Journals and poetry over the years

My notebook of choice for poetry and journaling for decades.

The Mead composition notebook hasn’t really changed much over the years. The stiff cardboard cover is bendable cardstock now, but the cover is still available in mottled black and white, still has 100 sheets bound by string and glue, and still fits perfectly in a backpack.

Back in early 1988, when Chris and Natan and I started up our band The Flying Bohemians, I’d tasked myself with writing song lyrics. Deeply inspired and influenced by the music we were listening to on college radio and as you can well imagine, most of it ended up being pastiches of songs by The Cure, The Smiths, and The Sisters of Mercy. There’s some decent stuff in there, given my age and experience, but for the most part it’s the kind of too-serious writing you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old stuck in a small town, waiting to escape.

Song lyrics and poetry became a perfect temporary escape for me then. During bouts of frustration and depression, I gave myself one rule: no boundaries. Let’s see how far we can take this. Mind you, that didn’t mean ‘let’s write the most vile/violent/gross/puerile shit just to get away with it’. I never wanted to go that route to begin with. No, it meant ‘let’s lay our heart and mind out and go deep, no matter how dark it gets.’ Sure, it’s a teenage cri de coeur and everyone’s done it, but I took my craft (if not the words) seriously. It was writing exercise to work on my frequency and consistency, and it was a mental exercise to purge my negative emotions. And they were a creative outlet when my fiction writing well had run dry.

This was an avenue that got me through a hell of a lot over the years. The frustrations of high school, the worse frustrations of college, and especially the dismal post-college years. I may not have always been consistent with it, and would sometimes go years between writing in these notebooks, but I never gave it up completely.

My history with personal journaling, on the other hand, had been spotty for years. For a brief time I used these same Mead notebooks for personal journals, starting in 1991. Most of it was voicing personal frustrations with school, friends, relationships, roommates, and lack of money. Later on, I’d write personal entries in regular notebooks here and there (I’ve been finding quite a few of them during my KonMari Tidy-Up of Spare Oom Project), but they never lasted more than a few pages. And once I joined Live Journal back in 2004, all that writing ended up online.

It wasn’t until New Year’s Day 2014 (after a brief false start a few months earlier) that I bought a 3-pack of Moleskine’s large cahier journal from our local bookstore that I made it a point to redirect that public display back into something personal again. Since that day I’ve been writing in those particular notebooks five days a week with very few exceptions; it’s what I do during my 9:30am break during the Day Job. I’m glad I took that step, as it made me refocus my creative output. My online writing morphed into the two blogs you’re now following. My personal issues now stay personal, just like they were all those years ago.

But what about the poetry? I’ll certainly have highly productive waves every now and again, but those are often few and far between. Those remain an exercise in emotional and mental purging, but they’re also done for the pleasure when the inspiration strikes. I’m working on trying to make this outlet more consistent, however.

Every now and again I’ll pull out one of these journals and poetry notebooks and read a few pages, just for the fun of it. Sometimes I’ll cringe, but more often I’ll let myself revisit the memories and emotions tied to these writings. It’s a way for me to remember what I’ve learned, reminders of where I was and where I’m going. Sometimes it’ll even inspire something new.

Do I really need to save this? Probably not.

In my ongoing process of cleaning up my files and getting them in order, I’ve come across quite a few printed copies of the same stories. Which surprises me, because I though I’d thinned out that particular collection of papers back in 2006 when I got rid of all those three ring binders. Apparently not…?

And these copies of stories that I mailed off to publishers? Yeah, I definitely don’t need them. Hell, I don’t really need the rejection letters either, to be honest…most of those date back to over fifteen years ago and I’d like to think I’ve learned from my writing mistakes by now. I’m in 100% agreement with them for rejecting that short story from the mid-90s — it’s kind of embarrassing to read now, and I’m embarrassed to admit I even submitted such a piece of half-baked trash.

Which leaves me with…what? Oh, I still have some of the printouts saved. These are the ones I actually used for revision purposes, writing detailed notes in the margins. Those were helpful and I’m okay with those cluttering up my bookcase. And I’m definitely saving those scraps of paper where I’d originally come up with the idea during a slow moment at the Day Job. Those are always fun to look at and remember how it all started.

I found myself doing the same exact thing when I cleaned out my old collection of 3″ floppies. I’d saved a lot of my work on multiple disks over the course of a decade, and making duplicates seemed like a great idea, given how easily they’d get corrupted over time. Especially when I reused older disks. Some documents I had only one surviving copy, while others I’d had maybe three or four. (I narrowed these down by way of moving them to folders on my shared drive and deleting the duplicates via matching the timestamps. I may still have some duplicates, but it’s a hell of a lot more organized now.) Once that particular project is done, I’ll save it to my cloud account for security.

But with the paper versions…I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important things I want to save is the longhand notes and outtakes, the original sketches, the partial outlines…the work behind the finished product. Anything else can go either way.

Thankfully, I’ve kind of grown out of being a pack rat. I used to be a horrible one, both with my writing and pretty much everything I collected. Marriage and moving across the country made me rethink that. Hell, I’ve even cut down on my books! Seriously, though…I’ve still got my digital writings in their various versions (I save each new revision version under a different name so you can still see the work in progress.)

I no longer feel bad getting rid of that fifth print-out of chapter 3 of a book I’ve trunked over a decade ago…as long as I have it saved digitally, that’s good enough.

On Life Adjustments and Finding Time to Write

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’d adjust my creative output with possible life and work changes coming in the future. I’m sure every writer, artist and musician has to go through this at some point in their life; it’s rare when they can stay with a creative regimen for years at a time.

I’ve been working from home full time since…2014, I think? That’s five years. That’s a pretty damn impressive run, and I’ve made the best of it any way I could. I revised and self-published the trilogy and wrote three additional novels, hand-wrote a bazillion personal journal entries, and created an impressive blog schedule. And on top of that, I also managed to hit the gym a few times a week as well!

This might change at some future point, and at first it bothered me severely. I’ll readily admit to being extremely fond of habit and schedule — and I’ve mentioned many times that it’s mainly because it keeps me from otherwise wasting my time being unproductive.

But now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I realize that just like any other Day Job, it’s really just a matter of knowing how to rearrange and reorganize.

The one hard and fast rule for me has always been to be extremely protective of my writing time. I won’t budge on that. I can make concessions and figure out how to fit it into any Day Job schedule of course, but I won’t sacrifice it completely. My writing is my long-term career to balance with the Day Job. And I’m always open with managers about that, and thankfully they’ve all be extremely understanding. (In fact, many of them are usually quite impressed when they hear I have multiple books out! Heh.) If the Day Job requires my undivided attention, I’m down with that. But I need to ensure that I have time outside of that job to dedicate to my writing.

So what does this mean, with the future possibility of having to go into the office after five years of my commute being a ten second walk into the other room? Well, this just means that I could use that travel time to read. It means that I could revive the old HMV habit of going in early and spending that time in the break room or the cafeteria doing some longhand work. It means that I can still use my post-dinner time to work on the novels. I’ll certainly miss listening to my music all day long, but I’m sure I can come up with an alternative for that as well.

All I need to do is remember that I’m not giving up any personal time for my writing. I’m just shifting a few things around, is all.

More on going through old writings

I’m still going through a lot of my old writings here in Spare Oom when I can carve out an hour or so here and there. It’s much easier for me to go through a small collection of folders than it is to attempt sorting the entire thing; less of a chance for me to feel overwhelmed, and definitely less clutter.

My trick this time out is that I’ve put each project or creation in its own plastic sheet protector, and labeling them with Post-Its noting the assumed dates. That way if I find the occasional misfiled item, I can pull out that plastic and put them in their proper place. Many of these will eventually be bound into report binders once I’m done.

I’m also doing a lot of shredding. Why save school notes from 1991 when all I really want to save is the original artwork or poem I’d written in the margin? Why save printouts of documents I know I still have in .doc files? Why save rejection letters from 1998? I have absolutely no use for any of it, and looking at them only elicits the reaction ‘why do I still have this…?’ so out they go!

And all those spiral notebooks with seven or eight pages (or surprisingly, sixty or seventy) that I haven’t touched in years? Time to tear those pages out, bind them in the plastic folders, and find a new use for the notebooks — or alternately, throw them in recycling. I think I’ve finally shaken off that habit of buying them and rarely using them, thankfully!

Most of my writing has already been sorted sometime back, but there are folders of randomness, most likely created under the guise of ‘I’ll sort it later’ or ‘etc’. Which of course means I’d never remember where it was. This time out, I’m sorting at the micro level. A map that’s actually part of my Murph Universe or the Mendaihu Universe or whatever writing/artwork project will of course go into those writing project binders.

I already know this is going to take a long time, quite possibly a few more months. I’m not rushing it. Keeping each sorting session – and cleaning up after each one – makes it a lot easier to handle. One section, one pile at a time, that’s all I need to do.

All this while working on the revision of Diwa and Kaffi, you ask? Yes! I can still find a few minutes here and there to sort through things. After I log off for the day but before I head out to meet A at the gym. My afternoon break. Slow Sunday afternoons when all my other errands are done. And I’m not doing this out of a sense of wanting to relive the past, or even because I might be looking for old notes and outtakes for a revived project. This is just part of my Tidying Up project.

That said, if I do happen to find some old and useful notes, I’m not going to complain. Something new might come out of it!

Cross-Post: From Alice Grove to xkcd: A Sampling of Webcomics

Hi, all! Yesterday I moderated a fun panel at BayCon about webcomics, how much fun they are to read, and what a great platform it is for creators. Between myself, Amanda, Ctein and Jacob Fisk, we came up with a great starter list of some of our favorite titles out there.

As my name is probably a little easier to remember than the URL for this one, I told the audience I’d post it over at Walk in Silence. I’m posting the link here just for completeness’ sake. Hope you enjoy! Feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

https://jonchaisson.com/2019/05/27/baycon-from-alice-grove-to-xkcd-a-sampling-of-webcomics/

Repurposing Forgotten Bookshelves

What I’m trying to avoid here in Spare Oom. Image source: Black Clover

I have what I’ve recently been calling The Forgotten Bookshelf here in Spare Oom; it’s hiding in a narrow spot between the far wall and the edge of my new chair. It’s not nearly as obscured as it used to be, so I can access a lot easier.

It was the first section of Spare Oom I chose to clean up in my latest KonMari bout of tidying up, because it had become an area where I stored a large amount of crap, and nearly all of it was contributing to my ‘out of sight, out of mind’ habits. I managed to get rid of about sixty percent of what was there and file the rest elsewhere. After much dusting and vacuuming, it’s now the home of my poetry and journal notebooks, as well as binders of older completed and/or trunked projects, most of which were hiding elsewhere in the room.

This could have easily become yet another Forgotten Bookshelf, if not for two things: my new chair, which I look forward to using multiple times a day for various things; and the fact that my current active journal and poetry notebook are over there as well. And since I make it a point during my morning break to write a journal entry, it’s reminding me every day that there are things over in this corner that I can use.

The other thing that’s working in my favor is that I’m planning out the way I’m sorting and filing ahead of time. I could easily pull out everything in this room and sort it into piles and then go through each one, but that would only add to the clutter. Instead I’m taking one or two piles of documents at a time and sorting through them. Once I’m done with one, then I’ll work on the next one. While I’m working on one section, I’ll make a few mental notes of which section I’ll attack next, once I have the time and the space.

This actually works quite well for a writer like myself, because every now and again I have an urge to look up an old outtake or lyric or what have you, and now it takes me just a few minutes to find it. As an added and unexpected bonus, it also cuts down on the chances of me falling down multiple ‘oh, I forgot about this!’ rabbit hole distractions!

In a way, I’m finally putting Everything In Its Right Place, which is what I’ve been meaning to do all along.

Going Online

Don’t forget to add *70 to your dial-up settings!

Sometimes it blows my mind that I’ve been connected online for roughly a quarter century. I believe my first AOL account was in the autumn of 1994, using my roommate’s computer, which I used sparingly because I was too damn broke to pay for the subscription or the phone bill half the time. And even then, I mostly stuck to AOL’s chat rooms.

When I moved back home in late ’95 I talked my family into signing up for it. While the subscription and phone bill weren’t as hard to pay, it was reminding my family not to use the phone when I was online. Most of the time they remembered, but every now and again someone would forget, pick up the phone, and start dialing, severing my connection. (Surprisingly, it wouldn’t be until around 2001 or so when we finally got DSL. It just wasn’t available to us out in the sticks of central MA until then.)

I’d had various emails over the years and started the joncwriter one around 2001 (I think?), but it probably wasn’t until 2004 when I finally took the plunge into full-time social media with LiveJournal. And things have grown exponentially since then. So many platforms, websites, browsers, apps, and everything in between. I’m amazed I can remember half my passwords.

Mind you, I’m not complaining about how Kids These Days Are Always Online, or How The Internet Was More Fun In My Day. I’ve got other things to think about most of the time. It’s more about how I’ve eased off using the internet over the years.

Sure, I still use it a ton, more than I really should. I go through spells of overindulgence followed by bouts of internet detox. As a writer, though, I can’t completely disconnect. I rely on a lot of internetty things to keep me going. I stream radio stations during the day for entertainment and background noise. I have multiple links to online dictionaries and thesauruses (that’s a legit plural, I just looked it up on Merriam-Webster’s site). I almost exclusively download all my music now. It’s a vital part of my writing career. [Yes, even the music. Heh.] And most importantly, I save all my writing on Dropbox so I can access them at any time, even on my phone.

The trick is to catch myself when I know I’m just wasting time that could be better used elsewhere. Catch myself when I feel I’m getting worked up and caught up in the latest drama. Catch myself when I’m faffing about on YouTube watching viral videos. Easy enough to do, but sometimes it’s embarrassing when I realize how often I catch myself. I’ve had to figure out ways to keep myself from goofing off.

Lately, though, I’ve been doing a lot of logging off, closing the browsers. Not out of desperation or frustration, but just because I want to. Part of it is inspired by some of my pre-internet high school and college friends out there who are surprisingly impossible to find on social media — it’s like they decided that they’d rather have a real life than a digital one.

It’s also been a mental and physical choice. The longer and later I’m online, the harder it is for me to fall asleep at night. And sometimes I just don’t have all that much to say that I haven’t already written or blogged about already. Sometimes I just need to take a break and just use my PC or my laptop for its intended use: my writing and music.

I just recently bought a new laptop to replace an old one (which was dated 2013!!) and I’m once again out in the living room in the evenings, sitting next to A while we stream whatever movie or show we’re currently into, and I can focus on the revision for Diwa and Kaffi. I might pop online and check my email or the latest webcomic update or Twitter, but I’m doing that much less nowadays. And I kind of like that.

I’m not nearly as addicted to the internet as I used to be, which is always a good thing. Life goes on both digitally and IRL, and it’s up to me to find that balance that works best for me.

Something I should probably do more often with my desk PC…

[PS: This entry was partly inspired by a panel I’ll be running at BayCon this year: Strange Days: Hollywood’s Take on the Internet, Hacking, and the Digital World in the 90s. I’m looking forward to this particular one!]

The Magic of Tidying Up Spare Oom

KonMari would be proud.

It’s not as if Spare Oom is a disorganized mess, far from it. I pride myself for trying to keep as much floor space open as I can in here. But there are little nooks and crannies here and there that have accumulated years of forgotten collectibles, documents past usefulness, and all sorts of other things collecting dust.

I made some headway last week by thinning out a massive amount of those old documents (including the 2003 online receipt for my first all-new, not-a-hand-me-down PC through Dell!!) and readying them for shredding. [Note: our local restaurant supply store up the way, Kamei, came in very handy for buying shopping bags in bulk to use for shredding disposal.]

Last night I also ordered a new chair to replace the very old love seat here. We’re getting it from Home Reserve, the same place where we ordered our living room couch. They’re sort of similar to Ikea in that your furniture is delivered in pieces and you put it together yourself, but instead of fiddling with screws and allen wrenches and whatnot, it’s all put together like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The end result is surprisingly durable, nice to look at, and very comfortable. Plus storage areas under the seat cushions! Always a win.

Anyway! This is part of the Spare Oom Tidy-Up, sort of influenced by KonMari, so I can better utilize the space back here. My writing shelves are so disorganized they’re partly the inspiration for Samuel’s messy office in Diwa & Kaffi. I’d like to be more on top of the documents I no longer need. I’d even like to clean up the rear closet so there’s more room back there for long-term storage.

Why the cleaning? Because frankly, I’m kind of sick of finding corners with a year’s worth of dust, or having to move twenty different things and spend an hour routing through papers and boxes to find something for reference that I might be working on. And a VERY big reason: I have an extremely bad habit of being an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of person, putting things aside “for later” and never getting to them. And also, why the hell not? You know how it is…we all have that resolution to stay on top of these sorts of things but never follow through.

Now if I can manage to get the old love seat out of the room with minimal struggle…

What’s Going On?

That’s a very good question indeed, because I’d like to know myself. I’m kind of hovering at the moment, providing nearly all of my writing focus on the editing and revision of Diwa and Kaffi and doing very little in terms of anything new. I mean, I always want to have a new project going, but I’m purposely not doing that for the reason I just stated.

I’m not going to complain, I’m kind of enjoying this break from Writing All the Things. I’m forcing myself to try new creative avenues, which was part of my plan. I’m picking up my guitar more, thinking about songs to write…hell, I’ve even started noodling around on our keyboard after ages of ignoring it or using it as a temporary storage table! I’ve churned out so many words over the last five years that it’s time for me to give that a break and have some fun.

I don’t plan on making my music a professional thing, as I don’t see myself at that level. Maybe putting stuff out on Bandcamp if I ever get a full song down? Sure, why not? I’d essentially be self-publishing my music and I already have a background on that, so I think that would be groovy.

What about the other avenue, you ask? My art? Good question. I’m winding down a few small projects at the moment and will be finding more time to doodle. I’m not sure what — it could be my usual map drawing, perhaps my Murph comics, maybe trying out new styles. I have the sketchbook and the pens and pencils, I just need to start doing it. I’ve always found drawing to be quite calming, so I’m looking forward to doing that again.

But yeah, the writing, after D&K is out and away? Good question. I have plans there, but they’re not set in stone, and they’re not on any kind of schedule. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m just going to not think about it for a while…