a fear of the present.

I used to want to be loved from a distance, while giving love unreservedly. Love scares me. it always has. It swells and fades, sparks, crashes, and withers. I use to believe that I could do everything myself, but this past year has shown me that sometimes I can’t.

So it doesn’t matter if I get lost for a while, like I did for most of this year. It doesn’t matter how scared I become. My capacity to love and accept love has grown with me. I still carry myself more often than I probably should, but I’ve grown more willing to fall down in front of others, always surprised when they are willing to pick me up. I shouldn’t be surprised. These people are family. They hand me kleenex when I can’t fight the tears anymore. They see me. They love me for the flawed, unfinished person that I am.

Today’s Christmas and I’m sitting around at home, by myself in my pajamas, still reading her book, and I can finally see now that for the first time in my life, I don’t feel alone anymore.

And I am so fucking grateful for all of it.

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This is great

This popped up on io9 today, and while delightful, I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed it didn’t deal with oxytocin, histocompatibility groups, or the amygdala.

Ah, well. Enjoy!

[Yadda, yadda, DNA helicase, yadda, yadda, unzip your genes.]

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Prepare yourself for SCIENCE

Last month at a party I was sitting in a pile of people I love and decided to have an impromptu “Ask a scientist” session. I answered a few questions (including “Why beards?” WHY?”), and proceeded to go off on tangents about DNA and cancer and evolution and development.

I’ve always had a brain like a sponge. That coupled with a very early innate desire to understand how everything around me works has filled my head with all kinds of random shit.*

I frequently make the mistake of assuming everyone around me already knows everything I know. It oftentimes makes me assume that everyone I meet is as equally in awe of everything around them as I am. I forget that’s not usually the case.

I forget that not everyone knows what a genome is or why it’s so fucking awesome that we’re super close to affordable sequencing for everyone.

I forget that not everyone is having the same argument about GMOs. My preferred discussions revolve around responsible business practices, the benefits and dangers of monoculture, and plant pathology. The main discourse, though, seems to revolve around a fundamental misunderstanding of how DNA and evolution works.

I forget that not everyone understands how their body works – how we go from a single cell to become the giant, thinking ecosystems we are today. And I forget that not everyone knows what cancer even is.

I could write a lot of essays about these sorts of things, and I think I’m going to because this shit makes me so fucking excited when I think about it in regards to the world, myself, other people, history, and the future.

My plan for a long time has been to fold all of the science in my head into the stories I write, but folks who’ve known me for a while know how not-prolific I am. And I’ve been wanting to find something to blog regularly about that’s not lists of life-updates or my feelings. This’ll work.

I’ll write my first post later this weekend. I’m gonna start small – fucking atomic small – and go from there.**

I’m hoping this’ll be most useful to all my writer friends out there because I know how hard it is right now to play catch up with science if you haven’t been steeping yourself in it for the past decade. We’re no longer in an era of massive discovery – we’re now in more of a refinement period (at least in biology) where we’re trying to build the tools and fill in the blanks in order to make sense of the gestalt of an organism, rather than the particulars of a single isolated cell. Computer science, engineering, and honestly FUCKING FUNDING DOLLARS, are the biggest choke points right now.

I hope we can get out there and show folks just how awesome all of this shit is, and, especially today, how fucking necessary it is to be science literate. It’s the only way we’re gonna be able to keep the discussions to relevant topics and make informed decisions. Because honestly, as a scientist, there’s a lot of fucking terrifying shit that’s looming if we don’t get it together to do something about the stuff we at least have some control over: antibiotic resistance, widespread famine, mass extinctions, climate change, etc.

But don’t take my word for it:

“We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.” – Carl Sagan

You in?***

*I don’t pretend to know everything. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of shit I don’t know anything about, but I’m always happy to learn.

**If anyone’s got a topic of particular interest (say for a story you’re working on), I’d be happy to cover it if I can.

***I’m mostly going to be sticking to topics I know pretty well to start: which is biology, chemistry, and some really basic physics at it relates to biology. Thankfully, this’ll cover a MASSIVE amount of territory.

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And now for you, I have nothing left

I said a thing today that I’ve been thinking about ever since it fell out of my mouth:

“I’m only afraid when things can be taken from me.”

The first thing that struck me when this pile of steaming self-help fell out of my mouth was that it felt like a true thing. The second thing that struck me was that it was so very much a lie.

jaws1

This is meant to symbolize the feeling of FUCK THAT SHIT

I’m afraid of lots of stuff: failure, the ocean, space, (to name a few). They’re valid things to fear and they can all take things from you. A fear of failure robs you of hope. The ocean* is full of blind and bloodthirsty terrors that would happily rob you of chunks of yourself. Space is full of so much nothing, it’ll make you pull yourself apart until you’re nothing too.

A decade ago I was pretty much afraid of everything, but I was particularly afraid of what was going to happen to me/what I was going to do to myself. Then I had an epiphany one afternoon while I was sitting in the loading dock behind the lab building smoking a cigarette:

Everything in my life that was bothering me had two aspects to it: things I had control over and things I didn’t.

The stuff I had control over I was already working on, and there was nothing I could do about the stuff I couldn’t control. So I let all the worry and anxiety about the latter shit go. I began to feel better for the first time in years.

What’s most fucked up, looking back on it now, is that I used to be afraid of everything I wanted to become. Every step I took towards becoming who I am today was fucking terrifying to take.

I don’t have to go to space, or into the ocean. I am getting better at being less afraid of people as well as failure. My emotional reaction to these things IS something I have control over – I can look at what I’m feeling, understand why I’m feeling that way, separate the stuff I can control from the stuff I can’t, then go on my happy way, giggling arm-in-arm with my defense mechanisms and coping strategies.

So yeah. When I said that thing, I thought, “That’s about right.” Space and the ocean and failure weren’t taking anything I wasn’t already giving them because their threats were (mostly) imaginary.

But I’m also getting to the point in my life where I can see how thin the connective tissue is. How easily everything can fall completely apart. How control is just a bedtime story I’m telling myself so I can sleep at night.**

This is what makes that thing I said is a lie. I’m not only afraid when things can be taken from me.

I’m afraid all the fucking time.***

* Ask me sometime why I’ll never go surfing ever again, and it’s not just because I have a distaste for sand and direct sunlight.
** I’m okay, really. Just thinking about a lot of stuff lately. I could maybe use one of those blue canaries. Maybe for that outlet by the light switch.
*** I promise my next post will be about something not me-related. You’ll get either an essay on cognitive neuroscience or Interstellar. Maybe both.
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