Monthly Archives: February 2013

Four Important Questions

So, a couple of days ago I was doing Irish, and I took a wild hair. (At least, A says it was Irish, because it was morning sessions; Irish is in the morning, German is in the afternoon. Japanese in the evenings. Anyway.) I made some comment on Twitter as a note to self that I did not need to translate the Four Important Questions from Babylon 5 into whichever language it was. Because I am a giant geek and my first instinct when learning a new phrase in a new language is to go “Oh, I could use that for this geeky purpose!” But I try not to give into all my impulses because then I would spend the rest of the month trying to translate the Dark is Rising poems and never make it to the next chapter.

But of course I made the mistake of saying this on Twitter, which led to the immediate response of “of course you do!” Oops.

A took the ones she knows, as our languages overlap quite a bit. I took the rest of them.

Кто вы? Что хотите? Почему вы здесь? Где вы идти?

あなたはだれですか。どうしてここですか。どこにいくですか。

Cé he tusa? Cad a teastaíonn uait? Cen fáth atá tú anseo? Cá bhfuil tú ag dul?

The questions, as those familiar with Babylon 5 may well have guessed by now, are “Who are you?” “What do you want?” “Why are you here?” and “Where are you going?” It’s anyone’s guess how good a translation I did on most of them, particularly the Japanese; there are cultural nuances that don’t translate well between, really, any language, and I found it especially difficult to get the semantics across. But they’re important questions, both within the show and without.

Raised by hippies jokes aside, I had a somewhat different childhood. Due to some less than ideal causes, I wound up with a number of mental and emotional tools I’d picked up from various places (co-counseling, summer camp, Montessori school, bilingual elementary school, there was a lot of learning going on). I didn’t realize what I had done or what I’d learned until the last ten years or so. And I definitely didn’t figure out how to put it into words until about four years ago, when two friends and I decided we were fed up with stressing over what our lives had become. i.e. Not what we wanted at all.

So we sat down and we formed a plan. Actually we formed a little support group. We called it Courtesan School, because that was the sort of thing we liked (and for those who like that sort of thing, well, that is the sort of thing they like) and we figured, okay, there are a bunch of things about our lives that we’re unhappy about. So how do we fix them?

It came back to these questions. In one way or another. In order to figure out who and what we wanted to be, we had to figure out who we were to begin with. Who we were when we were at our best, and who we were the rest of the time. We had to figure out what we wanted and, as we know from Babylon 5 (and other places, of course) that getting what you want can get you ass-deep in trouble, we had to figure out what we were willing to do to get what we wanted, or even if it was what we wanted to begin with. Then we had to reverse engineer and figure out why we were there. How we’d gotten to that point. Why were we at this point in this particular time in our lives, where was ‘here’, even. And of course, where were we going.

Courtesan School is a process. There isn’t really a graduation that we set out for ourselves, just a point at which we realized we’d integrated its tactics and techniques (cheerfully thieved from, you know, every-damn-where) into our daily lives and were using them to achieve goals and hurdle obstacles. It’s a simple process. What are we aiming for, what’s stopped us if we’ve tried it in the past, how do we fix it. Repeat as needed till goals achieved. And other important things to remind each other of along the way, like, it’s okay to have setbacks. It’s okay to have a bad day. It’s okay to feel angry, to feel sad, to feel like nothing is going anywhere and you’re going to be fat/dumb/lazy/bitchy/whatever the rest of your life. It’s okay. They’re just your feelings. And your fellow baby/apprentice/Courtesans are there to help. A bad day doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Feeling lazy or tired or angry doesn’t mean you’re that all the time. Every week, we check in with each other to make sure we’re on the right track, where ‘right’ is defined as ‘the one we want to be on.’ So, every week, we ask ourselves the questions again. Who are you, what do you want, why are you here, where are you going.

Doing Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

I’m cooking dinner and committing a minor act of bloggery that may or may not go anywhere, while planning out the menu for next week with the boy, while pondering the line edits I have to do, while keeping an eye on Twitter. And this is pretty much an evening in the life of Kitty. In another forty-five minutes or so I’ll have dinner ready, and I’ll sit down to chew on an episode of Haven and do line edits when my head is too full of that, and then chew some on an episode of Person of Interest since it’s my week to do that. And undoubtedly I’ll be fussing with something else, maybe chatting, maybe working some clay with one hand while I attempt to type coherently with the other. Maybe making a grocery list, because after menu planning comes grocery lists. See, there ist method in my madness. Maybe I’ll be doing that translation I promised someone that, okay, is half done by now.

 

I do not, as you may have gathered by now, or if you know me from meatspace at all, do things one at a time. I gather to myself a collection of tasks that need to happen and sort them into categories of things that can happen simultaneously. And it does help that some of these things are things like “finish watching this TV show” or “finish that damn knitting project,” or “explore some new bands,” things that require different parts of my body and my brain. But sometimes it involves sitting on the couch or at the computer and leaning forward and tabbing between five windows at once, making progress on one project and then when I hit a wall there, even a small one, rapidly moving to the next one so I can make progress and use that momentum to go back to the first.

 

There’s been a study referenced on the internet somewhere or another, I’d track it down if I had more than a vague supposition that I saw it around, that bilingual people multitask better. On the face of it, it makes sense. When you live in a bilingual household, you get used to switching your brain back and forth through two different but both fundamental ways of thinking. So it’s not much of a stretch to go from that to switching your brain back and forth from editing in one window, writing something new in another, doing a bit of HTML code in a third, and chatting elsewhere. All similar but slightly different tasks. Or, alternatively and less single-category focused, mending a skirt and watching TV and chatting and writing a story in bits and pieces. While the front of my mind is focused on the conversation and not stabbing myself with a needle, the back of my mind might be taking in the TV show and churning out other kinds of fiction. Or, as I’m doing right now, keeping an eye on a pot of soon-to-be-mashed potatoes to make sure it doesn’t boil over, while blogging, while making a meal plan and a grocery list, while chatting, while turning over aspects of my childhood in my head in case I need to pull them out and pass them over for their information.

 

Everybody does this. And even as I’m typing it there’s an element of caterpillaring in here. You know what caterpillaring is. It’s what happens when someone asks the caterpillar (or the centipede, as it seems to be more commonly known) how on earth does it move all those legs at the same time. Having to think about it, the caterpillar (or centipede) realizes it has no idea, and promptly topples over. So, Kitty, how do you cook and do household tasks and blog and chat and prepare anecdata all at the same time? I’ll tell you! …. I don’t know. But everybody does it, and the trick to doing it well is knowing what kinds of tasks you can balance and how many of each of them you can juggle before you and all your tasks fall flat on your face.

 

I’m bad at this. I’m better than I used to be, so we’ll say I used to be really bad at this. There was a time not so many years ago when I would write six to eight projects around Nanowrimo pretty much because I could. There was no question of whether or not it was a good idea, or whether or not I could in the sense that I was capable of doing this in any sort of rational or healthy manner, I was physically and mentally capable of writing 350,000 words in a month, so sure, why not?

 

Oh the reasons I could give you why not. So many reasons do I have.

 

(When you’re blogging no one can tell that you took a five to mash some potatoes.)

 

(Or decanting some spices.)

 

Doing multiple things at once isn’t a bad thing. It’s a sad truth that one’s ability to do a task well goes down with every additional task you pile onto what you’re doing; this is the reason people who talk on the phone and drive and put on their makeup and drink coffee, cause accidents. But it’s also true that doing something, especially doing it well and to completion, gives a little upswing. A little bit of momentum or at least positive energy (aka dopamine) which can then be converted into forward momentum or energy for one of the other things you’re doing. Just looking at my list of tasks, half of them involve short, simple things stacked on one after the other, next to one or two longer or more involved things. Probably half the reason I’ve been successful with my line edits so far is because I’ve been doing them in conjunction with smaller tasks I can finish so I’m not going dear god will this project never fucking end? Because I will. I know it, you know it, my editrix definitely knows it.

 

So, now I’ve almost finished making dinner. I’ve got my menu for the rest of the week, and the shopping list to go with it to give the boy since he’s the one who goes by the store with the discounted meat and at the hour when it’s discounted and stuck out on the shelves. That’s three tasks done, and I still have a couple hours left in the evening to do all my blogwork, and whatever else goes along with blogwork. Most likely chatting and eating dinner, and possibly some line edits, and maybe some knitting, coding, or playing around with modeling clay. And whatever it is, I’m sure it will be full of little dopamine mines going off in my head and keeping me moving forward in any of the half-dozen tasks I’ve set for myself tonight. I may not get it all done by the time I trudge upstairs to bed, but I’ll at least have a good chunk of things whacked out. And that’s more than enough to be going on with.

Workshop In The Mind

Today seems like the perfect kind of day to tell you all about how I keep my mind in perfect (hah!) working (ahahah!) order. Stop laughing, I’m serious.

 

Semi-serious. I’ve had more experience than was probably wise at attempting to work through a turbo-charged, somewhat manic state — somewhat manic both in the clinical sense of manic and in the colloquial, and more the latter than the former. And the fact that I have a coping mechanism for working through or coming down from a manic state of project-tackling is at least half-due to general practice at meditative techniques. I was raised by hippies, what can I say? They teach you this when you’re young and raised by hippies.

 

So, my mental landscape is pretty well defined. It started when I was around twelve, thirteen or so, sprung out of recurring dreams and conversations with friends and far too many fantasy novels. It solidified into something resembling consistent form when I became involved in online text-based roleplay, which, since it was freeform, meant I had to consistently describe things like what my headspace was and who lived in it. The basement muse is a subject for another time entirely, but I did manage to get some sort of concrete idea of what it looked like inside the place where I went to plan things.

 

My headspace is vast and contains multitudes. The center of it is a tower, because little girls who dream of being fantasy heroes love towers, and Very Important People have them (just ask Neil Gaiman). At the ground level there are gardens and fields and hot springs and a big stone wall, but at the top of it is my private little headspace bedroom, and beneath that is the Workshop.

 

For those of you who haven’t read Meredith Ann Pierce’s Darkangel Trilogy, it’s a young adult series in which a girl is given a spindle which spins, not wool, but thoughts and feelings. And when she’s upset it spins an itchy, coarse thread, and when she’s content it spins like fine silk. This also comes out, albeit less blatantly magical, when the protagonist of Wise Child (by Monica Furlong) is learning to spin and weave. And in addition to the hippies I grew up spending summers in the Appalachian mountains with my aunts and uncles, and they taught me all kinds of things like how to weave and knit, how to throw clay, how to sew, about feeding chickens and cows and riding horses, how to make baskets, how to spin and make yarn, how to take plain white or off-white things and put color onto them, and the idea that physically creating something tied into one’s emotions flew into the blender with all of this and spattered all over my consciousness.  The upshot of all this, I was surrounded by crafty people and books about how being crafty could be magical if you thought about it right, so of course my headspace would be full of magical spindles and spinning wheels and pottery wheels and looms and things. Physical crafts as a metaphor for mental crafts, right?

 

It turns out, this is exactly what I needed. Years and years later, after one manic bout of Yuletide writing I was finding it hard to sleep. All the stories were theoretically in (that’s a complaint for another time and place) and I’d wrapped up a last 72-or-so-hour marathon frenzy of writing, but I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t settle down, I couldn’t think. My headspace was in whatever the stage beyond disarray. So I made use of all this imagery and meditation training, and I put it the hell back in order. If I created stories and worlds and things out of cones of imaginary yarn and blocks of make-believe clay, after a few straight days of mad frenzied creating my Workshop was probably in a state of tremendous chaos and mess, like a meatspace Workshop would be if I’d done the same thing in the physical world. And if  had done that, then it needed to be cleaned up, right? I could wipe down the tables and put things back on shelves and sweep the dust from off the floor, too. And by the time I was done with that, I was a lot calmer and ready to sleep again.

 

Figuring that out was one of those big revelations that makes your life so much easier, you can’t imagine how you did it the hard way all these years before. And yeah, I still have days when the deadlines are creeping up on me, or when I have five different things in my head all screaming to get out, or when I’ve been up too late and early and can’t focus anyway. But having one more tool in my kit to put my mind in order doesn’t hurt, and does help quite a bit.

What is Past is Prologue

So. I have a blog.

 

Technically, I’ve had a blog for several months now. I co-write Unspooling Fiction with my best friend from college, and that’s been wildly successful beyond our imaginings. But since I’m attempting to be a real live grown-up author (two of those adjectives are questionable) with a web page and published works and everything, a blog for my own writerly purposes seemed like the thing to do. Required by unspoken contract, if you are an author with an online presence, you must have a blog. Besides, I can hold forth at apparently astounding length, so there you go.

 

It’s a bit strange, this self-publishing and attempting to get published by submission thing. Like almost everyone, it seems, I started writing young and early, and continued through college and into adulthood and being a college graduate and an idiot, I decided I would try to make a career doing what I loved. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? It didn’t help that my first submission to a contest, I think when I was still in college, was accepted. Nothing worse than success straight off the bat, I thought for sure that I could do this, that I was in fact as brilliant as I felt while half stoned out of my mind on research paper deadlines and too much cafeteria food. I moved down to live with friends and my then-boyfriend, I looked for temp work to pay the bills between submitting things and getting paid for it. Ah, naivete.

 

Fast forward to almost eleven years later. The closest I’ve come to success in publishing via traditional routes is a few short stories in anthologies I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard of (and not under this name, anyway), and a kudos from a Putnam editor who said he’d love to see my manuscript… if I could find an agent. I tried about forty agencies before I gave up on that one, and packed in the dream a year later. Not the writing part of it, that I kept up because as we all know, once you start, you don’t stop. But the submitting I cut out entirely, because I had a day job first with a soul-sucking call-center and then an actually pleasant day job at the family store, which I did enjoy. So I had day job work I enjoyed, I could still write, I loved where I moved to and now live, I might as well just write for myself and be satisfied with my mediocrity. I made noises in the direction of self-publishing, but something always seemed to come up. After I bought a house, though, and it became more certain that I really was settling in my lovely mountains for good, the noises became a bit more coherent. Traditional route publishing be damned, but I needed to prove to myself that I could write, revise, and complete a freaking book because I had been trying and failing and failing better for so many years.

 

Somewhere in there, within the last several months, my friend and I committed an act of bloggery. How this happened was how most things seem to happen with me and writing, she and I blather at each other about television shows and the nuances of their acting and filming choices, color, script, etc., out of habit. At some point someone said something that made me write out a diatribe on the subject of a character, which was well received. Upon learning that people liked this sort of thing, first we blathered on more in public on Tumblr, then we perpetrated the blog, because Tumblr just wasn’t suited to inviting discussion and having a good dialogue. We started it off with one show, one show became two, and at first we publicized it only on Twitter and Tumblr. We had no idea and no real inclination to explore making this a Thing On The Internet. Which is of course when Murphy stepped in and decreed that writers and in-character twitters from both shows would pick it up and disseminate it far and wide. Suddenly we had that most elusive of creatures, A Readership. And people liked what we wrote. To this day we look at each other and wonder how the hell this happened. We’ll probably still be wondering that in a year from now.

 

I have no idea what’s going to happen with this blog. Or with my website or my writing career, if career is even the proper term for it. I write! I will continue to write, and I will continue to try and navigate this self-publishing thing because it is a thing I want to do for myself. The rest is up to the whimsy of the universe. Hopefully, it will be kind.