The oddness of recognizing a birthday in a rather dark year

It’s my birthday today and to be perfectly honest, all the “happy birthday” wishes feel rather surreal, because I’ve never felt more grim and hopeless about our future as a country than I do today.

I took a few days off work as my birthday gift to myself and I thought I’d catch up on reading, writing and some crafts. I don’t feel safe going anywhere or seeing anyone but I needed a vacation, even if it is just a staycation. I’ve felt spiritually exhausted lately. So far, I’ve done some reading, but mostly I’ve spent too much time in my head. Temperatures have soared into the 90s this week, adding to that draining feeling.

Looking at the civil unrest in my hometown, Portland, and around the country, I feel very sad about the different perceptions of it according to various political persuasions. We can’t even agree on what constitutes basic human rights anymore. There are far too many people who believe President Trump is actually helping to dispel violence, instead of inciting it; who believe Black Lives Matter is a racist movement; who believe even saying that black lives matter is so threatening to their white fragility that they see it and Antifa as a precursor to Nazism. It makes my heart hurt. These aren’t just differences of opinion; some are in fact dangerous lies.

Coupled with the near certainty I feel that Trump will successfully cheat to win the election, thanks to the courts he has stacked in his favor, and I don’t feel very happy today. Birthdays are hard when you suffer through bouts of depression. You often think, Oh great, another year of pain, and in the current state of world affairs, I don’t think our global trauma will get much better in 2021. Throw in climate change, and it is a whole new ballgame. It is hard to remember what exactly I am celebrating in a time of ever-present existential dread.

I’ve been trying to work on myself, because you cannot pour from an empty cup, but some days are harder than others. Sobriety, exercise, meditation and routines all help me. I tried the whole “The world is going to hell anyway, so might as well ride the flames” early in the pandemic, but that kind of mental self-sabotage is not sustainable in the long term. Eventually you just have to take it day by day and put one foot forward, and do what you can, where you can, however small the action. Especially if it is more than just retweeting a post on social media, or even turning off social media and seeing how else you can get involved.

I’ve decided to narrow down my creative projects a bit, though, because I realized I had too many irons in the fire. I’m going to scrap the short story collection and poetry chapbook, or at least shelve them for now, and keep focusing on submitting short stories instead. I think ASH PLANET is more of a short story than a novella. Possibly even flash for a market that rejected me in the past but encouraged me to submit again. My photo book will only take a few more weeks to finish designing. I don’t want to add too much text to it because I don’t want it to seem too pretentious, so it shouldn’t take me too much time. I am planning for an Oct. 30 release. Giving myself a hard deadline will help build the pressure to actually complete it.

I want to get back to doing more photography. I haven’t done much of it lately. I haven’t been that inspired to shoot when I hardly leave the house. I hope to experiment with flat lay still lifes of books, and to write short reviews on my Instagram and Goodreads. Lately I have been snapping book photos on my cell phone because I don’t want them to seem too polished or staged, but it would be fun to experiment with that kind of photography, and still keep up my shooting.

I still want to write a novella, or a novel, even. I guess I just have the itch to commit to something longer than a short story and only starting one will scratch that itch. I think I’ll plan to push myself to write 1,000 words a day after I finish brainstorming, researching and outlining. I already have an idea that I have been working on. I haven’t done an outline or any paper plotting, but it is more in the swishing it around in my head phase, trying to tweak it to make it more original. I have a feeling this one may involve some pantsing at first. I’m going to try a strategy to write a few scenes or short stories first in the same universe and see if I can build that into a longer narrative arc.

I’ve been obsessed with Gothic literature, noir, suspense and the occult lately, so I’m hoping to touch upon those themes in this novella/novel. Before I even start writing I will be doing an outline, character profiles, and quite a bit of research into tarot, djinns and archangels. By necessity I likely will be doing that research throughout the writing as well.

I just feel ready for a novel this time. I have been building up to this. I have more confidence now and I can better stifle my imposter syndrome. I need something to channel all this pain and anger into, something productive. Short stories have helped me with that; they’ve been therapeutic. Stress relief.

Staying creative through writing has helped me, despite those people who try to tell me that I shouldn’t feel guilty for resting. It often seems as if I am treading murky black water in a hopeless abyss some days, but writing gives me a lifeline, a shimmer of light to follow from the icy depths to break through to the surface.

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