Well … Now I’m Depressed

My last post was a good few months ago, discussing the fact that being mentally stable can have its downsides – notably, the fact that really, it’s kind of boring. I haven’t had a whole lot to say since then, despite my promises of more frequent posting here back at the start of the year, but the honest truth is that there hasn’t been a whole lot going on in my life; work, home, work, home … it kind of all just blends, day after day, into a mishmash of boring daily routine.

But the good news is, that’s all changed. Now, I’m depressed. (Really it’s not that good.) For the past few weeks I’ve been slowly settling into a decline of mental state, to the point where today, I spent my day off primarily sleeping in bed, just waiting for the day to be over.

It all started well enough; slept in a little, got up to make a nice breakfast of crepes and bacon. But little things set me off – things that previously might not have bothered me. I couldn’t get the coffee machine to work. The crepes stuck to the pan. The heat and humidity of northern New Jersey don’t help. And just like that, I wound up in a childishly bad mood, storming off to sleep the morning away.

And there I stayed, on and off, until now. To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m writing this at all. It isn’t deep, it isn’t important, and it isn’t meaningful. I think it’s just a way of exorcising some demons, perhaps – talking to anonymous internet people who just maybe understand something of what I feel.

The honest truth is that it isn’t really all that bad; I’m not cripplingly depressed, I’m still going to work – I’m able to function. It’s more like a festering dismal mindset, something that rears its ugly head when I have a moment to spare and nothing better to think about. Distractions – work, entertainment, movies – work well, but then of course there are the more destructive coping mechanisms as well.

For me, it’s primarily alcohol. Not anything outright alarming; nothing overly copious, no morning hangovers; just … a few beers every single night. Maybe some whiskey. Enough to take the edge off. And I don’t necessarily think there’s anything terribly wrong with that, either – it’s just a question of whether or not I’m becoming dependent on it. I haven’t really gone a night without drinking in a month or more, and I wonder how I’d feel – emotionally – if I did.

I know that this is a passing phase, and that I will recover from this and feel better. I also know that it won’t be easy making it through to that point. It’s potentially dangerous, too; not outright life-threatening, but for my physical, mental and emotional well-being. It comes with a kind of “fuck it” mentality, a sense that I just don’t care anymore, which can lead to overspending, overeating, over-drinking … you name it, I might do it.

Eventually I’ll emerge from the other side of this canyon, but like any dip into a deep well, it’s harder climbing out than falling in. The good news is that life is relentless, pushing you forward whether you like it or not, and for all the struggles, I’ve made it this far and I’ll make it further.

Until then, I’ll drink my beer, and eat too much cheese, and sleep all day if I want to. It’s the only way I know how to make it through.

Foreshadowing versus Retconning

As I enter the sixth year of writing my fantasy series, The Redemption of Erâth, I’m starting to see the difficulties presented in having an outline for seven novels from the beginning, without having a clear idea of exactly what’s going to happen in each one. Events that seemed of the utmost importance from the first book have failed to have any impact on the following two, and I’m left wondering if I ignore those events, find a way to work them back into the story, or come up with a reason why they seemed important at the time, but no longer do.

I’ll give you an example. In the first book, much is made of a mystical sword, once owned by a demon lord from ages past. It’s never made clear what the importance of the sword is, but I had some vague idea at the time that it would become the salvation of the main character to find this sword. By the third book, the sword has become a mutable and frankly indistinct weapon, and it isn’t clear whether it’s even important to find anymore.

This leads to a conflict where, in trying to foreshadow one thing, I’m probably going to have to retcon something instead. These two processes are similar in their results, but have their own difficulties and approaches. Foreshadowing requires knowing in advance the outcome of something yet to be seen or read—which requires meticulous planning—while retconning (retroactive continuity) can be even trickier, as it requires connecting dots into a recognizable shape, despite the dots not being related to each other in the first place.

One of my favorite examples of foreshadowing is in the animated TV series Futurama. In it, a character named Nibbler is discovered to have been responsible for the main character’s fate of being cryogenically frozen for a thousand years. This revelation comes late in the series, with a re-worked version of the pivotal scene. But if one goes back to the very first episode, there is an unaccountable shadow visible—almost exactly the silhouette of the character Nibbler. Thus what appears at first to be a retcon is in fact foreshadowing from the very first episode!

One of the most famous examples of retconning, however, is found in Star Wars. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi states that Darth Vader murdered Anakin Skywalker. Later, in The Empire Strikes Back, he decides to make Darth Vader be Anakin Skywalker. This requires some explanation, so finally in The Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan’s ghost explains that he had told Luke the truth “from a certain point of view”.

Some might argue that foreshadowing is the hallmark of a very serious writer—they clearly have a detailed plan for their work. The truth of the matter may be more benign; a lot of foreshadowing might realistically happen entirely by mistake, or by a clever retcon later in the story. Retcons are often seen as lazy—a quick and easy way to make things sensible without having to worry about it in advance.

I can attest that, despite the most detailed outline and storyboard, the act of writing by definition is fluid and changeable, and things will come out in the moment that weren’t expected, and change the whole story. A character that was supposed to live might die; they might go a different way, or say a different thing. This comes from the very nature of outlining: by definition it isn’t the final story, and coming up with inventive stuff to fill in the blanks naturally leads to changes in the storyline.

Personally I find retconning more fun; it gives me a chance to be extremely inventive, and come up with a reason why a certain event occurred, even if it doesn’t seem to tie in with the logic of the story itself. Foreshadowing, however, is a lot harder, and is therefore something I rarely do deliberately—usually my best foreshadows are complete accidents.

What do you think? Can you tell the difference between a foreshadowing and a retcon? And which do you think is a better example of clever writing?