liz writes stuff down
30Dec/16Off

20 things for 2017

I don't know how much I believe in New Year's resolutions, but I will happily use the buzz around them as inspiration to write down things I have started trying to do and things I recently decided I want to do. Given my philosophy that New Year's is a good excuse rather than motivation in and of itself, my list is likely to be updated throughout the year.

  1. Get up at 7 everyday. I'm nearly there. (I'd really rather it be 6:30, but I've often found that goal bad for getting enough sleep since I have many friends who prefer to do social things into the night.)
  2. Matt and I just bought an elliptical. My basement is incredibly convenient, so I'd like to use that in my soon-to-be reclaimed early mornings before work everyday.
  3. Become able to do the splits again. Maybe even oversplits like in middle school and high school.
  4. Sit down at the dining table for dinner when eating at home. Ideally I'd like to eat without being on my laptop. Fortunately, I think if I am on a laptop only occasionally, my brain will successfully form the habit around eating at the table without also forming one around eating while on my laptop.
  5. Drink more water. A year or so ago, I was on medication that caused me to be dehydrated more easily, and each day, I tallied how many pints of water I drank until I reached five pints. Coffee and tea could count towards only one pint. I hit that goal around the time I'd leave work and drank an amount of liquid without thinking after work that physically felt good. I also have suspicions that increased water consumption correlates to increased happiness for me.
  6. Don't buy coffee out unless it's for social or networking reasons. I don't do this a lot (haven't in a couple months, I think), but when I do, I always end up really unhappy with myself since I enjoy the process of making coffee and am lucky to not really need the caffeine to operate normally.
  7. Take photos of everything I buy that isn't a necessity. I'm not sure what exactly counts as a necessity yet! TBD, but so far, I think that there's no need to take photos of groceries and usual staple toiletries (helps that my routine conveniently isn't spendy), but photos will be required for things like takeout, meals out, and splurgy fancy soap. Replacing "bigger", longer-term-use household things like bath towels should be photographed, even if they're basically necessities, so that I can get a better feel for whether or not I'm properly balancing quality and price. I imagine what does and does not need to be photographed will make more sense as the year progresses. I don't think this will turn into a forever project, but I should stick to it for a whole year for the data mining.
  8. Do my various general finances maintenance more frequently. I basically have a good system, but I'd like to be doing the full set of things in that system once a month instead of when I happen to remember to.
  9. Try not to feel bad saying "no" to things. I don't know if I can hold myself accountable to this goal without spiraling downward if I spend lots of time reflecting on how well I'm doing. Maybe writing in a little (private) journal when I do say no and following up with notes about how it turned out okay would be reasonable?
  10. Put everything in the house away. Preferably this would have been done yesterday, but over all of 2017 is probably a goal that won't stress me out. Step one will be to figure out how to do this in increments that I can calendar well instead of freaking out that I will never have big enough blocks of time to make enough progress - and then punting because of that.
  11. Figure out a sustainable, meaningful way to engage with our government and do it. We are heading into dark times, and I am more privileged than most and need to leverage that to help those with less privilege. I already bother my representatives a bunch over the phone and email, but would like to spend more time crafting what I say to be concise and more effective. Living in New York City means my representatives generally agree with my views though, so probably some of the time I call to thank them can be better spent elsewhere. Unfortunately, protests, something I think I'd find rewarding as well as useful, are really risky for me. (A slight aside: Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark is a comforting read right now.)
  12. Do the post-it goal planning Rachel Binx discussed in her XOXO talk.
  13. Practice singing at least three hours a week, preferably 30 minutes every day I don't have a lesson. Obviously this doesn't apply when I'm sick.
  14. Reformat the outline of that novel I want to write into a collection of shorter stories because this seems to be just as reasonable a way to say what I want to say. It's almost certainly more achievable to fit in with my unrelated full time job.
  15. Set up the LED lights for the digital piano already. The materials for this were birthday gifts all the way back in 2014.
  16. Tuesdays will be scheduled as project nights, for writing, drawing, composing, experimenting in the kitchen, or that LED piano situation I keep putting off. Routines are the sorts of things that give me the energy for optional things, which are often the things in my control that bring me the most joy. Don't schedule other things unless it's completely unavoidable, and definitely don't do that more than once a month. I've poked through my calendar for 2017, and I have only two things on Tuesdays! One is a book talk, and the other is traveling back from a wedding. This seems totally doable!
  17. Leave one weeknight a week unscheduled for friend emergencies. ("Emergencies" is definitely the wrong word, but I haven't been able to think of the right one today. Emergencies undoubtedly fall into the set of things I'd use this for, but probably I would drop other things, too.) Maybe can be used for friends who don't plan at least a week out like I do. Likely this will mostly be Mondays, but it doesn't need to be on the same day every week like scheduled project night. Maybe I will aim for Mondays because I have only two Mondays with things scheduled: D&D this Monday and a wedding in July. Downside is that if I want to use this for friends who don't plan in advance, Monday is a bad day because people I know don't seem to be geared up to do same day things then, which is even worse for the original goal of wanting to have time for friends in need. Hmm. Also, the failure mode of this is more time at home, which is always excellent.
  18. Finally finish the lizdenys.com overhaul: switch the blogs to a static site generator that also contains the rest of my site. Draw that line drawing self-portrait for the front page.
  19. Blog at least twice a month, preferably every week. I have so many things I've written the first draft for, but haven't polished or haven't uploaded because they're not in a great format out of the box (like my zine about riding the subway with anxiety and PTSD). Maybe I'm being a bit hard on myself for not getting to that in the past couple months given my travel schedule and how much time I've spent sick, but twice a month should be a sustainable default.
  20. Hold myself accountable on these things. I think I'm going to start by making a chart to mark off some metric of progress for the bigger things, but instead of having a cell for every week, I'll have it be 52 cells wide and the top row will be for surviving that week. In theory, this will be enough to track progress, and choosing not to link specific milestones directly to specific weeks will allow me to look at it without get immediately stressed out by getting "behind" for not doing something for every category each week. I also want to summarize my progress in (monthly?) blog posts. Unclear if those would always count towards the goal to blog twice a month, especially if it's just progress without introspection. The ideal accountability post probably would count because I'd like to focus in how a couple changes have affected me in these posts. Also, posting vague posts is something I've wanted to get more comfortable with for a while, and this type of vague posting even comes with the additional tangible benefits of being held accountable!

Thanks to the fabulous Jeanna Kadlec for starting the Facebook thread that inspired this post earlier today!

6Jul/160

Natural colds: our varied encounters with depression and Dementors

In Harry Potter, Dementors are some of the scariest foes - they feed upon human happiness, causing overwhelming surges of depression that can leave a person an "empty-shell" with extended exposure. The Patronus Charm is the primary defense against them: witches and wizards can ward the Dark creatures away by concentrating on their happiest memory.

In interviews, J.K. Rowling describes how her struggles with depression inspired the soul-sucking Dementors. I continue to be extremely impressed by people who are able to talk openly about their depression, no less channel it into stories that can speak to others, too.

But I have to wonder: if Dementors are a physical representation of depression, what message does needing to cast a Patronus to fight them send?

Depression has been many different sorts of nasty spirals for me, and I certainly haven't always been able to reach a happy enough memory to cast a corporeal Patronus to climb out of it. Fortunately, I haven't always needed to latch onto a happy memory to defeat it because depression likes to work in wacky, unpredictable ways. The main thing I've learned from beating depression on more occasions than I'd like to admit is that there isn't a single surefire way for me to sneak past it.

So when I reread parts of Harry Potter with Dementors, I get a little jumpy. Not all of the characters' experiences involve them successfully sending the creatures away, and I'm grateful that the story offers that up as okay. But every time I see one of the characters defeat them by finding solace in happy memories to pull themselves past the draining hopelessness that is depression, I also want to scream into the pages that this can't be the only way to defeat Dementors.

I fear readers will feel intractably stuck with their Dementors because they can't conjure that elusive Patronus - I want to make sure those readers don't lose hope because they might not be able to find their way past depression with happy memories.

I want us to have a library of stories that explores the wide variety of ways we beat our various fights with our varied depressions, so I've started crafting some of them as short stand-alone chapters for a fanfic I'm calling "Natural colds". I'm cross-posting these discussions of the many ways, beyond just the Patronus Charm, that characters deal with Dementors on Archive of Our Own.

"Natural colds"

Fandom: Harry Potter
Rating: teen and up primarily for discussions of depression, later chapters will have specific warnings for other difficult topics or specific difficult experiences with depression

People didn't just deal with Dementors by casting the Patronus Charm - the missing, more diverse ways of handling the shrouded Dark creatures and depression.

i. Lisa Turpin

Lisa Turpin accidentally left her potions textbooks at Herbology. Fearful of losing house points for being unprepared for class later, she snuck away from the line of students Professor Sprout was leading back to the castle. Maybe she should have been more concerned about the Dementors everyone was buzzing about. Maybe she should have felt a little more guilty for failing to care about Ravenclaw's standing in the House Cup, but nothing could distract her from the mortifying prospect that the other students would remember her existence as Professor Snape would mention her name.

One foot in front of the other, keep your head down, focus on the ground. Focus on slipping farther and farther into your robes and away from view.

"Shit."

She had been told they floated slightly above you before closing in on you fast as hawks; she thought keeping her head away from the clouds could help to keep her safe. She had been told they were physically imposing as well emotionally tolling; she couldn't have expected one to be half her height. Yet, this little one crept into her view along the hems of her robes, hovered around her feet dancing.

The Dementor's dark, bony finger stuck towards her mouth then curled back towards whatever face was hiding behind its tattered, black hood as it floated up to meet her height.

For a moment, what must have been its face looked like a mirror staring back at her, her features fully intact. Abruptly, the image vanished; in its place was the vivid reality of nothingness.

Her friends had guessed nothingness to be the deepest black, a chillingly dark sensation, but she knew that wasn't nothingness. Nothingness was whatever was hid behind it until it flashed white to a blur of colors too tangled to latch onto anything specific; nothingness was the confusion of time - the breath-stealing realization there was no tomorrow, no today.

The hypnotizing kaleidoscope of every color all at once hiding behind that drooping black hood circled to her right, her gaze obeying the command to follow. After the Dementor spun her around seven times, she could have sworn it smirked at her before mouthing something that wasn't quite a kiss to abruptly release her eyes from its trance.

A sharp chill ran up her spine, and the tiny Dementor slid back under the back of her robes. It pulled away its hold on her thoughts in its retreat, left her body quivering, her mind reeling.

The cold dissipated through her limbs; her scattered thoughts cleared. In their place, a small ball of dread knotted into her gut. She mustered the little strength left at her disposal to push it deeper from the surface and walked back to the castle for class.

***

Luna Lovegood was buried in the latest issue of The Quibbler when she heard the common room door creak and watched Lisa Turpin walk in with her head pointed directly towards her toes, shoulders slouched.

"Hey, Lisa," Luna offered with a smile. "Everything alright?"

"I'm fine." The Dementor hiding beneath her stirred to lightly tickle her ankles. "Just tired."

"Okay, if you need anything..."

The almost soft tickles became aggressive - Lisa twitched forward and hastily turned towards the dorms. No one caught that, right? She felt the Dementor shift left then right as though it was replying with a firm "no" then looked over her left shoulder back towards Luna and quickly mumbled, "Thanks."

As she stepped up the stairs, the little Dementor relented.

***

Hours turned into days turned into weeks, and the little bugger wouldn't leave her alone.

The tickling, the bouts of sudden colds grew unremarkable then unnoticeable - everything blurred into a hardened, all-encompassing nothingness.

Even though her grades didn't slip, her interest in charms slid away. Essay topics she used to approach with vigor became mechanical; her wand flicks lost their luster.

Luna worried more and more as Lisa withdrew more quickly from her meals to the common room before others got there, then to her room as soon as her housemates turned in for the evening. She smiled and tried to engage her with the latest from The Quibbler or her favorite moments from Care of Magical Creatures. Luna offered an eager ear and big, patient eyes day after day or just quietly sat nearby when she could, but she just couldn't get through.

***

One day, Lisa was staring listlessly out her dorm room's window - the Dementor sitting at her side, its fingers playing at her shoulder - when one of the castle's owls dropped the letter it was carrying on the lawn. Frantically, the barn owl dove down towards the puddle where the note landed.

As the letter floated down the puddle, the owl scampered towards it, tripped over its legs twice. The letter reached the edge of the puddle and shored onto the grass. Instead of picking it up, the owl lingered to twist and shake as if to take a bath - forgetting there was no way for it to get clean in the dirt-filled water.

Unamused, the Dementor shifted to its right, pulled Lisa's arm towards it, away from the sight of the now dirty owl writhing around in its muddy bathwater.

"I'm watching that!" She snapped at the dark, little form. Unable to look away from the owl's movement, she broke out in an exuberant laughter - the kind that comes from the bottom of your belly.

The Dementor kept tugging at her sleeve, but minutes passed - Lisa kept chuckling. Inspired by the barn owl, she peeled away towards the girls' bathroom to sing through a long hot shower, and bored, the Dementor waltzed away.

ii. Sirius Black

No one really expected Sirius Black to survive in Azkaban for long. Sure, Sirius had exuded confidence and determination to a fault, but Dementors never failed to break down those walls.

But Sirius was also exceedingly clever and had a dirty little furry secret on his side: when he felt his excitement, his compassion, his sense of humor, his humanity slip away from him, he'd morph into his animagus form, the fluffy dog his godson would later call Snuffles.

That particularly furry, big black dog had a peculiar immunity to the Dementors feeding: the creatures didn't know how to prey on non-human thought processes. Maybe someone else, like the Hermione he'd meet years later, would publish something about how animagi had a natural resistance to their feeding. Even if Sirius could develop the patience for that kind of scientific writing, he wouldn't want these "tricks" to become public so freely, to fall into the hands of the wrong people; the Death Eaters who were fully devoid of compassion deserved this punishment. Surely, this technique was intended solely for people like him - people who could think back to first moment they sat next to James, his future best friend, on the Hogwarts Express at eleven; people who could remember the relief painted on Remus's face when Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs showed up at the Shrieking Shack as animagi; people who could recall with perfect clarity the smile on his face when his best friend told him Lily enthusiastically proclaimed "yes"; people who could tap into these memories to produce a full corporeal patronus had the ministry not unjustly seized their wands.

Sirius would swear left and right that he had been transforming into Snuffles all those years he was locked up to perfect his escape plan, but if he was being truthful, he'd admit that it had nothing to do with escape at first, just self-preservation, survival. That first hooded void peering into his eyes, poring through his memories, picking out his conversation with James about getting Harry a broomstick for Christmas, sucking it away. He could see the frames from his memory flow out of his body, the continuity between them peeling apart, until they became just a small set of fading photos barely outlining the story - the end of a letter from James and Lily, a page out of a Quidditch catalog, kneeling on the floor and seeing a coal face in his fireplace. Losing the moving pictures was depressing; gaining the intense urge to sob but lacking the physical will to do so was devastating.

As that Dementor pulled away, Sirius's forehead involuntarily alternated between stretching past its edges and constricting back into itself, and he became suddenly aware that he couldn't quite feel his fingers or his toes. Snuffles rarely suffered his physical ailments - headaches from hangovers disappeared; he could keep warm while running away to the Potters’. Now Sirius learned that Snuffles could push out emotional trials as well.

As time went on, the Dementors wore down on him more and more, broke him. His pleasant memories, his hope for vindication, his desire for freedom slipped away, leaving him alone with the despair of his wrongful conviction. Locked in the moment with James’s body lifeless across the floor, Lily’s merely feet away, Harry’s screams. Hallucinating James’s spirit holding Lily in his arms, bawling at the sight of Harry, shrieking at Sirius for letting it happen.

So his anxiety rose; Snuffles itched more. He grew skinnier, more pale; Snuffles lost weight, too, and his fur lost its sheen. Transforming for about a half hour only after meals turned into an hour, then two; later, he started becoming Snuffles after waking up, too. Eventually he was Snuffles whenever he was away from Dementors, even during sleep.

As the amount of time he spent as a human dwindled, his memory faded. Deeply fearful that the core of his humanity would follow - well, more specifically, he was afraid he'd lose his wit, his cunning, his good looks, his charm, or worse, his desire for mischief and his lust for women - if he stayed Snuffles too long, he tried to keep what he started to call "mutt time" to a minimum.

One day in 1993, he didn't wake before a Dementor brought him breakfast - he was still asleep as Snuffles. He immediately panicked. Before he could even realize that the additional crime of being an illegal animagus would ensure his punishment went on even after his name was finally cleared, an emaciated Snuffles darted through the cell door, out of the prison, started swimming across North Sea.

When he finally reached the shore, the hole in his mind dug out by the Dementors filled itself with the sudden reality of his future - Harry.

iii. Henry Hicks

Henry Hicks possessed a natural knack for charms, the inexplicable youthful energy of a second year, and that stereotypically Slytherin ambition - a convenient combination for someone determined to learn the Patronus Charm.

Last night when he entered the dungeons, Draco, Vincent, and Gregory had sat strewn across the couches, mocking the day's Defense lessons on the subject.

"Pathetic."

"It's not even like those sad animal shaped flicks of light can do more than shew a Dementor away; they can't actually kill them."

"Plus, how scary can something actually be when it's afraid of illusions?"

"Who cares? Those tricks won't save them from the Dark Lord."

Professor Flitwick caught wind of Henry's plan and worried about how he would handle failure - Henry was already having a tough time in Slytherin after some certain other students had found out his father was a Squib - but those same difficulties reassured the professor of Henry's resilience.

Henry wasn't actually afraid of Dementors - at least not in any immediate sense, as they'd been driven out of Hogwarts a couple of years ago. His interest in the Patronus Charm grew from conversations with his father, who having lacked magical powers became a Muggle psychologist. Starting when Henry was a young boy, his father had emphasized the importance of "practicing happiness". Henry wasn't entirely sure what this meant yet, but he liked being encouraged to occasionally linger on moments where he felt engaged, contented, loved.

After hearing about the charm a few weeks ago, he owled home asking about it. His mother responded that she had cast it occasionally just because - they were fortunate enough to have stayed safe despite the war - and that if he channeled his father's happiness exercises, he would be most of the way to supplying the memory needed to cast it.

When Henry found moments to himself, he would attempt to cast the spell. "Expecto Patronum" rolled easily off his tongue, but even after a dozen or so attempts, the best he got off was a steady stream of light he could circle around his body.

He didn't mind - despite failing to cast a corporeal Patronus, he enjoyed the warmth the charm left flowing throughout his body. Someday, he was sure, he'd find out what shape his guardian took, but for now, this was enough.

15Jul/150

Save your old bio: it stores confidence as well as content

I cringe at having to describe myself or write my own bios. No matter how casually an email, site, or form says "introduce yourself, no pressure", I shrink back. How do I convince myself that other people find who I am or what I do interesting?

I found myself asking this question a lot this past year, probably because I've written myself quite a few bios in the last year. Conference applications ask me who I am, social websites want me to fill out my profile, and social and professional networking has me introducing myself over email. I'm often uneasy about what to write, so I draft my bios in emacs and copy them over when I'm ready. As a result, I've ended up with a copy of every bio I've written in the last year. This turned out to be a happy accident - having copies of previous bios makes writing a new one a lot easier for me.

When I can look back at old bios, I benefit from having words at my fingertips to reuse when appropriate. When I see that I included something about me in a previous bio, I feel more confident that it's something worth including instead of something that isn't good enough. When I reread old bios, I remember what people told me worked well and what could have been better. (Keeping feedback nearby would be handy, too.) But mostly, when I see that I've written successful bios before, I feel confident that I can write a good one again.

And once I've written a new bio, I ask a friend to read it.

16Sep/140

xoxo

xoxo stage banner

You and I meeting
for the first time.
Together, we found
spaces
built in polygons,
yellow, orange, and red.

Places to experiment, learn,
play, create.
The safety to
talk of speed bumps, loss,

failure.

But you and I -
an army -
propping up those colored polygons
to turn defeat against itself or,
at least,
make it something we take on
together.

Places and spaces into
moments and memories and
bonds to hold onto
beyond those polygons,
yellow, orange, and red.

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12Aug/141

Where books travel

i

I sit down in my premium economy seat, the abbreviated way of saying "economy as it was fifteen years ago, but at a higher premium", and deeply internalize my physical constraints for the next six hours. A small box outlined by my seat, the side of the plane with its tiny window, the seat in front of me, and a precise, though invisible, boundary between myself and 19B. I grab a thin paperback out of my bag before sliding it underneath the seat in front of me.

It's just barely light out, and I won't be turning on the light above my seat. I have less than an hour to spend peeling through my book's pages before the night will fall, the plane's lights will dim, and a redeye passenger such as myself should fall asleep. I think to myself that I should have packed a hardcover instead - this paperback will certainly bend and fold on its way to wherever it ends up between me and my seat - but a hardcover wouldn't have packed well.

It doesn't matter. Black inks on bound textured pages with their soft scents are familiar feelings. I can read them on planes, on trains, in cafes, or between the sheets of my hotel bed and feel at home in their arms.

ii

I was afforded a recommendation for a book I do not own and another recommendation for a place to find it. I make my way to what is apparently their new store, just one address over from its predecessor, south of the Tottenham Court Road station. It's a bright white all over, like at the start of a new lease where the owners kindly paid for a new coat of sterile paint for the apartment walls. There are many books on many warm wood shelves on many open floors, and each book knows precisely where to reside and how far apart from every other book it should be. Well, they know those details until someone like me comes along and plucks them from their shelves. Gives them new life outside the store. Or instead confuses them just enough that they can't find their way home on their own and end up on a mobile, metal shelf for refiling.

But it's the twenty-first century and we have a mobile app. Just type in some information about a book, and receive where it can be found and how many copies are available. Drat, the recommendation would usually be in Fiction W, but it's currently out of stock. Pop over to searching a few book sites back in the States and no dice to find it directly. I didn't actually want to purchase it from either of the two giants, but if at least one of them had it, my local bookstore could order a copy with some luck.

iii

Off to the poetry section - I find staff picks the most useful here because while I like poetry, I am not a good judge of the genre. I pull the top copy of a staff recommendation off a stack, lift open its cover, and am taken by the boldness of this paperback's particularly stiff cover as my fingers grace it. Maybe this is why the store's walls are so coldly white, to contrast how much life resides within its books.

I read a few lines, smile, and remember how much I love the escape of poetry and how grateful I am that someone more well-versed than I will curate it for me. I read a few more lines, glance up, read another, and am reminded about how this process causes me to tie together poems and the places I am when I read them. I pop in and out of the fragmented world of the poems and the one around me such that they begin to quickly meld into one. And they are. I am there, in those pages, in the moment, in that place. Poetic Scientifica still feels like Portland, and Bright Travellers has already begun to feel like London between my hands.

These thoughts pass. I read the next page, put the book down, and remember I still need to purchase it. And I do.

iv

I know I've already made the one purchase I allotted for this trip, but I can't help myself from browsing more. I'm a bouncy, smiling cliché just shy of twirling through the stacks. So many more books to buy - there are always more books I desire to read - but especially on vacation, especially now with a suitcase already overflowing with tea, I cannot.

So I jot down titles, authors, notes within my graph paper notebook to take advantage of this store's curation. I know that this store's arrangement - the way it highlights some stories and relegates others to distant corners - must be studied carefully before I leave it behind. I turn careful placements in the reality that surrounds me into two-dimensional scratches in hopes that I can remember enough of the feelings that prompted me to want the books I note.

Curating a list for my future self through the curation of another. Touching the pages and reading early excerpts to see what sticks. Seeing another's nose in a novel you were considering and the smile across his face as he closes it.

The art of the physical bookstore that I hear is dying. Today, for me, it is very much alive.

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