Monday, September 8, 2014

The Fog of the Change

This is a difficult blog post to write.

Oh, no,  not emotionally difficult.  It's just that words are failing me a lot lately, and ALL blog posts are difficult to write.  It's difficult to write a shopping list, actually.

It's a hormone thing.  The French refer to it as something that happens to ladies of "un certain age."  Also known as "The Change." The Big M: Menopause.

And I had been warned: Many if not most women experience a fogginess of brain at the time of the change.  It can last for months, a year, even forever.

What I hadn't been warned about was that this "fogginess" has a devastating affect on my creativity.  I have lost most of my narrative functions.  I don't even dream any more.

And that's downright scary, considering that I have always been a lucid dreamer.  That is, for as long as I can remember, I have been able to drop myself into a dream state at will, and when I sleep my dreams have always been vibrant, strange, entertaining narratives in which I play many parts.

My usual habit, on going to bed, is to drop myself into the skin of a character and let my unconscious run loose.  But for the past month or two I drop myself into a character and then... nothing.  The character sits there until I go to sleep.  On the few occasions where I think I remember a dream, it was purely abstract -- no characters, no language, no drama or emotion.  More like... math homework.

On the other hand, it is less scary, because it tells me that my issues with writing really are biological.  And it's also kind of familiar, because during peri-menopause -- the build up to The Change -- I had monthly migraines that were a mini version of this.

What To Do About This

With a migraine, the main strategy is waiting it out.  And that may be possible with this.  The fact that I am aware of it may be a sign it's letting up.  (Often I didn't know what was wrong during a migraine until late in the process.)

But those words "... it could last as long as a year, or maybe forever..." kinda hang over my head.  If this is a permanent change in brain function, then it will have to be dealt with.

Start with the usual health stuff.  Consulting doctor, etc.  (However, the "fog" issue is not something well studied, and most of the literature kinda shrugs at whether anything will actually work for it.  Or even why it happens.)

Lose weight ("There's estrogen in them there fat cells!")  Except one of the side effects of this is an insanely short attention span.  I mean, it's not just the Homer Simpson effect: "I should cut out donuts from my diet .... mmmmmmm, donuts."  It's more a matter that I am thinking about how easy it is to cut out pop from my diet because I'm not feeling any cravings for it at all while I'm sipping away at a Big Gulp, and then when I notice that I just finished it, I am thinking "No more refills" WHILE I REFILL THE DANG THING.

If the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in my head is a test of intelligence, I have become a genius.

Occupational Therapy

It seems to me, though, that if this is a long term thing, that the first step is to treat it like an injury or a stroke.  Figure out what you can and can't do, and retrain yourself.

What I can do: I can beat out a scene.  This is very strange, but I can take a scene that was stuck for years, and beat out the logic of "this happens, then that happens, then that happens" and make it flow emotionally, etc.  I think this is because fitting the pieces of a scene together can be like a puzzle, and I can do puzzles.

What I can't do: I can't go on and write that scene.  I can't do "voice" right now.  The best I can do is flounder around with false starts for a long time, until I get a sentence or two.

I can: Edit finished work that just needs corrections or pragmatic shortening. (This is good because I've got a novel for you.  More about that in another post.)

I can't: Edit things that require new passages.  (Can't do voice.)

I can't: do big plot arcs, or do much with brainstorming.

I can't: do those analytical blog posts I usually do. The ones where I break down a story or film, or go into depth on it.  That started last year: I can start it, but I hit a wall.  I find that right now, I'm hitting a within a paragraph of starting.

And that, I think, might have some fatigue issue.  Brainstorming is probably a fatigue issue too.  So I'm holding off on that for a while -- just testing the waters now and then.

The big issue, though, is voice.  If I can't drop into a character and have something happen, that's a problem.  But part of that problem is that I tend to do that on a very advanced level.  My existing projects require highly nuanced voices.  So here is where the occupational therapy kicks in: I need to go back and do some beginner things.  Classroom exercises.  Writing from a prompt, jut a paragraph or so, and see if I can remind my brain of what it used to do.

The New Book

I'm also doing final edits on a book I wrote way back in the 1990s.  It is mostly well polished, because I was sending it around to publishers back then.  Editors found it charming but hard to place in commercial terms.  (I will tell you more abou that later -- probably Friday.)  There is one chapter that rambles too much, but otherwise, it really does give me an idea of what I'm aiming at.

So, ironically, I hope to be publishing a "new" book in October, in spite of the brain fog.

See you in the funny papers.


jnfr said...

Alas, I can relate. Hope your work-arounds actually work and that it clears off soon.

Are you planning anything for Oct's ROW80?

The Daring Novelist said...

Right after I posted that I sat down and wrote several pages of the beginning of The Man Who Stepped Up.

And then I slipped right back into the fog. Sigh.

I think it has something to do with sleep, though. So that's what I'm going to work on. (ROW80 goals, 10 hours of sleep per night, with a stretch goals of naps?)