My creative process is a bomb defusal in a crowded room where the people keep wandering by to peek over my shoulder.
My mother cringes as I touch the red wire, so I drop the pliers and pick up a screwdriver. Left, left, left — until the screw wiggles and I hear my old professors sigh in unison — right, right, right.
I pore through the pages of a tear-stained manual but can’t concentrate amidst the impatient chatter of an Instagram following. I press a button on a whim and brace myself. A gasp. A cry. But nothing happens.
For a moment I think this might be luck, but as the voices die I hear it in the silence: tick, tick, tick. The trickle of time running out.
I check the manual. There is a whisper. I whip the book to the floor. A muffled clatter. A tut and a groan. I pick it up again and get back to work.
My every day is balanced on the knife point of panic. Tonight I lost my voice, my words refusing to file neatly in line, rushing so quickly that they caught in my throat, my breath trampled beneath them. My husband found me on the floor drowning in a scream so vast that it left me silent.
I am not okay.
Life is a trap: just when I think I’ve got the knack of shrinking myself a little bit smaller, the walls close in a little bit tighter. And maybe the daylight will make things look a little bit brighter, a little bit wider, but I am not ready to surrender today to get to tomorrow.
So I guess this is me tearing up my white flag, claiming victory with the words that sought to suffocate me: I am not okay. I am tired. I am angry. I am grieving. I am afraid of tomorrow.
In a recent post, I talked about how I’ve spent the last year on hiatus coping with anxiety and depression. I did eventually get some much needed help for these challenges, but with the ongoing strains of the pandemic, I wanted to share some of the stuff I’ve been reading, watching, playing, and listening to that have really helped me keep going.
At first it was hard for me to take in any sort of media (depression is very effective of robbing you of all your interests), but these are some of the stories and critical thought pieces that have managed to drag me through and, against all odds, remind me of who I am.
Weird, by the way. I am. And some of these things are too.
So yeah… let’s start with:
At the beginning of the pandemic, I pretty much couldn’t function at all. After my kids went to bed I’d become a puddle of dissociation and panic. The only thing that even remotely worked to distract me were video games. Here’s a few of the titles that pulled me in, gave me something to think about, and kept me going.
Nier Automata (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Despite lukewarm reviews, I’m a big fan of the original Nier game, so I have been wanting to play Automata for a very long time. Since I decided to have another kid around the time it came out, I let it pass me by until recently.
I still have multiple playthroughs to get through, but my first run is exactly what I expected: a game about two androids kicking a bunch of robot ass that simultaneously makes you feel absolutely terrible for it. It’s a game that questions morality without making you feel apathetic to any of its characters. It’s at times heartbreaking, at times childlike in its silliness, and both a challenge and an acceptance of everything that defines the human race (especially violence.)
Its gameplay is immersive enough to distract, but its story and characters are brimming with enough emotion to keep it from becoming mindless.
Off Peak/ The Norwood Suite (PC)
I warned you.
The Off Peak games are WEIRD. Visually and narratively, the games are absolutely bizarre… but also absolutely stunning. And don’t even get me started on that gorgeous soundtrack.
These are fairly casual games, lightly puzzle-based with more emphasis on dialogue than actual gameplay, so they’re great if you’re looking for more of an atmospheric experience than a challenge. Also, in a time when many of us feel separated from our fellow humans, the Off Peak games are overflowing with humanity in all of its eccentricities.
Did I also mention they’re fantastically, gloriously, weird?
To quote Welcome to Night Vale:
“There is a thin semantic line separating weird and beautiful. And that line is covered with jellyfish.”
Off Peak is, without a doubt, a jellyfish.
Spiritfarer (PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One)
I mean, it’s like Harvest Moon meets Windwaker, while also being a celebration of life through the acceptance of death (I started playing around the time a close family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer). Charming artstyle, a fairly large world, and relaxing pacing. Oh and you can hug people. But only when they want a hug, ’cause consent is the bomb.
It’s wholesomeness at its height, but with enough melancholy to keep it from being saccharine sweet. If you just need a gentle escape and a way to pass the time, Spiritfarer is worth checking out.
Stardew Valley (PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One)
Animal Crossing has gotten a lot of attention for being a go-to pandemic title, but I personally feel Stardew Valley has a lot more depth, if not as easily accessible customization. Recently updated to include a co-operative mode (which I’ve been playing with my husband), Stardew Valley has the usual tasks: farming, fishing, mining, a bit of shallow combat, but also a fairly robust social simulator in which you can connect (and sometimes date) your neighbours.
I’ll be totally honest, I have been completely invested in growing my relationships with these little bundles of pixels and it’s been a great distraction from my dearth of real human interaction. Do I wish you could date the town moms? Maybe… but I’m alright settling for the dorky town doctor instead.
Reading was extremely difficult for me when the pandemic began. I was exhausted by the end of the day, I didn’t have much patience for sorrow and trauma, and I was scared to invest hours of time just to be disappointed by pointless misery (I’m looking at you Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home). These are the stories, brimming with hope, that helped me ease reading back into my daily routine:
I turn to this manga series whenever I’m overwhelmed. It is exactly what it seems — a story about a teenage witch and her family doing… stuff. It is pure slice-of-life iyashikei with little to no tension to speak of. It feels like a summer afternoon with friends and half the time that’s the extent of the actual plot. I love it and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt about it.
If you’d rather, you can also check out the anime on Crunchyroll (sub) or Amazon Prime Video (sub/dub).
I really enjoy the webcomic Mondo Mango, so I was ecstatic when I found out the creator, Kao, also has a fiction series. Even more so when I found out it is a subversive “magical girl” series where a transgendered man inherits his mom’s magical girl powers. It’s a story about gender/sexual identity, empowerment, and friendship, with beautiful artwork. Some days reading what happened next was the only thing I looked forward to at the end of the day. You can find it behind a small paywall here on Tapas, and it sounds like Scholastic will be bringing it to print soon!
17776: What football will look like in the future
Where do I even begin? This weird little multimedia web serial tells the story of a distant future where humans have become inexplicably immortal and self-aware satellites basically hangout and watch us play… uh… football? At first glance much of the story is silly and absurd, but it’s through these impossible moments that 17776 gets to the heart of what it means to be human. When it felt like the world was falling apart and my life seemed meaningless, 17776 reminded me of the importance of play. Of connection. And damn but it made me laugh.
(By the way, I definitely recommend checking out 17776 here at SB Nation. I am not in any way a sports fan, so if football isn’t your thing — don’t worry, it isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying the story.)
A Wizard of Earthsea
Confession #1: I did not read Earthsea as a kid.
Confession #2: I read it in my twenties and was overall unimpressed and put off by its sexism.
I dismissed it for years until I decided to try again, this time reading it from a complete collection of Earthsea novels. This edition had an introduction from Ursula K. Le Guin discussing how her writing evolved and how the gender biases that she had unwittingly absorbed in her own reading and regurgitated on the page. It intrigued me, and I am so glad I decided to try again with an open mind because I enjoyed it so much more the second time. I understand now why it is a classic and I gained so much of value on this re-reading, especially since Ged’s journey so perfectly echoes the tiring battle against (and necessary acceptance of) depression. The third book in the series — The Farthest Shore — also strongly parallels the experience of depression: “There is a hole in the world and the light is running out of it.”
Music is so important, a fact I often forget. I’ll go long stretches feeling numb and apathetic before suddenly realizing that I haven’t listened to music (not designed for children) in weeks. I think it’s important to make a conscious effort to include more music into our lives, especially when we are isolated/ stuck in an endless loop of lockdown. I also love listening to podcasts; just hearing another human’s voice can make me feel less alone.
Dane Terry Live At Largo
I first stumbled on Dane Terry when listening to his podcast Dreamboy. Unlike Dreamboy, Live At Largo is family friendly, an opener for a Welcome to Night Vale live show. Dane’s work is, in a word, indescribable, but I will do my best.
Through a perfect blend of music and storytelling, and with nothing more than his voice and a piano, Dane manages to immerse his listeners into a world of bittersweet nostalgia. Though many of the stories are solidly believable, often even relatable — from Dane’s first road trip to his sexual awakening as a gay preteen — his delivery is so vibrant and emotional that the tales take on an otherworldly quality.
There were a lot of nights this summer where Volton Destroyer of Worlds was the only thing that made me feel human enough to safely close my eyes and fall asleep. (If you want to understand what I’m talking about, you can listen to it yourself here on his Bandcamp.)
This is basically just a podcast where John Green, award-winning author of The Fault in Our Stars and Finding Alaska, rates different elements of the human era on a five star scale. You will learn a lot of neat facts while listening to Anthropocene Reviewed — like the story of the fascinating birth of the Piggly Wiggly and the harrowing tale of the seed potatoes of Leningrad — but more importantly, John holds a genuine sense of awe for the world that is inevitably contagious.
Anthropocene Reviewed always leaves me with an overwhelming sense of connectedness and hope, which isn’t to say it is always brimming with optimism and good cheer. One episode left me in tears as I listened through my headphones on an evening walk, and I even startled a stranger as I came around the corner and gasped aloud at the conclusion of one of his more personal anecdotes; each story is peppered with these anecdotes as John uses his own experiences to untangle the complicated impact of various facets of human life. His descriptions of existential dread, fear of meaninglessness and purpose, are so similar to my own that, not only do I feel understood while listening to them, it seems to lend greater weight to those moments of awe and wonder. You can check it out here. Or you know, wherever you listen to your podcasts.
City Girl – Goddess of the Hollow
I have to credit my husband for introducing me to City Girl’s unique lo-fi beats on YouTube; now she has become a permanent resident on my writing and walking playlists. With compelling song titles like: “Snow Cloaked Princess” and “Sana’s Gloom,” her album Goddess of the Hollow is modern magic. Thanks to Study Girl and countless video game remixes, most people have listened to at least a little lo-fi, but City Girl’s stands out with its haunting ambiance and occasional melancholic vocals.
Even when I’m walking the same handful of city blocks over and over, Goddess of the Hollow transforms that familiarity into something beautiful and surreal. You can find her bandcamp here.
I’ll be honest here: I don’t watch a lot of television or movies, even when I’m not depressed. I used to before I had kids, but now it just seems hard to sneak in anything that isn’t family-friendly. I do make time for an episode or two of anime each week, and I also have a soft spot for video essays and science news on YouTube.
So since the pandemic started, I’ve noticed an uptick in hits for my blog post about iyashikei. It seems I’m not the only one reaching for soothing stories and gorgeous scenery during lockdown. Thankfully, the second season of Yuru Camp (or Laid-Back Camp) has been running for the past several weeks on Crunchyroll (where you can also find the first season).
Yuru Camp focuses on the adventures and mishaps of a handful girls as they become friends through their shared love of camping. There is humour and endearing moments, but virtually no drama or cattiness that you often expect to see with primarily female casted shows. The high quality scenery is taken directly from real locations in Japan and there are many informative tidbits sprinkled throughout the show. The music is intensely soothing and well-suited to the breath-taking settings. Plus… food. I highly recommend having a snack handy, because chances are you’ll be hungry by the end.
Jacob Geller Video Essays
If you like video games, or just video essays and critical thought about modern media, I highly recommend checking out Jacob Geller. One of the few things I’ve been able to consistently anticipate through my depression are new Geller videos. Like Anthropocene Reviewed, his videos are driven by an awe for the world around him (both real and digital) that is contagious. I also love his knowledge of architecture and frequent discussion of settings as characters in narrative.
There are a lot of titles in this list that I stumbled on thanks to his videos, and each essay is usually peppered with a variety of titles both mainstream and niche, from video games to short stories to silent film. The videos are well-researched and brimming with personality and a level of silliness from Jacob that keeps them entertaining and lighthearted, despite oftentimes serious subject matter. You can watch them here.
From Up On Poppy Hill
From Up on Poppy Hill may very well be the most underrated of all of Studio Ghibli’s brilliant films. Unlike many of the more popular titles (most of which I also love), Poppy Hill takes place in a very real Japan after the Korean War. Its pace is slow and deliberate, almost meditative at times, but that doesn’t prevent it from also being vibrant and full of Hayao Miyazaki’s strong-willed and lovable characters.
While Poppy Hill lacks the fantasy of some of its peers, it doesn’t lack the magic — particularly its ability to reveal the wonder of everyday moments. A meal with friends and family, walking home from school, watching the boats pass from an open window, Poppy Hill reminds us that these are the tiny events that make up our lives, and they aren’t to be taken for granted. I think we could all use a little more of that kind of magic right now.
This isn’t a complete list of all the media I’ve consumed over the past year, but these were the pieces that hit some need I’ve felt: whether that be for social connection or a remedy for apathy. Some made me think, some made me take a break, and some just made me believe there were other people out there feeling this way too. Maybe you’ll find something to connect with. Speaking of connection — what have you been playing/reading/listening/watching that has been getting you through the pandemic? What are your go-to’s when you’re going through a difficult time? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
I’ve had depression and anxiety for a very long time, but there’s always been a good reason to push it aside. To tell myself that I’ll be alright as long as I keep moving. That I don’t need help. That it’s “normal.” That I can handle it.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has had those beliefs shattered in the past year. My existential crises suddenly found themselves with some very real material, and my coping mechanisms — social events, going out by myself, getting someone to watch the kids — went flying out the window.
To be honest, it didn’t feel like what I was experiencing was even related to the pandemic, and in some ways it wasn’t — my mental health wasn’t great to begin with after all — but whether I acknowledged the pressure bearing down on me or not, it was still there. In the way I couldn’t take my children to the park or to the grocery store. In the way I hadn’t been away from them for more than half an hour in several months. In the masks I saw hanging from rear-view mirrors as I walked down the street. In the way that walking those streets had become a sick strategy game — weaving back and forth or meandering blocks out of the way so that I didn’t have to go within two metres of anyone else.
I felt it in my core even if I didn’t acknowledge it. I stopped doing anything. I stopped being anything. I wanted to just stop altogether.
So I got help. For the first time. And just… thank God. Why the hell didn’t I do this sooner?
Please, whether it’s been a lifelong thing or it’s a new thing… if you feel empty, overly anxious, meaningless, like your entire self is about to implode… tell someone. Preferably your doctor. Look for community resources if you don’t have access to paid therapy and can’t afford it. Online therapy. Just, ask for help. I promise you deserve it. (For the record I signed up for a government-funded online therapy clinic and used a free CBT app called Woebot while I was waitlisted.)
And if you are in crisis, please call a crisis support line or stop by your emergency department. Your life matters and I swear you are strong enough to get through this. You just haven’t been given the tools yet. You’ve been climbing a mountain with your bare hands and you’ve still gotten this far. Imagine where you’d get if someone gave you some climbing equipment (and taught you how to use it).
Anyway. Therapy and mental health supports aside (but seriously, access them if you think you need them), I thought it was about time for an update.
Even before the pandemic, I was really struggling with my creativity. Not so much a writer’s block, just a lack of passion for… well… anything. Writing included. This of course, caused extra anxiety as I thought to myself… will I ever be creative again? Will I ever feel again? Despite the way we romanticize mental illness, that poetic melancholy or artistic moodiness, it is NOT conducive to creativity. I am a much better (and definitely productive) creator when I am mentally well.
While I was recovering, and within the pressures of parenting during a pandemic, the only thing I’ve consistently found time for has been poetry. It’s short, I can write and edit it on my phone, and it’s cathartic as hell. I’ve actually started a poetry Instagram with the tag @amnotpoetry. You can see the feed over there —> I’ll do some poetry posts to update any new ones to the site and file them under the Poetry section up there. ^
I also quit twitter for now, because who needs that negativity?
As for what comes next… well, I’m trying to take it easy for now in terms of setting goals, but I AM working on a few stories again. I’d also still like to work on finishing the voice recordings of Ganymede, but ultimately that comes down to finding a period of time and a space where I can consistently create a quiet enough environment. Worst case, it’ll happen as restrictions from the pandemic ease off and I can book a space. The focus right now is on creation, and eventually the debate of going the webfiction route again, or trying for traditional publishing. But that is a ways off (though I’d love to hear what you think!)
I’ll try to do more consistent blog posts. I have one mostly written already about media that’s kept me sane and helped me deal with my depression over the past year. Books, podcasts, video games, etc. So stay tuned.
Anyway, I’m back. It’ll take some time for me to fall into a regular habit of posting, but for now, I am just so ecstatic to be creating again. I hope everyone out there is doing alright and taking care of themselves as best they can. It’s okay to take a break, sometimes just getting through the day is enough. We’ve got this, one day at a time.
I’ve gotten nothing done. I had a series I fully intended to write, multiple things I have talked about recording and releasing… and the bare truth here is that I simply haven’t done it.
I have a pocket full of excuses — I have two kids, a schedule that leaves me with around an hour to do things for myself each day (that means after-kids-go-to-bed chores, homeschool organization, writing, reading/watching/gaming, self-care, time with my husband), a noisy apartment not conducive to recording.
And while those things don’t help, the real problem is me.
This isn’t writer’s block — I have a million ideas squirreled away — it’s something much deeper. It’s not this lockdown, though again I’m sure it isn’t helping. This is a problem I’ve been struggling with for years now that I do everything possible not to talk about. Something I’m not even sure I have to words to talk about.
It’s a mingling of existential dread, self-loathing, and a dearth of mental space that has culminated in an inability to… imagine? To fantasize? To allow my brain to exist anywhere that isn’t this moment, with these restrictions, and all of the terrifying possibilities of what could come next. It means that I struggle to enjoy stories, especially stories with peril or suffering. It means I can barely read, can barely watch, and can barely create.
I feel lost and purposeless. Everything around me seems meaningless. I’ve lost the how and the why that use to push me through challenges like this.
And yes, it is not lost on me that this is a mental health issue. I’m working on it. It’s not an optimal time for getting medical attention but I’m looking into it.
For now I’m focusing on taking care of myself. On trying to remember how to enjoy things again. I’ve been playing Nier: Automata… and while I feel guilty using my one hour a day to game, it’s also one of the first things I’ve actually gotten enjoyment from. Some days it helps hold me together.
I want to write again. At least, I think I do. But until I can remember why I did it in the first place, until I can remember what it’s like to be able to daydream, until I get help… I guess I’m on hiatus.
Thanks to everyone who has read my work or has taken a moment and read this. I think I just needed to put it out there, and also to explain to the people following the blog where the hell I’ve been.
I will come back from this, somehow. Even if I don’t believe those words right now, I have to say them. I will be back with new stories and new worlds and maybe a renewed love for this one.
This is for the moms whose vacations were taken in the aisles of grocery stores, at the tables of cafés, in efficient trips to the shopping mall or gym. Whose nights off meant eating out or leaving the kids with Grandma. Who see no end in sight, no relief, no breaks, no peace. Who hate to complain ’cause they signed up for this right? It’s a sacrifice they have to make and damn, but they’re good at those.
This is for the people who’ve found all exits blocked, trapped in homes that threaten to consume them. With partners or parents or whoever it may be that beat and belittle and go off like bombs leaving nothing but ringing silence in their wake.
This is for everyone whose schedules, consistency, and routine were medical requirements abandoned in the crossfire. Kids and adults panicking, lashing, crumbling because suddenly their needs come last.
For Asian communities forced to carry a weight that isn’t theirs.
For those without homes and those with no one else to share them with.
For those who can’t work and those who can’t stop.
For those stuck with their families and those kept away.
For adults and children with mental health conditions, or disabilities, or everyday worries and fears.
For seniors, and in-betweeners.
For health care workers and delivery drivers, small business owners, grocery store staff, the helpers and the helped.
This is for you. Whatever that’s worth.
It isn’t a promise that things will be okay because I don’t know. I suppose it’s a wish — a midnight thought, an hour (probably more) of lost sleep imagining I could reach you.
All I can say is: I will do my best to see you. You deserve to be seen. Your needs deserve to be met.
I hope you find safety and peace and justice and connection wherever you are.
And if you’re lucky, I hope you find a good night’s rest.
I am not an optimist. In fact, I am an anxiety-ridden pessimist that will imagine the worst case of any given scenario.
One day, my husband said to me: “You know the worst outcome isn’t any more likely than any other outcome.”
“Yeah, so? It could still happen.”
“So could the best outcome. Why not visualize that one instead? It’s just as likely or unlikely as the worst.”
It seems so obvious, but for a moment I was taken aback. Why does fantasizing about positive outcomes feel frivolous while ruminating about disaster feels pragmatic?
In recent years I’ve taken his advice to heart; it helps me recognize when I’m “doomsdaying” and allows me to visualize (and therefore work toward) positive outcomes. That doesn’t mean I ignore or refuse to prepare for challenges, but it allows me to protect my mental health so that I am strong enough to accept turns for the worst.
By now, you probably know where I’m going with this.
COVID-19 is happening. However we anticipate or prepare, the disease is a reality that we will have to accept. Maybe it will effect us directly (or depending where you live, maybe it already has.) Maybe we will escape its reach. Except we won’t, because its very threat is already weighing on us: in our social media feeds, in the news, in our thoughts. It whispers through the phone lines when we call our family and friends, it lingers in our goodnight kisses, it sits on our chests as we lay in bed at night.
Let’s be honest — pop culture does not have a great track record for preparing us for crisis. We love our postapocalyptic fiction — the grittier, the better — and it has ingrained in us a certain set of expectations about what humanity does when faced with a threat:
Every person for themselves. Conflict between small groups. General lawlessness and anarchy.
When we hear the word “pandemic,” “quarantine,” and “lock down,” I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that the images that come to mind are bleak.
And there are very real challenges to a pandemic like this: there are deaths (and no, “elderly, disabled, and immuno-compromised does not lighten that blow), there is loneliness, there is anxiety, general inconvenience, and boredom.
But, my God, there is also beauty. Not that pandemics are desireable or beautiful things, but nor do they entirely eradicate the ability of humans to experience wonderful things. Lock downs, quarantines, and sickness are not experiences we would choose for ourselves, but we manage to live through them anyway.
Here’s the thing, when faced with a crisis, humanity does not devolve into madness. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary.
Hugo-award winning author N.K. Jemisin has pointed this out on multiple occasions. Her intensive research and world-building is what makes her postapocalyptic Broken Earth series so engaging.
That doesn’t mean that the Stillness –the world in which the Broken Earth narrative takes place — is without violence, systemic oppression, death, or any other number of terrible things; they are often central to the story. But they are also not presented for “shock value.” They are authentic qualities of the world, they aren’t exploited to manipulate the audience’s attention and emotional reaction, they are not contrived, and that’s what makes her writing so compelling and important. Its world encourages the audience to more deeply examine their own reality, it provides meaningful perspectives and the tools to navigate them. It also leaves room for hope.
COVID-19 is not an apocalypse. It is a moment that will pass, which does not mean it will leave the world the same once it is gone. Hope and acceptance are reasonable things to have during its stay.
Despite everything, good things will happen. Cooperation. Generosity. Laughter, even. And when we can visualize these moments, it becomes easier to recognize and embrace them. To share them.
Stories from China and Italy are already demonstrating this.
Moments of peace slip into the tiniest gaps left by fear, anxiety, and even grief.
I think there is a delicate balance that fiction can strike which can help us during times like these. Fiction can recognize and challenge difficult situations, it can tackle issues like inequality, violence, and loss, it can evoke uncomfortable feelings from a “safe” perspective.
My goal as a writer for the past few years has been to create fiction that offers relief and escape without sacrificing responsibility. I want to find beauty in mundane moments, “good” and “bad”. I want to help give people the safety and space to begin valuing these moments in their own lives. (And also therefore, room to acknowledge and dismantle obstacles and injustices.)
I am working on a short-run web fiction series that focuses on isolation, illness, connection, and loss. Maybe it will help me deal with some of the anxiety that comes from living in this media-driven world during a time of difficulty, and maybe it will bring someone else a brief moment of peace too.
All of this to say that: this is a moment. It’s reasonable to feel anticipation, fear, anxiety. It’s responsible not to ignore the challenges ahead, but it’s also responsible to remember that you are not alone. That there will be times when things are not okay, but there will be times when they will be. That this is not an interruption to your life, it IS your life.
It’s okay to imagine a world where things work out. It’s okay to want to see that world in the fiction you consume and the reality you live. It’s okay to feel what you feel when things get difficult.
But whatever happens, we will still move forward, together.