Moving the goal posts

Hey so check this out.

Here’s what tab 3 of my 2016 writing spreadsheet looked like when my monthly word count goal was 10k and my stretch goal was 15k:

2016 writing spreadsheet tab 3 with updated counts

Buuuuuuuuuuut look what happens if I change the monthly goal to 2k and the stretch goal to 5k:

2016 writing spreadsheet tab 3 revised

LOOK HOW GREAT I’M DOING

Stuff

Sometimes I come out of my depression enough to think about all the stuff I’m not accomplishing, and why that might be (gee, maybe depression? But also: I’m a lazy fuck).

This morning a friend was mentioning that they have fallen behind on their word count for the year, but that they’re not too far behind and they’re impressed they made it this far into the year without falling behind until now. I literally had nothing to say to that. Back at the beginning of the year I worked with them on creating spreadsheets that track word counts in a variety of ways, and I was really proud of my version of it, but I haven’t actually used that spreadsheet since February.

2015’s spreadsheet was broken up by month and required me to create blocks for each week and take up a ton of space:

my 2015 writing spreadsheet

2016’s spreadsheet was designed so I could simply enter anything I wrote into rows on the same tab:

my 2016 writing spreadsheet - data tab

and then the other tabs would track whether I was meeting certain goals. The second tab just checks to see if I have written anything at all in a given week.

my 2016 writing spreadsheet, tab 2

Then the third tab tracks monthly goals. My baseline was 10k words per month, and 15k was a stretch goal. (Obviously I never met either of these.)

my 2016 writing spreadsheet, tab 3

And finally, on the last tab, I just wanted to tally what kind of writing I was doing. There were no goals for this tab. I was just thinking it would be neat to see what projects ended up getting the most word count. I separated “ficlets” from “fanfic” because I wanted to differentiate between tiny stories (200-word drabbles, five-sentence ficlets) and short stories, even though my short stories tend to be so short that other people might call them ficlets as well (under 4000 words).

my 2016 writing spreadsheet, tab 4

So yeah, the spreadsheet is pretty cool, and I get a certain amount of pride looking at it now, even though I barely used it for its actual purpose.

But the point is, I haven’t met any word count goals this year. I have written things beyond what I’ve tracked, but not much. Maybe I’ll go through and fill in this spreadsheet with everything I’ve written since February, but I’m not sure I want to see how little I’ve been writing.

I realize this is an extremely rough time for me and I shouldn’t expect myself to be perfect and shit, but I just feel like a failure. Most times when I try to start writing something I am filled with extreme reluctance. Occasionally I’m not, and something comes out. But I feel like I should just push through that reluctance and force myself to write things, and that because I’m not, I’m weak and lazy.

Loss

A week into my “Dad’s dying” visit home, my iPhone decided to stop working. Mom and I took it to the Apple Store, but they couldn’t make it work either. I had fortunately copied all the pictures off it earlier in the week, but that meant, since I don’t use iCloud for photos, that particular week’s pictures were unsalvageable.

I can’t remember if I had taken any pictures of Dad that week.

The next week, he died.

I took some pictures with my replacement phone, and those were saved. But when I finally got home and restored my phone from backup, I lost everything else I’d done during that time. Actually, I lost everything since December, since that was the last time I’d backed up the phone. No pictures, but notes I’d written. Text messages.

I keep thinking about how the last text messages with my brother Ben had been “You need to come to the hospital.” And how there were other texts, evidence of my trip to New York in January. And diary-type stuff I wrote in notes, gone forever.

You’d think I’d be used to losing things by now.

fucking

why did he die?

life was just happening like normal

and then suddenly it’s like

okay your dad’s dying

okay your dad’s dead

(you watched him die)

seeing a picture of a backyard, not even your backyard but close enough, makes you want to cry

mother’s day makes you want to cry

you think about father’s day coming up and making some sort of happy father’s day post with a picture of his cremains because that’s all that’s left, right? that’s funny, right?

all these plans, all these what-ifs, they weren’t supposed to be needed so soon

mom planning to move

no more backyard, no more basement, no more house

it’s all gone anyway, everything’s gone, everything’s changed

you said things you can’t take back and ruined it all

you want to erase this entire year, almost

no, you do, you want to erase it all, even the good stuff, because it’s overwhelmed by all the bad stuff

you’re so selfish

and everything’s about you anyway isn’t it

everything that happens to anyone else, you make it about you

specifically, about how you are Wrong and Different and a Failure

how you don’t fit in and never will

how you should disappear

but it’s not even about you, it’s about them, even when you’re hating yourself you’re fucking self-centered

and you think about how you are when you drive

and how arrogant you are with other things

and how you’ve been blaming it on inheritance, but it’s yours, those are you, you’re the one doing them

every day you choose to be pathetic.

Alone

I’m sitting in silence, the most complete a silence can get in this apartment—only the soft hum of the refrigerator and the whir of laptop and file server fans and the clacking sound of my own typing breaking the stillness. It’s so still, so quiet.

I’m alone.

On Skype, Sean’s status is green for online, and so is Kathryn’s. They’re here, but not really. Sean is at William’s, and Kathryn is hundreds of miles away from me, where she always is. Earlier I typed at length into Sean’s window about a story idea I am working on, but he didn’t respond. He and William are likely in a game. Kathryn is quiet, but available: she spoke first, and we spent some happy moments imagining what we might do if we were actually in the same room. I would like to watch The Last Unicorn with her. It’s been on my mind lately, and all weekend I’ve been listening to the soundtrack, and tonight I browsed screen captures and quotations and fan art and was brought nearly to tears several times.

Today was aimless; I did laundry and read and fed myself. I had planned to read Bloodline, the new Star Wars novel, but instead I read fan fiction. Both times I ventured out for food, the day was bright and beautiful, the sun blinding and the trees vividly green. The air was warm but not hot and there was a cool breeze and it was perfect. When I got home the first time I opened all the blinds and saw that our patio bistro set is completely coated in pollen.

I’ve been opening two of the blinds in the sunroom every day, for the peace lily. I just searched Google for “funeral flowers” because I couldn’t remember what it was called, and I scrolled past dozens of arrangements that were so obviously meant to stand near or on a casket, and then I started seeing names spelled out in flowers: Lee, Granma, Mum. So many Mums. And finally, Dad.

The peace lily was given to us for Dad’s memorial. We received several beautiful arrangements and plants. When I first came home, after he died, after the memorial, I didn’t bring any of them with me. I was sure I would kill it. But I soon went back to Kentucky because I wasn’t okay, and I stayed a little while longer, and when I came home again I brought the peace lily too. It’s big, and it looks good on my dining table in the sunroom.

There’s so little stability now. But I can take care of this plant, at least. Right now, it’s just me and it.

I’m glad I gave Dad a backrub.

Not the one I gave him in the hospital, while he was staring wide-eyed at nothing, mouth open, breaths forced into him by a machine.

The one from the week before, when he sat up on his own on his couch and I sat next to him and rubbed his shoulders and back like I’d done so many times before, all my life, since I was a kid.

Don’t read this

This post is about how my dad died and it is not pretty and you should probably just avoid it.


Dad’s death was not quiet and calm and in his sleep. He stopped being able to breathe on his own so they put him on a CPAP–not a respirator, he didn’t want that. But the CPAP was the only thing allowing him to breathe, forcing air into him. And he stayed like that for hours while we all gathered to say goodbye. By the time we were all there he had been lying there staring at nothing for I don’t know how long, mouth gaping open. He never blinked. I don’t know if he knew the dog was there but I hope he did.

Then we had them give him morphine and take the CPAP off. And then he died. But it was an interminable death. Long moments would pass without breathing and then he would gasp again. He was still staring at nothing with his mouth gaping open but his tongue would move. Nothing else moved. When he gasped those breaths there was a pained croaking sound. AJ told him he could rest now. I didn’t say anything, except “I love you” a few times.

I don’t know how long it took but it was so horrible. Mom and AJ and Ben and Connor and I stayed in the room and everyone else stayed outside. I’m glad Logan stayed outside.

I feel like he was already gone by the time we gave him the morphine. But I still feel like we killed him.

After

“It’s so bright out!” Mom said as we walked out onto the pedestrian bridge leading from the hospital to the parking structure. “It seems like it should be nighttime.” She expressed the sentiment again later, as she turned the Explorer onto Conn Terrace towards Limestone. “It should just be dark.”

We took Limestone to Waller, crossed the railroad tracks, and turned left onto Broadway. It was late afternoon and the sun was directly in our eyes. “That folder in the visor is all Dad stuff, medical information and the handicapped sign,” Mom said. “You can take that down and flip the visor down. And we can just throw it all away when we get home.”

Broadway turned into Harrodsburg Road as we made our way back to Nicholasville, a route Mom has taken innumerable times over the past week, and months, and years. I unlocked my phone and told Sean and Kathryn that it was over and we were going home.

“There’s a place in Brannon Crossing called Legacy or something. We should call them,” Mom said. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t really like funerals.”

We finally got to the house and the couch was still at the end of the driveway. “If it’s still there in a couple days, we’ll take it to the dump,” Mom said. We went inside to where the adjustable bed from hospice, made up fresh that afternoon and never used, sat in the newly rearranged and cleaned family room. I put the folder on the kitchen table and dragged Mom’s luggage to her bedroom, where I threw all the syringes and masks and tubing and other medical supplies into a bag and then hid that bag away in the small guest bedroom, laid Mom’s clothes out on her bed, and put away the shirt and pants Dad was supposed to come home in.

“You’ve done everything,” Mom said, even though she was simultaneously putting away the clothes I’d laid out. She turned to the closet. “And there’s all his shirts,” and her voice almost turned into a wail, but she hugged me and drew a deep breath. “When Lee passed, family from Oklahoma came and took all the man stuff away,” she said. “I think that would be good. We can put everything in bags and give it to Cedar Lake Lodge. Do you think I should ask the boys if they want anything first?” I agreed that this was probably the best idea. “I just feel like I’m full of adrenaline,” Mom said. “Like I have to do something right now. But I don’t have to do anything right now.”

We left her bedroom and went into the kitchen and started dumping all of Dad’s medicines into the trash.

Drowning

For months now I’ve sort of let myself be carried by the rapids, buffeted by surging waves of work and family and personal changes, and dragged below the surface by a relentless undertow of depression. I’ve felt more and more helpless and more and more incapable, barely managing to function some days. The occasions that I’ve felt energetic and powerful have been fleetingly rare. I spend much of my time trying to distract myself, and the rest of the time hating how little I’m accomplishing.

My life doesn’t seem all that difficult. I am so lucky in so many ways. I have so many wonderful people who love me. I have a nice home. I have a good job. My unhappiness stems from feeling that I could be more than I am, and my apparent inability to do anything about it. My impatience to get there fast, and the trouble I have with planning and executing long-term strategies for personal growth.

The world feels like a blur around me; I see snatches of information here and there but I can’t seem to grasp things the way I used to. I don’t do anything, but I feel like I have no time.

Then I lost a lifelong friend, very suddenly, to cancer.

And then my mother told me, “If you have anything you want to say to your dad, you should come home soon,” because he’s got cancer too. It’s not the throat cancer again; this time it’s small cell lung cancer, and he’s in stage 4.

I am trying to allow myself to feel this hurt. I am trying not to discount the things I am going through. I am trying to accept that I can’t just handle everything. I’m trying, and it’s really hard. Because I feel like I should just be able to deal with it. Like I should be stronger somehow. Like I am being lazy.

I need to step back, and breathe, and feel, and forgive myself, somehow.

Adulting

So here’s a thing: I’m 37 years old, but there’s stuff I never learned how to do, or have done maybe once or twice but am not an expert at. And there’s stuff I just don’t like doing. I generally dislike cooking, for example, though I do feel satisfaction when I make something that tastes good. And I don’t have much experience dealing with money issues beyond paying bills and taxes.

Sean and I stayed at a hotel back in Nicholasville, Kentucky over Christmas. We’ve never had a problem there before, but this time things were weird as soon as we checked in. I’d reserved the room online, and at that point we received the quote for the full bill and a hold was put on our credit card for the deposit. When we arrived at the hotel, it was late at night. The woman working the desk frowned at her computer, said it couldn’t possibly be right, and started changing a bunch of things that I didn’t see.

At the end of our stay, the final bill that was slipped under our door was for a ridiculous amount of money, over $600 when the original quote was just under $400. I pored over the bill and figured out what had happened: the night desk clerk had tried to adjust our room rates (I belatedly remembered her muttering something about “we don’t do variable room rates!”) and had not removed the rates she was trying to replace—so we were double charged for three days.

I wrote all of this out and carried it to the desk to show the manager what our bill actually should have been. I also showed him the quote in my email that had the variable room rates. He adjusted everything, and the receipt I ended up with had the amount we were originally quoted. We happily went home and I resolved to check our account later to make sure we were charged correctly.

We weren’t.

When we checked in to the hotel, that hold that had been put on the card became an actual charge. And for some reason, the night desk clerk charged that deposit again. So we paid $209.46 at time of check-in. But after adjusting the bill, the manager did not subtract those deposits. This meant the total charged to our card was not $392.46, as it should have been, but $601.92!

I had felt pretty powerful at the hotel when I showed the manager my math and he adjusted the bill. I was not nearly as confident about dealing with the situation over the phone. But I called anyway, and I explained the error, and I told him the exact amount to refund. Once he understood what had happened, he processed the refund right then and there while I was still on the line. I just checked and confirmed that the refund came to our account.

Given that there was a time when I was terrified to use the phone to order takeout, this feels like a huge win for me. I’m really pleased that I was able to resolve this situation (and get our money back)!

Managing myself

One big thing that changed for me in 2015 is that I started really chatting again.

Much of my online life, starting with BBSes back in 1993, had been chatting. Talking directly to people. Making friends. With the advent of social media, my chatting, just like my blogging, declined. I started saying a lot of the stuff I’d say in private chats on Twitter instead. I liked the idea that I had a lasting record—my chat logs up until 2005 were lost in the fire. When I started using Facebook, a place where I could specify who was allowed to see my posts, I chatted even less. For a long time—years—I would chat with people here and there, but never regularly. Mom was the sole exception.

That changed early last year when I started meeting people in the Welcome to Night Vale fandom on Tumblr. At the time, Tumblr didn’t have their Messaging system, and Asks and Fanmail were too clunky for the kind of natural conversations I enjoy. So I started asking people if they wanted to chat with me on an actual chat service. At first I had several people on Google Talk, but then, when it became apparent that the majority were on Skype, we all shifted over there. Eventually a group chat formed, something I hadn’t really done since I stopped using IRC many years ago.

I don’t think I realized how disconnected I’d felt until I started chatting again. I only have a few local friends other than people I interact with at work. So I wasn’t really talking much with anyone. Suddenly I have this circle of wonderful friends who I care deeply about. It’s been quite a change.

I’ve made some big mistakes. I haven’t been as sensitive as I could have been. I can be extremely hurtful when I’m depressed. I say things I would never otherwise say. I don’t drink, but I imagine it’s similar to that, having my inhibitions lowered to the point that I’ll just spew whatever garbage I’m feeling. In one incident that I still haven’t quite recovered from, I really hurt a friend’s feelings. She suggested wisely that when I am feeling depressed, I should just stop typing. In another, more recent incident, I was feeling overwhelmed by the dynamics of a relationship and acted out, and upon rereading I was horrified to see what a bully I had been.

All of this is context for the following. Last night, I started feeling horrible again. I felt disconnected, down on myself, and angry that people did not care in the exact way I wanted them to care. Everything people said—stuff that had absolutely nothing to do with me—made me mad. And so instead of staying in that environment and possibly saying something awful, I politely excused myself for the evening.

It felt odd. Unnatural. I tend to just get online and stay online. But taking a break is what I needed to do. I’m happy that I recognized that and did it and did not say something cruel to people I love.

I’m pretty scared of my potential to hurt other people. I will continue to be mindful of my moods and the effect they have on my behavior.

Looking back at the 2015 Daily Writing Challenge

Happy New Year! I decided to take a nap at around 6:30pm last night and ended up sleeping until 2am, so I missed midnight kisses and whatnot. It’s 2016 now and I figured it’s a good time to see how I did with last year’s resolution: write something non-work-related every day.

Let me just say up front that I did not write something every day. And I was feeling pretty down on myself about it, so I hadn’t recorded my word counts since September. I was convinced that I’d barely written anything for the latter half of the year. But this morning I went through and tallied everything, and it’s a lot better than I’d thought. While it’s true my monthly word count fell below 10,000 words from August onward, I wasn’t that far from April, June, and July’s totals (with the exception of November, which I will forgive myself for, as I was very depressed that month).

I wrote a total of 175,809 words in 2015. That is huge. If all these words had been for the same project, I’d have a novel. Of course, they weren’t; I wrote a bunch of smaller things. I don’t know how many projects there were, but they ranged from five-sentence ficlets to (as-yet-unfinished) chaptered works. The majority were one-off stories, which seem to be my strong suit. Regardless, that’s an impressive number of words, especially since before this past year (technically, November 2014), I had not been doing any creative writing whatsoever.

I’d like to keep writing, but I’d also like to not disappoint myself like I did when I started missing writing days. Failing to meet a goal makes me lose confidence, and I end up not wanting to do anything for fear of further failure. So I think this year I will change my goal. Instead of saying I will write something every day, I will commit to writing every week, with the goal of a certain number of words per month. Since I averaged 14,650 words per month in 2015, maybe I’ll make my monthly word goal 15,000.

I can work out the details, including how to track this (I’m not sure the spreadsheets I used in 2015 are ideal), at a later time. For now, though, I’m pretty sleepy, so I’m going back to bed.