On Retellings

I was talking earlier about stories we tell each other and ourselves, and the role narrative and myth play in our lives. Tonight, I had some of my own internal mythology held up to the light, and I’ve decided it’s time for a retelling.

It started as the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth. I fell into a bout of my own bush-league version of impostor syndrome – what success I have had is false, I’m not a very good writer, etc. I will not belabor the point to spare ourselves word count, but I will say that it stung. I got to the lowest point I tend to get to with these thing: the idea of giving up writing, of walking away from it and just not letting it bother me anymore. It’s an idea that tempts sometimes – so many of my friends are so completely happy without this secondary pursuit they’re engaged in, I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t be happier sharing that ride with them.

Sonya, as always, was there for me when I hit this point. She let me take care of the meds I need to take for my current health issues, and yak a little about the bizarre image on the cover of the newest issue of Avengers, and let me slide from there into discussing my panic again. Naturally, said panic ended with me saying I just don’t think I’m very good. She, playing the role of calm center, let me sputter out to fumes, and asked me without judgment if I had time to read a story. I told her I did; and so I wound up with an iPad in my hands, swiping my way through a piece from an anthology she’s been wanting me to read.

The piece was really good, with perfect, smooth, bitter prose, an interesting idea at its core, and a no-nonsense approach to progressing its storyline within the very confined space of a short story. I finished it, and I told Sonya as much, and she replied “I’m glad you said that, because the whole time it reminded me of you.”

I definitely see her point; but I also definitely see where I fall a bit short of this guy. I don’t want to say exactly what I saw, because I don’t want to make it impossible for my readers to un-see it, but it was pretty stark for me. (And to be clear, I also see where I am different than this guy, and I know that’s OK; this isn’t me thinking I need to mimic someone to be successful.)

I talked with Sonya a bit more, discussing why I might be having trouble hitting the watermark left by this guy. We talked over the differences I saw, and why I don’t do the things he does, and she brought up something I hadn’t heard before. It turns out Joe Hill experienced similar issues to mine early in his career. He got better. Part of that was practice; part of that was giving in and going on psychiatric medication.

In case it weren’t obvious from my tweeting about it all the time, I have an anxiety disorder. I have abnormal, outsized stress reactions to things. I get hung up in loops of anxious thought, worrying about things I can’t control. I just went through months of agony over a very minor, treatable problem, because I convinced myself it was cancer, and then further convinced myself that somehow by not going to the doctor and getting a diagnosis I would manage to remain in some quantum state of “OK.” (One day after the appointment, and I feel much improved already, with nothing changed but some diet stuff and a palliative prescription. It’s that minor.) And as Sonya has pointed out, that level of stress may in fact be paralyzing my writing.

Here’s the part about the story I’m telling myself. I, you see, have long told myself the story that you probably all think I have: that psychiatric medication, and mental health in general, are inimical to creativity. I think of it as the A Beautiful Mind model, where going on meds torpedoed John Nash’s capacity for math genius, and only by bravely living with his schizophrenia did he manage to lead a full and fulfilling life.

In my head, I know this is bullshit. But stories penetrate deeper than logic, and they are denser than reason. Which is probably part of why I just haven’t ponied up the effort necessary to get my head problems treated lately. After tonight’s conversation, though, I have come to recognize, once and for all, that this story is inimical to my own well-being; and moreover, that it might be poisoning the other stories I have rolling around inside me. Given that those are the ones I actually want to share with all of you, I need to rectify the situation.

It won’t be immediate; I’m going to need to make some calls and jump through some hoops. My simply delightful insurance offers limited hours for psychiatric appointments, so it may have to wait until a week when I have a weekday off work already. (I’m burning most of my vacation time for the honeymoon, and that’s sort of locked in.) But I am going to figure it out, and I will bend my schedule around whatever therapy I need to do; and if they think pills are the right thing to do, I am going to try them.

Pills won’t kill my creativity. In fact, there’s a good chance pills might make it easier to tap into the wellspring. That’s the story I am going to tell myself from now on; and it’s the story that’s going to get me through whatever annoying juggling of my schedule I need to do to make treatment possible. The desire for mental health and happiness is a strong motivator – but, again, stories can give a goal an oomph like nothing that exists outside of the imagination. And there’s no more powerful story for me than the story of me writing more powerful stories.

So, here’s to a retelling of my own myth; and a large, galumphing step on the road to a better me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go read that issue of The Avengers. I need to know what’s up with the giant guy with the Iron Man head.

On Stories

This is a follow up of sorts to my previous post about heroes, and why I consider anti-hero fetishization to be so dangerous.

First: read this. You’ll be glad you did. (WARNING: May or may not contain feels.)

OK. The rest of this blog post assumes you are back from reading that.

This, this right here, is exactly why I get worried about what stories we are telling each other.

Owen was able to use stories to construct a life for himself that simply was not possible for him under other means. Through them, he was able to find love and happiness that may not have been attainable without the stories to act as a bridge. I’m not saying he was “cured” – he’s still autistic – but his life and spirit were nourished and strengthened by stories.

This is a process that I believe is occurring within all of us – not in exactly the way Owen experienced it, but exactly as vital. Stories contain lessons, knowledge, secrets, about ourselves and about other people. What stories we choose to tell, what traits we choose to laud or condemn, has an impact on ourselves and on the people we tell them to. If the story we choose to tell each other is that the most honorable and noble thing a person can do is “get the job done no matter the cost,” and that the coolest people are angry, confrontational, sarcastic, and glib, we risk those ideas becoming truths. We risk an Owen who grows up learning the moral lesson of Wolverine. And it’s not just children – people don’t stop learning or changing at age 18. In fact, I’d say stories teach us more as we grow older. Adults have a problem believing they have more to learn, in a lot of cases, and are already set in their ways – but stories can hit them on a more primal level that out-and-out pedagogy won’t necessarily reach. By feeding ourselves one type of story at the expense of another, we are essentially ripping nutrients out of our diets. Just like we wouldn’t feed our kids nothing but carrots and insult protein as unnecessary, we shouldn’t feed a child Wolverine at the expense of Superman. (Or sci-fi at the expense of detective fiction, or historical fiction at the expense of noir, or any other arbitrary pairing off you might name.)

Enjoy whatever stories you want. Tell each other whatever stories you want. But do not make it about enshrining one type of story at the expense of another. Stories have power, and you could be casting a spell you do not fully understand.

On Progress, 4/11/14

Three blog posts in a week? I think I may have unsealed some sort of ancient blogging deity or something.

Writing this week has been…meh? I have edited every day this week, Done with Mirrors, mostly. It has not gone well. Not in the sense that I think the edits are bad; I think the edits have really and truly improved the book. But in the sense that I wasn’t really scheduled to be editing Done with Mirrors this week, and that when I was it was still kind of like putting my head in a C-clamp and slowly twisting.

The good news there is twofold, though. Part One is that I know why this happened – my sleep schedule got badly screwed up by International Tabletop Day*, and took a few days to fully recover, and on top of that there have been some minor-but-persistent health issues that have occupied much of my mental bandwidth. But now I feel well-rested, and I have a doctor’s appointment (and I’m pretty sure it’s not a huge deal to boot), and I can re-focus for next week. Part Two is that the edits still really did improve the book. Bonus: I feel dedicated and adult for having stuck with my writing despite it being annoying, because really, that’s when I need to write most of all.

Speaking of International Tabletop Day, it was a rousing success.  I played Ascension, Battlestar Galactica, King of Tokyo, Red Dragon Inn, Ancient Terrible Things, and of course, Sentinels of the Multiverse. I introduced two friends to Pandemic. I stayed up until six talking life and game design and gender politics with two of my closest friends and another who is inching closer as time goes on.  But most important to me was seeing that I gave my friends a place where they could have a good time and get to know each other. Two different friends messaged me asking for contact information for two other friends, and really, I can’t imagine a greater compliment to my taste in people than to see them wanting to get to know each other. I complain about life sometimes, but I’m overall pretty blessed.

Which brings me to this weekend, which promises to be the good, relaxing kind of insane. Tonight it’s Sharks hockey live at the tank with Sonya, as we collect our Fan Appreciation Night goodies and get ready for a playoff game next week (thanks to Sonya’s diligence and Pinterest account). Tomorrow, it’s cake tasting, which I still can’t believe is actually a thing you do for weddings. Sunday, it’s a cinematic double-header of Muppets Most Wanted and Captain America: the Winter Soldier in the company of my lovely fiancee, and then I get back on the writing horse and we do this whole thing over again.

I have a good life, you guys. Sometimes it’s stressful, and sometimes it’s silly, and sometimes it’s kind of stupid. But overall, it’s good, and that’s as much as I need to be able to say.

My recommendation for you this week is The Devil’s Backbone. It’s a fun little ghost story that is terrifying even in the middle of the day. Go watch it, it won’t disappoint.

Have a good weekend!

*Read: By me being stupid and staying up far, far too late/early on International Tabletop Day.

On Restating My Assumptions

I generally try to keep my ranting and brain-leavings for Progress Friday updates, but I’m having one of those very difficult mornings, and I need to reestablish myself.

I’m having very bad impostor syndrome today, along with some sadness and some disappointment. I’m not where I expected to be in life. I look back, and I blame a lot of that on the fact that, at the post-collegiate crossroads of my life, I chose stability over art. Not that I didn’t keep writing and submitting, but I decided to enter the 9-to-5 workforce, the steady paycheck, the day job, etc. I didn’t try for freelancing, because health insurance was at the time impossible for me to get; I didn’t risk staying in my in-law apartment in my aunt’s basement, because it was wrecking my psyche to be so materially unsuccessful. But now I look at it and I feel trapped, unable to extricate; freelancing feels so uncertain, and it would put a lot of pressure on Sonya and make it hard for her to make a career change. But I want to write more. I need to write more.

I feel like I failed myself. I feel like I should be a starving artist, struggling along, fighting for every penny. I feel like I should be Amanda Palmer or Jeph Jacques. I feel like I should have put myself on the line, galvanized myself by taking away the safety net and removing failure as an option. Even though I know that’s crazy and has the potential to have killed me in the early 2000s.* I feel like I am not successful, because I did not force myself to be successful.

This post is here to remind me this is horse manure.

From my writing career:

I have finished three novels, a novella, and around forty to fifty short stories, if not more than that.

I have published multiple short stories, online and in print, and I have had pro magazines tell me, in detail, why my stories didn’t work, rather than send me a form letter.

I have gotten replies from agents that suggested they at least took time to read my synopsis, though none have taken me on yet.

I have gotten good reviews online, where I have been able to find them.

At least one editor I have worked with has made it a point to tell me that they like my work and want to keep publishing me, and I keep getting invited to anthologies.

People retweet me, people of influence, with big, sexy brains I know would not just retweet random stupid ravings from a random stupid person.

My blog posts don’t get comments, but they do get read.

From my day job:

I am told I do a good job. I have never been written up or told I failed at something; I have always been told, at worst, that I need to learn.

I have health insurance.

Sonya and I never go hungry, and we always get to eat good quality food that hasn’t spoiled. If something turns out burned or too salty or something, we have the option to go get new food.

I make enough that we get to enjoy our lives while still paying for everything we need. I have no shortage of entertainment available to me, no lack of capacity to go on adventures, small though they often need to be.

If Sonya and I want to have a child, there will be no fear about our ability to provide for them; it will not be based on the whims of the market.

I am good enough at my job that I can build up to going freelance if I need to.

In short: I am not a failure. I am not even unaccomplished. I have a Master’s degree and published fiction works, which already puts me above a lot of people on the accomplishment meter. I have so much more I want to do, and I will make time to do it; but that time does not have to come at the expense of stability or happiness.

I am not a failure. And I will continue to not fail.

This has been me, self-indulging. Thank you for giving me a little bit of your time.

*I had appendicitis, which thanks to my insurance through my 9-to-5 job cost me $400 total. I would have been gouged for my entire savings if I’d been uninsured, and possibly gone into debt.

On Heroes

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is in theaters, and with it comes the inevitable discussions about whether or not Cap is an interesting hero.

I know a lot of people who think otherwise. Coincidentally, I also know a lot of people who are wrong.

Potentially Weakening Disclaimer: Love who and what you love, as always. But be aware of when you are championing something highly problematic.

I hear this stuff all the time: “Superman is boring, Batman’s the more interesting character.” “Captain America is boring, Wolverine is the more interesting character.” “I prefer the realism of characters who kill.”

This is cultural poison.

I’m going to start quoting Rachel Edidin in here a lot. Let me know if any embedded tweets don’t work. Let’s start with our shared thesis:

It’s not that we can’t love things that are badass. I love things that are badass. I love Quentin Tarantino movies, and Deadpool, and Omar Little, and people with huge guns fighting hordes of faceless aliens or Rocket Nazis or whatever other super-cool-great thing we’ve decided will make for a good visual. I see the appeal in Wolverine and his ilk, and I actually really, really like Batman. But I do not like the fetishizing of anti-heroes; and I really don’t like the fact that it automatically comes in the form of a duality, that embracing one is rejecting the other. It’s also highly problematic that people do not seem to recognize the essential nature of the anti-hero – that the anti-hero is not strictly a hero.

But why do I care? Let’s talk to Rachel Edidin again.

It’s true; Western culture, America especially (in my humble experience) has very little cultural mythology. Superman, Batman, Captain America, and their ilk educate us; they reflect us; they carry the spirit of the people who create them and read them inside of them, and leave it for later readers to unpack and understand. If what our cultural mythology is saying is that being good is boring; that drawing a moral line for yourself that doesn’t include murder is weakness; that doing anything less than whatever it takes is failure; we are raising generations of predators. Of violent child-adults who don’t think they need to care about anything, including human life.

No, I don’t think violent comics will cause children to start shooting each other. But I think there is a more subtle and pernicious effect when our stories prop up villains entirely at the expense of heroes.

Also, let’s be honest here: evil is boring. Yes, we can make it stylistically sexy – I mean, I love me some Tim Curry – but there’s a lot to be said for the incredible power and dedication it takes to be good. Take it away, Mrs. Edidin:

Truth bomb time: Being a murderer is not inherently moral or honorable. Being willing to do precisely whatever it takes to save good people is not a sign of a hero. Heroes sometimes get into situations where they have to do bad things to save good people, and that is an interesting challenge to present to a character in a story; but the decision to take the easy way out and kill somebody is not superior, and it’s wrong-headed to say otherwise.

“The easy way out.” That’s a phrase I want you to hang onto. Because that’s what I think being an anti-hero is. That’s what I think being evil is.

Choosing the path of moral dubiousness is choosing easy mode. It’s easy to destroy things. It’s easy to steal. It’s easy to do whatever it takes to make the problem go away and not worry about your conscience or the consequences. Law enforcement occludes the issue a bit, certainly, but it’s still easy in terms of the effort for the initial reward; it’s a deferred risk in exchange for immediate gain, which is part of why crime is still a thing. On the flip side, to be constantly good, to be constantly believing in a code, to be constantly expecting yourself and humans to be better, is a deferred reward in exchange for immediate risk.

Superman and Captain America have a burden greater than any angsty, gun-toting anti-hero; they have more churning in them than any brooding vampire with a soul. They are symbols, and not just in the sense that their writers use them that way; they are self-imposed symbols, trying to show the people watching them that we can be better; that there is a way besides applying incredible power with incredible speed and forcing the world to be the way you want it to. That someone cares about them, in the hopes that they might care for someone else in return. That it’s okay to struggle, and okay to measure your impact on the world, and okay to take the harder path because the harder path carries incredible reward if you can slog through to the end.

You can love anti-heroes. I love anti-heroes. But don’t make that come at the expense of heroes; don’t make that about the superior nature of the killers and the monsters. Give the darkness some time to do its sexy dance; but recognize that the darkness needs to be balanced with the light; and recognize the lesson we are teaching if we shun the light and praise the darkness. And besides:

There is no anti-hero without a hero to anti-. And making everything cynical is not making it more badass; it’s just making it boring. Unless your point is to be cynical and to make a point about the effects and precedents for that cynicism, a la The Wire; and those are the times that I think guys like the Punisher are valuable.  But when we talk about how cool it is that they kill people, we are doing them a disservice; and we are doing a disservice to our culture.

And that, my friends, is why Superman is the more interesting character.

On Progress, 4/4/13

Another see-saw week here at the Hayes-Dent household.

In between here and the last blog post, I have started work on another story for a different anthology. I was invited entirely because I met the editor at a convention and followed them at the Twitter account given on their business card, which is awesome positive reinforcement for networking being a great idea that I should do more of. When my finances straighten out a little more (in a month or so) I’ll be ordering new Moo cards, and I’ll be sure that the next writing panel I attend features me exchanging them with a panelist or two if they seem like great people to know (and I’m sure they will be).

The story itself is going well, but I’m having a rocky start. There is a certain cadence to this story that I can’t always capture, because it’s a little bit outside of my normal headspace (or I suppose I should say it’s deeper into myself than my normal headspace). So this week has been me alternating between that story and editing Done with Mirrors for my daily writing practice, because there are some days where I just could not get myself where I needed to be to write this little story of this little man and the spirit who loves him. I’ve felt weird about it, because I feel like when I’ve got a deadline, the deadline is what matters, damn it; but at the same time, at least I am making forward progress on project, right?

This is a side effect of the way I’ve been feeling all week, I think. Something, I know not what, kicked me from depression mode into high anxiety mode. Last night I had a meltdown because my night did not work out the way I was hoping it would – I had an idea of our plans for the night that did not work out due to a really confusing ordering system at a new eatery* and then sidewalk repairs rendering a crucial intersection useless for pedestrians**, and I basically just lost it because I had been looking forward all day to trying a new place with Sonya and now I had to go to the old, stupid, dumb places. It was not pretty or mature at all, and I am not proud of myself.

The good news is, today has been much better. I started out kind of miserable thanks to a lack of sleep (anxiety is self-sufficient like that), but I did what I was taught to do, and I listened to what my head was saying and asked it what it wanted for breakfast. After a few emotional-eating options (thank God it’s hard to get hash browns on my way into work), we settled on some fresh orange juice and some almond milk, and the world started to look a little bit rosier. Now, it’s after lunch; I’ve had my traditional payday sandwich; and I can think about the finer things in life.

Like Tabletop Day.

Oh yes, Tabletop Day. International Tabletop Day. The holiday invented by celebrity gamers, for non-celebrity gamers, is here again, and this year I’m actually celebrating. I’m having one of my regular board game parties writ large, twelve or more hours of board games, snacks, friends, board games, laughter, board games, and board games. I’ve got my copies of King of Tokyo, Red Dragon Inn, and Sentinels of the Multiverse at the ready; the house is nearly clean; food will arrive in the morning; everything is set.

I am super-anxious and kind of self-conscious, because there is tremendous cultural pressure for adults, and especially men, not to display the kind of enthusiasm I feel about Tabletop Day. I was relating a story earlier today about being directly accused of being childish for my excitement over a board game I got for Christmas (by a person who was also talking to my fiancee about me like I wasn’t there, to boot!). I was also kind of an obsessive child and so got a lot of heat for that, because it’s a little worrisome to see your child obsessing, especially if it messes up other priorities. So, I’m discombobulated by the lack of fallout or flak so far, and of course, the anxiety means that I’m expecting it to come and just be all the more explosive for the wait.

But, I will forge onward. I will have fun, and the world cannot stop me from having fun. I could recite more platitudes, but the bottom line is, this is more than just a party for me: this is me facing my anxieties and cultural conditioning head on and telling them they won’t keep me down. I will love what and who I love, and I will do what I want to do as long as no-one is hurt by it; and fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. This is a really big deal for me, and I’m really glad I’m going to have people I love there to back my play.

I’m hoping it’s the start of a trend. For extra proof of that, I just made a (lengthy) post on my Facebook wall telling people a common thread of jokes I see around this time of year*** are personally upsetting and that I’d appreciate being insulated from them. It was terrifying to write; I assumed I’d be laughed at, to be honest, or at least told that this isn’t that big of a deal when there are people who can’t even get clean water on a regular basis. But no; people liked my post, and commented on it, and supported me in drawing a line for myself that didn’t really affect others except in terms of asking them to watch it around me.

It’s a start.

OK, time to admit I’m at work and stop blogging like a madman. My recommendation to you this week is a rousing game of King of Tokyo. Perfect for parties and for bridging non-hobby gamers into the world of hobby gaming. Enjoy, and Happy Tabletop Day, everybody!

*Seriously, really confusing. Like, you order in two different places depending on what you want and then go around the corner to get the food kind of confusing. It has been the week of weird and unnecessarily baroque ordering systems at restaurants.

**Pro Tip: When there is only one crosswalk within a half-mile that will get you across a given street, don’t jackhammer up and rope off that corner all at once if you can avoid it. I’m sure city planners have their reasons.

***It’s NHL playoff season. I’m a Sharks fan. Insert Heimlich joke here.

On Progress, 3/28/14

Grr.

I’m not in the best of spots mentally right now. It’s not due to any trauma or serious stressor, at least as far as I can tell – I’ve actually made pretty solid progress on my wedding and my writing and all that stuff. But I feel…stuck, at the moment. I could enumerate all the issues going into that, and probably even make a pretty sweet transition into a rant about the current state of capitalist society as we know it. But the bottom line is that I can tell I need big changes in my life and I know what I need to focus on, and I need to figure out how to reconcile that with the need to eat and wear clothes and raise a kid.

I get like this sometimes. I get that I will come out of it, probably sooner rather than later. Really, that kind of self-awareness is frustrating, because it means I can’t just have a nice wallow in my feelings. I’m sure next week I’ll have had some kind of breakthrough and I’ll feel more like giving you guys the kind of update you deserve.

I’m sorry I’m not more upbeat and interesting this week; but honestly, giving myself the space to say to an audience that things aren’t OK right now is helping. I won’t belabor the point, because, seriously, who needs that? But I’m not feeling OK, and I’m not sure why, and that, for now, needs to be OK with me until I can find whatever it is I need to release the pressure. (Whatever it is I actually need, of course – running down the street swinging a length of pipe and screaming in forgotten languages is not a viable career move for me at this juncture.)

So, bottom line: Writing’s going pretty well; wedding’s going pretty well; day job is decent; the inside of my head, though, could do with some redecorating. So I’m going to get on that, and I hope to return to you all next week, shiny and easier to read. For this week, my recommendation is Better Off Ted. I’m late to the party, but it’s a really great party; the show has tinges of Portal around the edges on top of its own bleak-but-grinning sense of humor. Check it out.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

On Progress, 3/14/14

Yep, it’s Friday.

It just occurred to me how much these Progress posts sound like a more optimistic version of the old Andy Rooney segments on 60 Minutes. I’m not exactly sure yet how that makes me feel.

I’m having another directionless urge to write today. Not that I don’t have projects to work on – God, do I ever! – but I do not have the time (due to Day Job) or the energy (due to difficulty sleeping) to make real progress on any of my projects. Also, theoretically, Friday is a day off from writing, which normally I welcome but today I almost resent. I’m guessing that’s the deadline talking. I may in fact attempt some more editing of the anthology story later, if I still feel the sinister urge.

Speaking of the anthology story, it’s going fairly well. I enjoy my POV character (well, my character who is being followed by the limited-omniscient-third-person narrator), I enjoy the world I’ve written, but I’m having a bear of a time conveying that world within the word count I’ve been allotted. I’m currently still well-above word count, though admittedly also still in the middle of the first revision, so that’s not cause for alarm. I have some ideas about voice and necessity of detail that might help me along; I’m going to let them gel in the back of my head, take notes as necessary, and see what I can see come Sunday.

And speaking of Sunday (I buy my segues in bulk), I’ve got a great deal of gaming going on this weekend. Tonight is the D&D game run by my lovely fiancee, and Sunday I am running my second try at a Wild Talents scenario for a convention. It’s an embarrassment of riches, to be sure; though I also find myself thinking that the level of gaming I am currently doing is simply unsustainable in the long run. I have a marriage to think about, and a career, and possibly a kid on down the line. There was a time in my life when that would be a sobering thought, but really, I’m excited about the shift, like I’d be moving on to a new story arc in my life. I just hope, when the time comes, that there’s room for some funny dice and cooperative storytelling in the mix. The good news is, my friends have pretty well proven there is.

It’s been a weird weak for me, headspace-wise. I’ve been under a lot of stress at work and in my personal life (see the next few paragraphs), and I’ve been finding myself worried about whether I have any really close friends, whether I keep people at arm’s length, whether I’m important or feel others are important to me, and other thoughts the brain-chiggers insert into you at 3.a.m. as you’re waking up from a nightmare.

Then my oldest friend and his wife handed us the card box they used at their wedding, which was used at my next-oldest friend’s wedding, as well; and I realized that however the brain-chiggers might make me feel, I am a part of something bigger, and that matters to someone besides me, and there is no reason for me to feel the way I do besides my own poorly mixed mental chemicals.

It’s been a week for that kind of thinking. One of the stresses we were dealing with was the catering quote: specifically, the way it was something we simply could not pay. I had a brief anxiety attack about it, and kicked it back to the caterer, explaining what our budget was like for this undertaking, and he promised to re-visit the menu and get back to me. I feel weird having to say that, but I need to confront the realities of our situation, and the reality is that we are not people who can drop five figures like it’s not a thing, and probably never will be.

I really am not bothered by that in general – I prefer my life simple – but it’s been a real bear to reconcile that with the amount of money the wedding-industrial complex seems to think we should be able to spend on this. As Sonya said, “being poor is expensive,” and never has that felt more cruel than with trying to plan a day that should be one of the most special days of our lives.

(I want to interject and say – I recognize there are many who are poorer. We are, in fact, above the poverty line. I in no way deny our privileges, and I recognize that we are getting to go do things that would be out of reach of others. That doesn’t change the stress levels caused for us.)

And when our friends heard we were having trouble making nuptial ends meet, suggested something we had thought about and dismissed several dozen times over the early stages of our wedding planning – crowdfunding. Many, many people indicated they would be willing to pitch in to help fund the wedding in lieu of a physical gift. We liked this idea, but to be honest, we were both taught that asking for money was gauche, insulting, somehow crude. We thought we would gain little more than offending people.

But our friends have made it clear that they stand with us – that it’s an outmoded idea, that we don’t need stuff as much as we want to have a nice wedding, and that there’s no reason we can’t ask for that instead. The outpouring of support from our friends was breathtaking and sweet, and even if we don’t raise more than what the folks who spoke out can contribute, the mere fact anyone said that to us – the mere fact we are that important to anyone – is the most important wedding gift we could be given.

A couple weeks ago, when we discussed the ceremony with our officiant, he asked us why Sonya and I were in love. Sonya’s answered surprised me. She talked about a mutual family friend, and a conversation I did not know had happened. (I was probably out of the room, discussing hockey.) In said conversation, our friend told Sonya that she could tell we had something that she had not had in her (recently ended) relationship – we were on a team together.

It was not an idea that had occurred to me, at least consciously; I mean, of course I have Sonya’s back. Of course she has my back. Even when we annoy each other. Even when we’re both having the worst days. But to have it codified in that way – to have it associated with allegiance, alliance, dependability, and companionship, and moreover, to have it highlighted as something other relationships lack – really showed me my relationship – really, all my relationships, romantic or otherwise – in a new and wonderful light.

I feel better than ever about my life having heard that story, and though sometimes the wedding (of all things) darkens my outlook, I have to remember that we have a community, that we have many people who have our backs, and we theirs; and regardless of how low our bank balance gets or how strange and terrible the travails of life become, regardless of how often we can swing imaginary swords together or knock back very real whiskeys, we have all made a difference to each other. And really, that’s one of the most amazing things I can say about myself and my friends.

On that note, I am going to wrap up this week’s blog post. My recommendation this week: spend some time with your friends.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

On Prose

I think I place an inordinate amount of value on beautiful language.

I’m going to be honest and say I hope this post is beautiful in its own way. If I wind up trying too hard anywhere, I apologize.

It is my belief – by which I mean it is a foundational idea in the art of writing – that the two keys to good writing are to have interesting ideas about the world (or about the worlds you’ve built), and to have prose that’s interesting to read. Great ideas but bad prose leads to the inevitable question “Why aren’t you writing comics/movies/TV/etc.” Great prose but bad ideas leads to intellectual junk food, incredible words that signify absolutely nothing (or as I like to think of it, the bulk of the Western literary canon).

I don’t write the world’s most breathtaking prose. Which is not to say I am not good – or rather, not to say that I know I’m not good for a fact. I spend big chunks of my week wondering if maybe I am not good, or at least if I have not hit a general, median level of “good” that applies enough for more than cursory recognition. I’m pretty dedicated, and I have enough talent and skill in here to get in trouble; but am I actually good? And if I’m not, what am not doing properly?

It’s the turns of phrase, is what I keep telling myself.

I am a sucker for a good turn of phrase. Cracked had one today about something being “such low-hanging fruit it’s practically a potato.” It’s still with me over eight hours later because it is such an amazing little two-step of language, a verbal pirouette whose shape and speed and finesse I can’t help but admire. Michael Chabon had a quote, uttered by a friend on Facebook, likening the experience of our lives to jigsaw puzzles in a way that worked perfectly and without pretension, that said something triumphant and bittersweet and sad about our shared experience on this mudball. I read the quote, and I loved it, and I took the big, tragic, stepped into a hole in the floor of my mind, a limp faceplant into Impostor Syndrome.

Where are my speeches about puzzle pieces and childhood, or my essays about raining shit and the umbrella of art, or whatever other turns of phrase I love and envy? Where are my linguistic tap-dances and magical gems of well-honed prose? I mean, I’m better than the average Joe, but do I really have any craft in my craft? Any art in my art?

I know I probably shouldn’t dwell like this. I know it’s really just me banging my head into the counter while I tick off minutes I could be spending with my writing – I mean, even writing badly is still better than worrying about writing badly, right? But I’ve had my prose compared to Benjy on Twitter before, I think it’s understandable that I tend to get a little sensitive.

The bottom line is, this question – am I any good at this? – comes up a lot. And my measuring stick for the possibility of suckitude is always my prose. Do I turn enough phrases? Do I do enough jigs? Do I make the language my own, distinct and decisive, my own flavor sprinkled on top of whatever voice I’m using?

When I get thinking like this, what saves me is Cormac McCarthy.

Cormac McCarthy has made a living out of deliberate, cold, tragic, steamroller-flat prose. His words don’t dance. They don’t sparkle. He doesn’t work to string together syllables like he’s knitting a new Gryffinder scarf. He tells you what’s happening, and his characters tell you what they think, and they do those things in this detached, desolate style that really lays bare the awful things that are happening around them. It’s crafted, obviously; but it’s crafted in a way that is simple, and it tells a story about people and life and thought that is conveyed beautifully without ever, to outright steal a phrase, sending me to the dictionary.

Cormac McCarthy is an odd example, because it’s not like his style is exactly plain; but he is someone whose dance is a bit more like walking, and so I try to hold onto that, to remember that that’s a valid way to use my creative energy.

(Ernest Hemingway also does in a pinch, but I’m not quite over my “it’s hip to hate Hemingway” period yet. Also I’m scared hopping on the Hemingway train is basically just submitting to alcoholism.)

Of course, my style isn’t entirely Cormac McCarthy. There’s some Neal Stephenson in there, too. Some Philip K. Dick. Some Neil Gaiman. A soupcon of Raymond Chandler. More Joss Whedon than is entirely comfortable. But at the nexus of all that is my voice – sometimes lyrical, sometimes surreal, often midnight cold and a little febrile and, yes, bereft of an armada of syllables. But it’s still my voice; and when I’m hitting all cylinders, my voice can still be beautiful.

All of this is to say that the misery has passed, and that I will be writing again tomorrow; and no Impostor Syndrome or intimation I’m disabled or strange and lovely quote from Michael Chabon can stop it.

 

On Progress, 2/27/14

The word of the day is “enthusiasm.”

I’m having a great week, you guys. Just a great week. It’s not even due to any one thing in particular – really, if I search the entrails of the week I actually see more bad or mediocre than good – but I feel like this has been a great week, and I think that’s what matters.

On the writing front: I got a rejection letter this week, and as you know from my last post, that hit me right in the metaphorical gonads. However, on reflection, it was a great rejection letter. The editor felt it merited a personalized response to explain why it didn’t work, and she clearly read all the way to the end of the story. That’s huge. Yes, I need to tweak the story more, but it was good enough to get the top possible level of rejections, and that’s an achievement in and of itself.

I want that on my tombstone: “He achieved the top possible level of rejection.”

(I don’t actually want that on my tombstone.)

The anthology story continues apace. I stalled a tiny bit earlier in the week, and again today, as I realized that ideas in my outline were not going to be viable and that I needed new directions (or in today’s case, that I have no idea how to end a scene in a compelling way). Fortunately, in both cases, I was able to find a different part of the story to work on, and I know have my writing weekend (different from the normal weekend) to let my ideas stew. I’m still really digging this story, and am looking forward to refining it even further toward its full potential.

Done with Mirrors is on semi-hiatus right now, due to the deadline looming; I’ll be working it again during my Week of Rest after the first draft of the anthology story is over. The time off has allowed me to reflect on and refine my ideas about where the draft needs to go from here, and I think the story is getting stronger every time I work it. I’ll be glad to put it to bed.

In real life news, let’s see…there isn’t a lot to report, except that I’ve been getting to bed at reasonable hours, walking more, and having fewer stomach issues than I have in weeks previous. All that plus a little more emphasis on breakfast has led to me having a much more upbeat and enjoyable week. Just need to get out tonight and get the walk in; I hope the weather lets me.

One thing that has been happening a lot in my real life lately is money trouble. Not like, debt, or anything; we just got hit with some unexpected expenses and it’s meant the week’s food budget has been kind of thin. But, Sonya gets paid tomorrow, and our bills are accounted for, and we aren’t lacking anything we actually need to survive – we just have to be a little more careful with how much we (read: I) spend on lunch. It’s funny; I actually find that, above a certain threshold, I get happier the less money I have. I wonder if there’s any science about that? (I actually am pretty sure there’s some science about that.)

Anyway, that’s really what I have this week in the way of an update. I’m going to start trying to do more non-progress blog posts, like that last one; I really hope I’m able to find the energy and focus for that going forward. For now, I will leave you with this week’s recommendation: Exquisite Corpseby Poppy Z. Brite. It’s uncomfortable, creepy, engaging, and poetic in equal measure, and I’m really enjoying the headspace it’s forcing me into. Check it out.

Have a good weekend, everybody!