The Winter Months

Sometimes I feel like an asshole for complaining about the winter when I live in Vancouver. I see photos posted by friends who live elsewhere in Canada and they deal with Real Winter.

Real Winter, to me, is snow and toques and leaving for work half-an-hour early to navigate the ice. Real Winter only really lasts a day or two – a week, tops – in Vancouver. The rest of the season is characterized by grey skies, rain, and just… darkness.

Thus, Vancouver privilege and all, the winter months are always a bit of a lull. This is so common for me, in fact, that I expect the annual mental health lull and try to steer into the curve. I force myself to make something productive come of my desire to spend all winter in my pajamas. I read. I write. I make dates with people I haven’t seen in a while. I catch up on all the Oscar movies.

This year, however, was just too much. On top of the grey sky blues, my sister got married, work consisted of on-going computer problems my boomer colleagues left me to solve, and I was struggling with crazy writer’s block. My life is easily segmented into four parts and all four of them were shitty.

One could think of these four parts as realms:

The Social Realm, including family, friends, all other personal relationships, and my domestic life. This realm is an easy one to take for granted. For an introvert like me, relationships take work. I don’t cross paths with too many people during the course of my daily life. I have to make time for people. And this is hard, because whenever I get free time, there’s usually so much more I would rather be doing. Like nothing.

The Work Realm. I really wish this weren’t a thing, but alas, that’s the world we live in. I wish work was something I could incorporate into one of the other realms, but I can’t. At least not now. Work is this thing that just sits there in the middle of my life sucking time. I try my best to incorporate what I can into my work life, including writing, or making lunch dates, or trying to get exercise. However, this all is required to take place during my lunch break, and by the time lunch rolls around, it’s Sophie’s Choice and I’m so paralyzed by indecision that I just end up scrolling Tumblr for an hour.

The Mental Realm, or “My Inner Life/Sense of Self.” This pretty much means that constant battle in my head between happy and sad or Good Mood vs Bad Mood, and generally feels beyond my conscious control. So much of this is at the mercy of the other realms. But sometimes the other realms suffer solely because this realm is suffering. And then they influence each other back and forth in a horrifying dialectic most commonly referred to as a “downward spiral.”

The Creative Realm. I almost labelled this the Writing Realm, but writing isn’t my only outlet, even if it is my most important. I don’t know if everyone has this realm, but I like to think that most people have some kind of creative outlet. Perhaps it’s just my own artistic myopia, but I can’t imagine living a life without creating something somehow, be it whittling sticks, making model trains, or designing avatars for World of Warcraft.

The impulse takes me to arrange these realms like a hierarchy of needs, but that wouldn’t do it justice. For instance, The Work Realm is the least important to me emotionally, but it’s the one that must be taken care of first. If it isn’t, I lose my job. It’s that simple. The Mental Realm is probably the most important, emotionally speaking, but it’s the one that’s the hardest to maintain. There are just so many variables. The Social Realm is thus the first to suffer, at least in a visible way. It’s just so easy to not make plans. It’s so easy to take people for granted. It’s so easy to give into that drive to keep to myself. I need alone time. But sometimes an overdue conversation with an old friend does wonders.

And, as it both feels extraneous yet is totally necessary, the Creative Realm requires discipline. But, for some reason, it’s so much easier to apply discipline to this than any of the other realms. And it’s so much easier to fall apart when I get stuck. If I hit a writing wall, I can try another outlet, like drawing or zine-making, but it just isn’t the same. I need to write. It feels like the hook on which everything else hangs. If one of the other realms suffers, I can usually power through by focusing on another. But if I go too long without writing, it eats away at me. (It’s like I based too much of my identity on this or something… weird.)

That’s why I try to set goals. I try to write 1000 words a day (and let weekends slide a little because I’m not fucking crazy).

In the fall, I was hitting a wall with the project I was working on, so I forced myself to try other things. A new project with no pressure might be good, I told myself. But, as the other realms collapsed over the winter, I hit a wall too high. I was lucky if I got 500 words a week done. On anything. I couldn’t even muster a blog post.

It was really starting to wear at me in a way that I know must seem ridiculous. But when I can’t write, it feels like some intrinsic part of myself is locked off and I can’t access it. It’s like that irritating, itchy feeling when you can’t remember the name of something but it’s on the tip of your tongue. Just imagine having that feeling all the time and you don’t even know what it is you’re trying to remember the name of.

I needed a solution. I had to force myself to write something. Anything.

I needed to let go of the idea that it had to be good. Husband even gave his words of support: “You do you, boo.”

So I thought about what it was that might have been holding me back. I had managed to write several decent openings for different pieces, but quickly lost momentum. I was struggling with world building. I was struggling with character building. This is not something easily overcome by sitting down and brainstorming it all out, like I do with a plotting problem. I need to feel a setting. I need to intrinsically know a character. (And the themes are always an after-thought. Like Dumbo’s ability to fly, there were there all along but only realized at the end.)

So… anyway…. here it is: I wrote fan fiction.

Ugh. I did. I have no problem with fan fiction at all, I just never thought writing it was for me. I wrote a piece once at the request of Dr. Roommate that crossed-over her favourite character of mine with Sandor Clegane, and, while I wrote my own character fine, I found it awkward writing someone else’s character. As I said earlier, I need to intrinsically know a character, and I didn’t think I could do that with a character that wasn’t mine. It was like wearing someone else’s shoes.

But I could. I did. And although it felt weird at times, the exercise of writing fan fiction worked wonders.

I didn’t have to build a world or characters; that was all done for me. I could just drop them in a plot or conversation without needing to provide context. It was like taking a warp pipe around the writer’s block. While my writer’s block is not perfectly removed, the frustration of not being able to write at all is gone. It’s like a fog lifting.

And now it’s a sunny day and all.

Maybe I’ll go out for a walk.

2 thoughts on “The Winter Months

  1. Your Sandor/OC fic was amazing and unfortunately you’ve reminded me that maybe you should write more one day. 😉

    Also, I am greatly enjoying your foray into fan fiction – it is something o super enjoy doing and I think with your recent posts I’m going to be a bit more ballsy about just posting my stuff, because I’m really nervous about it.

    Finally though – I know where you’re coming from on all this. You saw me last week, you know how hard the winter has hit me. And for what it is worth, I find it probably more challenging in Vancouver, so there is something to be said for the brutality of a coastal winter….


    1. I had totally forgotten about the other fic I told you about (remember?!). I’m glad you’re enjoying it, ha ha. It’s been fun: no pressure fun. The best kind.

      You should go ahead and post your stuff! I would love to read it. That was another good thing about fan fiction – posting it. Something about it being out there makes it feel done. It gives a sense of accomplishment.

      Vancouver winter is the worst*. I actually saw sun today and I felt like I had forgotten what that was like.

      Also – you need to update your screen name, DR. Thaler. 😉

      *not actually.


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