I’m one of those people who doesn’t recognize his own stress until it erupts at the wrong moment. I feel fine (I’m fine! Really!) for a whole day or week or whatever, no really, I’m okay. Then suddenly a stressful moment hits and I realize I have no reserves left and something inappropriate escapes me.
For example, this past weekend I was playing in my usual every-other-week tabletop role playing game, and one of the other players–who’s been a friend of mine for more than 35 years–made a role-playing choice that was super super annoying.
Normally, we’d handle this in-game, where the characters play out the scene, or I’d meta-game it for a moment first to let the other player know where this was going, to make sure they wanted to play this out. (In fact, if he’d continued to play out the scene that way, it would have meant the end of the party, in a “they go or I do” situation.)
But I didn’t do either of those things. Thoughts swirled around in my head and I had no way to put them into a coherent structure. I looked at my friend’s face in the Zoom window and could not imagine what I should do next. Does it make sense to say I’d gone blank when I had dozens of half-thoughts appearing and vanishing in my head before I could even examine them? I hope so, because that’s what happened.
So, I said I needed to take a break (not in a particularly calm way), hung up my headset and walked away from my computer. It was sort of close to our usual break time anyway, and I refilled my water bottle, had a slice of bread with a fancy Lebanese red pepper spread, and washed my face. And I thought it might be a good idea to step away from the game for a few weeks, when this feeling would (should) have passed.
When I returned to the Zoom meeting, I was embarrassed. I was supposed to be role-playing and I’d fucked up.
The other players understood, because I’d already told them at the start of the session that I was being evicted.
You can tell I never went to Journalism school by the way I bury the lede. Maybe I’ll drop this part in the subject header, so no one misses it.
I moved into my current apartment with my then-girlfriend in Oct 1994. We’ve had our whole relationship here, and in 2019, I bought her a silver necklace to celebrate the 25th anniversary of living together. We raised our son in these rooms, cooked every meal, celebrated every holiday. It’s not, you know, a great apartment by any standard, but it’s where our memories were made.
But I don’t own this space, so when my new (as of the fall of 2019) landlord dropped me a note saying they were going to remodel this whole building–and everyone needed to vacate–it did not come as a shock. It was more of a “Winter is coming” moment. We knew it was possible–maybe even inevitable–and when it finally happened it was like death. I had hoped for more time.
For the record, our landlord has given us a lot of time to find a new place and has offered to pay for a moving company, which is very generous of him.
Me, I’d like a new place in this same neighborhood. I’m about to leave to look at an apartment one block over from my current place, and I’m still put out that the place three doors down from us, which was laid out in the same format as the place we have–our furniture could have gone into the same layout there as here–was snapped up a day before I got that email.
Just got back from the place up the street. This was our third apartment tour, and the first we actually liked. There’s no basement storage, but it’s bright and clean, at least. Also, this was the first landlord/realtor who bothered to wear a face mask. (All we had to hear to cross off one place we looked at was “I think they do more harm that good”.)
To get back to the point: All of my novels have been written, in part, at my local library branch and at the Starbucks down the street from it. I’d hate to spend a whole pandemic year working in an inadequate space at home, checking every other day for news of when the libraries will reopen, only to be forced to work someplace new.
And yeah, it’s stressful. And I’m carrying that stress just under the surface of my day to day, having pleasant conversations with my wife about what we should have for dinner, or what books/clothes we’re going to donate instead of pack, or what we’re going to do with the board games we played when our son was ten but haven’t touched in years.
Until something is suddenly Too Much, and I’m welling up with tears because the Shang-Chi trailer looks so fucking good. Or maybe it’s Harold Finch, injured and stumbling into his library, to ask the machine if it knew his only friend in the world was about to be murdered, but already knowing the answer and also knowing everything is his own fault.
In fact, during the same gaming session, we were chatting about Person of Interest, and I was trying to explain to two of the players why I loved it, and that it started off as a very good show in a specific genre that becomes a great sci fi show as it goes forward, and they kept asking me when it became “good” so they could skip the early stuff. Normally, I would have pushed against that sort of framing, but my thoughts were swirling around and I couldn’t respond. Not the way I wanted to.
Now, a mental state like this might sound like it would mess with my writing and writing progress, but writing is a kind of safe space for me. I’m still making progress. I have less time than I used to, but I’m still hitting my goals.
And this, too, shall pass.
Last thing: When I first received that email, I tweeted about it, then deleted the tweet because I thought people might assume I was asking for financial help. I’m not. This isn’t a financial emergency for us. It’s just going to eat up time that could be better spent and it’s going to add a bunch of bullshit stress. Which is not to say that folks should drop out of my Patreon or whatever. I’m grateful for your support and it definitely helps, but I don’t want folks to think this is a call to action. My family and I are okay for now.
Until someone posts a cute kitten video on Twitter and I just lose it.
Take care of yourselves, get vaccinated when you can, and stay safe.