On Snow Leopards

Snow Leopard in the Altai Mountain region Let me tell you a story. It involves my ex, but it’s not that kind of story. He’s not a bad person, and there were several years of things working as they should in our relationship.

During one of those years, we had a conversation about snow leopards.

“In Tibet,” he told me, “there’s snow leopards, and there’s dogs. The difference is when you throw a rock at them.”

“You shouldn’t throw rocks at animals anyway,” I objected.

“Shhh, this is about why I love you. So they say, you throw a rock at a dog, it runs away.”

“You still shouldn’t throw–” I was getting a little miffed on behalf of these poor animals.

“I know, bear with me, okay? A dog runs away. But you throw a rock at a snow leopard, you know what it does? It vectors the trajectory and comes for where the rock originated, figuring there’s food there one way or another.”

“As well they should. People shouldn’t throw rocks at animals.”

“See, THIS is why I love you.”

Which just puzzled me more. “Because I don’t throw rocks?”

“Because you’re a snow leopard. People can’t tell that from a distance, but if they throw a rock, they fucking find out.”

“…that’s one of the nicest things you’ve ever said to me.”

He grinned. “I aim to please.”

Yeah, there were reasons I married him, even if things ended up where they did.

Anyway, the whole point of this trip down Memory Lane: be a snow leopard, chickadees. When a rock hits you, figure out where where it comes from, and if there’s food there, kill it and eat its still-steaming body…

Crap. I think the metaphor broke down. I need more coffee.

Over and out.

Finite Willpower

Storm in Southern Kansas Torrential rain. Strong winds. Soaked earth. Flood advisories, and the yard looks like a war zone. I am endlessly glad we’re in this house, and not the old one.

I finished the weekend-weekend (today extends yon weekend for the kids, but not for me) by slapping parental controls on my Warcraft account.

No, not for one of the kids.

For me.

Because the shortcut is there on my desktop, the game is built to be addicting, and OMG it’s so tempting to think “just 20 minutes of grinding a little more Golden Lotus rep, it can’t hurt,” and then I realise an entire day has gone. I’d be angry at myself for lack of discipline, but that doesn’t really solve the problem, right? The time spent making myself feel miserable can be used far more productively.

It’s important to have discipline, and the other half of discipline is setting things up, as far as you can, to make it easy to do what you should. Willpower is a finite resource, after all, and it just makes sense to structure everything around writing, as far as I can, to make it easier on me. Practice makes discipline easier, yes, I’ve said that a million times. I also say: try to arrange things reasonably, as far as possible, so you don’t have to struggle more than one already does with the task.

So: parental controls. The Freedom app. Closing the office door, if you have one, if you can. I can work despite incredible distractions, but I often find I don’t want to.

I often quote the old adage “Habit is the best of servants, but the worst of masters”. Nipping a bad habit (playing WoW all damn day) in the bud is easier than wrenching a long-established habit (my writing schedule) around. It’s easier to make the decision to put the damn controls on despite feeling like a morally-reprehensible addict (yes, that’s exactly how I felt) when one already has the habit of writing time burned into one’s synapses and daily decision-making. (The fact that the mortgage needs to be paid is also a wonderful concentration aid.)

I’m sure I’ll click over to sign on into WoW several times today and be reminded that no, that’s not what I need to be doing with my writing time. That’s okay. Falling off is not a bad thing, it doesn’t make you weak or a terrible person. It does, however, require you to dust yourself off and get back on, and it’s easier to do that if you don’t spend a long time beating yourself up. Calling yourself nasty names, engaging in negative self-talk or cognitive distortions, takes up energy I could be using for writing. Stopping and redirecting is hard, but it’s worth it to build the new habit of shortening the time between falling, shaking the dazed noise out of your head, and getting back up into the saddle.

photo by: rsaxvc

Spring Planning

Genesis Yesterday I took a ramble with Miss B, mostly because we had both been trapped in the house that damn flu. (Side note: this morning I woke up to my nose tingling so much my teeth almost hurt while my body decided to flush vestiges of the sickness out. FUN.) It wasn’t until we were halfway through the woods that I put my finger on what was nagging at me: the ferns were back, and new-lush green. Not only that, but the trees are bearing tiny buds, preparing for spring. This led to me checking around the house when I got home, and yes, crocuses and snowdrops are beginning to sprout. A bit early, but I’m sure they know their business. If it means winter’s grip is loosening, well then. I’m just hoping no late frost kills all the bulbs and the trees, but they can’t both be wrong, can they?

Which means it’s time to start thinking about this year’s vegetable garden. Some kale overwintered from last year, and the garlic I planted in fall is coming up too. It will be nice to dig a bulb or three up and do an actual garlic braid eventually. Tomatoes, sugar snap peas, beans, chard and more kale, and maybe some cabbage. Sauerkraut made from one’s own cabbage, wouldn’t that be a treat? Plus I should probably get some mason bees. Since the neighbors have very small children, a honeybee hive is not a good idea yet. Plus, bees are technically another pet, and I’m not allowed any more unless one of the ones we already have shuffles off to Animal Heaven.

Also, yesterday, we took the Yule tree down. The holidays were calm and quiet, but I was still twitchy all the way through them. That’s one thing about trauma: getting better involves processing, and you don’t have the energy to process if you’re drowning in stress. Lowering stress tolerance means less stress, and that means more energy for processing–so even if things are going well and you’re still jumpy, it doesn’t necessarily mean bad things.

There, that’s my deep thought for the start of the year. Time to go get some writing done, while spring tiptoes closer.

photo by: Indy Charlie

Even Rocks Change

Fireworks Happy New Year! I spent my Eve trying to sleep off incipient flu, and woke at midnight to Miss B shivering and whining against me as the fireworks went off. Odd Trundles, of course, was snoring happily, not giving a damn about the noise since he was in his crate with his blankies and a chew toy. (He shall be a puppy lo unto the ending of the world.) In any case, I hugged Miss B until she calmed, and we both fell back asleep together.

New Year’s Day yesterday brought a new chapter of Selene (we’re going back to weekly postings now) and a hole in my roof. Said hole was NOT the result of squirrels chewing desperately to get in, as so many of you seemed to think, but of improperly-installed flashing around the chimney. Fortunately the neighborhood handyman (everyone around here hires him since he’s reliable, reasonable, and comes back to check his work) was able to get up there and fix it, so my first day in the New Year was full of someone doing me a good turn. Even if I was shuddering and aching from the blasted flu.

2013 was an okay year. I got a few books out, started learning the piano, got help resurrecting both SquirrelTerror and Selene, got the first book of writing essays off the ground (again with help), started freelance editing (my waiting list has a few spots open, if you’re interested), and spent the whole complete year, top to bottom, in my very own house. Not bad.

There was other stuff–a friendship I depended on going on hiatus, helping other friends struggle through some pretty intense stuff, the Princess learning how to drive and the Little Prince making a number of developmental strides that mean he’s no longer a little boy. Everything changing around me, and the funny thing is, now I can look and see how much I’ve changed too, but I thought I was being a rock for other people.

Even rocks change, I guess.

So, my chickadees, here’s where I’m aiming for 2014. I’m not resolving to lose weight or any of that shit. I read this Cracked.com article about harsh truths making one a better person, and while I think most of it is needlessly douche-y, this part made me think:

“But I’m not good at anything!” Well, I have good news — throw enough hours of repetition at it and you can get sort of good at anything. I was the world’s shittiest writer when I was an infant. I was only slightly better at 25. But while I was failing miserably at my career, I wrote in my spare time for eight straight years, an article a week, before I ever made real money off it. It took 13 years for me to get good enough to make the New York Times best-seller list. It took me probably 20,000 hours of practice to sand the edges off my sucking.

Don’t like the prospect of pouring all of that time into a skill? Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the sheer act of practicing will help you come out of your shell — I got through years of tedious office work because I knew that I was learning a unique skill on the side. People quit because it takes too long to see results, because they can’t figure out that the process is the result.

The bad news is that you have no other choice.
David Wong

So, my aim this year is to do. Keep practicing the piano, to churn out a couple books I’m not contracted for as well as the ones I am, to build my editing business, to up my running mileage. Concrete goals I can chop up into little tiny pieces, then beat my head on each tiny piece until it shatters and I’ve achieved not only a bloody head but also a step closer to what I want. In other words, this is Galactica, what do you hear?

What do you say, chickadees?

Let’s bring it home.

photo by: Miia Ranta

Shoes

Run

Ice is melting on my pant legs. I just worked these off and set them on the table.

Some things about running:

* Go as slowly as you need to.
* Be cautious–you are soft and squishy. Cars, pavement, and dirt are not.
* It will take a while for the runner’s high to get there. When it does, enjoy it.
* Each run is different.
* You will plateau. That’s okay. Your body’s just preparing for the next jump up.
* It’s not about speed, really. It’s about being able to evade the damn zombies.
* And outrun other nasty things.
* Five, ten, fifteen seconds to begin with? Good. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Lastly: let’s not give up, you and me. Let’s not ever, ever give up. Deal?

Your Frenemy, Fear

piano Piano lessons proceed apace. I like practice better than lessons, not because my teacher’s bad–quite the opposite, he’s very patient and gentle. No, I am terrified of lessons because they’re like performances, and each time I go in I hear various nasty things screamed at Childhood Lili:

* You’re not musical, you’re a joke!
* This is a waste of time, you can’t learn this!
* You’re wasting money on lessons for something artsy!
* Your teacher’s going to laugh at you!
* EVERYONE’S going to laugh at you!

The struggle for me is not the actual learning or the practicing. I enjoy both, I like practicing alone at home. I love doing scales after dinner with a glass of wine. Instead, the struggle is to go back, week after week, and deal with the terror of quasi-performing, and to fight the deep irrational suspicion that not only am I unteachable, but I’m also wasting someone’s time by not knowing what the hell I’m doing. I’m afraid of blanking out when I go in, even though I’ve practiced there’s this fear of not being able to play anything, of vaporlocking and having my brain turn to oatmeal.

My teacher has assured me that this is sort of normal, and that he can tell I’ve been practicing, and that I’m at least teachable. So that’s nice. I’m sure it’s an exotic experience to have me wide-eyed and set on stun every week.

The Little Prince and Princess both love their lessons. The Princess’s teacher told her it was a joy to have a student who actually practiced, and the Prince’s teacher makes funny faces with him all through the lesson. So they eagerly await their weekly half-hour, while I start to feel the mounting dread a couple days before.

Still, there’s a certain satisfaction in enduring this sort of thing, especially when you can begin to wear the terror down. I’m not going to stop the lessons, mostly because I want to learn but also because doing so will require paperwork and LO I LOATHE PAPERWORK OMG YOU JUST DON’T KNOW. The stubbornness I’ve built up over my entire life is proving useful once again. (Publishing is a great way to either go mad with despair or teach yourself absolute stubborn persistence. See also: deciding very young to survive in an inimical environment.)

So I do my practice and live with the dread. Sooner or later the fear will break, I’ll get used to going into lessons, and I’ll feel ridiculous for sweating and shaking and nervously making sure I have an escape route. Fear may be ungodly-huge and shapechanger-crafty, but I have an advantage: quitting isn’t an option.

Just like writing. (You knew I was going to make that comparison sooner or later, right?)

There are so many different times to be afraid during the process of writing a book/poem/short story. Start counting ’em and you’ll get tired of counting before you’ve even scratched the surface. There’s fear of finishing a crappy piece of work, fear of never finishing, fear of never getting published, fear of rejection, fear of your contract being dropped, fear of critics, fear that you won’t be able to write anything new, fear of this, fear of that. (See? Got tired before I even really got started.) It’s a rollercoaster of terror, different each time so you can never really brace yourself all the way.

My solution, other than just sheer idiot endurance, is to use the fear. To think of it as a spur, pushing me to do it anyway. A challenge, a dare. A way to get interesting scars I can build tattoos around, so to speak. A way to prove to myself that I’m not a coward–or at least, not as big a coward as I suspect I might be in my dark hours. It’s also a frenemy you can depend on. Fear is reliable. It keeps coming back, just like hope and disappointment. You can’t shake it. Feel it, get down inside it and look at its guts, pet it and stroke it and breathe in its rank breath. Scratch it behind its ears and croon who’s a good beast? Listen to it purr and slaver.

Running away will just tire you out. Better to turn around, so at least you’re facing it, and draw your line in the sand. There you are, and you can decide all the hosts of Heaven or Hell shall not move me.

First your fear will look more terrifying than ever. Then, as it draws closer, it shrinks. What is seen can be named, and if you can name it, you can work magic on it. Oh, this is my fear of rejection. Motherfucker’s just going to make me work better and submit more. This one’s my fear of critics laughing at me. Well, Amazon reviews haven’t killed me yet, so I might as well ignore them. Oh, this is my fear of failure. Shit, I’ve failed numerous times and am still kicking, failure isn’t that bad. Oh, there’s my fear of dying penniless in a garret, right next to my fear of the color yellow and the invisible dust-snakes under my bed. Fuck them, I’m going to do this anyway.

Of course, there are the perfectly reasonable fears that keep us from doing stupid shit. But it’s impossible to tell them apart from the silly or knee-jerk or frenemy fears if you’re not looking. Get to know your fear–and this also helps you write better, because knowing fear inside-out helps you make characters your readers can identify with. Everyone is afraid, on some level.

And with that, I’m going to go start dreading my next piano lesson. Right after I finish this scene…

Snow Day

Winter Tree They came through with trucks spraying deicer early this morning. Nevertheless, you can see where people slid getting out of their driveways, or lost control for a few seconds going down the hill. I’m glad I kept everyone home today–I have probably used up all my driving luck the past couple icy days.

The paper editions of The Quill & the Crow are now available through Amazon–hardback here and trade paper here. There’s a couple of auditions for the SquirrelTerror audiobook–you can go listen and vote for them, if you like. I’ve also opened up my Tumblr Ask page. If a particularly awesome question comes along, I might vlog it.

Of course, that’s dependent on how much time I have in a given week. The Princess and I were just talking about the subjectivity of time the other day. Dragging when you expect something, flying when you’re having fun. (Just like the Flying Spaghetti Monster!)

The dogs are both antsy today. Miss B hasn’t been run in days and she is expressing her dissatisfaction in any number of ways; Odd Trundles is taking a page from her book in between sleeping with his face pressed up against my office heater. He did that a lot when he was a puppy; I was worried he’d burn himself but it seems like he has an asbestos face. The little weirdo.

Things nobody ever tells you about revisions: the amount of resistance one feels to the edit letter is often in direct proportion to the edit letter’s accuracy in pointing out the flaws in your book; also, beating your head against the keyboard just makes a mess you have to clean up later. This concludes my daily PSA.

Off I go to head-butt the Qwerty some more…

photo by: fdtate

Self-Pubbing Recommendations

Kanincheneule. It’s getting warmer! Only ten degrees below freezing. I know, I’m a delicate PNW mushroom, we’re not used to this sort of weather. It’s like when the temperature gets above seventy–to us, that’s damn warm. And they’re saying freezing rain tonight and tomorrow, which…joy. Last time we had freezing rain we were trapped in the house under a few inches of solid ice. I am NOT KIDDING. Solid. Ice. I couldn’t even get down the driveway without slipping four or five times and falling down. I was black and blue for weeks.

Anyway, revisions on Ruby proceed apace, and I’m almost ready to start in on November’s editing queue. Speaking of editing, I’m still running the NaNoWriMo deal. When you’re ready for line editing, copyediting, and proofreading, Brian White at Talkwordy can take care of you. If it’s a cover or regular editing you’re looking for, Skyla Dawn Cameron is AWESOME. She formats ebooks, too, and it’s her I turn to for my formatting ebook and cover needs.

Honestly, I should just start a collective with those two and offer one-stop self-publishing shopping, you know?

I have a couple auditions to listen to for the SquirrelTerror audiobook; if you’re interested in a royalty split, please submit one! I’ll leave auditions open until the end of this week.

And that’s about it, except for me braving the elements today to get more milk. Tomorrow’s forecast does not look good…

photo by: martinteschner

Bullshit Makes You Tired

spiac-o-lantern Happy Samhain to you, dear Readers. It’s the start of a new year-wheel tomorrow, so what better time to eat candy until you’re sick and annoy your neighbors?

I promised to tell you about the incredibly powerful phrase “It makes me tired.” Grab a drink, settle in.

[Read more…]

photo by: istolethetv

Sarcasm and Proportion

snobgoose I was lying in bed this morning thinking about getting older. (As one does.) Which led me to think about proportion.

Once I hit 30, I began to have a standard response to all sorts of things. It’s encapsulated in one word, largely rhetorical, said with varying degrees of sarcasm or wonder.

“Seriously?”

You seriously believe Fox is real news?
You’re seriously going to do this in a grocery store aisle?
You seriously think you have the right to touch me without my consent?
You seriously think I care enough to be insulted by your opinion of me?
Does he seriously think I can’t tell when he’s lying?
Does he seriously think anyone believes the corporate doublespeak?
Does she seriously think I don’t remember what she did?
Seriously? Really?

This sense of proportion didn’t happen overnight, of course. It took the divorce, therapy, and a couple other things to get me to a place where I could look at someone’s behaviour and think “Really? This is what you’re going to do in this situation? Really?”

Often, it pulls other people up short. When I am charitable I like to think that they just didn’t realize how ridonkulous their behaviour is, and when I am busy it gives me a means to disengage and stop wasting my energy on situations that just aren’t going to get any better even with my attention or intervention. When I am cranky, feeling vulnerable, or just plain irritated, it gives me a defense against people who mistake my politeness or patience for weakness, and think they can take advantage of either.

I realize Urban Dictionary has an entry for this little word, and that it’s one of my more annoying vocal tics. But for someone raised to believe the only faint worth she had was in serving and rescuing other people, just the mere act of judging something to be so incredibly ridiculous that it’s not worth the time or emotional energy is pretty goddamn revolutionary.

Of course, the part where it’s most useful is when I look at myself and go “Really, Lili? Seriously?”

You’re seriously going to care what that nasty old man has to say?
You’re seriously going to kill yourself for this unreasonable deadline because someone else fucked up?
You’re seriously going to think that maybe someone reading your diary is a forgivable offense?
You’re seriously thinking you should rescue that perpetual-crisis person?
You’re seriously going to worry about this at 3am?

Apparently the anti-anxiety meds, as a side-effect, allowed me to take my natural sarcasm and use it to give myself a healthier sense of proportion. Nothing in the literature prepared me for that. *snork*

There is (dare I speak of it?) something even more powerful. Tomorrow I’m going to tell you about the best phrase ever, It Makes Me Tired.

to be continued