Too Damn Hot

I think the recent heat has disarranged Odd Trundles. His appetite has diminished, which is…not usual. At least he’s still scrabbling after whatever hits the ground, but he’s lost some weight and doesn’t seem interested in his kibble. This all started with a couple nights of it being too warm to sleep comfortably even with the AC on, so hopefully a break in the weather and sleeping outside his crate on some cool hardwood will help. Yesterday he was lethargic, but the heat enervated everyone at chez Saintcrow.

Us pale Northwest mushrooms don’t do well when the mercury climbs.

I spent the weekend running, running, running to get the daily trivia of life packed away. Now that it’s Monday, I’m exhausted, and going for a run before caffeine probably didn’t help. I used to get up, grab a banana and some milk, and head out, saving coffee for when I returned. Seems like that might not be the best strategy anymore. In any case, I came home, washed off the sweat, and had second breakfast with my usual two jolts, and I’m waiting for it all to settle.

I know I should be working on HOOD. I know I should be gearing up for revisions on Maiden’s Blade. Nothing seems to be working right on the page, though. I had to toss a hard-fought chapter in HOOD and re-do it from the ground up, and though it certainly worked after I finished, the aggravation was intense. How long will it be before I gain any joy in what I’m writing? Lately it’s been a slog. A miserable one, too, considering I get itchy and weird if I don’t write. Annoyed if I do, driven to distraction if I don’t–it’s enough to make me want to swear off the whole thing and become a plumber. A taxidermist. Something, anything else.

The only way out is through. I know this. I also know this is leftover stress from the various problems with Afterwar, cumulative rasping on the physical mechanism until it frays. Knowing it doesn’t make the deep snarl running just under my skin any easier to soothe. Current political events don’t help my mood, either. I’m having to institute a moratorium on news just to save what little insulation I have on my wires.

Meh. I’m too anxious and annoyed to go on complaining. I suppose I could simply retreat to the couch and read something happy today, or curl up and watch a Shaw Bros. movie. Or I could just get over myself, get some ice water, and get back to work.

Guess which one is more likely. Go on, guess.

Over and out.

Poster Beware

Add one more reason for me to delete my Facebook and never look back: the proliferation of scammer feeding grounds packed with vulnerable people. Just take a look at this horseshit going down in FB-town, my friends:

Facebook, by making desperation so easily searchable, has exacerbated the worst qualities the treatment industry. A word-of-mouth industry with a constant supply of vulnerable and naive targets who feel stigmatized and alone is a scammer’s paradise. Facebook does have tools to report groups that are abusive, but given the murky definition of patient brokering, Facebook’s legendary lack of transparency, and the fact that it already went to a lot of effort to promote the earlier incarnation of Affected by Addiction, which Mendoza himself admits was a deceptive marketing scheme, Facebook hardly seems like a good arbiter. (Cat Ferguson, for The Verge)

Now, if FB had some transparency, or some motive beyond profit, I might be willing to cut them some slack. But they don’t, and I’m not. Facebook exists to monetize your desperate loneliness for ad companies, and it’s a fishing ground for other scammers looking to do the same.

Caveat emptor, indeed.

Morning Irritation

I was reading this piece in Current Affairs about Jordan Peterson (who sounds like a right git, really) and sheer irritation managed to roll me out of bed. Not so much at Peterson–I was married to a man whose verbosity others mistook for a higher grade of genius than the one he possessed for multiple years, and was mostly amused by the experience.1

What irritated me was this assertion:

Another part of it, though, is that academics have been cloistered and unhelpful, and the left has failed to offer people a coherent political alternative. (Nathan Robinson, Current Affairs)

Academics have not been cloistered and unhelpful, they’ve been systematically robbed of a reasonable living and saddled with make-work instead of being paid decently to teach. The “left” does have a coherent political alternative, it’s called don’t be a dick, and its simplicity is only part of the reason why plenty of asshats nitpick with it or shut their eyes and scream “la la la la, I can’t hear you!” Plenty of people want to be dicks, plenty of corporations want academics so busy trying to pay rent and feed themselves that they can’t fulfill their actual function, and pretending otherwise on either count makes you part of the problem.

Bloviating proto-fascists like Peterson are chump-change a dozen; they come in and out of fashion like the tide. I’m not even mad about it anymore, I just roll my eyes when yet another misogynist, racist, verbose jackass starts gathering converts who really just want an excuse to piñata-pin their insecurities on someone else and pick up a stick. I am irritated with the assertion that “the left” doesn’t have a coherent alternative. We do, it’s just that “don’t be a dick, for God’s sake” isn’t something the vast majority of selfish “conservatives” want to hear.

TL;DR: Peterson is yet another asshat on the self-help gravy train, and “don’t be a dick” is actually a coherent political platform.

Doubt Merely Looms

Barn Owl
© Donfink | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I’m not sure who I’d be if I stopped writing (other than a corpse), but I wonder sometimes if it would stop the periodic bouts of crippling self-doubt.

I’m not talking the lo-fi “maybe I should be a plumber instead,” or even the grinding envy when you read something achingly brilliant someone else has written. No, those are all normal, and well within tolerances. I’m not talking ennui, or procrastination, or even garden variety low self-worth.

I’m talking about a bleak black hole that rivals clinical depression in its will-sapping, crushing, even-just-breathing-is-an-effort numbness. I differentiate between the two because meds beat back the depression and hold the anxiety at bay, but do shit-all for the doubt.

No, I’m not there yet, but it’s close. Some days I feel it hovering. I’m sure the current on-fire state of the world isn’t helping. Empathy is critical to writing, but it can turn into a handicap really quickly.

The bigger thing is, of course, I finished a book that was huge, complex, better than anything I’d ever done before…and it’s having a difficult, tortuous slog through the publication process. It’s the kind of experience that, if I were a newbie writer, might put me off publishing altogether. It’s like being stabbed repeatedly, pulling the knife out only to have another go in, slow or fast, doesn’t matter. A perfect storm of “whatever can go wrong, will” has crashed into my life, and upended a lot of plans.

I had meant to get some more of the Angelov Wolves written, especially Misha’s book, which I really like. Unfortunately, limited bandwidth means I’m on still on the zero of Roadtrip Z’s third season, eking out only a few words each day, pushing against an elastic, resisting barrier. It’s all I can do to keep going with the serial, and I keep glancing up at the master to-do list and feeling like crying. I have taken to closing the office door, just so I can sit and stare, the engines of story working right below conscious thought, grinding slow but exceeding fine.

The only way out is through, I guess. Punching and jabbing and fending off the hovering black hole, telling myself that even two hundred words a day is two hundred more than I had before, and that with significant portions of my emotional energy taken up with healing after the latest round of oh-my-dear-gods-you-have-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-me-they-want-WHAT it’s good enough. The dogs help, of course, since as long as their bellies are full and walkies and snuggles are handy, it’s all good. And the kids are older now, so I don’t have to put on much of a brave facade. They understand when I’ve had a shit day it’s not them, and I can bitch about work at the dinner table a little and get some commiseration.

There’s coffee, and the weather changing, too. Rain is due this Sunday, and that means productivity. At least the worst is behind me, when it comes to this particular publication process. I don’t ever have to go through that particular experience again. It’s a good thing I’ve got years of accumulated experience in this career, so something like this doesn’t put me off that aspect of it completely.

But oh, my dear sweet fluffy bonnet, I need time to recover. The more I try to push, the more damage I’ll do and the longer healing will take. And thank goodness for the meds, since my brain chemistry, already having tried to kill me several times, does not need the provocation of the Gigantic Black Hole of Doubt.

After lunch–spicy, spicy noodles, plenty of curry paste and some Bangkok Blend–I’m going to take down my master to-do list, and make a new one with only three things on it, one of which I’ve already done. Narrowing one’s scope and focusing on details can push away the looming monster.

As long as it merely looms, and doesn’t settle on the roof entirely, I can get through. All this stubbornness has to be good for something. Also, Odd trundles has just settled to lick at my ankles, which means it’s time to get up and make that lunch.

Over and (damply) out.

Protecting Your Work, Part II

I’m a sucker for a good bodyguard story. I pop those narratives like candy, they hit all my kinks. There’s something seductive about the idea of being protected, of someone caring enough to want to keep you safe. I can, black-hearted and stone-faced bitch that I am, be brought to soppy tears by a good peril-bodyguard-romance.

Unfortunately, I live in the real world, and I learned long ago that there’s no such thing as a bodyguard, really. There is nobody waiting around to save me. In the end–all the way down the line, really–I’ve got to take care of myself.

Don’t ever wait for someone else to protect you and your writing. You have to be your own goddamn bodyguard, babe, and look out for your work as well. How? Here’s a few ways.

* Admit that the world does not want you to write. There’s always going to be something you can procrastinate with. There’s always going to be life getting in the way. The world is not built for our comfort, my friends. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and you can spend a lot of time bemoaning it. Don’t. That time is better spent giving the world the finger by actually getting some writing done. Go ahead and be mad about the unfairness of it all, as long as that anger energy is spent on actually writing.

* Prioritize. Confession: I’d rather be watching a K-drama and eating chocolate than writing this blog post. I’d rather do zero drafts than revise, I’d rather pitch a fit about how nobody understands my geeeeenyus than admit an edit letter’s right. It doesn’t matter. Writing this blog post, revising, and swallowing the harsh bits of an edit letter are priorities today. Set aside five minutes or so every week–I suggest on a Monday–to just think about your priorities. You’ve got five minutes, set a timer and just…think about it.

My children? Priority. My mortgage? Priority. Working rather than faffing about on YouTube? Priority. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever decompress, but take a week or so and log your time. If you’re spending hours doing things that don’t advance your (small OR large) goals, it’s time to rethink.

* Put the inner asshole to work FOR you. There’s a long passage in IT where Stephen King, via Ritchie Tozier, talks about grabbing the wild internal asshole who’s fucking up your life and putting him to plow. “He works like a demon once you get him in the traces,” is, I think, how King put it. Example: I spent most of my young life as an adrenaline junkie. That’s hard on your body and your life, so I pour that addiction into my work (combat scenes, anyone?) and running. I get the same kick, but I’m not using unsafe behavior to get it.

Figure out who your inner bitch is, and get to know her. Not only will she pull the plow fast and far once you figure out who she is and where to point her, but you can also use her for perhaps the most important thing of all, which is…

* Practice saying no. Saying “yes” isn’t a bad thing. What’s damaging, though, is the “uhhh, I really don’t want to, but emotional blackmail…so I guess I will.” Saying no to protect yourself is hard, hard, hard. Do yourself a favor and start with little things. Sugar in my coffee? No, thanks. Do I like *band of the moment*? No, I really don’t. Work up to the big “no”–no, I can’t kill myself turning around those copyedits in three days, no, I won’t respond to this fan who thinks he’s my soulmate, no, I won’t answer the door while I’m working. Practice letting your “no” be enough. If you need help or guidance on how to do this, I suggest reading some Captain Awkward, who is sixty different flavors of amazing, gives great life advice, and is hella clear and easy to follow on creating boundaries.

Your “no” can be a weapon, and it can be a gift you give yourself. Don’t be afraid to use this marvelous gift to protect your writing time.

* Build your habit. I get a lot of flak for saying “write every day.” I understand that doesn’t work for some pro writers and some pros have other views. That’s okay. You’re here on my site reading my advice, and my advice is: write every goddamn day. Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and write. Set it for ten and write. Do it every damn day.

Why? Because getting into that habit will help you prioritize writing. Carving out a little bit of time, no matter how small, to do something every. damn. day. sends the signal that you’re serious about it. It’s also a way to game yourself into producing words. Often–like, 95% of the time–the timer will ring but you won’t stop, because the pump has been primed and you can write for a little longer, a little longer. And before you know it, you’ve horked up a chunk of text.

You can fix ugly writing. It’s much harder to fix a blank page.

* Recognize toxicity. We all know how I feel about writing groups. There are going to be people who don’t like you writing, either because it takes your attention away from them or because they fear what you’re going to say, or–you know, who the hell cares why they don’t want you to write? Fuck them. Look out for toxic people–those who undercut your confidence, make you feel like you’re unlovable or hard to like, who always seem to have a crisis while you’re in the middle of a project. Now, there are genuine Life Crises that arise while you’re writing, and those deserve to be priorities. But be watchful for emotional blackmail and the people who do not want you to write, or worse, want to vampirize your writing energy for their own purposes.

I don’t speak about it often, but I lost a few people I thought were my friends when I finally got published. My achievement felt threatening to them, and the emotional blackmail rose to epic proportions. It was so bad I didn’t trust my own perceptions until my husband at the time (there was a reason I married him) validated them, and supported me in cutting those people out of my life. Had he not, it would have taken me a lot longer to activate my inner bitch and let those people go, and I’m grateful for it. I’m even grateful for the lesson in how to spot people who only like you when your dreams are out of reach. Life is too short for that crap.

* List, list, list. I love making lists. A master to-do list for overarching projects, daily lists to help me with the bite-size stepping stones to those projects, grocery lists. If you get overwhelmed by lists, you can always redo them. A list isn’t set in stone, YOU are the smart monkey with thumbs who made it.

Every time you update a list, put one thing on it you’ve already done, so you can get the dopamine hit of crossing it off. Set aside one day a month (or week, if that’s your jam) to update your master list, and feel good about every damn thing you’ve crossed off EVER, not just on the current lists. Lists are powerful. There’s a reason we’ve been making them ever since cuneiform.

* Admit your worth. One of the most effective ways to guard your tender inner self and your work is to admit you’re worth it. If you’re reading this and have any suspicion that you may not be, in fact, worth it, let me put that to rest right now in the strongest possible way. YOU ARE FUCKING WORTH IT, TAKE IT FROM ME, I AM TELLING YOU RIGHT NOW. Read it as many times as you need to, my friend.

The world may not care, but it really does need your writing. It needs you healthy and producing, even though it may not seem like it. Other human beings who need stories need you to fight to take care of yourself, even though the whole universe is seemingly set up otherwise. You are the only person in the world who can tell the stories lining up at your skull-door, that’s why they chose you. You are also the only person who can take care of those story-babies, who can make your writing time a priority, who can liberate your inner bodyguard bitch and make her work for you.

So. We’ve gone over burnout, and how to bodyguard yourself. Let’s do a small experiment: I’d like you, my dear Reader, to hop on down to the comments and give one concrete way you can protect yourself this week.

I look forward to hearing it.

A Full Weekend

Markedcover2 I’ve added new perks to the Indiegogo campaign for The Marked. If you have an idea for a perk, do let me know.

This past weekend, the Princess graduated from high school. (Good Lord, I feel old.) Yes, I cried. That seems the only appropriate response when you’ve successfully managed to get a tiny dependent being through the eighteen years of childhood and early adolescence. The ceremony to mark such a thing, while boring, is still important because it’s a ritual, drawing a nice bright line between the phase of “public school” and the entry into young adulthood. I rarely have the patience for communal rituals, but I recognize their import.

My baby, growing up. *sniffles a bit*

She’s handling the transition better than I am. You get into the habit of feeding, caring, listening for their breathing, constantly blocking traffic for them, guiding, watching, loving them so hard your very bones ache when they’re in any kind of pain. It leaves an imprint. Learning to let go, bit by bit, as they grow, is hard. You wake up one day, and they’re doing things like BEING ALL GROWN-UP. And the feelings get so big they leak out of your nose and eyes and mouth.

The other thing I did this weekend was run a writing workshop for teens. It was interesting. I have often thought of running online writing workshops, and it was fun to do sort of a dry run and see what kinds of questions people ask, how a workshop is structured, and how to keep an audience interested. I think it went rather well.

Still, all the emotion, and the public speaking, left me drained down to a bare shadow of myself. I suspect I’ll need another day or so to recover, then it’s on to Cormorant Run revisions. I planned to start them at the beginning of the month, but the zombie apocalypse story grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I think I was using the zombies to decompress, or just plain to escape.

…yeah, my wiring is weird. But then, if you’re reading this, you quite probably knew that already. I’m retreating, also, because the news is so terrible, and I am old enough to realize it’s very likely nothing will be done. People simply love their fear and their hatred too much to change; it terrifies me that my children will be going into such a world.

So I’m off to refill my creative well, and to go back into a world I built a while ago. If there’s hope, it lies in creating. Or at least, so I tell myself. It’s all I have to fight the fear.

Over and out.

Reasonably Awesome

ghandi01 This morning, the Princess brought me coffee in bed. “I was just up,” she said when I thanked her, “and I thought, how can I do something nice for Mum?”

She sat at the breakfast table with me, just because she wanted to talk. Right now she’s into Steven Universe. “You’d like it,” she says, and tells me about an episode where Pearl wants to show Steven that physical strength isn’t everything, that there’s a different strength in the people who do daily scut work to keep households and nations active. I agree that it sounds nice, and as I finish my porridge, we talk about being a reasonably awesome human being.

The goal is, of course, to be awesome on a daily basis. But not the jackass frat boy sense. Reasonably awesome.

How, do you ask, can someone be reasonably awesome? Here follows a short list.

* Admit your fucking privilege. I’ve benefited from many forms of privilege in my life, and suffered a few forms of discrimination as well. Discrimination against me in one area (I’m female on the internet) does not give me leeway to be an asshole over my privilege in another (my skin tone means I’m less likely to be shot wearing a hoodie on my morning run). It doesn’t hurt to admit that, especially when listening to other peoples’ experiences.

* Admit your fuckups. Want to know one thing I never, ever heard from parental figures while I was growing up?

“I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

Many are the assholes who think admitting they were mistaken or just plain wrong somehow robs them of something. I say those five words daily, and have ever since I became a mother. It can range from “you know, I was wrong when I put you in time-out for that, I should have been more patient,” to “Remember when I explained Celsius and Fahrenheit to you? I had the conversion wrong, sorry,” or “You guys tasked me with putting together email for the site and I did it wrong. I’m fixing it now.” Getting in the habit of acknowledging your mistakes makes you a better human being. You fix it (or do your best to) and move on.

* Consider shutting up sometimes. In the immortal words of Elon James, when you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, you could just say nothing. I think Mark Twain observed it’s better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt, sometimes. If a rancid bit of asshattery is about to escape your mouth, or you know you’re already irritated and frustrated, take the opportunity to just keep your lips buttoned for a few minutes and think about keeping it zipped until you have something reasonable to say.

* But not when someone is an asshat in your presence. From the jock father who was letting his sons roughhouse in the baking aisle (right next to glass containers of every kind of oil known to cooking) who said “Don’t yell at my kids!” when I told said spawn to cut it out (“Parent them and I won’t have to,” I snapped in return) to the woman calling another woman in a hijab nasty names in the produce aisle (“Just shut up, she’s not making YOU wear a scarf,” I said, hefting an apple and visibly considering bouncing it off her fool skull), I try not to let people get away unscathed from asshattery. Of course, this is a rule best applied with a little forethought. But if you see something, say something. Even something as simple as “I’m sorry that person is being an asshole,” can change the entire situation. Especially if you have a bit of privilege, you can often perform a bit of interpersonal judo to even things out. And yes, in volatile situations you might get yelled at. Most people will do just about anything to avoid being perceived as the asshole in any particular situation, and calling them on it is a powerful tool evoking powerful responses.

* Stay done. Remember the SquirrelTerror plagiarism incident? Something I said then has stuck with me since: when I say I’m done, it doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven or forgotten, or have accepted anything at all. It simply means I am not wasting any more energy on that asshole. If someone isn’t arguing in good faith, if someone is an inveterate racist and they don’t want to be anything else, if someone is toxic and doesn’t give a fuck for other people, fine, they can do all that somewhere else. I don’t have to lend myself to it, and I do not have to keep throwing good effort after bad. Staying done means just that: don’t respond afterward. Refusing to deal with someone is a powerful tool, too.

* Share the limelight. Success for other people means more success for me, too, and nowhere is that more true (and more ignored) than in publishing. I do not lose anything by drawing attention to something awesome someone else is doing. Rather, I benefit from more awesome in the world. Find ways to spread the word about cool stuff instead of banging your own gong all the time. It’s far more satisfying.

* Take a notebook with you. Remember that scene in Hot Fuzz where Simon Pegg is simply making notes in his little journal? Nothing calms a situation down–or makes people behave–like you writing down everything they say. You don’t even have to be expecting trouble; I take a notebook to every meeting, and at the beginning write down the date and time. Just in case. Also, when you hear a particularly good bit of dialogue you want to write down for a story, nothing beats having pen and paper to hand.

* Don’t just be quiet. Think. Listening is an active state. Pay attention, whether it’s a dog whining to tell you it’s time for a bathroom break to the LGBT activist on Twitter detailing insidious behavior you’ve never thought about before. Sometimes, it’s not enough just to shut the fuck up, you have to exercise the meat between your ears as well.

* Be kind. Even the most reasonable person has certain days where their Wheaties have been pissed in. Even the nicest kid has a hormone rush or a meltdown every now and again. Even the most socially conscious blogger has a rough morning. I’m not saying to excuse intolerant fuckwaddery here. I am saying, you can be a kind person and still not allow fuckwaddery in your presence.

* Listen to reason. Friends are good. Invest in your friends, once they have earned your trust. And when a friend you trust says, “You are being an asshole,” listen. (Do you know how many times the Selkie has saved me from being an asshole? A WHOLE LOT.) There is nothing so precious as the person who loves you and will call you on your bullshit. Don’t ever minimize, overlook, or ignore that.

* Admit your own fuckwaddery. You know, this is really another way of saying “admit your fuckups,” but what the hell, I think it bears repeating. I’ve been too harsh on people. I’ve been dismissive. I’ve been critical, unpleasant, high-handed, and sometimes even just plain selfish. Admitting it is the first step to apologizing and making amends where one can. Where one cannot, admission is the first step to regret, and all the above leads to the whole point: doing better next time.

One of the highest bits of praise in my particular lexicon is “X is a reasonable human being.” It can mean they’re kind, or truthful, or that they admit when they’ve made a mistake, or they’re willing to listen to reason. Often, it means the person has shown they are all of the above, and more. So when I say, “be reasonably awesome,” you now understand what that means.

I know this isn’t an exhaustive list. (And really, this is like the Pirate Code.) So, my darling chickadees, it’s your turn. Fill up the comments with more Guidelines For Being Reasonably Awesome. Given what day it is, I think it’s a fine idea.