you poured one more highball then I had to go before my heart overflowed — on depression and making things

I went to XOXOfest again this year. Like last year, I didn’t go to the conference portion, just the festival part, but I still have some things to say about it. All the other pieces you’ll read about XOXO will mostly be about the conference talks, and you’re probably wondering, how can she write anything about a conference she didn’t attend?

Because that conference/festival is stacked full of smart people doing wonderful creative things for a living that they love, and I talked with a lot of them.

I talked with them while wearing clothing and accessories I made for myself, clothing and accessories I’ve spent years learning how to make. At this point I’m good enough at sewing that I never make anything from a sewing pattern I haven’t self-drafted or altered to fit me. I can look at a sewing pattern and see exactly where it won’t do what I want, or exactly where it won’t fit properly on my body, and if I can’t find the right sewing pattern to buy I will just make one myself. And of course I’ve been making jewelry professionally and personally for ten years.

Someone told me that in her XOXO talk this year, Erin McKean said that it’s really important for her to do something creative that she never has to show anyone. Most XOXO attendees know McKean from Wordnik, but I know her from her sewing blog, A Dress A Day, which I’ve been reading almost since its inception. She was, of course, referring to her sewing as the creative thing she doesn’t have to show anyone. She can throw out a dress muslin that doesn’t work, or she can take apart a piece she doesn’t like and correct her mistakes, or make it into something else entirely.

This is part of what sewing and jewelry-making represent for me as well. My fabric scraps bin is full of clothing parts that weren’t successful, my bulletin board is tangled with jewelry prototypes I’m not satisfied with, and I even have a little drawer labeled “failed experiments.” I didn’t start doing any crafts at all until 2004, but now I don’t know how I ever lived without them as part of my identity.

peoplegettinghi“Why haven’t you finished that book you were writing about your road trip?” a friend asked me at XOXOfest. We were sitting on the patio at another friend’s AirB&B, and I had just come down from climbing a huge ladder in the yard because I could (more on that later).

“Do you really want to know? I have a serious answer,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Because living with depression and anxiety means that I can’t be a person who examines my life in that kind of detail. That road trip was a very emotional time for me, and it’s hard for me to function if I look at it too closely.”

You want to know how I function? I keep the TV on in the background. I make things out of fabric and metal. I read crafting blogs and good novels (but not too good or they’ll make me sad) and overly-deep online think pieces about TV. I avoid certain types of music. While I make things I keep episodes of “Bob’s Burgers” or “The X-Files” on a loop.

I exercise. Hard.

I sleep a lot.

I stay in the shallow end.

This routine is what makes me okay. This routine forms the covering on my nerves that keeps them from getting too raw.

At XOXOFest John Roderick and Sean Nelson did a show where they played a lot of their old Long Winters material. The Long Winters is/was one of my favorite bands, and I’ve always been disappointed that they haven’t put out an album in so long. I arrived at the show 20 minutes early to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

They opened with Carparts, and I cried. It wasn’t a balls-out sobbing, ugly kind of crying, but it was there. I hadn’t listened to that song in years, because it makes me think of one day of my road trip, of driving alone through falling snow from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore the day before Easter, and thinking about someone specific. Roderick and Nelson do such beautiful harmonies, and that plus seeing live music for the first time in forever plus being smacked in the face with that memory, and I was a goner.

They closed with a cover of “The Only Living Boy In New York,” and I cried again. Then I cried the day after I got home from XOXO. Then I cried again yesterday. My sleeping and exercise and carefully crafted non-thinking were not in place in Portland, and my nerves went raw.

I don’t really make things to show other people anymore, at least not on the internet. I make things to sell people, and I make gifts, and “hey, check out this dress I’m wearing! I made it!” is technically showing other people, I guess, but that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is that I used to make things for people to read, but I don’t know how to keep doing that without destroying myself.

Like I said, at XOXOfest I was surrounded by people who make things for other people, and it made me wish I still did. It made me miss that feeling of having said something out loud that I think is true, and hoping that someone else will think it’s true too.

I’ve said before that I feel like not writing in public is like lying to myself in some way, and I still think that’s true too.

Yesterday someone I don’t know said something on Twitter like, I don’t know why @bluishorange isn’t crushing it in a master’s creative writing program right now (I am paraphrasing because it was a nice thing to say and I don’t want anyone to go looking for the specific Tweet; if you find it please don’t say anything to them). My Twitter account is private, so I never get mentioned by people I don’t know. I had Twitter open in a tab, so the @bluishorange mention popped up right there in the window, and seeing it felt like my heart had dropped out of my body.

Why aren’t I out there crushing it in a master’s creative writing program right now? Why aren’t I making stuff for other people to see like my friends at XOXO?

I have had other people say things to me similar to that tweet. The best one was, “You don’t have any reason to have as much self-doubt as you do.” The second-worst one was, “Man, when I first read your blog I thought you were going to be a super famous writer.” The worst one of all was when someone came up to me in a coffeehouse in Austin and said, “Hey, didn’t you used to be bluishorange?”

I’ll admit that some of my sadness with regards to not crushing it in a master’s creative writing program or being a super famous writer or being bluishorange anymore has to do with missed opportunity. This site used to be awfully popular, and it isn’t anymore. The landscape of the web has changed, and so have I, and most of that isn’t my fault. But I don’t always remember that. What if staying in the shallow end means I’ve missed my chance to say things to a larger audience?

I’m told that a lot of the XOXO conference talks were about making things through bouts of depression, anxiety and uncertainty. I suppose maybe watching those talks online will help me some, but mostly I just want to ask those people, “Yeah, but how do you DO that?”

I’ve been wondering how I can combine my crafting skills with my desire to make things for other people and have those things say something I think is true, but I don’t know if that idea exists.

Over the past several months I’ve been taking trapeze lessons and doing circuit training, and I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. I climbed the ladder in that yard because it was fun, and also because I knew it was something I would do that nobody else would. If I can’t be a strong person who writes, at least I can be a strong person who climbs things and does flips.

36

1540438_10151980970316512_7186835111739154299_oMaude is dead. I’m 36 today.

I’m 36 today, my best friend is dead, I am underemployed, broke, living paycheck to paycheck, borrowing money from family to make ends meet.

Sunday at a wedding I was sitting with two other friends of mine. One friend was describing her recent good fortune. “Good things seem to keep happening to me. I just wonder when it’s all going to stop.”

The other friend said, “Oh, come on. You’re a good person, and you deserve to be happy! You’ve got good karma. Good for you.”

I sat in silence, thinking, so I’m a bad person who doesn’t deserve to be happy? That’s why bad things keep happening to me?

Most of my friends are doing pretty well financially. They own houses and cars and have children and go on vacations both here and abroad. They buy things. I’m happy for them; they are, to borrow a phrase, good people who deserve to be happy. But sometimes I feel like if I hear another one of them say that something “only” costs $500, “only” costs $100, “only” costs $20, I will scream and throw something.

They do things together that cost too much money for me to be able to do. I am torn: do I want them to invite me so I can feel included and have the opportunity to say no? Or do I want them to not mention it at all so I don’t feel bad? Sometimes I still hear about it later.

I have my own jewelry business, but until I can make ends meet I can’t afford to market it properly, so there it sits, semi-dormant for now. I am mostly okay with this. I have other things to worry about, like paying as much of the electricity bill as it takes to keep the lights on.

I apply for jobs. I hear from interviewers, I dress in my job interview pants and blouse and go get interviewed. I send my usual “thank you for the interview” email, to which I never get a response.

To apply for jobs is to live a thousand different lives in one’s head. I interview for a job at a financial company in Northwest Austin, and I picture myself driving there, parking, working at one of the desks in their cubicle farm. I interview for a job downtown and imagine myself taking the bus so I don’t have to park. I interview for a job at the University of Texas, and picture myself working in one of the red-roofed stucco buildings near the tower. But those lives never happen.

I am broke; I have no savings or assets or prospects, but I am not poor. Poverty is not what this is. Poverty means not having family support. It means not having a college education or marketable job skills. It means not having friends who would intervene if I were unable to get food, or if I were to become homeless. It means not being able to apply for jobs or dress in job interview pants or go to interviews or send thank-you emails. It means having my depression go untreated, which luckily it doesn’t. And I know I am lucky to have the skills and support and tools I need to get by, however marginal my “getting by” is.

But if this isn’t poverty, what is it? I think I’m a victim of the eroding middle class, of income inequality, of job scarcity, of the trimming away of workers’ rights, of living in a growing tech city with low unemployment, high competition for jobs, and skyrocketing costs. I could move, but that would be much more complicated than it sounds.

So I am your anecdote. When you are with your friends or family and the economy comes up, you can say, “I have a friend who can’t find a job…” You can explain my situation and make your point that the economy still has a long way to go. You can make your point that sometimes even a college education and 15 years of work experience isn’t enough. Or you can joke about how an English degree isn’t good for anything. It’s up to you.

Maude died on April 15, nearly ten years to the day since I brought her home for the first time. It was recent enough that when it’s time to give Moki a treat, I still grab two treats from the canister without thinking. I can still remember what the fur felt like under Maude’s chin. I can still feel her wiggle her little head back and forth as she buried her face in my hair to sleep at night. I can still hear the little barks she made in her sleep sometimes. I can still picture the way she bounced around the room whenever I came home, so happy to see me.

I wrote those last four sentences in the present tense, and I had to go back and correct them.

So I’m 36 today, but you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I don’t feel like celebrating.

failing or not failing at projects

So hey, you know what we’ve never talked about? That book I’m supposed to write.

Do you remember the book in question? The one where bluishorange readers contributed money for me to take a road trip all the way around the country and write a book about it? And I took the money and used it to go on the road trip in 2007 but haven’t finished the book? Yeah, that one.

I’ve written about 1/3 of the book. I think if you calculate it by word, that’s something like ten words every day for the last six years. Obviously that’s not what I’ve been doing, but that is a very, very slow average writing time. Suffice it to say, it isn’t going very well.

Or it wasn’t, anyway. For a long time I assumed that I’d never finish it; that’d I’d totally failed. Then two things happened.

1) I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Reading that amazing book upset me at first, because it’s basically the exact book I pictured myself writing, only better. But then I thought, hey, if she can write a book about a trip she took years earlier, then maybe I can, too.

2) I went to XOXO. You guys, that place was filled with people who were doing projects, who had started projects and stopped them, who had projects they were supposed to be working on, whose projects consumed most of their waking time. Projects, projects, projects all over the place.

These people were brilliant and amazing. Brilliant and amazing people often intimidate me, but these brilliant and amazing people seemed to think I was okay. Some of them even might have thought I was brilliant and amazing, too. If they can work on their projects and/or abandon them and come back to them later, who’s to say I can’t do the same thing?

I felt really guilty about The Book Situation for a long time. I took money from people in exchange for something I never did! I don’t even know some of those people anymore. What must they think of me? But I’ve decided that “something I never did” isn’t an accurate way to describe the book. I’d rather describe it as “something I haven’t completed yet.”

Because I will do it! I will. If a kooky lady who changed her last name to Strayed can do it, then so can I. It might take me a long time, but I’m going to do it.

I’m telling you all this now because…I have a Kickstarter. I’ve started my own line of sustainable jewelry, and I’m trying to raise money to expand my business to include wholesale customers.

I was so, so reluctant to post about it here, because I knew that some of my more long-term readers would see it and think, hey, didn’t she ask for money before? She did, you guys. She asked for money to go on a road trip, she took the trip, it was two of the best months of her life, and she’s still not finished with the book.

I am going to finish the book, but I am also going to have a successful jewelry business! I am making jewelry from recycled or sustainable materials, and I’m using recycled packaging and marketing materials, too. You can read all about it on my Kickstarter page, where there’s more information and a lovely video that my sister Megan made.

Megan is a genius.  All I did was write a script and give it to Megan, and then she made all sorts of notes on it about which parts would be talking head and which parts would be B-roll. When she said B-roll I almost fainted, I was so impressed. We shot it and then she edited the whole thing together and set it to music. When she gave it to me for feedback, it was perfect. I didn’t even need her to change anything! Sometimes I’m surprised that the two of us came from the same parents.

Anyway, I’m telling you about this because I do need more backers, and it would be kind of a waste not to post about it here. This is a totally different project from the book, but I understand if you helped me out before and you’re feeling a bit burned.

But if you are not feeling burned, I’d appreciate some help. This is a project I’m really excited about, that I really believe in. The rewards are pretty good, too! They’ll make super Christmas gifts if jewelry’s not your thing.

Thanks, readers! ILY.