The Writer, Back When

Today’s post isn’t the one I meant to write. I’d planned just to post a “musical teaser” about my novel Fourteen Stones, but yesterday I was looking through some old photos, and got a new idea.

I’ve posted here on the blog about my experiences with mental health challenges, especially anxiety and depression. Both of those of course tend to get a lot more active during times of stress. These days, depression has made pretty regular appearances. Professional anxiety usually gets me going: “Am I doing enough?” and “Am I doing the right things?” turns into a litany of reasons why I’m not, and why that translates to my not being enough.

Last night, I pulled out a bunch of half-remembered photos I had in my desk. They’re all of me as a kid, starting when I was about a year old and going up until about age twelve. For a long time, I’ve had it in my head that I was a pretty challenging kid. Smart, but with a big tendency toward daydreaming and spacing out. Always a little out of touch with the world.

This was me at the beginning of first grade:

Age six. Looking pretty happy about school photos.

I was cuter than I’d thought. The one thing I don’t like about this picture is that it doesn’t show my glasses, which I started wearing in kindergarten. At that time, I was the only kid at school who wore them. That’s undoubtedly part of the reason my mother told me to take them off for every picture. These days, I’d much rather have the memory of how I really looked.

This little girl, six-year-old me, undoubtedly was pretty “spacey” and “dreamy.” I remember, though, that she was also the one who wrote her first original story. It was called “The River,” about a king who essentially “stole” water from his subjects by damming the river in his kingdom. I don’t remember how things got resolved, but everyone did live happily ever after. I also remember that I was inspired to write the story because of the way the bathtub faucet dripped. (Inspiration comes from everywhere. 😉 )

A few years later, here’s fourth-grade me:

Age nine. Same smile.

Again, I should have glasses in this photo. When I look at this girl, though, I notice how pretty she was. I remember, too, that she was the one who fell in love with Tolkien. That was the year I discovered The Hobbit. I remember taking the time to memorize that wonderful “Far O’er the Misty Mountains Cold” poem, getting chills every time I got to the line “The mountain smoked beneath the moon…”

That little girl also wrote a lot. Some of her stories were “fan fic” imitations of favorite writers, but some were originals, start to finish. She wrote poetry too. She loved words, the way they tasted, the way they sang. I remember what that was like. I remember, too, how that little girl decided she would be a writer when she grew up.

Nine-year-old me didn’t have the best situation at home. Much later, in my twenties and thirties, I came to understand why, for instance, I used to feel scared most days on the way home from school. I’m still tangling with and figuring out a lot of things, but I know that younger-me didn’t have the family a child deserves. I also have a better sense of why, these days, forty-something-me always struggles to think well of herself, or believe in what she can do.

Which brings me back to that professional anxiety thing, and depression thing, I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. Last night, I looked at my old pictures, especially the one of my fourth-grade self who decided to be a writer, and thought how proud she would be of how I turned out.

Those of us who grew up in unhealthy environments often learn, as adults, about self-parenting. I’ve had a lot of trouble with that idea, what with my ingrained sense that I was a “difficult” kid, but when I look at the girl in these pictures, I realize she wasn’t the challenge I always believed she was. Sure, she had her moments, but she was smart and creative, imaginative and kind. She always marched to her own beat, even when the people closest to her made that risky and unsafe. She was pretty cool. If I could reach into the past now, I’d tell her so. I’d tell her to hang in there, she and I will make it through together.

I have a feeling she would tell me I’m pretty cool too. You really write books? Wow!! Taking the self-parenting idea a step farther, I who don’t have kids (except feline ones): I would say that if she were my daughter, she’d think her mom was awesome. And if she were my daughter, I would be awfully proud of her.

My husband and me. Still the same smile, no?

This post has felt pretty personal and pretty risky, but it’s been good to write. Thank you for reading.

Since I can’t leave without plugging my book a little, please do remember to check out the Fourteen Stones crowdfunder campaign – link below – if you’d like to preorder a print or e-book. If you have a bookstore, or book groups, etc., and would like multiple copies, we do have a wholesale option. You can also choose to pledge other amounts to the crowdfunder. We can only take preorders and pledges until August 31!

>>Fourteen Stones crowdfunder link<<

Thanks again for visiting! Please stop back tomorrow if you’d like a Maker’s Day prompt. See you next time!

Writing and Mental Health

Today I’m thinking about writing (when not?), and more particularly, the connection it has for me with mental health. Here on the blog, I’ve posted about my own mental health challenges, especially with anxiety and depression. I know many of us deal with similar challenges, and I like to be open about mine, because (a) they’re the truth and (b) I figure it never hurts if we can talk about these kinds of things.

Writing is often a great healer for me. I feel most grounded when I’m working. When my brain is busy with some project, hanging out with my characters and working through the puzzle pieces of story, anxiety and depression have a harder time getting their hooks in. I like how my brain is willing and able to latch onto the “good stuff”; I have a side helping of OCD, which, sadly, doesn’t translate to keeping my house even remotely neat, but does help keep me laser-focused on my writing-in-progress. Obsession can be a terrific superpower for an artist. It does tend to drag perfectionism along with it, but if you can separate the two for a little while, you can harness all that energy to help get a project done.

The flip side of the writing-and-mental-health mix is the fragility of sharing work, especially work that has meant a lot, and dealing with rejection. This has been much on my mind lately as the launch of Fourteen Stones gets closer. I’ve found myself thinking about some particularly tough times three years ago, when getting this book into the world seemed extremely far away and probably impossible, and between that and other factors, my mental health hit an all-time low.

My therapy cat, Fergus, who knows when his assistance is needed.

For the first time ever, I found that I couldn’t write: my brain simply refused to go into the world of story. A solid wall stood between me and the one thing that had always helped me. Even reading was no fun anymore; I couldn’t concentrate on books, couldn’t surrender and take a ride with another writer’s imagination.

If you’ve ever been there, you know how disorienting and difficult that is. When your creativity is such a big piece of who you are, and you can’t tap into it because your own mind won’t let you, you start to feel pretty detached from yourself and unsure about everything. I’ve never had the same level of anxiety, before or since, that I did during those months. If you have mental health challenges, you know it’s the worst when your mind is your enemy. You can’t escape from yourself, as much as you want to.

I spent a while (way longer than I’d have liked) in that limbo. Finally, in late fall of 2019, I found myself starting to edge back towards creativity. One day I found I could sit down with a novel and actually get into it. Then, a while later, my favorite characters from Fourteen Stones started to nudge at me. I found myself sketching scenes with them, not to use in any real writing but just for fun, just because hanging out with them felt right. That was when I knew I was getting better. My beloved characters were a solid, strong lifeline. I could hang onto them and they would help me heal.

Map of my fictional country, Namora, which I taped up over my desk when I started writing again.

The good thing, as I found when I finally started to come out the other side of that time, is that once you’ve gone through that kind of fire and know you can survive, it’ll never be so scary again. You might not feel like you’re quite the same person you were before – I don’t, and I’m still learning about what’s changed – but you can feel grounded in yourself and know you’re doing okay, even when you run into bumps in the road.

In the spring of 2020, when Covid hit and everything turned upside down, Fourteen Stones helped me again when I launched into an overhaul of it. It felt so good to dive into the world of story, especially in lockdown, when real-world escapes had mostly disappeared. Since then, writing has stayed around as a touchstone, motivation, and release that I’m very grateful for. Sometimes it feels bizarre to make art, and worry about story and characters, with everything going on in the world. But I do think that it matters to put ourselves, our hopes and pain and wish for beauty, into what we create, and that by doing it, we can make a difference.

I hope you can spend some time today with whatever grounds you and lights you up. As always, thanks for visiting the blog.

Shadows and Light

New goal on the blog: sharing music every day as a break and boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you can start here.

Today’s post borrows one of my older videos. This is a complete sonata by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the greats of the Classical era in music history (about 1750-1825). It’s a bit more music than I’ve put in most of my posts; about 10 minutes total.

We might think about Mozart’s music as stiff and refined, only for elegant audiences in fancy dress, but Mozart himself wouldn’t have agreed with that. He loved life and having fun. Sometimes he escaped too much into partying and drinking as a way to get away from the pressures of work and family: his father’s gargantuan expectations for him; his own young family’s needs; the intricate demands of the professional music world and the constantly-shifting expectations of the patrons he depended on for survival; the clouds of his own depression and fragile health. Brilliant and sensitive, but at the same time social and joyous, Mozart found life a constant balancing act that too often dissolved into struggle.

This Sonata in F Major, though, is full of joy. In it we get a taste of the Mozart who loved to laugh and, no matter what shadows were closing in on him, always found something to delight in. The first movement is full of assertive, warm energy. The second movement becomes sweeter and sadder, touching gently on the shadows. The third movement, though, comes back to joy, leaving us in that bright place at the end.

As you listen, let the music carry you on its emotional journey from light to dark and back into light. If you’d like, imagine a story to fit with that progression. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

Make sure to subscribe to the blog if you’d like a daily dose of music, and visit back soon!

OBT day 14

Yesterday was “one of those days.” If you’re an artist of any stripe, you probably know what it’s like to wonder why you’re still trying to do this work, and whether or not you should be. Even if you’re not an artist, you’ve probably been there at some point.

That’s where I was yesterday, and it’s the place I’m trying to get past today. My One Bright Thing for today is a set of “beatitudes” I wrote for artists. I’m hoping if I sit with them for a while, they’ll be helpful, and that you’ll find them helpful too.

Beatitudes for Artists:

  1. Blessed are the different, for they shall find new paths.
  2. Blessed are they who face rejection, for they shall learn their strength.
  3. Blessed are they who challenge the system, for they shall know their own worth.
  4. Blessed are they who fall, for they shall find power in rising back up.
  5. Blessed are they who do not conform, for they shall bring about change.

And here’s a virtual cat hug:

fergus hug
Fergus thinks you should do your thing.

 

As always, thanks for visiting. If you found today’s post helpful, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music, some thoughts: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. (If you share on Twitter, you can tag me at @kfaatz925 and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge.)

 

OBT day 13

#OBTChallenge Day 13

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” most days. (The original goal was every day, but it now seems like several times a week is more reasonable.) This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. The news from the wider world, especially these days, compounds those challenges. I’m finding it helpful to put some energy out as often as possible.

Today’s post features music. This is a recording I made last week of the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 13, called the “Pathetique.”

I’m posting this for a couple of reasons. The recording isn’t the best quality; my piano needs some work, and my phone is positioned so close to the keyboard that sometimes, in the right hand, you get a tack piano effect. ( 😉 ) But recording myself playing this movement at all felt like going out on a limb. I find it hard to make recordings, much harder even than live performance, and I’m always scared to share them. This piece is much “riskier” and more intricate than most of the stuff I do record and share. It was a push to get myself to do it, but I got tired of my anxiety telling me how much I couldn’t do. This is my way of saying, I know I’ve got the skills, and I can do this if I want. All of us – especially those of us with anxiety and depression – sometimes need to remember that we’re stronger and more powerful than we think.

I also wanted to post this piece because Beethoven is one of my great heroes. We’re used to thinking of him as the “deaf genius,” taking for granted the fact that he wrote extraordinary music in spite of a severe physical impediment. We don’t think as often what it was really like for him to struggle with his hearing loss, and to fear that someday, he might not be able to make or compose music at all. We also don’t think as often about the fact that his deafness drove him to change the way he wrote music, to get all of his ideas out while he could, because he felt he was in a race against time. His music was revolutionary, explosive, and permanently changed the course of music history.

These days, with the bombardment of dark news from around the world, it’s easy to feel insignificant and powerless. I love the reminder Beethoven offers of the kind of difference one person can make, in spite of the worst challenges, when driven by determination and absolute commitment.

Please enjoy the video below.

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

 

OBT day 12

#OBTChallenge Day 12

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” most days. (The original goal was every day, but it now seems like several times a week is more reasonable. 😉 ) This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression, and I’m finding it helpful – at least for me – to counteract that by putting out some good energy.

This afternoon I’m teaching the first session of a new class at our local community college. The class, “Storytelling and Sound,” explores ways that music can inspire and support the creative writing progress. I’ve never taught anything like it before, and I think balancing the writing side with the music side will be interesting and challenging.

The class has been on the college’s calendar for three semesters now, but this is the first time it’s run. I was starting to think it never would, and in fact that proposing it was a mistake. I’m glad I get the chance to try it out. At the same time, anxiety – as usual – is telling me I’ll be lucky to make it work.

Anxiety likes to tell me many times a day that I can’t do things. It’s a drag, but on the other hand, those messages have repeated themselves so often, and made no difference whatsoever, that I’m starting to get better at ignoring the internal bully. It says, “You’re going to crash and burn!” and I say, “Thanks for the comment,” and get on with things.

This morning I went for a walk in a nearby parcel of woods. I took this picture because I like the idea of the somewhat-hidden path: we don’t always know what’s ahead, but get on with things every day, one step at a time. And in any moment, that one step is all we have to take care of.

woods pic

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

 

OBT day 11

#OBTChallenge Day 11

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression.

Tonight I’m giving a piano performance. That’s something I haven’t been doing very often lately, and it doesn’t feel quite as routine as it used to. I’d initially planned to keep the program very “safe.” One flashy piece I know really well – Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata – and the rest of the program slow and quiet and tame.

Then yesterday, when I was practicing, I realized exactly how safe I was playing it (literally) and why. Anxiety was telling me I couldn’t do riskier music that might be more fun. I decided to test that theory. Maybe it’s not the wisest idea to change up your program the day before a performance, but why not? 😉

I switched out a couple of pieces and added a couple of others. The video below is one of the switches. My original program included three very safe sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. I decided to trade one of the safe ones for the one in the video, which is quite a bit harder, but more fun both to hear and to play. (If you watch the recording, you might notice my left hand jumping over my right hand now and then, and hanging out at the high end of the keyboard for a while.) I recorded it during my practice session, because playing for a video is even scarier for me than playing for an audience.

The recording is a little rough, but I decided to use it as an OBT less for the music itself and more for the reminder that, sometimes, we can do more than we think. We don’t always have to confine ourselves to playing it safe. Here’s to taking a risk now and then, and trusting our powers!

 

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

OBT day 10

#OBTChallenge Day 10

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression.

Speaking of anxiety, yesterday I had to have my car worked on (flat tire, long story). I was at the garage for most of the afternoon, about four hours total from when my car was towed there to when I got back home. If you’re a fellow anxiety sufferer, you know that being in a “trapped” situation – stuck somewhere, you’re not sure for how long, you can’t control the outcome – is a serious trigger.

I managed not to flip out at the garage (phew!). It was good to get home, but I was also angry at what felt like a lot of wasted time. I didn’t get anything done today. All that stuff I needed to do. As often happens, my response to the stress intensified it. I got mad at myself for getting mad. What’s wrong with me that I can’t just roll with it?

Sometimes we have to step back. Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves for not always doing things the way we might have wanted. This is really, really hard for me, but sometimes we have to tell ourselves, “You know what? It’s okay to be you.”

Today, if you’re frustrated with yourself, how you handled something, or how you can get sometimes, I invite you to step back and take a breath. It’s okay to be you. Really.

fergus snooze
It’s also okay to need a break.

 

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

OBT day 9

#OBTChallenge Day 9

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. Last week, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s post is another good thought, in the form of a quote:

“Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing in loveliness.” – Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

Tattoos on the Heart is a powerful and eye-opening read about a Jesuit priest’s experience working in gang intervention in California. In the quote above, Fr. Boyle is talking about restoring a sense of self-worth to young people who have given up on their own lives.

I think the idea can apply to a lot of us. For me, “re-teaching a thing in loveliness” might be a way to counteract depression and some of my self-directed anger and disappointment. It can mean looking at myself in a new way and seeing beauty and value in aspects of myself I might have ignored; like in my last post, where I thought about my “stubbornness” in a positive light. It can also mean being more patient with myself during the times when I think I’m falling short.

Where might you turn a more positive light on yourself? Where might you look at yourself in a new way and see something beautiful? It’s a short question to ask, but I’d invite you to think about it.

dogwood ice 1.19.20
Some unexpected beauty: dogwood encased in ice

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OBT Day 8

#OBTChallenge Day 8

My new goal on the blog for a while is to post one “bright thing” every day…or at least most days. This can be a tough time of year for those of us, like me, who struggle with anxiety and depression. Last week, I was feeling especially down, so I asked myself how I could turn those feelings around and put some light out into the world. The OBT Challenge was born.

Today’s OBT has to do with holding a good thought about yourself. Right now, as I’m facing down resistance and some discouragement in the face of “stuff I have to do but don’t want to,” I’m taking a rare minute to think deliberately about something about myself that I like. If you’re like me and deal with depression – or even if you don’t have that particular “frenemy,” but are just like a lot of us tend to be at one point or another – you spend a lot of time listening to the self-critical voice in your head. It can be hard sometimes even to find one thing you think you’re good at, or something you’re proud of.

I’m pretty stubborn. Sometimes I’ve put that in the negative column about myself: “don’t know when to quit,” “can’t give up when I should.” But it’s also a useful strength. I don’t want to go through my to-do list today, and I have a feeling I’m not doing everything just so or the absolute best it can possibly be (for instance, writing query letters, which can always drain the go-getter feelings right out of me). But I’m doing those things anyway. I’m plugging through the list and showing up, whether or not everything is as perfect as I might like it to be. Often, like today, stubborn is a good thing to be. And yes, it does mean that I don’t know when to quit…and sometimes that’s meant that I can make things work, even when they might look hopeless.

I invite you to take a minute now and celebrate something about yourself. Maybe, like me, you have that stubbornness that translates to getting stuff done and refusing to give up. Maybe you’re good at finding the positive in the difficult. Maybe your trait is energy, or compassion, or some particular skill or gift.

Take a minute, focus on that, and honor it. Alafair (below) insists that you do.

Alafair portrait
You are excellent. Like me.

As always, thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon. If you like what you see here, please share! Also think about posting your own bright thing somewhere on social media today. It could be a photo, a drawing, a poem, some music: anything that makes you smile and puts some light out in the world. Bonus points if it’s something you create yourself. 🙂

If you post your OBT on Facebook or Twitter, you can tag me (@kfaatz925 on Twitter) and use the hashtag #OBTChallenge. I’d love to see what you share! If you’re not on social media but would like to share something with me to post, crediting you of course, please email me at kfaatz925@gmail.com.