10-12 Pills

Most days I take 10–12 pills to help manage my bipolar disorder. Some help with symptoms, and some help with side effects from the ones that help with symptoms. “Most days” because some days I forget some or all. One of the side effects is poor memory. (One of the support drugs is usually given to people with traumatic brain injuries to help heal holes in the brain.)

I started on this combination a year before the pandemic hit. I had been misdiagnosed and mis-medicated for decades. After a new psychologist (not my psychiatrist mind you) landed on rapid-cycling bipolar 2, I spent three years going on and off different psychotropic medications and combinations. It was not fun.

Finally, my psychiatrist (whom I do love even if I was snarky about him above), approached me with this experimental regimen after digging deep in the journals.

Right away, it pumped the brakes on my suicidal ideation, which had been midrange-to-severe since adolescence. It also reined in my manic and depressive episodes. It tripled if not quadrupled the number of days in a month that I felt like myself. Yay drugs!

That was two years ago. But nothing exacerbates mental illness like stress. Throughout the pandemic, my episodes have been slowly but steadily becoming more frequent and more intense. It isn’t bad enough to make me want to start dicking around with my meds though, especially since my suicidal ideation is still tiny compared to how it used to be.

So, I will stay on my 10–12 pills a day. I can’t imagine what Covid-era living would have been like without them.

Hidden in this discussion is the fact that there’s more to managing bipolar than taking pills. Even in the best of times, faithfully taking the right meds has only meant my episodes eased up. I still had to do what I could to prevent them; I still had to avoid those behaviors that invite them. And when episodes happened, I still had to navigate them and the fallout from them.

That’s all still true today, only more so because it’s no longer the best of times.

Having a mental illness is hard. Having an untreated one is even harder. If that’s your situation, keep trying. Join a support group (online for now). Find somebody who can advocate for you when you can’t do it for yourself. Ask for help when you need it.

It took me decades to get to a place where life feels worth living more than half of the time. Decades because I didn’t want to be a burden, I didn’t want to be seen as weak or crazy.

Don’t be like me.

What Watching 366 Weird Movies Will Get You

I watched every movie on the 366 Weird Movies List between December 2019 and December 2020, and what did it get me?

Conspirators of Pleasure (1996) - Moria
Still frame from Jan Švankmajer’s Conspirators of Pleasure, and also me snorting up all the weird

Well, I learned a lot.

I learned a lot about movies in general—what makes them good or bad or different from one another. I watched movies from every era of filmmaking and saw how the medium progressed. I learned about artistic movements I’d never heard of (like the amazing Czech New Wave). I discovered new beloved directors (like Jan Švankmajer) and had an excuse to revisit old ones (like Jean-Pierre Jeunet). I watched classics I never thought I’d sit through (the original Solaris comes to mind). And I’ve exposed myself to a lot of storylines in a very brief time, which was one of my goals with/excuses for this project.

I learned how to judge a movie by its own criteria. And I learned, or rather reified, what I love, like, and can tolerate in a movie and that I dislike a lot of “good” movies and thoroughly enjoy a lot of “bad” ones. I discovered that weird movies can be boring, that they often have a limited number of elements in common just like any other genre. For the weirds, it’s mostly little people, dreams, drugs, mental illness, and penises. To back up, speedbump style, over the penises, it was the almost always ill-informed depictions of mental illness that irked me most, for publicly known personal reasons. Although, there were a few mind-blowing, heart-rending times when they got it right, or close to.

All of these things were foreseeable, really. But I also gained something completely unexpected from this project—comfort. During this fucked up year, so full of tragedy and anxiety, stuck at home with my family in close quarters, I always had something to look forward to. I didn’t even have to choose what to watch, I just had to ask, “What’s next on the list?”

It was like having a film curator hand me treasure day after day. Not every film was to my taste, certainly, but even the incredibly boring Soviet art films and the annoying zany 60s movies had some kind of value. To be honest, the only ones I hated (read: became violently irritated with) were all children’s movies. Ugh!

So, I will miss the List. I will miss hunting down titles on popular and obscure streaming services and in the second floor hinterlands of Tucson’s insanely well-stocked video store, Casa Video. (Well-stocked if you’re looking for hard-to-find, at least.) I will miss the anticipation and delight.

And yes, the website (366weirdmovies.com) continues and there are all of the apocryphal titles for when I need a fix, but it won’t be the same. This was the kind of thing you can only do once.

I’m glad I did it. I’ll go back again to many of these films. And some of them will be favorites for a long time to come.

To cap it off, here are the 42 movies from the 366 Weird Movies List I rated above 4 stars, mostly at 4.5. If I included all of the 4 star titles, there would be 136 more! These are not in order of preference.

  • Being John Malkovich (1999)
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
  • Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
  • Destino (2003)
  • It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2011)
  • Swiss Army Man (2016)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • The Taste of Tea (2004)
  • Crime Wave (1985)
  • Survive Style 5+ (2004)
  • The Blood of a Poet (1932)
  • Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)
  • Save the Green Planet! (2003)
  • Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992)
  • Freaks (1932)
  • Dementia (1955)
  • Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
  • Hour of the Wolf (1968)
  • Conspirators of Pleasure (1996)
  • Wild at Heart (1990)
  • The Apple (1980)
  • The Double (2013)
  • Sin City (2005)
  • Mr. Nobody (2009)
  • Upstream Color (2013)
  • Videodrome (1983)
  • John Dies at the End (2012)
  • Repo Man (1984)
  • Holy Motors (2012)
  • Institute Benjamenta (1995)
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
  • The American Astronaut (2001)
  • Mulholland Drive (2001)
  • Idiots and Angels (2008)
  • Black Swan (2010)
  • The Pillow Book (1996)
  • Dead Man (1995)
  • Brazil (1985)
  • Antichrist (2009)
  • Barton Fink (1991)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Delicatessen (1991)

Ebook vs. Paperback: FIGHT!

When I was four, I would clear off bookshelves and sleep in them. As a teenager, I would hold my head sideways to read rows of spines, remembering the stories and theories I’d read in each book, and I would imagine some new friend coming into my room and being oh-so-impressed by all of the very cool titles I had amassed. (Of course, that never did happen.) There are eight bookcases in the room where I am right now, all crammed top to bottom with hardbacks and paperbacks and the occasional binder or notebook.

But if you give me a choice, I’ll take an ebook almost every time.

I know, I know, ebooks don’t give you the same visual or tactile or olfactory experience. Maybe not even the same cognitive one, since people might comprehend and retain less from ebooks, though the jury is still out on that. I also have no problem admitting that some books need to be bound: children’s books and Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix come to mind.

And there’s an even deeper argument from some corners of the indie scene, where print books are recognized as a way to circumvent the censorship and homogenization of culture perpetrated by Amazon.

Is there guilt, then, in preferring ebooks? Not really. If a book I want comes out from a press that only does paper, I’ll buy it. Good for them for taking a stand. If a book I want comes out from a press that releases it in paper and then three months later as an ebook, I’ll wait, and sometimes forget.

Why do I opt for ebooks then? Because I love my e-reader. Not like an “I am very fond of this device” kind of love, but like an “I feel connected to it at all times by an invisible cord” kind of love. (Don’t tell, but I might love it more than my phone.)

I love that it’s small and portable and water-resistant. Reading in the bath is my nerd-version of a spa day. I love that I can change the published font if it’s hard to read. I love that I can make that font huge if my eyes are tired. I love that I can take it anywhere and nobody knows what I’m reading; that I can set it down and keep reading without having to perch something on the opposite page to keep it from closing; that if I fall asleep it keeps my place.

Let’s go back to guilt. There is no guilt if I decide to stop reading an ebook. It does not sit on the shelf looking sullen. And let’s be honest, life is too short to finish every book you start. Some books suck.

There is no guilt in highlighting or making notes in an ebook, and I do not have to tolerate my spouse’s incredulity when he sees me defile a page in a paper- or hardback book, and defile I do. (Except library books. I’m not a monster.) Plus, ebooks are easier on the budget and the forests.

I have eight full bookcases in this room and no room for anymore. And I am not the only reader who lives here! Ebooks give me access to far more books than my small house can accommodate. With ebooks, I can fit 400 books in my backpack. So when it’s time to bug out, hit the road, go underground or get on the spaceship because the planet is no longer habitable, and other people are asking, “Which three books should I bring?” I will have all of my ebooks—at least for a while. Of course I’ll also bring along Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters Remix, because some books really do have to be bound.

Photo by Evan Bench

Midyear Check In: doldrums vs.tidal wave

This morning I was part of a conversation about goals for the second half of the year. After I adjusted to thinking about 2020 as ever possibly ending, I semi-jokingly answered that my goal for the second half was the same as for the first: keeping my shit together.

I don’t have a big project that I’m working on. It happens. And when it does, I always feel untethered and slightly dissociative. The worst of it is I equate not working now with never having done anything of consequence ever.

I know that’s dumb and irrational. Have we met? Then I’ve told you I have bipolar. This particular cognitive glitch is just the tip of my irrational iceberg.

To prove to myself that I have done projects of value this year, I’ve decided: blog post.

Six months into this craptastic year I have, in no specific order:

  1. Prepared The Shelter for its release with Cabal Books
  2. Released Dog Doors to Outer Space: A Compilation of Bizarro Writing Prompts through Filthy Loot
  3. Curated Bizarronauts, a page for flash fiction inspired by Dog Doors, on the Filthy Loot website
  4. Written around 20 poems and short stories
  5. Placed two short stories in anthologies
  6. Edited a couple of short stories and one novella for friends
  7. Finished Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook, which I’ve been trying to do since May 2018
  8. Made it to 250 on the 366 Weird Movies list, though I did start in mid-December
  9. Received a tentative date for the publication of Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel from Thicke & Vaney and started rereading to see what needs to be fixed
  10. All while navigating the unknown territory of a work-at-home spouse, a teenager who can’t get out to be with his friends, and amped up manic-depressive cycles.

Not too shabby I guess. As for the next half of 2020, given that the world doesn’t go any further to shit, I’ll keep writing and reading and watching movies, waiting for the doldrums to pass and the next tidal wave to sweep me off my feet.

By unknown employee of HS Parsons, Public Domain 1850

Is there anyone in the boat? (Unknown employee of HS Parsons, 1850 Public Domain)



How I’m managing my mental illness during Covid 19

The call came in.

Him: “How’s your day going?”

Me: “Fine.”

Him: “Everything good?”

Me: “What’s going on?”

Him: “We’ve just been told we’ll be working from home.”

Me: “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. (Deep breath.) Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

Of course I want my family to be safe. Of course I know I’m lucky to have an amazing spouse who has a job he can do from home. But I also have bipolar and am a recovering agoraphobe. Him coming home to work meant more than just a whole lot of togetherness. It meant

(1) this is serious (read: time to freak out!)

(2) I will have zero time alone, which I need a lot of, and

(3) it meant not leaving the house.

On number three, we’re all doing it. Also on number three, it is part of my treatment plan to leave the house and be around other people if not daily then at least 3-4 times a week. Daily rarely happens. But the longer I go without leaving the house, the more anxiety-provoking and panic attack-inducing it becomes.

So far, because we are not under shelter-in-place where I am, I’ve left the house more days than not, usually to go for a drive, sometimes to pick up take away. This seems to be doing the trick since I don’t fear going out any more now than when this started. (Going into places is, understandably I think, a different issue.)

From the get-go we’ve been placing bets on when (not if) the stress will trigger a bipolar episode. When this first started there was a lot of talk on social media about how much writing we could get done, how this was the perfect time to get in shape, how now we could finally finish all those projects.

Okay, y’all can fuck right off with that bullshit. What I don’t need right now is more pressure. There’s enough stress with all the uncertainty, sickness, and death. My word count counts for jack shit right now.

But still, I do have ongoing projects. And still, I do want to keep my brain busy enough not to spiral out of control. That balance is tough for me under regular circumstances, so it’s been tricky. I’m driven to do both more and less at the same time.

There’s no way to avoid stress right now, only to minimize it. Here’s how I’ve been doing that:

  • maintaining a soft daily routine
  • limiting exposure to the news
  • knowing when I’ve had enough social media
  • going outside every few hours, usually to play fetch with the dog (which, because she’s bad at it, counts as exercise)
  • trying to keep a good sense of humor and stay flexible when things don’t go according to plan
  • remembering that I am smart and resourceful
  • watching a shit ton of movies (or doing whatever is going to take my mind off things)

Turns out, if you’ve ever had to manage mental illness, every one of those coping mechanisms will already be familiar. The only thing that’s new is that now a whole lot more people can benefit from them.

Of course that’s not all I’m doing to keep my head on straight. Here are a few more that are somewhat more targeted for those of us with DSM diagnoses:

  • being open with my loved ones about how I’m doing
  • maintaining communication channels with my therapist and psychiatrist
  • accepting my limitations
  • taking my medications and not taking anything that will interfere with them
  • being aware of and diverting from irrational and excessively negative thoughts

No one knows how bad things are going to get or how long this is going to last. That’s not catastrophic thinking, that’s just how it is. The most important thing we can do right now is take care of ourselves. As harsh as it may sound, it’s the least we can do to avoid putting more strain on the already over-burdened medical infrastructure. And in the best of circumstances, if we take good care of ourselves, we can help take care of others.

Do you have other coping skills that you’re finding super helpful right now? I’d love to hear about them.


By Mccxlvv, CC BY-SA 4.0

On How I Continue to Absolutely CRUSH S. T. Cartledge in the Survivor Winners at War Pool

By eating crow, that’s how.

Two weeks ago I said I would stand against points earned from Edge of Extinction until hell froze over or until it served me to change my mind. This is the week it serves me to change my mind.

While I scored one point from Adam, who hung on to his life in the game by his fingertips, I scored two from EoE players: Amber for narrating the first quarter of the episode and Ethan for nearly passing out while going up and down that mountain for firewood 20 times. But he persevered, medics were called, he talked about surviving cancer and wanting to be an inspiration to people, the women rallied around him for the final ascent, and that’s how good TV is made. And how I get my third point for the week.

My beloved curmudgeon Tyson was sadly voted out, but hope is not lost and points can still be gained when Edge of Extinction is in play.

At this point, Mr. Cartledge has 1 point to my 5. It’s getting a little embarrassing. I’d throw him a bone if I could, but choices were made and the unfolding of events is out of our hands. He’s just lucky that Natalie is going to come swooping back in, kick everyone’s ass, and win it all.  And that might—just might—give him a chance against me.

Installing Dog Doors to Outer Space

Dog Doors CoverThe idea for a collection of bizarro writing prompts really took hold of me in October of 2018, while I was on a family vacation. We’ve all been there, scrawling out the first draft of a proposal on the cold bathroom tile of a mid-rate hotel because it’s 2:00 in the morning and we don’t want to wake the sleeping spouse and child. And from those meager beginnings, a year and a half later here we are, getting ready for release. That’s not a bad pace in the world of small presses.

What makes Dog Doors one-of-a-kind is its TOC. At first I was relieved when almost every one I invited to submit agreed to. Then with the open call, the radness just kept coming both in the form of authors with whom I was familiar and a few delightful surprises. In the end, my original plan for 12 contributors expanded to 15, each one bringing something unique and valuable to the collection.

Of course, it isn’t the TOC but the actual content that really makes is special. So many of the ideas are balls out weird. What? Really? Did they just do that? Some are in-your-face crazy and some are sleepers. Each has the potential to spark dozens of different ideas in thousands of people. With 99 prompts, that makes the idea potential in the quadrillion bobillions. (Pushes glasses up nose.)

This was my first experience acting as editor of a collection, and there were a few things that surprised me about the process.

  1. As I’ve intimated, the quality of the submissions.
  2. The varying levels of complexity among the entries.
  3. How professional and enthusiastic everyone was. (I might be a cliché—what? A writer with social anxiety?—but this project meant putting myself out there in a whole new way. I was relieved to find my fears were unfounded.)
  4. The voice thing.

And by that I mean, when I first had this idea I figured bizarro writers especially would come up with prompts really unique to them. Bizarro encourages individualization like perhaps no other genre. And it was as I hoped, each entry is a tiny, well honed example of the voice of the author who submitted it. If you’re familiar with their work, you could cut the entries into strips, pull them anonymously from a bowl, and be able to say, “This is David Barbee” or “This is Katy Quinn.” The prompt may only be 15 words, but no one else would have come up with that idea or put those words in that order.

To give some thanks, as you can tell I am enormously grateful to the contributors, of whom Bradley Sands and Sam Richard have been especially supportive (or unknowingly said the right thing at the right time), and also to Ira Rat of Filthy Loot, who didn’t hesitate whatsoever when I approached him with the idea, who has been nothing but patient and helpful, and with whom I wouldn’t hesitate to work again.

I created Dog Doors because I wanted a collection of bizarro writing prompts on my shelf—something that would be a crazy, over-the-top, outlandish good time; that would never fail to inspire, to set pen flying across paper—and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

I hope you like it too.

Click here to see the full list of contributors as well as some example prompts, and to learn how to order.

Indie Lit Survivor S40 Pool is Lit Indeed

How does it feel to have double Shane’s point (no typo)? Just fine I tell ya, and thanks for asking.

This week in e2 of Winners and War, Natalie (Team Shane) and Adam (Team Amy) both claimed enough screen time (5+ confessionals) to garner us each a point. Is it fair that Natalie was voted out last week but she’s still earning points from beyond the grave? No, it isn’t, and I will double down on this until the day one of my players earns me a point from Edge of Extinction.

More importantly: (1) Is there really an epic war brewing between Rob and Sandra? Could the producers hide their boners and lady boners at the thought of it?

(2) Ben’s lovable doofus nature was on full display this week. Is he as naïve as he appears? All I know is, I want to see lots more of Ben.

(3) Danni freaked out early and let paranoia take hold. But isn’t part of the failure of the Old Folks’ Home alliance Parvati’s? Just a few words of reassurance over the course of a couple days, eye contact even, and Parvati would have kept her numbers. Oh well, c’est la vie.

(4) The whole dumping the bags things at tribal was watch-from-behind-my-hands embarrassing. Rob should know better than to whip out a command like that. That people followed it only demonstrates to those same people how much power he has. He learned nothing and showed his hand. I know a lot of people appreciate his aggressive, take-control style, but I find it wildly overbearing.

(5) And finally, from e1 rather than e2, but IMO the best thing s40 gave us this week, is this exchange between some unsuspecting Twitter user and my state-mate, Tyson.



How am I kicking S.T. Cartledge’s ass in our Survivor pool?

Narrowly, very narrowly.

Ok, to start with, here are the rules. We did a school yard pick of all the Season 40 Winners at War castaways, and points will be assigned as follows.

Winner – 10 points

Second place – 3 points

Third place – 2 points

5+ confessionals in one episode – 1 point

First boot – minus 3 points

So, where do we stand after the first extended episode with its double elimination?

One of my picks, Sandra (who, yes, I got by default, but now that she’s mine, I’ll cheer her to her final, conniving breath), had 5 confessionals. So that is +1 for me.

Three of Shane’s picks—Tony, Parvati, and Natalie—had 5 or more confessionals, giving him +3.

But hold on, because Natalie also got FIRST BOOT, which is a -3 and negates all those confessionals, leaving the final tally at ME: +1 and SHANE: 0.

Of course, Natalie could come back from Edge of Extinction and win the whole thing. Anybody could, for that matter. The important thing is living in the moment, in this moment right now, where I’m winning.

The Shelter has Found a Home

By Krolk

Relief of Diogenes with lamp and dog. Rathaus (Bern), Wikimedia Commons

I’ve recently signed a contract with Cabal Books to publish The Shelter, my Diogenes and the homeless dog-people revolution book!

Sometimes writers are asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” And often the answer is, “I have no idea,” or “In the furthest recesses of my anal column.” But in this case, I know exactly where I got the idea for this book.

There are three strands to this braid. The first strand, Diogenes, goes way back to the Bad Religion song “Get Off” on Against the Grain.

“Lascivious,” the song starts out, “It’s all that I can think of as I drag my feet searching like Diogenes.”

I would have been a senior in high school the first time I heard that song. Of course I wanted to know who Diogenes was, but without the internet (because this was 1990), or a decent library (bless the Sierra Vista library system, they do their best), all I could discover was that he was a crazy old philosopher who gave away all his possessions and lived in a barrel in the marketplace.

Which made him, of course, a perfect symbol for punk rock, with its anti-materialism, pro-individualism, anti-government stance.

And I was nothing if not punk rock when I was 17. Other bands—Minor Threat and Fugazi; Subhumans and Citizen Fish; NoMeansNo—drove home these ideas, planting them firmly in the fresh dirt of my adolescent mind, where some of them flourish to this day.

Later, I studied philosophy and even taught it at Cochise College for five years. But Diogenes is a blip in the history of philosophy when you’re doing a survey course. I always thought, some other time, when I have the time, I’ll research the crap out of Diogenes. That time was 2018.

And during that research I kept asking myself, “What if Diogenes was alive today? How would he live? Would anyone listen to him, or would he just be ignored or even institutionalized?”

The second strand came about because while I was researching Diogenes, I was rehabilitating a highly anxious shelter dog for the second time (different dogs). I had recently read quite a bit about breeds and dog socialization. And we—my dog, Penelope Facehumper, and I—were taking classes from top notch trainers who certify therapy, emotional support, and service dogs. I was steeped in dog culture, and often covered in drool.

The third and final major thread in this story-making story is homelessness. For a long time I was hobophobic, afraid to make eye contact with the homeless, afraid they were crazy or violent, afraid they’d see my guilt for being privileged. Then, in the mid-’00s, I found myself teaching yoga at a day center for the seriously mentally ill. Not everyone there was a homeless schizophrenic, but some of them were, so I had to get over my fear and fast.

So, I researched. (There seems to be a trend.) I read about homelessness, about its causes and what it’s like. I read about violence against the homeless and especially against women and the mentally ill. I kept teaching those classes and talking to people, and eventually my fear turned into compassion. (A cautious compassion, but still compassion.)

Because of the confluence of these ideas, the thought kept occurring to me as I walked my dog around our central Tucson neighborhood (near Speedway and Swan, which is infamous for its cardboard sign holders), that we treat stray dogs better than we treat people who are homeless. And, of course, we put them both in shelters.

Combine this with the fact that if Diogenes was alive today, he would no doubt be homeless–he didn’t believe in ownership, and he lived in a giant wine cask until he was sold into slavery in his old age–and with the fact that Aristotle’s nickname for Diogenes was “the Dog” and Diogenes’ followers were called the Army of the Dog, and the symbolic potential was just too good to pass up.

And that’s how I ended up writing a novella about Diogenes and revolutionary homeless dog-people.

As for that lyric about “searching like Diogenes?” That refers to the time Diogenes wandered the town with a lit lamp in the daytime. When someone ask him what he was doing, he said, “I am looking for a true man.”