Archive for the ‘ Internal Cartography ’ Category

2016: Good Riddance

So here we are: December 31, 2016.

It’s not unique nor surprising for me to say that 2016 was a terrible year — the deaths of people my generation idolized, American politics doing a belly-flop straight into a dumpster fire, a cavalcade of wars and horrors and accidents great and small — but I was fairly lucky with 2016 on a personal level.

As I go into the details, CN: anxiety, violence, sexual assault, Tr*mp.

Looking at my Facebook memories, I went into 2016 full of hope and optimism, and ignoring truly horrific world events, that was mostly rewarded; but where it wasn’t, man was it a kick in the teeth. A long-time friend turned out to be a multiple-offense abuser and sexual assailant, and I learned when that came out that several long-term friends had covered up how bad his behavior actually was. When the local gaming community saw a direct action to excise another sexual predator from its midst, a different long-time friend caped for the perpetrator. Two different relatives-in-law turned out to be awful people with awful politics. At least one friend lost a beloved pet; another lost a beloved relative; yet more friends got evicted. We totaled our car right before Christmas Day (everyone is fine; the car took all the abuse).

But the good parts were superb. I celebrated two years of marriage with S., and our relationship is in a fantastic place, even better than where it was in 2015. My health was excellent, to the point where my doctor forgot I was diabetic until I reminded him. I started reviewing comics for The Ace of Geeks, a dream gig if there ever was one. I joined a monthly actual play podcast of one of my favorite indie RPGs (World Wide Wrestling; here’s the website, for those interested). I made new friends who are supportive and kind and interesting, both online and in meatspace, and I maintained and improved several other relationships that I am grateful to have. One of my best friends got engaged. I found joy in a little game called Pokemon Go. I got to see the Sharks make it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time, and was there for their first ever Stanley Cup Finals win, 3-2 in overtime. I wrote two short stories I was extremely proud of. I had “The One About Jacob” accepted for publication. And I finished writing The Imaginary Corpse, the novel I am most proud of yet in my career, and one I am elated to be shopping around later this year after I’ve finished post-beta revisions. I figured out how to walk the walk on social justice issues, and learned it is both easier and harder than I gave it credit for. I got a much better handle on my anxiety, though post-election it’s been pretty rough.  I learned how to be more authentically myself — even when I am anxious or sad or angry, I am able to accept that it’s OK to feel those things most of the time, and I’ve stopped being ashamed and embarrassed of my likes and dislikes — again, most of the time.

I am stumbling to the finish line, bloodied and exhausted, and I anticipate a marathon of horrors coming out of the new White House. But I also anticipate my community being there for each other, and I know we will celebrate together in victory and comfort each other in defeat. I know there will be good art, and good love, and fun times, and people building toward their dreams. We may take a few body-blows this year, but we’ll try to protect each other from the knockout punch.

I’m off to go clean up and get ready to see friends this evening, but before I go, I want to say: thank you. Thank you for reading this blog, and the Pull List, and my fiction. I don’t know exactly how many of you there are, and I don’t need to, but knowing that these words are not just falling into the void and vanishing means a lot.

And now, I’m off to vacuum, and then play Sentinels of the Multiverse in my penguin kigurumi.

Yeah. That feels like the right way to end it.

Happy New Year, everybody.
Photo on 12-31-16 at 11.17 AM #2

How Zanzer Tem Got My Groove Back

Preamble: It’s been a rough time in the United States of America lately, a rough time reconfirmed yesterday with the Electoral College officially casting their votes. I’m not gonna lie — I don’t think this POTUS is going to be good for the country. I’m scared of what he’s going to try to do and what will be done in his name. I’m gearing up for a marathon of working to make sure the wheels of democracy turn for everyone, not just the already privileged and the hateful. I’m terrified, and already exhausted, and my mental health has been taking it on the chin since well before election day and only getting worse since then.

And that’s the thrust of it: I’ve been a bad friend for the last half a year, and while DJT is the catalyst it’s not an excuse. I totally dropped the ball on beta-reading for a colleague. I have been scattered and unproductive at my day job. The holiday one-shots I promised people I’d run basically all fell apart except for the few I got done before DJT sewed up the GOP nomination, and every time I think “I should run those” my mind turns to a dead radio station and I just hunch over my desk until the horror passes. Exercise has been difficult to make myself do (though the endorphins always really do help), and a lot of nights after work I get on the train and cannot focus on anything except doing my daily Duolingo lesson (I’m learning German, which is making me uncomfortable for historical reasons). Writing has basically been the only easy thing, and that’s great, but there are days that feels like fiddling while Rome burns. The tiniest thing will shatter my cool: a difficult-but-not-impossible work project triggered no fewer than six anxiety attacks over two weeks, and on Sunday I fell into a deep funk because we misjudged our time budgeting and I didn’t get to make Star Wars: Edge of the Empire characters with Sonya. I try to self-care and half the time it doesn’t work, because I inevitably come across something that makes me think of the election, something that isn’t funny anymore in context, something normal that I’m worried I won’t get to keep thinking of as normal or something horrific that I think might become all too common. And it’s not entirely getting better, though there are definitely moments, even sometimes whole days.

Some of this I can only do so much about. Some of this I have to handle as I have energy, not before, or risk making it worse. But last night, I got an unexpected shot in the arm courtesy of my wife’s Reddit Secret Santa gift.

When it arrived, it looked like a board game to me: long, flat, rectangular. She opened it while I was washing dishes and heating up dinner, and she told me it was two boxes of tea, which was great, but clearly not all that was in the package; I asked what else it was, and as I was washing, she suddenly said “Baby! Look!” And I came back into the living room, and I saw…this.


The 1991 “Easy to Master” boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons.

I started shouting. I nearly started crying. This boxed set was a tiny piece of my childhood in Los Angeles, a birthday present that carried fond and also sad memories. Fond because this came into my life when I was just starting to figure out this “roleplaying” thing, when I used to try to read the 2nd Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook cover-to-cover and desperately wanted any sourcebook my parents could afford to give me (an urge that also got me Paranoia, which is still a favorite, and Shatterzone, which is…less so). Sad because…well…I never got to play it.

It took me a lot of years to find my people; I had friends as a kid, but nothing that endured the way friendships later in life did (such is growing up, I think). And this Dungeons & Dragons set serves as a reminder of that in-a-crowd isolation: the set that I pored over, got excited about, but could never actually execute. The closest I got was an offer from a post-surgery relative who wanted to play with me but wound up (understandably!) too low-energy to do so, and a cousin who when presented with my attempt at an elevator pitch said “Why are you talking to me about this? I’m not interested.” (At least he set strong boundaries…)

So last night, looking at this battered but never-played copy of this game that some thoughtful Redditor sent to Sonya, I felt a chance to do something that it never occurred to me I’d wanted to do, that it never occurred to me I’d ever have a chance to do: I could finally run a party through Zanzer’s Dungeon. I could finally run the encounters with Dmitri, and Axel, and everyone else in that little box. I could actually play that D&D set that lived, loved but unused, in my many childhood closets, even if it was a different copy from an entire continent away.

2017 is likely to be as tough as 2016. Parts of it might be worse, as a person interested in tolerance and inclusivity. And it is likely to include a lot of triumph, too: The Imaginary Corpse will start going out to agents and markets next year, and I’ll mark three years of marriage to my best friend and favorite human, and I will get to finally unbox Sentinels of the Multiverse: OblivAeon and finish the game I started loving five years ago. But one of the things I know I can look forward to, one of the bits that will help me get through during the most slogging, bloody sequences of the year, is that I will finally deliver on a 25-year-old promise I hadn’t realized I’d made myself. In 2017, I will finally read the boxed text for Zanzer’s Dungeon to a group that is actually excited to have me read it. That’s a win money can’t buy.

So thank you, anonymous Redditor. You gave me hope, and you made us smile. And that’s what the holidays are really all about.

The Scalp Says: This is Not Normal

Photo on 11-19-16 at 2.18 PM

So, hi again. How are we all doing on this far side of reality?

I haven’t blogged about the United States of America’s recent Presidential election; I haven’t been able to find the words for it. I’ve been throwing myself into activism and self-care and partner care in equal measure, trying my damnedest to find some magical balance that will fix this world — if not mystically undo the election results, then make them safer, make them make sense. So I haven’t been writing in this space, preferring places where I write about comics and geeky stuff, or my own fiction where I control all the tuning knobs on reality. Until today, when I accidentally shaved my head.

That’s incongruous on purpose; bear with me here.

So, no big shame or secret: I’ve got male pattern baldness. The hair on the top of my head is very thin, with a noticeable “bald spot” taking up, oh, most of my skull. So my “haircut” is really more of an every-month-or-so going over with a hair and beard trimmer, trying to make sure the whole thing looks somewhat serviceable. Well, today was the day, I decided, as I woke up and felt that “standing straight up on end” was synonymous with “too long.” So I confirmed S. could help me clean it up when I was done trimming, got the trimmer ready, and started in — and forgot to put on the guard before I started. You know, the guard that lets you set how short you want to trim your hair? Yeah, that one.

I shaved a portion of the hair on my right temple down to stubble before I realized what I had done. I put the guard on, set it a bit lower than my normal setting, and went over the rest of my dome, seeing if maybe it wouldn’t stand out. But, no such luck; even that low setting still looked like a lush carpet of head-covering compared to the site of the incident. So I explained what happened to S., and after she tried a still-lower setting, we agreed there were no two ways about it, the best option was to buzz the whole mess down with no guard and let it grow back while we’re on Thanksgiving vacation next week.

“No problem,” I said, “I’ll just wear a hat for a week. You know, so people don’t think I’m a neo-Nazi.” That’s when this blog post hit.

Looking like I wear the trappings of racism is something I worry about a lot when it comes to my haircuts and clothing choices. I’m blonde and blue-eyed, and on top of it I’m tall and (these days) fairly well-toned, and so inherently might come off as threatening from that. I worry about days when my hair is freshly trimmed and how I might present. But today, the reality of what I might be projecting with this too-close shave really smacked me in the face: I might not just be mistaken for a racist. I might be mistaken for someone who voted for the new President of the United States.

Not because everyone who voted for him is a neo-Nazi. But we know the neo-Nazi “alt” “right” definitely went in big for him, and we know that hate crimes are on the rise, and we know that both of these things are because of the horrific things he said on the campaign trail. Whatever is lurking in his policy that got him the necessary votes (sorta…), we know that a tide of hate was a major factor. We don’t know exactly what to expect, but in the communities I am a part of, we are expecting — and speaking out against — the worst. It looks bleak out there right now, like we’re in for a four-year marathon against a Hydra that wants to put the rights of people and the planet where they live on a political chopping block, and I don’t know if my legs can carry me that far without stumbling. Self-care leaves me feeling numb a lot of the time — sometimes I manage to truly distract myself, but then all of a sudden I’ll plummet back down into the horror of what might be coming in 2017, 2018, 2019…

And I’m relatively insulated. If it is just about me, I’ll more or less be fine — I’m white, I’m male, I’m heterosexual, and I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. My wife, the most important person in my life, is in a similar spot, though as a woman there’s a lot to worry about there. But this is not true of all my friends, not by a long shot, and even if it were, I would still fear for the millions of Americans who the extreme policy proposals of this administration would affect, even if I never met them one on one. And even if the policies never pass, the normalization of disgusting, racist behavior is a wound that will take a long time to heal and may never properly scar over. But somehow — and this is such a White Dude thing for me to say — sitting here and realizing what I am worried my hair says to people I pass on the street has made it all real for me in a way it hasn’t been before.

I plan to resist. I plan to dissent, as is my Constitutional right. I’m calling my elected officials to voice my stances, I’m making sure we do not normalize the troubling and outright disturbing things we are hearing in the news, I’m donating to civil rights and poverty outreach groups, and I am doing everything I can to help others feel safe and like we’re here for them. And I’m making art. Inclusive art. Kind art. Art that brings hope and shines a light in the darkness. Art that I hope will prop up someone besides me as we move forward. I’m sure I’ll find more I can do, for them and for myself.

But in the meantime, I am wearing the cap my wife knit me while my hair grows out, and I am trying to figure out what I’ll do for the 200+ weeks we’re going to have to walk down this path, and hoping that the worries I have on a day like today do not have to get too much more real. This is not normal, and I never want it to be.




How Night Vale Made Me Less Scared


(I’m abandoning the “On [TOPIC]” format for my titles…it’s a little too precious for me.)

CN: Anxiety, violence, profanity, mention of electoral politics

This past Monday night, I had the privilege to accompany Sonya to an author appearance by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, best known as the creators of Welcome to Night Vale; they were in conversation with Mallory Ortberg as part of a publicity and speaking tour for the new collections of WTNV scripts, Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe. The conversation was funny, insightful, incisive, and full of very deep thoughts about the life of a writer; all three participants were charming, and I highly recommend you see any of them any time you get a chance to do so.

What this post is really about, though, is the big inflection point I experienced early in the talk. The exact quote escapes me, as does who said which part, but it should surprise no-one that with these three on stage, they started talking about anxiety, and this brought Ortberg around to the topic of Welcome to Night Vale‘s overall theme: the weird, scary, dangerous nature of this little desert town, and the way its inhabitants think of it as normal. The creators of the show agreed, and said that they felt this was a reflection of real life: That the world is full of some really scary shit you can’t control, and you have to just find a way to live your life. Specifically, that you have to say “OK, I can’t do anything about Donald Trump’s Twitter account…[or] about stomach cancer…” This would have been mind-blowing, but this year of all years it was really important for me to hear that.

(Begin election stuff) Look, I have made no secret of the fact that I am terrified of this year’s Presidential election in America. I’m not here to claim Hilary Clinton is any particular thing (I am in favor of her but recognize she is not perfect), but her opponent absolutely horrifies me. I believe that electing him will do genuine harm to the people of my country, especially people of color and LGBT people, and will set us back decades of progress toward equality of any kind, not to mention possibly kill a lot of people. I, personally, may not be seriously affected, living in California and being an able-bodied white man, but that doesn’t mean I am not scared, because there is no telling what a loose cannon with well-documented racist, sexist, and fascist ideologies will do with the power of the White House (especially if he also maintains a cooperative Congress).

(End election stuff) . I have not even been sure how to keep breathing day-to-day while waiting for this to be over, and I’m not sure if it will even be over in November. And that is on top of my normal everyday anxieties: My worry about police shootings and how they seem to keep getting worse. My worry that my diabetes is going to go back out of control. My worry that I might get cancer. My worry that tomorrow my wife and favorite person in the whole world could get clipped making the left turn she makes after dropping me off at the train. My worry that I’m going to be fired. And on, and on, and on. I get told not to worry about these things, and I get help calming down, and then I get right back on the big, fire-breathing horse. But somehow, hearing it from these two — from these two great creators — made dealing with it feel real and possible. Not because I needed to not be scared, but because I needed to learn how to live my life despite that fear.

There is a movement toward empathy in art over the past couple of years; toward the idea that it’s OK to feel things, that emotion, even negative emotion, is alright and that you don’t need to stop feeling it. You see it in Steven Universe teaching us it’s OK to feel. You see it in Jessica Jones‘ titular character being the second character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to wrestle with anxiety attacks. You see it in the heroes of Stranger Things being scared, confused, and angry, but still coming back together and being friends not despite it, but with it. It’s in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s in The Mighty Thor, and it’s in Welcome to Night Vale…and those words coming from that stage are what made two things crystallize for me:

1. We all have to decide to live our lives, despite how scary and overwhelming the world can be.

2. You can measure your privilege by what events are easy for you to decide to live your life through.

I am very lucky with the privileges I have been handed, and I owe it to the world to use my own ability to live through fear to help others to do the same, whether it’s people who need help coping with their anxiety, people who need shielding from the excesses of a certain spray-tanned politician, or people who just need someone to say “it’s OK to be scared of that.” And I owe it to myself to look fear in the face and accept it as a part of me, and figure out how to find the blooming flowers in the middle of the war zone that is life. Thanks to this weird podcast from the East Coast, I feel like I’m not alone in that mission.

So, that was my Monday.

On Deadlines

I’m not shy about being a creature of ritual, but it’s really coming home to roost this week.

I’ve been working overtime a lot lately — not as much as some co-workers (my work-life balance is fairly inflexible), but a lot. I came back from vacation into a maelstrom of overtime that is just now letting up (and possibly only temporarily, based on how my next project is looking). The worst part is, with system delays and impromptu meetings and the ensuing long periods where work can’t actually get done, it has thrown my schedule into utter disarray. My coffee break isn’t happening at the right times; my lunch is often off-set from its usual flow; I don’t always go home at the same time; it’s not great. I’ve been made of anxiety for a week now.

Two good things have come of the darkness, though. One: I now know I have mastered my worse anxiety impulses. I have not had the kinds of meltdowns I used to have before I recommitted myself to mindfulness and self-care; there have been periods of neat-freakishness, of stuttering, of grumpiness, but nothing explosive like there used to be. So, while I don’t like testing the strength of steel by running over it with a car, it’s nice to see that the material is resistant. (That metaphor needs some work…)

Two: I know, for sure, that it feels good to be writing on a deadline. I mentioned that, post-New Novel, I found a superhero-related open call that is due mid-September? I’ve been routinely getting 1000+ words down on that every day this week, even skipping one of my two writing days off to keep working on it. I was worried, as the overtime came rolling in at the Day Job, that I would burn myself out both doing that and trying to make a writing deadline, but the truth is, it’s helped. I’m more energetic, more creative, and more focused with a deadline staring me down, and I’m outputting higher-quality material than I might have were I just noodling. Not that there’s anything wrong with noodling — I plan to do some after I’ve submitted to Behind the Mask and before New Novel comes back to me — but after months of editing, to reach into my creativity and pull out some gems, even uncut ones, is a really good feeling.

Besides giving me a highly productive avenue for self-care, this has also taught me a lot about how to judge freelance creative work moving forward. There are times when creating is hard — I have no doubt that “Good Fences” and I will see those dark days soon, possibly during first-round edits — but there is a difference between “hard” and “actually a bad idea.” That’s where things re changing.

See, the concept of “bad idea” can be extremely difficult for me to pin down; an idea can be bad in multiple ways, not always obvious. Sometimes, a project is a bad idea for logistical reasons: the deadline is too soon for the work required, or the material too far outside my area of expertise (to the point where I will be faking my way through the content). Sometimes something about the environment or the conditions rubs me the wrong way: the market/client is squirrelly about pay rates, or the contract is oddly worded, or they have expectations  that seem odd in one way or another.  And of course, sometimes, the story idea is bad on my end: it hinges on a contrivance, or it’s problematic when examined for subtext, or it is simply something that I am not currently capable of executing with the skill and care required to stick the landing. Seeing the way I am reacting to a tight deadline but a good story concept is helping me do some emotional echolocation. I’ve already had an idea for a story that I looked at and said “OK, so this isn’t a story yet. That’s fine. I can work on this later after I’ve done some research!” Five years ago, I’d have swan-dived into the story, floundered around for a week or so, and then declared myself the Worst Writer Ever and cried myself to sleep. (You may think I exaggerate, but…)

So, bottom line here is, it’s been a rocky August, but for the improvements to myself I’m seeing, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Man, two blog posts in one week? I’m a rock star!

On Focus

One of the few rules I’ve been taught about blogging — besides “avoid religion and politics” — is “don’t call attention to the fact you haven’t been blogging for a while.” So yeah, I just broke that rule, because this post is about why. Don’t worry, it’s all good news.

I recently took a one-week vacation from my day job; my vacation time was in serious danger of maxing out, and I was kind of crispy anyway, so I figured, why not? The vacation started with two family plans: a board game day with my parents, and a day at the beach in Santa Cruz with Sonya’s family.

Zoom in. At the beach day, I wind up spending a lot of time with my niece and nephew(-in-law). One of them is hitting the early teenage years, and is experiencing the horror that is middle school, and in discussing Pokemon Go and anime with them, they confide in me that they sometimes feel weird about admitting to the things they like, because they feel like it’s “silly” or “too young” for them.

Being me, you can imagine I didn’t take this comment lying down. I told them: “As long as you aren’t hurting anybody, you can like whatever you like.”

I can now say I both stunned a teenager into contemplative silence, and was told that I said something inspiring. That’s a nice way to start my free time.

Zoom back out. This is where that conversation becomes an ironic echo.

In the process of this vacation, I realized three things: I actually like being a house-spouse, a lot; I am capable of a truly monstrous amount of creative productivity if that is my only “job,” even if I am also being a house-spouse; and I have been badly oversocializing myself.

I used to think I was an extrovert, and in many ways, I am, but lately I’ve become more introverted. Some of that is me embracing the fact I have a social anxiety disorder and socialization costs me mental energy; some is me getting treatment for said disorder, and realizing how much of my socializing was a need to feel included and accepted; and some is just me getting older and being a busy adult with many important things to do. At the start of my vacation, a friend messaged me about doing something over the vacation, and I locked up and realized that doing something social — with anybody, not just them — sounded like the worst thing in the world.

So I spent my vacation alone, except for some IM conversations and the company of my wife (and one Pokemon Go hunt, because heck yeah Pokemon Go). Every morning, I drank my caffeine (sometimes with a walk to the local coffee shop first), read part of Marvel’s Annihilation Omnibus, and got down to creating and cleaning. I played video games and board games when I was done. And I came back to my day job the next week, feeling more refreshed than I have in months.

I altered a teenager’s worldview by saying that liking whatever they want is not wrong, but I didn’t apply the same idea to myself until I really listened to what my brain was telling me. Games and wrestling help me look at different ways of telling stories while also relaxing me, and let me see the problems of a creator from a new viewpoint. Cleaning and cooking make me feel productive, and quiet the capitalism-fueled anxieties that both insist leisure is a societal ill and that art is not a worthwhile pursuit. Comics are not only a great way to experience stories, but are also easy for me to focus on and digest in large amounts, which is perfect for days where my anxiety is bad enough that I do not have any attention span. Being alone whenever I need to be alone is a valid way to spend my time, and I actually don’t like having too many plans. And whatever people tell me about developing my platform, it’s OK if I don’t blog for a while.

And I have not been blogging lately, it’s true, but that’s because I’ve been working on fiction instead. Since I last put text to WordPress:

  • I have finished both pre-alpha-reader edit passes on my current novel project (the unnamed “New Novel” that I have been hiding the title of out of nothing but anxiety*).
  • While amidships on the edit passes, I also sent a writing sample to Onyx Path Publishing to be considered for inclusion in a collection of Changeling: the Dreaming fiction.
  • The day after finishing the second edit pass, I hit Duotrope looking for open submission calls, and found a call from Meerkat Press due on September 15th that is right up my alley (I mean, superhero stories? Yeesh, twist my arm…). I despaired of the total lack of possibility that I might make that deadline, right before churning out a story idea and an outline over the next two days. I’m now about 2000 words into my rough draft of “Good Fences,” and am really liking where this is going, though I recognize that the Editing Saw will need to be deployed without mercy to make word count.
  • And…I have preliminary ideas penned down for a sequel to New Novel; the kernel of another short story that is for no anthology or open call in particular; and the very rawest, freshest seeds of another possible novel series that needs some research and development before I start outlining anything.

(I also still kick the tires on comic scripts here and there, though I need to start out with something less sweeping than my The Shoulders of Giants concept. I’m waiting for a short work to appear in my head that would work well in comics instead of prose so I can focus on short, “single-issue” works and perfecting the scripting form before I attempt to do something longer. (I had an idea last night, but I want to let it germinate for a bit.) It’s a whole different way of writing than I’m used to, and taking baby steps is perfectly valid (topical!).

I still have Twitter and Facebook to keep my name out there and boost the signal as necessary — arguably, those are more effective for me than WordPress, judging by the response I got for the No Sh*t, There I Was Kickstarter. If I make myself blog, I’m going to wind up writing endless columns of writing advice someone already covered, or glom onto controversies about which others have already spoken expertly. I might start curating links to those sorts of reports, actually — it’s worth boosting the signal, especially when the voices involved are typically marginalized — but in the meantime, if I don’t have an idea for what to post here, that’s OK. Lessons in self-marketing may teach me that not blogging is dangerous for my brand, but but if I want to talk about fiction writing, it’s probably best if I do some of it..And if that’s what I like, and I’m hurting nobody…that’s OK.

*I’ll reveal the title once I’m shopping it to agents and publishers. Promise.

On Hearts

Externalization, Internalization, and the Problems of the Rudo Brain

Hi, I’m Tyler, and I currently cannot focus on writing because my sports team just lost.

The team in question is the San Jose Sharks, and after a beautiful, heartwarming run to the Stanley Cup Finals, they are now down 2-0 against a Pittsburgh Penguins team that just seems to have their number right now. The Finals are new territory, but the way I feel isn’t. Not because the Sharks are perennial disappointments or whatever tired narrative the sportswriters have manufactured for my team, but because I have always been this way for as long as I can remember, and I still can’t figure out how to stop.

I have always taken personally things that have nothing to do with me. I come to identify with the media I consume and love to a degree that makes it hard for me to have a critical discussion of it, at least not until I have fully internalized my opinion of it (which takes a pretty long time, because I am so susceptible to others’ opinions — it comes of self-esteem issues), and not only does criticism of that thing come to bother me, anything that could invite criticism of that thing bothers me preemptively, like I feel the haters grinning in the shadows and sharpening their knives. Sports is where this problem is the most obvious, because sports performance can be so random and hard to repeat, and losing and having bad nights is undeniably a part of it — when my sports team loses a big game, I often wind up in physical and emotional pain for hours afterwards. But it happens other places, too. When WWE fans started booing Roman Reigns, a wrestler I like alright but not extensively, I ached for the poor guy. When Joss Whedon’s latter-day works proved increasingly (or at least more visibly) problematic, I went through a period of being ashamed to admit I ever liked Buffy. And I felt betrayed and angry and sick on a deep level when Captain America revealed his allegiance to HYDRA and threw open the flood gates of the Internet (though God, am I with that crowd of critics, like whoa).

It’s not even wearing my heart on my sleeve; it’s straight up internalizing the things I love until they become me on some proto-cellular level and I wind up reacting emotionally to the simple fact that other people have different tastes than me, or indeed, that sometimes other people are jerks. That’s a poor fit for the toxic narrative that surrounds the Sharks, but also for just being a human being. People are going to like different things than me, and have insights into things I do not have, and in general be people who are not me, and that is factually OK and needs to be OK with me if I am going to function. The thing is, I have no idea how to change this about myself. I’ve been trying consciously for going on a decade now, and wishing I knew how for about twice that. I’ve improved my own toxicity in terms of how I react — there was a bit of rage-posting about Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons that still embarrasses me when I think about it — but that doesn’t change that tonight’s overtime loss wrecked my mood in a way that is just not tenable long-term.

I’m not writing about this to ask for solutions, or to elicit sympathy, but just to try to figure out what the tape in my head is actually saying, and to hope that in playing it to a larger audience I begin to see how ridiculous it is. Is it that I have trouble sorting out enthusiasm from total obsession, and that I am unhealthily incapable of anything but cellular-level fusion with the objects of my interest? Is it my vaunted dislike of cynicism that has me flinching at giving the cynics more fuel for their arguments? Is this just a casualty of anxiety disorder? Is it maybe all of these things at once?

I’m honestly not sure. But it’s an ongoing struggle among many (though not that many in the grand scheme of things), and for right now, it just feels good to be able to take my brain out, turn it around, and say “OK, so why are you so sad the Sharks lost, really?” And to be able to answer back “Because I hate giving anyone an excuse to call them chokers” helps, even if I don’t have an answer to the next question: “What are you gonna do about it?”

Well, I do sort of have an answer. I’m going to publish this, and go write, and then go inside and see my wife for a little while before I fall asleep. Those are things I have control over, and those are things I am grateful for. And I am going to hope that posting this helps someone else who sees themselves reflected in this mess that is my ongoing battle with my Brain Rudos, and finds themselves slightly better equipped to wage their own fight. That’s a kind of entanglement with others I can get behind.

On The Other Edge

Why I’m At My Most Neurotic When Doing A Thing I’m Good At

(CN: The following is about gaming as much as writing, and contains discussion of my mental illness.)

Let me start with some self-indulgence. This weekend, I am running a one-shot for some very dear friends of mine, and I am excited and scared. While discussing it on Facebook with my friend Roo, she said:

I was telling a friend about your one shots…and found myself saying something incredibly true: you are on a very short list of people whose GMing skills and style are such that if I have a chance to play in a game you’re running, I will jump at the chance every single time. I adore playing your games and getting to spend these bits of time sharing the space in your head.

This is so kind of her to say, and it felt like a beautiful payoff for all the hard work I have put in getting better at running games (among many beautiful payoffs, but I needed one today especially). But the point of this post is not to sit here and pat myself on the head; it is to discuss the other side of that coin. My gaming stuff is good because I care about it a lot. And my gaming stuff is hard for me because I care about it a lot.

Writing is a fraught activity for me, and as a GM even more so than as an author. (I also have a lot of anxiety and angst about gaming as a player, and some of what I am saying here may be true for that end of things, as well.) This is something I am coming to grips with in my life right now, as part of my effort to understand myself better on both a macro- and a microscopic level — that I have a lot of anxiety about doing creative things well, even though I demonstrably do them at least pretty well (well enough to get lauded in the case of GMing, and well enough to get published in the case of writing), and that a thing I have chosen as a hobby causes me more stress than a thing that I do as a theoretical paying gig.

I put a lot of time, energy, and care into my creations. For fiction, that means outlining, editing the outline, maybe working on story beats before or after that if I think I need to worry about pacing (especially for things like comic scripts or flash fiction where I have a very restrictive format or a limited amount of space for the story to breathe); it means writing the zero draft, the rough draft, the first draft; it means alpha and beta readers; etc., etc., etc. For gaming, it means penning the scenario; figuring out what notes I need to write and what I need to let myself wing; selecting (or writing) stats for the various characters; parceling out the clues (for mystery stories) or big epic moments (for superhero stories) or monsters, traps, and loot (for dungeon crawls); finding ways to set the right mood (for literally everything). A lot of that detail work is done unconsciously, though I think more of it is conscious with game design, since you do not get the same kinds of second chances in GMing that you do with fiction.

And that’s half of it. What Roo said put the other half in stark relief for me, so much so that it gets its own separate paragraph for maximum drama — like she says, my creations are a walk inside my head. It’s only natural that seeing people taking that walk in real-time is harder than the idea people are doing it where I can’t see.

When I run a game, I am seeing peoples’ reactions to it in real time. When a moment falls flat, it falls flat right then and there, and I have to recover from the lack of impact in just as little time. When an encounter proves to be unbalanced, I have to fix it now, or at least decide how to prevent the game from either moving forward much quicker than anticipated or grinding to an unsatisfying halt. Even if somehow a total garbage piece of my fiction goes steaming and stinking out into the world, the worst I will see is a nasty review on a website somewhere. If my game is screaming-out-loud bad, I am in the middle, watching it happen.

It hurts to have a creation fail. I care about my stories, RPG and prose alike, and caring about them means I put a lot of time into it, and that loads things in a way that I’m not sure people outside my head always see. (And I wouldn’t demand they do so; it’s not their responsibility to take care of my feelings.) So when things fail hard, the first thought I have to deal with is not “How do I improve on that?” it’s “Oh God I’m a failure!”

That is manageable; anxiety is something I deal with every day, and while I am not perfect at managing it yet (and perfection is not a realistic goal anyway), I manage it well enough to see it coming eight times out of ten and not act out one of the other two times. But the thing is, because of the anxiety, there are things that set off the failure alarms that are not indicators of failure; and a lot of those need to be things I can roll with if I want to truly be in control of my anxiety.

There are gamers who are happiest when they are testing the boundaries of the narrative, looking for unorthodox solutions and trying to be clever. And that’s valid! But to anxiety brain, it can read as them trying to poke holes in my creation, which leaves me scrabbling to fill those gaps.

There are gamers who do not do a lot of external roleplaying, who roleplay through their actions rather than through facial expressions or tone. And that’s valid! But to anxiety brain, it can read as my emotional content failing to hit its mark.

There are people who come to a game just plain wanting a different thing than you were delivering — who were expecting a powered-up dungeon crawl when you prepped a diplomatic mission, or were going for personal horror in a game that is more about solving a murder, etc. And that’s valid! But to anxiety brain, it can read as a failure on my part to accurately set the stage for the game. (The subject of being explicit about the narrative, mechanical, and temporal goals of a game you are running is a whole other animal that I am not wrangling in the space of this post, but, that’s a thing, too.)

The list goes on. The point of this is to say two things: that GMing is hard, and that sometimes enlightenment comes from the most unexpected places.

I’m going to run a one-shot tomorrow, and it may not go quite like I intended. But thanks to today’s unexpected insight, I’ll be better equipped to deal with that than I was when I woke up this morning.

And even if that’s all I get from today, that makes today a victory.

On Leaving It Behind

The Ways Giving Up Helped Me Move Forward

Late last year, I made one of the most important decisions of my entire writing career: I gave up on a project.

A personal project, lest I sound unprofessional; and actually, two of them. I had two novels in the works (read: on their third and fourth deep edit passes, respectively) that just were not clicking. There were germs of good ideas there, some wonderful turns of phrase, some characters I adore; but in both cases, the whole was lesser than the sum of its parts.

I rewrote one, and started rewriting the other, examining them for what was not working. The rewrite of the first one of these two was incredibly fruitful, teaching me a lot about what I was doing wrong in my writing at the time I wrote it and giving me a chance to move past it. The second one…not so much.

I mean, I saw I was doing wrong, but I had done so much wrong that trying to undo it left me like a kitten tangled up in string. I was trying to find my way out and continuously making it worse, with no capacity to get enough distance from the problem to actually perceive the whole. I kept slogging onward, re-plotting and re-outlining and doing every other form of hacking and cauterizing I could think of, until I realized one fateful weekend that I had been dreading going back to writing after one of my twice-weekly days off from the creative process, and that the dread was all because of this project.

I’d had this revelation once or twice before, that I was hugely burnt out on rewriting this novel, but I had powered through, operating under the axiom that you need to write when you don’t want to if you want to be a professional writer. But this time, it was different. This was not writing being difficult; this was writing burning me out and sapping my joy for creation. I sat back and examined why that would be the case, and I had the next revelation (a true Apocalypse over here, I tells ya): these novels were part of my million bad words.

It’s an old adage, one I need not repeat exhaustively, that every writer has to write a proverbial one million bad words in order to get to the good ones. It’s a fancy way of saying that in order to do something well, you have to do it badly first. That’s part of learning. It’s not something my culture really teaches anymore (though the Internet is getting that lesson out there pretty effectively), but it’s the truth. Few people (possibly no people) are instantly good at something; at best, they have raw talent that needs to be refined. Writing these novels, especially this one I couldn’t salvage, was an important part of that refinement for me — but that does not mean it is worthwhile for me to go back to them right now.

Some day, I may need those ideas, those characters, those plots. I may need them to make another attempt at saying what I was trying to say, but this time with a much more skilled hand; I may need them to say something completely different, but still said best with those people and those situations; I may just love some tidbit of description or dialogue and want to plug it in to something else. But I was not doing myself any favors with this rewrite: I can’t get through my million bad words by trying to redo 100,000 of them. I realized it was best, as heavy as it made my heart, to recognize what didn’t work and move on.

So I did. And friends, I feel so free.

Since letting those novels go to their long sleep in the depths of my files, I have tried writing in new formats. I have pushed myself to write about new kinds of people, to inject new themes, to push my boundaries in every direction I had the opportunity to push. I have written a story that an editor told me haunted them, and yet ended with a little ray of hope that things could get better for these people after the words “The End.” And I have written a zero draft of a new novel that honestly might be my favorite thing I have ever written. Someone who reads a lot of my work, who is kind enough to review my work constantly, has told me how much more they like my writing now than my writing from a few years ago, and there is an obvious dividing line between the last story they mostly liked and the first story they loved: the latter of those two not-so-great novels.

I do not generally recommend giving up on a creative project. Giving up is a bad lesson to teach yourself, most of the time. But at the same time, it’s invaluable to give yourself time to be bad at something so you can become good at it later; and that is the most valuable lesson of my creative life to date. So in this way, those novels were not failures, not at all. In fact, arguably, the novels I have moved on from are the two most important pieces of creative work I have ever done.

For now.

On 2015

I am 4.5 hours away from beginning the celebration that will put 2015 firmly in my rear view mirror, and therefore, it is time to reflect on the year.

“Mixed bag” defines most years in a human life, but in many ways this year has been one of extremes in that regard. I’ve had some of my lowest lows this year, but also some of my highest highs, and the latter often came as a result of the former.

Low point: Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a manageable disease, but still a disease, and a chronic one there is currently no way to cure, only to avoid being hurt by (and that partially with a little luck); having my wife, the most important person in my life, receive the same diagnosis a month before I did. Realizing both diagnoses only came because she went in to have something unrelated checked up on, and that if we hadn’t checked we would have kept eating in a way that was ruinous to our health and potentially deadly long-term. Dealing with the tide of internal and external fat-shaming, diet-shaming, and general feeling of screwing up that comes with a type 2 diagnosis, along with the feeling that somehow this was life laughing at me after I decided to take charge of my mental and physical health this year.

High point: Going in for our first quarterly check-ups on the disease only to discover we have them totally under control with diet and exercise, we have praiseworthy amounts of willpower and discipline, and barring a curveball we should be able to avoid complications for our entire lifetimes. People told us we were an inspiration, and we learned that we are capable of a level of courage, self-discipline, and mutual support that will serve us well in every aspect of our very long, very healthy lives.

Low point: After resolving to submit more stories and novels, batting a perfect .000 for submission acceptances from January to December.

High point: Learning that I’m not the only one who goes through fallow periods like this; the hardship forcing me to learn things about my writing strengths and weaknesses that I might not have seen had I met with even moderate success. I’m finding my writing voice in a  way that I never have before, and I’m relaxing into the act of writing in a way I never have before. I’ve also figured out how to set reasonable goals for myself creatively and, as a result, in other aspects of my life. While I am not a financially richer writer after this year, I am a richer writer in every other sense.

Low point: My anxiety went off the rails at the beginning of the year, with multiple explosive crying jags, only further exacerbated by the discovery of the diabetes issues.

High point: The explosions were finally bad enough that I had some conversations with Sonya about our relationship that were absolutely necessary and strengthened our bond as friends, partners, lovers, and teammates — there’s no steel without fire, as I think they say. From that came the decision to grab hold of my mental health as well as physical, and from that came a relatively saner Tyler; not one free of anxiety, because that demon is never truly slain, but one who can take a step back and assess his problems and deal with them rationally in a way he never could before.

Low point: I found a safe space for social justice-minded folk like myself, and promptly said something truly terrible and followed it up with a series of anxiety-riddled mistakes and outright bad behavior that ended in me needing to leave said safe space and in fact helped catalyze a general fracturing of it, losing myself at least two friends and leaving my Internet social media experience awkward to say the least.

High point: That huge screw-up and wrongdoing on my part forced me to confront problematic aspects of myself and my relationships, forced me to accept that there are consequences for my actions in a way that was frankly a little abstract before (being as I am a very privileged person), and took me down the road of learning a whole lot more about how to be less problematic and how I need to comport myself in public and in private. And I did keep a few good friends out of that, who though they are wholly digital right now, are an important part of my support network going into 2015.

High point: I rediscovered my love of comics, especially superhero comics, and broadened my artistic tastes in all fields.

High point: I navigated the waters of how to relate to my friends and family, and how and when and why to identify people who are unhealthy for me and keep them at the necessary distance.

High point: I celebrated a year in a fantastic marriage with Sonya, who has helped me learn to be a better person and has helped me learn just how happy I can be. I love you, sweetie. Hail Hydra.

High point: I recognized, eyes wide open, how truly lucky I am to have the life I have, and how valued my contribution to the world really is.

High point: I made mistakes and still have friends and loved ones. Forgiveness can be so important.

High point: I learned how to be diplomatic when angry.

High point: I got to hang out with my new nephew and niece (marriage grows families in the most unexpected ways) and watch them continue to be interesting and smart and engaged.

High point: I had a tweet liked by Squirrel Girl.

High point: There are way more high points on this list than low points.

2015 kicked me in the bojangles more than once, and it did its level best to get me on the ground and bloodied; but in the end, the scars left by this year are scars I can bear with pride. I’m a better person, a better writer, a better husband, and a better Tyler all around than I was last December, and that is a treasure that will never tarnish.

Next year’s resolutions:

Keep up the writing schedule.

Attend more cons, as a guest and as an attendee.

Keep working on excising problematic language.

Take time for self-care.

Go on more dates with Sonya, and recognize that sometimes, time at home quietly reading is the best date night of all.

Play more board games, especially ones I have not played before.

That said, play more Sentinels of the Multiverse and Red Dragon Inn.

Watch more wrestling that is not produced by the McMahons.

Go to more Fathom Events.

Have a really good beer when the carb count is available.

Love Sonya.

Love my friends.

Love myself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, two friends and their wonderful son are coming over soon to hang out and play some, oh yes, Sentinels of the Multiverse. I cannot think of a better way to start saying goodbye to 2015.

I love you all. Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

Happy 2016,