Game Over: Do you Wish to Continue? (hint: the answer is usually yes)

A year ago I started an adventure that I fell madly in love with. I wrote about it right here on this blog. A quest to save my muse and rediscover the creativity that had been laying dormant within me for far too long. I never wanted to be the kind of adult who stopped believing in magic, who wistfully talked about her dreams in the past tense. I wanted to live a creative and fulfilling life- that’s always been the dream, the way I felt most authentically myself. So I journeyed through the pages, through the art spheres; I chronicled it right here, and I loved every moment of it.

But then there came a day when I hit submit on my last post. All of my good intentions lay bundled up on my nightstand as I kept telling myself “the next one will be a little bit late, but I’ll get it done. I don’t have the energy today, but this weekend I’ll sit down to work.” Eventually, I gave up the pretense and threw in the towel. I stopped picking up my laptop because I couldn’t handle the frustration of staring at my blinking cursor on it’s blank page when I couldn’t figure out how the hell to fill it. My little hero had lost, been swallowed up by the monsters, and my muse was still trapped in her dragon-guarded castle.

It seemed like there were a million excuses; a hundred thousand reasons why I felt exhausted and drained of the color I craved in my life. I had been feeling the drain for weeks, I knew it was coming, I knew I could only hold out for so long. That didn’t make the realization hurt any less: I had failed, Game Over, the end. My little plumber smacked head first into a Goomba and never made it to his Princess Peach up in the castle. And yet, it never really felt like the end. It felt like I still had a few lives nestled in my pocket, just waiting for me to hit ‘continue’ when I was ready. But how long would that be?

You see, I never stopped thinking about my quest, dreaming through it, plotting little adventures in the back of my mind. I imagined the day I would finally be ready to reprise my old role and jump back into the fray. I missed it. I’ve always felt like my soul was made of written words, and without them I am nothing but wisps of smoke, intangible and flighty. And as much as I don’t want to come on here and point my finger at the pandemic as being the culprit who killed my little creative adventurer- it seems important to recognize that it played a major role in my adventurer’s demise. Amidst the draining strain that comes with a global pandemic I felt my inner creativity slowly turn to stone, standing blind sentinel like a gargoyle. My well had run dry, all my mental energy was diverted to other tasks. I was an empty vessel just plodding through my not-so-routine routine.

It caught me off guard when I lost track of my inner self. As someone who had dealt with chronic anxiety for most of my life, I was already a step ahead when the pandemic hit. It seemed the whole world had been picked up and tossed into the same sea of uncertainty and fear. And while my non-anxious friends were grappling with the daily functions of it, still learning to tread water in this environment; I was able to slues through like a seal. The sea of anxiety was my territory, I had been diving and dodging through it since I was a wee little pup. I knew how to manage this; it was the first time in my life I was thankful for my unusual brain chemistry. It was almost a relief for my anxiety to have a specific known focal point for a change, and not just the vague trivialities of daily existence.

I thought I would be okay, that I I could keep up my momentum and turn the year into something beautiful. Without all of the distractions I could focus on my creative endeavors. I would dive in deeper and come out at the end of quarantine a better person with new skills and ideas. Joke’s on me: it was nothing like that. I started to feel the burnout pretty quickly. Work never slowed down. We were deemed essential and had to go in every day. There was always another problem, another roadblock that should have been solved yesterday. We were riding in a leaky rowboat in the middle of a storming ocean. We would patch one hole just to turn around and see five more, plus a giant octopus grabbing for our oars. We repeatedly told ourselves “it’ll slow down soon, once we get these problems fixed.” We’re a year out and things are just as busy and chaotic as they were in those first months.

It was exhausting, to say the least. I have never worked as many hours as I did this last year. I have never felt so unsafe going to work. But there was no choice: the job had to be done, and there was no one else to do it. So you do your best and you hope it will be enough. You spend the entire day in an exhausted daze and then lay awake at night with that gnawing sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. There was no room for creativity, even though I knew it would be the perfect outlet. I gave everything I had to my job, and there wasn’t enough left over for me at the end of the day.

To top it off, there was a major curve ball thrown at us over the summer. In the US about 43 million Americans rent their homes. When the pandemic hit eviction moratoriums were put in place that forbade landlords from evicting their tenants for nonpayment. There were loopholes, however. If there was damage being done to the property or if the owner decided they wanted to sell the property; then the tenants wouldn’t have a choice. Coupling with this was the fact that the housing market in most areas skyrocketed in the summer of 2020, and you had the perfect storm for anyone living in a home they didn’t own. In my area the demand far outstripped the available units. It wasn’t uncommon for a house to sell for $40,000 over asking price after one day on the market. And even though I had never missed or been late with any payment; the opportunity was too good for my landlords to pass up. They let us know they wouldn’t be renewing our lease and they would be listing it before our lease was even up, in the hopes that it would close as soon as we were gone. Not only did we have to try to find a new place to live, we also had to keep our house ‘show ready’ and leave anytime someone wanted to come view it- in the middle of a pandemic. Que the anxiety train.

To make matters even more complicated, I own a german shepherd. He’s a sweet boy, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s on the restricted breeds list for most rentals. I could probably count on one hand the number of rentals we had been able to find over the years that would allow him. I felt so defeated. It didn’t matter that we had been doing everything right; we were still in this position, not knowing where we would be laying our heads when fall rolled around.

It was two months of uncertainty; of coming up with back-up plans with family members, looking at rentals and working through the process to see if we could qualify to purchase a home- and then putting in offer after offer after offer, only to be outbid over and over again. I remember the panic setting in as the clock was running down. We got lucky. We were able to find a new home and got everything moved in with one day to spare before our lease was officially up. It was a humbling experience, one that makes me feel privileged in so many ways because I’ve seen far too many of these stories end poorly.

As the year wore on, I kept waiting for things to turn around, to calm down. But it didn’t. And the anxiety itself built up like I was a human pressure cooker. I have never felt so close to a mental breakdown as I did this past year. My brain felt like a rubber band stretched too far, ready to snap at any second. But I wasn’t alone here. I wasn’t the only one struggling through the train wreck of 2020.

So what changed? Why am I suddenly here even though life is still a bit chaotic, even though my work is starting to feel like it did at the beginning of COVID? The truth is, I’m not really sure. I just know that the pieces of me that had turned to stone have been slowly stirring, gathering energy, and are breaking free from what has held them dormant for so long. I finally feel like I’m ready to cultivate the parts of my life that give me meaning again. Perhaps its spring, or the fact that I just celebrated another trip around the sun. Maybe it’s that hopeful feeling that comes with sunshine and vaccines. But I’m missing my life again; the one that isn’t charged with anxiety and fear. I feel like I’m waking up, and my body is ready for another adventure.

So here I am, ready to hit continue on my little game. Ready to search for my muse and release her from the prison she’s been kept in for far longer than I ever expected. Do I know exactly what this road will look like? No. I’m still planning and plotting; but I am done with sitting here mired in my own inaction. So my friends, I make apologies for abandoning you on our last adventure. And perhaps you will be kind enough to give me one more shot. So what do you say: do you care to continue?

To Create, To Experience, To Live

You are a creative soul; that’s why you are here, that is how you found this tiny little hobbit hole in the great expanse of the internet. You dare to dream in the middle of the day, you find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. You, my friend, are a kindred spirit. You can see shades of the world that others cannot or will not acknowledge. You have a flame that burns inside of you; some days it is just an ember, and on others it roars with a passion that could rival all the stars in the universe. Your work is your physical soul molded by your own hands. You tirelessly give your energy to this creation without realizing the magic you are wielding. There is a beauty in the way you bring something tangible to life, something that was born from the firing neurons and synapses in your brain. You have a passion that demands to be explored, a gift that the world would be priveledged to experience.

Art takes many forms, some are more subtle than others. We are all artists to a degree. The writers, the painters, the musicians, the actors; yes, these are easily counted. But there are others: a chef who plays with the ingredients, a mechanic bringing an engine to life, a mathematician calculating the mysteries of the universe, a lawyer crafting an argument that turns the law on it’s head. Our mediums may be different, but our love is the same. The things that we give life to in this world are often the same things that also give life to us.

To make lasting art you must step outside of your comfortable corners. To breathe life into your work you must first soak up as much of it as you can. Your new knowledge will color your creations, bleeding into the corners, etching the nuanced edges until they gleam and entice the rest of the world. An art piece bursting with life is a piece that demands to be witnessed, it is a creation that carries within it the power to change the world. To invest in your work you must first invest in yourself. It doesn’t matter how perfectly crafted your sentences are if they drop lifelessly from your pen. Interesting things do not need a perfect presentation to be noticed.

Invest in yourself, in your experiences, in your knowledge. Let your interests guide you and teach you. Pick something that you love; a place you want to travel to, a book you want to read, a skill you want to learn- and dive into it. Find a class for tarot reading, go to the post office and get your passport, find your way to the nearest museum, watch a documentary on the Stone Henge and UFO conspiracy theories, go to a Chinese New Year celebration even if you don’t know a soul there, read books about people that inspire you. Never stop learning, never stop investing in yourself, never stop feeding your passions. All of these tiny things, these new experiences, these tidbits of random knowledge will find a way into your heart, your mind, and your work. They will create an authentic story, they will grant you a new perspective that you can share with the world.

You will create something beautiful, something that will resonate with people. You may not change the whole world, but you will have the power to change a single person. You will have the power to inspire them. Your work will find it’s way into their own, over and over again until we find ourselves staring at a beautiful tapestry of the human experience. After all, that is what art is; it is passion, it is the spirit personified, it is an interwoven story of all of the things that have made us who we are. Be proud to be a part of this tradition, be proud of your contribution to it. Invest it in, nurture it, and never be afraid to dive headfirst into it.

Dreaming in Stories (unconscious me is one odd little duck)

Last night I dreamt that I was a witch who also happened to work in a science lab. We were studying some kind of small ancient tree; I was rocking the white lab coat and oversized glasses while serreptitiously casting spells on the unusual object to figure out why it was so different from other bark-entombed entities. As it turns out, I must not have been a very good witch, because I accidentally cast a spell on it so that anyone who touched it would also turn into a tree. And of course, I touched it. My co-workers found a woman-shaped tree laying mossy-face down in the lab the next morning clutching a notecard in its hand-er-branch with a simple warning scrawled on it: do not touch the tree. One of my co-workers, apparently understanding what had happened, then hid tree-me in a closet when the evil boss came to check on our progress. And that’s when I woke up to the cat yowling for food because I had been so insensitive as to allow his dish to get to the dreaded halfway point. I know, will the horrors never cease? Looks like I’ll be getting a visit from kitty-protective-services soon. 

You may be asking yourself what the point was to that odd recitation. I mean, who really cares about a strange dream where I turned myself into a tree? The answer: we all should. The creative process is one that has no rules or regulations, and the body has an innate sense of what we truly need; the process of storytelling has created bonds and built bridges since Homo sapiens first came into existence. Humanity itself was build on story-telling; you can find paintings on cave walls in France that tell tales about hunting, sharing their knowledge with distant ancenstors they could not have ever pictured. Stories were the building blocks of our societies, creating lasting bonds and sharing knowledge to help those that came after them. We told stories to explain the world, to understand why life was the way that it was, to understand ourselves a little better, to share hopes for an unknown future, to bond, to tear apart. We have told our tales over flickering campfires, drawn them on cave walls, scrawled them on papyrus, and infinitely more have been coded onto computer screens and sent out into virtual existence. Our venue of storytelling has changed, but the innate nature of it within our souls has not. The telling of tales is in our very DNA, it is the cornerstone of our continued existence.

The brain can do amazing things. It codes, catalogues, interprets, directs, and creates every single moment of our lives. If you stop to truly appreciate the beauty that is the mind, it is deeply moving on a fundamental level, though difficult to fully comprehend. Our brains keep track of our stories; the ones we live, the ones we see or hear, the ones we personally create. Even when we are too tired to tell our own stories, it sings us to sleep with one of its own. We live in stories, we always have. Even when we are not conscious enough to fully appreciate them (or notice that it is perhaps a bit odd that when you start turning into a tree you decide to scrawl a warning instead of- oh, I don’t know- maybe the counter-spell that will turn you back into a human?). But this right here is the art of a good writer- to make something fantastical seem perfectly plausible in the world that you have created. A witch scientist? Why not.

Many of my dreams are bizarre and disjointed. They make perfect sense when I am enmeshed in them, but once I regain the world of the conscious, I begin to realize the flaws. And yet, there is still usually a kernel of something special left behind. Some of my best ideas have come from my unconscious self (and these are just the ones I remember the next morning). They send my into a tizzy of creative efforts, my mind lingers on them as I get ready for my day, scrawling a few quick notes before I completely forget about the magic I had been immersed in. Some of these stories stick with me for days, weeks, even years. Others are as fleeting as the gentle flitting of a bird’s wing. 

They say that a person is most creative when they first wake up; right in that moment when you have your rational mind in control, but there is still a dusting of that unconscious magic about you. I don’t know if this true, I may try to find out this week if I can get myself up early enough. But it wouldn’t surprise me. The dream world can be a curious place; but it can bring out the best in any creator, no matter your medium. Your unconscious mind will make connections that the wakeful version of yourself might miss. It’s like a dear friend on the other side of the veil whispering secrets and answers to you. If you slow down long enough to listen, you just might find something worthwhile. And just for the record- yes, I may have to see what kind of trouble this witchy-scientist can get herself into. And how on earth will she ever get out of that tree?

The Writing Space (my little hobbit hole)

I’ve stared in envious jealousy when my favorite authors have posted pictures of their offices, these beautiful and spacious writing areas that are conducive to their own form of brilliance, usually complete with their very own wood-burning fireplace. And then I look at mine and wonder if it will ever be anything more than what it is. My writing space is my sanctuary, it is the place where I find my genuine self. My seat is worn, my desk is typically messy, and my book shelf has seen better days. But it is mine. It is the home of my favorite creations, the worlds that I bring to life on the page.

There is nothing more important to the creative process than finding a space that will nurture it. I spent many years (okay- virtually all of my life) without one, I worked wherever I happened to have space- usually on my bed with my back propped up against the wall- and full disclosure, I am actually doing that right now because there is a slight possibility that my desk is covered in pears that I got from work, and I’m too lazy tonight to find a reasonable place to store them while they ripen. The kitchen is out of the question, they will be eaten before I even get a taste. So, naturally, I am hoarding them on my desk and writing in my bed.

The writing space isn’t necessarily about the physical set-up: you don’t need a large oak desk and a fancy computer to get those creative juices flowing, you don’t need modern art to feel that rush of words slipping from your finger tips. No, the writing space is more about the way you feel when you are in it. It’s about surrounding yourself with what inspires you, the things that make you think, that remind you what you are working for. It could be something as simple as bringing your favorite Iron Man notebook out to the big oak tree at your nearest park- that could be the place where all of your fictional beings are born. Or perhaps you feel that vibe at your local coffee shop with a caramel macchiato. There is no right or wrong answer to the question of the perfect work space. And for that matter, it doesn’t even have to be the same space each time. Just because it is working for you one day, doesn’t mean it will be the ideal spot for you tomorrow. I rove around a lot when I work. During the summer I love sitting out at the picnic table on the back patio, throwing my dog’s favorite toy and listening to the rustling leaves while I type away. Other days I camp out on the couch with a fluffy blanket and a sweatshirt. You have to be in tune with yourself to know where you will be most likely to stay focused and inspired. It is not an easy task.

So today, I’m going to take you on a virtual tour of my own little area- and I will apologize now, the picture is just a little bit older, simply because you are probably not interested in seeing the mountain of pears, and I know I am not interested in cleaning it up. And there might be a coffee mug. And a water bottle. And maybe a bowl of Hershey kisses. But shh, you don’t have to know that. Here it is, my little comfort zone- it’s changed a little bit since this picture was taken, but not enough to make a big deal out of it.

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I am going to preface this by saying that I live in small quarters, trust me, there is not a Pinterest trick on saving space that I have not read or tried at least once, and there is not a single organizational tool that I have not bought and (more often than not) promptly sent off to Goodwill. I have learned to be very creative with what I have. So my writing space is nothing lavish or fancy, it is not going to be getting me on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, and I sure wont be featured on HGTV anytime soon. But I love it, and that’s all that matters in the end.

My fiancé and I both have our own little desks in the ‘office’- which also happens to double as our main living space. This usually doesn’t cause a ton of problems, although there are the occasional noise complaints from one to the other- luckily, that is why headphones were invented.

My desk is nothing fancy- it’s one we bought at Ikea a few months ago when we finally made the space for it. I was actually quite proud because I managed to put it together all on my own without any male assistance- and to top it off, they were Ikea directions with no words and very confusing pictures. I was feeling like one hell of an independent woman that night, She-Ra Warrior Princess in the flesh. There was only one board I put on backwards, but I caught it before irreparable harm could be done. That same night it was christened ‘Katie’s desk de independence (no boys required).’ When I bought it I fell in love with the fact that it had a built in whiteboard, although I have since learned that it’s not the best quality and the markers wont erase without special cleaners, so instead I cover it in sticky notes.

As I said, it is a small space. It’s pressed up against a bookshelf on one side, which holds our tv, and on the other is the wall that I like to stick current projects materials to. Above it are some wall shelves that hold a lot of my books- including all of my writing focused ones. It also carries my cherished binders, my ‘story bibles’ if you will- all of my prepping and plotting work that I’ve done for each of my projects (one of which you can see on the desk in the picture). I have sticky notes taped everywhere with my favotire inspirational quotes, a few stickers I got from a Nano donation a year or so ago, and odds and ends I got as gifts or on vacation. It’s an odd assortment of things I have surrounded myself with, but everything on it is no-shame, 100% me. The Chinese fortune sticks on the far left (behind the water bottle as shown), my favorite black elephant decoration is smiling right at me from his perch, there’s a small hour glass that holds a piece of coal taken from the Titanic, my Walking Dead and Disney figurines, there’s an empty flask my sister got me that looks like a Nintendo game, a little gold Buddha and some pictures from important moments in my life (there are a couple more now than there were when this was taken). My prized possession though would be the little orange book with the white tabby on the cover- written by the only person in my family I have ever known to be published.

It’s not a popular book by any means, but I did manage to find a few copies on Amazon and Ebay. It holds a place of prominence, a reminder of what I can do if I only try hard enough. It’s a children’s book called ‘Tuffy’s Travels,’ written by my mother’s favorite aunt, Marie Persson. Annie Ree- that’s what they used to call her. She passed away from cancer before I was born, I never met her. But she inspires me every day. I always keep her book where I can see it as a reminder that it’s not impossible, I can make it if I only work hard and keep trying to improve my craft. Getting published has always felt like such a distance dream that belonged in the realm of ‘someday.’ This book reminds me that ‘someday’ gets a little bit closer every single time I start stringing those words together.

I can only hope that someday I will be able to look back at my humble beginnings- all of those nights spent on my bed or couch with my laptop propped on my knees. My time in this little desk that I made all my own, crammed into a tiny room that we’ve have to refinaggle to fit into. Clicking and clacking away at the dream that has never left my soul from the moment I was able to tell my tall tales as a child.

The writing space is only important as long as it helps you be creative. Some people thrive in clutter, others practically need a ruler to line up their pencils. I am somewhere in between. It’s not always ideal, but it is mine. This is what I have, and I am so proud of it. Although if you have ever taken a peek at the office of James Rollins (one of my all-time favorite authors)- holy cow, I can ony dream of reaching that level someday. Go ahead, peek through his office window like a creeper and see the magic inside- I don’t think he’ll mind, this image came courtesy of his Twitter feed, after all.  (twitter.com/jamesrollins/media)- and while you’re at it, if you are looking for a new series to read, give the Sigma series a try, you wont regret it. Until then, the dream will live on.

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