There are days when people look at me and see a vague, flighty girl with too much hair and not enough common sense. And yes, I’ll admit it—I don’t always do a lot to dispel that notion. And honestly, why should I? After all, that girl exists. She’s a real, true (-ish) version of me. Part, but not all.
Here’s the thing: when I’m on, I’m ON. I mean, it’s like being a person-sized nuclear reactor or some sort of freaky futuristic human battery that’s the opposite of those lazy, comatose ones in The Matrix.
I don’t need food or sleep or social interaction. I can literally live off the warm, quick-burning fuel of ideas. I dismantle things and put them back together and get stupidly ambitious. Sometimes, if I spend enough nights not sleeping, I make bloody anatomically-representational hearts out of cake. I go off on wild, incoherent tangents. I can’t tell the difference between a good idea and a bad idea, and what would be an unequivocally awesome idea if that last elusive piece would just drop into place. Basically, if I concentrated hard enough, I might accidentally catch on fire.
This is all starting to sound like a superpower, and it’s not. Or at least, it’s not a very good one. Similar to a number of chemical elements, when I’m in my most productive state, I’m also massively unstable, and I don’t mean in a mental-health way.* It’s more like I’m walking a fine line between sustained fission and full-scale meltdown. One false move and the whole structure will go up in a tower of flames.
It’s exhilarating, but unnerving. Let me just say, when I feel the productivity-switch flip, I tread very carefully.**
This is me taking an unnecessary number of paragraphs to say that I turned in my first draft of Paper Valentine, and then spent the last two days doing nothing.
And it was weird.
Oh, I did stuff—I slept ten hours a night and watched three different football games and made banana bread, and played video games. I read some books and did some Christmas shopping. I have yet to tackle my laundry.
But I didn’t do anything that really qualified as work. Later, I’ll probably make some floral-themed hair ornaments out of paper. I’ll snuggle up on the couch with a sandwich and a blanket and kill some more zombies. I’ll sleep really well.
Whenever I finish a project, it’s hard to adjust. There’s a big, important part of me that needs this—this complete powering down—but the quick, puzzle-solving mastermind part hates being put back in the box. That part panics and thrashes and tells me things like I’m falling behind, wasting time. Malingering.
No matter how stark and eerie sleep-deprivation starts to feel, it’s always kind of a rush to be in the heightened state. I can’t help it—I have a soft spot for the version of me where I write fourteen hours a day and bake ten pies and watch Arrested Development at three in the morning because it’s just going to be light in four hours anyway.
But she is not okay.
It wasn’t until grad school that I truly started to understand I was stuck with this part, maybe for the rest of my life. She wasn’t something I’d eventually grow out of (in fact, she was getting stronger), and so I was going to have to learn to deal with myself one way or another. I developed a strategy.
This is where the video games come in.
See, the mastermind part hates dithering or wasting time, but she loves survival horror. Whenever it’s time to ease her back into a normal schedule, I placate her with creaky ghost-towns and decrepit zombie-filled mansions, because if she feels useful and like she has a task, she shuts up. She lets vague, dreamy Brenna clean the kitchen and make barrettes and do Christmas shopping.
So, for the next few weeks, this is what’s going to happen: the hyperfocused, task-oriented part of me will sit quietly, shoot her zombies, hone her strategies and solve her puzzles. She will do this without complaint. Cheerfully, even. She will stop fidgeting and get a grip.
The rest of me will be doing good if I make it to the post office.
*I should check with D on this one, having lost absolutely all objectivity.
**Figuratively speaking. In real life, I bump into the furniture a lot.