The end of NaNoWriMo

Today is the last day of NaNoWrimo, the day by which all participants should have reached 50k words and verified it, thus “winning” the challenge. Today I am at 42k words, haven’t written in 3 days, and have no plans to do so today. And I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you what I learned by doing NaNoWriMo.

I signed up for this challenge with some optimistic naivete. Having never written more than a short story, but wanting to write a novel for as long as I can remember, I thought this would be it. I’d heard of NY Times best sellers that were NaNo books, and I figured anything was possible. Sure 50k words is a lot, and it demanded commitment, but I had the time and the drive. I could do it.

And sure, I did do it. I got to 42k words, which is in itself pretty impressive. And if I wanted to, I would have reached the 50k mark. And after having 7k be my highest word count, I feel super proud of myself. You see, because even though I didn’t “win,” I still feel like a winner. NaNoWriMo was the kick in the ass I needed. I needed to go from talking about writing, and wishing I was writing, to actually writing. And I did.

This challenge made me go from thinking I’d never be good enough and that my writing is unremarkable, to thinking that it might be unremarkable now, but that I have the potential to make it better. That a blank paper will never be more than that, but a paper with lots of red cross-outs can be better. And my 42k words will get better. On my time, at my pace, by my rules. I appreciate NaNo for getting my engine started, but I know now that time constraints and word count goals make for more quantity of writing than quality of writing. And to be fair, no one claims to have a polished novel at the end of the month. But I felt I was putting too much pressure on myself, and that was not good for creativity.

Now, I know that all writers work under some sort of deadline. When you are working with an editor and publisher, you need to have your work completed by a certain time. I get that. I also understand that every good writer writes every day. Every. Day. But that’s just not ideal for my life right now. I could write something every day. And maybe that’s really the point. Just to get something down. But I could not commit to 2k words each day. Some days the words flowed very easily, and I reached over 2k words, and other days not so much. And it was on these “not so much” days that I felt enormous pressure. If I didn’t hit 2k, I would be behind, and if I was behind, I would have to race to catch up, and if I didn’t catch up, then I failed. That was no good for getting the creative juices flowing again.

And while I realize 2k words isn’t that much to ask of someone, it just wasn’t always feasible for me. When I left my job as a teacher and decided that I was never going back to the profession, I did so for many reasons. But one of the main reasons was that I had put my job ahead of so much else for so long. I sacrificed personal time, my health, and pushed my family to the side for ultimately nothing that gave me long-term pleasure or benefits. And when I decided teaching was no longer the best fit for me, I swore to always put my family first, no matter what else I was doing. And there were several times during NaNo that I should have been with my kids, because they were sick or wanted attention or just because otherwise I was holed up in my office and not really present; and, I didn’t honor my commitment to them. And I always felt a pang of guilt then. But in my head I defended my actions as it’s only for a month, it wouldn’t be forever. And I got through much of the month this way. But what would I say if I continued past the November 30th mark (as my 42k words is roughly only half the book)? Would I continue to justify my reasons for eschewing my promise to myself and my family? I wasn’t willing to do that.

But toward the end of the month, with Thanksgiving upon us, my kids being home for 4 days, not to mention some bouts of pink-eye, upper respiratory viruses, and then strep throat, I couldn’t see myself focusing on my writing above everything else. As the days went by, and my word count stayed stagnant, I started to realize that making it to 50k wasn’t really winning me anything but a return to the life I’d previously lived and loathed. And it was then that I made a conscious decision to not finish. My story would still be there waiting for me when I was ready to pick it up again. But these moments when my family needed me were too crucial to miss.

I know I might seem hopelessly idealistic in saying I don’t want to live a life that feels like a burden. Yes, I know sometimes aspects of our lives are difficult. But after having lived for so long with everything being difficult, I know the danger in complicity. I know how making concessions can be a very slippery slope toward feeling futile and worthless. I never will allow myself to live like that again. And when it comes to writing, I never want it to feel like a chore. Challenging, frustrating, perhaps? Sure. But never like something I have to do instead of something I want to do. I want to want to write even when I can’t, when I have something else I need to be doing. I don’t want to feel like I have nothing I want to say when I have all the time in the world. And that’s exactly why I walked away so close to the finish line, and why I don’t regret it or feel like a loser at all.

I congratulate all of the participants who will, by day’s end, have met the goal of 50k. And I also applaud all those who tried and didn’t get there, willingly or otherwise.

Hopefully we all have so much more to live. And while I know today could be our last and perhaps then I should write like I don’t have forever to finish, I choose to simply live life enjoying what I can from each day. And if writing is a part of that day, great. If helping a sick child blow their nose or catching their vomit in my bare hands so it doesn’t hit the carpet is part of that day, that’s great too. I will live my life by my rules only now, and my rule states that I always do what feels right. And today what feels right is saying farewell to NaNoWriMo. Regardless of my word count, I now consider myself a writer.

My New Normal

It’s been awhile since I’ve last written anything. Sometimes I find the words to match my thoughts just mischievously elude me.

Anyhow, this is what I decided was good today. I am NOT a poet by any means, but today this just felt right in this format.

I naively thought the little pill was magic,

that I would pop it into my mouth each night,

and by some miraculous conjoining of my bile

and the Sertraline

it would make me better.

I thought that this little pill

the color of lima beans and

smaller than my baby niece’s little fingernails

would conquer my fears

and anxieties

and bring me back from underwater where

no matter what

I would breathe again with ease, and

like a superhero, keep me safe from

the monsters in my head and their claws pulling

at my brain and my heart.

I guess I should have figured that nothing

is as good as it seems; or,

that nothing worth having comes this easily.

I guess I should have realized these cliches

were true when it comes to mental illness.

Yes, mental illness.

Not crankiness

or a bad day

or over exaggerating

or being too sensitive

or making things up.

And just like any illness,

this too doesn’t go away by command.

I can ask and plead and even

cajole or bargain with myself

to stop all of this; but,

like no one can stop cancer from spreading

or epilepsy from seizing

or diabetes from metabolizing incorrectly,

I can’t stop myself from

worrying if I’m good enough

or wondering if I’ll ever measure up.

I can’t convince myself to leave the house

some days

or see friends

or go for a run

or do yoga

or anything that would help me feel

more alive.

Because I’m afraid.

This fear is real to me.

It squats upon my shoulder

nagging at me

taunting me

trying its best to

reduce me to invisibility.

It feasts upon me.

It nibbles little holes

into my willpower.

It breaks me down into

digestible pieces that are

easier to take without notice

over time and with little struggle

until suddenly

there isn’t much left.

And it’s then that it’s up to me

to save myself.

This little pill can be the buoy that

keeps me from being swept to sea,

but it can never be my personal island.

I can either flounder and drift amidst the

menace of the swells;

or, I can find some inner strength and

pull my dead weight to shore every time.

Because it’s become clear to me that

this isn’t going away.

It isn’t a small hiccup that will slowly

taper off until stopping without notice.

This is my new normal.

And so I open my arms wide,

put on a pot of tea,

put some cookies on a tray,

and welcome Depression into my home

like an old friend who will be staying on

for an indeterminate length of stay.

We sit together in my room, in

the sunshine pouring into the windows.

We sit and listen and watch and wait.

We enjoy the company of solitude and

the freedom of endless time.

We don’t worry about dressing up for each other

because we have no need for impressing.

But we also hold no pretenses.

We don’t embrace each other because that

would feel too risky.

But we also don’t ignore one another because

that would feel like a charade.

We watch each other in our periphery

waiting to see what each other’s next move

will be in this game of chess we play.

It may be the longest, most impossible

game of chess that has been played;

but as long as I have my arsenal,

my little green pill,

and my writing,

and my room with the sunshine,

I can make it.

There’s no magic here.

There’s no cure-all.

There’s only me.

In my new normal.

Whatever that means.

Fat-Shaming Me

Some people are easygoing, agreeable, able to bend without breaking. For as long as I’ve been self-aware, that person has not been me. I have always wanted to be in control, hating be told what to do or, more accurately, what not to do. I’ve always thought I’m right in any situation far more than I’m not. I’ve been this assertive, sometimes bossy, independent, “dare-you-to-defy-me” type. In all aspects of my life except with my innermost desires and fears. In those cases, I’m a coward.

I hate people treating others wrongly. Nothing boils my blood in the same way as someone who knows they have power over another and using that power to disrespect and take advantage of them. I really believe in mutual respect in all situations, even if the relationship in question is the case of an employer and employee, where one is, by definition, in a lower position. I have a very difficult time keeping my mouth shut when I see someone wielding their title just to fulfill their agenda, particularly so when that agenda is foolish, harmful, or going against common sense or decency.

And God help anyone who tries to tell me I’m wrong or deny me the ability to do something when I clearly (and they too, let’s not kid) know I’m in the right. I will not ever allow anyone to tell me I can’t do something for some arbitrary or discriminatory reason. Fuck them. And fuck that.

I’m an unforgiving soul and a keeper of grudges in these types of situations. I do not forget easily. And though I will pretend all is well again, if I am wronged, that’s it–you’re cut off. I haven’t the time, energy, or emotional availability to keep myself open to those who attempt to put me down.

Unless that person is me. This is where the complication comes in. I tell myself that I can’t do something all the time. And instead of metaphorically standing up to myself, I give in. Usually right away. Because it’s easier. Because I’m weak. Because I think my thoughts must be gospel. Talk about an unreliable narrator. I’m narrating my life, and even I can’t be trusted to do it right.

If I’m to be honest, I’ve had self-esteem issues all my life, which is maybe why I’ve hid behind this strong-willed, take-no-prisoners exterior. Inside I’m terrified I’m never good enough. Not smart enough. Not strong enough. Not talented enough. Not kind enough. Not the best mom. Certainly not the best wife. Not the best educator. The list goes on.

Topping said list, though, are the “big two” as I like to think of them: my weight and body image; and, my dream of really writing. These issues take up so much space inside my mind. They nag at me every day. They never let me forget they’re in there begging for attention, for action. And most of the time I’m pretty good at shutting them up. But more and more I find myself powerless against their relentless pursuit. And I haven’t any clue what to do about it.

I’ve not always been a chubby girl. When I was very young, I was reasonably thin. Average, at least. But as I got older, I got bigger. And by the time I hit puberty, I had become much thicker and curvier than most girls my age. I looked around the classroom at school and found myself amongst size zeros and twos when I was easily a 6. My butt poked out. My belly had rounded out. My chest was on a endless outward trajectory. I could only suck in, cover up, and push down so much. And I hated it all. How could I love my body, this body that was so different than those my peers had, than those I saw on television, in magazines? I felt betrayed. My body was working against me. And I couldn’t stop it.

The unstoppable force of puberty in conjunction with my sweet spot for sweets pushed me down a bramble-filled path of trouble. Growing up in a big family often meant that sweets were treats and rewards. Monetary rewards or gifts for special occasions weren’t as easy to come by as were homemade cookies, cakes, brownies, etc. And damn is my mom a great baker. Her baked goods were like Lay’s potato chips. And who am I to defy that motto? So I became mentally accustomed to rewarding myself with sweets of any kind. I’ve never been much for other junk foods–pop, chips, or the like–but I can’t turn down a cupcake. And so, as I grew older, that became my go-to, my safe haven. Bad day at school? Little Debbie to the rescue! Nervous about a job interview? Starve before, binge after, let the endorphins run free! Stressful day at work? Skip the booze, hand me a fucking brownie, stat! Not the healthiest coping strategy, I admit; but, a seriously difficult thing to override after so many years of conditioning.

And so I find myself at age 32 being at least 30 pounds overweight, which on my 5’2″ frame is too much, even with my broader shoulders and hips trying to camouflage it. I’m winded after climbing the two flights from my classroom to the cafeteria to pick up my students. I’m wary of leaving lights on when I’m naked because I don’t want my husband to see my body the way I see it. My family medical history has a longer list of potential conditions than a line of hipsters waiting outside an Apple store for the new iphone. And yet I do nothing about it. To be honest, I have a motherfucking cupcake sitting next to me as I type this. Why? Because cupcakes make me (temporarily) happy, and I’m on break from my soul-crushing job, and I deserve to be happy, right? Ugh.

As I’m sure you can guess, I feel fucking great when I’m shoving that sweet sweet frosted dream into my mouth, only to feel ashamed and disgusted after it’s all over. So why don’t I say no? Why don’t I change? Why don’t I tell myself I can’t do this anymore? I don’t know. Honestly. I want to, really I do. But I feel like I can’t. I’ve made myself so many promises and pacts, only to break them over the slightest provocation or seeming failure. What’s the sense anymore? Ugh again.

The thing is that I look at thin women and wish I was thin, even though I don’t entirely know why. Are they inherently better than me? Happier than me? I don’t know. But I also just want to love and accept myself for who I am. Maybe I will never be 125 lbs. again. Maybe I will always have a layer over my bones that some do not. I shouldn’t make myself feel like shit for it. I fat shame myself. Which I hate because it’s another example of someone with a seemingly more advantageous position making another feel inferior. But what do you do when that person is you? Do I make myself thin so I can be thin and perhaps happier? Or do I stay as I am because then I’m accepting of myself and embracing the fact that woman of larger sizes are also beautiful and desirable? And then what of my health? Ay, there is the rub.

I want to say that I will rededicate myself to pursuing a healthier lifestyle, that I can stop my sweet addiction any time I want. But I know I won’t. And it’s not because I lack the drive or incentive to do so. It’s just that I’m afraid of one potential outcome: success. No, I swear I’m not insane. Yes, I’m afraid of succeeding. I’m afraid of losing a noticeable amount of weight. And do you want to know why? Because I’m afraid it will never be enough. I will always look into the mirror and see the fat girl looking back at me. I’m afraid that no matter how small I might be able to make myself, it will never fix my mind. That it will forever stay tainted. It will always deceive me.

And what if my premonitions become true: I lose weight, I’m thin and toned, and still feel like shit on the inside? How can I possibly be a healthy role model for my daughter? How can I teach her that she is the most beautiful being inside and out by showing her that I treat myself quite oppositely? Why in the hell would she believe me?

So I continue to let my inner scardey-cat tell me I can’t, I won’t. It makes me feel weak and out of control. And when I feel out of control, I feel as if nothing else makes sense. It makes me feel inferior, scared, and hopeless. This goes against my very nature. And that pisses me off so much.