Book Balls, Fan Fiction, & Other Endeavors

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Today is the last day of my vacation. Yes, I took a vacation because the low-level but persistent stress of 2020 gets tough to deal with, and fortunately, I’m in a position to actually have and use some of that accrued time.

I kicked off my vacation with the #FCPLBookBall, a virtual library fundraiser where you make a monetary donation to the library to “attend” and then just sit and read all day. It was, in a word, glorious. I highly recommend curling up someplace quiet and comfy with one of those “10 hours of ocean waves” tracks from YouTube running in the background. Since I can’t go to the beach this year, this was the closest equivalent, and it actually worked very well:

Books, pillows, tea, candle, cat, soothing ocean waves in the background… Time to settle in for the #FCPLBookBall! ^_^ #bookworm #amreading #ILikeToParty #AndByPartyIMeanReadBooks (2020-08-15 @kvclements)

I’m going to have to try to do something like this once a month or something, a dedicated “Read & Relaxation” day. It worked wonders to help calm and recenter myself. (Also, Saturday August 22nd was the Ray Bradbury Centennial, and there’s a Read-a-Thon of Fahrenheit 451 available to stream until September 5th if you want to check it out!)

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Should The Cat’s Cradle Continue?

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I wish good habits were as easy to form as bad habits. I’m really good at the latter, but terrible at the former. I didn’t write any Cat’s Cradle entries for a month, and I managed to miss the day that I was supposed to start writing them again (yesterday).

I am seriously wondering if I should even bother.

The Cat’s Cradle has been running for over nine years. June 2021 will mark the 10th anniversary. Since I like nice, round numbers, I want to keep writing entries at least until then. But I’ve been struggling for ideas and content. I feel like everything that can be said about writing, any topic I might try to tackle, has already been covered by people who are far more influential and articulate than myself. I don’t feel like I have anything new to add to the conversation. I avoid a lot of controversial topics in fiction because A) many I don’t have strong enough opinions on, B) I don’t have to knowledge to give an informed opinion, C) I don’t want to write about touchy subjects for clicks, and D) I just don’t want the hassle. And since I haven’t worked on my own novels in… well, longer than I care to think about, there isn’t anything to report on those fronts.

And does anyone really care anyway?

After nine years, this blog has little to no engagement on it. A few likes here and there, but almost no comments, shares, or anything else to show reader interest. I can’t tell if anyone is actually reading or getting anything out of it or if, like so many others, I’m just shouting into the void of the internet. The people who know me are understandably busy with their own lives and have little to no time to read these ramblings of mine. And the people who don’t know me have no real reason to care what I’m writing about.

The purpose of The Cat’s Cradle was to be a author platform, a home base to showcase my writing, my reliability, and to host things about my work once I got published. But the more I learn about the publishing process, the more daunting it becomes and the more discouraged I feel. Do I really want to go through the hassle of finding and convincing an agent to take me on and get my work published? If all I want is a physical book of my work, I could go to a private book printer or self publisher and get one made for me. The chances of making a living as a writer are slim to none, and I don’t know if I have the passion and drive to push through all of those obstacles. I don’t know if the stress is worth it with such fierce competition and in such a dismal economy.

And yet at the same time, I also see some real drivel on the shelves, which makes me think, “If this piece of puerile pap made it through traditional publishing, why can’t I do the same?”

But I’m not sure why I’m writing anymore. It isn’t regular enough to be a habit, I make no money from it, and there is a severe dearth of joy in it. I don’t know if that’s just a result of the near-constant low level of stress dogging my heels, or if depression is rearing its ugly head again… or if I’m just being lazy because it’s easier to dream about being a writer than actually writing. Or maybe it’s just the chronic stress piling up. (I may be an introvert, but the restrictions of the pandemic are getting to me too.)

I’m sorry if this sounds discouraging. Believe me, I feel pretty discouraged myself. I’ve been calling myself a writer for years and a writer writes, don’t they? This is a huge part of my sense of self, my identity if you will. And I don’t have much to show for it. Aside from blog entries, I haven’t done much of that in a while. Maybe I just need to force myself back into a habit and that will get everything working properly again. I want to create things… I just don’t know if I want to go through the publishing process. The end result may not be worth the stress.

The good thing about writing is that there isn’t a time limit. It’s not like sports or dancing where you have a narrow window of physical and mental prime and once that’s passed, you’re pretty much done. Writing (and publishing) can be done at any age; there isn’t some “point of no return” where if you haven’t published by this time, you’ never will be. But I need to sit down and ask myself some hard questions:

  • Why am I writing?
  • What is the end goal or purpose and how would I know if I reached it (or didn’t)?
  • Should I keep pouring time and energy into a blog that no one reads?
  • How much effort should I dedicate to the publishing part of things at this point?
  • Do I even want to be published?
  • Do I even want to write?
  • Can I still be a writer if I barely write?
  • Is this just a temporary funk or a genuine shift in priorities?

In the meantime, if you do read this blog, please let me know that you do in the comments, what types of topics you prefer to read about, anything to give me an idea if it’s worth continuing this venture. I will keep going until June 2021, but then I will need to decide if The Cat’s Cradle should continue… or be retired.

Some Lessons Learned During Quarantine

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Two and a half months off of work, with pay, is a luxury that a lot of people did not (and continue to not) receive during the COVID-19 pandemic. At my day job, the shutdown came swiftly in mid-March. (For context, I work in a small branch of a public non-profit library system.) At first we thought we would be closed for two weeks. Then it became “indefinite.” I was only required to put in an hour or two of work from home each shift, be it watching a webinar or doing some kind of online engagement through Facebook with our patrons. With so little being required of me, you’d think that I would have gotten so much done during those two and half months. It’s not like I don’t have a backlog of Audio Editions to work through, or a schedule of Obscure Books From Childhood entries to get ahead on, or short stories to transcribe, or a bloody novel to finish writing.

But I did none of these things.

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The Capitalization of Passion

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Image by Andrian Valeanu on Pixabay.

Around this time of year, a lot of people complain about the over-commercialization of the holidays. While I really do enjoy wrapping and unwrapping gifts, I agree that it has gotten way out of control. But what I don’t hear about is the over-commercialization of hobbies and passions, usually via the rising gig economy.

The problem with this is that it seems like anything and everything can (and should) be turned into money. It may not be a substantial or steady source of income, but it does dangle the tempting carrot-myth of “making a living doing what you love” in front of discouraged and disillusioned creatives such as myself. It also turns the word “opportunity” into a guilt-trip. If you’re doing something you love for free, you’re missing an opportunity to make money from it. I mean, if you’re doing it anyway, you might as well try to get paid for doing it, right? Passing up the chance to market yourself is considered just plain stupid. This is the capitalization of passion.

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Pyrrhic Victory

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Photograph by Samuel Francis Johnson on Pixabay.

National Novel Writing Month is over for another year. I was pretty excited to start, but had to drag myself, bruised and battered, to the finish line. Between the growing gloom of winter, getting sick every single weekend, and the increasingly devastating hormonal flux that comes the week before monthlies, I got 10,000 words behind and never properly made up for that. It’s technically complete, but I don’t feel like I have much of a novel.

This could be a complete misconception on my part. I haven’t actually gone back yet to look over what I wrote. There are a few scenes I remember which are pretty good, but I had to throw in a lot of notes and word-vomit to make it to 50,000 words. Even though I reached the NaNoWriMo word count goal, I’m not sure if I earned it. I certainly don’t feel like I did.

Spells in Sepia has potential, but right now I don’t think I have a real plot. It’s just a random assortment of disjointed scenes and concepts. Not a lot actually happening, just a bunch of internal monologuing from my main character. I don’t feel like I have the world-building under control because I haven’t done enough research into the places where the story is set. I’m just tossing out nonsense, which means I’ll have to go back and make sense of it all, and that prospect is utterly daunting right now. The thought of having to continue writing, then go back and kill all my darlings, then repeat the whole thing over and over and over again makes me want to curl up in a tiny ball and start whimpering. The thought of then having to query and look for agents makes me want to crawl into the deepest, darkest cave I can find and start screaming.

Right now, writing isn’t very fun. And I really want it to be fun again. But I also want to, you know, finish stuff. Which I can’t do unless I keep going through this process of rolling the rock of Sisyphus up an endless hill.

So… yeah. Sorry this isn’t the uplifting peon of victory you may have been waiting for. I was hoping for one too. At the moment I’m just exhausted, discouraged, and so behind on so many things.

But at least I can binge-watch my Blu-ray of Good Omens now.

More Than I Can Chew…

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There’s a reason I’m not usually a pantser. Mostly it’s because I write myself into a corner. But it’s also because I hate feeling like I’m being inaccurate, even when it’s just the first draft. Or I just hate feeling like I’m floundering about, retreading old tropes, taking the easy way out.

Spells in Sepia (SiS) is tackling a lot of new ground for me, and it might be more than I can handle. I’m trying to just let go and write, but at the same time, I feel like I’m missing a lot of narrative opportunities, directions, and ideas because I don’t know enough about what I’m writing.

Unlike most of my other projects, this is an urban fantasy, so it’s supposed to take place in the real world. Our real world. For the most part, anyway. But there are a few hitches: Time, Place, and Character Career.

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“Useless English Major”

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Being an English major is a little of a running gag in my family. Out of all my siblings, I have the highest level of education and (so far) the most years in school. Yet I also make the least amount of money and have the lowest expectation of career advancement. Usually it’s just good-natured teasing, the way one expects from siblings. I indulge in it myself from time to time, but even my self-deprecating humor has taken on a sharper edge. As the years roll on, it just doesn’t seem funny anymore.

I recently read an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Is Majoring in English Worth It?” The contents were pretty much what I’d expected: a half-mocking look at how the value of an English degree has declined dramatically even as the cost of college exponentially increases, making it “the most regretted college major in America.” But I hadn’t expected the intense wave of bitterness that swept over me, a deep sense of resentment that something I spent six years, thousands of dollars, and untold amounts of stress attaining, a skill that I am good at, can be summarily dismissed as the butt of a bad joke.

So, like a good little Millennial, I shared some of my frustration on social media:

I got some sympathetic faces in response, which was about all I had expected. But then my friend David asked a very poignant question:

“If you had a time machine, what would you do differently?”

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Mood Swings and Meatbags

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The loveable assassin droid HK-47 from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

It’s good to remember that we are walking meatbags subject to all kinds of influences, both within and outside of our control, and that it isn’t a good idea to make decisions when feeling emotional extremes.

I say this because I’ve been feeling cranky and irritable for the last week or so, beating myself for being a lazy writer, a bad friend, a horrible housemate, and pretty much every other nasty piece of self-loathing I could hurl at myself… only to wake up on Saturday and realize that all of it was most likely due to PMS.

And that scared me a little. As I’ve gotten older, the PMS mood swings have gotten worse. Fifteen years ago, I would get a little achy, a little tired, but that was about it. Now it’s risen to “I-hate-everyone-and-everything-don’t-you-dare-talk-to-me-or-I’ll-rip-your-face-off” levels. If I don’t remember to count the days, it can be easy to mistake this regular hormonal change for a flare-up of depression or some other more serious issue.

Fortunately, I didn’t have any major decisions I had to make during this past week… but what if I had? I have no control over what my hormones do and the effects have gotten more extreme, so I have to be careful to not let mood swings lead me about by the nose.

I’m fortunate that, once the monthlies actually hit, the depressive mood disappears. I was especially fortunate this time to have a nice, quiet, sunny weekend spent on the front porch reading Songs of Giants: The Poetry of Pulp illustrated by Mark Wheatley and The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion while downing cups of tea and chocolate sea salt caramel ice cream. Days where I can proceed at my own (admittedly slow) pace without being pressured by outside forces are rare, and I desperately wish I had more of them.

But the moral of this story is that we are physical creatures with a lot going on, both internally and externally, that can affect us in ways we may not be aware of. Since we artistic folk are especially neurotic, we have to pay even more attention and make sure that the decisions we make are based on rational thought rather than our easily influenced, mind-altering gut.

Now, back to the July Edition of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve got a book to finish.

 

Lessons Learned from a (Short) Digital Detox

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It’s never been more important to live with purpose, on purpose. To live intentionally.

— Colin Wright, The Becoming Tour

I’ve learned that I don’t do “intention” very well. Habit and convenience are extremely powerful and seductive forces. It’s easy to sacrifice long-term gains for short-term pleasures. As someone with an addictive personality who doesn’t handle discomfort well and struggles with self-discipline and depression, I feel pretty susceptible to these temptations. It seems like the bad habits, such eating too much sugar and compulsively checking Facebook, are the ones who gain a foothold. They sneak in and become difficult to dislodge, probably because they appear harmless and require little to no effort.

This year, I took a four-day vacation by myself to the beach. I decided to do a mini-digital detox by wearing a watch instead of keeping my phone with me and spend as much time outside as I could, as long as the weather held. I also planned to spend any rainy hours in a comfortable room continuing to write or read. But things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned. While the view of the ocean from the motel was lovely and the weather remained good, the room I was staying in was… well, not very pleasant. Musty-smelling, moldy, and so saturated with humidity that leaving anything outside a plastic bag meant it would be damp within a few minutes. On top of that, even though the motel technically had wi-fi (which I could get if I sat out on the balcony), I couldn’t get it in the room itself.

I was rather upset and frustrated at first, but I soon realized that this could be a blessing in disguise. A gross room with no wi-fi meant I had to stay outside during 90% of my visit. It forced me to be parsimonious with my time on the internet. If I was going to use it, it had to be for a specific purpose, not just random searching or mindless scrolling. Get on, get off, and save data for the GPS. On the beach, I discovered the joy of wearing a watch. You might wonder what the point of a watch is. I mean, you can just check your phone, right? But opening that phone also opens the temptation to “just check one thing” and before you know it, what was supposed to be a 2-minute check-in turns into a 2-hour deep-dive. A smartphone can do too much. A watch only tells time. That is it’s sole purpose. Using a watch instead of a smartphone and being cut off from the internet meant the number of distractions dropped to near zero. I literally had nothing to do except read, write, walk, and think.

“The Jetty” (Personal photograph; taken Sept. 19, 2018)

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I Am Not My Job

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Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

 

It must be the weather.

I started this entry in October 2017. With a few tweaks, it is just as relevant to my state of mind today in September 2018 as it was then.

The problem with being responsible at a day job is that so few people are, so you get more responsibility and expectation heaped upon you until you start to smother. I don’t know if it’s because of how stressful the year has been or what, but my focus has dropped and I’m retreating back into long-running TV shows and oldie-but-goodie favorite movies to cope. While I love me some good stories, I can’t stay there forever.

Even with burnout knocking at my door.

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