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.


“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.

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.

elysium, fringe, the apocalypse, etc

Lately I have been watching the fifth season of Fringe, and then yesterday Brendan and I went to see Elysium. So I was thinking I might like to write a post about how interesting I find post-apocalyptic narratives these days, but then I realized that it’s been over five years and I never updated you all on this.

Would it surprise you to know that I don’t really think about the apocalypse much anymore? And that when I do think about it, it doesn’t really bother me? It doesn’t surprise me at all, because now I know that that months-long period of gripping fear was caused solely by my having gone off my anti-depressants.

I was going to tell you what happened two months after I wrote that post to make me go back on my meds, but I don’t really want to talk about it. I don’t even like to think about it. Don’t freak out; it’s not like I punched anyone or ran naked through the streets or anything. I didn’t have to be restrained or hospitalized or put on suicide watch. I just had to start taking my medication again. And I did.

2007-2008 was the second time in my adult life I’ve tried to see if I might not need medication, and it was worse than the first by a long shot. I won’t do it again. Now I look at my pills as something I have to take to be alive, just like if I had a heart condition or an endocrine disorder. My brain chemistry is faulty, so I take medication for it, and I will do so for the rest of my life. And that’s okay.

I guess I do think about the apocalypse some these days. It’s hard not to. Our consumption-heavy, disposable way of life isn’t sustainable, and it’s breaking down. People who don’t want us to look into alternative energy sources, reduce our dependence on oil or change the way we produce food are still in power, and it will take a long time to change that. We’re starting to turn it around a little, but ultimately I think it’s too late.

Besides my mental health, there are a couple of other reasons why the apocalypse doesn’t bother me as much. The first one is that I’m less alone than I was before. I live with Brendan, I have friends I see pretty often, and my sister and her husband live nearby. If some apocalyptic shit went down in Austin, there are plenty of people with whom I could band together to find food and water, fight roving bands of looters, and keep each other from being killed for a tank of gas.

The second reason is that I’m stronger now. I’ve been working out! I do this regimen where I go for walks on some days and do strength training on others. Eight weeks of strength training means that I’ve started to see changes in myself. I can lift two ten-pound dumbbells over my head repeatedly! I can do twelve prisoner squats in a row! I can plank for twenty whole seconds! I also get less winded every time, so that’s a good sign. Anyway, if the apocalypse comes, I might be pretty good at kicking and punching people until they stop trying to kill me for a tank of gas.

The third reason ties into some of the post-apocalyptic things I’ve been watching lately. I won’t spoil Elysium for you, but I will tell you that I didn’t love all of it. I thought the good characters were boring and undefined, the bad characters were two-dimensionally evil instead of being evil for a reason (a pet peeve of mine), and a couple of actors delivered their lines in a stilted way that made them hard to understand. Worst of all, Neil Blomkamp hit the emotional notes in the narrative so hard that they stopped working on me. One of the first things I learned in my college beginning fiction class is that if you hit the reader over the head with what they’re supposed to feel in a story, they can see that it’s the author saying HEY, I WANT YOU TO FEEL THIS, OKAY? and it pulls them out of the story. If it’s more subtle, then the reader is feeling what the characters feel, not what the author wants them to feel. I know that summer movies aren’t known for their subtlety, but since I liked District 9, I’d been expecting more from Blomkamp.

What I did like about Elysium was that in the absence of widely available consumer products, people on Earth appropriated whatever technology they could find to meet their needs. All the cars and laptops in the movie were old, but had been retrofitted with miscellaneous new parts. The cars were like that in the future portions of Looper, too. And I’m only two episodes into season 5 of Fringe, but they’ve already watched an old Betamax tape to learn how to fight the people who have taken over Earth.

I’ve talked to some people who say that governments, corporations, and other organizations are going to find a way to prevent societal collapse. A few of them genuinely believe it, and a few others have said, “I have to believe that, otherwise I’ll go crazy.” Well, I don’t really believe it. Large systems with lots of people tend to move slowly, and as I said before, I think it might be too late for slow-to-implement solutions. So it inspires me to see stories in which marginalized people are able to use what they have in order to overcome obstacles.

(I know that Fringe and Looper don’t fall into the believable-collapse category, but Elysium sort of does, and I’ve found the way people appropriate old technology in all three to be believable.)

So, the third reason. I’ve been making a lot of stuff lately. You guys already know that I sew and knit and make jewelry, but now I also work with wood and concrete! I don’t know how good I am at that stuff so far, but I do my best, and sometimes I even make something nice.

Last weekend I was at a friend’s party, and he was showing me his workshop. He makes swords and does all kinds of things with stones and minerals, and his tools were similar to those I’d used when I worked at the jewelry studio, so of course I was fascinated. We were talking about rock tumblers, and I said that I really wanted one, but they’re kind of expensive. “You could make one yourself,” he said. “There are schematics all over the internet.”

“Oh,” I said, “I don’t know if I could do all that.” Then I paused, and said, “Wait a minute. Of course I could.”

“Yeah, she can make anything,” Brendan said.

I can make anything. Give me an idea, some supplies, and maybe a diagram and instructions if it’s new to me, and I can do it. When the apocalypse comes, I’ll make some bows and arrows and slingshots and rig up a device to get fresh water. So, I’m not worried. I’ll be fine as long as the pharmacies stay open.