I’ve been struggling a lot to keep writing, to keep creating, to find the inspiration and the focus I need to do my job. A lot of it is related to my Depression, but there comes a point when the difference between being a professional and a hobbyist is actually doing the work, even — especially — when it’s hard.
So this weekend, Anne and I took the kids up to Santa Barbara to celebrate our birthdays (which are all in the next two weeks), and to get a change of scenery for a couple of days. It was a gorgeous trip, emotionally and spiritually, and while it didn’t give me the magic bullet to suddenly break through the struggle I’ve been having, I made a ton of progress, because I read a book that I took with me. Here’s my review that I posted to my Goodreads thingy:
It’s a quick read that you can finish in one sitting, but the ideas and advice it contains will stay with you long after you’ve put it down. Some of Austin’s suggestions will validate what you’re already doing, some will challenge you to fundamentally change a creative practice, others will inspire you to grab a notebook and get to work immediately.
Because it’s such a small and accessible book, you’ll want to go back to it from time to time. Just like Stephen King’s On Writing, as you change and grow as an artist, it reveals new ideas and inspirations to you that you may have missed on a previous read.
This is a fantastic addition to your library, and a wonderful gift for any creative person in your life.
I’ve been profoundly inspired by Austin’s book, because he reaffirmed things I’ve already been doing as an artist, but mostly because he gave me permission to think about the entire creative process differently.
For a long time, I have felt like a travel writer who never leaves the house, and Steal Like An Artist helped me find the door so I can get back on the road.
One week and about ten hours ago, I decided to step away from Twitter for a little bit. The specific details aren’t important, and I suspect that many of you reading this now are already nodding in agreement because you grok why. But I took it off my phone, and I haven’t been to the website on my desktop since. For the first 48 hours, I spent a lot of time wondering if I was making a choice that mattered, and thinking about how I wasn’t habitually looking at Twitter every few minutes to see if I’d missed anything funny, or to see the latest bullshit spewing forth from President Fuckface’s mouthanus. I was, ironically, spending more time thinking about Twitter since I wasn’t using it than I spent thinking about it when I was.
It started out as a 24 hour break, then it was a 48 hour break, then it was the weekend, and here we are one week later and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything important. I feel like I’ve given myself more time to be quiet and alone, more time to reflect on things, and I’ve created space in my life to let my mind wander and get creative.
I’m not creating as much as I want to, and I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ll never be able to create as much as I want to, but I’ve gotten some stuff done this week that probably wouldn’t have gotten done if Twitter had been filling up the space that I needed.
Here’s a little bit from my blog post that became a short story that grew into a novella that is now a novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything:
My mother was leaning against her car, talking with one of the other moms, when we arrived. My sister was throwing a Strawberry Shortcake doll into the air and catching it while they watched. I walked out of the bus and across the blazing hot blacktop to meet her.
“Willow, catch!” My sister cried, sending Strawberry Shortcake in a low arc toward me. I caught her without enthusiasm and handed her back. “You’re supposed to throw her to me!” Amanda said, demonstrating. Her doll floated in a lazy circle, arms and legs pinwheeling, before falling back down into my sister’s waiting arms. The writer in me wants to make a clever reference to how I was feeling at that moment, about how I could relate to Strawberry Fucking Shortcake, spinning out of control in the air above us, but it feels hacky, so I’ll just talk about how I wanted to make the reference without actually making the reference, thereby giving myself permission to do a hacky writer’s trick without actually doing it. See, there’s nothing tricky about writing, it’s just a little trick!
It’s still in the first draft, and I may not keep all or even any of it, but after putting it aside for months while I was depressed about too many things to look at it, it feels so good to be back into this story.
Oh, speaking of writing, I got notes back from the editors on my Star Wars 40th anthology submission. I thought that, for sure, they’d want me to rework a ton of it, but all they asked me to do is change a name! And they told me it was beautiful! So I’ve been feeling like a Capital-W Writer for a few days.
And speaking of feeling happy for a change, Hasbro and Machinima announced that I’m a voice in the next installment of the Transformers animated series, Titans Return. And it feels silly to care about this particular thing, but Daily Variety put my name in the headline, which made me feel really, really good.I’ve always felt like the only thing that should matter is the work, and that the work should be able to stand on its own … but that’s not the reality even a little bit. Daily Variety is the industry’s paper of record, so when it chooses to put you in the headline of a story, people pay attention and it matters in the way that can make the difference between getting called for a meeting, or the last ten years of my life as an actor.
It’s also a good reminder that, even if I’m not getting the opportunities I want to be an on-camera actor, it is entirely within my power to create the space I need to be a writer.
Specifically, I've been thinking about why I enjoy Ticket to Ride so much. Even when I don't win, it doesn't matter; I enjoy the process of the game play itself. I find it enormously satisfying and winning the overall game doesn't really matter to me when I play. I've realized that it's because the game has win conditions within win conditions.
For those of you unfamiliar with the game, the idea is that you are building railroads piece by piece across the country on specific routes determined by the cards that you draw. In order for each route to count, you have to complete it, laying down all the specified segments of the route. There are reward points for finishing each train route. There are reward points for the person who builds the longest route--which often means connecting several routes that you build over the course of the game. And then there are reward points for the segments of the routes that you build. The person with the highest point count overall wins. As I said above, win conditions within win conditions.
When I meet any of these conditions I am satisfied. Sometimes players compete for hubs where several routes meet. Sometimes laying down my route means blocking you from completing yours. There are cut-throat players who do this deliberately. Often I don't, but sometimes? Yeah, watch out! My personal win conditions tend to be completing routes I've drawn and completing the longest route. If I happen to win the game with all of the conditions listed in the paragraph above, that's awesome, too. But no matter who wins the overall game, if I've completed my own bits, I generally have fun and enjoy myself. I've started to think of this as the "fun condition."
If the point of a game is to have fun, then Ticket to Ride meets my fun condition. I need to bear this in mind as I work my way through this game idea. And I need to think about other games I enjoy and why I enjoy them.
NOTE: To my friends who have been designing games for decades, yes, yes, I know: this is probably 101-level stuff. But as a friend said to me tonight, everyone finds their own road.
A young boy aids in the fight against a mechanized terrorist organization as the sole controller of a prototype giant robot.
I couldn’t sleep, so I wandered into the weird and comforting landscape of UHF television’s modern equivalent, which in this case is a digital antenna station on 56.4 here in Los Angeles, called Comet TV*
For the next half hour, I watched this magnificently bizarre thing called Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. As far as I can tell, there’s this little kid called Johnny Sokko, and like all the other kids in school were all “Johnny Sokko, you’re a stupid face!” so he was like “h*ck you guys, I’m going to get a giant robot and live on a boat for some reason. Oh, and also, I’m like 8 or whatever, and I’m in charge of a giant flying murder machine. So watch your step, bitches.” Johnny gets this this giant robot who flies, and he controls him by issuing commands into a gold wristwatch. Instead of telling the robot to breakdance for his endless amusement, Johnny cries a lot and makes the robot save the world from a squid guy or something who lives in a sunken spaceship, adjacent to a pineapple under the sea? It’s all a little fuzzy in the translation, I’ll be honest, but I think I got the gist of it.
Anyway, I probably made some of that up, but this is all true: There’s a Flying Robot who is vaguely Egyptian. There’s a Gargoyle Gang, the Emperor Guillotine, a military group of children who are called Team Unicorn and are the only thing between Earth’s survival and intergalactic destruction for some reason, and all the bizarre 1960s Kaiju visual effects you could ever hope for. The music is exactly what you want it to be, and at one point, an entire freeway overpass is destroyed, because who among us hasn’t wanted to do that!
A quick search on a few of the Internets made it clear to me that I was not just way late to the party on this (the short I saw was originally released in Japan in 1967, as Giant Robo because obviously) but I am also discovering this literally decades after it became popular with the cool kids. So if you’re like OH GREAT WIL WHEATON THANKS FOR WASTING MY TIME WITH SOMETHING I ALREADY KNEW ABOUT now you can feel like a jerk because it’s new to me, Roland. It’s new to me!
It’s weird, and fun, and overflowing with potential audio samples, so I thought I would share it with you today. Here’s what I think is the first episode, in which we meet Johnny Sokko, the Flying Robot, an unsettling sea monster, and more:
There are several collections of Johnny Sokko films at the Internet Archive. I guess you can also buy remastered DVDs if you want to go that route (though I strongly believe that the faded and aged look of the originals at archive.org is a significant contributor to the charm of the thing.)
Good luck. We’re all counting on you.
Me: I need to stop thinking and just start doing.
Therapist: You need to stop doing and just start being.
Oh, right. It's all about being. This mindfulness stuff is hard.
"Stand in the place where you live
Now face north
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven't before . . . "
2) I have acquired new tap shoes that fit me better and I'm delighted with them. I took my first class in them yesterday. My feet felt better, I didn't get unreasonably tired, and I mastered the steps we were doing a little quicker, I think, for not having to compensate for shoes that were too long. I'm actually looking forward to practicing!
3) I am excited about the new Doctor. It was time for a woman and I find myself ready to reengage with the series. I liked Matt Smith well enough but found the storytelling in his seasons weirdly disjointed. I liked Peter Capaldi, but after disengaging with Matt Smith's Doctor, I found myself unable to reengage. I am curious and excited about Jodie Whittaker as 13. I'm in and look forward to her premiere. When, now, is the regeneration episode?
4) Farewell to actor Martin Landau and director/auteur George Romero. Landau looms largest in my experience as Commander Koenig of Moon Base Alpha in Space: 1999 and, of course, as Bela Lugosi in the film "Ed Wood." I know, I know, Mission: Impossible--but I was too young to be captured by it at the time. As for Romero, he changed the world with "Night of the Living Dead." He certainly changed the horror genre, giving us a new kind of monster that has survived generations and multiple iterations. Respect to both of these gentlemen.
5) I need to devote a couple of evenings to finishing laying down the ideas for the board game I've been thinking about. This idea will not let go.
One of the super fun things about living with depression and anxiety is how my idiot brain can go from “CAN DO!” to “EXISTENCE IS SUFFERING” faster than you can wish to take two strokes off your golf game. So today started out normal, and very quickly became a rough day. One of the ways I help myself through days like today, is to acknowledge that I’m sick not weak, and then take one step after another to get out from under the lead apron that Depression likes to drape over my life.
I just answered an ask on my Tumblr thingy that has helped me feel better, and I wanted to put it here, so it’s easy for me to find again the next time I need it:
Q: what can I do to bring myself out of depression?
So I’m having a tough day today, and I know that it’s my mental illness taking small things that most people can probably roll past, and blowing them up into one giant lead apron of I CAN’T EVEN.
Knowing that and accepting it doesn’t make it go away, but it does give me a little bit of light in this darkness, to help me eventually find the exit.
We have to remind ourselves that Depression Lies, and one of the things it does, to keep itself strong and in charge, is tell us lies, like: I am the worst at everything. Nobody really likes me. I don’t deserve to be happy. This will never end. And so on and so on. We can know, in our rational minds, that this is a giant bunch of bullshit (and we can look at all these times in our lives when were WERE good at a thing, when we genuinely felt happy, when we felt awful but got through it, etc.) but in the moment, it can be a serious challenge to wait for Depression to lift the roadblock that’s keeping us from moving those facts from our rational mind to our emotional selves.
And that’s the thing about Depression: we can’t force it to go away. As I’ve said, if I could just “stop feeling sad” I WOULD. (And, also, Depression isn’t just feeling sad, right? It’s a lot of things together than can manifest themselves into something that is most easily simplified into “I feel sad.”)
So another step in our self care is to be gentle with ourselves. Depression is beating up on us already, and we don’t need to help it out. Give yourself permission to acknowledge that you’re feeling terrible (or bad, or whatever it is you are feeling), and then do a little thing, just one single thing, that you probably don’t feel like doing, but I PROMISE you will help. Some of those things are:
- Take a shower.
- Eat a nutritious meal.
- Take a walk outside (even if it’s literally to the corner and back).
- Do something – throw a ball, play tug of war, give belly rubs – with a dog. Just about any activity with my dogs, even if it’s just a snuggle on the couch for a few minutes, helps me.
- Do five minutes of yoga stretching.
- Listen to a guided meditation and follow along as best as you can.
Finally, please trust me and know that this shitty, awful, overwhelming, terrible way you feel IS NOT FOREVER. It will get better. It always gets better. You are not alone in this fight, and you are OK.
You can ALWAYS talk to a mental health professional, too, if you have any thoughts of self-harm or feel hopeless. Some free and anonymous resources are:
- NAMI’s helpline: 800-950-6264
- OK 2 Talk: http://ok2talk.org/
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
Check in with me in a few days and let me know how you’re doing, okay?
For myself, today: I am getting off Twitter for at least the rest of today, and maybe until the end of the weekend. I am walking myself and my dogs. I am meditating. I am making sure I eat a nutritious lunch AND dinner (go me!). And I’m going to accept that, at this moment, my creative well is dry. It will refill in its own time, and I have to accept that I can’t force it.