Going It Alone

Yesterday, a friend from what seems another lifetime, posted a job opening for work that I used to be qualified to do. He’s a good guy, working with good people and my first impulse was to dust off my resume.

And that’s me pretty much in a nutshell. I never bothered testing the waters with a toe, I’ve always just jumped in head first. More than once this has resulted in me gasping for air as my chest contracts and a vagus nerve shorts in both literal and metaphorical deep, arctic waters.

Back in 2012, faced with the genuine possibility that I might not be long for this life, I made a decision to leave my career position and set out on my own path. With little more than some inspiration from other writers as my guiding light, I’ve been wondering the deep dark woods of publishing now for five years. Yes, I’ve been lost. Quite a bit actually, but I’m trying to remain relentless in the pursuit of my dream. Too, I’ve been lonely much of the way.

Even yesterday’s momentary glimpse of life’s superhighway, jam-packed with traffic, got me excited like a hermit emerging from the wilderness. Money, companionship, a microwave and a water cooler, even lunch dates with other adults: all of this initially looked to me like the Emerald City. But then my van made me hold off a moment before I necessarily jumped in head first.

I had to load it on the ferry then drive home with a tired six-year-old. Somewhere between the calming rattle of the diesel engine and a merciless search for errant deer it occurred to me to give this whole idea a second and third thought. Sleep on it even.

This morning, I hopped a boat to the mainland once more, this time to buy a used MacBook Air. As I’ve written previously my 2013 MacBook Pro is borked, but good. It’s been desk bound since early last summer and is increasingly showing signs of its impending demise. Add to this that my most productive writing more often than not occurs at a coffee joint or bar, and you’ll quickly understand why my word counts have dwindled to nearly nothing.

All of this morning’s work has been on the drawing board for some time. I’ve been scraping together the funding for a used replacement because I’m just not terribly productive without a functional machine. Plus, tomorrow, I’m headed to my first Clarion West workshop with J.M. Sidorova. SQUEEE!

“I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.”
― Ursula K. Le GuinWords Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week

On the boat this morning, sitting in my van, I realized that this is one of those pools of water I’d be better off avoiding. Sure, all that society looks terrific, but I know that soon enough I’d feel claustrophobic. Eventually, I am confident, the same soul-crushing work I spent nearly fifteen years doing would once again begin to pulp whatever remains of me today. All of this, all these thoughts about what looked like an oasis but which was actually quicksand, were before the realization that once again I can write.

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Checking In

After yesterday’s angry tirade (which I have since taken down) I had a conversation with my wife. Specifically, we talked about my writing and we did this because I’ve been feeling like an utter failure of late.

During the spring and summer of this year, I submitted a stack of short stories to a bunch of different markets. About 300 times, absolutely all of them came back negative. With not even a nibble I began to suspect that I might be doing something wrong.

This summer and fall, between the atmospheric funk caused by the West being on fire and the psychic funk of living in a dysfunctional country, my word count plummeted. I’m struggling to write anything that doesn’t immediately come off as “Angry White Man.”

All that lumped together means I’m feeling a lot of failures.

Okay, so one of the things a check-in is good for is that it can help a person figure out where they’re at. Done. Then it can be used as a place from which to plan.

Writing is important to me. First, because it’s been a significant part of my personal therapeutic regimen since the seizures started. Simply talking about the way I feel isn’t enough, when I write it down, however, I seem to be giving myself what I need to work through all those feelings and challenges. Second? Well, I’ve just got a lot of science fiction-ish ideas. I mean, that’s what my brain does when it has nothing else to do. I can go for a walk in the woods and come home with a novel idea for interstellar travel or fold a pile of laundry and walk away with an overland trekking idea on a distant world.

Apparently, my stories lack much in execution. I’m too wordy, not descriptive enough, lack tension, raise the stakes too high, can’t spell my way out of a paper sack, end sentences annoyingly, can’t start a sentence interestingly, use the wrong font, use the incorrect size of the right font, lack an author platform, am “that kind of writer,” am that other “sort of writer,” use too many curse words, drop the f-bomb, am too creative with my profanity, am not creative enough with my use of profanity, can’t write humor, my attempts to be serious or authoritative come off as doltishly funny, use too many adjectives, lack a wide vocabulary, ignominiously use too many ten-dollar words, and apparently any voice I might have manifested drown in the sea of voices of people all making exactly the same ineffectual attempts to write compelling and entertaining fiction. My failed attempts to write about anything are legion.

Tess’ advice to me was to get into some Clarion classes or maybe look for some other online programs. And truth be told I have virtually zero formal training in how to be a writer so this might be useful. I’ve also got another round of books on hold at the library, so there’s that.

Frankly, it’s possible I just need to stop worrying about publishing … anything … anyway … anytime. Turn this whole enterprise inside so I and my works are protected from the boilerplate criticisms I’ve subjected myself to in the past. I don’t know.

The sensation of failure is never enjoyable and I’ve been wallowing in it.

The Perfect Dream

I’m going to break the Primary Unspoken Rule of Writing right now. Why? Because I had this dream last night that woke me up. Instead of it being one of those cold sweat, terror induced exercises in heart stopping I was in fact awoken by self-induced paroxysms of joy. Seriously!

Retro Futuristic City by HTECORE

The dream, as best as I can recall, centered around the idea that I had started a gym. People would come to my gym to swing around like Tarzan or Spiderman. Sort of a city sized exercise in parkour in which no one ever missed a leap or came down hard in a fall. And I was the *best* at it.

The setting was rich, luxurious.  Somewhere between the vast darkness of Los Angles in Blade Runner and the vertical richness of The Fifth Element, and the whole time I was flipping around this place like a trapeze artist operating outside gravity.

Like I said, I awoke from this dream, and a huge grin was plastered on my mug. I felt elated and I spent the next hour or so contemplating all the “whys.” “Why was that dream so good?” “Why did I wake up from feeling so satisfied?” “Why can’t I do this on command in my waking life?” “Why don’t I have the words to describe this amazing experience inside my dumb skull on the page?”

 

Back On the Rails

Derailing

So, if I’m honest with myself, I derailed last January. ConFusion 2017 was a great big ball of fun, and I came home inspired by all the excellent people I got to hang out with for three whole days of Sci-Fi enriched shenanigans, but I also came home with a raging case of pneumonia. By early February it had consolidated in my right lung to such an extent that the doctor I ended up seeing seriously tried to get me to go to a hospital.

I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I completed the prescribed levofloxacin followed by self-congratulations because of “how great I felt” in the aftermath of my affliction with the reduced price tag for the cure. “Yeah me!”

The March rolled over me with a second bought of walking-pneumonia.

#Derp

So yeah, I lost my writing discipline. Round about April I found myself doing anything but writing. Instead of getting up in the morning and laying down words, I did the dishes I should have done the night before.

And so it went, me letting crappy little things get in the way of my desires. For a while there I even considered the possibility that rejection (and there has been plenty of it since January) was a sign that perhaps Sci-Fi really wasn’t my calling.

I derped once and then couldn’t help but derp again.

Derp.

Derp.

Derp.

This morning I woke up, compelled to evaluate my current situation and my future prospects. An existential crisis fueled by OCD. While standing on the ledge just outside the window of my metaphorical 13th-floor apartment, I was lucky enough to have an interested friend to talk me back inside to chair in front of my writing desk. Also, “Yeah me!”

Re-Railing

My writing group continues to send me reminders that they’re meeting every Sunday. Writing friends have asked if I’d like to get together or why I’m almost never seen at the coffee shop banging out words. I’ve even gotten polite queries about when the next episode in a space opera series might be released. Ok, so there are people out there who a) like what I write and b) want me to write more of it.

There’s even this overlooked gem of a review for The Big Red Buckle which has me thinking I should engage Melanie S. as a blurb writer for future projects. 

Much of my distress and worry regarding my writing of late is tied to the notion that I’m not actually making anything close to a living from it. Classic cart-before-the-horse thinking I know, but still, there it is. Add to this that I’ve sent out a literal butt load of submissions since the start of the year and all of them have come back negative for a variety of reasons.

I expressed this to another friend recently at a chance island encounter, and his response was both pragmatic and worthy of my attention. “If you find someone to work with, do it on your own.” He’s entirely correct, but again that damnable compulsive voice in my head, there are days when I can’t stop obsessing about the rejection.

So, the outstanding question right now is “How?” How do I get myself back on the rails, headed down the tracks toward some yet-undefined-life-goal? Make some money from my words? Write the best novel ever written? Write a story I’m happy with?

How about, “Just continue to write?”

Summer

Summer is *not* the best time of the year for a stay-at-home Dad and writer to reinvent himself, this is a fact of my life of which I am critically aware. That said, I know that I can write 300 words a day without taking much time or it devouring much effort.

So we’re back to this simple goal and will build from there. Three-hundred words a day and down the tracks.

Wishing I Had a Button


The days are short and usually damp and cold. A social current of unrelenting cheer is washing over me, eroding the foundations of sanity. It’s fake. A put-on job meant to fool the fools. Then there are the long nights.

I wish I had an off button. A severe and merciless depression is banging on my doors. My hinges are worried and cracked. “Excuse me while I disappear.”

Things That Interest Me

These are things that have gotten my attention lately, listed in no particular order. For the most part, they are people, ideas or technologies that are influencing what I write.

  • Bajau: This is a culture of marine nomads that mostly hang out in the tropical waters around the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Some of them live in pole houses off the coastlines of land masses, but many live on houseboats or other vessels.I love seeing and reading about these people because they’re giving me insights into how some cultures will adapt to sea level rise in a climate changed world.
  • Bamboo Railroad: I first learned of these abandoned rail lines running through the hinterlands of Cambodia when I randomly found the video below. Seems the rails are a relic of French colonialism that the indigenous people have turned around for their own benefit.Apparently, the rail cars are mostly constructed from bamboo. The wheels and axles are often scavenged from tanks left over from Cambodia’s eight-year-long civil war. The complexity of the social system that allows operation of these simple carts has to be amazing to witness. How you flag a cart down? How do carts pass one another on the same line? Who manages line maintenance? What happens in the event of a washout or flood?Technological primacy in a post-climate-change world is what I getting from here. Imagine what we’ll scavenge and convert when the power of our government is severely limited by its current ineptitudes.
  • Mycotecture: The material science of growing things out of mushroom mycelium. There’s so much potential for sustainable and even innovative goods being quietly developed these days. Other than the sterility requirements, accomplishing this on your own appears to be completely within reach which means that open sourced techniques for developing your own material — say, interlocking bricks for building or “leather” for clothing — are right around the corner.
  • States’ Rights: By concentrating power at the state level, proponents of “states’ rights” believe that policy can be more accurately tailored towards the needs of that locality’s citizens. But the concept of States’ Rights was incubated in a world that was not simultaneously host to multi-national corporations or the influences of fast and ubiquitous global trade. When considered from the vantage point of the general welfare of a country it’s easy to see that this ideology is both self-concerned and short sighted.The problem is that this ideology has become the dominant paradigm in American government. Hell, we just elected the Oompa-Loompa and Chief and he’s seen fit to use what little mandate is in his possession to fill each of his cabinet posts with an antithetical choice of what that post requires. In other words, Donald Trump is very much like Casey Jones except that he intends the wreck.

    The power will, then necessarily reside at lower levels of government. Whatever will we do?

    As I’ve said previously, I think the thing to do, given the situation, is to adapt. So I’m exploring ways in which people, and by consequence, myself can adapt to a major shift in government. Places with long traditions of bigotry, authoritarianism, and ignorance will likely become more like those places. But that social geography doesn’t prevail throughout the land, does it?

    I also imagine “Cascadia” rising from the trees and frankly, I think that this is where people should be building coalitions and doing their best work. Working this into fiction is more or less my full-time job.

What the What

It’s bath time and I was using this parental free time to check up on what’s going in with our new Ompahloompah and Chief. Just and observation, but apparently I’m not allowed to customize my news feed ‘s range of input.

Breitbart is to news as drain field effluent is to a healthy, nutritious snake. Like so many others, I too would very much appreciate the ability to exclude fake, biased, and bigoted sources from my feed.

Google, just so you understand, this is the kind of bullshit design that quickly runs toward deal breaker in my book. Fix it, fix it fast, because normalizing racist, misogynistic crap like this has already done incalculable damage.