Frustrations with the Digital

As much as I like the internet and my laptop and the easy access to information at the press of a button (or more recently the tap of a screen) there are some things that I will always enjoy more in their analog form. Books are one such thing. I have a Kindle. It’s loaded with books, but I only really read it at work, where the convenience of not having to deal with pages is its biggest draw. Most touch screen command centers are also beginning to draw long, confused pauses from me, though as I get older, I find that a lot of my interactions produce long, confused pauses.

This week I added an item to my list that I never thought I’d ever add: real human interactions. Anyone who has ever had to deal with the cheerful yet automated voice of customer service knows what I’m talking about. It is infuriating and humiliating to have to yell your requests repeatedly into the phone for an automated system that neither has the capacity to recognize your frustration, nor has any clue what number you’re trying to select.

Interestingly, this exercise in hair pulling was brought on by yet another technological failure. I have been trying to be greener with my bills recently, by making them all electronic. While also saving a tree or two, this vastly reduces the amount of paper I later have to shred. This, however, also puts me at the mercy of The Machine (in previous generations known as The Man) as I had the unpleasant, Kafkaesque misfortune of discovering last Friday.

When I found my cell phone bill in my inbox, conspicuously showing me a figure several dollars higher than what I’m used to, my immediate instinct was to run a fine-toothed comb through the damn thing to find out what I was being over-charged for this time. Which was when I discovered that, no matter how many times I tried, I could not log into my account. That produced the thought of, “Oh shit, I’ve forgotten my password again,” because really, who can remember four dozen random arrangements of 15 uppercase, lowercase, numbers, symbols, and neolithic cave drawings all of the time? So I angrilly reset my password, and yet the problem did not go away.

Time to call customer service.

Well, it was a busy day for customer service. Thirty minutes spent waiting for ‘an available agent’ after the five minute maze of dial pad commands was not what I wanted to do with my morning. So I left my number for a call back and went on with my business.

My call back came in at the appointed time, and everything was going well, (I was bopping along to the elevator music) when suddenly it stopped and I’m patched through to a line.

An empty line.

The call didn’t drop. There was no dial tone. There was nothing but a faint white noise. Evidently I had been patched through to an agent who had left his headset on his desk while going off to take a wee. I waited for five minutes before I gave up in disgust.

Next option: live chat.

I like live chat slightly less than automated phone systems, if only because chat bots are becoming way more advanced every year and my fragile optimism coupled with my paranoid cynicism is always worried that I’m going to be the one that lets an AI pass the Turing test that then ushers in the robot apocalypse. Don’t laugh, it could happen!

As it happened, Veronica, my assistant was instantly on my radar. First of all, come on, no one has been named Veronica since “Archie” comics. Secondly, she spoke (or, I guess typed) a little too robotically. There are certain casual nuances to human communication that Veronica just didn’t seem to pick up on. Or else my phone company has a script written by an emotionless tin man that their employees are never, ever allowed to deviate from. But whatever. Veronica needed to be tested.

Me: Hey, Veronica, what’s your favorite animal?

Veronica: My favorite animal? giraffe

Very clever Veronica. Your programming has allowed you to deviate off your script. Time to throw another wrench into your machinery.

Me: Giraffe isn’t an animal, Veronica.

Veronica: No? Then what is it?

Damnit, Veronica, you’re not playing the game right!

Me: Veronica, can I speak to a real human please?

Veronica: I am a real human.

Touché, Veronica. Touché.

Clearly I was outmatched. This was either a very, very clever chat bot or else a very confused and possibly offended human woman. I may never know. Not until the robot uprising begins, that is.

In the end she gave me a very complicated work around that involved making a new account with a new email address and password. And while she wasn’t able to definitively prove to me that she wasn’t a metallic imposter, she did inform me that the error I had been experiencing was because my phone company had decided to muck around with their website, and had inadvertently locked a huge number of their customers out of their accounts. I told Veronica that their web developer needed to be fired, and possibly needed to be the first fleshy human to be put to work in the mines.

Whichever.

divider2

This seems like as good a time as any to announce that my short story, “Customer Service” has been accepted by the Canadian magazine Neo-opsis. It will appear in a future issue that I will be more than happy to pimp out once I have more information.

In the meantime, the ink continues to [slowly] flow into other projects.

There will be updates.

Sometime.

Maybe.

Sixteen Seconds

2300 words
Originally published September 2013
Out of Print Blog

It was a day in March.

The sky was a flat, unimaginative northwest gray. Rain had been pouring for most of the afternoon while Charlotte ran her errands and then, just to be cheeky, wound down to a drizzle and finally stopped when she at last took shelter in the appointed cafe. Why couldn’t the month make up its damn mind whether it wanted to be spring or winter? It was hailing that morning for chrissake and it would be another two months before sunny weather became reliable. March was just a dismal reminder that pleasant weather was still a long way off. It should stop pretending to be spring, already.

The dark roast face in Charlotte’s coffee glowered sourly up at her as she stared into her cup. It was too expensive, too bitter and too hot to drink. She stirred in another packet of honey with nothing else to do. Aidan was late again, surprise surprise.

In her purse her phone buzzed. For a full minute she ignored it, blowing softly on the surface of her coffee, peeling away the heat one layer at a time in between each muffled vibration. Eventually, it gave up and stilled. She waited another minute before bringing her paper cup to her lips, scalding them again. She couldn’t have one victory — not one single victory today! Soaked to her skin by the rain, abandoned by Aidan, pestered by her phone, and burned by the one comfort she could usually count on. She clicked her tongue angrily and thrust her hand into her purse for her phone. Might as well just accept things as there were today.

She didn’t need to check it to know who had called. It was Suzie; the woman had been calling her all day. Her voicemail icon displayed a hopeful notification and disinterested, Charlotte tapped it and began counting.

It took sixteen seconds for her voicemail to get through all of the automated recordings telling her needless information: the date, the time, how many calls she had and how much space remained in her inbox. She didn’t care. She cared less about the message. At the end of sixteen seconds she flicked 7 on her screen, deleting it, and put it out of her mind.

Another honey packet went into her coffee and with her cheek pressed unflatteringly in her palm, she stared at the soggy world outside. Despite the weather, the streets were still busy with people just as soaked as she was. The rain seemed to have no effect on them. Like limp paper cutouts they carried on their business, expressionless and efficient. She envied them. She’d lived here her entire life and yet every year when the rains came and lingered for months like an unwanted relative she cursed the persistence of it, as though she’d never known a six month rainy season in her twenty-six years.

Her phone began to buzz again, edging threateningly closer to the edge of the table but she ignored it – spitefully now. The rain started again, coming down in full force and a black-capped mushroom grove of umbrellas popped up under it. Occasionally a brightly colored umbrella would bob by, on its own stubbornly rebellious against the gray of their world but Charlotte knew better; eventually, the rainy city bullied everything into monochromatics.

Fourteen… fifteen…sixteen. She turned her head without lifting it, mashing her cheek into her lips and she flicked the delete command again. Her phone sat reproachfully silent at the edge of the table. She slid it back into her purse and sighed, refusing to be guilted by a piece of technology.

Her stomach excused itself obnoxiously under her damp cardigan. There was no use in her starving while she waited; if Aidan had really wanted to eat lunch with her, he would have been on time. She stood and collected her purse. Her phone remained thankfully silent.

There were no other customers at the counter and the barista behind it looked for a moment as though she’d done her job in serving Charlotte once and wouldn’t do so again kindly. With aspartame sweetness she asked, “What can I get you?”

“The spring salad; low fat dressing. Do you have any more fruit cups?”

“No, sorry, we just sold the last one. Would you like a fruit tart instead?”

If Charlotte could eat a fruit tart, she wouldn’t have ordered wilted greens and a tasteless vinaigrette. She thrust her irritation into her purse in exchange for her wallet.

“No, that’s fine, just the salad.”

“Okay then— seven ninety-nine.”

A despairing sigh left Charlotte before she could check it, but she laid her last ten dutifully on the counter and watched it distill down into a handful of coins.

“Thanks,” she said, or thought she said— hoped she’d said as she took her change and her lunch and sat again. It wasn’t much of a meal, all things considered. A few brown edged leaves of romaine, cucumber sliced so thinly it could pass for a microscope slide and— was that dandelion?! Who the hell put weeds in a salad? Her head returned heavily to her hand and she mixed the deceptively sweet smelling vinaigrette into the over priced plastic bowl of yard trimmings. In her purse, her phone buzzed again. Why couldn’t Suzie take a hint? The woman couldn’t comprehend anything existing outside of her sphere of influence. It irritated Charlotte enough to be deliberately avoidant, just to throw a wrench in her plans. If she could, she’d tell Oliver outright that his mother’s micromanagement and constant badgering were suffocating, but then she’d have to deal with the hurt puppy looks and the passive aggressive silences.

She was halfway through her salad when the door banged open and shut and a new breeze of cold and wet spilled in. Moments later Aidan stood over her, shaking the rain from his coat onto the table and floor around him. Charlotte moved her purse and regretted for a brief, petulant moment that it also invited a seat for him. His childishness was starting to rub off on her and she lifted her head and straightened her back to hide it.

“You look like you’ve had better days.”

“Something like that.”

“Whatcha eating?”

“Weeds.”

“Sounds appetizing.”

“You’re late.” Her eyes turned up to him as he sat. She must have looked or sounded more accusatory than she’d intended. He frowned right back at her until she sighed and looked away. That look. That damnable, stony, chiding look that made her feel like a kid caught in the cookie jar again.

“Sorry,” she muttered without wanting to.

After a moment, the hardness of his expression cracked and broke away and his usual sunny features shone through. “Don’t worry about it. It’s the weather you know? Dark skies make people dark on the inside.”

“Except you?”

He grinned. “Except me. They serve anything here besides weeds?”

“Probably. Did you bring your bank account?”

“Even better.” He flashed her the gold surface of a MasterCard and then was gone again.

She took another sip of her coffee— too cold now, of course but at least the caffeine stood a chance at improving her mood. She stared spitefully into her half eaten salad.

Her phone went off again. She could almost feel Suzie’s impatience in every clipped buzz. They were even timed the same as the woman’s nervous lip smacks. She brought her phone out of exile just as the vibrations stopped. Three new messages. She was about to delete them all out of hand, when she noticed one was from Aidan. She tapped on the 1 key and brought the phone to her ear.

“Hey babe, it’s Aidan. I’ll be a bit late. Traffic around here is a nightmare. Don’t wait- go on and get something to eat. I’ll grab something later. See you soon.”

The message ended and she sighed. Only Aidan could make her feel so guilty with such friendly words. Well, Aidan and Oliver, if she thought about it. She didn’t want to think about it.

“Who was that?” Aidan dropped into the seat opposite her, surrounded by the smell of stracchino cheese and chives. Her mouth watered against her will and she quickly drowned it in another sip of coffee.

“No one. Just messages.”

“Yeah? Did you get mine?” He set a white paper package in front of her. It radiated warmth and was losing its opaqueness to grease.

“Just now.” She picked open the moist paper and stared at the cheese and chicken melted mess inside. “Aidan, you know I can’t-”

He held up a hand, his other cradling his own sandwich. “Come on, one meal off your diet isn’t going to hurt anything. Besides, everyone cheats, you know.”

There was something in the cheeky way that he said it that she didn’t appreciate. She almost sent the sandwich back across the table to him but another look down (it dolefully oozed a tendril of cheese to the paper) changed her mind. Of course, he was right – and God, it was good!

Her hone rang again.

“Fuck. I can’t even eat my lunch in peace.” Muttered of course; who knew where an overly sensitive parent might be lurking.

Aidan snatched her phone off the table while she was busy licking cheese off her lingers.

“Suzie, huh? You want me to answer for you?” He grinned an evil grin, his thumb hovering devilishly over the display.

“No!” She grabbed the phone before he could press the bright green button, careful not to nudge it herself. He lifted a shoulder.

“You’re still with Oliver, then?”

She dropped back into her purse. There was a grease smear on it that she’d have to clean up later.

“Yes, I’m still with Oliver.” She was so tired of this conversation. Life would be much simpler if Aidan would just live in the now.

“Are you ever going to tell him?”

“Maybe.”

“Do you still love him?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Do you love me?”

“Of course.”

There was silence between them. Her coffee grew colder, but she was determined to enjoy her calorie bomb of a sandwich while it was still warm, Aidan and Oliver and Suzie be damned —double damned for making her second guess her choices. She was an adult, damnit! in control of her own life. Whose business was it anyway whose bed she was in?

“So,” Aidan sighed at last. “What does mother hen want?”

It took everything in her not to send him the warning kick he deserved — he didn’t need to be so antagonistic, even if he had every right to be. She nibbled up a string of cheese sullenly.

“Nothing important. There’s a gallery opening she wants me to attend. I haven’t gotten back to her yet.”

“When’s the opening?”

“Tonight.”

“Oh.” He hid his expression behind his own paper coffee cup. Four sugar and a teaspoon of cream. She didn’t know how he could tell the difference, but she’d given him two teaspoons of cream on purpose one morning and he’d sent her back to the kitchen with a warning and a swat to her ass. Confident and casually in command —she supposed it was what drew her to him in the first place. It was so easy to give control over to him when he miraculously made it seem like she was still the one in charge.

“I guess dinner and a movie are out then, huh?”

“I told you noon. It’s not my fault you were late.”

“No, but you could have at least set out a whole day for me. We used to do that you know. Whole days.”

“I know,” she said, and set her mostly eaten sandwich back on the table. She’d never been fond of crusts.

He sighed again. “Look, no pressure, but think about it. You’re complicating your life needlessly and you’re going to end up hurting him, one way or another. You know that.”

She knew it, though it was somehow worse that he knew it.

In her purse, her phone began buzzing angrily again. They both stared at it and it seemed to Charlotte that this time that the vibrations had no intention of shutting off. Aidan stood, collected their trash and headed to the bin. When he returned, Charlotte and her phone were silent.

“You should probably call her,” he said quietly. Charlotte nodded. “Will you be free later? After the opening?”

“Maybe. You know how Suzie is with her family outings. It could be a while. It could be all night.”

“Well, give me a call if you want to come over. If you’re not held up overnight. I’ll probably be up.” He wouldn’t be, but he’d pretend that were the case, if she called him. She watched him leave without saying goodbye. He’d understand she had a lot of heavy thoughts on her mind, after all, he’d put them there.

The rain had stopped again, and here and there a few fingers of sunlight poked through the dark cloud cover. Umbrellas snapped closed and jackets unbuttoned. Charlotte watched Aidan’s head bob up and down in the crowd, turn the corner and then disappear.

She stood and slid into her coat. Her purse buzzed against her back. Outside, she finally obliged her phone and held it to her ear.

“Hello?—

“Suzie! Hey, how are you?—

“No, no, I’m all right—

“Yeah, sorry about that. I’ve been running errands all day. The rain has just made it impossible—

“Of course I’ll be there. Is Sophia coming?—

“Great! Tell Oliver I’ll be around at about six—

“Of course I’m staying for dinner. I wouldn’t miss it for the world—”

 

The Writer’s Pinch

660 words

So here’s the scene: There’s this writer, you see? He’s there hunched over his desk, burnt out cigarette between his lips and fifteen of its cousins already stubbed out in the tray and on the desk and under the typewriter. There’s an empty bottle of whiskey rolling around under his feet and no less than seven dirty coffee mugs on the kitchen counter behind him. The one that’s sitting cold by his elbow needs a wash, but he’ll give it a rinse if he remembers, or pour the stale ghosts of beans past directly into it if not.

He’s alone, because that’s the responsible thing to do when your art is tearing you up from the inside to get out, but is shit at feeding a family or keeping the water hot. He’s barely got the lights on, which was what she said when she left the last time. He pretends not to care because the hurt makes the words more real. Pain is ink and he feeds it drop by plunking drop into the machine in front of him, hitting the keys like he’s in a brawl. Bare knuckle boxing against twenty-six opponents and their stuttering, stalling, questioning peanut gallery. And he fights on, hour after hour, endlessly, mindlessly typing because when he stops is when he hears them. Every single goddamned one of them and their poison-tipped words that keep him perched on the edge of a bottle: Kook, shut-in, layabout, mooch. Knife thrusts in what was supposed to be a fair fight. And he’s fighting, damnit but all the bets are against him, and they laugh at his bruises but don’t they know this is the only damn thing he’s ever been good at?

He’s got a stack of rejection letters eight miles high and four miles deep, but he wears his one acceptance like a badge of honor. Victory on the field of battle. Welcome home soldier, you’ve done your good duty. Sorry about the legs and all; we’ll get you looked after. And then he’s gone. Forgotten in the gutters and he digs viciously at the keys, recounting it all: the struggle over the mound of bodies, the rip of bullets through his flesh, and the flash of bayonets white-hot like match flames in the cigarette-smoky air. He tears his hair out at the sound of mail sliding through the door slot: planes overhead dropping their payload. Shell after shell of bills; he prays that the atom bomb of another rejection doesn’t land in the pile. It’s PTSD and he knows it but there’s no VA for writers who can’t get published, and no support for a man who can’t work a normal nine to five because the weight of it crushes his soul already undervalued beside what worth can be ripped out of the toil of his body.

He’s pinched. His stomach. His wallet. All of it. Pinned to the wall like a bug. One more beetle out of a hundred thousand others. And still he flexes, twitching in the last synapses of life before death. LOOK AT ME, he screams into the din. I’m special. I’m unique. Inspect me. Tear out my wings and catalog them. Every book: twenty-six letters: different patterns. Different spots in different arrangements. Pigment, flourish, camouflage. In an evolution of words his are failing natural selection. Failing to stand out. Falling out of the gene pool. He’d give his kingdom of cobwebs to be a butterfly right now.

His fingers slow to a stop over the keys. They hover and then drop, the mad hummingbird pace they’ve been keeping falters in uncertainty. Is this worth it? The world returns to him. The real world. Empty refrigerators, medical bills, and the sound of angry, bitter sex through the too thin walls. His head drops like a cracked clay pot into his hands. Ash stains his keys. He’s written fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four words today and erased fifteen thousand, seven hundred and eight-five.

Momiji Viewing In Japan

This week my article on Eiden Rail’s Momiji Tunnel went live. It’s a short piece, part of their autumn series on the best places in Japan to see the autumn foliage, specifically the tiny Japanese maple leaf that turns such a brilliant shade of red in the autumn that several fire festivals are held throughout Japan every year in its honor. The momiji is to autumn what the sakura is to spring, and with the weather cooling down and the crisp scent of burning leaves and scrumptious baked sweet potato in the air, autumn might just be the best time of year to visit Japan.

Check out my article here, as well as the rest of Taiken Japan’s autumn 2015 series if you’re planning a trip over relatively soon. Here’s just a taste of the colors Japan has to offer in October and November.

Taiken Japan: Arima Onsen

A little while back I took up my first freelance writing job with Taiken Japan, a Japanese travelogue site where foreign residents in Japan write about all the fantastic little things they find here. Not that it’s hard. Japan is filled with so many treasures, big and small, that even living here for five years I’ve only just scratched the surface.

Still, there are a few places that have touched such a soft spot in our hearts that Alex and I have visited them more than a few times while living here, even though they are somewhat out of the way and a pain to get to. In fact, that they are out of the way and a pain to get to might be precisely why we like going there. Tourists–even Japanese tourists–are comparatively rare, and the atmosphere is quiet and quaint, just the sort of place a writer might like to go for a few hours of relaxing escape to hammer out a few more pages.

Arima onsen is perhaps my favorite of these little weekend getaways that we’re fond of. An onsen is traditionally a natural hot spring, but the word can also mean water that is pumped out of a natural hot spring and used for a public bath. Arima is a hot spring resort town near Kobe that is absolutely filled with small town charms and delights. To read more about Arima, check out my Taiken article here.

And if you can’t wait, here’s a little gallery of pictures to give you a taste of just how charming this hot spring town is:

IMG_1486

DSC09039

DSC09042

DSC09044

DSC09052

DSC09055

DSC09061

DSC09227

DSC09235

DSC09237

DSC09240

DSC09242

DSC09253

DSC09268

DSC09280

10 Ways Writing Is Like A Martial Art

With my third try for 3rd dan in kendo coming up in a little over a month, a lot of my time, energy and stress is going toward studying and training, leaving me with little left over for writing or blogging. That isn’t to say that I’m not thinking about my keyboard mashing. In fact, the more I train, the more I realize that the two pursuits are painfully similar.

10. Everything You Think You Know Is A Lie

Some time before you decide to start writing, each of your favorite authors is to you like some sort of superhuman word god. Such beauty, such incredible evocative power defies simple descriptors like skill, practice and back breaking perseverance. No, these people are just born great. Words flow from their fingertips effortlessly. Whole books are born from their minds in the span of a single night’s worth of dreaming. They transcend humanity. They make it look easy. In fact, they make it look so easy that you can do it yourself, right?

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

Which isn’t to say that you can never reach that level of awesomeness, but rather what you see on the page isn’t an accurate representation of all the hours upon hours of work and struggle that went into just a single book. And then there’s what accumulated before that in toilet water manuscripts and rejections. Anyone can write a book these days, writing a good book can take years, even before that book is a twinkle of inspiration in the author’s eyes.

Similarly, do you know how long you have to wait to even attempt 8th dan in kendo? Ten years. The governing body of the sport requires you to train for at least ten years after achieving 7th dan before attempting the exam for the highest rank, and even then you are almost guaranteed to fail on your first try. Watching high ranking kenshi fight is like watching a bird fly. It’s so natural you wonder why they even bother to test at all. Then you attempt what they do and you move like an elephant with five feet. It should be easy! Jump forward and hit the other guy on the head. Nothing in the world could be simpler. But what you don’t know when you first start out is that each seemingly simple motion is dictated by a series of very precise, very complicated rules. It’s not as simple as just hitting someone on the head. The angle of every joint in your body, which part moves first, and where each part ends up all factor into determining whether or not that hit is valid. For a beginner, adapting to all these rules is a lot like fishing with a paper net which inevitably means…

9. You Will Rage Against The Rules Until You Understand Them

Almost every novice writer I know (myself included) has had a moment of, “they just don’t get me!” Whether it’s a staunch defense of adverbs or a passionate speech in favor of clichés, at one point or another we all want to justify something we have produced, even when it’s objectively terrible. Rules like “no head hopping” and “no Mary Sues” and “mercilessly destroy passive voice” start to feel like The Man trying to stifle your creativity. It’s art, it’s all about being special and unique and breaking the rules. If you want to write, “Jane woke up suddenly. She blinked her eyes lazily while scanning the room abstractly before happily barking, ‘It was all just a dream!'” then damnit, who are they to tell you you’re wrong?!

It takes effort to move past this egotistical stage. A lot of writers never do. Those who can suddenly find themselves in the equally difficult situation of finding fault in everything. All at once those heroes, those god-like writers who were once your idols now wear their stains of ignorance all over their once clean white shirts. How dare this award winning author change the point of view mid-scene?! It’s a cardinal sin of writing! You’ve been told as much on countless rejection slips! And this one here is choking the life out of the story with exposition. It’s interesting exposition, but the sin of exposition is still there! It’s unfathomable that these people are published and you are not!

The final stage of this, of course, is realizing that the rules are only there to help you understand the elements of good writing. They aren’t carved into stone tablets as the fifty (or more) commandments of writing. Some of them are more valid than others and what’s more, literature is a living, evolving beast. Styles and tastes differ between generations as much as they differ between editors. Gradually you begin to recognize that knowing how and when to break the rules is just as important as knowing the rules themselves, but one must come after the other.

When I first started kendo I had to re-learn how to move. They way we step and the way we swing our arms is so completely counter-intuitive to how usual, every day motion works that it’s like being reduced to an awkward toddler all over again. Teachers and senior kenshi bombard us from all sides with rules: feet parallel; heel to toe, one fist apart; heels off the ground–that’s too high–back straight, shoulders down, arms rounded and relaxed; legs straight, knees unlocked; now hold this stick in both hands a fist away from your belly button and shuffle forward without bobbing up and down. After two months of that it’s no wonder that half the people who start, quit. “I can’t move like that! My body doesn’t bend that way! If my legs are straight, how am I supposed to move forward?” The rules are endless, complicated and impossible to integrate in the first half a year of training. You start to wonder what’s the point of sticking to them when you can just as easily reach your target by leaning forward with your arms instead of crossing the distance from the hips.

And oh boy, when you first notice that one senior kenshi who fights with his left foot at a thirty degree angle, you can feel the rage build up, ready to blow out your ears in a comical gush of steam. You want nothing more than to pull that guy aside and correct him, as he has corrected you. You start to notice all the little ways people get around the rules and still end up making completely valid hits. That one guy who never has his shinai in the center manages to score against you every. Single. Time. What the bleeding F?! Obviously it’s time to ask around and try some of these things out for yourself. That’s when you discover…

8. It’s A Lot Of Painful Trial And Error

Having a stack of style guides, a shelf full of writing reference books and even a mentor is great, but until you put words on the page yourself, you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of. The unfortunate reality is that when you start out, what you’re capable of is mostly finger painting vague hieroglyphs in poop and poster paint on colorful construction paper. Alright, that was an exaggeration, but I challenge you to look back on your earliest writings and not feel that it’s not at least a little true. Having just established that writing rules are a bullshit road map, what you’re left with is discovering how to write on your own. Picture entering a pitch black room. Your goal is to reach the door on the other side, but there are walls and bottomless pits all over the place, god knows where, but they’re around somewhere. Occasionally, someone a little farther than you along the path lights a match and holds it aloft until it burns out. If you’re extremely lucky, there will be people stationed next to the worst traps who will paddle your ass and say, “That way stupid.” Aside from that, though, you get no other guidance. That’s what it’s like teaching yourself how to write.

Sometimes every word you lay down in a day feels like the most godawful thing to ever be aborted out of the English language. It can feel like you’re spinning your wheels and getting nowhere but deeper into the dung pile. Suddenly everyone around you is achieving overnight success and you can’t get your story past, “One day, Jack woke up.” You might sit at your desk and pull the words out one at a time with the same excruciating pain of waxing your entire body in sequential three inch squares. You’ve received your forty-ninth form rejection and your tears have literally been replaced with whiskey. Banging your head on the keyboard in despair creates a deeper literary masterpiece than the entirety of what you’ve accomplished to date.

It is torture.

But the more you fail the more you learn. After a while you start to prize the personalized rejections more than the acceptances. For every time you fall flat on your face, you learn to tie your shoe laces a little tighter. The criticism hurts and no one is ever going to tell you otherwise but you get a little better each time. Every critique that tears your work apart, every book you read critically, every time you analyze a passage that just isn’t working, you’re adding to your toolbox and eventual success, no matter how far in the distance that is. But it takes failing first. It takes writing something and throwing it to the wolves. It takes blood, sweat and tears.

Here are some fun stories from my eight years of practicing kendo: I once literally coughed blood into my face guard. I had my toe stomped on so hard that the nail split right down the center resulting in more blood than you’d think possible from a single digit. My entire right forearm turned black from the number of times it was hit. I’ve had strings of bruises trailing along my upper arm that looked as though I lost a fight with a tennis ball machine. My ribs have been purpled to such an extent that even “I fell down some stairs” wouldn’t be enough to explain them. They hurt, of course, but for each cluster of bruises I get, I learn to be more careful. I learn to move faster, to guard better, to block more effectively. Theory is great, practicing and muscle memory are wonderful, but until you actually fight someone you never know where you’re deficient. The bruises are physical reminders of where I need to improve. They’re badges of achievement along the way.

Oh, and if all those sound like off putting injuries to you, let me say that I’ve gotten off easily. One of the senior kenshi in my club broke his ankle at a tournament this year. In the past, a guy straight up died when an improperly maintained shinai splintered and stabbed him through the eye. We wear protection, but it’s by no means fool proof. Kendo is a semi-contact sport in which the entire premise is to hit the other guy with a flimsy piece of wood. Accidents happen, and when you’re trying to get an edge on an opponent or improve your technique, pushing yourself beyond the limits of your body is not an unheard of outcome. Especially when you consider that…

7. Fixing One Problem Collapses The Whole System

So you’ve been writing for a while now. You’re pretty comfortable with the rules, with style and with your burgeoning voice. You’ve even reached the point where you can identify some of the prominent problems in your own prose. Great! Congratulations. Now you have to fix them.

Around this time you’ll make the unhappy realization that not only does one plot hole cause your entire Jenga tower to wobble, but fixing it requires you to deconstruct the entire thing. There’s a lot to be said for simply sitting down and writing whatever comes to your mind. It’s a good way to get the ideas on the page without the nagging concerns of, “does this sound OK?” or “is this even English?” The problem with this technique is that you then have to decode it in the editing stage, which can be daunting when you read through your work and find gems like, ‘she knifed at him.’ (WTF, brain?) You’ll find that when you start making changes to one part of your story, it’ll necessitate changes in other parts, as though the entire thing is just a web woven by the world’s laziest spider. It’s maddening to have to go back over the entire thing with a fine toothed comb to make sure it all makes sense after an edit. What’s worse is when you start to get so familiar with your story that you either make changes in your head or skip over the mistakes altogether because the vision you have is perfect in your little thought bubble. Once you start editing what you thought was a solid story, you find that the whole thing is as unstable as a five year-old with a fist full of Pixy Stix.

In all the Japanese martial arts that I’ve practiced (three) the common saying between them is “fix one thing, break three” (or five, or ten, depending on how cynical the teacher is). As soon as you start to get comfortable with your own ability and all the new ways that you had to teach your body to move, someone will come along and give you a single correction. It could be as simple as adjusting the height of your arms or the tension in your belly. But that one correction will undo everything else you’ve worked for. Suddenly you’ve got two left feet, your arms don’t know how to arm anymore, and you’re trying to move your body like you’ve just received it for the first time. This, of course, leads to even more corrections of your suddenly flailing technique and before you know it you’re back to the very start, all over again. It has to be one of the most frustrating feelings in kendo, but it is an incredibly necessary one. “Back to basics” is what our teacher used to say. The continuous return to the fundamentals of the sport is what keeps our bodies, our minds and our techniques sharp. Once you understand that you realize…

6. The Most Valuable People Are The Ones Willing To Break You

If you want someone to praise your work, go ask your mom. (The exception being my own mother who told me that my latest story was boring and unoriginal. I love you, Mom.) The need for people to be objectively critical of our writing is key to our success. Sure, it feels great to be told that your story is incredible and that your prose is flawless and evocative, but you also need people to tell you that your characters are two dimensional and your conflict doesn’t go anywhere. You need people who will stab your work through the heart, bleed it out and then beat you over the head with its corpse. You need people with the guts to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Finding critiquers, beta readers and editors can be challenging because of the need to find that perfect individual who 1) can understand what you’re trying to do, 2) knows what the hell they’re on about and 3) will lay it out for you clearly and without mercy where your problems are. It takes a lot of searching to find the perfect fits. You’ll discover very quickly who is reliable and who isn’t and once you find that perfect reader, hold on and never let go. Shower them with gifts, kiss their feet, name your first child after them. One perfect critiquer is worth more than fifty praise-givers.

I have a bully in my kendo club. He mercilessly taunts and corrects me, doesn’t pull his hits, gives no quarter if I’m injured and won’t stop a fight until I land a good hit, even if I’m too tired to know which way is up or down. When we fight the tension between us is truly life or death.

He is my favorite person of all to practice with.

Fighting with the people who will go easy on me because I’m a woman, or because I’m a foreigner, or because I’m lower rank is a welcome relief at times, but I improve the most from people like my bully who push and push and push until I either break or get better. Despite how painful it is, I need the push. I need the sink or swim mentality. Being told, “You landed some good hits today” is wonderful, but what I really look forward to at the end of practice are the teachers who say, “Here is what you’re doing wrong.” But receiving criticism is only half the battle because…

5. Learning How To Deal With Blows Is Crucial

The cold fact of the matter is that the world is a cruel place, and having barfed a collection of words into it doesn’t automatically make you immune from cuts and jabs. After you’ve recovered from the hard truth as laid out by your fantastic beta readers, after you’ve fixed all that you can fix and there’s nothing more you can do for your word-baby, it must be sent out to be judged. To editors, in all likelihood your work is just another number in the pile. Having done slush reading in the past, I can say honestly that there’s no biased animosity toward authors who submit, even when it seems that the author took the term, ‘submission guidelines’ a little too loosely. Having received rejections in the past, I can say honestly that they feel like a slap in the face. Reading those infamous lines, “Sorry, we’re going to pass on this one” feels like the worst sort of personal attack. Clearly there is just something about your face that the editor didn’t like because the story is fine.

I don’t think any one of us who receives rejections has escaped the “But–Grrr–It’s not fair” reaction, and it’s perfectly understandable. It’s also one of those things best screamed into a pillow rather than violently ejected onto the Internet. It hurts, yes, but throwing a tantrum isn’t going to change anything other than damaging your professional credibility. It likewise isn’t helpful to dwell on how much rejections (and criticisms) hurt. Making mistakes, being called out on them and then most importantly learning from them is the only way to improve.

And in case you believe that self publishing gives you an easy out from these hits to the ego, let me say that reviewers–especially independent ones–are merciless. Editors at least have a professional obligation to be courteous in their rejections. Reviewers have no such leash and have every right to say whatever they damn well please about your writing. I think by this point it goes without saying that you should never, never, never contact a reviewer to dispute a review. Please, just don’t do it.

In kendo, all the bruises and bleeding don’t stop just because you improve a little. Senior kenshi and teachers just find more creative ways to whack you on the places with the least amount of protection. Eventually, you just stop feeling it when it happens. The nerves numb to the blows and you develop this curiously thick hide, like a layer of callous between your skin and your muscle. Even being hit on the elbow or the wrist joint doesn’t hurt enough to slow me down these days. It’s a combination of being used to the feeling and needing the uninterrupted focus to continue fighting that dulls the pain enough to reach my goal, even if that goal is just to keep going until the clock runs out. It’s a hard thing to teach yourself, to ignore the pain and continue. But when the hits are inevitable, the pain becomes a part of the experience and with practice, eventually it falls off the radar. The difficult thing, though is not throwing in the towel after the first dizzying blow, and that’s why…

4. Your First Success Will Always Be Not Quitting

My writing sucks. Why am I doing this? I’ll never be a writer. I should just quit now. Hands up those of you out there who have had some variation of this thought at some point throughout their professional career. I’m going to assume it’s most, if not all of you for the purpose of making this argument work, and also because my hypothetical readers always think exactly the same things that I do. A career in writing might be harder now than it has ever been. The rise of digital media and self publishing means that the pool of writers and their work is expanding faster than my waistline over Christmas vacation. Competition for contracts with agents and traditional publishers is fierce, and it seems like the goal posts for what is ‘in’ in the literary world are always changing. The temptation to throw your hands in the air and embark on a more lucrative occupation (like an alpaca farm) is high, but you know that old adage about outrunning a bear? How you don’t have to be faster than the bear, only faster than your poor friend who you trip in cold blood so that the bear has some other warm, screaming body to tear into while you get away without consequence? Writing is a lot like that, except that the bear is time. You don’t have to write a perfect literary masterpiece straight out the gate. You don’t have to get that six figure deal on the first try, or the second, or the third, or the tenth. You just have to outlast all the others who will give up before you. Time will wear down their resolve until you’re stepping over the corpses of broken dreams to reach for the top. Perseverance is the name of the game. And sure, some people have a longer road to walk than others, and it’s an exhausting, sometimes soul crushing journey but if you want it badly enough, you’ll get there. One small step at a time, you’ll get there. But there will be days when you have to convince yourself that it’s worth it first, and believe me, you are your own worst enemy.

I can’t tell you how many times in almost a decade of kendo that I’ve asked, Why do I do this to myself? exhausted, dripping with sweat, every muscle in my body screaming for rest, dizzy from dehydration and the inability to breathe. Sometimes the only answer to that question is “because,” but if that’s what it takes to get you up and fighting again, take hold of it and don’t let go. After every crash the desire to give up gets stronger. Every plateau in skill makes it harder to find a reason to keep fighting. Five kenshi in a row have beaten my ass so thoroughly that I wonder what I’ve been doing with my life for the past eight years. So why keep going? Because. Because this is what I do. Because this is what I enjoy. Because…

3. When It’s Bad, It’s Very, Very Bad, But When It’s Good, It’s Euphoric

Losing really sucks, even when the only other competitor in the race is yourself. Writing is a very solitary activity when it comes right down to it, and when you’re sitting there, staring at a blinking cursor reminding you like the impatient tap of a foot that you haven’t written a word in two hours it can feel like falling imperceptibly down a bottomless pit. If Facebook is to believed (why are you checking Facebook? Get back to writing!) all your friends are off skydiving, having orgies and experiencing life in fantastic ways that you can only dream of. Or not, since the quietly blank page in front of you is proof that you haven’t dreamed up one goddamn thing. Go ahead, bang your head against the desk, drink a seventh cup of coffee, make a house of cards. Nothing is going to break this writer’s block. You’re done. You’re finished. All the words you once had in you are gone. The well of ideas is dry. There’s nothing left to do but let yourself hollow out into a husk of has-been or never-was.

Then, one day you wake up and the words are falling like rain. Like champagne rain. The drought is over. Your fingers can’t keep up with all the wonderful new concepts and characters, bursting out of your skull like a double rainbow. You can’t remember why you were ever worried. Run out of ideas? Ha! The thought is laughable. See, you’ve written three thousand in an hour and a half. You’re unstoppable. Your genius is palpable. You’ve got a good feeling about this one. It’s going to go somewhere. It’s one to be proud of.

This roller-coaster of highs and lows is maddening. When you’re on top you can’t see the climb it took to get you there. You’re too pleased with occupying a creative high place to remember all the struggles that came before it. Conversely when you’re experiencing a down period, those moments when the words came easily feel utterly unobtainable. They must have been someone else’s memories implanted into your brain. Even, “I did this once, why can’t I do it again?!” isn’t very comforting.

Here in Japan, summer is my worst enemy. As a Canadian, I was born and conditioned in a cool climate. Summers back home are dry and don’t reach much higher than thirty-two degrees Celsius in an average year. In Japan, summer has made it its mission to destroy me. Temperatures in July and August soar up to thirty-seven degrees Celsius with humidity than can reach as high as seventy percent on a cloudless day. Under these conditions, life becomes a series of mad dashes to the next air conditioned location. Unfortunately for me, none of the places where I practice kendo have air conditioning. When things get really bad they open some windows and maybe turn on an electric fan. Even the venues that do have air conditioning aren’t sufficient when you’ve got upwards of five hundred people screaming and sweating within them. Clouds of perspiration become their own, indoor weather patterns.

In the five years that I have lived here, I’ve noticed a disturbingly consistent trend: In the fall and winter I’m unstoppable. My energy is high, my body moves the way I command it to, and I’ve got an endless reserve of spirit to keep me going. In the summer, however, I move like I’ve got an elephant on my back. My legs are rooted to the ground and my arms feel like they’ve got twenty pound weights attached to them. The air is so thick I feel like I’m drowning, and if I don’t drink at least three liters of water a day, I will have a hangover the next morning, even without the aid of alcohol. It is so disheartening to move like the wind one week, and like frozen molasses the next. What’s worse is that there’s nothing that can be done about it except to suck it up and pretend that you’re not suffering in your own personal hell. But if you can hold onto the feeling of bliss when everything else is falling apart you come to a point where you realize that…

2. The Struggle Is Real, But So Is The Pay Off

“We’re happy to inform you that your story has been accepted for publication.” Wait, you should read that again. Happy. Your story. Accepted. Publication. Oh sweet cinnamon, you did it! You finally got someone to buy your work. It took weeks and months and years. It took gaining twenty pounds and giving yourself carpal tunnel. It took forgetting what sleep and the kiss of your significant other feels like but damnit it was worth it! You’re going to be published! You! You never thought you’d see the day and yet here you stand, triumphant.

It’s in these moments that you forget everything that came before this point. All the tears and heartbreak, all the hours spent editing, all the previous rejections and stamps of NO GOOD you’ve seen in bright red on your manuscript. All that is behind you, and when you look back you realize that not only could you do it all again, but you will, because there is no greater feeling than the one you’re feeling now. The one where all your hard work has come to fruition. You are now a published author. Congratulations.

In kendo there are many little things that are big triumphs. The first time a teacher is legitimately surprised when you score a point on them, the first time (or really any time) you pass a test, even being invited on the team for a tournament is a big deal. Every little triumph pushes your ambition a little further toward that highest point, whatever that might be for you. Like writing, once you taste that instant of success, the difficulties you endured along the way suddenly seem insignificant. It’s alright to take a moment to revel in this small victory. Pat yourself on the back and raise a glass, and while we’re on the subject…

1. Everyone Is Drunk And You Will Be Too

Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac. Truman Capote, Edgar Allen Poe, Dorothy Parker, Dylan Thomas and O. Henry. Back in the day, all the great writers were alcoholics. So much so that a bottle was almost as important as a typewriter. Even today you’ll hear successful writers talk about their nightly drinking habits with the same casual tones as if they were describing the weather. What is it about alcohol that seems to drive the creative spirit? Honestly, I don’t know, but a shot after each rejection certainly helps get the ball rolling, I’m sure. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that alcohol (beer in particular) helps stimulate creativity. Because alcohol lowers your inhibitions and removes a lot of the pesky worries that can freeze a writer up, the brain has more power available to it to devote to building the foundations of a story. There’s also something to be said for putting yourself in an altered state of mind just to slap the brain awake from what might be a stagnant state. Now, I’m not about to advocate substance abuse here, but if a glass of red wine a night is healthy for your heart, certainly a pint of beer a day can give your brain a nice boost. Just, maybe don’t drink yourself to death.

I had done kendo for all of three months when I first learned that the actual hitting people with sticks part is only half of what kendo is. The other half is getting roaring drunk after practice (and secretly hoping the teachers pay). This comes largely from the drinking culture of Japan, where company men (and less frequently women) work long hours and then must wine and dine clients and colleagues until all hours of the night. Drinking in Japan is both an obligation and a pastime, and politeness demands that if you are invited for a drink your only excuse for declining is to be dead or dying. If it’s the latter you’re still obligated to take part in a single draft beer before crawling home to write out your Will.

Admittedly, an ice cold mug of beer is exceptionally wonderful after practice, and taking the time to laugh with and get to know the people you are routinely caned by goes a long way toward making the experience more enjoyable. During practice there isn’t a lot of time to chew the fat with other kenshi. Staring at your opponent through a heavy, metal grill doesn’t do much to put a human face on the people you’re practicing with either. But once again, beer comes to the rescue and shoos away those inhibitions until even the shiest of kenshi are cracking jokes. In fact, drinking is so integral to kendo life that at multiple dojo and in two different countries I have heard it referred to as “second practice.” We drink, have fun, compare bruises and then the next week we do it all again. This sport is great.

W is for Writing

W-11e finally made it to the big one: writing! As I struggle through this insanely risky venture in the art of letters, naturally the bulk of my non-fiction collection is about writing itself. Writing and Thinking go hand in hand. These days, if I’m not actually putting words on a page, I’m thinking about those words, or those ideas, actively pulling in little bits of inspiration and storing them in the apothecary chest in my brain until maybe one day they’ll be useful. But when I get down to it, to physically sitting in my seat, opening a fresh Word document to put all those ideas down into something more or less resembling a story, there comes a huge moment of Conflict & Suspense. On the one hand, I really want to get this idea out, because it’s OMG the greatest idea ever and will revolutionize the genre, I’m poised and ready and I want to go, go, GO! On the other hand, the ideas that float nebulously in my brain resist condensing into something more decipherable to other, alien heads. In theory, a book is just a series of words artfully arranged in such a way that the reader goes, “oo” and ‘ah’ and in general has a good experience. In practice, however, Plot & Structure get mixed up in these fantastic ideas and create just a jumbled mess that even I can’t understand. And I wrote the damn thing.

It’s a bit like trying to weave a rug. You know basically what a rug looks like, and you know what sort of pattern you want in your rug, and the colors you want use. Except all your yarn is tangled into knots that you have to unwind before you can even start weaving. Oh, and somebody turned out all the lights. Good luck.

Fortunately, The Story Solution to this mess is within arms reach, and it’s so ridiculously obvious that many people overlook it. It comes in two parts: practice, and trial and error. Art has no magic formula, as much as some people would like to sell you one. Art evolves every day, and what works or has worked in the past, won’t do you any good in the future. And yes, there are no more original ideas. There are only 20 Master Plots (depending on who you talk to) and we can only work within the limited structure of what is, in fact, a story. It’s adding our own Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint that makes our own individual stories unique, and some stories sink or swim by their Description & Setting alone.

What we really need is to start a Dialogue. To get together and discuss our Strategies of Fantasy until, as a genre, as small pockets of writing collectives and as individual writers, we each have our own Fantasy Reference guide.

E is for Edit

Exceptionally brave authors don’t look upon the completion of the first draft with the mixture of mingled pride and stomach dropping dread as the rest of us. For with the closing of the teetering, holey, rough-shod draft comes what most writers I know fear the most: Revision & Self-Editing. It’s the fear that comes with knowing that the thing you’ve spent weeks or months or years slaving over, destroyed relationships for, permanently messing up your spine and posture because of, now has to be picked apart with a fine toothed comb. It has to be self-graded and spat upon. It has to be tsked at and told it’s not good enough. It has to give up all of its disappointing flaws and you have to acknowledge that they exist.

Can’t we just take a teenie moment to reflect on the joy that comes from completing a creative endeavor? No, absolutely not, because this is not a complete project (at least, not if you don’t want to be told, “Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us.”) This is a half formed, stumbling monstrosity that you can’t let see the light of day. No, no, not how it is. Goodness gracious did Anne Bradstreet ever have it right when she wrote about ill-formed offspring dressed in rags.

Fortunately, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers isn’t the nightmare it seems to be when the ‘D’ in THE END is still drying on the page. The internet gives all writers a peek into The Copyeditor’s Handbook so that everyone, seasoned grammarian and struggling high schooler alike, has access to the same wealth of knowledge.

So hold your heads high, my fellow writers, and hold your drafts a little lower so that no one else can see them quite yet. Walk boldly into the future knowing that despite there being numerous peaks left to climb, the editing mountain has a neat little foot path for you to follow. Stick with it and you’ll have no trouble.

Unless you’re Editing Canadian English, in which case you’re pretty much screwed.

Upcoming Workshop in Kent, Washington

It’s no secret that workshops are a valuable part of any writer’s creative and professional advancement. The right workshop can not only impart valuable craft and writing techniques, but can also put authors in contact with editors and agents, and readers in contact with authors. I feel the lack of English workshops keenly here in Japan, but if you live in Washington there’s no need for you to feel the same emptiness.

Cascade Writers hosts a variety of genre specific writer workshops throughout the year in Kent, Washington. Their past speakers and instructors have included many industry professionals from top editors and agents to best selling authors. They are now looking to fill seats for their July 23-26 workshop, held at the Ramada Inn in Kent. The workshop will feature the following leaders and speakers:

  • Claire Eddy (Senior Editor, Tor/Forge Books)
  • John (J.A.) Pitts (Author)
  • Shannon Page (Author)
  • Mark J. Ferrari (Author)
  • Alex C. Renwick (Author)
  • Everett Maroon (Author)
  • Lee Moyer (Illustrator)
  • Laura Anne Gilman (Editor/Author)
  • Randy Henderson (Author)

Seating is limited, so if you’re looking to rub elbows with some fantastic, experienced people in science fiction and fantasy, at $250 per person, this is a great deal. Information can be found here.

Cascade Writers is a non-profit organization run by a group of dedicated individuals with the goal of bringing quality workshops and speakers to writers at an affordable cost. Admissions go toward venue rentals and transportation, lodging and meals for speakers. Who they can bring and for how long depends largely on workshop attendance. If you are unable to attend this event yourself, I encourage you to spread the word to other authors and fans who may be interested.

Coming in from out of town? Cascade Writers is inclusive and welcomes participants from all over America and the world. If you’re one of the 15-30% of out of town or overseas attendees, the Ramada Inn has a free shuttle service that can pick you up from SeaTac Airport.

Can’t make the July Workshop? No problem! Cascade Writers is hosting another event in September featuring such guests as Todd McCaffrey, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Bill Johnson, John Lovett, and more.

Still not convinced? Your support will help add teachers and speakers such as Django Wexler and John Scalzi to the already impressive list of talents and professionals who have appeared at Cascade Writers events in the past.

Have a question? The organizers at Cascade Writers are available to take your questions by phone or by email. Don’t be shy, ask away!

A New Release and Some Life Updates

After days of waiting in anticipation after the first announcement of its release, I give you, for your reading pleasure, Darkly Never After in both electronic and paperback formats. All proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, so I encourage you to buy paperback (but if you don’t have the coin in your pocket for it, I completely understand). Do anything but pirate it, I beg you. No one got paid for this. Our editor and formatter gave up pieces of their soul for this book, and all our authors are now scrabbling under couch cushions for loose change and stray ramen noodles for want of sustenance. At least let some money trickle to the charity.

Right, dramatics aside, all proceeds are going to the St. Jude charity, information for which can be found here.

I hope the book gives you delicious nightmares and oh, don’t forget to check under your bed and leave a light on. I’m told that helps.

darkly never after coverClick me!

Ends

Moving on. Last week I celebrated what was the beginning of my last year as a twenty-something. I’ve got one more year to party, live it up, drink excessively and make bad financial decisions before I have to finally settle down and become an adult. You know, I think I said something very similar to this a decade ago and that would be very troubling and worrisome, if I actually did party, drink excessively or make bad financial decisions. All things considered, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about being an adult, it’s that there’s a lot of grey area concerning what ‘adult’ actually means, and even more when we start throwing adjectives like ‘responsible’ and ‘well-adjusted’ into the mix. I certainly don’t feel like an adult, but I wouldn’t know what to expect that to feel like anyway. I still make some pretty immature decisions, mixed in with some more moderate ones, but mostly I’ve learned that no one ever really knows what the hell they’re doing. Twenty-nine feels like an age in which I should have all my ducks in a row and a clear path planned out for me, but I’m still not entirely sure what the right path for me even is. I don’t know if anyone does. At my age, my parents already had three kids and our family was surviving on one full-time income and one part-time income only. There’s no way in hell I can picture myself doing the same thing, but people do what they have to do, as the situation calls for it. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m fortunate that the decisions I’ve made so far have netted me positive results. I hope they continue to do so.

In any case, Amber sent me a bottle of Chartreuse for my birthday, and you know what that means:

IMG_1779

Ends

Finally, I’m in the final stretch for a double deadline at the moment, so I’m going to disappear for a little while. I’ve put Bone Wall on hold ( I know, I KNOW) to write a short story. I’m going through the up and down roller-coaster ride of “This is the greatest idea I’ve ever had” and “OMG, this is crap, everything I’ve ever done is crap. I’m just going to sleep forever”. Eventually it’ll even out into a nice sort of sour optimism as I finish revisions. So yeah, not a lot of time to read or review or blog. I shouldn’t even be writing this post right now, but I’m hoping if I get everything off my plate tonight, I’ll be able to spend my Sunday writing.