My OCD feels like Groundhog Day

I’m not meticulously neat, and I have no fear of germs or contamination. I’m probably the messiest person you know. I have paint on my glasses and under my fingernails. I’m a constant cloud of clutter and absentmindnedness.

I’m not buttoned-up Mister Monk, and I’m not not-a-hair-out-of-place Doctor Sheldon Cooper. I forget to brush my hair. I’ll go days without looking in the mirror. I don’t have strict schedules. I don’t go around straightening crooked items. My OCD doesn’t give me crime solving superpowers, and it isn’t cinematic… it doesn’t look good on a screen.

I used to count when I was younger. Count everything, compulsively. Count pieces of popcorn I ate, steps I took, I don’t do that anymore. The ongoing mythos in my family is that I took a test for ADD and counted the number I got wrong, and I was off by one because I started counting late. The day I was diagnosed with very mild ADD I was also diagnosed with not-so-mild OCD.

I don’t wash my hands until I bleed. I repeat because things don’t feel right.

When I was a kid I wouldn’t turn in my homework… it would be crumpled up in the bottom of my backpack. I’d do my homework. All of it. Always. But I wouldn’t turn it in (in part) because it didn’t feel right. Even if it was just a participation or completion grade. They had to have a parent/teacher conference because I was failing. Not because I didn’t understand the material, but because I didn’t turn in my work. I did the work, there was no point in proving it.

We tried folders and binders, we tried every organizational tip under the sun, but I always reverted back to shoving everything in the bag. When it comes to organization, my brain just isn’t wired for it. I try. It isn’t because I’m lazy or stupid. I’ve spent decades trying to put the jumble of my life in order, but it always ends up the same way, gravity pulling me down out of orbit.

96% isn’t acceptable from me. If I can redo it, I will, until it’s perfect. I once got over 100 in a statistics class because (on top of extra credit) the quizzes were online and I’d have to redo them, sometimes a dozen times, until they were 100%. Missing one question meant I had to start over. Which would be useful, except I can’t stop.

The moment I turn in a manuscript I immediately think of jokes I should’ve made, small wording changes that are necessary, if I talk about this man humming here and here that sets up the fact that he mentions music later, just endless streams of useless minutia that no one will notice but me. I’ve submitted the same manuscript fourteen times and I know I’ll never get it right. Because no matter how perfect I think it is, when I push that button I have to fix it all over again. It doesn’t feel right. It feels like I left the stove on, it feels like that gutwrenching panic of losing sight of your kid in a grocery store. I’m Bill Murray waking up in the bed and breakfast, listening to the clock radio play I Got You Babe for the eight-hundred and forty-first time.

They call it perfectionism that interferes with task completion. Except I complete it. I just have to recomplete it.

I hoard. It’s not I’m-stuck-behind-thirty-piles-of-newspaper bad, but it’s bad. I have homework from college, I have phone numbers from people I’ve forgotten scrawled on napkins, I have books I borrowed from people I’ve lost touch with, I have candy wrappers from Japan, I have tiny wallet-sized photographs from friends I don’t remember. I don’t want to lose track, I don’t want to forget.

And it doesn’t feel better or freeing or cathartic to get rid of any of it. It repeats in my mind, like counting sheep, the silver angel statue with the round face I wish I’d kept, the red dress with the little white bicycles on it, the burgundy pants with the rip in the knee and the missing button. The white dress with the big blue flowers like watercolor splotches. The textbooks with the worn spines. Repeating like variations on the same theme, like a factory that pumps out anxieties on a conveyor belt, a constant loop.

Taking photos of the stuff doesn’t make it easier. Knowing they’ll go to a good home doesn’t make it easier. Even knowing that I have to or else I’m getting kicked out doesn’t make it easier. It feels like a black hole in my stomach, like sinking into quicksand. The things around me, my collections, don’t feel like items. They feel like part of me. They feel like parts of my body that I’m being forced to excise and send away. The things themselves feel burdensome, the way that my body feels burdensome, too clumsy, too much, but I can’t downsize any more than I can amputate. Except I have to, I don’t have a choice. There’s not a word for how bad it feels that doesn’t come off like a maudlin metaphor. There’s no way to explain that this pile of wrinkled papers feels like recycling my hand. Getting rid of this box of seashells feels like I’m being told I have to send away my lung. It isn’t out of sight out of mind. It stays in my mind. Instead of cluttering my room it clutters my brain… all the things I’m forced to part with.

Groundhog Day. There are books I need to read, bags I need to sew, hats I need to knit, tiny birdcages I need to unglitter, bookends I need to repaint, clutter on every flat surface.

I have rules I have to follow. Stupid rules. If I do certain things (with no logical basis) I’ll be being ‘bad.’ Not that I think anyone else is bad for doing the same things. I’m just bad. I’m bad if I have a sip of alcohol (no reason, I’m almost thirty and I have no problem with people drinking). Back when I was in school, I couldn’t miss a class, I never skipped. If I did, it would be because I’m bad, though I didn’t feel that way about my friends who overslept or needed mental health days or just didn’t feel like it. I only missed a single lecture in college, and that was because I had a root canal the day before, and I walked to class anyway because I didn’t want to miss anything. A friend made me go back to my dorm again.

I do have a spot that I need to sit in. Not that I’ll fuss at anyone if they sit in my spot… I just wouldn’t know where to go. I’d quietly panic, and stand there, until someone said, “Sit by me.”

If I make a mistake and we get in a fight I don’t understand that you need space. I say I understand, but I don’t. I need to fix it immediately. I need to clarify. I will talk about it incessantly if you let me. I know logically that you need space, but the concept of needing space in conflict is as foreign to me as requesting a white plastic spork, a kitten, a frozen waffle, and a tube of tennis balls in the middle of an argument. Because I’ll keep thinking about it, forever, until the situation is resolved. I’ll play it over and over again. I’ll decide you must hate me. You’ll never talk to me again. I’m a very bad person. The soundtrack to my life is every mistake I’ve ever made.

I’d rather be in an uncomfortable, even miserable situation than risk change, even a positive change. I don’t like making small decisions. I eat the same thing at every restaurant I go to. I need to have subtitles on shows I watch because I need to know what they’re saying, all the time. I’ll rewind if I miss a word or a detail, I’ll pause to read the fake newspaper article or sticky note on a side-character’s desk, and if the handwriting is too bad to read I’ll still try for way too long, and, at my worst, I’ll look up transcripts of the shows or movies and read them later. I don’t like leading the way if I’m walking in a group. I don’t like crossing major streets alone… I’ll wait until there are no cars in sight.

Groundhog Day. A constant loop of repeating. Of not being able to let go. Of again, and again, and again, and again. An encore for a show I don’t want to watch anymore.

I scratch and pick at my skin and my scalp. It gets worse when I’m stressed. If I see an imperfection, I have to get rid of it. Ironically, I have scars because I do that. Not because I want to harm myself, but because I have to. I pick at the cuticles of my thumbs, press at them with my fingers, and I’ve done it since elementary school. I’ve done it for so long that my thumbnails grow damaged and ridged, but if I think about it I have to do it. Not I-want-to-do-it. I have to. It feels like an itch under my skin until I do.

I’ve reread this post thirty times and will probably reread it thirty more before I push submit.

Groundhog Day, but I can’t get out of the loop. Groundhog Day, but the credits never roll.

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#HopeRocks

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This project has been on my heart for a while. As someone who struggles with anxiety, loneliness, and feelings of hopelessness, I want to put a little bit of light out in the world. Hence: #HopeRocks.

This is also hopefully going to help me with letting things go, as I plan to place these rocks in areas with foot traffic, so people can see them.

If you find these rocks… know that I earnestly mean every word. I do love you. I do believe in you. You matter. You’re special. You are dear to me.

Feel free to join the project, if you have rocks, paint, clear sealer, and time. If not, give me rocks! About the size of your fist or larger is ideal, though I can work with the teeny ones, too, with no problems.

Move the rocks somewhere new! Take and post pictures! But above all, spread hope, and know that I love you.

Also posted to Patreon.

How to Write an Interesting Character

The trick to writing an interesting fictional character is to not give them everything they want. There are rare exceptions to this. Very rare. So rare I can’t actually think of any off the top of my head. But you need to understand this rule to break it: the crux of most conflict (other than poor communication) is an inability to get what you want.

Figure out what your character would answer if you asked them what they desire out of life. Then figure out what the truth is. Then figure out what the undercurrent of that desire is… what don’t they consciously realize they want?

For example, this is what I’d say I want:
* love and a family
* a robot
* for people to love my writing and art
* to be less scared of everything

And here’s what the truth of what I want:
* love and a family
* a robot
* for people to love my writing and art
* to be less scared of everything

Because I’m honest. What you see with me is what you get. I can’t answer the third question for the obvious reason that I don’t know what I don’t know.

Adeline, from my first novel, would answer:
* to be a superhero
* to go to space
* candy
* stop asking me questions
* I’ll punch you in the nose

The truth of what Adeline wants:
* to be a superhero/spaceman/adventurer
* to be accepted
* to not alienate everyone around her

What Adeline doesn’t know she wants:
* to be understood, and not pushed too hard to fit in

Imogene, from my second novel, would answer:
* dead bodies to cut open
* money to live
* booze, cigarettes, men

The truth of what Imogene wants:
* dead bodies to cut open
* money to live
* booze, cigarettes, men
* for people to not act like she’s a freak

What Imogene doesn’t know she wants:
* unconditional blind acceptance– to be a part of society while still getting to do whatever she wants

 

Now that you know what they want, the trick is to not give them everything. You aren’t your characters’ magic genie. They need something to strive for.

For Imogene: if I give her someone to love, she has to repress her darker impulses so that she won’t lose that love. If she somehow falls for someone as twisted as she is, she has to make sure she doesn’t accidentally toboggan down that slippery slope and end up hurting innocent people. If she has money, she has to work so much that her social life slips… she loses the chance at love. If she has a flourishing social life, she’s not taking enough clients; she’s going hungry.

Imagine your characters’ wants and needs as a set of plates spinning on poles, one of those old circus acts. Except you’re not very good at plate spinning and you can’t keep them all going at once. One of them has to fall, and shatter. If you take the time to get a similar plate spinning again, you have to let another fall. As a writer, see yourself as an inexperienced juggler who’s taken on a couple too many flaming torches and chainsaws. A character’s desires are part of a delicate ecosystem: what one character wants naturally butts up against what another character wants, and there’s conflict. Conflict leads to plot. Plot leads to the dark side.

A character can be a happy, positive person and still not have their every wish, even if it looks that way on the surface. Dig a little deeper. Take your character out for coffee and let them talk for a while. You’ll find something under the surface. You know the saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’? It’s your job to find the cloud.

Once a character has everything they want, what’s left to write? A series of pleasant breakfasts with their loved ones, as they slowly grow old in a cocoon of warm contentedness? No, that won’t do. No one hungrily awaits the paragraphs of Bilbo sitting flush with wealth in the Shire after the adventure, they look forward to his reminiscing. No one’s like, “Gee, my very favorite part of the Harry Potter series is that very last chapter when all the issues are fixed.” Or, “Do you know what really gets my heart racing? The end of the movie where Nemo is reunited with his dad and they’re a happy fishy family again.” The movie’s called Finding Nemo; the search is the whole point. Don’t get me wrong, giving your characters what they want is a good framing device and it leaves readers/watchers satisfied at the end, but don’t linger there for longer than you have to. It’s like coasting in your car… fine for a while, but you eventually have to step on the gas.

So step on it.

Writers Write and Other Stupid Cliches That are Hard to Do

Another generic romantic comedy about a scruffy-faced middle-class-but-slumming-it-in-an-apartment-he-still-shouldn’t-be-able-to-afford-freelancing white guy writer who drinks too much and is all raw talent and manic pixie adventuring. And he’s miserable, but still functional, and he finds a girlfriend and stops being miserable, and everything’s okay without him having to put any work in.

And here I am, watching it all, and feeling like I couldn’t be further from that man on the screen, who kisses in the rain and smiles so big he has crow’s feet and types until four in the morning and slams a wrinkled manuscript on the publisher’s desk and ruins his relationships by being a manchild except he’s also charming enough to make it better every single time and drinks whiskey and chainsmokes (but never coughs) and at the end of the day his issues are wrapped up in an hour and a half of him not really having to make an effort at all.

It’s not like that for me. I feel so lonely I think I’m going to die, but I probably won’t die. So I need to love myself enough to get my act together in the meantime. And if the loneliness is forever, if the pit deep in my stomach and the lump in my throat won’t ever go away, at least I’m not lonely and stagnant. At least at the end of my life people will look back and say, “She was sad, and she struggled, but she did good art, and made a few things more beautiful.”

I need to say, “Hey, I got out of bed, what else can I do today?”

Fake it until you make it. Smile like you mean it. Writers write. Every day I miss how passionate I was about writing in college, how easy it was then when I had deadlines, classes to attend. When I was devouring book after book after book, hungrily listening to lectures. When I had a community of passionate writers around me, and we all believed in ourselves, or if we didn’t, we trusted that other people believed in us. There was something romantic about it then. I had potential and possibility. Eight years later, I don’t have the hope I used to have. Eight years later, I feel like a failure. Eight years later, my loneliness is a coat I wear that I can’t take off, and it’s stifling me. I have at least six half-finished manuscripts that I’m too scared to touch, because what if I’m not good? Nine months ago I released my second book and I still have tiny edits I want to make before I finalize my hard copy; when am I going to do that? And what am I so afraid of– actually, that’s not a rhetorical question, I’m afraid that I suck and that everyone knows and isn’t telling me.

I can’t depend on external structure, no matter how disorganized I am. I can’t expect a superhero to swoop down and make it better. I can’t expect kisses in the rain and easy fixes to the plot holes. I can’t expect anyone to love me. And I can’t wait for that magic sky secretary to swoop down and get my affairs in order. I can’t wait for Mary Poppins; I’m not a precocious British child I’m a grown-ass woman who’s afraid to make an effort.

I have to pull myself up by my bootstraps, even though that saying is stupid because how can you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps? How can you have the leverage to lift yourself off the ground by your shoes? I need to exercise. I need to read. I need to hydrate. I need to remember my anti-anxiety meds. I need to write. I need to pretend like I care until I care. So here I am. Pretending. And hydrating. And medicating. And exercising. And writing. And reading. And maybe, one day, caring again.

The Morning After: Season 7 Premiere TWD Review

There’ll be spoilers. Prepare yourself for that.  But also: don’t worry. I won’t make you wait six months to get to the end of the post.

While I pad the post so the preview won’t reveal relevant episode details for those of you who don’t want to be spoiled, I want you to think about the whole Supernatural* fandom, chanting the same John Winchester joke in tandem. It was funny at first, but I find I can’t encourage that kind of behavior.

negan

YEP. You got it. Occasionally actors play more than one role in the history of their careers. Haha. Hahaha.
*I say this as an ardent member of the Supernatural fandom.

That’s enough padding, I think. First I want to talk about how lowkey hilarious Negan is. “Simon’s my RIGHT hand man, without that what do you have LEFT.” And “You have to make a good first impression” when Lucille just made a serious impression on some skulls. He should just carry around a collection of unplugged microphones so he can drop them when he does a zinger. The vampire bat one was rough, but he acknowledged it and moved on. He really killed out there.  (Laughtrack. And continuing on.)

Look, we saw how well his group planned things out when they were blocking our group in the season six finale. I truly think Negan planned, the whole time, to bring Rick out there with the hanging walker to test his mettle. With the smoldering wreckage giving a solid Silent Hill style smoky atmosphere, it was the perfect place for an exam.  And that right hand left hand joke was absolutely said in reference to what he was planning for Carl, too. I think Negan’s got it together.  He’s not looking five moves ahead. He’s looking thirty. Rick was looking two.

I’m going to miss Abraham and Glenn– they were beautiful, hilarious additions to the cast. I wish Glenn had died before he killed an innocent person in his sleep. I wish they’d kept him pure, kept the character the paragon of virtue that he’s been up to then.  I love everything that comes out of Abraham’s mouth. I actually ran into Michael Cudlitz at a Barbecue joint in Texas. Nicest guy.

img_2231(Warning: might not actually be Michael Cudlitz. Might just be a statue of a cowboy.)

Whole show I was making this face :C
Major grimace town.
And I was in serious denial with Glenn. Even when he popped back up with the eye thing and the skull thing, I was like, “Huh, I wonder how they’re going to fix this.” It didn’t cross my mind that he’d be killed, too.  Until he was.

Loved the arm scene with Carl. Very reminiscent of Abraham (the Bible Abraham, not the cowboy sculpture Abraham) bringing Isaac up on the mountain to sacrifice him, only to be stopped at the last moment by an angel.  Again, Negan did that on purpose.

Also: people are being so sweet and poetic. Glenn said, “I’ll find you, Maggie” because he was talking about the afterlife or blah blah figurative language blah, but let’s be real about life. He just had major irreparable injury to his frontal lobe, and he was hemorrhaging with a colossal brain bleed. That was brain damage talking. That was his dying brain latching onto one last memory before the lights went out, one last major emotional touchstone in his life, and that was getting back to Maggie. Always making it home to Maggie. He’s just lucky he said that and not, “Blender kitten saucepan twig.”

Kind of concerned that Negan Halloweeners might be in for some trouble this year. Stay safe out there, guys, and make Lucille behave herself.

Loved that imagined Sunday dinner scene at the table. Appropriately sad. But it kind of gave me some closure. It didn’t make what happened up to that point better exactly, but it made it easier to bear. The last image of Glenn wasn’t him as hamburger meat. It was him with his son on his lap, at the head of the table.

I think that’s all I have to say. It was way more brutal and screwed up than even I thought it would be, and my imagination is pretty impressive. Ask the velociraptor who has tea with me every third Thursday evening.  I agree with the idea that they were trying to break the audience, trying to make it realistic that Rick would surrender control to Negan, make us agree, even.  That was successful.  Consider us broken.  Now build us back up.

5 Tips on How to Exercise When You Have Chronic Joint Pain

1. Don’t.

2. Lie down on the couch and remember the last time you did minor exercise that tiny babies can do without problems and it laid you out for a week.

3. Realize that nothing will ever get better and you will die like this. If you had to run from a bad guy, you wouldn’t be able to, or you would push through it and end up incapacitated for the foreseeable future. Realize that the best you can hope for is a death that is less painful than your life. Not that you don’t like your life– it’s wonderful, and there’s beauty all around, but there’s the ever-present throb, the sharp ache, the stabbing weakness that makes you suck in your breath when your joints give out and it feels like someone’s yanking you by the leg; you’re always conscious of it, it’s like a sore in your mouth you can’t stop tonguing.

4. Remember that there are all these youtube videos about people with problems like yours who did yoga, or pilates, or sold their souls, and they have their testimonials about how great their lives are now. Don’t watch them. They won’t give you hope; they’ll just piss you off.

5. I don’t know, I want to end this on a positive note. You can get through this, or whatever. Things do get better. I guess. Don’t do 100 jumping jacks because you’re cocky and throw your knee out.  Maybe do something low impact, like crying.

Fiddler on the Roof: deleted scenes

I saw Fiddler for the first time yesterday and there are some problems.  Well, a couple problems. Well, one problem: why is the fiddler fiddling on the roof?  Yes, I understand that it’s a metaphor, but there’s a literal dude actually playing a genuine dang fiddle on a real roof.  What’s that about?

So I decided to expand the script of Fiddler to explain this unusual phenomenon of roof fiddlers.  Here’s three alternate scenes that can just be stuffed anywhere in the script.

Scene A:
Tevye: By the way, Fiddler, why are you fiddling on the roof?
Fiddler: I may represent God, constantly looking over you. That’s why at the end of the movie I’m following your caravan.
Tevye: Yeah, but why do you, as a nonmetaphorical person do that?
Fiddler: So people can better hear my fiddle.  It’s acoustics.
Tevye: That makes sense.

Scene B:
Golde: Tevye!  Tevye!  You’ll be late for Sabbath!
Tevye: I won’t be late!
Golde: That man, he’s fiddling on the roof again!
Tevye: It’s an infestation of roof fiddlers!  I hear other towns have flutists in their wells… what beautiful, watery sounds they make, echoing against the stone walls. But for us in Anatevka, only roof fiddlers!  Only ever fiddlers on the roof. [turns to face the camera and gives it a knowing look, like Jim from The Office]

Scene C:
Tevye: I should have known!  Lazar Wolf, the butcher, was Laser Wolf all along, a wolf with lasers attached to him!
Lazar/Laser Wolf: [removes skin mask to reveal his true nature]  Woe is me! I’ve been found out!
Tevye: Quick, roof fiddler!  You must fiddle! Laser wolves can’t abide the sound of music played on top of rooftops, especially from string instruments.
Fiddler: [fiddles]
Lazar/Laser Wolf: Don’t do it!  I can’t abide the sound of music played on top of rooftops, especially from string instruments!  [he runs away howling and clutching his ears, and the town of Anatevka is once again safe from Laser Wolf, leader of the laser wolves]

I’ll be awaiting my royalty checks.