Anxiety, Life

Getting (Library) Carded

Embarrassing confession time: Until quite recently, I did not have a current library card. That’s fixed now, but the idea of a professional writer without a valid library card is kind of unbelievable. I mean, most writers do a ton of reading. We need to keep up with what’s going on in our genres and know about buzzworthy recent releases. Plus, books are AWESOME and I want to read as many of them as possible. I’d love to buy every book I read (I really hate not getting to keep a book if I truly enjoy it), but shelf space and financial limitations make that impossible. A library card is a necessity.

Yet my last card expired in the early 2000s, and I’d stopped using it even earlier. Why? Let me tell you a story about how an anxiety disorder can turn a minor inconvenience into a huge deal. Thanks, anxiety.

I’m usually too much of a perfectionist to let a book go overdue, but during my last year of college I had to write a pretty major paper. The professor required us to turn in a list of our sources weeks before the paper was due, so I had to check the books out and then keep them as long as it took me to write the paper. I guarantee I finished it early, but even so, my sources were overdue. Most were from the campus library, but at least one was from my public library system.

As soon as possible, I went to my local branch to pay the fine. I’d always adored the public library; I practically grew up between its shelves. The fine was something like $7, and I had cash in hand.

The volunteer at the front desk blinked at me. “You can’t pay that here.”

“Okay, so where do I pay it?” I thought maybe I had to go to a different part of the large front desk, or maybe even a different branch.

“I don’t know, but not here. I can’t do that here.”

I shoved down the anxiety rising like bile in my throat. “What?”

“You can’t pay the fine here,” she snapped.

I asked how I could pay. The volunteer got upset. She fussed. She didn’t know. I’m not sure if she was new, or if the library had just switched over to a new system, but I couldn’t pay my fine. And with an outstanding fine, I couldn’t use my card.

This was, obviously, a problem.

I went back at some point and tried again. Got the same answer. The whole “You owe us but you can’t pay us” thing hit my anxiety pretty hard. I was mortified. I wanted to pay! I wanted to make it right and start using my card again.

I could have pursued the issue. I probably should have. (And here’s where my therapist would call me out for using the word should.) But the volunteer’s attitude combined with my own embarrassment for having a late fee in the first place made me freeze.

So I took what felt like the easy way out. I mostly stopped using the library.

I still took my laptop there to draft or revise sometimes, but I never checked out another thing. I couldn’t, and my anxiety disorder held me back from fixing what seemed like a simple problem.

My useless card expired. I meant to get another, but I’d remember the volunteer’s tone, the way she snapped at me when I was trying to do the right thing, and I’d just put it off. Again and again.

That volunteer was probably just frazzled about an upgraded system. Or whatever. I’ll never know. The situation was weird and embarrassing and I gave up.

BUT. Last month I finally got a new card. I went to a different branch (because I still get a little jittery about my local one, even though that volunteer is likely long gone!) and now I can check out books again. It sounds like such an inconsequential thing, but anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses are rarely rational creatures. They take minor annoyances and reshape them as impossible riddles; they inflate problems while stealing solutions.

This wasn’t about getting a library card; it was about confronting an anxiety trigger that had been whispering in the back of my head for the better part of two decades. Now that whisper is gone.

MammothLibrary
And hey, several branches of my local system even have copies of Mammoth!
Life, Writing and Publishing

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Tom Petty may not have had experience in book publishing, but still . . . HE KNEW.

PettyWaiting
(Geffen Records)

Publishing moves at its own pace. If you’re on deadline, you might feel like there’s not enough time and OMG where did the day go and HEY LET’S PANIC, but there’s also a lot of waiting around in this business. Maybe an agent requested your manuscript (yay!). Or maybe you’re on sub and editors are reviewing your submission package (double yay!). Whether you’re waiting for betas to check out your newest manuscript or your editor to sign off on your latest revisions, here are a few ideas to distract you from constantly refreshing your email or obsessively checking your phone.

  • New project! This is the gold standard for dealing with the delays in publishing. Grab one of those plot bunnies hopping around in your head and get to work. Whether you’re a careful outliner or a true pantster, you’ll worry less about work-in-progress #1 if you’re wrapped up in work-in-progress #2. Plus, you’ll eventually finish and submit #2, and then you’ll have a whole new round of waiting and hoping to deal with–which just means it’s time to start #3!
  • Cheer on other writers! Look, you’re already glued to Twitter or Instagram, right? If you’re not already doing so, boost some new releases. Take a sec to congratulate fellow writers on signing with an agent or finishing a manuscript or announcing a deal. That support can mean a lot, especially when so many of us feel like social media is mostly a lot of screaming into the void. You might even make some new writer friends!
  • Read! Um, too obvious? Tackle that TBR pile. And when you finish a good book, recommend it on social media or leave a nice review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. I was going to include a list of my own recent reads in this post, but at this point it’s long enough to need a post of its own.
  • Hobbies! Have you been wanting to learn to knit? Practice the ukulele? Plant an herb garden? Now’s the time! I rarely have a moment to dig out my embroidery or sewing projects when I’m neck-deep in drafting, so when I’m between projects, I love working on . . . other projects! That aren’t writing!
  • DIY/repairs! Okay, minor home renovation projects aren’t always fun, but most of us probably have a few of them floating around in the backs of our minds. I recently redid some of the caulk in my bathroom because that’s the kind of exciting life I lead. But hey, it’s done!
  • Try to sell your house! Okay, probably not. But I’m currently living in a house that’s on the market, and it’s providing plenty of distractions. Most of them aren’t good distractions (“Oh, you had plans for today? Nope, there’s a showing this afternoon, so you’re spending the morning cleaning only for the real estate agent to cancel at the last minute, what fun!”), but they’re distracting either way*.
  • Dark magic! Oh, you know, just put a hex on whoever sent your most recent rejection, or sign away your soul in return for the promise of a nice publication deal. I’m kidding, I’m kidding! (Or am I? The waiting game can get you to consider all kinds of possibilities…)
  • Scream! Try it. It might help. And breathe, and remember that the waiting won’t last forever.
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(Fox)
*Once this place sells, I’m totally writing a guide to coping with an anxiety disorder while living in a property that’s up for sale, because that is just a whole other mess.
Anxiety, Life, Writing and Publishing

You Are Enough.

I’ve been participating in #IGWritersApril over on Instagram this month. The prompt for day 26 was “writing inspiration,” which could be interpreted in so many ways. The Waco Mammoth National Monument inspired the dig site in MAMMOTH. My love for the city of Austin inspired several MAMMOTH settings, and my bff Dava inspired some of my favorite plot points. I could have posted a photo of my childhood copy of JURASSIC PARK, or a still from the movie, or a favorite page from the dinosaur encyclopedia I read over and over as a kid.

Instead, I found some photos of myself as a young teenager. I shared the kid who never felt thin enough, likable enough, cool enough, pretty enough. She was never enough.

BlogTeenageMe

In MAMMOTH, Natalie is a popular plus-size fashion blogger. She has an amazing vintage-inspired wardrobe. She rocks a red lip and perfectly winged eyeliner. She works for her aunt’s indie clothing line and knows how to design, sew, and alter for a perfect fit (and how to use shapewear to make that fit even more perfect). Natalie’s that fatsionista you envy on Instagram because she’s got it together (or at least she looks like she does).

Natalie adopted that persona because she was bullied in middle school. She reinvented herself so she’d no longer be “Fat Nat.”

Unfortunately, changing how others see you doesn’t fix how you see yourself. In MAMMOTH, Natalie has to figure out how to love and appreciate herself for who she is beneath her fashion armor. If she’s going to stand out during her dig site internship, she’s going to have to do so in an authentic way. She’s going to have to accept that she is enough, just as she is.

This means that Natalie isn’t as perfect as she appears. She has flaws, especially in how she thinks about herself. One of those flaws in particular, a habit Natalie has of being too aware of body size, is a detail I’ve discussed with readers, my agent, and my contacts at my publisher. Some people love it. Some people hate it. It’s polarizing, and whether to include or cut it has been a tough call! I went with what felt like the most authentic option, even though I’m still second-guessing myself about twenty times a day. The detail evolves as the story progresses. I hope readers will give my girl a chance so they can see that evolution happen.

Body image is so personal. SO PERSONAL. I’ve struggled with the concept since I was about seven years old, and because a lot of the self-doubt and anxiety in MAMMOTH mirror my own, putting this book out there is kind of terrifying. But if Natalie can be bold enough to stand out in paleontology, I can be bold enough to share her story.

I’m sharing it for that kid in the photos. She was enough, even though she never realized it. I’m sharing it for kids like her.

You are enough. Changing what’s on the outside won’t fix things until you accept and embrace that.

You. Are. Enough.

Anxiety, Life

Anxiety and the Hole to Nowhere

HoleToNowhere001Hey, so this is fun.

We had a water leak in the slab of our house. There wasn’t much evidence at first — just a vague, slow, barely-audible hiss that might’ve been water moving where water shouldn’t be, but hey, maybe it’s just the air conditioner. Or the refrigerator’s ice maker. Or the wind. Or a nearby snake talking to himself. When you’re already preoccupied with other major repairs, it’s really easy and really tempting to shrug off that odd little hiss.

Then you end up with a river running through your garage, and there’s no more ignoring. You have to dig down and deal with what’s going on.

It’s a little like having an anxiety disorder. You learn to mask it out of necessity because no matter how much you’re freaking out, sometimes you still just need to get through the day. (And deal with the plumbers and the leak detector and make phone calls you don’t want to make and and and…) On the surface you seem okay, but there’s chaos underneath that a patch here and there won’t fix. That’s where therapy comes in. And maybe medication, if that’s an option for you. And self-care, whatever that looks like for you.

In 2010 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I don’t mind admitting that. It’s just part of who I am, and I try to be open and matter-of-fact about it because I feel like that’s the best way to combat some of the stereotypes and stigmas associated with mental disorders and mental illness.

GAD is a challenge I live with. I compare it to having various Kristen Wiigs in full meltdown mode inside my head, which sounds facetious but is almost alarmingly accurate.

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(giphy.com)
giphywiig001
(giphy.com)
giphyghostbusters001
(giphy.com)

Seriously, she’s in there punching cookies and passing out and trying to convince the mayor of New York that a portal’s about to open up and flood the city with angry ghosts, and I’m just trying to get through the day. I’ve learned to mask my GAD so effectively in a lot of situations that people who don’t know me well, especially professional acquaintances, often don’t believe it’s as bad as it is. This is frustrating; it gives more weight to the inaccurate assumption that anxiety is an excuse or a minor issue that can be overcome with some willpower and an attitude adjustment. It leads to people saying things like “Don’t worry,” which . . . OH THANK YOU I AM SO GLAD YOU MADE THAT SUGGESTION I NEVER THOUGHT OF TRYING THAT.

gifbinwiig001
(gifbin.com)

But anxiety has also given me some gifts, and I try to be mindful of that (especially since it’s not like my Inner Wiig is going anywhere, so I might as well make peace with her). I don’t miss deadlines, for example. Editors appreciate that. When I’m writing, I can portray anxious characters in realistic and sympathetic ways. Some of my anxiety is money-based, so I’ve had to become good at budgeting. And since I’m so used to functioning with a high level of anxiety, I tend to be pretty good during a crisis. I don’t break down until after the worst has passed.

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(tenor.com)

Just like that leak in the slab, plenty of us have some under-the-surface stuff to work through. I choose not to be ashamed of mine. I choose to be open about it. I choose to appreciate what I’ve learned from it, the strengths I’ve developed.

Plus, it’s an excuse to post Kristen Wiig gifs, and that’s always a plus.

Life

Life Happens. So Do Hurricanes.

I live on Marco Island, which is several hours south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida. About a month ago, the island took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, which I believe was a category 4 storm at the time.

CNNIrmaRadar
Image courtesy CNN.com
Had the eye stayed a little more to the west, the resulting storm surge could have been as high as fifteen feet. As it was, I believe we got more like four feet, which was high enough to swamp the island and come most of the way up our driveway but not high enough to get into the house.

We evacuated the day before the storm hit, knowing we might very well come back to . . . nothing. Irma barreled through on a Sunday and we were allowed back onto the island on Monday; turning down my street and waiting to get a glimpse of my house (or whatever remained of it) was one of the most dreadful moments of quiet, terrified anticipation I’ve ever experienced. We were very, very lucky — we got plenty of cosmetic damage, but the roof stayed mostly intact (although it still most likely needs to be replaced) and we didn’t lose any windows or doors. We spent days without running water or electricity (September in southern Florida without air conditioning, man, NO). We’re still waiting on a lot of repairs. We’re trying to budget for what insurance won’t cover (which, as it turns out, is probably most of the damage, ugh). My father always handled these things when I was younger; not having him here to arrange repairs and make decisions is bringing up a lot of emotions on top of everything else.

 

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This used to be our screen enclosure. It looks so much better in the photo than it did in real life.
BlogIrma001
We lost more than half of our trees, including this 30-ft palm that blocked our driveway for nearly a week. The debris in the driveway marks the height of the storm surge. You can also see several downed power lines near the street.
I’ve been through so many hurricanes that I can’t even keep them all straight anymore, but I’ve never experienced one like Irma. I’m dealing with a lot of delayed anxiety, a newfound sensitivity to mold (the island has huge piles of molding debris everywhere waiting on county clean-up), and a still-unreliable internet connection. Once everything blows over, I’ll be back to blogging more regularly. In the meantime, I’ll be taking out my anxiety on the coconuts that got knocked down by the storm. We’ve got a lot of coconuts, but I’ve got a lot of anxiety, so it works.

IrmaCoconut
CONSIDER THE COCONUT.