Adrift

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a boat in the middle of the ocean. I drift along, passing by islands and continents. There are people on the shores who wave at me and I wave back.

I see children and adults, friends and lovers as I float past. My boat goes around, crossing the same ocean again. The children have grown, the adults have aged. Old friends have given way to new ones and the lovers have built families for themselves. Yet I am still there, on that boat. Alone. Watching the world from the water.

I consider stopping somewhere, finding a piece of land to call my own. A place where I can settle down, build my own family, my own home. But then the wind picks up and carries my boat along. All I can do is watch, separated from the world by a shimmering barrier that I find myself unable to cross.

Maybe one day, I’ll find a way off that boat. Maybe one day, the storms that occasionally rage along the ocean and in my own mind will calm down. Until then, all I can do is drift along and watch the lives of others go by as my own stays stuck in limbo.

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Hidden Wisdom

Sometimes, you get good advice from the most unexpected sources. Such as people you don’t really like, for example. We can sometimes ignore the advice of friends or loved ones, often because we get advice from them all the time, on every little thing.

The people you don’t like, however, don’t have as strong an emotional investment in you. When they dispense advice of any sort, it tends to stick in the back of your mind, even if the initial impulse is to ignore it. There are two random observations about myself that I’ve received from such people that have stuck with me over the years.

The first one was in high school. As is the case during that time, there was a lot of drama floating around in the air. I had seen enough high school shows by the age of 15 to know that every problem was a life-or-death situation. I was as dramatic as any teenager, prone to bouts of moodiness and mooning over crushes. During one of my fouler moods, a guy I knew (but wasn’t really friends with) managed to get on my nerves and I lashed out at him. Understandably upset by my behavior, he spat back that I was the source of my own problems. I was complicating my own life with unnecessary drama, which is why I was so damn grouchy.

It was meant as an insult. But he was right. I was making my own life difficult. For example, by fawning all over a girl who had made it very clear from the outset that we wouldn’t be more than friends. I honestly thought that I’d be able to win her over somehow, and my continued frustration at being unable to do so left me acting like a character from Dawson’s Creek (maybe? I’ve never watched it, but I’ve seen a gif of James Van der Beek bawling his eyes out, so that seems like a reasonable comparison).

I basically needed to grow up, and though I’ve failed to do that in the 17 or so years since then, I’d like to think I’m just a tiny bit closer to being a full-fledged adult.

The next bit came from one of my old college roommates. He was the kind of guy who seemed really cool to hang out with at first, but I soon realized he was nothing more than a collection of stale jokes wrapped up in unpredictable mood swings. He was also the sort of person who’d eat up everything in the fridge literally one day after we’d gone grocery shopping, and would just shrug it off with a blithe apology. Needless to say, we didn’t stay in touch after graduation. But I digress.

From a young age, I’ve been an avid artist, and I especially love drawing cartoons and dreaming up concepts for various characters. In 3rd or 4th grade, I discovered the stellar Batman: The Animated Series, with characters designed by Bruce Timm. I loved the smooth, angular looks of the characters, so different from any other show I’d watched. I started drawing Batman fan art, attempting to copy poses and scenes from the show (and its tie-in comic). Even when designing original characters, I used Bruce Timm’s Batman work as a reference, only changing minor details. I was never quite happy with how my drawings turned out.

One day, I was in my room busy drawing some random character when my roommate happened to stop by. I expressed dissatisfaction at how the drawing was turning out, to which my roommate simply replied: “Maybe that’s because you’re trying to copy someone else’s style instead of doing your own thing.”

I was stunned. That actually made sense. My drawings were just copies. They had the same proportions as some drawing I’d seen and were in the same pose as another drawing I’d seen, but they had no life of their own. I really needed to develop my own style to give them a more personal element. And that’s what I set about doing. I let myself be influenced by Bruce Timm (along with various other artists that I discovered over time) without trying to slavishly copy one of his drawings. Even now, I’m still trying to find my ‘style’ as it were, but the joy is in the experimentation. Trying out different shapes and proportions based on how I perceive my characters instead of sticking to a single template.

If my roommate hadn’t said that, it’s entirely possible I’d still be churning out poor copies today, or at least for a lot longer than I did. It was a remarkable observation, and it came from such a very unexpected source.

I suppose a broken clock does have its moments.

Piercing the Clouds

And now we come to one of the patches of sunshine I’d mentioned in my previous post.

On my fiction blog, I’ve thrown myself into a few writing challenges to keep the creative juices flowing, and it’s paid off quite well!

A weekly challenge called Three Line Tales provides a photo prompt around which a three line story must be constructed. My entry for last week’s prompt went on to become my most popular post yet, which is pretty awesome! You can check it out here.

Another challenge I’ve been involved in since last year is WEP (Write, Edit, Publish), where a writing prompt is issued every two or three months. The first prompt of 2016 was the Valentine’s Challenge.

When the challenge was announced it left me stumped. Romance is not my genre at all, and I didn’t want to attempt to write something sappy. Part of me considered skipping it altogether, but then what’s the point of a challenge if you’re not going to challenge yourself?

So I decided to give it a shot. After a lot of thinking and several abandoned ideas, I finally came up with something that seemed like it would be a worthy entry. I was pretty happy with it overall, considering how reluctant I’d initially been about writing it. And it seemed to garner quite a bit of praise when it was submitted.

Just yesterday, I got an email thanking all the writers that participated in the WEP Valentine’s Challenge and announcing the winners. As it turns out, I had the winning story! Did not see that coming!

My WEP entry is posted here.

It’s those little victories that keep me chugging along and make me glad I decided to start blogging.

 

Overcast

I’ve been a bit lost in my head lately. More than usual, anyway.

Some days it feels like the whole world is spinning along while I’m stuck in the same place. Did I mention my occasional anxiety attacks? I think I may have said something about that once.

This past week I’ve been struggling a bit about whether to write a post on anxiety or not. Part of me hesitates to do so because I don’t want to be a bummer for people who come across my blog. But another part thinks it’s silly, that I’m just being overdramatic about trivial things and trying to call it anxiety or depression. I’ve always hated it when someone’s response to depression of any sort is to say, “Just cheer up! It’s not so bad!”. And yet, that’s what I feel like saying to myself sometimes. That the dark cloud hovering over my head will vanish if I just wish really really hard.

But it doesn’t quite work out that way. So I lurch along from one day to the next, enjoying the small patches of sunshine that bring a smile to my face as I make my way through the storm.

 

Restless

Some nights I have trouble falling asleep. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s annoying when it does. I’m not sure what’s responsible for it. I tell myself it’s because I may have slept a bit long the previous night, or it could be due to an ill-advised nap in the afternoon, but I really have no clue.

On those rare nights, I’ll find myself yawning at around the time that I normally go to bed. But as soon as my head hits the pillow, all sense of fatigue will vanish. Closing my eyes does no good, nor does thinking sleepy thoughts. I just…don’t feel sleepy. At all. So I end up just hanging around the house until drowsiness hits me.

I have a complicated relationship with sleep. Normally, I’d say it’s my favorite activity, but that’s not always true. One of the big problems is that I don’t get nearly enough of it (a common refrain, I’m sure). Which makes it all the more puzzling that I should ever be able to not fall asleep.

There are times when I am actually afraid of sleep. I remember as a kid, I would sometimes do my best to stay awake at night because the prospect of falling asleep frightened me. Lying there, eyes shut, for 7 or 8 hours, completely dead to a world that was still spinning along. My next conscious memory not forming until the next morning. It was a horrifying thought. I have no idea what filled a child with such existential angst, but there it was.

It’s a horror that I haven’t experienced much as an adult. However, I have gone through phases of anxiety when I couldn’t fall asleep because my mind was clouded with dark thoughts. I had to resort to leaving the TV on, tuned to a sitcom or something so I could rest easier. This would usually be followed by involuntary naps the next day and the cycle would continue until it stopped on its own.

The anxiety attacks still hit me now and again. I’ll be on the verge of falling asleep, then get hit with a wave of terror that’ll make me sit up to clear my head. Fortunately, it doesn’t last as long as it used to, and I’ve learned to stop using the TV as a crutch. I can’t seem to shake off that anxiety though. Or the occasional bouts of temporary insomnia.

At least I don’t have nightmares. That’s a small consolation.

The Impostor in Me

I was reading an article yesterday about Impostor Syndrome, which is the constant feeling that maybe you’re not as talented or knowledgeable as people think you are. I suppose the simplest way to describe it is chronic self-doubt. It also describes how I feel almost every day and is a fairly common condition.

Many talented and successful people in all sorts of areas, whether creative or technical, often believe that they’re not really that good at what they do and only got as far as they did through luck or other factors that fell in their favor. There’s always the lingering fear that one day they’ll be revealed as frauds and derided by their peers.

While the condition, in its strictest sense, applies to successful people who don’t fully enjoy their success, I think we all feel like impostors to some extent. Speaking for myself, on most days I feel like a lost kid just making his way through the world, creating the illusion that I’m a fully functioning adult. Having taken the (still fairly recent) decision to become a writer full time, I’m plagued by the nagging idea that maybe that was a mistake. Maybe I’m just a hack whose inability to paint pictures with words will become apparent soon enough, if it hasn’t already.

Back in college, as I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, I took up karate. It quickly became a passion of mine and I climbed my way up to earning a black belt, which came with a lot of responsibility. I was a senior member of my karate club and an assistant instructor. I hoped I could inspire new students to love the craft as much as I did, and give some of my peers a different perspective, but I couldn’t help thinking that I didn’t belong there. My own instructor and fellow assistant instructors knew what they were talking about while I was just throwing out words and concepts I was familiar with so that I seemed more like what a black belt should be.

I can describe similar situations in all aspects of my life, including my current job and my blogging, where I feel like I’m not measuring up to what people might expect from me, but they’re being kind enough to look the other way for now.

It ultimately creates a fear of failure, as the smallest slip-up could cause everything to unravel. Maybe that one tiny error will reveal me for the fraud I am.

Perhaps the one solace I can take form this is that I’m not alone. We’re all impostors, pretending that we’re not just ad libbing through life.