magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

Here's a brief list of things wot happened or wot I did during 2013:

The council meeting was a great success. We made a lot of lists. We here in Vault City love making lists. )

All in all, it's been a scary, disorienting, demoralizing, and challenging year, which has seemed intent on putting me into walls but has still served up a few measures of grace. Looking back, I can see that a lot of cool things happened – it's just that the stuff that was bad was really bad, and often for months at a time. It could have been a lot worse. But I still count having survived it mostly sane and optimistic to be the major accomplishment of 2013, and I eagerly, eagerly await 2014. Which will be better. I will make it be.

Partially because of how low I've felt through much of the year, I feel like I'm getting a better handle on how to build (and rebuild) strong foundations and get myself moving, even if I'm still not an expert at applying all of that. But I'm learning, slowly but surely, to find my footing in bad places, and if I can just keep building on that, it'll lead me to better places in the end. It's a goal to live into.

magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Yesterday, I had to walk to the Staples that's a few big blocks away, so that I could get things which would let me mail out important documents and holiday gifts. I wore my usual – a long-sleeve button-down shirt, with black jeans – and it was a bit cool, so I threw on a windbreaker.

Within a block I realized that I was overheating, so I took off the windbreaker.

Because this may be late December, but I am in California, and the terrible horrible frigid ice-hell of winter has not found me here.


Man, I kinda want to do one of those "year in review" things for 2013, because frankly, I feel like I deserve a medal for surviving this year with my sanity and shaded-cynical optimism intact. But I also feel like if I do that before the end of the year, 2013 will find some way to punish me for thinking it's over.

It's almost over. And I am going to drink hot tea out of my adorable 3-oz ceramic cups, and I am going to cherish the things and the people who got me through this year. And I am going to continue patiently laying groundwork to make tomorrow better than today.

And then I'm going to take a deep breath and work on my Yuletide story again, even though it scares me.

BART song

Jan. 7th, 2013 08:33 pm
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
1. I've made a routine out of my commutes in the morning and evening. I have the good fortune to be located along the BART line at stations where I can generally get a seat going both ways; even during the morning rush, when by Oakland the trains are packed full, standing-room-only, I'm generally tucked into a seat by a window where the morning light (when there is morning light, rather than drifting fog or steady rain) can pour in on me. These days, when I've managed my energy well enough that I'm not completely exhausted, too tired to think, I read. It's a 45-minute ride each way, which clears out a precious hour and a half for me to sit down and devour books. Which is an unparalleled luxury, given how little I was able to read before I came out here.

Little to do with reading. )
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
It's always an interesting feeling when you've been completely paralyzed by the sight of the blank (or unfinished, or finished but requiring revision) Word document for days, weeks, or months, only to discover when a deadline looms that yes, if it comes down to it, you still can pound out 2500 words in a single Sunday. When 100 words have been giving every indication of being a Sisyphean task, you have to wonder where the switch got flipped.

I have a feeling it's in the "deadline" part.

When I was taking classes at the University of Iowa, one of my major complaints was that their fiction writing courses were non-graduated. There was no beginning, intermediate, advanced path to take – everyone, including the people just looking for three easy credits and with no passion for writing, got tossed into the same courses, and with the added complication that a lot of them thought "science fiction and fantasy" meant "you can't say anything about it because it's all just made up and doesn't have to make sense" meant that, with the exception of classes run by a couple excellent people, I didn't often get a lot out of the critiquing parts of the workshops. But they were still invaluable to me.


Because sometimes, all you need is the magical combination of time to write, the expectation that you'll write, and a commitment to persons outside of yourself that you'll produce something, even if it isn't a lofty piece of literature which will stand the test of ages.

Which is why Clarion West is such an amazing place, to be honest. Well, one of the reasons. I can't ignore the chance to learn from six amazing teachers with six different strengths and styles, or the amazing families you can form there, but what makes it a truly mind-altering experience is the fact that for six weeks, your entire life can be writing. You can saturate yourself with your fiction. Set aside work, cares, feeding the cats (or the kids), making yourself dinner, all the niggling cares of the so-called real world. All that's expected of you is fiction. The world is built around your fiction. And for your fiction, you are welcomed, supported, honored.

There's a reason so many of us join the Write-a-thon every year, hoping to grab back some vestige of what the workshop experience is like.

Anyway, now that I've tricked my brain into admitting that it hasn't burnt out forever and ever and that it can still string words together into a somewhat coherent narrative and that all the rest is just whining, I'm going to see where I get by the end of this week. This Friday, I have the first meeting of my new job; immediately thereafter, I'm going to be helping to launch a company. It'll be an exciting and busy time, and pretty much the opposite of the workshop in terms of the precedence my immediate world accords my writing.

But, you know, it's okay. As ever, we'll see how it goes.


There aren't any really good Write-a-thon-quotable passages from the 2500 words of yesterday, so I'll give you a snatch of one of the next projects I'm going to be working on: the post-apocalyptic pseudo-moleman-infested extremely unromantic love story Rust City.

"Do people do that?"

"Look to sex for comfort?" Ferro asked. "It's a thing people do, yeah."

[Semi-boilerplate text: As always, I hope you'll check out and support the Clarion West Write-a-thon (and me in particular, if you feel so inclined). Your donation will help a workshop that makes it all but impossible for authors not to produce. And producing is half the battle.]


Oct. 5th, 2011 07:38 am
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know, I'm agnostic-skeptic when it comes to omens and signs. I think most of the weird coincidences we see are just coincidences, and not actually that weird. It's just that we notice them, and the billions of tiny co-occurrences that don't hold any special similarity go unnoticed because there's no reason to give them any attention. "I wrote a blog post about gluten-free desserts, and then I turned on the radio... and there was a story about an embassy bombing!" ...okay? That sort of stuff happens all the time, with overwhelming frequency, yet it's always the "I was thinking about quitting my job, and a copy of the newspaper classifieds blew onto the sidewalk in front of me!" events that get all the attention. "What are the odds!" As it turns out, just what it took for the event to happen, and all the dreg is still there in your peripheral vision.

But, you know, that doesn't stop me from going after the "signs" and "omens" that do crop up in my life. It's a magical-consciousness thing.

By which I mean: in my low-key, homegrown magical practice, a big central philosophy is bricolage: "to make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand (regardless of their original purpose)". So when I write a post about being afraid to move forward and then the next day I wake up to a Live Your Legend mailinglist email about how the biggest threat to your success is quitting, and once you get that under control, all the other risks are small potatoes, I still interpret it as basically a message from $god*.

*Here I'm using the PHP variable syntax – $variable_name – to indicate, basically, "god-of-choice". God is another thing I'm both faithful and agnostic on.

And that's because I've taught myself to glean meaning and inspiration from things. Meaning, motivation, inspiration, and direction are things I need in my life, and I know that I sometimes have to be creative in fulfilling those needs. So when I see a coincidence that I can use to feed into my motivation – in this case, it's a "sign from the universe not to give up" – the framework of my thinking goes something like this:

Something called itself to my attention. => Is there meaning I can ascribe to this? => Is the potential meaning helpful or harmful? Can I interpret it in a way that makes it helpful? => If it's helpful, DUDE! It's an OMEN! If it's harmful, whoo, look at that, it's another wacky coincidence, and I go on my way.

This is a pretty blatant logical fallacy, of course – it's the same sort of thinking that contextualizes a misfortune that happens to someone of $x_particular_faith as a "test of faith" and an identical misfortune that happens to anyone else as a sign of $god's displeasure. But I'd rather look at it as a mindhack. Yeah, it's spurious and completely arbitrary, but I'm aware of it and can watchdog it so its net effect on my life is positive and it doesn't harm anyone else. I can glean a spot of inspiration from my own coincidences, and if I ever come across an arrangement of rocks in a stream that seems to spell out KILL THEM ALL, I'll take a picture and share it on Twitter with a note about how wacky patterns in nature can be.


Oct. 4th, 2011 06:57 pm
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Around the end of August, I finished the first draft of the first novel I've ever felt confident enough about to start shopping out. (The last original novel I finished before that was... in sixth grade. I probably still have the completed draft on my flash drive or harddrive somewhere, but it very much reads like something a sixth-grader wrote. And we won't get into fanworks.)

Throughout September, I let it sit and didn't even open the file, and I threw all my effort into writing the sequel while a bunch of incredibly wonderful beta readers went through my story and gave me feedback covering a wide range of topics – conventions expected by the target audience, questions left unanswered, plot snarls, places where the prose or plot was unclear, places where they were hooked or lost, strengths and weaknesses.

Now, I've compiled all those responses into a document – a sort of menu of things to fix – and I've been ticking off each issue, one by one. Except that now I'm stalling.

It's strange. I remember this sort of hand-wringing and avoidance (because a part of this is that I know once I'm done with revisions, I'll have to send out the novel to agents, and whatever I've done or failed to do will have to stand on its own merits, and that's scary, yo) – I remember it from when I started submitting short stories. Now, approaching my 80th short story submission (I just got a response – a rejection – on my 78th submission of all time), I'm used to that process, and while there's still a flutter of anticipation every time I send a short story out or get a response back, for the most part, it's routine.

But shopping out a novel is a completely different beast.

Sort of. From what I've researched of the process, there are a lot of similarities, and even some of the differences (synopses, partials) just seem like short-form submissions' big sibling. There's a bit more weight to the process, which is understandable given the heft of the work you're submitting.

But there are palpable differences. For one thing, generally a relationship with an agent is a long-term one; a relationship with an editor can evolve to the point where they'll drop you a line once in a while and ask if you've got anything new, but the expectation is that every story is a new deal. For another, an agent takes a lot of the responsibility off your back, and that means trusting them with something precious to you, if you value your writing at all. They take stewardship of your work in a very real way. Even before you internalize the prevailing wisdom that a bad first book can torpedo you as a novelist, there's a lot at stake.

The writing style I use means a lot of revision and rework during the process of writing. After that, I did a first-pass revision. Then I got crits on it and I'm doing a second revision now. Once those edits are in place, I'm going to do a final readthrough to make sure I haven't introduced new problems or errors. When I send this out it's going to be polished, and even after that, I'm fairly sure my (eventual, hopeful) agent and/or editor will come back with yet more crits. Everything is going to be done to give my book the best chance it can have. I'm just dragging my feet because even the steps to move forward are scary.

Still. This is about how I felt when I started submitting short stories too, and that turned out all right. I'll just keep telling myself that, then taking a deep breath, and addressing the next challenge on the list.


Oct. 3rd, 2011 02:35 pm
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
If I were to be any sort of spiritual teacher, the one I'd find most honoring would be a master on the ordeal path.

Though my definition of an ordeal is broader than the one at the article linked. A quick sketch of my definition would be: an ordeal is something that frightens or challenges you in a real, meaningful way, which you go through anyway.

This comes up in a variety of ways in my conversations: as a fiction kink, as a sacred qualia. One of the character archetypes that stays with me the most is someone who drags another person through something which the other person wouldn't have attempted or possibly made it through on their own, and that person is the better for traversing it. It resonates with me.

And there are other things that stay with me, too – like how one of the people I love told me, before I was off to do something that terrified me, I promise you, you can survive this.

But before I could even consider setting myself up as an ordeal master or an ordeal guide, I looked at myself and realized that I had better know the experience inside and out. And to do that, I've been putting myself through ordeals – and they're often little, quotidian things, unimpressive things, but they're still things that frighten me. It can be as simple as dealing with my dislike of phones and confrontation to call a place to dispute a charge or cancel an account, or as common as setting up a dental appointment and dealing with the discomfort and pain, or as nonthreatening but god, I don't want to do this right now as cleaning a room in the house. (Even writing this is an ordeal, in a way – not so much the writing but the posting and leaving for people to see.) I have boatloads of small anxieties, ranging from talking to strangers to driving on my own, and one by one, I'm working through them. And I'll keep working through them until I've mastered them and am no longer afraid or averse.

There have been a couple of times recently when I've made myself proud, too. Frex: I went to Seattle to visit my brother, in early September, and one day he had to work and I was left pretty much on my own. I can't describe how much I wanted to just stay in the house and do nothing, not have to interact with an unfamiliar city or with being on my own, but I made myself get out. I walked through unfamiliar neighborhoods to a bank to get cash for the day, and then walked to the water taxi and took it downtown. I had lunch on my own. I went on a harbor tour of Elliot Bay. And when that was over and I'd gone back to the West Seattle water taxi terminal, I took off my shoes and dipped my bare feet in the waters washing in from the Pacific.

Or there was the time this weekend when I drove myself out of the city and up to the Macbride Nature Recreation Area, and participated in a wilderness survival camping experience. I shouldered a heavy pack and kept pace with the group, all of whom were, I suspect, more in shape than I was. I helped start a fire without matches, and made my own shelter out of debris and a tarp. I slept in the cold and woke up sore and tired and helped tear down the camp and bring water up from the reservoir and douse the fire, and I shouldered my pack and kept pace out of there.

And to a lot of people, those would be little things. Not even a challenge. But years of being sick and dealing with low blood pressure and syncope have taught me not to trust my body, and a lifetime of mis-interpreting people, relationships and society (because human interactions are so often just alien to me) have taught me not to trust my ability to deal with others, and so many other things have taught me not to trust so many other aspects of myself that challenging one thing and defeating that one thing is a victory I hold close. Any scrap of confidence I can knap from the world is a trophy.

And there are some fears I've mastered – submitting short stories to market was one. (I still remember how terrified I was the first time.) There are fears I'm working on but slowly overcoming, like driving and talking to fiction editors. And there are fears that still kick my ass, like dealing with dysphoria and gender and society, or striking up conversations with people I don't know well, or managing savings and feeling capable of getting back on my feet in the event that I should lose my job.

But I'm going to face them. With work, I'm going to conquer them. Because I value strength and resilience, and I intend like hell to follow this path where it leads me.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I'm staying home sick today. It's been one thing after another: waking up at 4 and being unable to get back to sleep, getting severe cramps, being unable to breathe due to congestion, getting a bloody nose... on like this. And because I can't go into the office, I'm missing a meeting, and because I'm missing a meeting, I spent a good two hours – before the workday would even start, mind you, as I sent in my sick note at around 6 – stressing about it.

And I think, you know, this is really sort of a screwed up system this society's built, isn't it, that I have all this guilt and stress over missing a day of work due to circumstances beyond my control? I'm eating healthy. I'm getting about an hour of exercise, if not more, just about every day. I'm sleeping enough. It's not as though I'm getting sick over some sort of negligence on my part, and the two previous days this week where I was too sick to go in, I worked from home and met all my goals and deadlines. Illness is a natural part of being alive, and should not be something to feel guilt over.

And yet.

And really, a lot of these fundamental assumptions of How Things Go are kind of screwed-up. I've been reading through The 4-Hour Workweek recently, and kinda going "Hm, I wish, I wish" at it, but the central message is something of a paradigm shift: the entire professional life is built around putting off the things that are valuable to you until you've lost the best (most healthy, most free, most able, for the most part) years of your life. And as an added twist, the thing that's to take up most of our waking hours, the thing by which society expects us to define ourselves ("What do you do?" "I'm a web application developer." I am is a powerful term) is the mechanism by which we make money. Making money doing something we find meaningful is considered an advanced skill – and something you're lucky to have.

...I've been reading a lot about earthships, too (in that same I wish, I wish) vein), and one of the things Earthship Man Michael Renolds says is that economies should exist to take care of people; people shouldn't live to take care of economies. (One of the tenets of the earthship philosophy is that people shouldn't be reliant on an economy for the basics of their survival.) It's a compelling idea.

I find that, more and more, I want to be engaged in something meaningful. I'm lucky to have my job, and I'm learning from it – not just about the technical skills, but also about things like project management, documentation and reference structure, interacting with people and communicating clearly, setting measurable goals and motivating myself through them – but there's only a very small service component (I'm helping to support the University, and education is one of my big starry-eyed idealistic values), and there's no spiritual component to it, at all. I feel like if I didn't have the dry, pragmatic concerns – cost of living, cost of paying debt, especially my mountain of student loan debt – I wouldn't be at this job at all.

I don't know what I would be doing. I have dreams, certainly – teaching (teaching something), writing, building Earthships, building communities – but they're all dreams at this stage. For some, I don't know what my criteria for success are. For others, I don't know the criteria to begin.

I want to do something more with my life than what I'm doing. I want to know how to start.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Every once in a while I realize how idiosyncratic the shapes and conventions of my world are to their particular points in time. The visual arrangement of the walls and ceiling and doors and decorations in my room are only available as I perceive them from the posture and position in which I sit to observe them, in the time when exigencies of finances and the social freedom of being a bachelor-type (if not in all regards a bachelor) drive me toward certain arrangements of housing. In my life, the things which were familiar to me will become foreign to the welling society. As a kid, I used to be fascinated with film canisters; I used to keep small keepsakes in them or fill them with some concoction or other to pretend that they were magical potions. It struck me as I was sitting here that fewer and fewer people are going to recognize them by sight, as time goes on. Fewer people will know what I'm talking about when I mention them. Film canisters.

I spend so much time in the back of my head or off in other worlds that I don't pay much attention to the granular detail of the world around me. As a result, even details of familiar environments seem novel and surprising when I turn my attention to them. I don't consciously process the arrangement of my room. I don't consider the makeup or implication of the clutter on my floor. I don't remember the tiny truths tucked away inside my memories. Except that sometimes I do, and the world gets this cast of realness to it, and it's strange, and frightening, and heartening. And foreign, and familiar, all the same.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
...and obviously rather old, judging by the date on the Scalzi post. Still, worth sharing.

John Scalzi has written an eloquent, elegant, and brilliant post up on Whatever: Things I Don't Have To Think About Today.

[...] Today I don’t have to think about the people who’d consider torching my house of prayer a patriotic act.

Today I don’t have to think about a pharmacist telling me his conscience keeps him from filling my prescription.

Today I don’t have to think about being asked if I’m bleeding when I’m just having a bad day.

Today I don’t have to think about whether the one drug that lets me live my life will be taken off the market.

Today I don’t have to think about the odds of getting jumped at the bar I like to go to.

Today I don’t have to think about “vote fraud” theater showing up at my poll station.

Today I don’t have to think about turning on the news to see people planning to burn my holy book.

Today I don’t have to think about others demanding I apologize for hateful people who have nothing to do with me.

Today I don’t have to think about my child being seen as a detriment to my career. [...]

And Patrick Nielsen Hayden sums it all up:

Spot on. The essence of privilege isn’t wearing a top hat and cackling yar har har while lighting expensive cigars with $100 bills. The essence of privilege is not having to worry about the crap that the unprivileged do.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I'm asexual, though panphysical, and largely aromantic. I mistrust external significations made on relationships. I'm polyamorous, though I love slowly; I reserve judgment, I reserve trust, I'm not great at communicating my emotions to anyone, and I tend to dissect them interminably before going out and saying I have them. I dislike courting, I dislike the romantic ideals of love as a conqueror of all things or a supreme ideal to which all other ideals should or must be subjugated. I'm not interested in laying an exclusive claim on anyone, or letting anyone lay an exclusive claim on me. I don't believe that, having realized you love one person, the natural result should be that you cease to love all others. I don't think formalizing a relationship in the eyes of other people changes the truth of the relationship between the people in it. I don't think a relationship needs to be defined, formalized, or recognized, in order to be valid or profound.

I'm also, as of the 26th of December, engaged.

I'll understand if you have some questions.

In the light of all that, what's /left/ for marriage to signify? )

[ETA] Also there's the matter where I love L very much, but, uh, that was supposed to go without saying?

[ETA 2: Son Of ETA] Cepheid variables, I am bad at this.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Because I'm curious, and because I really want to see how much of a range exists in the answers. I don't need long rambles, though I'll read them; first-thing-you-think-of answers are great, too.

Try answering without looking at anyone else's answers, first.

1) How would you define a close/deep friendship?

2) What markers do you take to indicate that you're in a close/deep friendship?

3) What would you do in order to form a close/deep friendship?

[ETA] Part of the reason I'm curious is that I imagine it's radically different for a lot of people. I was struck by a quote in this book I'm reading: "Mary is so confused by the world of emotion that she could be your best friend and never know it." And it got me thinking that how we telegraph friendship is not always obvious.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
This was hard to write, and even harder to post. Harder still to post publicly. Still, here it is – after having sat in my drafts folder for about four months, but thrown to the world at last.


In an effort to help people understand privilege, its forms and complexities, I'm going to use myself as a case study. I'm going to examine a lot of the ways privilege affects my life, positively and negatively. So, while I will be pointing out ways in which I'm disadvantaged, I'm also going to try to own up to a lot of my own privilege, because it's really not a simple thing. You can be privileged in one way and disprivileged in another.

This isn't meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive. It's meant to provide a few glimpses into things people might not otherwise think about, especially with regards to the difference between who and what you are and what privilege you are accorded. It's beginning to unpack the invisible knapsack, but it's not finishing it.

It's a starting point, which will hopefully get people thinking.

So let's start.

Privilege I have

Read more... )

Privilege I sometimes have

Read more... )

Privilege I don't have

Read more... )

Special notes

Privilege is not universally desirable. One of the things that seems to tag along with male privilege is the privilege to be intimidating. While this is useful in warding off some types of harassment, it can be very unsettling when invoked accidentally. When I used to walk home alone while my city was having its big, well-reported problem with people being sexually assaulted walking around after dark, I'd occasionally find myself walking down the same stretch of road, presenting as male, to all appearances following a solitary female pedestrian. As someone who doesn't want to come across as threatening to innocents, this was not a comfortable space to be in.

Privilege is not universally bad. In a lot of cases, the effects of privilege aren't things people should feel guilty for experiencing. The problem arises when they're privileges and not rights - the privilege to escape harassment, for example, is a privilege because it's a right which is denied to people like women, transgendered persons, poor persons. etc. The privilege to be taken seriously by doctors is a right which is often denied to fat people and people of color.

Passing is a way of accessing privilege. If I pass for male, I access aspects of male privilege. If someone passes for white, they access aspects of white privilege. This can happen involuntarily as well as voluntarily, and someone can be passed as well as passing. One example of this is a person of color who's granted "honorary whiteness" by their friends - their friends will stop noticing that they're a person of color, even to the point where they'll have a moment of "Huh, they are" when it's brought up. Another example is a person with a mixed ethnic background who appears white enough that people assume they are white.

Privilege is multifaceted. Even at its most simplistic, we can split it into two parts which have to be evaluated separately: the personal, what one experiences, and the social, what one is accorded. This is how someone with severe gender dysphoria who nonetheless passes for their assigned gender can both experience and lose cisgender privilege; feeling comfortable with one's own body and expected social roles is a cisgender privilege which they have lost, while the ability to exist and function in society without being harassed on the basis of their gender is one they maintain.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I just ran into this, and I thought it was excellent.

In fact, these kinds of experiences within the black community led Dubois to perceive the nature of the shared but fractured Soul of Blacks/Whites in America as well as the double consciousness of the Black Soul. Dubois is quoted by Long: "A Double consciouness … this sense of always looking at one's self through the eye of another, measuring one's soul by the type of a world which looks on in amused contempt and pity … two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

Out of this strength to maintain a double consciousness of mind and history comes the awareness that the hermeneutical circle of the signifier can be broken, the hierarchy can be rearranged by the community of interpreters who have been signified. You must be in two places at once to have insight!

– Davíd Carrasco, Proem to Significations, by Charles Long
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Account [Czeslaw Milosz]

The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
Like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
Would have tended nevertheless toward the candle’s flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
The little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
The time when I was among their adherents
Who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
If only my own—but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it’s late. And the truth is laborious.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
"At first I thought, all the more reason to say nothing. But the I thought, that wouldn't be fair. To me, partly. Love has a right to be spoken. And you have a right to know that somebody loves you. That somebody has loved you, could love you. We all need to know that. Maybe it's what we need most."

–Isidra; "Another Story (or) A Fisherman of the Inland Sea", Ursula K. LeGuin
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I blogged a little bit, earlier, about getting myself even-keeled through meditation, and I was actually kinda surprised at the response I got back from it. Given my own newfound fascination with the topic, I suppose I shouldn't have been, but I think I'm getting used to my interests either diverging sharply from those of my peer group or just being niche interests in the first place. So assuming there's interest in more of this, and proceeding on the assumptions that

1) Solutions are pretty meaningless without problems, and

2) Writing things down helps me order and deal with things,

I might as well write this up.


A brief overview

Here's a snapshot of my life at the moment: I'm working 40 hours a week in my full-time job, an additional four hours (plus a few hours baking and possibly an hour in transit, setup, teardown, transit) at the Farmer's Market (Saturday mornings), and trying to rekindle an active life in the UU Church on Sundays. Combined, this is my major time commitment over the week, as well as meaning that there isn't a single day during the week when I can sleep in, unless I consider 9:00 on Sundays to be sleeping in. I'm working the Clarion West Write-a-thon, which, in my case, has me writing one complete short story or novel chapter, or revising one short story, every week. I'm in a two-bedroom house which is now housing three people, two cats, a dog, and some gerbils. I'm trying to untangle several years' worth of tangled-up finances, which keep getting compounded by red tape (Iowa Student Loan, I'm looking at you) and odd errors (such as the person at Paul's who accidentally charged me the last four digits of my debit card rather than the cost of goods, and then had to have it refunded through my bank). I'm preparing for a move, and a possible side gig as a freelancer.

Those are all big, overarching things, which aren't the same as specific issues, which is significant. But they're situational stressors, which are also significant. More on that later.

Wallowing and solving

I haven't talked much about the crap what goes on in my life, because I'm making a concerted effort to be productive about it, and I recognized a trap that I used to get caught in. Basically, there's a trick I noticed some time ago: if someone has a problem, and they talk a lot about that problem, but they reject all approaches toward solving that problem, odds are they're not invested in having that problem solved. Which is understandable. Attempting to solve a problem takes effort, and there's no guarantee that it'll work, and effort and failure are both daunting things. Someone may earnestly want a problem to be solved, but be unwilling to take any action to solve it. They'll find problems with all the proposed solutions, dismiss ideas with "I can't" or some variation without seeming to consider how they could, or put in token effort and then, when that fails, dismiss the entire thing as a wash. So I catch myself having mental conversations like this:

Me (whiny): I wish I had more money. I have all this debt to pay off.

Me (sensible): Well, let's look at ways of handling this. You could prioritize your spending and increase your payments.

Me (whiny): I've done that, but it'll still take a long time to pay.

Me (sensible): Then let's look at how you could make more money. Could you get a raise, or find extra work?

Me (whiny): I don't have time for another job, and I haven't been here for long enough to negotiate a raise, especially since I think we're under a pay freeze.

Me (sensible): Have you looked into the specifics of the pay freeze or salary increases? And if you don't have time for another job, how about freelancing? Or looking to prioritize your time a bit more?

Me (whiny): I can't prioritize my time any more! There are only so many hours in the day!

Me (sensible): And how many of those hours do you spend doing not much? How many hours do you spend doing things like surfing the internet or playing video games? Are you accepting those as a higher priority than making more money and solving this problem?

Me (whiny): I have to do those things to recharge my batteries. I don't have the emotional energy to start freelancing.

Me (sensible): Have you looked into ways of increasing your mood and building up emotional energy in better ways? There's great research on the mood-lifting effects of regular exercise, and often you don't feel that great when you're surfing the web or playing video games; you might be using those as a crutch rather than a genuine way to feel better and solve your problems.

Me (whiny, in summary): Look, solving this problem is hard and I don't want to try to! I just want to complain!

...and that gets me nowhere. So when I catch myself with this thought process:

1) I have this problem! I hate having this problem! => 2) I'm going to write a blog post about my problem!

I try to short-circuit it and turn it into this:

1) I have this problem! I hate having this problem! => 2) I'm going to sit down and find a way to solve this problem.

And when I do that, the funny thing is that I'll occasionally find a way to solve the problem, and then I'll solve it, and once I solve it, I don't really need to blog about it any more. As a result, I suppose the entire process has been pretty opaque to people who aren't me.

But there are things I haven't solved yet...

Which I've been shutting up about because I'm still in the "Don't complain, SOLVE" stage. It's interesting – writing things down, breaking things apart and examining the issues, is actually a really big part of how I problem-solve. It's just that when I do it publicly, I always have to be wary of taking sympathy and validation instead of solutions. Because the problem is, a lot of the time when someone complains and people come by and say "Oh, that's horrible! That is such a big problem!", they go away with this empty, palliative feeling. There, see? I have sympathy. People know what a terrible thing I'm enduring, and they agree that it's a serious thing, and they think I'm totally cool for enduring it. And they walk away with a temporary high and the same exact problem.

But I figure there's a middle ground to be had. So! If you folk will promise to keep me on track, I'll try to open up this process for you. And maybe we can all learn a few things from each other.


Case study coming very soon.

*Subject line referencing The Willpower Engine, a blog dissecting specific mechanisms of motivation, willpower, behavior, emotional repair, habit-forming, etc. I've found it a fantastic resource.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I did something amazing today.

I didn't get as much sleep as I needed, woke up tired and hungry and cranky and finding it hard to concentrate, missed one bus and almost missed the one after it, got in, sat down to work, rammed my head against this apparently-unsolvable problem which I'd been wrestling with since Friday, and then immediately got set off by three or four unrelated things filtering down to my from the internet. All this before about 9:30, so, yeah, I was ready to have a really awful day where nothing went right and I couldn't focus on anything and I was stuck in a horrible mood all day. None of that is the amazing part.

The amazing part is that I gave myself 15 minutes – a 15-minute song, actually – to close my eyes, meditate and regroup at my desk, and remind myself that I didn't have to take responsibility for the things that were making me seethe, that I had inroads on how to solve the problem in front of me, and that I had tools like a pad of paper and a pencil to help me organize thoughts and work through them. And after those fifteen minutes I opened my eyes and I got to work, I engaged myself with my immediate universe, and I made progress.

And I felt better.

This is significant because, while I've been working on meditation and mindfulness for a while, this is one of the first times I've been able to use it to pull myself out of that bad a mood. And it worked.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know what? I have a headcold right now which is making it difficult to think about anything coherently, let alone put it into words, but it seems to me that the works people turn to in order to laugh, or to cry, or to get inspired by, or to masturbate to, or to fill an otherwise empty time are works which get remembered. If they're not remembered in specific detail, they're still remembered in favorable generalities, or why else would people make a habit of turning to them? The person who reads through en entire shelf of pulp novels, each one pretty much the same to an outside perspective, is getting something from those novels. The novels are filling a need.

And because they fill a need, or just because they comprise a present and recurrent part of the consumer's life, they converse with the consumer's worldview. People get inspired by a football play or moved by an anecdote in Reader's Digest, and those are real effects on real people. If you're good at matching a need to an audience, you can use those vehicles to make real changes.

You can use movies to liberalize attitues toward homosexuality. You can use photo galleries (link NSFW) to alter standards for physical attractiveness. You can use video games to educate children as to how to avoid landmines. You can use moments in softball games to teach lesson abut grace. This is true despite the fact that you'll have no difficulty finding people who will dismiss, out of hand, how seriously film or art or video games or sports should or can be taken.

Intended audiences derive meaning from what's produced to entertain them. By accident or design.

Which is why I balk when people dismiss the impact things like fiction – even fanfiction – can have, or when people say that no one should care what messages are put in movies, because they're just movies, after all. The implication is that things like racism or sexism or ableism or whathaveyou doesn't matter if it's shown in these things, because they matter so terribly little. Because of course the constant omission of the voices of people of color in literature doesn't contribute to the creation of a single story, and the fact that Edward is a vampire and thus clearly fictional means that a generation of young women readers won't grow up to romanticize stalking and other sorts of potentially dangerous behaviour.

Statements like "It's just fandom." "It's just TV." "It's just for fun." assume that people segment their experiences in such a way that those experiences don't ever cross over, ever inform each other. They assume that we gain and learn nothing from those things. And they assume that those things occur in a vacuum, sealed off from the rest of our experiences of the world, whether we're the consumers or the creators.

Human endeavor comes out of human experience and feeds back into human experience, whether or not it's supposed (or assumed) to. In many ways it's completely involuntary, as familiar scents trigger memories or, as Chimamanda Adichie recounted, our opinions of others fill themselves in on a paucity of facts. It's why watching our media, our art and our entertainment, can be such a valuable diagnostic tool as to the lives and opinions of the people – and why working to improve that can feed back and improve society as a whole.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I spent most of last week feeling like crap either physically or emotionally. (Or both. It was sometimes both.) Along with a persistent low-grade fever, I got hit with a case of I'm not doing anything with my life, I'm not going anywhere with my life, I will never amount to anything and I'm never going to mean more than I mean right now. Which is silly, and which I know is silly, because for where I am in my life I'm doing just fine – I've got a college degree, I've got a few publications, I've got a salaried job, and these are not small accomplishments. Which prompted some introspection on my part, and while this was originally going to be a much longer post rambling my way through that thought process, I don't have the focus to write it all out right now, so I'll just hit the highlights:

* I keep thinking that if I just do this or do that, I'll feel a lot better about myself, which isn't, so far as I can tell, true. I mean, when I was 19 I thought that being a Published Author!! would grant me some sort of inner sense of validity, which isn't really true; now that I've got fiction appearing here and there in magazines, what I'm really wondering is why it's not appearing in more. And why all of it is short-form. Honestly, I don't think that finishing a novel or sending it out or seeing it on bookshelves is going to be anything revelatory, either, if I manage it; there's still Ways Up to go.

* Phrased another way, the above can be succinctly summarized as if I just HAVE MORE accolades, I bet I'll be a happier person! I think this is about as useful as buying a new sportscar. ...perhaps moderately more useful. It still won't get me what I'm looking for.

* Honestly, I think some of it is that I keep looking for objective measurements that I'm doing well, and it's a big ol' thorny subjective world out there, and there are six billion different and usually contradictory rubrics available to grade myself against.

* * For example, I am an absolutely wretched conservative Christian.

* * But I like to think I'm at least a competent speculative fiction author.

* So, if I have to discard the HAVING THINGS/ACCOMPLISHMENTS model of Feeling Good About Myself, that leaves me at the common-sense stage of "...maybe instead of focusing on the XBox Acheivements (real life edition) of concepts of self-worth, I actually have to learn to like myself on my own terms, and for my own self (rather than Because It Can Be Demonstrated That I Am Doing Well), which is something I'm still learning how to do.

* * But I'm making some progress, I think.


magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

January 2017

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