Monday, December 3, 2018

In The End (I'm okay)

Today, on the Twitters, Adam Savidan posted something that just really hit me.
I had a good weekend, but I seem to be fighting with this big empty hole feeling in my chest after I release any content, like I’m instantly irrelevant after it’s been finished.
- Adam Savidan @WakeUpSuper
 One, I want to state that Adam is awesome and absolutely still relevant. His current show Spectator Mode is an amazing celebration of eSports and is infused with Adam's enthusiasm. I love that! I don't even watch eSports, but I watch Spectator Mode. Two, I totally get this, and I get how even after making something a-maaaaaayzing, Adam might feel a little like... bad.

Here I'll talk about the bad feeling - what I'll call the suck, some of what I do to try to fix it, and some of where I think it comes from.

The Suck

I just finished a Kickstarter, the most funds I've raised in a month through any means in my whole life, for a project that I deeply and passionately care about. But the truth is, for me, Turn has been done for a while - the minute I sent it to the editor, I felt like the main project died. The Kickstarter just performed some necromancy, and the next eight months are just riding on that wave of lich-love.

And right, I'll get some bursts working on The Confidante (which is actually pretty much done) and a Moose, and doing dev work alongside the stretch goal writers. But like, I will be real with you, the editing process is basically hell for me, I will hate every minute of it ten times more than you hate gum on your shoe. But I'll do it, cuz it's what's necessary to make a product, and yeah.

a clip from Wayne's World showing Wayne eating Pizza Hut in a performative fashion
But when the stuff that keeps me going is done, like my design bits, that suck comes in like

"You're not a real creator"
"You're not making anything useful"
"No one cares about the work you're doing"
"Everyone's already forgotten about you"
"Nothing you make will last or be memorable"

And just. I can't tell you how! much! I! HATE! IT! And I feel like I can't do anything about it, and maybe, most of the time I can't. I can try, you know? Like poke at it and make an effort. The alternative is to wallow negatively and agree with it and be like yeah, yeah, I super suck and I'm not good at anything. And ugh, gross. Gross.

@that_MAZ also tweeted this video of Wentworth Miller, a gay actor who is super inspiring to me for many reasons, talking about how we talk to ourselves:

It's real good, and I'm grateful for the words. It's also challenging, because man, I can't imagine talking good about myself on a regular basis - I even did a semester-long mindfulness meditation dedicated to reducing negative self-talk. It helped, but it didn't fix it - probably only constant vigilance would make a difference, and that's...a lot.

I pretty aggressively beat up on myself for not doing well enough, not succeeding enough, not constantly working. It doesn't matter how hard I work, there is not enough work done, and the minute the project stops, it's the suck. This kinda one-two punch of things talking about how we feel about ourselves (that we are irrelevant if we are not creating) and how we talk about ourselves (hurtfully) really hit hard. So, I wanted to talk a little about how I fight the suck, both the better ways and the worser ones, and ways I am gonna try in the future.

Fighting The Suck, Part 1, AKA the Bandage Over the Void

One way I try to circumvent the suck is by lining up new projects of varying sizes and by working on projects alongside the main project. I worked on Ears Are Burning during the Kickstarter, worked on projects for Turn like The Confidante and The Opossum during the Kickstarter, and I announced my new project, The Unhurried Pursuit of Sloth (more soon) at the tail end of the Kickstarter. And I have work to do immediately after, too, like my project for Orun, a sensitivity read, Leading with Class, blog posts to prep, starting a Scion streamed game (as player), supporting the stretch goal writers & doing that dev work, edits for Turn, and a project I just signed on for with Glittercats Fine Amusements (signing the contract probably tomorrow).

Of these, only a couple of them seem like I'll feel that creative filling for them, and a lot of the others are either different brain space or just not as satisfying as one of my own projects. And even so, even if I get that burst for them, each will end in turn. There's a lot of fear here.

Where The Suck Comes From

Part of me fears that if I end one project without another lined up, I'll feel worse, and another project won't come. This is scary for me financially, too, because I do rely on a lot of this work for income to keep my lights on and ensure we eat. John works, so so much, but maintaining me as a functioning human is expensive. Like, without my income from Thoughty, we get very close to a scarier spot than we're already in.

Griffin McElroy saying "and let's just have a full blown panic attack together!"
And the other part of me fears two things:
  • that I have nothing left to create - I am no longer a creator
  • that I am not valuable to anyone anymore - I am no longer valid
I have this deep and terrifying anxiety about not being useful? As a disabled person, as a person who has lost their usefulness time and again in varying ways, I am so afraid of the day I stop being useful to people entirely. To the day I am put in the corner to die. That is a full-on constant fear. And not creating anymore would make me much less useful, too much less, in part because of how hard not-game-design work is, and I die a little inside every time I realize how easily it could happen (see also: my brain is broken and some days I can't words).

And the valuable thing? It's just the other side of the coin. It's where I'm nicer to myself about the reality and allow myself that people might see good in me, might benefit from being connected to me. But what if it is just because of what I create? What if they don't see me creating stuff and being present and being a non-stop content creator every single day and they decide I'm not valuable anymore? There's nothing good left to see in me? I'm no longer a valid investment of their time and energy.

And I get worried they're gonna go away. That the people, they will leave me. It's not like building an audience is easy, like, it's fucking hard. I'm an entire person on this here internet and I've worked hard to make content that brings people to me so I am not alone in this universe, in appreciating the work I've done, and so on. And when a project ends it's like, eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh, I gotta try to keep them here.
A blonde woman saying "Okay, that's okay." nervously.
Losing your audience is a hard hit. I've had hits like that, where I fucked up or I was just not what people wanted and I bled followers like so bad. It can mean death to future projects, and it definitely means tons of work rebuilding, networking, trying to be enough. Sometimes finding whole new audiences. It ain't easy. And that's part of the fear: even if I manage to recover, if I ever make anything again, I have to redo all of what I've done and more, and it may never be enough.

This is even more complicated when you are friends with a lot of your audience, like I am, and like many creators are - you know they're your friends, but what if someone makes a better, cooler thing while you're sitting here, unable to create something amazing right now? Wouldn't you rather they be happy?

Sometimes I wanna dump pudding on my brain for how easily it digs in to try to hurt me like this.

I think part of the resolution of this is identifying what our root fears are that cause this sucking feeling. Looking over them, mine are clear: safety based (wellbeing, financial security), purpose/identity based (usefulness, ability to be creative), social based (losing my social support net which directly impacts the others). And you know... those aren't illegitimate fears.

And I'm feelin' them while I look at my planned December break (more on that in a sec).

Fighting the Suck, Part 2, AKA Using Your Words

Sometimes, I turn to Mr. Rogers. See, Mr. Rogers wouldn't have ever given me shit for not constantly working. He'd probably ask me to work a little less! Or just as much as I felt like was right for me.
And like...one thing I need to learn is that a lot of my audience is there for me as I am, even right after I finish a project, even when I haven't worked on a project for a while. They care about me more than they care about what I produce. This is contrary to my brain, and fights against my fears.

So let's start with that. Slam down some affirmations, right? Use the words that work for you. Try to address each of your fears.
  • It's okay to be afraid of all the things that could go wrong.
  • It's okay to want to feel useful and creative.
  • It's okay to feel lonely when all the good words slow.
Next step is to chase away the lies. I try to avoid absolutes and stuff when I do this, but your language might work better for you, as usual.
  • Your creativity isn't unlimited, but breaks are okay, and reinvigorate you.
  • Usefulness is not based on constant productivity.
  • Your friends and audience aren't here purely because of what you create.
Then I think it's important to put some good in. Go wild, be generous.
  • You can think up new projects when your brain and body have rested!
  • You look productive when you have completed projects!
  • Your audience can enjoy your work at their own pace if you take some time!
And now we can do the more action-y part. Here's where I'd make a plan for how to fill the void.

What Fills Me?

This part is a pain because you have to think of like, the way you feel satisfied as a person. I'm going to talk mine out here.

Obviously there's trying to do new projects. That helps! Ish. But there's also like, getting positive comments from people that have nothing to do with my work, like, focusing on me as a person and their feelings about our relationship (or on my selfies & appearance, which is still kind of a bandage instead of stitches but ya know). Loving time with my partners or friends, and fun activities (actually playing games and stuff) help to offset the suck. Other creative activities than design like drawing, photography, and so on help me both distract myself AND keep me creatively satisfied.

Neil Patrick Harris saying "It's like, I don't even care what happens for the rest of the day!"

Fighting the Suck, Part 3 AKA Filling the Void

If you have a project ending, it's a good thing to set up a schedule for how you're going to deal with the suck. Using a bandage like in part 1, and using your works like in part 2, both are steps to deal with it. But the final step is filling that void!

What I chose to do right after the Turn Kickstarter was to schedule the Kickstarter to end right when we get a paycheck so our bank account doesn't feel so starkly empty, schedule & go on a photography trip with John for both love & creative time, make sure I post selfies and stuff to social media within a couple of days so I could get some positive comments from friends, and have a plan in place for the work I'll be starting. I also did some stuff like drawing (I bought some new colored brush pens) and setting up for the Scion game. And I took some time off the Kickstarter! Like I haven't sat and did emails or comments or anything, just like I promised. BUT I have been available on social media and interacting.

This can't be it, though. The recovery has to be proportionate to my productivity, honestly. I did grad school, then did a Kickstarter, then did a Kickstarter. So, I'm also officially taking off the second half of December - from everything. I'll be making sure I do photography, draw, and spend time with my partners. I'm allowed to work on game design if I really feel like it, so only when I have inspiration and enthusiasm, but no big project work. To facilitate this, I'm doing a two-week period where I'm resolving all my loose ends (edits for Turn, Orun work, pending paid work, etc.), and then I'm going to work on filling my void with something other than productivity.

It's like a sucking chest wound, right, the suck? You gotta wrap it up and keep an eye on it, be ready to unwrap it if things get yikes inside.

Gina from Brooklyn 99 saying Ew.
To break down what I am doing, I'm addressing:
  • safety fears - scheduling of the Kickstarter near payday, arranging to get paid work done, maintaining my health by taking time off, separating myself from the Kickstarter so it's no longer my whole life
  • purpose/identity fears - doing other creative things and spending time with partners, getting validation through selfies, allowing myself to be creative in games when I want
  • social fears - connecting with social media and getting engagement on selfies and my tweets from my audience, planning social things that prioritize my deep relationships, ensuring I'm still being "public"
It sounds like a lot but it's challenging to take care of yourself, to fight your fears, and to find a pathway to deal with the suck! It's also important to remember how much you can do during a project to ensure it doesn't become all-encompassing. Like I didn't do enough, but I tried to balance it by having a consultant do some of the work, not responding to Kickstarter comments when I was supposed to be in bed (this died eventually), and being thoughtful with my scheduling. The initial part 1 with bandaging by doing some design work alongside and ensuring I'd have design work post-Kickstarter was part of this.

One last of these kind of things I'll be doing is I'll be letting my audiences know that I'm dealing with this (in part through this post), so that if they've got some free energy, they can send good vibes my way.

There's one more thing.

Fighting the Suck, Part 4, Unsuck Yourself

This is, I think, the hardest part - and it goes back to the Wentworth Miller video. We need to be kinder to ourselves. We need to not slide into telling ourselves we suck, and we need to speak to ourselves lovingly. So when our brain starts those bad things I talked about earlier, and like he says in the video, we gotta refocus. Talk to ourselves out loud, and make them good to us.
"If you do talk to yourself out loud... make sure that the words are loving, supportive, and nourishing. Start the work of being your own best friend." 
- Wentworth Miller
You aren't the suck. You're just a person who is done with a thing. An AWESOME thing! And you'll have the chance to do more things, you just gotta remember that you need a break, too.

Garnet from Steven Universe saying "There's one more thing I forgot to tell you. I love you! Bye!"


--

P.S. - Maybe this will not be useful to anybody, but it might be useful to somebody! I just tried to think of all the things that are helpful for me and that I've been working on to deal with this problem that is really hard for me.

P.P.S. - The title of this is in reference to Linkin Park's "In The End" which I've listened to constantly during periods of depression, which normally accompany the suck. Since Chester Bennington's death, I've been trying harder to fight my depression than I ever have, because it has been super hard for me to cope with losing him - and I was just a fan who identified with his music. It made me wonder who would care if I was gone, and not want to hurt them. It matters.

P.P.P.S. - I looked up sucking chest wounds for this. There was an autoplay video. I suffer for my art.



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