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Music and Writing

November 6, 2016 Leave a comment

Music is something I need like air. It feeds my soul. I was never without a book and some kind of portable music player (Walkman, Discman, and once I could afford it, the original iPod shuffle). I developed some mad mix-tape skills. Even through college, I struggled to fall asleep without something playing in the background, something that drove my roommate nuts. Well, nuttier. I used music to create a soundtrack to my life, to orchestrate my moods and to manipulate emotions. I learned to do it so well, I had my own little “therapy” sessions with one friend conducted through the intense power of music. With history like that, it’s not surprising that music is a part of my writing process. Sometimes, it’s the inspiration for an idea, sometimes it’s fuel for creativity while working, but most often, it’s both.

Everyone’s process is different, of course, but what I’ve discovered works for me lately is keeping a playlist of songs for each story I’m working on. Sometimes, I slap it together quickly with the story dictating exactly what it needs, and other times it’s as much a work in progress as the story it’s attached to.

But why is this a valuable use of my time?

  • Inspiration: Songs come to me for a reason. Either it’s the tone or mood of the song, the lyrics, or something about the story the song tells. When I’m not sure where the story needs to go, these songs tap into the lizard brain and help me pull forth that core of the story that might be hard to express in rational thought. Music helps the words flow.
  • Continuity: I write slow and I write in bursts because life. Keeping a playlist is a way of preserving a headspace for the story. I listen to it even while doing other tasks (working, shopping, driving, laundry) because it keeps the creative world churning and fresh. It helps me prime my creativity so that when ass meets chair, words happen efficiently.
  • Focus: I suck at focus almost as much as I suck at discipline. The meme about having 2,857 browser tabs open in my brain is a pretty accurate description. Add to it, though that they alternately demand attention by playing some kind of audio that makes me click over to them. It adds up to getting next to nothing done in one sitting. For me, music distracts the noisy parts of my brain. Song lyrics give the chatty, interrupt-y part of my brain something to gnaw on while the rest of me can work on writing and creating worlds with words.
  • Portability: I don’t always write at home, and I don’t always write on my computer or laptop. Having a palylist of songs, especially a private playlist saved on the internet somewhere means that even if I don’t have the physical elements that tell my brain it’s time to write, I can use the auditory clues of a playlist to make the shift. (Behavioral psychology FTW, yo.)
  • Enjoyment: My musical memory associations are as strong as scent associations. Maybe stronger. I have music that reminds me of people, of events. I have bought albums not because the music is particularly good, but because it connects me to someone or some time. The summer I painted my bedroom walls a beautiful shade of red, “Inside Out” by Eve6 was my jam and I danced almost as much as I painted. The Moody Blues make me think about my dad. There are about 4 albums that define my college experience, and one that introduced me to a part of myself I never knew existed. After writing the story, those songs are the soundtrack to that story, and it makes me smile. And I want to share that with you.

Recently, in response to the heinous HB2 legislation in North Carolina, Falstaff Books published We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality, a charity anthology benefiting Time Out Youth, Equality NC and the Queen City Theater Company. My story “Trapped” is included, and I want to share the playlist for that story with you. I have engineered the list a bit to make it flow. I cut a few songs (because they didn’t have a logical place in the playlist and because I recognize that most people can only handle so much Amanda Palmer/The Dresden Dolls.)

So, talk a walk through the weirdness of my brain. Download We Are Not This and read “Trapped.” Use this as a soundtrack as you listen, or just a companion piece to enjoy:

“Trapped” playlist – YouTube

And, if you’re interested in seeing a sliver of what I cut, here are a few bonus tracks I just couldn’t let go:

“Trapped” Bonus Tracks playlist – YouTube

Let me know what you think!

Be sure to leave a review of We Are Not This on Amazon or Goodreads, or on your own blog. Reviews help authors!

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Being the Light – A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

November 1, 2016 Leave a comment

hold-on-to-the-light

Depression has been a part of my life for so long that I don’t know if I’d recognize life without its shadow. It’s affected so many people I’ve been close to, and sometimes shaped the relationship I’ve had with them. Including myself. While I’ve never been diagnosed, I recognize myself in articles about functional depression. But this post isn’t about that. There are other people braver than I writing about their personal experiences and I’m going to let them carry that part of the conversation for now. Instead, I want to talk about it from another perspective.

I’ve watched the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign grow and expand to encompass many aspects of depression, bullying prevention, mental health-related issues and more. From the beginning, I knew I had plenty to say, but I avoided writing about my experiences. Familiarity, you see, doesn’t make this an easier topic. It’s hard to talk about from every angle, though we can all agree it’s imperative we talk about it.

Holding on to the light is a theme of this campaign, but “the light” can be different for each person. Sometimes, it’s the magic in another day, or hope for the future, or simply the intellectual understanding that no matter how grim things seem, life will rebound and it will get better. For some people, “the light” might be another person. Sometimes, there’s that one person that stands by their side and helps them through the dark parts. Ideally, there’s more than one, but for some people, reaching out is hard, and that one light is hard won.

These are the people I want to talk to today.

You. Yes, you. The one that knows they’re the rock for a person who’s struggling. The one who’s lost sleep to shepherd a loved one through to the next day. The one who’s raced home mid-shift at work, who’s made random check-ins throughout the day, the one who’s stashed all the sharps and meds in the house in the trunk of your car to keep someone else safe. You’re the one who might be making the household run on one paycheck, preventing it all from falling apart in a spectacular mess.

You’re amazing. Being the light is a big deal, even if all you can do is sit in silence at their side to show support. You’re the beacon they can aim for when all else is dark.

You’re a guardian angel. Your consciousness expands to almost parental awareness and sensitivity. Few are so truly loyal as to persevere through the nasty stew depression brews for your loved one, whether that includes suicidal thoughts or actions, negative self-talk, tears, rages or just silence. And that’s all before you start on the med-go-round and side effects roller coaster until the doctor lands on the right cocktail.You’re the protector, the safe haven.

You’re their defender. Whether it’s late night talks, taking care of household chores or stepping up to take action on their behalf, you fight for them and keep them safe, even when you’re protecting them from themselves.  You’re the keeper of and chaperone for doctor’s appointments, dispensers of meds, and observer of progress, and that is an act of valor and courage.

You’re a rock. You’re steadfast in the midst of that person’s whirlwind just to keep them anchored to this world when their tether might be fraying. You’re the lifeline in deep water and that is powerful.

But you’re not made of stone and no matter how strong you are, you cannot go through this alone.

When you are a support system for someone who’s struggling with mental illness, you need a support system of your own and you need to practice self-care. Strength does not mean shouldering the stress, the anxiety and the worry in silence. Bravery is not fighting alone or secretly soldiering on in the face of the adversity these illnesses bring. Courage does not mean making excuses to hide their condition or avoiding asking for help from friends, medical professionals or other support systems to protect their secret struggle.

In order to burn bright and be the light, you need support.

Remember that even superheroes ask for help. Reach out to friends and loved ones you trust to bolster your strength and help manage responsibilities. Grab coffee with a good friend or family member who will listen to your story and offer the kind of support you need (whether that’s just a shoulder, an ear, or some advice). Share as much as you feel comfortable with, or ask for help without sharing details. If you’ve always taken on the family Christmas party, ask someone else to take a turn. If you need some help around the house, ask a close friend to come over and give you a hand. Reach out, share and connect with people who bolster and renew you. You cannot give of yourself if you don’t take time to replenish your well.

Remember that depression lies. Loved ones who fear others being involved are speaking out of an illness that thrives and self-perpetuates in isolation. Reach out to medical professionals on behalf of your loved ones when you know they are not themselves. You are a key perspective that can help a doctor make the right diagnosis, monitor treatment progress and effectiveness of medicines. Speak out when something isn’t right, when something isn’t working and advocate for your loved one. Your support can help them return to themselves.

Remember that the stigma of mental illness exists because we don’t talk about it. You can respect a family member’s privacy while still establishing a support network for yourself. If you don’t have a close friend or family member you want to get involved, look for online support groups of people going through the same things with loved ones. The internet can be a fantastic resource when you need discrete support. Monitor your own mental well-being and ask for help. You might need to talk to a therapist to help you develop coping strategies, and learn how to effectively help your loved one. There are innovative new ways of getting that support, including online counseling and text chat support.

You are amazing. Never forget that. You are making the difference in the life of someone who doesn’t have the resources to fight for themselves.

Thank you.

They will thank you, too, when they can. But, on their behalf, let me remind you that you are human. You can’t sacrifice yourself to help them, so please practice self care as you do battle. When they return to themselves, they will want you to be here, too.

Carry on being their light, but make sure you’ve got the fuel to keep burning even after they come home.

 

 

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight.

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