Who here watches Parks and Recreation? Remember the episode in Season 4 when Ben is horribly depressed because he's quit his job and he resorts to making paninis and learning claymation.
Well, that always struck me as a bit unfair to creative expression for people who are depressed as the episode ends up mocking his claymation creative experiment as being something he grossly overestimates for its creative worth. It seems unfair because I wrote TYSK when I was horribly depressed, working restaurant jobs that made me feel like no one saw me as possessing much of a brain most of the time, and treating me like an idiot too low to lick a person's shoes at the worst of times. I was physically exhausted by this work, but intellectually starved and a bit degraded. People just don't respect servers here in America, as witnessed by the $2.13/hour pay and the lack of benefits for career servers who aren't allowed to work full-time to earn health insurance (restaurant managers cap hours in order to keep servers from becoming full-time employees). I used to outline chapters in my server's book on the backs of orders for endless shrimp (cajun! alfredo pasta x3!) and at the end of the night when I was cleaning my section, I'd imagine the story unfolding in vivid detail.
A friend once told me that reading TYSK felt like watching it onscreen and maybe that's because that's how the story came to me, as a saga I saw visually in my head, watching and hearing the characters in my imagination, my eyes looking inward as I was lugging around dirty dishes to the kitchen, stuffing dirty napkins in my apron to carry to the trash, and crawling to pick up the gross crumbs that had fallen underneath the booths in the corners the broom couldn't reach.
I have so much respect for servers because I know how hardworking they are and how much little respect they receive for what amounts to hard labor for little pay and benefits. At the end of a shift, I used to stand like a flamingo, resting one aching foot against my calve, waiting outside the manager's office to be checked out, blinking in exhaustion as I counted my cash and credit card slips. I used to have nightmares about my being the only server in the crowded restaurant and every single table had guests shaking their glasses at me, glasses full of melting ice but empty of sweet tea.
I was poor, working myself to exhaustion and still barely getting by, and depressed. And right around this time, my sinus disease started affecting me, constant sinus pain and a constant runny nose. For a while, I managed to work my job with tissues hiding in my apron. I'd make laps around the restaurant floor and I'd find the secret corners where I could wipe my constantly runny nose without anyone noticing. People still noticed, guests constantly asked me if I was sick, worrying I'd contaminate their food.
Eventually, I became too sick to work and my era of unemployment began. And that's when my depression got even worse and my ability to write tanked. That's when my updates on TYSK stopped.
It's amazing to me, looking back, to realize that I wrote TYSK entirely during the time I was working restaurant jobs, hating it, but functioning enough. And that dearth of mental stimulation sent me into storytelling as a means of comforting myself. Spending $3 a month to read the Season 8 comics and then writing fanfiction about them helped keep me happy, helped me feel like a whole person. And writing about Buffy's adventures, about a woman fighting to save the world, helped me experience a sense of importance. I explored psychology and politics and philosophy through my storytelling with Buffy, battling tough moral questions and coming out the other side feeling stronger for the experience.
I wrote the majority of my fiction during a time when I felt invisible and unworthy in face-to-face interaction. And writing Buffy fanfiction helped that innermost part of me that had thoughts and ideas and creativity and value, it gave that innermost part of me expression. I was seen, known, even the darker parts of me, the feelings of self-hatred I shared with Buffy and intricately wove into her story. That mask Buffy wore, I knew that mask as I smiled and smiled at my job, only for that smile to drop the moment I walked back into the kitchen and the guests couldn't see my performance. I put as much of myself into writing her as I did because I saw myself in her, knew myself in her. Unknowingly, of course. I didn't realize I was doing this. I simply felt compelled to do it because it helped me survive, like a person knows to desperately gasp for air when they surface from the water before being pulled back down by the undertow.
So I wrote about Buffy, played make-believe in my head, and I loved her in all the ways I couldn't love myself. I delved deep when I wrote stories about Buffy, sharing the darkest parts of me that I was too ashamed to express in my life as myself, but I could express with Buffy because I didn't see any reason for her to feel shame over this darkness. I loved Buffy unconditionally, saw her darkness as part of her goodness, saw her self-punishment as the tragic result of how much she cared and loved others, of how much pressure she put upon herself to do the right thing. And those moments when she was paralyzed by self-doubt and overwhelming feelings of failure--I knew those moments of stillness and the desperate need to fall into yourself, to make yourself smaller, so you'll stop damaging the air around you.
As I was writing, I became increasingly aware of my self-projecting into my writing of Buffy. One reviewer noted how TYSK was a story about self-hatred, and honestly, I hadn't thought about it that way before, how I related to Buffy on that level, not until someone pointed it out in my writing. And seeing that innermost part of me that I spent so much time trying to deny, to beat back that critical voice constantly beating myself up inside -- I started to feel hesitancy in throwing myself into writing fiction.
In some ways, I feel like I've reached an impasse because the ways in which I related to the darker parts of Buffy, I still feel these feelings. But being made aware of how the writing exposes me, while it can help me find acceptance (as I've written about before in my personal essay on Buffy and depression), it also makes it harder for me to consciously find release in writing Buffy because conscious exposure is so terribly difficult for me.
I feel like I've been holding back my heart from my writing for a long time now. I miss being brave in my fiction. Though, thanks to Buffy, maybe it's good that I can be brave in such direct ways as I am right now.