matociquala: (criminal minds bad shirt brigade)
[personal profile] matociquala
https://www.patreon.com/posts/7748412

(reposted from Patreon)

ON ANXIETY

Above, a photo of three adolescent kittens. Please ignore the background clutter: it's an actual picture of my actual bedroom 30 seconds ago, unretouched except for a little color correction, complete with the clean sheets I didn't manage to get on the bed yesterday.

The goofy tuxedo cleaning his toes is Duncan; the elegant blue blending into my robe is Gurney. They're littermates.

I want to talk about the vigilant little tortoiseshell on the footboard.

Her name is Molly, and she's a little over a month older than the boys, but two pounds smaller. She came home with them because when she came into rescue, she was housed with them as a near-agemate, and the three of them have bonded like true sibs; there is washing, and chasing, and spatting.

The difference is, while the boys somehow wound up in a shelter and from there eventually a rescue, they obviously had good mothering and good human socialization. They know how to play without using their claws; they have a number of vocalizations that they use liberally with humans; their favorite game is fetch.

Molly is a semi-feral who was netted on a street in New Jersey and got very, very lucky to find her way into the same crate with her foster brothers and eventually on to my nice warm bed--rather than being euthanized.

She's almost always vigilant; her head is on a swivel, and even when she's napping she almost never completely relaxes. She's difficult to approach and will only sometimes tolerate human contact, and she needs to be in control of the interaction.

In human terms, she's anxious and on the defensive all the time.

Some of this is genetic, of course; she's pretty obviously got at least one feral parent, and she'll never be the sack of comfortable snores her brothers can be.

Some of it is the kitty equivalent of PTSD. She's been traumatized, and she knows that everything can vanish under her in seconds, and she might have no control about where she lands.

The boys are rambunctious, bold, and while they're both very athletic, one of them--Duncan--has a real tendency toward getting himself into scrapes he needs to be rescued from. He doesn't follow the rules of parkour very well, and he doesn't always know how to get out of what he's gotten himself into. (Gurney generally has a plan. Duncan is like KOWABUNGA IT'LL WORK OUT SOMEHOW.)

Molly always has a plan. Molly has three plans. In addition to her plans, Molly has two escape routes, and she's prepared to fight for her life if they don't work out.

The boys crash and bang and stampede all over the house. Molly moves on little ghost feet, in doorways and around the edges of rooms.

Molly acts like she works in the publishing industry.

Specifically, she acts like a writer (or any artist, probably) who's forced to confront the realities of making a living in a field with wildly inconsistent rewards and quite a few punishments, and doing it through the means of stripping out all her fears and vulnerabilities and waving them around for people to be entertained by (or not) and to judge (and quite possibly publicly disdain.)

I know so many anxious writers.

Hell, I'm an anxious writer. Coming back from a really messy, crippling bout with it right now, actually, and currently have the upper hand, but let's not talk about the latter half of 2015, and almost all of last year.

I have so many brilliant friends who are anxious about what they are writing about, or the quality of what they are writing, or showing their writing to other people, or whether the internet will fall on their heads no matter what they do, or even being able to write at all... and it pisses me off, this anxiety (and my anxiety, which manifests in I HAVE NOTHING USEFUL TO SAY AND I AM SAYING IT POORLY SO WHY BOTHER) because it robs the world--and selfish me--of so much good art I could be enjoying otherwise.

I wish I could take all of their anxiety and roll it up in a ball and ship it to those guys who spend a lot of time stomping around the internet fussing about how the world doesn't understand their genius and plotting ways to game award processes. Except I know that that's anxiety, too.

It's a way some people deal with it--by seeking validation any way they can, and blustering if their self-image isn't constantly reinforced. Just a some people deal with it by internalizing and eating themselves away, or being paralyzed into being unable to write or unable to submit, or withdrawing, or--my favorite, and the most subtle of all!--pulling themselves back from their art, no longer being honest and making themselves vulnerable through it, and creating something more facile than true.

What's the answer?

I don't know.

I suspect everybody has to find their own solution, because everybody's anxiety manifests in a different way.

I've dealt with it recently by getting angry and sad enough that I feel like I have something to say that's worth saying, and reminding myself that it's better said poorly than not said at all. I've dealt with it by (with the help of my spouse [hello, spouse!]) making space to work early in the day, when I am relaxed and not yet feeling the press of worries and duties of the day.

I've dealt with it by bulling through, but that doesn't work in the long run. I've dealt with it through medication, which does, sort of, but you still have to use the respite to get to the underlying issues. I've dealt with it by figuring out what I was afraid of, and remembering that--like Molly (remember Molly? This is a post about Molly)--I have lived through worse.

Also, you know, this is my job. And I love it. And I'm doing it to the best of my ability, which is pretty damned well, actually, because I am good at my job.

And I am entitled to my voice, and to the space to speak out with that voice. My falling silent will not, in fact, in any way improve the commons or its diversity. It will rather diminish that.

People don't have to choose to listen to me, but they have no right to tell me not to speak.

And if people are unhappy with my books, they can write their own damn books.

I'm sure as hell not stopping them. They shouldn't let their anxieties stop them, either.

Molly doesn't need anybody. She, unlike her brothers, can take care of most things herself.

But here's the thing: they're noisy little guys. They talk to me, their toys, birbs, bugs on the ceiling, each other.

I've only heard Molly vocalize (other than a defensive hiss) on two types of occasions, and until this morning, it was only one. If she is somewhere else in the house and doesn't know where her brothers and Scott and I are, she will pause in her explorations sometimes and emit a perfect little "Meow?" or two until somebody says--in cat or human--"Molly, we're over here."

And this morning, she was sleeping on my feet, and was startled awake by a boy-noise in the hall. She sat bolt upright like a little meercat, front legs dangling, the better to survey the situation.

And while she was sitting there on my feet, she emitted a little, muttering growl, as if to say, "This is my spot, and I will fuck you up if you come for me here."

Molly may be anxious, but she also has something to say, and she apparently has a platform to say it from.

If a six pound semiferal kitten with PTSD can manage it, so can we.

Date: 2017-01-12 03:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scarlettina.livejournal.com
Thank you for this. Don't know if you saw my most recent post about writing, but I feel like we're experiencing similar things. It's good to know I'm not alone.

Date: 2017-01-13 02:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matociquala.livejournal.com
I hadn't seen. I'm 98% off social media still--but I'm trying to resume outward communication at least.

I am really sorry you're struggling. I've been in a fight, too, and I'm winning right now, but man. This shit is annoying.

And I don't want to give it time, you know? Because I don't want to be dealing with LIFE or DRAMA or my own recalcitrant brain. I want to be making things.

Date: 2017-01-12 04:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thestephy.livejournal.com
Thank you for saying this. It is all true, and it is well said, and so many of us need to hear it.

Date: 2017-01-13 02:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matociquala.livejournal.com
Always glad to help.

Date: 2017-01-12 04:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mrissa.livejournal.com
I needed this on a morning when a very personal essay got more widely available.

Date: 2017-01-13 02:42 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-01-12 05:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gelsey.livejournal.com

I love this it talks to me on so many levels.

Date: 2017-01-12 06:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] luciab.livejournal.com
Thank you. I'm happy Molly found a safe haven, and I'm glad you're doing better.

And tangentially, I am idly wondering what would happen if a sociopathic narcissist came down with debilitating anxiety.

Date: 2017-01-12 08:03 pm (UTC)
clhollandwriter: (Default)
From: [personal profile] clhollandwriter
"If she is somewhere else in the house and doesn't know where her brothers and Scott and I are, she will pause in her explorations sometimes and emit a perfect little "Meow?" or two until somebody says--in cat or human--"Molly, we're over here."

One of ours does this in the middle of the night if we don't tell her we're going to bed. Except it's more of a wail.

Date: 2017-01-12 08:49 pm (UTC)
davidlevine: (turbine)
From: [personal profile] davidlevine
This made me fucking weep. Thank you.

Date: 2017-01-13 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matociquala.livejournal.com
{{{David}}}

Date: 2017-01-12 08:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cloudscudding.livejournal.com
I love this.

Date: 2017-01-12 09:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tal125.livejournal.com
Thank you for this. My wife is struggling to start her writing career and has been facing so much anxiety over her writing. To know that writers of your excellent reputation and caliber also feel anxious is such a boon to her confidence.
Edited Date: 2017-01-12 09:16 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-01-13 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matociquala.livejournal.com
So glad to help.

Date: 2017-01-13 06:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] musingaloud.livejournal.com
Thank you for talking openly about a tough subject that most of us try to keep hidden (no reason for that except stupid human feelings!)

Date: 2017-01-13 12:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vulpine137.livejournal.com
I think I've said this before, but your twitter feed of kittens helped save my sanity on a few occasions. You have some epic kittens, thank you for sharing them.

(You also write pretty darn good, but...kittens)

Date: 2017-01-13 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matociquala.livejournal.com
They are about as epic as kittens get, and I have had a share of kittens.

Date: 2017-01-13 04:16 am (UTC)
sovay: (I Claudius)
From: [personal profile] sovay
She sat bolt upright like a little meercat, front legs dangling, the better to survey the situation.

We refer to this behavior in our cats as "meering" for exactly the same reason. Hestia especially does it when she wants a better view of something. She can retain the position for an impressive length of time.

Date: 2017-01-13 02:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matociquala.livejournal.com
Molly is REALLY good at it. I have a couple of pics, but not really good ones.... because as soon as I reach for the camera, I am suddenly more interesting.

Date: 2017-01-13 07:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] robby.livejournal.com
About 6 months ago, I started feeding some "community cats". I was resigned to them being feral cats, but all four have really warmed to me. I wish I knew more of their backgrounds, but now it seems that they were pet cats once. Sometimes I'll have two in my lap at once. They are stlll outside cats, because of my dog, but they have shelter with insulated sleeping boxes.

Date: 2017-01-13 02:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matociquala.livejournal.com
Good job. :D

Date: 2017-01-13 12:20 pm (UTC)
ext_58972: Mad! (Default)
From: [identity profile] autopope.livejournal.com
Anxiety, yes: and also the OCD thing. I suspect you've got to be more than a bit obsessive-compulsive to write long-form fiction. And when it runs head-first into the anxiety (compulsion to write versus fear of how the writing will be received) the cognitive dissonance gives off gamma rays.

Date: 2017-01-13 02:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] matociquala.livejournal.com
Hah! I don't get the OCD thing--if I am really compelled to write, then I write, but otherwise normally it's like a really pleasant day job. Except when I start getting avoidant or anxious and then it's HELL.

I was avoidant and stuck yesterday for hours and then figured out I was furious about something that had happened months ago and once I actually let myself FEEL angry about it, the angry went away and I could work.

Fucking brains, how do they work.

Date: 2017-01-14 05:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thewol.livejournal.com
I had a little feral like Molly. She was the only survivor of an abandoned litter and was hand raised by one of the shelter ladies to an adoptable 6 weeks old, when I got her. Like your Molly, she was skittish and flighty but unlike your Molly, my Stormie was a snuggler. I worked as a medical transcriptionist for a number of years until I retired year before last. I worked from a recliner with my footpedal on the wall (blood clots in the legs are our occupational disease)and worked an awful lot with a little grey girl kitty either curled up on my left upper chest tucked up under my chin, or burrowed in between my knees. I'm a side sleeper and loved it when she curled up against my tummy at night. I lost her to renal disease in 2015 at the too young age of 11. I still miss her so much.

Trust takes time.
The Fat(cat)Boy, the only one of four that I still have left now will do that "I'm here, are you there?" meowing bit, too. I'll hear his plaintive little "Rrrrrreerrooooorow?" off somewhere in the house, answer him, and in about five minutes he comes ambling in and finds me and snuggles in.

March 2017

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