I’m Allowed

I’m allowed to take my time getting there.

I’m allowed to take however long it takes to figure things out.

I’m allowed to share stories that don’t fit the mold.

I’m allowed to understand the world in my own ways.

I’m allowed to have paradoxes in my life.

I’m allowed to be imperfect.

I’m allowed to take my own uncharted steps to see where it all goes.

I’m allowed to remind myself of these things when needed.

Talking End of the Month Refresh Blues

Image courtesy of hackaday.com

I talked a little bit about this over at my Dreamwidth account, but I think it begs a bit of commentary here: I’m happy to say that I think I’ve finally broken myself of that niggling feeling at the end of every month that I’ve failed in keeping up with my writing schedule. For years, and with the best of intentions, I’d start each month looking at my whiteboard calendar and think, yeah, this time I’ll make it to the end with new words and productivity all over the place!, and inevitably crash and burn about two-thirds of the way through.

It took me until recently that to realize that I’ve been looking at this in totally the wrong way.

Coming into each month with the determination to Do All The Things regardless of real life (and Day Job) getting in the way always leads to failure. And that’s the other mistake I made: seeing that as failure in the first place. In the final weeks I’d always get frustrated that I’d failed to follow my plans once more, and every single time I’d needlessly get angry with myself. It would only be exacerbated by thinking, okay, THIS time I’ll get it right! and setting myself up for failure once more.

What I need to do instead is see the start of every month as a refresh. I run cleaning software on this PC every weekend without fail (and it’s kept Spare Oom’s computer up and running smoothly for over three years so far, thank you very much), and it occurred to me that I really should see my writing habits in very much the same manner.

When I start the new month tomorrow — including participating in Inktober — the whiteboard schedule will once again be full, once again be seen as a guide rather than an assignment, once again allowing myself days off when Real Life intrudes. The whole point of the whiteboard schedule has always been to keep me working instead of procrastinating or distracting myself, nothing more. It’s my coping mechanism that’s kept me from otherwise faffing around on Twitter or playing with my music collection all day long.

What I shall do differently starting tomorrow is just do my best. That’s all. If I miss a day, I miss a day. And come the end of October I’ll do the same thing I’m doing now, accepting the amount of work I’d done in the meantime and starting it all over again in November. And so on. View it as a refresh, not as a metric.

Meanwhile, back in Spare Oom…

Image courtesy of Makoto Shinkai, of course.

What’s been going on, anyway? I’ve been working on the Theadia rewrite when I’m not at the Day Job, mostly. On days off I’ll catch up with some personal projects, or if they line up with A’s we’ll go out for a walk or burn through our British streaming shows. [For those playing along, we’ve been on a Silent Witness kick and it’s exciting but definitely not for the squeamish.] Other than that…? Not much at all.

I’ve been in kind of a rut in terms of actually producing content to self-publish. I mean, I’ve got Diwa & Kaffi ready to go, but I really need to get off my arse and look into commissioning an artist. I’ve got a few ideas that I want to sketch out first, however. If I’m going to work with an artist, I want to work with an artist, meaning that I’m willing to give them as much prep work and rough sketches as I can so they won’t be going in blind. Besides, I know exactly what I want: a simple yet engaging cover similar to what you see on some manga/light novels. Something like Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku, for example. I like the idea of using blank space on purpose here, to evoke the mood that it’s very much a light novel in some respects, as well as the fact that a lot of that novel is about being up in the air. I have a few artists in mind, I’ll just need to contact them and see if they’re interested or have the time.

Speaking of Theadia, I’ve also been thinking a bit about how this novel is not quite the Epic that the Bridgetown Trilogy was, but nor is it the lighter work I published afterwards. It’s a bit of both, really. The project goal is very much typical of me: writing a space opera without the military drama, writing an epic without turning everything up to eleven, writing a political drama without falling into my own navel. I even have the tagline, which is a line that’s quoted by many in the story: If you could…would you do the right thing? The novel isn’t about being a savior, it really is about doing the right thing when given the choice between taking ownership or saying ‘not my problem’. There are no heroes here, only normal people choosing to do the right thing because no one else is, and having that in itself be heroic.

It’s been a bit of a juggle, because I definitely need to have certain characters with certain levels of intelligence, power and experience, but purposely not having them get all infodumpy or technerdy about it. [I half-joke sometimes that I’m writing an anti-Cory Doctorow novel here, because I’m choosing not to go into graphic detail about the worlds of infotech, the dark web, and living off the grid. I give just enough detail for it to make sense, because that’s all it needs. I definitely owe Becky Chambers for the inspiration for wanting to take that route.] It’s been an enjoyable ride, though, and that’s all I ask.

*

So. What’s my update schedule going to be here in the days ahead? Glad you asked! I’m going to try to return to the twice-a-week that I’ve had for the last couple of years, though there may be a gap or a late entry here and there, especially when Day Jobbery takes precedence.

Glad you’re sticking around, though! See you soon!

microfiction: Sshteia

NOTE: This was written on 7 November 2018 as a 750Words entry, most likely during a slow time at the Former Day Job. I honestly had forgotten I’d written this soon after, having put it aside as merely an exercise in writing serious short fiction in a different style, and nothing more. I happened upon it a few years later and was pleasantly surprised at how well it stands up.

*

Sshteia

Sshteia stood six and a half feet tall and preferred to the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’ even though her aspect was made up of thousands of sentient bee-like insects called Tnei gathered together in a wavering, buzzing human-like form.  Sshteia was the name of the queen of the hive, so it only made sense.  And she was one of the best coworkers I’d ever had in this company.

Sshteia and I had been matched five years ago when I started working for Yamato and Associates here on Adiamma.  We were part of a larger department of phystech workers; each human was teamed up with a hive of Tnei.  While the humans would do the computing, diagnostics and occasional heavy lifting, the Tnei hive would assume a humanlike form most of the time but break up into their thousands and insert themselves into the hardware and do the microscopic work as needed.  A human-Tnei team was considered one of the most efficient ways to do tech work nowadays, and Yamato was at the forefront of it all.

Thing is, they didn’t always understand that the relationship between humans and Tnei could sometimes go in strange directions.  For instance, Sshteia — or more accurately, her hive — seemed to love landing on my bare skin and walking all over me at the oddest times.   Then there was her request for wanting to move out of her next and live with me in my apartment.  I mean, I didn’t really mind, because we got along just great, but it could be kind of…weird sometimes.

When she spoke, her voice was half synthetic and half natural, so it sounded like a low feminine voice with just a small hint of flutter to it.  She said it was due to the fact that the voice simulator couldn’t quite match the speed of the natural clicking and chittering of the Tnei.  It took me a little while at first, but I soon found that the more she spoke, the more soothing it became.  She never lifted her voice any higher than normal speech; the one time she did, the voice sim couldn’t translate and it ended up as a bizarrely beautiful dissonant feedback.

Today Sshteia was once again in her humanoid form, ready to head out to the tech center with me, when I noticed that there were a few of her hive behaving a little twitchier than normal.  As queen bee (so to speak) she’d occasionally have issues with some rogue worker Tnei and would discard them from her hive and provide more.  She would lay numerous eggs every few months or so, leave some of the hive behind to help them gestate and grow into healthy young hivers.  She’d just laid a new wave of eggs a few weeks previous, and it seemed some of the older hivers weren’t too happy about it.  They felt they were being replaced too soon.

I did what I could to help, but to be honest there wasn’t much I could do.  I just kept her nest well protected and provided her with nourishment.  There wasn’t much I could do about rogue Tnei.

Sshteia ignored them at first; she’d sent her second and third in command — yes, each hive had its chain of command — to take care of them when necessary.  (It was sometimes kind of creepy and morbid to find dead Tnei lying on the floor below the nest, legs shriveled up just like dead insects.  Especially when the rogues were often dispatched by way of dismemberment.)  But by the third day, she could take no more.  Her synthetic voice had grown less intelligible and sometimes her humanoid form would spontaneously pull apart, turning into a wild and buzzing storm of lost Tnei.  I’d gotten caught in the cloud twice, and it wasn’t fun.

On the fourth day, Sshteia pleaded that I take three days off for health reasons — our job required both of us in peak form, and I could not do it on my own — and I obliged.  She requested that I leave her be in her nest in her room and leave the door locked.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and I didn’t want to believe the rumors.

She’d switched off the synth voice halfway through the first day.  I didn’t dare ask.

But on the fourth day, I heard a pleasant humming.  The same hum I’d heard when I first met Sshteia.  Through the closed door I asked if she was okay and if she needed me to come in.

She said yes, it was fine to come in.  I opened the door, and stopped short.

There, on the floor, was the largest Tnei in the hive… Sshteia.  Had she…?

She said her name was Nai, and she was Sshteia’s daughter, and the new queen.

I blinked and stared at the humanoid form of Nai’s hive.  Slightly shorter but no different.

My first thought was a tiny twinge of sadness; Sshteia had been my friend since we both started the job.  I would definitely miss her. 

My second thought, of course, was that we’d need to stop by HR to update the paperwork.

Hmm.

I’m feeling a bit bored with my blogs as of late. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about writing here…but I’ve been repeating myself for a while now. I feel like I’ve been using the same subjects, hitting Random Shuffle and posting something not-quite-the-same-but-similar.

I need to shake things up a bit.

So.

I’ve decided I’m going to spend all of next month (and maybe July as well) going a bit off schedule. I’d like to share some of my outtakes, poetry, and other bits and bobs that I’ve written over the last several years. You’ve read more than enough about my thoughts on the process, why not finally share some of the end results?

Hope you enjoy.

Putting it all together (in my head)

So the trouble chapter in Theadia has been somewhat successfully rewritten — it could still use a bit of tidying up, but for now it’s a lot closer to what I wanted it to be — so I’m onto the next scene, which takes place maybe a few weeks later. Now that particular scene is okay (again, could be better), but the transition between the two scenes could probably be a little more coherent. The current problem is that I need it to hint at a passage of time without it being a ‘Some Time Later…’ placard.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of moving parts that I need to be aware of and ensure they’re in the correct order and make sense. Like most of my novel projects, this isn’t something I ever have copious notes for…it’s all in my head. Sure, I’ll have some notes, but rarely will I ever have the entire thing mapped out somewhere on paper or online.

With Theadia‘s latest go-round, I find that I’m filling in a lot of the gaps with these sorts of things: fixing the transitional scenes, inserting new passages to strengthen the conflict within the overarching plot line, and of course filling in the ‘Fix This Later’ blanks. All of this in my head…getting to a point in the story where I know I need to insert the action from an antagonist’s POV, or better show a character’s development from passive to active status. Things like that.

It’s certainly making the story a hell of a lot longer, that’s for sure. But I’m fine with overwriting like this, because when it comes time to edit, I’ll have enough laid out that it will be safe to streamline what needs streamlining. [This is what I did with The Balance of Light, where I excised about sixty thousand words or so. That one’s still a long book, but it reads a lot smoother than it had originally.]

I still haven’t actually finished the book yet — I’d say it’s just shy of the final climax of the story right now — but I’m not too worried about that. I’ll get there soon enough. Once everything else is put together.

Experienced

Jimi Hendrix with Are you Experienced from Rock Without Rules on Vimeo.

So one of my latest assignments for the Current Day Job is bookkeeping duties. Basically being trained on prepping the registers, balancing the safe, and other money-related things. I definitely have experience in this from my last years at HMV, being left in charge of opening/closing, balancing, depositing and all that fun stuff, so I’d let them know this when I was interviewed. I figured it would give me an extra in when they hired me.

I’ve been at the new place for a bit over two months, and I’ve already retained all my old retail and warehouse job experience into this new one, making everything easy and fun. I’ve already got multiple compliments on my bagging skills, and it’s not just because I do my own when I’m doing the shopping — my style is very much like how I used to build my pallets back at Yankee Candle, getting as many items into a finite space as I can yet still being safe about it. [It really is a bit like Tetris, and it’s kind of fun to look ahead at the shapes/items and put them together in my head.] And thanks to watching Gardener’s World and all those cooking shows during the pandemic, I’m even having some fun conversations about herbs, plants and ingredients as well.

Reason I bring this up is that in these same last couple of months, it dawned on me that perhaps I don’t nearly use that sort of thing with the characters in my stories as much as I really should. I’d like to think my characters are no longer the one-note self-inserts of yore, but after so many years being in an enclosed office setting with the same couple dozen people, I’d kind of lost touch with what other people were like. [Mind you, I don’t use social media for this sort of thing too often, for many and obvious reasons.]

What kind of experience do I have with people? I mean, in real life? I have a lot, it’s just that I’ve kind of lost touch with it for the last decade and a half. The Current Day Job has definitely changed that. I meet regulars, but I also meet the tourists, the late-nighters, the teens, the business people, the homeless, the well-off, and everyone else. And I’m really enjoying that sort of thing. Like I said recently, it’s reminding me that there’s a world outside. A world that’s not on Facebook or Twitter, a world that’s not crunching numbers, a world that’s not trying to save or ruin things. Just…people out there.

And it feels really great to experience that again.

Life taking unexpected turns

To be honest, I’d always thought that if I ever was going to join a union, that it would be writing-related. Instead, I’ve recently signed papers to join the one at my Current Day Job.

How do I feel about that? Well, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a socialist anyway so having a group dedicated to looking out for my wellbeing at work is pretty neat, considering I’d never had that before. Not that any of my previous blue-collar jobs ever had them, at any rate. And there certainly hadn’t been any that I knew about at the Former Day Job…sure, they’d have a lot of feel-good platitudes and attaboys, but they’d always rung empty to me. My current coworkers talk about union stuff now and again, such as a recent pay raise agreement, and the rep immediately handing me a card upon signing saying ‘call me if you have questions or need help’. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Day Job with a representative like that who really meant it.

What kind of union member would I be, anyway? Good question. Probably not a performative one, at any rate, because that’s not the kind of person I am. Maybe one who’d be willing to make a noise if warranted (not that I see that happening in the immediate future), but other than that I’ll just pay the dues, keep up with the news, vote when asked, and get all the perks being offered. I kind of feel like I’ve finally been hired somewhere that doesn’t try to bleed me dry mentally and physically, and a union is known to be good at making sure it stays that way.

Part of why I’m thinking about this is that I think I’ve finally made peace with being a Writer With a Day Job, just like most other writers out there. This is a low-stress, easy-on-the-brain job that pays reasonably well (only a dollar or two less than what I’d been making at the FDJ), has an awesome commute, and offers me all the time I need for writing work when I get home without guilting me into ridiculous amounts of overtime or overwork (which I would make a noise about, natch). I’ve realized that yeah, I no longer feel like I’m chained to any Day Job I have. I’m glad to work there, the people are fine (and unlike the FDJ, so are the customers, many of whom are quite lovely), and I definitely feel more connected to my coworkers and the outside world than I had elsewhere.

So yeah, it’s probably time for me to dust off my Billy Bragg albums and give them a relisten. Heh.

Almost there…

Image courtesy of Polar Bear Café

It’s been…a long work week. Six straight days of working noonish-to-midevening shifts at the shop, including both weekend days. Today’s the sixth day and hopefully I will not be walking home feeling like a zombie. I have tomorrow off, and I’d really like to use that day to get caught up on things. Thankfully I’m only there until 7:45 this time, so I won’t be too wiped out. It’s not that they’re overly long shifts — they’re roughly all eight hours long — it’s just that they’re during multiple busy times and that is what’s exhausting me.

Anyhoo. I have now worked out how I need to approach this next scene in Theadia. You could see it as the culmination of Act I, in which our heroes have taken stock in what’s going on in their universe and have chosen to take action. The original version reads a lot like a detailed “STUFF GOES HERE” moment and we can’t have that, can we?

Unfortunately these last few days haven’t given me much time or energy to focus too much on it, so hopefully my day off and the following morning shifts (the ones I love that leave my afternoons and evenings wide open) for the rest of the week will give me a lot more ability to catch up.

Here’s to hoping, anyway…!

There’s a World Outside

Image courtesy of Your Name

I’ve been spending a lot of time at work noticing there’s a world outside Spare Oom’s one window.

I mean, I know there’s a world out there, and I’m not talking about the unseen lands past the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. I’m talking about people in my neighborhood. The teens attending the nearby schools. The families in the neighboring houses and apartments in the Richmond District. The dog walkers, the late-shifters stopping in the store at 10pm to buy tomorrow’s lunch, the retirees stocking up for the week or buying that one ingredient they’re out of.

I’ve known they’re out there, but I’d kept them at a very long distance over the years. Part of it was the need to figure myself out without all the outside distraction and influence. And with the Former Day Job, my connection with others was mostly Other Businesses where there’s always that bit of enforced professional distance. I got along with my coworkers there but was never a close friend. But somewhere along the line that became the norm: I just didn’t people all that much.

When I started this retail job, I went in thinking one thing: If I’m going to deal with people, I’m not going to think of them as faceless Clients or Customers. That was a Former Day Job thing. I’m going to think of them as my neighbors and people I could get to know. Same with my coworkers; I may be old enough to be some of my coworkers’ parent (and young enough to be a whippersnapper to the older coworkers), but that shouldn’t keep me from getting to know them, learning a bit about who they are.

This, interestingly enough, has made me rethink how I approach creating new characters for my stories. I think that’s partly why I feel like Theadia is a bit more like the Bridgetown Trilogy than the last couple of novels I’ve written, because I’m giving these characters lives that are inspired or influenced by real life people I’m meeting. And in the process, learning a bit more about myself at a deeper level. Catching myself being who I am in a public setting without defaulting to a malleable People Pleaser every time. And it’s not just eye-opening but incredibly freeing.

Maybe the world outside isn’t as frustrating or stressful as I’d remembered it being.