Year In Review, Year Ahead

Source: Say Anything (1989)

This has been quite a long year, hasn’t it?  So many things going on in the world.  Half the time I’m trying to keep a sane distance so I can process it all clearly and intelligently, and half the time I realize I’m doing all I can to keep my head above water.

But I’ve been trying to stay positive.  Even when we have people in “charge” (I say this lightly) doing all they can to obliterate the rules and exclude a portion of their constituents out of legal existence, I’ve been trying to be a positive anchor, even if it’s just for myself.  Someone’s got to be.

BUT!  It’s been an interesting and quite creative year here in Spare Oom.  I had quite the productive 2018, which was unexpected but pleasing.  I made good on my plan of releasing one e-book a year, with Meet the Lidwells! dropping in early March.  I wrote and completed not one but TWO books this year (In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex project) that will be dropping in 2019.  I recorded at least twenty partial demos of songs for my Drunken Owl project, and hope to work on more next year.  And I made more of an effort to write more lyrics and poetry again.  And I’ve been quite verbose in the personal journal this year.  I stayed pretty consistent with my daily words over at 750Words.  Lastly, I had quite a consistent run both here at Welcome to Bridgetown and over at Walk in Silence.  So yeah, a hell of a lot of writing this year.  I’m stupidly proud of myself for that.

So what’s on tap for 2019?  I’ve hinted here multiple times that I’m going to make some big changes across the board, both personally and creatively.  After years of having Best Laid Plans that I couldn’t always follow through with, I find that I’m now in a good place to make a lot of them finally happen.  A few personal events helped force me to look at them in a different, more serious and better planned light.  Will they fall through or will they come to fruition?  Who knows, but I can only hope it’s the latter.  I’m already taking steps to ensure they work.  Let’s just say that when they come to fruition, I will update accordingly, heh.

Overall, 2018 has been one hell of a roller coaster and I’m glad it’s winding down (sort of).  Here’s to hoping 2019 provides a little more sanity!

Source: World Order, “Singularity” video

On Creative Outlets

Source: Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative outlets.  I know, I know…in previous posts I’ve talked a lot about wanting to play more guitar, write more songs, make more art, but it was always in the context of trying to squeeze it in when and where I could, while also working on my writing.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about focusing on these outlets instead of always putting the novels first.  Perhaps instead of trying to brainstorm the next project, it’s time for me to give these two other outlets some serious stage time.  I’ve been recording more than a few song ideas and demos on my phone over the last few months (using the Hi-Q mp3 recorder app) and I think I can work with some of them.  I’ve long been tempted to find decent (and not expensive) multi-track software and do a bit of experimenting, so perhaps it’s time.

As for art…?  Good question. I have a few art notebooks, pens and pencils that are collecting dust as I haven’t used them in a while.  That’s gotta change as well.  I’m much more on an amateur level here, so this would be mostly for personal enjoyment than anything else, at least for now.  But yeah — I miss the enjoyment of drawing, even if it’s drawing my imaginary maps.  It’s a peaceful outlet that chases away everyday stress and makes me look at the world from different angles.  And I’ve always wanted to try new styles; I think I’ve burned myself out on drawing my Murph caricatures.  I’ve also been told (very often, actually) that my storytelling style is extremely visual, so perhaps trying my hand at visual storytelling might be something to look into.

I suppose these thoughts have been brought on by my recent decision to make a lot of personal changes in my life.  I’m not chasing away my novel writing, I’m just pulling it from center stage for a bit so the other outlets can have a chance to shine.  I’ve already proven to myself that I can write novels; I want to prove to myself that I can play music and create artwork as well.

I’m very curious to see where this all leads me.

Source: The Garden of Words

More on Adjusting

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Part of Drunken Owl’s gear, such as it is…

A. and I had a conversation over dinner the other day about adjusting to life’s changes.  She’s currently between jobs and she might be, as she says, “catching up on years of lost sleep”, but she’s not wasting time at all.  She’s been brushing up on her skills by taking various online courses, and she’s also currently taking part in NaNoWriMo, writing a mystery novel.  We’re both relatively comfortable financially at the moment where she can afford to take some time off and readjust to real life.

This got me thinking as well, because we both understand what it means not to have a job, and especially what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.  So many things we’ve put off for one reason or another, whether it be financial or emotional or whatever.  I always found this deeply depressing and intensely aggravating, to be honest.  Since I was a kid I’d always wanted to be a writer, an artist, and a musician — not one or the other, but all three — but it was hard for me to focus on all of them.  They all demand countless hours of practice, knowledge, and labor that a person already working full time may not have time for.  This is precisely why it took me until my forties to become a self-published author, and to a lesser extent, why it took me until my forties to dedicate some daily practice time for my music playing.  And why, alas, I have never had enough time to focus on art.

I’d said to her that I was both impressed and maybe a little jealous that she now had this time to catch up on all the things she hadn’t been able to do.  I would absolutely love to be able to not think about Day Job stress and simply focus on learning the ins and outs of things I’d love to do.  I would love to take art classes again — something I haven’t done since high school.  I would love to learn how to record multi-track song demos in Spare Oom.  I would also love to improve my writing without having to carve out whatever precious time I might have for it.

[Mind you, this is also why I am always angered by those who view the arts as frivolous and not worth federal funds or adequate payment for delivered goods.  But that’s another post entirely.]

So what’s happening right now is that I’ve been doing some deep thinking about this.  I’ve been contemplating changing up the Day Job for some time, as you already know, and with that change comes the adjustment of other things in my life.  This is a perfect time for me to start making a stronger effort to include those ‘extracurricular activities’ in my daily life instead of keeping them at the level of wishful thinking.

Adjustments

evangelion gendo glasses

As much as I deeply enjoyed working from home full time, alas I will have to give it up in the near future.  The most frustrating thing about this is that it was not my decision, but that of higher-ups at my current job.  [Long story short, they’ve decided to phase out remote working to ‘foster teamwork, social connection,’ blah blah blah.  My teammates are equally as frustrated by this decision.]   There are other things at play that are putting my job at risk as well, which is only adding to my frustration.

Which means that this long and extremely fruitful era of writing session scheduling is coming to an end for now.  I’d be lying if I said this didn’t upset and annoy me to some degree.  I got a hell of a lot done over the years in the pockets of time I was able to use, and not having to deal with a commute.

All that said, I’m taking this in the best possible way I can by adjusting accordingly.  Should I start bringing my tablet along to work on things during breaks and lunches?  Should I bring books to read for the bus ride?  [I plan on sticking in San Francisco and taking public transportation, thank you.]  Can I squeeze in trips to the gym after work?  What amount of work can I get done, and how?

I’m willing to make adjustments when and where I can.  It’ll be just like when I left the warehouse job and moved down to New Jersey; I’ll lose what’s been one of the best arrangements for me to balance work and writing.  I can figure it out somehow.

But I ain’t gonna stop writing anytime soon, that’s for sure.

Trading Old Books for New (and Used)

book shelf

Every couple of months or so, a spot next to the love seat in Spare Oom starts collecting a pile of books.  These are books that A. and I have finished reading and don’t plan on keeping for whatever reason.  We may have enjoyed them, but have no reason or inclination to read them again.  I mean, there’s a finite amount of space in this apartment, and as much as we’d like, we can’t keep it all.

Besides, we live right down the street from Green Apple Books, which is a Very Dangerous Place Indeed.  We often need space for newer purchases.

Whenever that spot on the floor collects three or four stacks about shin-high, I start putting them into boxes.  Then on a nice weekend, I’ll drive them down to the Friends of the SF Public Library Bookstore down at Fort Mason in the Marina for donation.  Sure, I could probably bring them to Green Apple and get credit for future purchases, but to be honest, I like donating better.

The Friends of the SFPL have a Big Book Sale a few times a year in one of the HUGE warehouses at Fort Mason.  We’re talking football field huge.  Book donations brought to any of their drop-off sites that don’t get sold at their in-library stores get brought here, and it’s quite an event.  Books, videos, dvds, cds, all sorts of media are sold super cheap, often as low as a dollar.  You can literally fill a shopping cart (we often do) and spend maybe twenty bucks total.  It’s a good deal, and it goes to a great group.  And my old books get into new hands, which is even cooler.

[As an aside: yes, I have in fact seen my own donations on the table at these book sales, which I find quite amusing.]

They’ll have their next Big Book Sale next week, and A and I are planning on going.  Which is good timing, because I just brought the last pile of books in last weekend!

49th annual Big Book Sale
Friends of the SF Public Library’s Big Book Sale down in the Marina.

The battle cry ‘don’t mess with me’

mononoke.gif

So it’s revealed via the New York Times — on a Sunday morning, no less — that the current administration wants narrowly define gender as what you were born with, essentially eliminating any definition of transgender.

The biggest WTF line in that article:

For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality, and that the lack of clarity allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them [Emphasis mine.]

I say FUCK THAT.

And I say FUCK YOU, Don.

So why am I posting this here?

Let’s just say ever since this complete sham and embarrassment of an administration came into office — before that, even — I’ve been tempted to write a specific novel on how I feel about what they’ve been doing to the country over the last few years.  It’s similar to the idea I had with the “Noah and the Schoolyard” story that I trunked sometime ago.  I’d come to the realization that the actions and words of this administration were sadly and pathetically similar to the worst of our own childhoods; the jocks and the popular crowd that vilified you for not fitting into their narrowly defined social norms, the teachers that couldn’t find the time or the ability to provide extra mentoring, the elimination of creative extracurricular groups (sometimes at the cost of maintaining a solid sports foundation), the path to ignorance when information is simply not provided, and of course the appearance of an ‘underground’ crowd that decided to say fuck all that, we’re doing our own thing.

I mean, yeah, it sounds like a John Hughes version of Lord of the Flies or Catcher in the Rye, doesn’t it?  That’s why I found I couldn’t work on this story.  It just felt far too personal for me to be able to handle it.

Now I’m not so sure.

It angers me that anyone, presidential administration or not, would go this far.  It angers me to hear ignorant morons gleefully follow this path, all the while saying ‘fuck y’all, you’re on your own.’

Sunday’s news was a big fucking slap in the face for me, on multiple levels.  I’d almost forgotten what this kind of directed hatred felt like.  And it bothers me even more that I don’t always remember that others still get that on a daily basis.  [Well, actually I do remember, just that I often have the privilege of avoiding thinking about it.]

As Charlie Jane Anders tweeted later that day:

It’s easy to feel helpless when bigotry and bad science are becoming the law of the land, and our government is trying to dehumanize so many of us. But we have the power to make noise, to make ourselves heard, and one of the most powerful ways we can do that is thru storytelling.

To that I say ‘AMEN’, and to that I say, I think I might have a new project to work on.

Kicking Myself Out of the Comfort Zone

polar bear cafe relaxing

It’s all well and good to find your own comfort zone, of course.  It’s always healthy to have that stable ground to come back to when things get crazy.  You can hibernate there for a little bit and recharge, so you can come back out, rested and ready to go.

This is the same for my writing as well.  I have certain comfort zones I stay within, at least for my rough drafts.  I use them as a baseline to work off of, so I know precisely how far I’m letting the plot threads evolve.  This is how I’m able to read the feel of my stories, how I’m able to control how they will affect the reader.

But sometimes it’s good to break out of that comfort zone, and head towards unknown territory.

I realized this when I wrote the Apartment Complex story; one of the reasons it wasn’t working for me was that I was trying to keep it in a stable comfort zone that it didn’t belong in.  So instead I let fate and instinct take the reins on this one.  The end result was that I’d created character styles I hadn’t written before, doing things I had never written about previously.  I definitely wasn’t pantsing it; I knew exactly where this story was supposed to go.  I just let the characters tell me how they wanted to evolve.  They knew more about themselves than I did.  In the end, the story ended up being, in my opinion anyway, one of the best ones I’ve ever written.  I can’t wait to share it with everyone in 2019!

Breaking out of the comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean doing the exact opposite of whatever your idea of living a safe, comfy life is.  I’m not about to take up free climbing or whatever it is middle aged Manly Men are supposed to do.  But it’s definitely given me a lot to think about in terms of my life at the moment.  This is about getting rid of those old blinders and barriers you’ve been hanging onto for so long, and seeing how far you can go.  You’ll be surprised how big the playing field may have gotten while you weren’t looking.

Fly-by: brb, going on vacation

mt sugarloaf
A lovely view of Sunderland and the Connecticut River from Mt Sugarloaf.

I’ll be afk all next week, as we’ll be heading eastward to New England to visit friends and family, check out the foliage, and all that fun stuff.  I have already created two mixtapes to listen to on the flight, and I shall be doing a full read-through of the Apartment Complex story just because I can.  [I may also bring In My Blue World for some revision work as well.]

We shall return again on the 15th, hopefully with some nice pictures to share!

Throw Those Curtains Wide

I’ve been thinking a lot about life changes lately.  A few personal and work-related events had conspired to unfold within the span of a few weeks to take me by surprise and upend a few long term plans I’d had in mind.

Without going into much detail, there may be a change in Day Job situation that, at first, bothered the hell out of me.  And rightfully so, considering I’m worried about the time lost when commuting or going to an office.  I treasure my writing time and fiercely defend it any way I can.  At the time of these personal events, I’d been thinking seriously about a long-term plan to make all that happen.

The personal events had upended all that.  Still…I never give up when it comes to my writing.  I’m fiercely protective of it.  It’s gotten me through a lot worse over the years.  It’s not just a lifeline but a spiritual release.  And it gives me clarity and drive.

But it wasn’t just about the writing; it was also about making important changes to my life and who I am.  After a day or so of flushing the resulting emotional freak-out from my system, I came to the conclusion: It’s time for me to do something about all of this. 

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working out how to make this happen.  First off: have a positive outlook.  I might not be able to work from home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of writing time.  It just means a shift in schedule.  It means perhaps heading to the gym later than usual.  It means sneaking in some writing time during breaks and lunch times and bus commutes.  And continuing with this longer-term plan of changing and improving my life, despite any distractions.

And most importantly, it means not giving up on my dreams and goals.  Ever.

It’s time for me to be true to myself again.  Far past time.

Distractions, Delays and Determination

polar bear cafe sloth
Yeah, a nap would be good right now…

Day Job Stuff is keeping me on my toes, that’s for sure.  A few things have come up that I’m having to deal with in different ways.  (Yes, I’m being vague for the moment.)  A few personal things have been serving as distractions as well.  Nothing horrible, of course.  Just some irritations, decisions, and changes.

On top of that, I’m going to need to delay the release of In My Blue World.  I don’t want to, but I’d rather delay it than rush the job and put out a half-assed and ultimately unfinished novel.  I won’t do that to y’all, it wouldn’t be fair.  So for all of you who might have picked up my freebie card at Worldcon with the lovely ‘Coming Autumn 2018’ sticker slapped on the back, I’m afraid it’s probably looking more like ‘Coming Early 2019’ instead.  Sorry about that.  But I promise you won’t be let down by the improved and revised version!

Which brings me to determination:  I’ve got a LOT on my plate right now, and strangely enough, I work really well when that happens, as long as I’m completely in charge of it all.  [If I’m constantly distracted by unexpected changes, that’s another thing entirely.]  So a lot of things juggling in the air, but I’m bound and determined to make it all work.  Such is the life of a writer: stubborn will and determination to keep going despite the odds.

Hopefully in a few weeks things will be back to normal and I’ll be able to breathe and take a break again…!