Camp Nanowrimo 2015

I think at this point every writing blog does a Nanowrimo post sometime. This gives me a case of The Olds, because when I started Nanowrimo I was in college and it was maybe a few thousand people and we were all doing this crazy thing together, and apart from the online forums there was very little in the way of support. And now I think agencies and editors fear December with a particular kind of “Oh shit here come the masses of unedited manuscripts” trepidation. They make commercials with horror music or the Jaws theme out of this kind of stampede. Never, ever, ever submit your fresh out of the gate Nanowrimo manuscript. I know you know better. Don’t do it anyway.

Anyway. So, everyone has their own Nanowrimo advice or opinion post, and this is mine!

BACK UP YOUR WORK. Back it up back it up back it up. This should be at the top of every advice post on marathon writing I make. Back. It. Up. Otherwise you run the risk of being very sad someday.

Schedule Yourself – There’s two reasons for this. One is that if you clear out all foreseeable duties you might have to deal with in the next half hour and dedicate yourself to sitting and writing, you might actually have the time to do it. Not to mention the energy, if you schedule it right. This requires having a certain amount of predictability and awareness in your day-to-day, but if you can do it, it’s worth doing. That’s the obvious one. The less obvious part is that if you discipline yourself to sitting your ass down and putting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper for X minutes or at Y time in the day, you’re more likely to be able to do so in the future. And you’re more likely to be able to, not just because you’ll get in the habit and go “Oh, it’s writing time now,” but because your brain works itself around to that routine, sitting and writing will become at least a little bit easier. Even if it’s just a couple hundred words. Or fifty words. The more you make writing a part of your daily routine, the easier it gets to push through and get something done even when what you’re working on seems stale and boring and bleugh and no one will ever want to read this why do I bother. Which brings me to my next point.

You Will Get Sick Of It – That’s just a fact of writing. You will come to hate what you’re working on at least a little bit. My Editrix calls it the boggy middle. Neil Gaiman famously wrote that he called his agent to complain that this was pointless and he was never going to finish and it was a bad idea, and that she told him “Oh, you’re at that stage, everyone does it.” It’s true. Everyone does. This is why it’s important to get to a point where you’re comfortable in your own head with writing absolute, utter crap. Because whether or not you are, there is a point where you’ll feel like it. And speaking of comfortable…

Writer Comfort Is a True Myth – First, the myth: If you have that one fountain pen, or that one program, or that new laptop, or that office desk, or the perfect notebook, or even just a quiet place to curl up, you are not necessarily going to write any better or any easier. If your laptop is old and buggy and the ‘f’ key is missing and you can only open two windows at a time, maybe, yes, you will write easier. If you’ve got two screaming kids under the age of ten and a sick spouse and somehow you manage to turn the whole mess over to your BFF so you can have half an hour to yourself, you will almost certainly write easier. But having the ideal environment is not required. It is no guarantee that you won’t sit there staring at a blank page swearing at yourself because you only have twelve minutes left and you have to get the hero out from under the rolling boulder. And that said, knowing how to optimize what you do have is also important, as well as knowing what you would love to have, what you would like, and what the minimum is you need to get into the headspace for writing. Just because you don’t need the thing to write doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the thing, if it’s within your means without sacrificing other important shit. Like, you know, food.

Bare Necessities – Speaking of food. Are you fed? If it’s been a little while, do you have a small food by your writing implements to snack on while you write? Are you hydrated? Did you sleep well? If not, do you have room for a quick power nap? (Power napping is a highly underrated skill.) Have you showered? Are you clean and feeling good and ready to go? If you have to set a  timer to make sure you get up every fifteen minutes and check if you need food or water, and do a few stretches and walk around some, set that timer. I do that quite a bit. Neglect not your physical form just because the biggest muscle a writer uses is the mind. It takes maybe forty five to an hour to shower, have a food, have a stretch, and sit down and take a couple to get your head in the game.

Head Games – And that is my last piece of advice for this post: since your mind is the biggest muscle you will use for writing (apart from those pesky fingers) you should exercise it. There are scads and gobs of affirmation exercises, guided meditation, I don’t favor any particular one and use a cobbled-together sort of meditation of my own design which I’ve discussed at length elsewhere in this blog. But exercising your brain is important, however you do it. So take some time and some trial and error, and figure out how you can best exercise your brain to make it an efficient writing muscle.

That’s my advice for marathon writing. Coincidentally, it’s also my advice for people who want to make a … what’s the word for a career that doesn’t imply a living wage? Profession? Lifelong habit? We’ll go with that, a lifelong habit of writing. Basically, if you’re writing for more than just this one story, this is my advice for how to go about working it into your life. Use it wisely and well, and discard it when it no longer serves you. Okay, that’s my final piece of advice. Always discard advice after you’ve considered it against your circumstances, if you’ve discovered it doesn’t serve you. There is no one true way to do writing, and anyone who tells you there is is selling something.

Portrait of the Artist At Her Studies

I am so behind on my online physics courses I can’t even tell you guys.

The truth is, I’m not in school. I’m not required to take this for work. If I wanted I could click that button that says “unenroll” and remove that source of stress from my life at any time. (And doesn’t that sound better than drop out? It does, which is why I never phrase it like that in my head.) But no, I’m going to persevere and push through and do more every day and hope I finish by the deadline. Which is May, so I should have plenty of time, right? Of course right.

I’ve told you many things about myself; let me tell to you another: I like to learn. And I hate to fail at it. I’ve never been labeled as Gifted or Talented, or Prodigy, or any of those other labels they like to slap on kids that give them endless amounts of mental anguish in their adult lives, but I seem to have gotten a lot of the neuroses without any of the prestige of the names. I haaaaaaate to fail. I stressed out for hours and days over whether or not to do the Immunology exam, despite the fact that I wasn’t caught up on lessons, despite the fact that like the physics class, I had no dogs within miles of this fight. My self-esteem, to put it clinically and with pretension, was negatively impacted in a pervasive and continuous way by my inability to complete online classes in a timely fashion. But I do it the hell anyway, because I like to learn. I like to study. I like to know new things to me, and for another motivation I feel like it makes me a better writer not just to look up the facts when I need them, but to immerse myself in biology or physics for a little while. To know how that feels, what that sounds like, in order to write better scientists or science fiction.

So, I’m studying. In addition to taking online courses on one site in physics and, of all things, US history (why? I don’t know why, it amuses me), I’m constantly on one site or another practicing my languages. The first part of this is describing these sites, I won’t call it a review because I’m not convinced any of these sites are astoundingly good or mind-shatteringly bad, but describing. Descriptions. Different people learn in different ways, so here’s something of what I do.

Duolingo and Memrise are my go-to sites for languages. Memrise provides me with the quick vocab hit I can’t get when I have to look up a word twice in a sentence while reading a book. At that point of comprehension it’s more frustrating for me to pick up vocabulary by reading than it is to simply memorize, so I do it. It’s also good for taking a timed quiz for maybe 2-5 minutes and getting a small buzz because I scored a 98% accuracy on it. There was an article not long ago about studying languages as a tool to fight off depression, and while I don’t suffer from clinical depression I can tell you, for the situational depression that hits when relatives get diagnosed with various forms of cancer, it works wonders to give me strength to keep going. Duolingo is similar in the quiz department. But it doesn’t just give vocabulary or the short bits of information you can find on flash cards, it has a more holistic approach and is geared towards learning at least the basics of a language. It also has the wonderful advantage that it makes you listen to the language being spoke and translate from that, and translate both into and out of the written language. It’s often more difficult to translate into the new language, and Duolingo applies equal time to all directions. If you have a microphone it will even help you with your speaking, although I question how accurate it necessarily is in that specific area. Still. Short quizzes, small bites of learning, easily consumeable and good for quick dopamine hits.

Living Language is another site I’ve come to adore, I’ll be honest, because I decided I wanted to learn Dothraki. Yes, I am that geek. I had the Languages of Tolkien primer as a teen, I had the Klingon Grammar by Okuda, I am still that geek today now that I’m theoretically old enough to know better. (This is a lie. There is no better.) And I haven’t used this site to complete a language study yet, so I can’t tell you how efficiently or to what level it’s taught me, but I’m finding that so far, it’s useful. It’s very useful for helping me learn Dothraki from scratch, and for other languages that have different alphabets (Hindi and Arabic currently) it’s helping me to start learning those languages while I slowly and painstakingly master writing my ABC’s.

That’s the languages, now for everything else and by everything else I mean I look at the course catalogs and go “what am I interested in today,” there’s EdX. At least right now there’s EdX, there are also Coursera and Khan Academy, which friends of mine are currently going through. EdX pleases me at the moment because the lectures are broken up into bite sized sections, I think the longest lecture I’ve had to sit and watch is 20 minutes, and that’s an outlier. Usually they’re 12-15 minutes. You can pay for a certificate or audit the class, as I do, and depending on the teacher there may be more or fewer periodic questions and quizzes (questions are not graded, quizzes are) to make sure you understand the lesson. I have, at this point, never run into a lesson that didn’t have those. It does not give you the same dopamine hits of “I have succeeded at learning a thing!” in measured and predictable chunks as the language sites, but it is a good, bite-sized way of getting information and learning that you otherwise might have to pay many thousands of dollars for, along with variably adequate housing and Ramen for the next five years. Trust me, I’ve had a college education. These are, if not the full experience of being able to badger your teacher about the prostitution subtext in TS Eliot, a very good in-your-home, in-your-pajamas substitute.

Learning! I love to learn. I think even if I didn’t have a writing hobby I would pick up studying things as a hobby, because why the hell not. Here are some benefits to learning: it keeps your brain active, it keeps you thinking critically, which is a good thing both for staving off various age related dementias and for growing socially and as a person. It makes you more marketable as an employee whether or not you’re actively looking. It gives you a chance for a new passion, or a new interest, which leads to maybe meeting new people, which can lead to a richer life. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Here are some drawbacks to learning, especially on your own. It is on you to be disciplined and keep to your structure, which can be detrimental to your mental health if you are not the type of person who does structure independently very well but have the brain twitch I do of I-am-failing-this-course-and-so-behind therefore-I-must-be-a-terrible-person. It is very, very easy to get frustrated and say “fuckit.” You may learn better by interacting with people, at which point you are dependent on their schedules and modern technology. At least with a class you’re still dependent on their schedule, but by prior arrangement their schedule includes taking time out to sit with you and X number of other students and teach you this. Learning on your own, you can’t ask Memrise or Duolingo a question and have a dialogue with it (although on Duolingo you can have a dialogue with other students, for what that’s worth). Learning on your own takes either an ordered mind, not Sherlock Holmes level of ordered but some discipline and neatness in the thinkmeats, or a mind that can tolerate digressions, failures, and other things which are not clear success.

I love it. The last five, no, seven (eek) years have helped me structure my mind to the point that I can do this. I really think if I had tried to do this seven years ago, it wouldn’t have worked. No, I know it, because I tried learning German and Russian on my own more than seven, about ten years ago, and I failed utterly. Now I’m working on my third and fourth languages independently, and I have every expectation of eventually being able to read Al Jazeera in Arabic standard someday. Maybe within the next three years. It all depends on what you want to accomplish by the learning, how you best learn, how well you know yourself to know either of the first two things.

And me, I’m still so far behind in physics. Crap. 😀

Go To The Moon

A friend of mine is currently making a short film, which means the rest of us get to hear him bemoaning his life choices and bitching about everything else. I have adequate popcorn, it’s fine. But, see, the problem with bitching is that it tends to be contagious. One person starts up, another one chimes in all “Yeah, and you know what else?” and then a third person adds “And another thing” and before you know it you’re writing another short story or a book. Wait, no, that’s just me.

The relevant part of this story is, one of the things he was bitching about was the advice he was reading on filmmaker blogs and websites. Don’t do this, because it doesn’t work. Don’t do this, because it’s hard. Don’t minimize your crew to save on working expenses. Don’t do oners. And there were probably one or two other things I didn’t hear about. The cycle of bitching began, although instead of a book I’m writing this blog post because sit down, dear friends, let me tell to you a thing. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, and even just because the prevailing theory is that a thing or a technique won’t work is no reason not to do it. I wouldn’t necessarily throw a great deal of money or valuable materials at something I know isn’t likely to work. But a perfect or near perfect result isn’t always the thing you want. And that still doesn’t mean that just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

(You know why we (the United States) went to the moon, right?)

Every skill and profession is full of advice. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to people who have been there and done that, because avoiding mistakes that other people have made is always a good way to start. It shortens your learning time and improves your product. But there is, and I’m not going to define it to you because it’s just one of those things you know when you see it, there is a difference between mistakes that do not need to be repeated and mistakes that need to be made so you learn why they are mistakes. There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained from trying, fucking up, and figuring out where and how and why you fucked up so you can learn not only not to do it again, but a different way of doing it better and more correctly. Maybe the “right” way that someone taught you isn’t the only right way to do the thing. Maybe there’s a better way no one you met has thought of. At my family’s store we’ve been dyeing a kind of fiber and talking about and teaching dyeing that fiber that one way for twenty years, and just in the last year we learned that you don’t have to do it that way, you can also do it this way. And there was much blinking and shrugging and, okay, sure, why not.

Just because someone tells you to do a thing a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way. And just because doing a thing the other way is going to be hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. No, let me distill that down some. Just because a thing is hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If we all shied away from doing difficult things the world would be a lot worse off.

And this is the problem with saying things like “don’t” or “shouldn’t.” There are very few things that come under that heading. Don’t murder, don’t steal, you shouldn’t punch people, okay, yes. That is true. But saying don’t minimize your crew to save budget, well, why? To make your life harder by having to raise more money? What’s wrong with selecting the two or three best people you know to be your crew, and accepting the consequences? Don’t use passive voice in your writing, well, what if you want to use passive voice in large chunks of your story because you think it will set the appropriate mood? And what’s wrong with trying? By blindly following the advice of “Don’t” or “Shouldn’t” you can deprive yourself of a lot of experience that will teach you why you should or shouldn’t do a thing, and possibly give you some ideas for things you can do instead.

Yes, it’s going to be hard. Disregarding someone’s advice comes with risks, you risk making mistakes that someone else has made, the stupid mistakes that don’t convey any learning properties beyond “don’t touch the hot stove you fucking moron.” On the other hand, disregarding someone’s advice also disregards their prejudices and their limits, which may not be your prejudices and limits. What they think of as hard, you might think of as “challenge accepted.” God knows my scale of response to “this is hard” runs from “ugh I’m going to go eat a brownie instead” to “well fine fuck you I’m going to do it anyway and show you all mua ha ha ha ha.” I’m not even kidding, there’s a maniacal giggle I do, I’ve been told it’s scary.

So I guess what I’m saying here is, don’t do things or refrain from doing things because they’re hard. Don’t do things or refrain from doing things because someone tells you, or do things a certain way because someone tells you. Give it a moment’s thought, first. Even me, what I’m writing here, think about what I’m saying and decide for yourself if I’m full of shit or if there’s something here that has merit towards your life. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s said fairly often around the family store that if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly a couple of times. Don’t be afraid of hard things, and don’t let anyone else make you afraid, either. I find my life is much more exciting for choosing to accept challenges rather than well-meant but “safe” advice. But then, it’s your life, and only you get to choose how you live it.

The Important Things

I’m sitting up here with a mug of cocoa in one hand and typing with the other, with Leverage playing in the background and classic rock playing in my ears (as I start it’s Once In A Lifetime by the Talking Heads, ah my childhood), working on this blog post and trying not to feel guilty about how long it’s been or about the literally 20 other things I did not get done today. I’m serious. I have a list. I think it’s about 20 items long.

I’ve forgotten the three important things.

You know that saying, don’t you? The internet knows this one well,

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

Henry James, in a letter to his son, or so the internet thinks.

It’s easy to remember that we should be kind to other people. We’re reminded of this quite a bit, in the news media, by other people’s responses to us, in television, in films, in books. We are reminded to be good, to be kind. To extend of ourselves to help others, and that’s not a bad thing, that’s part of how society thrives and perpetuates itself. Encouraging the individuals that make up that society to share and help each other.

It’s much harder to remember to be kind to oneself. To allow oneself to be flawed, fragile, and in need of time or space. There’s always a million and one reasons why this thing needs to be done now, or this thing should be done before we relax, or this other thing has to get done before your parents get here. If you’re not cleaning, you’re cooking, if you’re not cooking, you’re studying, the world will absolutely shatter if you don’t finish all of your chores, and heaven forbid you tell a friend, sorry, I didn’t finish that book yet, mind if I keep it a while longer? I’m sorry, I can’t make that event, I need a day off where I can sit around the house in my pajamas and eat chocolate cookies.

We’re not supposed to do that. We’re supposed to be super people, and the more we at least appear to have it together the more we’re supposed to continue to have it together, day after day after day. It’s not even the opinion of others, it’s what we perceive as the opinion of others that trips us up most often. Sometimes, yes, we do have deadlines. We forget to take into account how much we can and can’t do, what we can balance, and we take too many projects on with outside deadlines, and then we have to live with the consequences.  Hopefully one of those consequences is learning not to do that again.

But there’s also our self-imposed deadlines. I’m going to read this many books by the end of the year. I’m going to clean the house by the weekend. I’m going to clean the house this weekend and you will be able to eat off the floors by Monday.

You take it too far you end up like me, feeling guilty about every moment where you’re just relaxing on the couch playing silly computer games. Every minute you spend surfing tumblr becomes a minute you could be doing push-ups, studying, cleaning, prepping food to cook later. You learn these tricks, you make them up for your life as you go along. If you’re patient with yourself, and attentive, and you’re not afraid to fuck up once in a while. You find ways to make your life a little smoother. But that doesn’t mean you have to make up for it in other places. Having extra time doesn’t mean you have to justify it somehow or fill it up with something else productive. Sometimes it is really okay to just lie back and take a nap.

We do not, as a general rule, prioritize or even much value downtime. At least in the American culture where I grew up. I very much remember fellow students having informal contests over who studied more, who got less sleep was a point of pride, who was busier, not necessarily who was doing more extracurricular activities but who was working harder at things that were considered to have value, schoolwork, studies, college applications, volunteer work. It would have been part time jobs if, admittedly, I hadn’t gone to a school largely populated by rich kids. In college it was a little less pervasive, but the same thing. We all worked so hard because we felt that our value was in work, and the results of our work, good results and not failures.

This is a vicious, terrible lie. It is okay to fail, and it is okay not to be working every moment of every day. It is okay to sometimes be idle, to let yourself recharge. It is good to forgive yourself for your failings because holding onto them does nothing useful. Knowing what you did wrong is useful, continually beating yourself in the head about it is not. Go ahead, give yourself permission to have that brownie, read that allegedly trashy book, watch that movie just for the one person you find attractive. Curl up under the covers and take a nap. It’ll be okay, I promise. Just for now, for a short while, be kind to yourself. It’s just as important as everything else.

Meet My Character: Deli Counter Edition

So, a while back I did a thing.

(What about that thing you were supposed to be doing? Or that other thing that you promised? What about those things… never mind those things. Ignore those things. Pretend I finished them.)

No, this is a thing with other people, in proper English we call it an anthology. Something like a more light-hearted or at least more optimistic Wild Cards, this anthology follows the Carl Cook, retired-superhero-turned-deli-owner, and the adventures of his customers. Who may or may not be superheroes themselves. You can see the cover art here, and oh god my interview on the podcast is up tomorrow why is life peruse interviews with other writers and participants in the project. You can also read about another character from the anthology over on Eric’s blog, who is incidentally also the person I have to blame for this. The assassins will be over shortly, Sipple.

What is the name of your character? Is he/she a fictional person?

Her name is Rashida, and her online handle-slash-code name is Prime. And yes, she is very much a fictional character, although aspects of her were based on or drawn from aspects of people I know.

When and where is the story set?

In the same place and time, analogous to the present, in the fictional city of New Caliburn.

What should we know about him/her?

To call her not good with people would be both a simplification and an understatement. She understands how people work in the abstract, but has problems applying it to her behavior or seeing it as relevant to her life in any but the most direct ways. This may or may not be a result of her powers, which involve rapid pattern recognition and analysis at the speed of a computer but with the complexity of a human mind. (Yes, I have decided, no, I’m not saying yet, that’s for a future story.) She does, however, have a sense of social responsibility, which is influenced by her mother and is the source of her extracurricular activities.

Also she’s fourteen.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Well, to put it bluntly, she does. She overreaches with her powers and overestimates her ability to see a situation clearly, and then she has to fix her mistake. It’s a growing moment for her; her mother was a superhero and she has a strong sense of needing to follow in her footsteps in some ways, despite the fact that her mother is now retired. But she’s still got a lot of growing up to do, and she hasn’t managed to figure out what that means for her yet.

What is the personal goal of this character?

She would say that her goal is to ensure the safety, well-being, and liberty of the citizens of New Caliburn with a primary focus in her high school and its students. In those exact words, probably. What she’s groping after, though, is the sense of purpose and responsibility that comes with being a superhero, regardless of whether or not it’s right for her as she grows up. Underneath that, she’s looking for somewhere to belong, since her manner of behavior and thought makes her stand out quite a bit. And again, superheroing is one way to do that.

What is the working title of this novel short story and can we read more about it?

The title is Calculated Risk, and you can read more about it in all of those interviews I linked you to up above!

When can we expect the book to be published?

Our publication date is *ulp* November 5th.

The Myth of Adulthood

I said this was going to be the next blog entry. And lo, it is.

I’m not going to link to the AO Scott essay, not because I don’t want it to get hits but because a) I don’t care and b) I’m lazy, and I closed that tab hours ago. But this started because someone else linked to the essay, and I read through it and rolled my eyes out of their sockets, put it back in, muttered imprecations about how this fear that men will stop being Men, leading to the death of maturity (and presumably implying that women are immature and overwrought, which is hilarious because so many of these essays are overwrought) and the downfall of civilization as we know it.

I read, I bitched, I sighed, I rolled my eyes, and then I went on to do other more interesting things. Like trimming my toenails.

But something did stick with me, mostly in the form of Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and C.S. Lewis quotes, which I give to you here, respectively:

Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

So, there you go, in case you were wondering. I thought of this, and then I thought of all of my friends who, in the midst of doing taxes or filing paperwork on a house or a car or some such, or bringing in contractors, or selling a house, or moving, getting a job, dealing with losing a job, filing for unemployment or health insurance. I thought of all of them and how often I hear the rallying cry of “How do I adult?

You don’t. Not really.

I studied history. I studied anthropology. Did you know, and perhaps you did because this information is widely circulated now, that adolescence was a created phase beyond the mere fact of physical and hormonal changes? Ascribing a set term of years to it where you could make mistakes without the consequences an adult would face is a separate concept that has sprung up, and there have been lots of times when a person simply went from childhood to adulthood on their whatever-eth birthday. We still do it, though we pretend we don’t. When you’re 17, you’re expected to do stupid things, drive too fast, eat unhealthy foods, make poor dating decisions (but always good sexual decisions, for some reason) and generally live without fear. When you’re 18, you’re expected to decide on a college or get a job, and choose the career path that your life will take from then on. Presumably involving a house, a partner, and kids. Does anything happen in that year that would make this an easier decision? Not really, no. Not physically, our bodies don’t actually stop maturing till we’re in our early twenties. Certainly not as a result of any experience American or, as far as I know, any other society gives us. We learn how to make good decisions by making bad ones, and that takes a hell of a lot longer than 18 years for some people. For others, it doesn’t even take that long.

So, what is this, the “death of adulthood”? What is adulthood? I submit that it is a myth that we could damn well do without. A lot of people spend a lot of their lives being miserable over what it means to be an adult and whether or not they are complying with some ever-changing set of strictures. Some people tack the word “responsible” in front of it, as though that legitimizes imposing a concept onto others that in many cases eliminates frivolity, whim or impulse, and deprecates emotional satisfaction as being least important of one’s priorities. Personally, I think the world would be just as well off if we focused on responsibility and left off the adult part, but clearly that means I’m immature and childish. Or something.

Adulthood is a myth that needs to die. It puts the emphasis on an arbitrary age, set of obligations, and mode of behavior and thinking and feeling, and I don’t know about you but I don’t much care for the idea of someone else taking it on themselves to police what I think and feel. If we’re meant to All Be Adults Here, what does that even mean? Does it mean responsibility? Why can’t we just say, let’s all be responsible people. Does it mean compassion and listening skills? Then why not say, let’s all listen attentively and with compassion? Children can have responsibility too, we give them pets to teach them about responsibility, we encourage (or some of us at least encourage) them to develop listening skills and to have compassion. Does this mean that when they’re magically 18, suddenly those efforts matter, and they didn’t before? That does a lot of very mature children a great disservice. Is the compassion two girls showed when they gave the Homecoming title and its accompanying social status to their much-mocked friend somehow less because they’re not legal adults? Do we actually care about this?

Legal adulthood is a useful tool, I’m not saying it isn’t, because it gives us a guideline by which we can set laws, regulate behavior for the safety and improvement of society. It also gives young people some sort of structure as they make mistakes and learn about themselves and the world around them, and that’s also good for developing humans. But this notion that you have to stop being a child, or being childlike, when you become An Adult is ridiculously stringent, and held by ridiculously strident people, and it’s damaging. It’s vastly, painfully damaging to people who constantly want to Be An Adult and who, in a crisis, still want to call home and have Mama tell them it’s going to be okay.

Full Disclosure: I totally call home and whine to my Mom. A couple three months ago when I had an electrical fire and the boyfriend was working long hours and I think going away for the weekend, and something horrible had happened in the country, and work was overwhelming, and my dentist had found cavities and scheduled me for fillings, and I called home and whined to my Mom. And then I felt better. Shocking, that.

No one came and arrested me for violating the terms of my adulthood. The house did not burn down. My teeth did not fall out. The world did not end because I called home and sobbed to my mother. But I did feel better.

I had brownies for breakfast the other day, too. Because my boyfriend came home from work and wanted brownies, so I ate brownies with him. Being legally independent, living under your own charge, in your own home, with your own kitchen and with no one responsible for your dietary habits but yourself, that means you get to eat the occasional brownie for breakfast if you want to.

I’m sure people like AO Scott, or even Homer, people like that who lament the death of adulthood (usually inextricably linked with the death of patriarchy and Real Men) would have lamented that brownie. They would be sad that I watch cartoons some mornings, or read Harry Potter, or listen to Sesame Street records now and again. They would lament that I wander around the house without pants Like A Toddler, and that I don’t make my bed (oh lordy that argument), and that I occasionally make baby talk or throw pretend tantrums at my boyfriend. Who does the same to me. Hell, they’re probably in the camp that thinks he and I should long since have gotten married. To this I say “Eh. Too lazy can’t be bothered.” and also “None of your damn business.” But I am unmarried and have no children and sit on the couch in my underwear and t-shirt and eat ice cream and watch cartoons, and therefore I am immature and not really an adult. You know what I also do? Pay taxes. Pay my bills on time. Hire electricians. Show up on time at my job and leave, well, a little late these days. I even cook healthy meals most of the time and keep a clean house, with an equitable division of labor with the boy.  These are actions of responsibility, not adulthood. I purchased medical insurance, have no student loans (!!!), and I suppose I could pay off my credit card debt in a lump sum but I’d much rather grow my savings and pay it off incrementally. I have investments. It doesn’t get much more Arcane and Adult than having investments. Multiple! I did this in order to be prepared for the future, because preparing for the future is sensible. It is not, however, the sole purview of the mysterious creature known as the Adult.

How do I adult? However the fuck I want to. As should you.

Education As Virus: A Few Thoughts

“Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.” — Terry Pratchet, Hogfather

So, I’ve rediscovered my love of painting miniatures.

(So that’s where you’ve been! I hear you cry. No, actually, this was only a couple weeks ago, I’ve been AWOL for a lot longer than that. Or maybe I don’t hear you cry, maybe that’s the sound of the crickets outside my window. Who knows.)

At any rate. I also managed to infect a couple of friends with a love of miniature painting, or infect one and reinfect another, maybe, and in the process managed to get myself appointed mini painting tutor. Because she kept fussing at problems and I kept going “Well, this is how I solved that…” and she kept calling me a genius and I kept telling her, no, I’ve just digested the brains of many geniuses in my wanderings, and at the end I decided I might as well just compile all my various learnings about mini painting into one giant document and paste it on the internet.

And then listing off all the equipment I use, from a quick glance around this corner of my craft room, took about two hours and encompassed several thousand words. Never mind the whole initial painting post, which doesn’t even get into various techniques and things. I didn’t realize I’d accumulated a novella’s worth of mini painting information given that I haven’t done it in a couple of years. I’m not even that good at it, I don’t think.

It’s not even that I blather on (although I do, just take a look around here) or even that I soak up information like a sponge (I do, oddly this doesn’t come in as handy as you’d think), it’s that I refuse to stop learning. Which is harder than you might think. In every discipline or craft or hobby or field of study there are always going to be people who say, you’re doing it wrong, which automatically raises hackles and causes one to instinctively shout back no, you. Which is all well and good except a) that’s no basis for communication and b) you might actually be doing it wrong. I’ve been doing feathering wrong for a few years, as it turns out! A different tutorial explained it to me in a way I understood much better. Turns out what I was doing all this time was layering, which is fine for some things but also doesn’t create the effect I was going for elsewhere. C’est la vie. Now I will practice proper feathering, and probably fuck it up several times before I do it well. Again.

To put it another way, there’s a lot of people out there who say you don’t need a degree in Creative Writing or English to be a professional writer. There’s a lot of people who say you do! I take strong issue with with those who say you need a degree in either and preferably both to be a writer; to me, writers write, if you are a noun you must verb the noun, or something that makes more grammatical sense than what I just said. You get the idea, because it makes instinctive sense, because you know what I’m talking about, because I’ve written a lot of stuff like this down. Writers write. But is there only One True Way to write? Or to Become A Writer, which is again in my opinion largely a self-defined process anyway, apart from the writing. Not hardly. There are as many ways as there are writers, probably ten times that many.

But, like mini painting, like everything else in life, there are techniques, and tricks, and other things to make your life easier. And these things you must learn, else you will be doomed to reinvent the wheel or the layering forevermore, and really, why bother? That’s time you could be spending writing your next novel or play or screenplay. Even if you just take some time out to look at a forum and the discussions it offer, or if you run into a problem and go through some of your favorite authors asking their advice and seeing if they answer, learning from someone else’s fuckups is starting a few steps ahead of where you were, which is a few steps you don’t have to take yourself.

I’m not saying I know everything there is to know about mini painting, or writing, or sewing, or any of the other crafts I’ve practiced. I’m also not saying that this is the be all and end all approach; as with all bits of advice, your mileage will vary. You may need to make all the mistakes to embed them properly in your thinkmeats, I am not you and therefore do not know your particular brain processes. But I will say that in my experience, and in what seems to be the experience of a number of other people I know, it’s just easier to learn from other people’s mistakes or bad habits. Or to find that approach and discard it as not for you, and then that’s one thing you don’t have to try. Either way.

It is a very large world out there full of people who wish to dispense advice, including myself. Go forth, my children, and partake of the wisdom of the world’s people. Become infected. Pass it on.

Dear LeVar Burton

Dear LeVar Burton,

I had the good fortune of meeting you once, one of several hundred if not thousand people you met at Dragon*Con one year. I shook your hand and purchased a couple of autographs, and told you how much I had enjoyed Reading Rainbow. I think – I hope – that the recent successful fundraiser has shown us all how many of us loved that show and continue to believe in its message.

You were kind enough to offer your Twitter fellowship for one year, and I didn’t want you to come to that without some idea of what you were getting into. So here, for your persual (and obviously the sight of anyone who cares to look at this entry) is a little bit about me.

I was raised in Washington DC by a hard-working sometimes single mother and a sometime stepfather who, though their marriage didn’t work out, was very good to me. He encouraged me to try musical instruments, come see his band play (in clubs which, I must confess, I was probably too young for had I not been with the band), to talk out complex ideas, to be silly on occasion, to try new things. My mother encouraged me to accept my feelings as neither good nor bad but simply my feelings, something which, as I get older and find out how rare this is, I am always grateful for. She encouraged me to learn, to stretch my mind, to have compassion and be curious without judgement. Both of my parents encouraged me to read. So did my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. When my grandmother wanted to bribe me to do something, she bought me a Star Trek book. (Not a word of a lie! I had shelves and shelves of Star Trek fiction, the original series Compendium, episode novelizations, books and books.) No book, or at least no book that I remember, was forbidden. Which is how I ended up reading Stephen King at age… eight? Ten? And if something confused me, I was encouraged to go to an adult in the family and ask. I don’t remember asking too many questions, although my aunt still has questions about why I scratched out all the swear words in my Star Trek V novelization. I don’t know, either.

These days I’m working in the family business, albeit not in DC anymore, and still reading voraciously and omnivorously, often at work between tasks. Since it’s a family business, no one minds if I read while it’s slow, or for five minutes as I catch my breath between running around the store! Thank goodness. I read fiction and non-fiction, fiction according to my tastes and non-fiction… according to my tastes, I guess. I maintain a blog in which I and my friend analyze certain television shows, and some of my reading comes from exploring the source material further. Other times I simply take a notion to explore more about virology, the Apocrypha, Native American history, the history of New York City, plants, what have you. Often I see an article about something in the news and decide to read a book on animal empathy, or Henrietta Lacks and the contributions of her cancer cells to modern medicine. As far as fiction goes, I most often devour various mysteries, urban fantasy and traditional fantasy, science fiction somewhat less but speculative fiction of all types, and the occasional literary novel. I didn’t manage to avoid the dreaded con crud last Dragon*Con, so when I came back and was good for little more than sitting on a couch or a bed I started or continued in, I think, five fantasy series and a literary book. I also participate now and again in Wednesday Reads, which is a custom on my less formal journaling site in which people post the things they’ve read over the week. This week I think my Wednesday Reads post will be extensive…

Non-reading habits include a lot of crafting. I paint miniatures and knit, primarily, and sometimes I spin yarn to knit, but since my family business is a craft store I often pick up something or another that’s out of my usual sphere, either to learn or to play around with. Making friendship bracelets, leather-crafting, weaving, polymer clay sculpting, paper mache, beadwork. Whatever comes to mind that week.

I’m sure there’s a great deal in here that I haven’t touched on. It’s hard to know what to say for an introduction, in this context. I’ve never done it before, and I’m not sure there is any kind of set formula. At any rate, I hope you won’t be bored or hurt by anything you find here or on my Twitter feed, and I hope you find something interesting, something to like, and something new to learn.

Still flying twice as high!



How Does Your Garden Grow

It’s spring! Actual spring, not fake calendar spring where we get six more weeks of below-freezing temperatures starting at 6pm. Spring means planting season, which means wearing my shoulders out hauling bags of fertilizer and my knees out grubbing in the dirt, And then taking cool showers immediately after because my skin feels too hot and too itchy and I am covered in dirt, even though what I really want to do is plant my face into my nice soft bed. Hay fever. Endless hay fever and balancing a body designed to be more tanned than I am with the dangers of skin cancer. My boyfriend has it easy and straightforward, he goes out for more than fifteen minutes, he puts on sunscreen. I can actually manage for a couple hours without it. Decisions.

And yet I unironically love spring. Plus it’s not that hard for me to roll the ache in the shoulders out, or stretch and exercise the knees. Even if I hate it. I’ll feel better at the end. I promise.

Pretend for a second here that I’m not talking about a garden, because that’s all I’ve been able to think about for the past couple weeks, as I get everything into the ground or into starter pots. Pretend I’m not talking about a garden for this entire post. It applies pretty well to writing, or even to some other areas.

Gardening is not something I learned how to do as a kid, apart from stick seed in ground apply water and sunlight make sure dirt is not sand or rocks, watch things grow. This whole nitrogen phosphorus plant food pH acidic soil basic soil, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve killed quite a few plants from underwatering, overwatering (okay, that wasn’t my fault, last year we got somewhere near twice as much rain as normal), or simply not knowing what to do. But on the other hand, I also managed to grow quite a few things from seed (until I killed half of them), which I didn’t know I could do. It’s a learning curve! Only with a visible, tangible measure of success or failure, which is more than most of my learning curves have.

Another thing I’ve discovered, or I should say rediscovered, is that once you get into the habit of dumping your coffee grounds into certain plants’ pots or beds, watering every morning between the other chores, pulling off dead leaves and things as you water, it gets moved to the backbrain and requires less energy. Less energy to think about, to remember to do (as long as you keep it somewhere in your daily list of things to do, if you need such things; I do), less energy overall. What was once a hugely daunting task is now part of your everyday life. Water the plants, keep them in the sun, let them do their thing. A lot of things and even people thrive if you let them do their thing, the thing that comes natural to them; micromanaging is a waste of time and energy.

I like gardening. I like growing things, I used to wander out into my friend’s pea patches when I stayed at his house and pick and eat them off the vine. Chewing on mint. I picked some daffodils that bloomed early in the season, before the last spiteful breaths of winter, and stuck them in an old bottle I had lying around and it was really nice, I might do that with some other flowers later. Our front lawn is almost overflowing with grape hyacinths. I like gardening, I like pretty things, and I like the visible reward for my effort, whereas writing and learning languages don’t convey that same type of reward. Diversity of reward is important. We get fulfillment in so many different ways.

And there’s an instinctive aspect that appeals to the pagan part of me. When the weather turns, when the last of the truly biting cold is gone, knowing to start things in peat pots on my windowsill. When the sun shines longer and the air is more warm than not, moving things outside. The physical act of clearing weeds helping to mentally prepare for the garden, and for spring and summer beyond that. Like clearing the winter cobwebs from my mind, and after this winter there are a metric shitload of cobwebs (roughly 2.2 imperial shitloads).

So, pretend I’m writing about writing. Or don’t, maybe you like to garden, too. Partly the similarity in approaches comes from the fact that I approach my garden the way that I approach most other long term projects, methodically and with great bull-headedness. Partly because life is not that complicated, not in the overall, and many approaches that work well in one field work well in others. You’ll go through a learning period where you discover, and many times rediscover better ways to do things. You’ll learn how you work when you do, in this case, gardens. And you’ll get better. It’s much more fun to do that with flowers, though.

Weasel Words and Warg Warfare

And once again I find myself going: “Computer! Take me to the weasels!”

No, okay, it’s not that bad, is it? It’s just a slog. A long, slow slog out of the winter of my discontent. This is, what, the third or fourth post I’ve made about this so far? Getting sick of me yet?

That’s a weasel talking. Pay it no mind.

It’s snowing again, after several days of really lovely weather. I’m still coughing despite all my other symptoms going away, business continues to be eh. I’m not anywhere near as far along in my garden as I want to be, partly due to my own neglect. I’m fretting about what fixing my chimney will cost, although once that’s done our heating for the next few winters should be less problematic, which is good because meteorologists and climatologists are making dire noises about the next few winters. I do like my good stout-walled house with its fireplace. But that’s not the point.

The point is that this past winter has been a Winter of my Discontent, such as I haven’t known in at least a good five years, and there are no Yorkies or their sons in sight.

I have a handful of dime novels to write, the next Black Ice book/anthology to finish, another book (Sandborn) to finish edits on and finally publish, and that’s not even counting all the Murderboarding backlog, plus the new developments from the Portland trip (more on that on the Murderboarding blog.) Plus keeping up here, plus my day job, plus whatever it is I end up doing in my allegedly free time. Reading books? Sewing things.

It’s hideously daunting when I think about it like that. Less so when I realize that I’ve successfully juggled all of these things for several years now, by dint of excellent Timing and a certain amount of Brilliance and Grace. Bit by bit, piece by piece, and hour by hour, making time for everything in rotation and keeping up the continuous progress, it’ll get done. But it’s still daunting as all hell. The big part is, I’ve spent four months being dragged through situational depression trigger after depression trigger, yo-yoing like crazy not due to anything that can be solved with chemicals or (much) talk therapy, but due to the fact that my grandfather was dying and a gas line blew up near my house and a friend died unexpectedly and it would not stop being frigid cold.  I did very little writing. I did very little creating. And I suffered because of it. Now, writing is a slog, a chore, it’s trying to do all those push-ups you used to do every morning after four months of no exercise, and finding you can maybe get out five before you collapse face first onto the carpet. Well, hardwood.

I’ve been writing, what with one thing and another, since I was six or seven. So by this point I’ve almost been writing for thirty years. I’ve gotten fast. Incredibly fast. I’ve gotten skilled, I think, as well as perhaps starting out talented. I used to be able to write a dime novel, around 10k words give or take, in a weekend. With time to spare to clean house and relax and do other things. Now, well. It took me nearly six months to write the last one. Ouch.

There’s a lecture here that the Editrix gives me, when I’m not applying it to myself. Writing is a muscle. As referred to in the push-ups analogy above, if you don’t use it, it’ll atrophy and wither and become less strong than you’re used to. I haven’t used those muscles in four months, and that’s a lot of atrophy. And at the speed and strength I was used to before, that’s a lot of difference. A lot of weasel room, so to speak. Double ouch.

And the problem with this is, as with muscles and push-ups, there is no magic button. There’s no set of criteria you can meet, the right workspace or the right background music or the right snack, that will get you to that place you used to be. You just have to work the muscles again. In a way it may be worse than first-try writing progress, when you’re trying to get better or faster or develop a new set of writing skills for the first time; I know how good I used to be, how fast, and how much I could do, and I can’t do that anymore. And it sucks. And it’s an opening for my brain to trick itself, for the weasels to get in and start gnawing on my self-confidence. I don’t have what it takes. I can’t hack it. I was just fooling myself all those years when I thought I could.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, yes, there is a “punch it in the face” coming.

You have to do the work. There’s no way around it. As with most things in life, you have to do the work, but you can make it easier on yourself. I’ve broken up the next six weeks into calendars and goals, and to my amazement I seem to be on top of things. I sat my ass down and I wrote the end to the dime novel I started four, five. Six? Months ago, and I did not let myself move on until I’d finished it. Because I had only three or four scenes left to go, and because I knew I could do at least that much. They were right there in my head, clear as day in vivid color and that sharp smell of blood (it’s that kind of a story) and I just needed to set them down on paper. Well, screen. So I sat my dumb ass down and did it. And I kept reminding myself, as many times as it took, yes, it sucks now. You’re tired, and it sucks, and it hurts that you can’t do this like you used to. Suck it up, buttercup. You don’t get a Steve Rogers super-serum to make you into the super-powered writer you used to be, you have to work at it.

That dime novel’s off in the Editrix’s hands now, getting shredded in green pen. I’ve got blog-work to do, I’m reading over the other thing I was in the middle of so I can finish that, then it’s on to Sandborn. It still feels exhausting. Like I’m not the person I used to be, worse, like I never was the person I thought I was. But I am. I have the mountains and mountains and Himalayan fucking mountains of old fiction of greater or lesser quality to prove it. I have friends who will not let me forget it. I have an Editrix who will sit on my head if I try to squirm out of it.

So. Bring on the weasels, and break out the gym equipment. It seems I have some training to do.