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Dear Trout:

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Welcome to the first installment of Dear Trout, my hopefully weekly advice column. Look, we all know shit happens, sometimes I’m gonna skip a week or something. My plan is to do two questions a week, unless this really takes off and I have to bump the number to keep up. You can submit your questions here. The form asks for a name so I can refer to you while still maintaining your anonymity, but some of you put your government names on the form, so I’m worried that I didn’t explain that part correctly. So, I’m dropping the idea of using names at all. It’s still on the form because I’m lazy. Put a good name for a penis in there, if you feel like.

On to the questions of the week:

I wish I had a fun question, but I just lost my mom and I’m a grieving, lonely mess. Do you have advice for someone who is desperate for some kind of sign, to be able to believe there’s an afterlife? I’m so afraid that she’s either forgotten me, or just isn’t out there anymore and I’ll never see her again. Or maybe she realized I was a bad daughter and hates me now.

We all know that I’m an ooky-spooky, twitchy-witchy, new age buffoon with beliefs so extreme that I sometimes bully myself over them. I’ve talked before about hauntings I’ve experienced, the fact that I was in a coven at one time, I’ve even done tarot readings on YouTube. I have no trouble, as Jenny “crystals have energy” Trout, telling you that there is an afterlife. Not just an afterlife, but more actual lives after this one, and some of them may be on Earth, a fact I think about every time I fail to recycle a beverage container. There’s an afterlife. The universe is too specific to be by accident.

One thing I can’t explain is how to believe in it. I was raised religious. I have no mechanism to doubt, so I would be talking out of my ass if I tried to even speculate on how not-doubting works.

What I find really interesting about your question is that you say you want to believe in an afterlife, but the scenarios in which your mother forgot about you or started to hate you are only possible if there is an afterlife. I feel like that’s a pretty powerful sign of two things: you do believe in life after death, and what you’re experiencing is a natural feeling of abandonment that happens after a death.

You know logically that death isn’t a choice we make. We die because we’re ill or we die because we’re old or we die because there’s an accident. But whether the death is expected or sudden, we always want an explanation. Why, God? Why did you take Aunt Hildy away? She was only a hundred and seven! It doesn’t make sense, but our logic brains can’t accept that grief is its own process. We feel our human confusion surrounding death and interpret it as something that can be cleared up with an easy answer, even while we know there is no easy answer. Your brain could be saying, “Since we can’t blame mom for leaving, let’s blame ourselves instead. Then something will make sense.”

I think that when we’re grieving, we have to be careful about how we let our brains talk to us, but doing that is exhausting on our own. I think it would be a good idea to look into getting a counselor, if you haven’t already. There are people out there who can unpack all this stuff way better than I could ever hope to, and guide you through it. And I hope things get better and you can get to a place where you allow yourself to look forward to a joyous reunion with your mother.

What is the best way to overcome executive disfunction with regards to writing? I can break the process down into tiny steps, but actually starting can take me months.

I struggle with executive function (“What? No! But you’re so consistent and organized!” they said, sarcastically), especially when it comes to focusing on just writing the damn thing. I’ve found a few things helpful. The Pomodoro Technique has worked on-and-off for me. If I can do it and really stick to the rules, I can get a good few weeks of work out of it.

When that fails, I use a program called Write or Die 3. There’s a free version online, but I bought the full program for its “Peril” mode. You set the amount of time you want to spend writing, the amount of words you want to write in that time period, and then you hit “Ready?” The program shows you a cute little animated cat, prompts you to name it, and then tells you that this cat you have just named trusts you and has no concept of betrayal before revealing that the cat is dangling over some deadly green liquid. If you stop typing, a chain will slowly begin to lower the cat toward the danger juice. It is incredibly motivating.

I’ve also found that sprinting with others is a great way to get words on the page. One of my group chats has a Discord server where we can drop in any night, from 7pm-11pm EST and use a plug-in that I believe is called Sprinterbot to keep track of our time and word counts. It ranks participants from most words to least, so if you’re competitive, that’s an extra layer of fun. But it helps to just do the activity with someone else. If this is something that appeals to people, we could always add a channel for this purpose to the Trout Nation Discord; just chime in and let me know.

But if it’s not concentration and executive function holding you back from starting, then it might just be imposter syndrome or a fear of imperfection holding you back. In which case, fuck those things. You’re allowed to write. Nobody has to give you permission. You can write the thing just because you want to. Tell yourself a date and time when you’re actually going to start doing the thing. You cannot get out of it. No excuses. The most intimidating part of starting is actually doing it, but once you start, that hard part is over. You don’t have to start from scratch on that project ever again.

That’s all for this week. Submit your questions here or give our friends your (gentle) thoughts in the comments.

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Here for the first time because you’re in quarantine and someone on Reddit recommended my Fifty Shades of Grey recaps? Welcome! Consider checking out my own take on the Billionaire BDSM genre, The Boss. Find it on AmazonB&NSmashwords, iBooks, and Radish!

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