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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
There is a slightly frightening tendency to glorify war and battle. It’s a big part of fantasy and science fiction; we’re always waiting for the big battle between good and evil at the end. But what happens when we carry this thinking over into the real world? This us-versus-them mentality, the idea that we are the brave warriors fighting the good fight, is especially attractive if we perceive ourselves as the little Rebellion fighting against the giant evil Empire, or as Peeta and Katniss resisting the malicious Games of the Capital, or as the Alliance of Men and Elves standing against the destructive might of Sauron. Everyone loves the underdog.
That’s fine in fiction. I have nothing against battles in stories and frankly I enjoy them. Halo would be pretty boring without the Flood or the Covenant to fight. It’s when this mentality leaks into real life interactions that it concerns me. If you look at the language being passed around the internet these days, especially when it comes to politics, you’ll find buzzwords like “war,” “soldier,” “fight,” and “rebellion.” Even as the world becomes a safer place overall, the language has become far more violent and polarized. You’re either with us or against us; there is no in between. Continue reading “The Glory Illusion of War”→
Okay, seriously, who keeps making off with all this time? Feels like the year just got started and we’re already on the cusp of 2016! (And from what I’ve heard, this sense of time distortion only gets worse… ugh.)
I am definitely in a better place at the end of 2015 than I was last year. Many of my 2014 goals have been reached, and it feels like I’ve got a better handle on life in general, which is a massive relief! I want to give a huge thank-you to all of my friends, readers, subscribers, and followers. You make this all worth-while.