Cooped up and Crazy

Day 15 of quarantine, and I’ve snapped. I thought that, as a rabid introvert, this would be great, but I’m barely keeping it together.

Part of it is physical. It’s a seven-minute walk at top speed to get to the office from the Metro in the morning, and Order Processing is an active, demanding job, and over the course of two days, all of that is gone. Walks around the cemetery aren’t filling in the gap.

Mostly it’s time. What am I supposed to do with all of it? I thought I’d write more with tons of it, but I’m actually writing less. When I worked, I wrote for an hour first thing in the mornings, on the trains when I found a seat, and in the hour between jobs. I still write for an hour in the morning, but that’s it. The rest of my time I spend trying unsuccessfully to think of things to write and watching TV. When time isn’t precious, I tend to waste more of it.

This is going to go on for a while, so what I need is some way to apply the pressure that I’m used to, or just to use the time productively, or to accept and forgive myself if I’m not productive. These are strange times.

Taking a Bow

I had a chilling thought that came unbidden in my head, and I can’t shake it. It’s telling me I should kill myself. I’m having a hard time shaking it because I don’t think it’s wrong. I’m not saying this because I’m depressed, but because of the logic of it. It breaks down to two reasons.

First, I won’t be missed much. The fact is, I’m not a priority in anyone’s life. I’m not feeling sorry for myself when I point this out. My relationships suffered under my marriage, and died when I moved to Qatar, and by the time I felt good enough get them back, everyone has moved on. They’ve got partners and children and friendships that didn’t disappear for five years, and no one has time for me. And that’s okay. It is what it is. I’m not upset about it. I’m doing fine.

And that brings me to my second reason. I’m fine. Everything is fine. I haven’t been this good in ten years. If I’m going to pull the plug, now’s the time to do it, before the other side of middle age and the depths our government and society are going to fall. I don’t have a lot to look forward to, but this moment is perfect. Logically, it makes sense.

I’m not going to commit suicide. It would kill my parents, and it would royally screw over my roommate, even if I slipped her all of the money in my bank account before I did it. Plus, she’d be the one who found me, and I don’t want to do that to anyone.

But there’s that voice in my head, telling me it’s a brilliant idea. Its logic, though, can’t get past the fact that I’m never going to do that.

Crushin’ It

Confession time: I kind of have a crush. It’s no one you know, and it’s not someone I see often, but it’s a thing. I just know that whenever they wave me over to come talk to them, I want to impress them and follow them around all the time like Newcastle follows me around, telling them, “What you’re doing? Keep doing that.”  

This person is younger than me, so their language and priorities are different than mine, and that is endlessly fascinating to me. They’ve got an energy I can barely keep up with, but I want to try. I’m old enough and wise enough to know that this could not sustain itself much more than the encounters I have with them as it is. I don’t want a relationship with this person. Hell, I don’t have anything in common with them, but they still make my heart go all aflutter. When I’m around them, I feel more confident, more interesting, more fun, more special. They give me something to look forward to and daydream about, and a reason to sigh wistfully.  

It’s interesting having a crush when you have no sexual desire, but it’s actually way better. My feelings aren’t limited to wanting to see them naked or kiss them (they would probably snuggle like a pro, though, if I’m speculating). They don’t have to be “cute” for me to be into them. I’m interested in their personality, in what makes them what they are.  

If I’m being honest with myself, this is about the most impersonal relationship I can have with anyone, and that’s just the way I am now. I don’t want to make any time and energy commitments, and the last thing I need is a romance of any sort. A crush like this is a way to tick some boxes of my social needs without having to tick the boxes I don’t want.  

This doesn’t happen to me very often, so I prize it when it does, and I have no idea how long it’s going to last. I just know that I’m really enjoying it, and that’s absolutely perfect for this moment. 

Workplace Silence

I just realized something about my day job. 

When everybody gathers around the water cooler to gossip, and they’re theorizing who’s going to snap and go on an office rampage with an AR-15, it’s me they’re talking about. 

This is because I’ve got a pretty stark resting bitch face, I don’t laugh much, but most importantly, I keep almost entirely to myself. I don’t generally say hello to anyone unless they say it first, and I don’t talk to people unless it’s work-related. To be fair, no one’s made an effort to connect with me, but I haven’t made an effort to reach out either. 

I’d call it social anxiety, but I don’t feel anxious about it at all. If I’m in a room or elevator alone with someone, I’m not crushed by the yawning chasm of silence. I’m actually pretty relieved I don’t have to have a conversation. I don’t need to talk to people. I don’t really know how. That’s not to say I can’t. I chat with my friends for hours, and when Nicole brings guests over, I hang out and have a great time. Also, there are people at my night job I really thrive around. But for the most part, human interaction baffles me. Therefore, here at the office, I don’t talk to anyone, and they don’t talk to me, and I’m happy as a clam. 

In a world geared toward extroverts, however, this makes me strange and unsettling. 

A Delicate Snowflake

Let me see if I can frame this so it’s clear. 

I believe I am a really good writer. It’s the only part of myself I have any solid confidence in. I consider it my only real value. Without this belief, I’m just an unremarkable, middle-aged white guy in a country full of them. I’m not exaggerating, this is how I feel, and this is how I feel about only myself. I don’t hate that I’m unremarkable. I’m actually at peace with it. It took me years of therapy to reach that point. 

The last time I tried to get a book published, it was about six or seven years ago, and it was my first novel, The Long Trip. I’m proud of that novel. It was rejected sixty times. I know that other writers have seen more rejections, but I’m not other writers. I don’t have the stomach for it. Each email that I got from agents telling me they were going to pass on my masterpiece was another refutation of that belief in what made me special. 

I stopped writing after that. What was the point? I clearly wasn’t any good at it. It took me until 2017 to pick the pen back up, and I started looking at it differently. I thought, maybe I’m an objectively bad-to-mediocre writer, but in my eyes, I can entertain the hell out of myself. And so I resolved to write for myself and myself alone (though My Biggest Fan has been reading over my shoulder this whole time). 

Kate always asked me what I was planning to do with my novels when I cranked them out at a rate of about one every three-and-a-half months. My answer, to her disappointment (she was looking forward to retiring on my royalty checks), was, “Write more novels.” And I kept doing it, even through the divorce.  

And then a funny thing called Gary happened. I suddenly found in my words, which had previously been used to describe action-packed fantasy, a maturity and a soul that had been missing from my work for a long time. I wrote a book that wasn’t just a fun romp through witches and fairies and cryptids. I wrote a good book. And I’ve resolved for the New Year to give dozens of agents a chance to prove me wrong.  

For a lot of writers, rejection is just a necessary part of the process, nothing more. To some, they’re a source of pride that they put themselves out there. But to me, it’s someone telling me that I don’t have anything to contribute, that I’m not interesting enough. That I will always be at or below average, and that’s it. 

It isn’t a healthy way to think. In fact, it’s actually a little dramatic and whiny. I know that I’m a delicate, thin-skinned snowflake. But it’s how I think, it’s how I am, and I’m really sorry about that. I wish I could be stronger. 

I’m doing it, though, because, for now, I feel that my novel is worth it. I promised, for its sake, that I would try. I don’t know if that’s brave or just stubborn. Really, is there a difference? 

Resolution Number Nine Number Two

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I’ve decided to tackle a New Year’s Resolution that is going to challenge me, but if it works out, will reward me immeasurably. This is a pretty big deal, and, I have to say, for a Resolution, it’s a good one.  

But yesterday, I had a thought. It flashed in my head and left an image there that I couldn’t shake, like when you look into a bright light and there’s that purple blob. And that purple blob is this: in addition to trying to find an agent for my novel, Gary, I’m going to come up with a pitch for a television show, and I’m going to pitch it to someone.  

I know even less about pitching a TV show than I know about finding an agent, which is to say I know nothing. But I know this: I have a really good idea, and I just need to communicate it in the language of entertainment execs (which is a strange, foreign language that even Google Translate won’t dare).  

The worst thing that will happen is that neither agents nor execs are interested, and I will be in the same position at the end of 2020 that I was in at the end of 2019, so there’s really no reason for me not to try. 

If you pray, pray for my success. If you do blessings, bless me. If you cast spells, I need one. If you do none of those things, at least cheer me along as I jog by, winded and aching. Between two jobs, I’m going to be super-busy in 2020, and your support will mean the world to me. 

Resolution Number Nine

The secret to my newfound contentment is that I don’t indulge in things that make me unhappy. This is why I don’t like to go to parties and why I avoid the news (while still staying informed). Some might consider this the coward’s way out. You’re supposed to face your fears, and allegedly only good will come of it. In my experience, this is not the case. Parties bore me and make me uncomfortable. The news fills me with rage. The only true happiness can be found on the path of denial. But the fact is, even this way, I have plenty of adventures and enriching experiences. I’ve never been down this street before? Let’s find out what’s there. A coffee shop I hadn’t noticed before? Let’s get a latte. I’ve never written a novel before (on purpose)? Let me give it a shot. A friend I’ve been estranged from for two years in a city I barely know where it’s impossible to find a job? I guess I’d better be her roommate.  

I don’t necessarily play it safe, but I’m not going to go endure something awful if there’s no reward behind it. 

That said, my New Year’s Resolution is to do a very specific thing that is going to make me miserable, and I’m reasonably certain I’m not going to get anything positive out of it. I’m doing it because I, in this case, deserve to be successful, even if it doesn’t work out that way. 

In 2020–I’m giving myself one year—I’m going to make every attempt to get an agent and traditionally publish my novel, Gary, which I finished writing at the end of November. If I do say so myself, my first drafts are like most people’s second drafts, so I need just a little polishing, some reinforcement of certain themes, until it’s done. I’ve already spoken to a friend who has a background in publishing about my query letter, so I worked on that over the Christmas holiday. I’m giving myself one year. If, by the end of the year, I’ve had nary a nibble, I give myself permission to quit (or continue, depending on how I’m feeling next December). 

I hate rejection. I shouldn’t take it personally. An agent isn’t rejecting me because they think I’m bad, they’re rejecting me because they can’t envision me being a bestseller. I don’t have the name recognition of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or Stephen King’s son. This won’t be a good Netflix series. (Gary is written in such a way that it can only ever be a novel.) But I still do take it personally. I spent years trying to get someone to consider my first novel, The Long Trip, and no one would. After a while, I felt my soul start to shrivel up and my stomach twist in nasty ways. After sixty rejections, I had to quit. I have a thin skin, what can I say?  

I tell you all this so you know what a big deal this is for me. This is going to hurt, so, so bad. But if, by some slight glimmer of a snowball’s chance, it pays off …