Goodbye, 2009

Well, another year has come to a close. It’s been a helluva ride. I’ve been broken and remade, done things I never thought I could do, and kept going the whole time. The things I feared most happened, and I discovered the world didn’t end. I’ve discovered I’m actually pretty capable, and lots of things I was taught and trained to believe about myself are not true. It’s been an uphill battle all the way, but now I feel like I’ve reached a hilltop and am looking around wild-eyed with my sword in my hand. Come on, I’m saying, who’s next? Who wants a piece of me next?

I realize this is not the healthiest emotional state, but it’s better than numb grieving or pained apathy. I’ll take it. The battle’s over, now I need to start calming down and patching things up. Harder work, because you’re not in fight-or-flight with a tight adrenaline focus. But all in all, nicer work.

I am not going to miss 2009. It’s been a great year in terms of teaching me I’m tougher than I think I am. Still, that’s the sort of lesson one doesn’t ever really like learning.

So. I’m deciding that 2010 will be awesome. It will be a lucky year, a great year. And if it isn’t, I’m still going to treat it like it is. That’s my Major Luck Experiment–a whole year where I look entirely on the bright side.

I’ll wait for those of you who know me to stop laughing before I reiterate: this is my goal. I’m gonna do my damndest.

I have other goals. Not resolutions. Resolutions are sort of airy-fairy; goals, however, I know about. I know how to break them up into little chunks and work those chunks methodically out of the way. Goals, I understand. I can kick the ass of any reasonable goal, and identifying the unreasonable ones in order to make them reasonable is one of my specialties.

So here are some of my goals for 2010:

* Read one poem a day.
* Get back into the Latin self-study; starting in February
* Continue with my now-habitual six-days-a-week exercise regimen
* Continue with the diet plan
* Grow my hair out (it’ll happen mostly without me, but it’s nice to have at least one goal like that)
* Take a basic digital photography class
* Make time for Krav Maga or yoga classes (I am not picky, not one little bit)
* Clean out my garage (again)
* Write the homicidal-fae and Bannon-and-Clare books, between the stuff I’m contracted for
* Get all my work in on or under deadline, barring major disasters or Acts of God
* Shrug and smile and say, “Oh well, I’ll deal,” more.
* View everything that happens as good luck, one way or another

Whew, what a list! How am I going to fit all these things in? Like I said, I’m no stranger to breaking things up into little chunks and chewing the life out of each chunk. I begin to think it’s the only way I ever get anything accomplished.

So, welcome, 2010! I’ll be watching drunken shenanigans occur out in the rain on my street (I know several of my neighbors have reserved firecrackers for this occasion) when the clock ticks over. But I’ll be smiling quietly, probably with a glass of wine I began sipping and savoring when the little ones went to bed, and I will have my first act of the New Year be two sentences.

“Hi, 2010, we’re going to kick some ass together. Let’s get started.”

Over and out.

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Oh, Louisa May. You go, girl.

It’s funny–the further along I go, the more the Universe steps in to help out. I could also view it as my thinking changing so I can take better advantage of opportunities. Potayto, potahto. Like I told the Princess when she asked me if the gods are real: whether they’re psychological constructs or actual beings, the net effect is the same–and you need to be just as careful about what you believe.

Anyway. The Selkie sent me this great link about Louisa May Alcott this morning; the American Masters episode is on tonight. (I will probably not watch it; our telly is DVD-only.) Of all Alcott’s work, I liked A Long Fatal Love Chase best; Little Women irritated me beyond bearing but I persevered because it was a Classic. I did like Jo the best out of all the March sisters, true. It was impossible not to, really. I wanted to slap Meg and send Beth to a hospital. And Amy? I’d slap her twice.

The thing that strikes me in this article about Alcott is that she decided what she was going to do, and she wrote what would sell because she wanted the money. This is treated as a revelation, because in our society artists (and women artists in particular) are not supposed to be in it for the filthy lucre. Money is at bottom, implicitly supposed to be the preserve of men. (As Ann Crittenden points out, when Motherhood started becoming sacred was when mothers started getting really economically screwed.) It’s news that Alcott was a hack, yet the fact that Poe, Dumas, and Dickens were hacks lacks a certain power of titillation.

Reading the Alcott piece, and listening to the interview, I was struck with a single vivid scene: Louisa May, like Scarlett O’Hara, swearing she or her folk would never be hungry again. Louisa May wrote to sell because her family was hungry, and instead of bemoaning it and dying gracefully she decided to do something about it.

Nobility is hard to come by when you’re starving. We have these myths of the Noble Poor, and that’s what they are–myths. I’ve been poor, and there’s nothing noble about it. It’s terrifying and dirty and ugly. When people are frightened and hungry, nobility is the exception. You can’t count on it.

Louisa May Alcott “resolved to take fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.” (Amen to that.) There was none of this “I’ve been rejected so I’m going to give up and bemoan that Editors don’t want my Precious Prose.” Instead it was, “I’m going to find out what they want, and I’m going to give it to them the best way I know how, and they are going to pay me for it. And if it takes me getting rejected fifty times, why then, I’ll get rejected fifty times. Or a hundred. Or a thousand. But they’re not going to lick me.”

Oh, Louisa. Over a hundred years ago you decided this, and you’re still an inspiration. You go, girl.

As for me, dear Reader, I’m gonna go take Fate by the throat and shake some more. Care to join me?

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No Choice

First, the links! An octopus who loves his Mr. Potato Head. Lauren Leto’s screamingly funny Readers By Author. And Bitten By Books is discussing the Jill Kismet series today.

And now, for the Friday post.

Not everything in my life centres around writing. It just looks that way.

I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight lately. Part of that is stress, another part of it is exercising six days a week. Also, a couple weeks ago, I picked up a book about using cognitive therapy to help normalize your relationship with food and weight. Yes, it has the word “diet” in the title. I believe it’s a fact that DIET’s first three letters are a warning. But it’s equally true that I have a messed-up relationship with food. I know cognitive therapy works for me, so I’m willing to give it a go.

Several of the exercises in this book centre around “answering sabotaging thoughts”, especially when it comes to the “it’s not fair” portion of life’s program. Yes, it’s not fair that our bodies are built to store extra against famine, and it’s not fair that during times and societies of plenty we get obese and shorten our lifespans. It’s not fair that I can’t eat the way I want, be sedentary, and be as physically fit as I want to. It’s not fair that I have to drag myself to the treadmill and that I have to write down the calorie counts of what I’m eating. It really, truly, is not fair.[1]

But that is the way it is.

One of the strategies for answering these sabotaging thoughts–because that’s what they are, they’re little saboteurs–is an index card with the words NO CHOICE printed on it. Every day, when I read my reasons for putting myself through calorie restriction and exercise, the NO CHOICE card is also there, and I read it too. If I want to become as physically fit as the goal I’ve set for myself, I don’t have a choice.

Which brings me to writing. My Friday posts are about making a living writing for publication. To me, this involves the discipline of writing every day (something I’ve caught quite a bit of flak for saying) and acting professionally and reasonably even in the face of rejection and bad reviews. It involves putting up with shifting deadlines and making the effort each day, every day. Sure, I’d rather sit up in an ivory tower and be a Speshul Snowflake, but that won’t feed the kids OR get me invited back to be published again.

There are several times during the day when that little NO CHOICE card flashes through my mind. As Dr. Beck points out, there are rules in everyone’s life. You don’t struggle or agonize over brushing your teeth, do you? (At least, I don’t. And neither do my wee ones.) It’s just the way it is.

Here’s why this is valuable: if sitting down to write every day is a rule, you don’t struggle with it. You make time to do it because it’s a priority. You have no choice. Getting into the mindset that this is important and you don’t have a choice about doing it increases your chances of getting published exponentially. Because you’re treating it seriously. If you can make time to catch that TV episode, you can make time to write every day. If you can make sure you have a latte every morning, you can make sure to write every day. Getting into the habit of considering daily writing a fait accompli is your first step.

Once you have a good solid discipline of writing every day, you can do what a lot of professionals do and take the occasional day off. Your busy little brain, in the habit of working through stories, will still be working all through your “day off”. Plus, once you have a good solid disciplined habit, it’s easier to get back into it after a holiday. But discipline is like a muscle, it must be used or it atrophies, and I have not met a single professional writer who doesn’t need to exercise that muscle and spend effort to start it back up again after a holiday.

Viewing this as a “no choice” thing frees up a lot of energy I would otherwise use bitching and moaning about it. It gives me a lot more energy to just concentrate on what I’m doing. It’s the same reason I find rollercoasters relaxing–from the moment I’m strapped in and the car jolts forward, I’m in the hands of the gods. I can’t do a single thing. It’s a submission to the inevitable, and it works for me.

So here’s my advice if you want to write for publication: get yourself an index card and write NO CHOICE on it in the biggest blackest letters you can. Read it twice a day, and really think about the things you make time for, the priorities you have. If writing is not on that list and you want it to be, do it. Just say “it’s not fair, oh well, I have no choice, I HAVE to write today.” Set your kitchen timer for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, and go to.

You’d be amazed at how those two little words–both the “oh well” and the “NO CHOICE”–open up time where you thought you had none. It’s not fair, you’re right.

But that’s the way it is, and it’s the best advice I can offer.

Keep writing.

[1]Somewhere David Bowie is snarling, “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

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Even my best friends, they don’t know…

First, the links: I did the Page 69 Test for Flesh Circus. Here’s James Scott Bell on What, Writers Worry? and Nathan Bransford on how to respond to an editorial letter. The inimitable Gillian Spraggs has more on the Google Books Settlement and Monica Valentinelli on Plagiarism and Too Much Free. I’ve been saving some of those links for a bit, things are crazy.

I was on the treadmill this morning (big surprise, I’m up to six days a week on that damn thing and wishing I could do more) and Van Morrison came on in my headphones. Singing The Philosopher’s Stone.

Even my best friends, even my best friends they don’t know
That my job is turning lead into gold
When you hear that engine, when you hear that engine drone
I’m on the road again and I’m searching for the Philosopher’s Stone.

This particular version is from the Wonder Boys soundtrack, which I happen to like a great deal. (The Bob Dylan track that opens the album is Rose’s theme song in smoke, as a matter of fact.) The movie itself, based on a Chabon book, is about a writer who’s kept hammering at a manuscript to follow up his award-winning first novel…but that’s like saying Seven Samurai is about loyalty. There’s a lot more involved.

Anyway. So there I am on the treadmill, and I realize why I like this song so much.

It’s because it’s damn right I’m looking for the philosopher’s stone. My job is to write, yes. But an artist’s job–even a hack like myself–is to transform the world. I write because I must. The world demands it. Pain and joy both demand it. I take the things that could fester and destroy me, the things I scream against, and I write to perform one of the oldest magics known. I name a thing, and that name alters the essence of the thing. I write because it’s the magic I was made to work.

Lead and gold are different things for each traveler, and the method of transmutation is different too. It’s different for each bloody pebble and chunk of lead you find. It is a most personal magic, arrived at through trial and error. One size definitely does not fit all. My lead isn’t yours. The stones I drop in the water to make soup are different from the stones you’ll use. It’s cold out on the road, and fellow travelers may not even see you–because they’re searching for their own method of transformation.

Still, it’s nice to know there are fellow travelers. And it’s good to feel a piercing joy, so sweet it makes the tears start, when you realize a fellow traveler is putting words on your own journey.

Up in the morning, up in the morning out on the road
And my head is aching and my hands are cold
And I’m looking for the silver lining, silver lining in the clouds
And I’m searching for and
I’m searching for the philosophers stone

Yeah, Van. Me too.

Me too.

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