When you want to shake the baby

Rage and Gentleness by Daniela Uhlig via DeviantArt

When you announce that you’re pregnant, a tidal wave of advice follows. Everyone who’s ever seen a baby wants to tell you what they know, what happened to them, what you should do. Most of it is horrifying.

“It’s fantastic what you’re doing. I love the way you’re handling this. It won’t be like what happened to Michelle.”

“What? What happened to Michelle?”

“Oh, did I say Michelle? I didn’t mean to mention that, I’m sorry. Don’t worry…she was a fool. She ate vegetables and drank water. The baby came out her ear. You’ll be fine.”

— Dylan Moran, Like, Totally

And it doesn’t stop after you have the baby, either. They want to tell you about insomnia and poopsplosions. If you know them really well, they’ll tell you about leaving the baby in the car or giving unnecessary Benadryl.

But there’s one story no one tells. One piece of wisdom that’s rarely passed along because it’s absolutely taboo to even think about.

It’s this:

You want to hurt your baby sometimes.

Before I had a baby, I was aghast that anyone could ever shake one to death, even on accident. What kind of monster does that?!

And then that monster rose up in me.

When Mackenzie was about a month old, after a day of inconsolable screaming despite hours of nursing, barely-damp diapers, and putting nearly 10km on the stroller, I felt the awful urge to just. make. it. stop. I knew I could. It would be so easy.

A twist of the neck. A dash to the tile floor. A blanket she couldn’t pull away.

I lifted her out of the carseat, still shrieking like an injured pterodactyl, and my arms tightened around her. My cells buzzed with the undeniable compulsion to shake her, slap her, cover her mouth, anything to make the screaming stop just for a second, to make her understand how senseless it was, how frantic and insane it made me feel.

Why won’t she stop crying? There’s nothing wrong! Just. Shut. Up!

And as quick as the desire to hurt came, a flash of clarity rocked me back.

She’s a newborn. The world is traumatizing. This is the only way she can communicate. You’re her mom. It’s your job to protect her.

Then I cried, too, as I used the same arms that wanted to squeeze the breath out of her to protectively clutch her little body to me. All I could say between hitching sobs was, “I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry,” over and over.

It was a moment of insanity–true disconnection from reality–that could quickly have turned fatal. It was so real, so fast, so dangerous. Such easy darkness, such ferocious, selfish rage.

And despite being surrounded by mothers of all experience levels, no one ever warned me.

If there’s any proof for the existence innate evil, this is it: that I could not just imagine but crave deadly violence towards my own helpless child. I’ve struggled with emotional disturbance, but I’ve never felt anything like this. Animal rage borne of despair and exasperation chased with shame, compounded with the certainty that if you tell anyone, they’ll report you, damn you, shun you.

Worse, it’s not just a one-time thing.

This demon squats inside me, waiting for a vulnerable moment to throw sand in my eyes and see what I’ll do. It doesn’t go away because I’m aware of it or because I fought it off once.

What’s important is that I’ve never acted on it. And neither have thousands, maybe millions, of other mothers.

But some have.

They’re the ones we see on the news. The ones who lost their battle with the demon. Their stories mirror our own, forcing us to hide our experience lest we face the same condemnation despite our victories.

This is a call for truth.

If you know this rage, this shame, talk about it. When we can be open, we can support each other, and we can beat the stigma. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s horrific. But until we can speak truth to the darkness, guilt and isolation will continue to rule. Knowing that it’s not just you, that you’re not a broken monster, steals the demon’s power. It can literally save lives.

Don’t let your sisters, the mothers-to-be, get blindsided. Share your story so they don’t have to share your pain.

Love in the time of burnout (or: how I killed and resurrected my writing career)

Love is the key by Tea Photography via Deviant Art

Burnout is real, people.

I know you know that, but it’s worth repeating.

What you might not know is that it happens to folks who aren’t “professionals”–rookies and amateurs (which was all Olympic athletes until the late 80s, just for perspective). People in love with their art, whatever it is, and are desperately trying to turn it into a paying career. People who haven’t made it but are hustling to do so. People like me. People like you, too, maybe.

That’s what happened when I quit writing last summer: I burned out.

I wrote my first book on a whim for NaNoWriMo 2012. It was a release valve, a fun project solely for my own enjoyment, just to see if I could do it. When it was done, people asked to read it, so I figured what the hell and self-published. To my surprise, it sold. And then people started asking what else I was working on. Eventually, I came up with Cora Riley, which started as a stand-alone but that had other plans for itself, sprawling out to become a five-book urban fantasy epic.

I spent the next two years turning the series into the foundation of an empire, cranking out three full-length novels and twelve short stories set in the Forgotten Relics  world. My schedule was merciless; outline to Amazon, including two edits and crowdfunding for each book, averaged nine months. I tirelessly posted on social media, angling for new followers, creating images with book quotes and asking questions to develop engagement for better visibility. I appeared at conventions, speaking on panels with distinguished authors and hawking books in vendor rooms. I attended writing workshops. I recorded videos. I started a Patreon. I squirreled away non-FGR ideas for when I finished the series so there’d be no gap to slow my growth.

I worked and worked and worked. The money wasn’t great yet, but there were other measuring sticks. I had a (small but fierce) audience who spread the word and spent money when I published or crowdfunded. I had good connections–friends,even –in the writing world who encouraged and advised me. I had offers to collaborate, invitations to anthologies, legit good reviews, and a rising number of likes, shares, and comments.

It was working. I was making it.

But by April 2015, I hated everything. Especially writing.

At the time, I didn’t understand why. All I knew was that I had a dull, tightness in my chest and that sitting down at the computer made me psychosomatically sleepy. While I kept showing up, it took more and more effort to get words onto the page or post, to be engaging on social media, to make the ask, to answer the email, to fill the well–to do the work. My head hurt, my heart hurt, and nothing I was doing felt good anymore.

In short, I’d run out of fucks.

And so I quit.

I quit as if I’d never come back. I packed up Elle Belle Media into cardboard boxes and shoved it into storage. I dismantled the Patreon. I stripped this site and unbranded my social media. I backed up my files and hid them in my hard drive. And then, same as you flush everything you know about calculus after the final, I let Forgotten Relics slip down the drain, along with my expectations of writing fiction–or anything–ever again.

I was out. I’d failed. I couldn’t hack it. Time to move on.

Honestly, I didn’t miss it. Not at first. I was simply enjoying the huge relief of pressure. While all my deadlines and goals were self-imposed, they were crushingly real. To suddenly not care about followers, likes, income streams, or wordcounts was freedom I hadn’t had since my first entrepreneurial days in 2009, six years and a wildly different path ago. I spent my days working part-time, watching House, being pregnant, and generally not doing much of value.

But by the time Christmas rolled around, I started to get itchy. I wondered if I really was never going to write again, a thought that gave me panicky chills. New directions were suggested–spiritual memoir, creative nonfiction–but that only made me itch more. I realized that I wanted fiction back. At the very least, I wanted to finish the series I’d started. But I wasn’t sure I could. The idea of returning to that straining, never-enough life made my sphincters clench. Not exactly the right attitude for your alleged dream career.

The breakthough came quietly, in a thin but steady drizzle, until it formed what should’ve been obvious from the beginning: I’d sucked all the joy out of writing.

I’d done everything “right”–scheduled, networked, engaged, diversified, shipped, funded. It should’ve worked. But the key to creative work is the artist’s love for their creation, and I’d traded that for success dictated by numbers rather than soul-satisfaction. I started treating writing as have-to instead of want-to or get-to, an obligation I increasingly resented. I was fishing for approval while burying my bereaved muse under impostor syndrome and algorithms.

I didn’t love writing anymore because I’d chosen a path without love.

Needless to say, I felt like a complete twat. I’ve literally spent years exhorting other people to cling fast to the joy in their work, to give the finger to how you’re “supposed to” do things and let their inner artist run the show (within reason, obviously). And here I was, a sorry victim of ignoring my own advice.

But underneath the ashes of that mortal embarrassment was the spark. The love of the work, the joy of spinning a tale, the elation of creating new worlds and people and seeing what kind of trouble they can get into and out of.

I laughed at myself when I realized what I’d done to destroy my love of writing; I cried when I realized the spark had survived the torch I’d set to it.

That’s when I knew I could come back.

It’s been a cautious return. Knowing I’m prone to squeezing the enjoyment out of creating doesn’t magically negate the tendency. I have to be mindful about my attachment to social media and analytics; I have to be gentle and balanced with my goals; I have to check my heart and keep praying for guidance. I have to hold it all lightly. Which is hard for a recovering perfectionist with a rep for producing high-quality work at a ridiculous pace.

But I’m doing it. A day at a time, a sentence at a time–I’m doing it. And although it’s harder work in some ways, it feels so much better.

So. That’s the story.

Here’s the take-home:

The world will always tell you it’s not enough. It will always come up with reasons why the way your spirit steers you is wrong. It will always show you a better way. It will always compare you with someone else and find you lacking. It will never be satisfied.

The world does not have your best interests at heart.

Fight back. Don’t let the world define your success. Listen to the voice inside that sings along with creation–little c and big C. Remember that the joy of your art is what brought you here. And no matter how many followers or sales you have, that joy must be your constant, your guiding star. You may never make it big, but that’s not the point. Not really. The work is a gift, and gifts are meant to be used, to be shared lavishly, not gripped so tightly they suffocate.

Let it be easy. Hold it lightly. Do it with love.

Do it for love.

How fandom loves: Let’s be weird together

The weirdness in me honors the weirdness in you - Supernatural fandom

{Author’s Note: This post expands on something I said at an Ad Astra panel that I felt needed to be shared. There’s so much grossness out there regarding mental health and fandom, separately and together; I figured we could use a little love. Enjoy, comment, share. Mwah.}

From the outside, fandom can look stupid and awful. It can look like a gaggle of overweight, undermatured collectors who read too many comics in their mom’s basements. It can look like codependent interneters with nothing better to do than whine about their depression. It can look like oversensitive idealists attacking the “real world”’s views of gender, sex, race, and ability. A misanthropic mess of squabbling, nitpicking, ignorant children. It can look like a lot of things. not many of them good.

But from the inside, the view is remarkably different.

First, we first fell in love with a story. Before we Tumbled, cosplayed, or fanficced—maybe even before we shipped—we saw something beautiful on the screen or on the page, and we absorbed it into the fabric of our being. Not long after, a little voice inside whispered, “You are not alone.” And because we were outsiders, treated as less-than, othered, marginalized, we didn’t believe it, but we kept watching and reading and crying and laughing and soon we wanted to believe it. We needed to share our love of the story. That’s when we took those first tentative baby steps into the world of fandom. We sought out places where others gathered, unsure if we belonged, clutching our dearest plush to our emblazoned T-shirts, eyes widening at the wonderous temples that have been built to the stories that showed us who we are.

And then we fell in love again.

As we started goobing out with other story lovers, we got to know each other. Over time, we discovered that the thing(s) that make(s) us weird, awkward, different, broken, flawed out there were not only common in here, but normal. They had them, too. We were shocked to be seen and welcomed, heard and validated. To realize these people cared about us because, between the stories and the struggles, we’re the same. People who love us.

Our people.

This is the special beauty of fandom. It’s an understanding that connects us in ways we may never experience outside the community. It creates an organic support structure—a way to help without pretense. If you struggle with hyperfocus that makes you forget to eat, and I struggle with anorexia, we can have lunch and swap theories about Neville being the Chosen One. If I’m lost in depression, you can come watch Guardians of the Galaxy with me so I feel loved without having to talk. We’re afforded endless opportunities to see and support because we have this framework of storylove around us.

No, the fandom community isn’t perfect, and yes, there are problems. But that’s true for any group. What makes fandom so precious is that, even when it’s tense and feelings are hurt, the core of our relationship is always the love of a story. We’re on the same team.

We’re fans. Fandom is about love—for our stories and for each other. As long as we remember that, no power in the ‘verse can stop us.

Limited back of the month - fandom crossover - slippedstitchstudios