Category Archives: Goals

#nanoprep What If? What Next?


by Lillian Csernica on October 7, 2022

When I set out to write The Wheel of Misfortune (Best Indie Speculative Fiction, Volume One), I asked myself what if one of the spirits of Japanese folklore who punish the wicked came after Dr. Harrington? How could the hero of my Kyoto Steampunk series possibly be wicked? This was a great opportunity to explore the early days of Dr. Harrington’s career as a member of the Royal College of Physicians. A serious error in judgment comes back to haunt Dr. Harrington ten years later in the form of the wanyudo, the Soul Eater.

Some people think plotting your story before writing it takes all the spontaneity and adventure out of the process. I disagree. I need at least some idea of where I want to go, if only for that day’s writing. I need a target to focus my aim and build momentum. There’s still a whole lot of adventure to be had just getting from one end to the other in a single scene.

When I began writing fiction, the how-to book that gave me the best advice suggested completing a first draft, then literally cutting apart and pasting together chunks of text. That seems ridiculous now in the age of Scrivener and Evernote. I’m a hands-on kind of person. Crafting provides me with much-needed occupational therapy. This tendency has led me to rely on scene cards for building plots for my longer projects.

Time This can be the century, the year, the season, the hour, whatever you need.

Place Where does this scene occur? You can be as general as galaxy or as specific as a patch of sand on the beach.

Point Of View (POV) Which character’s head is the reader inside? Change of time and/or place requires a scene break. The same is true for a change of POV.

Goal What does the POV want to accomplish during this scene? This can also be whatever the POV wants to avoid doing.

Opposition What prevents the POV from achieving the scene goal? Another character? A natural disaster?

Inciting Incident This is also referred to as the Problem Situation, the change in the POV’s life that sets the story in motion.

Resolution How does the scene end? Is the goal achieved?

Disaster This is one word for the end of scene hook, the twist that raises the stakes and heightens tension and suspense. This is what will keep your reader turning pages.

I find using 4 x 6 notecards gives me the most flexibility when it comes to lining up scenes in different ways. Wondering where to put that exposition? Trying to figure out where a flashback won’t ruin your pace? Scene cards are your friend. Scrivener provides something similar, but I can tolerate only so much screen time. Notecards don’t put you at risk for the dangers of digital eyestrain.

It’s OK if you can’t fill in all the info on every card right away. Story ideas evolve. That’s part of the fun, and another big advantage of scene cards. You can create several variations on the same scene card. Play around with the possibilities. Be sure to keep the cards you don’t use. You never know when those ideas might come in handy!

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Filed under creativity, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, legend, research, steampunk, Writing

#nanoprep Where Do I Start?


by Lillian Csernica on October 1, 2022

#NaNoWriMo2022 is coming. 50,000 words in just thirty days. I am an eight year veteran of NaNoWriMo, and I still find the prospect of writing 1,667 words a day quite intimidating. I have number of works-in-progress underway, but this year I choose to start a new novel project. Where do I start?

For me it’s all about the characters. I have written plot-driven stories. (As a matter of fact, I found out just yesterday my latest plot-driven short story has been accepted by an anthology!) When I start a story, I tend to start in the middle of an argument between one main character and the antagonist or a minor character who gets chewed up and spat out. Open with conflict. Show the reader why the main character’s life has just been drastically complicated by the problem situation.

“The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I’ve had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, ‘DON’T THINK!’” Ray Bradbury

They key to writing from the heart of your character is to know what that character wants. Sometimes it’s more useful to know what the character does not want. People tend to make more of an effort to avoid something that will cause them pain, whether physical or emotional.

What’s ironic about this is how struggle makes a good story. The survival instinct might compel your main character to avoid what hurts. That’s sensible, but it makes boring reading. Throw your characters into the deep end and make them figure out how to swim. Characters have to learn something in the course of their character arcs. They have to change. If the main character is still the same person at the end of the story, that can be done to good effect, but most readers want to see that character fight hard, fight smart, risk everything, and win. That creates a satisfying reading experience.

Think of your character as a piece of iron hot from the forge. You put that red hot iron on the anvil and you beat on it until it takes on the shape of the tool you need. A wrought iron candle holder. A horseshoe. A sword. Beat on that character. Raise the stakes. Make it hurt. Heat and pressure will turn a lump of molten metal into a work of art.

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Filed under creativity, editing, Fiction, Goals, memoirs, publication, research, romance, science fiction, steampunk, Writing

BayCon 2022 Panel Schedule


by Lillian Csernica on June 15, 2022

I am delighted to announce that I will be appearing in person at BayCon 2022! It’s been a long three years. I can’t wait to participate in these panels. BayCon has some really exciting programming this year!

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Discover Your Process

1 Jul 2022, Friday 14:30 – 16:00, Synergy 4 (San Mateo Marriott)

You have ideas. You want to get them out of your mind and into the physical world. How do you do that? Join the panel as they discuss how they came to understand their creative processes.

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Steven Barnes, M. Todd Gallowglas (Gallowglas Army) (M), Scott Bradley

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Autism/Gender States

1 Jul 2022, Friday 16:00 – 17:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

New work suggests there’s a correlation between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Transgender/Nonbinary flavors of gender. But correlation is not causation. So is a link? And it now looks like female autistics are massively underdiagnosed, so what does that mean for nonbinary folks who may need help with ‘subclinical’ ASD issues? What about ADHD? Is there another link there that’s been overlooked?

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Pat MacEwen (M), John Blaker

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Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader

2 Jul 2022, Saturday 10:00 – 11:30, Connect 5 (San Mateo Marriott)

Editors and slush readers discuss what gets a story rejected and what they look for in a story to be considered for publications. Does and don’ts of cover and query letters can also be covered.

Rebecca Inch-Partridge (M), Emerian Rich (Self and HorrorAddicts), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

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Experiencing pestilence, war, and other significant trauma affects our lives in multiple ways.

3 Jul 2022, Sunday 10:00 – 11:30, Synergy 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

How does it affect what we write? Can harnessing personal sorrow and stress help us write closer to our main characters?

Matt Maxwell (Highway 62 Press), Laurel Anne Hill (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press), Scott Bradley

Handicapped Parking

3 Jul 2022, Sunday 11:30 – 13:00, Engage (San Mateo Marriott)

From the invalid chair to the mobile exoskeleton, people have needed mobility devices to replace abilities lost to birth defects, disease, accidents and war.

Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press) (M), Gideon Marcus (Galactic Journey), Colin Fisk

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

4 Jul 2022, Monday 10:00 – 11:30, Convene 1 (San Mateo Marriott)

Exotic locales challenge writers to get readers up to speed while keeping the story going. What weird settings have our panelists used and how did they solve the problem—well enough for the editor to buy, anyway.

Jay Hartlove (JayWrites Productions), C. Sanford Lowe (C Sanford Lowe) (M), Lillian Csernica (Sense of Wonder Press)

Come find me at BayCon and get a sticker for your badge!

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Filed under autism, Conventions, creativity, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, neurodiversity, parenting, perspective, publication, research, science fiction, Special needs, steampunk, sword and sorcery, travel, Writing

Gathering My Thoughts


by Lillian Csernica on May 17, 2022

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I enjoy writing by hand. I keep a personal journal along with writing first drafts in my work notebook. As satisfying as this is, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, if I’m doing a timed free writing session where the goal is to blow past the internal editor, I often can’t read my own handwriting afterward. Second, I then have to spend the time typing in all those pages. That makes a drastic difference in terms of getting stories polished and out to market.

Last week I decided to plow through all the notebooks I’ve been piling up. That meant organizing the ideas and random scenes and large chunks of developing stories. I was delighted to discover quite a few I’d forgotten about writing. This prompted me to indulge in two of my favorite activities: shopping at the Dollar Tree and buying office supplies. Here’s the new binder for the various bits and pieces related to my Kyoto Steampunk stories.

I’ve got more stacks of notebooks to go through. That means more binders, more dividers, and the hunt for more stickers and whatnot to do the decorating. Dollar Tree, here I come!

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Filed under creativity, dreams, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, Japan, Kyoto, publication, research, steampunk, therapy, Writing

Z is for Zzzzzz


by Lillian Csernica on April 30, 2022

Hi, folks.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these adventures from my strange and busy life.

I want to thank everybody who has been kind enough to drop by, to leave a comment, to post a link that took me to some great blogs. I had to miss out on the Challenge for a couple of years. I am so glad to be back. The A to Z Blog Challenge rocks!

I write these posts late at night. Now I’m going to put on my fuzzy pajamas, curl up under the covers, and get some sleep.

Be well!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, creativity, dreams, Goals, memoirs, Writing

U is for Useful


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2022

In Writing Open the Mind, author Andy Couturier describes how asymmetry can help the reader participate in our writing, creating a fresh and dynamic experience. “Since each combination of these dissimilar parts suggests its own meaning, its own interest and power, asymmetry in visual art or in writing encourages participation by the viewer or reader in the fertile process of creation. In a sense, writing asymmetrically is generous, because it gives the reader many different ways to understand, instead of insisting on one, that is only our own.”

I keep all the fortunes I get from fortune cookies. My friends and family know I do this, so they tend to give me theirs as well. Over the years I’ve collected at least two glass jars full of fortunes. I decided to experiment with “writing asymmetrically” by pulling out a dozen fortunes and setting them aside without reading them. I wrote out twelve questions, just going with whatever popped into mind, then printed out that page. I cut up the questions into twelve strips of paper and mixed them up, setting them aside face down in one pile beside the fortunes already waiting in the other pile. I chose a question and typed it in, then chose an answer and typed that below the question. The results can be used for writing prompts, scene dialogue, a personal journal entry, etc.

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Q: What makes life worth living?

A: A goal is a dream with a deadline.

(Sound advice. Failing to plan is planning to fail.)

Q: Who knows the secret of eternal youth?

A: You will soon be crossing desert sands for a fun vacation.

(Why does this make me think of Las Vegas or Palm Springs?)

Q: What advice would you give to your granddaughter?

A: Look closely at your surroundings.

(Furniture? Objet d’art? Choosing the most worthy granddaughter?)

Q: How do you solve the problem of time travel?

A: Good fortune is always on your side.

(So you’ll have a good time wherever you go!)

Q: Where can you find true Paradise on earth?

A: You are always welcome in any gathering.

(Makes sense.)

Q: What did the monkey say to the banana?

A: Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny.

(I’m guessing the monkey dreams about really big bananas.)

Q: How do you bring a smile to the sourest face?

A: You must learn to broaden your horizons, day by day.

(Some people bring happiness by arriving, others by departing.)

Q: I’ve lost my car keys and I have no money. Now what?

A: You are a lover of words.

(Talk your way out of that one!)

Q: How does one restore lost innocence?

A: An unexpected payment is coming your way.

(If money can’t buy happiness, it certainly can’t restore lost innocence!)

Q: Why are word problems always so confusing?

A: Laughter shall fuel your spirit’s engine.

(My teacher tended to laugh at a lot of my answers, that’s for sure.)

Q: Why are we told there are always more fish in the sea?

A: Little brooks make great rivers.

(This pairing was an accident, I swear.)

Q: What do you get if you cross a rhino with a stapler?

A: Follow your instincts when making decisions.

(First, don’t cross a rhino. Second, don’t do it with a stapler!)

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, creativity, Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, homework, Humor, memoirs, research, Writing

Q is for Quandary


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2022

Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.

In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.

In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.

When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.

This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.

John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?

So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.

Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.

Creative success. How badly do you want it?

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Filed under #atozchallenge, autism, Blog challenges, creativity, doctors, editing, Family, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, hospital, memoirs, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, publication, research, science fiction, special education, Special needs, specialists, therapy, worry, Writing

L is for Love


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2022

LOOKING FOR LOVE

The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Take love, for example. I don’t know much more about what love really is than I did when I was in elementary school. For me, love started out being this big exalted dream of perfect happiness, perfect harmony, and total devotion to each other. I think I got that from reading fairy tales. (Disney movies also have a lot to answer for.) Then I listened to what older girls said about their boyfriends. I got the impression that having a boyfriend was one of those Rules for Living that showed everybody else you knew what you were doing.

One night when I was nineteen years old, it was so bitterly cold my body heat wasn’t enough to warm up the sheets and blankets. I lay there alone, shivering and miserable, thinking if only I had boyfriend. If only I could find a boyfriend to keep me warm, inside and out. The intense desire to avoid another night like that one prompted me to do some pretty stupid things. As I look back at that cold night from the perspective of fifty-plus years, I can see that I could have saved myself all kinds of trouble if I’d just bought an electric blanket.

Ever since I met my first crush when I was in the grade, I thought the right guy was the solution to all my needs and problems. I don’t know how I got this idea. It must have been all those fairy tales, because I certainly didn’t learn it from my family. My grandparents got divorced twice and married three times. (It’s true. I have photos of two of the weddings.) My parents divorced when I was eleven. My older sister never has married. My brother had to divorce his first wife. Why on earth did I think attaching myself to some boy who probably had even less of a clue than I did would somehow result in that magical state called “true love”?

When I was on the debate team in college, the first rule was “Define your terms.” That way both the Affirmative and the Negative teams knew exactly what the Affirmative team meant by the resolution being debated. When it comes to the search for love, I think the same rule should apply. After all, the statement “I love you” can have several different meanings and those meanings often depend on context. Matchmakers, dating services, and our best friends all ask the same question, “What are you looking for in a partner?” This is where it starts to get really complicated. Does the resulting list of characteristics represent the idealized image of the person whom you want to fall in love with? Or does it represent the person whom you want to fall in love with you? Are you really looking for a healthy relationship based on mutual give and take, or are you looking for a human transitional object that will soothe your insecurities and pay for your evening entertainment?

At this point in my life, I can see that wanting this perfect person to fall in love with me meant more than just having a boyfriend so I could go out on dates. It meant proving to the world that I had achieved the ultimate validation, the concrete emotional evidence that I wasn’t a loser, I wasn’t the last person chosen during schoolyard games. I wasn’t cold, alone, and miserable anymore. That’s what I hoped. Life hasn’t worked out that way.

Right now there’s all that Easter candy out there on the shelves. Most of it is chocolate. As adults, we know which brands are better than others. We know how to compare them and get the most value for our money. This skill comes from time, maturity, and a lot of taste-testing. Kids are different. When it comes to chocolate, kids don’t care. In the Dollar Tree you can find the phrase “chocolate-flavored” on many of the Easter items. There’s no actual cacao, just a lot of artificial colors and flavors. Unfortunately, the same can be said of some people. In the quest for love, some of us who crave True Love, the Real Thing, can become so desperate they will settle for the off-brands that are cheap, flashy, and artificial. It’s so hard to resist the temptation for a quick fix that will silence those nagging cravings and insecurities. It took me a while to learn the importance of patience, of saving up for the quality chocolate and the quality people.

My mother had her opinions about my boyfriends. When I was in middle school and awash in all kinds of hormonal angst over whether or not I’d ever get a boyfriend, Mom said I was “boy crazy.” Accurate, if not all that flattering or sympathetic. Years later, after I’d graduated high school and had spent some adventurous years working the Renaissance Faires, Mom managed to sum up both the quality and the quantity of my efforts to find love: “Well, at least you won’t wonder what you might have missed out on.” Once again, neither flattering nor all that sympathetic. Thanks, Mom.

So now that I’m a woman of a certain age, do I really know any more about love than when I first started dating boys? I’ve been married for thirty-four years come July, but that’s less of a testament to romantic love than to maintaining a stable home life for my sons. In a world of uncertainties, I know three things for sure: I love my sons, I love my cats, and I love really good dark chocolate.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, cats, chocolate, Depression, dreams, fairy tales, Family, Fiction, frustration, Goals, love, marriage, memoirs, mother, perspective, romance, school, therapy, worry

K is for Kyoto


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2022

If you’re interested in experiencing the wonders of both ancient and modern Japan, then you must visit Kyoto. I live in California. It took one car, three planes, a bus, and a taxi to get me from my home to the hotel in Kyoto. Does that sound exhausting? It was, but what I found in Kyoto made it all worthwhile.

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Kyoto Station

It’s huge and beautiful. In addition to the train station, you’ll find a theater, two malls, a museum, a bus station, a 540-room hotel, and at least two dozen restaurants. Kyoto Station has its own zip code. No wonder! It’s a city unto itself.

There’s always someone ready to help, both official and everyday folks. At Kyoto Station they’re used to helping foreigners find their way around. Many of the taxi drivers are eager to practice their English language skills.

The clerk at my hotel (across the street) assured me I could find whatever I wanted inside Kyoto Station, and she was right. Isetan Department Store, free wifi, even a yen store, which is the equivalent of our Dollar Tree.

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Imperial Palace

A train ride and a short hike brought us to the Imperial Gardens that are part of the Palace Grounds. We had made a reservation for one of the tours given in English. The Imperial Household Agency runs these tours. We were directed to arrive twenty minutes ahead of time at a specific outer gate. There we found something of a staging area in the form of a gift shop with tables outside and the usual array of vending machines offering a variety of drinks.

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Toei Kyoto Studio Tour

Toei Kyoto Studio Park is not an amusement park in the sense we Americans understand it, i.e. a lot of carnival rides that will make you want to throw up. Instead, it’s living history much like the Renaissance Faire. The actors I spoke to knew their history and were more than happy to pose for photos. I consider this adventure to be one of the high points of my visit to Kyoto.

Toei Studios is behind quite a diverse selection of entertainment, including Battle Royale, Kamen Rider, and Super Sentai, the origin of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In the 1950s, samurai movies were hugely popular, as proven by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo, just to name a few.

The park also features a Haunted House. I avoid haunted house attractions because they’re usually more gory than scary. When Pat suggested going through the Haunted House, I had to do it. After all, Japanese ghosts and monsters are very different from the frights we find in the West. First stop: the Haunted Forest. I knew there was a person in the trees off to my left. It must have been a woman, to judge from the creepy ululating cry. That distracted me just enough so I didn’t see the tree until it started to fall on me. Well, that got the adrenalin pumping. I’m just going to come right out and admit I was so scared I could hardly make myself keep moving forward. By the time I got to the room where all the dolls had bleeding eyes, I was ready to run for it.

Kiyomizudera

In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples. Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind. If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera. This was the number one item on my bucket list. Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true. I致e been a lot of places and I致e seen a lot of things, and I致e written about many of them. This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories. My steampunk short fiction, which appears in the Later series of anthologies from Clockwork Alchemy, centers around Kiyomizu-dera. If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.

The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls. Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva. There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera. Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.

Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking. The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai. Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in Donnie Darko a run for its money. The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, dreams, Goals, history, Japan, Kyoto, nature, research, steampunk, travel, Writing

I is for Insomia


by Lillian Csernica on April 9, 2022

When I was a teenager I loved to sleep. Stay up late, sleep late, linger in bed, the very definition of a layabout. Science now tells us teenagers need a lot of sleep because they’re growing both physically and mentally. Adolescence takes a heavy toll on the body and the mind. I’ll vouch for that. Living through middle school meant two of the worst years of my life. Sleep as a method of escaping reality became a coping mechanism. I had what the psychologists refer to as “peer problems.” I grew up alone due to my brother and sister both leaving home when I was only seven years old. Now I was in middle school, twelve years old, and my parents had just gone through a really messy, bitter divorce. The divorce meant Dad was gone and Mom had to go back to work, so I was a latchkey kid before the term had been invented. I was miserable. I could escape that only when I was sleeping.

For somebody who liked to sleep so much, how did I develop all three forms of insomnia associated with clinical depression? It’s been a long and stressful road from twelve to fifty-six, and life wasn’t exactly all rainbows and unicorns when I was a little kid. Just to be clear, let me explain the three separate forms of insomnia:

1. I have difficulty getting to sleep.

2. I have difficulty staying asleep.

3. If something wakes me up, I can’t get back to sleep.

Do I take medication for insomnia? Oh yes. Does the medication I take work? Yes and no. If I avoid caffeine, don’t eat the wrong foods and don’t eat too late in the evening, take my pills on an empty stomach and then go straight to bed, I might have an even chance of actually dozing off in a reasonable amount of time. All of that is referred to as good “sleep hygiene.” In general, my sleep hygiene is poor. I stay up too late. That’s when the house is quite enough for me to write. I watch exciting mysteries or detective shows or supernatural movies on TV. Many of these self-defeating behaviors are tied into my depression. Some nights I’m just too agitated to sleep and the medication makes no difference at all. Then there’s the problem of my body’s tendency to acclimate to medication within about four months. Am I still depressed? Oh yes. Will I ever be cured? There is no cure for Major Depressive Disorder. There is only support through medication and therapy, along with healthy living habits and a determination to keep on climbing up out of the darkness.

I know these things for sure:

Sleep deprivation makes depression worse and causes weight gain.

Depression will make weight gain worse.

Weight gain will make depression worse.

See how easy it is to get stuck in the labyrinth with no way out? The answer is sleep. When I’m asleep, my body is restoring itself and my mind processes what’s going on at various levels of my consciousness. That processing is essential. Picture your mind as one big file drawer. When you get enough sleep, all the files are in the right order and new material gets filed and cross-referenced appropriately. When you don’t get enough sleep, information gets filed incorrectly, memory doesn’t work right, and if the sleep deprivation goes on long enough, what you end up with is that file drawer yanked out, turned upside down, and everything dumped on the floor in an impossible mess. Sometimes the mess is so bad you have what the psychiatrists refer to as a “psychotic break.”

Bear in mind I’m talking about myself here. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Newborns do very little but eat and sleep. Teenagers need a lot of sleep not because they’re lazy but because of their mental and physical growth rates. Older people might not need as much sleep as people in their thirties or forties. Your mileage may vary. All I know is I need more sleep than I get, and that’s partly due to my own bad habits. It’s important to be aware of that. The more control I have over the causes of my depression, the more I can fight it. The more I keep up the fight, the more often I win. It’s when I forget that I can stand up against the depression that it takes over. Fatigue, chronic pain, the endless stress of two special needs children, and the pandemic make it very difficult to keep moving forward. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is my friend.

Right now I’m sitting here at 1:30 a.m. It’s been another long day in a long week. Before I go to sleep, I will write down at least three good things that happened today. I will light that candle and keep it lit against the darkness of depression.

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