Giving up on motivation

A couple of months back I encountered this idea about how motivation is a fickle mistress and discipline is a way better approach, and it thoroughly resonated with me.

See, I’ve never been great at motivation, but I used to have a lot of energy and a lot of “I want X; I’ll go get x” drive. So my lack of motivation was less of a problem, because when my back was against the wall I had the go all night, get up at 4am energy to make up for it.

And then I got old and had a kid, and here’s the big one, started suffering from pretty severe depression. And I discovered a terrible thing. That often, quite a lot actually, when you screw up or miss deadlines, nothing really terrible happens. You don’t die. No one dies. You maybe get a bit of a reputation for being a flake, but when you’re so depressed you can barely shower, that doesn’t seem like much of a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

I clawed my way out of that hole, and it was not easy. It may be one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I did it. I went and got meds, I rebuilt a support structure, I developed tools for dealing with the shit my brainmonkeys throw at me, I found ways of handling the things that trigger the overwhelming urge to run away from everything. I got better.

But I came out of the other side of that battle scarred and changed. I’m not the person I was at 22, who could stay up till 3am working any more. I don’t have the boundless energy I had back then. I can’t binge and purge on getting things done any more. I needed a better solution.

And that’s when I ran right into this motivation problem. Because there’s this dangerous tendency when you’ve been severely depressed. When you’re so depressed showering is an achievement, it’s very easy to lower that bar forever. To start saying, man but there was a time I couldn’t get dressed, surely it’s not that bad if I just take today off and hide in my bed because my head’s a bit fucked and I’m not motivated? The difference between “just not feeling up to it” and “self-care” becomes insanely difficult to judge, especially from the inside.

This is what I was battling with when I read that article about motivation. Screw motivation, it said. You need discipline. Now, I’m a very artistically inclined human. Discipline to me is about military school and rules, right? I mean, art is different, right? You have to be inspired, yeah?

No. Dead wrong in fact. You know that old adage about inspiration/perspiration? That had never really sunk in. You know all that stuff that pretty much every writer in the world says about how most of the battle is just showing up? I’d never quite grasped that either. Show up. Do the work. And the art happens.

So I changed the way I did it. I said, fuck motivation. It’s never fucking there for me when I need it. So I’ll learn to not need it.

I made a list. A dynamic list, one that I update and re-prioritise every single day. And then I dealt with the top thing on the list.

I get up in the morning, and I do the first thing in front of me. No matter what the day. No matter if it is a brain monkey day. No matter if everything in me wants to go back to bed and stay there. I get up. I drink a cup of coffee. I take my child to school. I come home. I eat breakfast. And then I tackle the top thing on the list.

Some days I don’t get further than the top thing. Some days the top thing is very time consuming. Some days I get through the whole list.

But every day – EVERY SINGLE DAY – I make progress.

And here’s the magical thing. It got easier. Once I stopped caring about whether I felt like it or not, and just started doing it regardless, whether I felt like it or not became irrelevant. So I just did it. Whatever it was. It just got done. And at the end of the day, I looked at it and went, hey. Look what I did.

And the next day it was a little bit easier.

So I’m working again, in a reliable way. I can take on work, because I don’t have that fear in my head, “But what if I can’t get it done?” Can’t is gone. I just do it.

I’m making progress on projects. Because I don’t look at the whole impossible process, I just look at the next step, and do it. And somehow the things happen.

Motivation man. It was my worst enemy all this time.

This shit changed my life. Like, literally CHANGED MY LIFE. It changed the whole way I get stuff done. And now it GETS DONE.

I have a long way to go. The system is good, but it could be better. I still always have too much on my plate. My prioritising needs tweaking so I don’t ignore the things that fall too low (poor Bookish Jelly Bean). I’m still working on the balance. And honestly, I still procrastinate more than I should.

But changing my head about this, not needing to wait until “I feel like it” to do the thing? That has been life-changing.

 

 

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DISCLAIMER: As always, this is what has worked for me. I hope it helps someone, but I certainly am not trying to suggest everyone in the whole world should do things my way. Just to be clear.

Hope

There is a thing that happens to me, over and over and over again in my life.

I get to the end. I lose hope. I despair. I think, who the hell am I to think I can have the life I want? I think, nothing I am doing is worth anything. I think, it’s all fighting uphill, and for what? I think, how long do I keep trying until I just give up on all of this?

I think I have nothing, no friends, no career, no love, no talent, no nothing.

And then the universe steps in and goes, hey girl, I know stuff is hard right now and that thing in your head is loud as fuck. Let me help you out.

And suddenly in a million tiny ways, in a thousand little messages, it proves me wrong.

Suddenly, without even trying, I realise I have plans with people, plans that just happened, plans I didn’t have to try to make happen, because people do actually like me and wanna hang.

Suddenly I glance up and realise that all my head down desperate get through the day parenting is resulting in the most beautiful little boy, with whom I have a kick-ass relationship. He’s a rat bag some of the time, but like I said to my darling Bast this morning, what human isn’t a rat bag some of the time? Mostly he’s a kind, smiling beautiful awesome kid.

Suddenly people start messaging me out of the blue to say, hey you’ve been on my mind and I thought I’d say hi, and I realise that’s not only because I am lucky (although I sure as hell am lucky with my people) but also because I’m good at this whole friendship tribe thing. Good enough that when I don’t have the emotional spoons for it, they will come to me.

Suddenly I look around and realise that I have work. That all that exhausting, insane, thankless studying and relationship building and up-skilling has turned me into a freelancer who can choose what I do and who I work with.

Suddenly I realise that I am making a business. That I know how to do it this time. That it’s okay if I fuck up here and there, because that’s how you learn, and that’s how I’ve ended up being able to do something like The Patchwork Raven.

And then I pick myself up and look back at the last five years and the path that has led me here and I realise what I’ve achieved in that time. I can do this. I AM doing this. I’m not there yet. And the gods know I still fall down and scrape my hands and knees. But the universe keeps picking me up and saying, you’re okay. These people have your back. I have your back. But most importantly, YOU have your back.

And there it is. Hope.

Quote for the day

“A story is like a nut. A fool will swallow it whole and choke. A fool will throw it away, thinking it of little worth. But a wise woman finds a way to crack the shell and eat the meat inside.”  

           — Vashet (one of my all time favourite fictional characters) in The Wise Man’s Fears by Patrick Rothfuss. 

The Patchwork Raven – A Sneak Peak

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Well, dear reader, here it is: a sneak peak at my new project. I am incredibly honoured and excited to team up with the talented designer Will Thompson to start a brand new Wellington based publishing house, The Patchwork Raven! It’s still early days, and we are still in the process of developing a website and plans for all the awesomeness that will ensue, but once they are ready, rest assured, you will hear all about it!

In the meantime, though, I wanted to let my readers in on what we have planned so far. We spent a lot of time going backwards and forwards on a million different names, and eventually settled on “The Patchwork Raven”. Will got working on a design for our logo. And, as anyone who has seen his other work will be totally unsurprised to discover, it is beautiful!

Patchwork Raven Logo

At the moment we’re hard at work on setting up all the preliminary plans and schemes, but we have a few projects buzzing away merrily on the back-burner, for which we will soon be taking submissions. I’ll be putting up more detailed submission calls soon, but here’s a taster so that those of you who are writers can start fomenting some ideas.

The Currently Unnamed Christmas Anthology

An anthology of 12 tales, each one based on one of the items in The Twelve Days of Christmas. I’ll pick one story for each item. As always I am more likely to pick a story that surprises me, and that tells a tale from a viewpoint or voice not usually seen. Submissions likely to close around May/June, but watch for the official submission call for final details.

The Currently Unnamed Book of Stories for Children

A book of short stories aimed at children aged between 2 and 10. No more than 2000 words, and for this project, less is definitely more. Preference given to stories coming from wide and diverse backgrounds and settings. This book aims to give kids a realistic sense of the true diversity of human experience. So avoid the stories the mainstream tells all the time. All genres welcome, as long as they are age appropriate. Not sure of timeline yet, but this will also be in the official submission call.

The Currently Unnamed Ingress Book

A coffee table style book showing amazing places Ingress has taken people, and the awesome stories of those places. Will be crowd-sourced from the Ingress community, and have photos, stories, wondrous experiences. LOTS of details to iron out for this one still, but if you’re in that community and have ideas, get in touch. I expect this to be a long and ongoing project, and so have no clear submissions deadline yet.

Novels

We will also be looking for at least one but up to three original unpublished novels. I will want them to require fairly minimal editing, so please have someone look it over before you submit it. I expect some editing work, but the closer it is to publishable, of course, the more likely I am to pick it. Again, I’m open to genre, but my preferences fall towards stories in and from voices not often heard in the mainstream. Got a fantasy novel with a gay Indian protagonist? Or a detective novel where the lead is a female poly Maori? Send it over.

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I spent much of last year learning all about the gaps in my publishing knowledge and beginning to fill them. I am really excited to be teamed up with an incredibly talented artist, and cannot wait to start using that new knowledge to produce extraordinary works with the Patchwork Raven. This post is really only a teaser, but you can expect more information soon. If you’re a writer and any of the above tickles your muse, feel free to submit stories to or ask questions at thepatchworkraven@gmail.com.

 

 

Endings/Beginnings

Roughly four years ago I wrote a story called “Isabel and the Elf Knight” for an anthology based on Child ballads that never happened. I liked the story and wanted to do something with it. At the time I’d never been published, and had absolutely no idea how to go about doing that, but I had been playing this game on Livejournal called LJ Idol so I knew a fairly large number of amateur writers of very good quality. My story was a bit noir, so I put out a call to my writer friends for other fantasy noir stories. Then I thought, hey, I guess I need a Press name if we’re going to do this. Got together with one of those writers (Dominica Malcolm), and Solarwyrm Press was born. We published Fae Fatales, made a buttload of mistakes, hopefully learned from them, and went on to put out several other anthologies and a two-monthly journal of fiction and poetry.

Solarwyrm has been in existence now for about four years, give or take, and it has been quite a ride. In about mid 2014, I began to become very conscious that I really had just been making it up as I went along, and that there were a bunch of things I knew I’d done wrong with my first couple of books. I began to wonder what else I was doing wrong. So I decided to do a diploma in publishing to find out. My goal was to identify the gaps in my knowledge and fill them.

I spent last year doing that, only to find by the end of the year that what I now wanted to be doing was well out of the scope of what we’d set up to do with Solarwyrm. Dominica and I had a number of conversations about maybe taking it in new directions, but eventually came to the conclusion that actually we wanted very different things now. I wanted to do something quite new. That new and different thing is currently very much in the works, and I hope to be telling you about it soon.

In the meantime though, I have to announce that I am leaving Solarwyrm. I’ll be taking my own books (including Latchkey Tales) out of print, and redesigning and rereleasing them over the next few months. They will be available for purchase until the end of next week – so if you still want them in their current Solarwyrm format, now is the time to buy them! Dominica will continue to fly the Solarwyrm flag and keep the Press alive. I will be lending all my weight to support her in everything she does with it. I also encourage you to continue to support Dominica with whatever happens next for her and Solarwyrm.

I am a great believer in Indie publishing and in the crowd we create when we work together instead of being competitive. If you’re reading this, you’re part of that. Solarwyrm wouldn’t exist without you, and I thank you so much for your support over the years and really hope you will continue to support Solarwyrm.

But for me, the Solarwyrm journey is over, except as a patron and reader, and I’m in the process of setting up the Next Big Thing for Jax. It’s going to be amazing. There will be bits of information and probably a few submission calls coming up over the next couple of months. So please, hang around and come along with me on this next bit of my meandering journey. Exciting times!

Why my child isn’t “holding me back”

I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff recently on how parents get held back or held down by their kids. A lot of things about how having children stifles your dreams and your options.

And this isn’t false, exactly. Having kids does limit what you can do, both financially and because you suddenly have to think about how what you do impacts someone else with every single choice you make.

But honestly, that is true about every decision you make. When you choose to study philosophy instead of medicine, that limits your life options. When you choose to study medicine instead of literature, that limits your life options. If you choose to get married and be with one person forever, that limits your life options. If you choose never to get married, and go through life as a single agent, that limits your life options. That is what choice is ALL ABOUT. Picking a particular road over others. And then taking that road.

And sure, you can go back and restudy or get divorced, or change your mind about never getting married because you met The One, and you can’t really change your mind about a kid once you have them, but even then, you’re once again choosing one path over others, which limits your options.

But actually, this post isn’t about arguing that particular set of semantics. I chose to have a child. This has resulted in limitations, yes, but it hasn’t actually held me back. Quite the opposite.

When I realised that my life wasn’t really what I wanted it to be, and I set about changing that, my kid was a fundamental motivator. Because I wanted him to know that was possible. Because I think having parents who are willing and able to follow their dreams, to do the work required to rebuild a life into what they want it to be, is VITAL for kids. Because it meant I could be an example to him, to show him, later, that that is something he can do, if it arises. To prove, by example, that consciously and actively building the kind of life you want is a worthy and possible thing. I’m still working on it, of course, but when I want to give up, I think about how he’s going to tell this story as an adult, and I know it HAS to end with “and she did, too”.

If I hadn’t had Christopher, I don’t think I would have survived my depression. I don’t think I would have been able to claw my way up from that. I don’t think I’d have had the strength to fight back. It was touch and go for a while there. But every single day I got up and did what needed to be done, because I had a small human relying on me, SO I HAD TO. I got that strength from him. I didn’t give in to the despair, I didn’t give up, because of him. If I am standing here on the verge of the life I want, fighting for it every day, getting back up when I get knocked down, it is not despite my child, it is BECAUSE of him.

Because there were days when I sat on the floor of my living room crying, and he came and put his tiny arms around my neck and said, “Mommy, do you need a cuddle to make you happy?”

Because there were nights when all I wanted to do was drink until it stopped hurting, and I didn’t because he was sleeping in the next room and I knew I’d have to take care of him the next morning.

Because there were times when I wanted to get in my car and just drive until I ran out of road, or get on a plane to anywhere, and try (once again) to outrun my demons, and I didn’t because his life and what’s good for him is more important than my fears.

My child has never held me back. He has never stopped me attaining my dreams. He has never interfered with my life plans. He has given me focus when the world was dark and roiling and impossible. He has given me firm ground to stand on when the world is quicksand. He has been the scaffold on which I built those plans. And a reason to keep building them when I wasn’t reason enough.

I chose him. I chose to have him. And I am certainly not suggesting that everyone’s experience of parenthood is the same as mine. But, for what it’s worth, he is still the best thing I have ever made. He is still the greatest thing in my life. And if I am succeeding in making my life everything I want it to be, if I am succeeding in becoming the best version of myself I can possibly be, which is a hard, exhausting road to walk some days, it is absolutely and unquestionably because of him.

I am reason enough most days, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about selflessness and sacrifice. It is the opposite. I want to be the best me. And mostly, I want to do that for me. But that is NOT in contradiction to what is good for him. It is best for him too, if I am my best me. But on the days when the demons are loud and it feels impossible, the thing that keeps me fighting is him. Because (on those days) I can fail me, that would be okay. But I absolutely CANNOT fail him.

So I stand back up.

He does not hold me back. He pushes me forward.

The Terrifying Gay Conversation

I meant to write about this at the time, and didn’t because of all the things, but I want to record this one. Because it, inevitably, finally came up, and this is how it went. (And of course cos it’s my son, it happened in the context of story.)

C: Sometimes a boy loves a girl and she goes away and then his heart is broken.
J: Yes, sometimes that happens.
C: And a girl can love a boy and if he goes away her heart is broken.
J: Yes, that happens too.
C: Boys and girls can love each other.
J: Yep. And sometimes boys and boys can love each other, and girls and girls can love each other too.
C: *laughs* No, that’s not right.
J: Sure it is. Think about [friends of ours who are gay]. They love each other, and they’re both girls, right?
C: Yes, they do!
J: So don’t you think if one of them went away the other would be sad? Just like the boy and girl earlier?
C: Yes, they would. *thinks* Anyone can love anyone. And when they go away they are sad and their heart can be broken. That’s right, isn’t it Mommy?
J: That’s right.

OH HOW WILL HE BEAR THE SCARRING, WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN??!!

Conversations with C

C: Mommy, sometimes special milk comes from cows.

J: Special milk? What makes it special?

C: You know, SPECIAL milk. 

(Well I’m glad we cleared that up. A thought occurs…)

J: Oh wait -special milk – you mean like Amy and Sarah (his cousins) drink? 

C: Yeah!

J: No baby that doesn’t come from cows. If they drink cow milk they get sick. 

(Long thoughtful pause.) 

C: But some cows can make special milk. Good, special cows. 

J: You mean cows that are soybeans? 

C: YES! 

Afterthought…

…And you know what sucks? That after I post that, I think to myself, “Maybe I shouldn’t post that. What if potential employers google me and find out that sometimes I have depression and think, ‘Oh God! We can’t hire her and her mental health issues!’ instead of, ‘Wow! Isn’t it awesome that she beat her way back from that single-handedly! I want that kind of determination and strength working for me!’..?”

Because stigma, yo.

So hi, if you’re a potential employer googling me, I rock. 😉 This shit takes strength and determination and will. Those are GOOD things. So hire me. Do it now. 😛