Unholy chorus

Yeah, it’s 2016. That number is sort of meaningless in a day-to-day sense, and I suspect it is for a large number of people. Still, it’s a good milestone for taking a look back on things, even if the moment is arbitrary.

My 2015 was somewhat better than 2014, which I’m grateful for, but there’s still a lot of heavy reckoning that emerged in the latter half of ’15 that is absolutely not resolved. For some of it I have some ideas about what to do, or how to approach the problems; for others, I’m in open ocean with no life vest.

Maybe it’s ’cause I’m getting older (I can feel my metabolism shifting, which is simultaneously amusing and annoying); maybe it’s because my past has caught up with me in terms of the whole ADHD thing. Maybe it’s because this is more or less what happens to people when they hit their late 30’s/early 40’s, this re-evaluation of life and priorities and societal rules and internal assumptions. And I could take a few column inches to talk about all those things.

But I decided that I didn’t want to enter 2016 on hard ruminations, on treading the paths that, while familiar, are still difficult and will be there on January 2 and beyond. Nope, I wanted to enter the new year with a really good laugh. I mean, really good.

My friend Sam introduced me to the Duck Army a few months back, and I had the opportunity to share it with my mom today, and we both laughed (though only I laughed until I cried). That kind of catharsis sure helped me, and so I want to share it with you.

The basic premise is this: Charlie Murphy (or at least that’s the name this Vine user goes by) finds a sales bin full of rubber duck dog squeak toys. You squeeze one, it “exhales,” but on release it makes a vaguely moaning-quack noise. But he suddenly leans in and presses down on a stack of them. The resulting sound is deeply disturbing and — to me — pants-pissingly funny.

For added fun, watch Adam Savage build a contraption to cause the same kind of mayhem, with similarly satisfying results.

Happy new year!

Chunky salsa, or the agony of planning

Planning, or scheduling — the two sort of blur into one another in my mind — they’re both some of the most difficult things for me to do. There’s a physiological reason for this, but before I knew about that, I made enemies with these concepts in other ways.

As a kid, I resented these external demands on my time. I know I’m certainly not alone, but this sense that outside forces were always obligating me to do things at certain times for certain durations became a real sticking point, and that perceived childhood injustice has carried through over the years; childhood injustices often do.

Because of this resentment — people imposing their rules on my  time — I never learned how to build my own plans, or how to schedule my own time. Again, there are physiological issues making the process even harder, but because I refused to learn the procedures that others used to seemingly shove their priorities down my throat, I ended up completely unmoored when it comes to a very basic aspect of human life. Seriously, I’m like the Underpants Gnomes. There’s a void where procedure should be. A question mark. Nothing.

Seriously, no Phase 2 AT ALL.

Seriously, no Phase 2 AT ALL.

As I got older, I began to see the need for plans and procedures and schedules. But because I didn’t have the skillset (since I rejected it out of hand years before), I had to cobble a process or twelve out of thin air. For many people, that wouldn’t have been much of a problem. Maybe a bit of a learning curve, but nothing more serious. For me? It was hell. Absolute hell. The vaguely planlike things I made had no anchors, no links to the functions of the real world, so even when I was able to follow them they failed miserably.

And that made me more resentful. It took a lot of hard work to make even the most tenuous of schedules, and when they failed, I ended up hating the world — feeling like the universe was actively trying to kick me in the solar plexus.

Cut to now. Again I am made painfully aware of the need for planning, but I am now painfully aware of the short-circuits in my brain that make it impossible to do like most other people do it. Sounds awful, yeah? Well, most of me agrees. But there’s a small part of me that feels like this time I have a chance to build a process that will actually work for me. I’ll be working out some process ideas on a project I’ve been putting off for a while: making a padded vest/jacket for swordplay. I have a gambeson that almost sort kinda fits, but because I’m a fat woman I don’t fit in fat man things. Chest + hips. Always. So, time to make something that’s built for me.

Never mind that I’ve only made an article of clothing for myself once, back in high school, and if we’re being completely honest, my mom did most of the work.

So, here are my initial thoughts around making this vest.

  1. Let things happen in non-contiguous chunks. If I think about anything involved as a single contiguous process my brain static howls and I get overwhelmed and it’s pretty much over for whatever it was I wanted to do. I used to do this all the time, because I worried that if I didn’t push through and get most or all of something done in a continuous process, I’d lose the plot and not be able to competently pick up from where I left off. This worry has, on some occasions, borne itself out. So, it’s okay if a day or two, or even a week, passes by between chunks. That said, I need to find ways to keep the project present enough in my mind so I don’t just forget about it entirely. Not entirely sure how this will work, but I may designate certain times of certain days for getting things done that are related to this vest. That simple procedure has failed in the past, so I need to bolster it somehow.
  2. Look for good places to delineate chunks. For the vest, one part might be buying the things I need. Later, I can take measurements, then maybe plan them out on paper to build a pattern. However, it’s perfectly all right if drawing out the pattern becomes its own chunk later. And it’s all right if each chunk has its own chunks — concatenation. I find that if I have end states in mind, it’s easier for me to reach back and know what I need to do and in what order to achieve that end state, so for me, I look for ways to delineate chunks that offer up a clear and concise end state that I can put in a list or an outline. Even if I never write that list down, those sub-end states lead to a final end state, so I stand a better chance of remembering the process without having to resort to lists or documents that I will either lose or never look at again.
  3. Don’t hate yourself for having to chunk. I have no real idea how non-staticky people accomplish their organization. Maybe they do exactly what I’m doing — chunking, delineating, flexibly allotting time — just without constantly getting mentally derailed and spending a ton of energy to get thoughts back on track. So by going through this process of chunking, I’m not babying myself, I’m not catering to my own uselessness — I’m doing what most other people do and reducing the amount of extra effort I need to expend to simply linking up the chunks, like train cars. It still takes extra work, but at least I’m not spinning my wheels to keep my chunk train from turning into chunky salsa.

So, that’s what I have so far. I’ll keep you posted on progress with the vest (components bought, but that’s it), and throw up a blog post if I detail out my processes a bit more.



Three steps forward, two steps back

I know I talked about this around two months ago, so some of you may know that a little less than a year ago I got a diagnosis that I never would have expected, but in hindsight explains a whole lot of my life. It explains procrastination issues, it explains a decent chunk of my impostor syndrome, it explains part of my short temper and it neatly explains my utter inability to keep anything tidy or in order.

I have ADHD. I rate a little higher in hyperactivity than most women, but I mainly lie in the inattentive circle of the Venn diagram.

I’m telling you this (again?) for two reasons: one, I’m working through all of this, and it’s not easy, and I think well when I write (though I reserve the right to change my mind on conclusions in light of new thinking or information). I thought I’d been progressing reasonably well but life clattered and folded up on me over the course of the last few weeks and it’s clear I’m nowhere near any kind of resolution. The other reason is that this may be of some help to some of you out there.

I’ll clearly tag all posts related to this, so you can do a quick check, if that’s what interests you. But the reason I’m doing this is because, in all the literature available, there’s a lot of “just try these ways of organizing!” and aside from being a bit of an obvious fix, it doesn’t seem to dig much deeper than “just find new ways to keep your shit together!”

A lot of the methods presented in these books don’t work, at least not on the surface. And while everyone’s mileage may vary, I’ll share why they don’t work for me, because maybe you’ll see a little of yourselves in me, or maybe you’ll figure something out about you in contrast with my different issues. It’s all good; the main thing is that we both gain something from this exercise.

So, while I know better than to promise regular updates (we’ll be addressing underlying issues about that in a later installment), I will be posting stuff to help me clear the static in my head, or at least channel it, and you’re more than welcome to come along.

A hell of an opportunity

I know I’ve spoken in the past about GenreCon (and it’s happening again this year! GO. DO IT), and what a phenomenal experience it was for me, and all the fantastic people I met there.

I want to tell you about one of them, because she’s offering a twelve-week mentorship program centering on writing and creative exploration. Jodi Cleghorn writes:

My vision is to be the curator of a supported creative space with the benefits of one-to-one personalised attention and small group interaction.

One of the greatest things to have come from GenreCon, for me, is the discovery of a creative community of vastly different people with incredibly different talents and styles and genres, but who are united by a sense of inclusivity, generosity, and openness. And this mentorship program is a distillation of that. I imagine I’m not being terribly clear, so I’ll let Jodi explain it better:

For The Asking is a hybrid program combining direct mentorship, a writing course and elements of creative exploration. It has the flexibility to accommodate different goals while at the same time providing a shared space to connect with (or hone) the craft of writing through experimentation in style, form, voice, genre and different creative modalities, combined with thoughtful critique, self-reflection and peer interaction. Each mentee will also have the opportunity to pursue one or two writing related goals.

There are four spots, and applications close fairly soon, since successful applicants will be notified by September 6. I encourage you to check out the post and apply, because it’s an uncommon opportunity to do some uncommon creative work.

Time, Again

365-001 time flies

Time is a wicked thing. We get caught up in it, we view it as an enemy almost exclusively, we try to exert control over it knowing that we can’t, that it’s something beyond our control, fleeing and fleeting and obstinate.

Time is a big deal for me. I mean, yes, it’s a big deal for a lot of people in various ways, but I wonder if it rules my life more than it seems to affect others.

The answer is, probably not. Maybe you can tell me if I’m right or wrong.

In the past I’ve talked about not managing time well, but I think it’s not a management issue, as in my ability to be organized. I’ve talked about that, too, and how abysmal my orderliness is, but I’ve been around enough to know some strategies that make things easier and help me keep on track. But time — my relationship to it never seems to improve. And that’s the key, I think.

My relationship to it. My perceptions of it, my understandings of it. If you spend any real time (heh) talking to me, you’ll probably know that I have a serious distaste for the American/Western (capitalistic) approach to work and work ethic. This idea that you’re of no worth if you’re not earning in some way — if you’re not using your time to to maximize your profitability to your employers, to your family. Or even you! Though you come suspiciously near the bottom of the list.

So that, to me, sets up an instantly adversarial relationship. There’s guilt in spending time on oneself. An irresponsible selfishness, a disregard for others, a neglect of responsibilities and obligations.

A project I’ve slacked off on, unfortunately, that I started at the beginning of the year, was learning how to be kinder to myself. Allowing me to be kinder to myself, knowing that this kind of generosity isn’t an indulgence, it’s not an extravagance, it’s just the kind of thing we should do for ourselves.

It’s a struggle. It’s not a fight, I know better than to fight myself on this, at least, but it’s hard. It’s like getting caught up in the briars of past expectations and supposed social norms. Somehow I taught myself that the only way to be sure I live up to my responsibilities is to be hypervigilant and hyperreactive about any and all failures, and that just magnifies any sense of inadequacy I may have.

This morning, I spent time writing a letter — hand to paper, honest — to a friend who had done the same for me. For this friend, her letters were a response to social media; this person chose to withdraw from it and be more mindful about the act of communication and the things communicated. My letter was a time-consuming task, but even that phrase is far more negative than is at all accurate. Writing by hand takes time, but that grants space to think, to evaluate, to ponder. There is value in the quick response, in the reblog, in the share, in the click-to-like, but there is also value in those things that require more continuing effort to complete.

But I feel like taking that time is robbing time from somewhere else. I have a life filled with enough things to keep three people occupied, and I burn the candle at both ends. Or do I? Do we all?

The things I do, I don’t want to give up, but I worry that I can’t keep up, and when I think about not being able to keep up, then that spells only one thing: FAILURE. There’s a distaste for failure in and of itself, and there’s a deep regret when it comes to failing at any of the things in my life that are important to me. But I worry that I am. And I’m not sure how to fix it.

So maybe it does have everything to do with how I perceive time and action and accomplishment, and how I relate to those things, and learning that action can be used to describe the things I do for myself to give space to my thoughts and give room to silence. Accomplishment can include doing things that are just for me, or about me, as difficult as that is for a woman raised in the late 20th century to accept (we are never first, we never come first).

Is it like this for anyone else? I’ll let you know what conclusions I come to, if I do, as I do.

I may have neglected to mention

I may have neglected to mention that I’m in a podcast.

In fact, I’m certain I haven’t mentioned it. I’m bad at self-promotion. But I’m good at promoting other people!

So, let me introduce you to Priori, a YA fantasy podcast serial written by Emily Craven and performed by her, and several talented people, and incidentally, me. What’s the story about? I’ll let Emily tell you herself:

Hunted by the Kraken, the sinister leader of the Ruhle Empire, Beverly Jordan must control her powers, known only as the ‘Priori, to survive. Believing her powers dirty, fit only for destruction and ruin, Beverly and her brother Charlie set off on a journey to find the fabled safe-haven of Creana, an underwater world where one can learn to split the fabric of time and manipulate the Lines of Power, where winged Alaequines soar through the air and the Shadows hide, waiting for someone to release them. Will Beverly escape the grasping clutches of the Kraken? Or is she destined to become his weapon?

Every episode generally runs about 30-45 minutes long and features a brief chat with the cast, and closes off with a gag reel. It was an enormous amount of fun to perform, and story addresses the sort of themes YA is about: coming to terms with who and what adults really are, understanding one’s place in the world, the demands of responsibility, and coping with a cranky winged horse who didn’t sign up to be anyone’s pal.

That last one may be a little overspecific.

At any rate, it’s a great story told by great people, and I hope you’ll give it a listen. You can subscribe to it here.

Miracles of Modern Science

Portrait of Pluto and Charon.

Portrait of Pluto and Charon.

I know for a moment I’ll come off as one of those people who says things like “kids today!” but just stick with me here, because I’m not stomping over other people’s perceived shortcomings.

Two days ago, I got to sit at my computer and watch a computer simulation (via NASA’s Eyes, an app built and freely offered) of New Horizons making its closest pass to Pluto on its way to the Kuiper Belt. I just want to unpack that, okay? I sat at my computer, which happens to be a very very very long way from California and from the places where I grew up and from the people I grew up with. But I had the simulation running in real time, and on a browser tab I had a NASA TV stream running.

Back when I was in high school, we lived near Charleston, which is much nearer to Cape Canaveral than where I am now. And one of our neighbors said “hey, if you know where to look, you can see the shuttle launch!”

So I checked on a compass to see which way was southish, and compared my instinct with an old map. Because NO INTERNET, right? And as I listened to the countdown on the TV in the other room, I looked for and found that elegant candle flame rising up into the sky. I’ve seen a shuttle launch.

I grew up in a time where I used a card catalogue to write my term papers. Now I can just pull PDFs from my university’s online library.

This isn’t some cri de coeur about how easy kids have it today — this is a moment of reflection to let myself be amazed and full of wonder at the seriously amazing stuff that happens today, nearly as a matter of course. There’s so much going on to not be happy about, and to be very angry about, and disillusioned and disappointed, if not outright betrayed. That’s why I think it’s vital to take these moments to realize I can chat with friends across the globe with a mic headset and a computer, and I can celebrate with the people at JPL in real time the amazing milestones they reach.

Pluto has mountains made of water ice. It is geologically active. I can’t be alone in thinking how OMG COOL this is, can I? I can’t. Two weeks ago the best image we had of Pluto was a pixellated blob. Now we have this, and it’s only going to get better as the data streams a boggling distance toward Earth and we start parsing it all out.


The Icy Mountains of Pluto.

A sense of place

I have always been absorbed by context, whether it’s historical or political or environmental. Really, these things are inseparable, and they weave into my own history an out of it like tendrils on creeper vines. Of the world, and in it.

I had asked whether the brutal monolith apartment blocks that lined the avenue between the airport and the heart of the old city were attributable to him.

I moved around a lot as a kid, every two or three years or so. Place became something meaningful, not just a location but a collection of sensations and impressions and people and their lives in that place, too. The texture of the earth underfoot or the smell of exhaust over petrichor is enough to take me back to places I haven’t been in years. The sound of crickets, the fall of light on a late winter day, a spark of unexpected coriander in an otherwise ordinary salad.

 I knew the scenes in my head were only partly authored by my own imagination. I arrived sceptical of my own expectations.

All of these shape experience, and all of these become the coral skeletons of the reefs of memories.

Through all those mundane exchanges, perfectly pleasant and polite, I knew I was stepping into a history whose depths I couldn’t hope to fathom.

I was recently asked to share impressions like these on The Writers Bloc, an online community for writers and those interested in the craft of writing. I wrote about Cluj-Napoca, a city in western Romania, and at one time the capital of Transylvania. I was only there a few days, but it left an impression on me. Please take a look.

Seeing what we sometimes can’t

There’s tons of bad news out in the ether. I can’t deal with it now, I don’t have the wherewithal, but I wanted to do something constructive. So I wanetd to talk about looking at the things you do and letting yourself see the good in it.

Western society — or at least this corner of Western society that I live in — thrives on hypercriticality. Things aren’t quite good enough. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman and I will never be attractive enough or thin enough or charming enough on my own, so I really really need to buy a panoply of things to cover my hopeless flaws. Maybe it’s not. Anyway.

I was sitting around with friends yesterday and recounted a summary of a story I’d submitted in the hopes of getting it published and I thought at first I wouldn’t remember it properly. (Memory and I don’t get along very well, usually.) But I did, because while I fumbled for some of the particulars of the plot, I remembered the theme, and I really remembered the characters because they hooked into some of the anguish I’d been feeling and seeing when I wrote the story.

And here’s the thing: with my friends there, listening, the sock-puppet of doubt was afraid to come out.

I’m usually plagued by the little bastard, a constant background hiss of internal disapproval. I’ll be at sword practice and I’ll be screwing up (we’re supposed to screw up, we’re learning, that’s how you learn), or I’ll be writing something and I can feel it folding under its own weight of improbability, of disconnections and internal inconsistencies. But seeing my friends listening to what I was saying, engaging and not doing the dismissing thing that the sock puppet insists everyone does when I’m around, well, evidence left him on the back foot.

Heh. Foot. Sock. –Anyway.

As I explained the story, I realized a few things. One, I have a thing for trees. Two, I have a thing for generosity. Three, I don’t believe people are set to selfish-jerk by default. I can take a bit of grimdark, I can take a bit of gritty realism, but there comes a point where I get sick of it; it’s an off-key drone that doesn’t set the stage so much as grate against the ear and trigger a bit of nausea. And I used to think I had to have it, because otherwise the things I wrote wouldn’t be “realistic” enough; they’d be too perfect, too happy.

Hell with that. We have our hard times, and we have our good times. And people will be generous often because they feel like it, or maybe they’re interested in something that’s tangential to the results of the generosity. I get taken advantage of, this is true; but I think I’d prefer to be open and take my hits than just shut down, close off. It sounds like a slow spiritual starvation, and I’m not interested.

So the upshot of this conversation yesterday was that I noticed I keep returning to these things, as wrong as they might be (and I don’t think they are): that as many people are decent as they are cads, and that generosity isn’t something that marks you as naive, or as a rube. I like exploring that; I like meeting characters that lean toward that, as wounded as they might be, as overoptimistic as they might be. Sometimes strength is refusing to acquiesce. You don’t have to be nice, but you do have to be kind.

Since I have a thing for trees, I’ll leave you with one here:

Maples in Japan.

Maples in Japan.

I should be asleep right now.

I should, I really should. I started a new job at the beginning of the month, a full time one — no more 4-day weekends for me — as a full editor. Bilingual, no less.

I am astonished, saddened, and shocked at how out of practice I am with it. I mean, a lot of it’s muscle memory, neural pathways burned like screens left on too long. You put words in front of me, I fix them! Or I try. Usually I’m pretty good.

But it’s been a while since I’ve done this for pay, for several hours straight, in a facility dedicated to this purpose with equipment that is not mine to do it on.

I love it.

But my brain isn’t used to this kind of thing. Again, like a muscle, it’s out of practice, it’s gone soft from under-use (even with working on the doctoral research). And that scares me. It worries me. I try to to think too hard about it, but I wonder if it’s just a matter of getting older, or if it’s because I’ve experienced more and I know more and I can feel the difference with better granularity when things aren’t up to par, up to speed.

It also means that my mind takes longer to slow down. It shouldn’t be that way, again because of the research. I read academic journals fairly often, and that’s not light material. But the kind of turning over that happens from that is distinctly different from what happens when I spend a day checking for errors and massaging the muddiness and awkwardness from language. Maybe it’s because there’s a kind of nimbleness required in tackling academic thinking, even though there’s a lot of persistence required, too. With editorial thinking, my mind feels more like a heavy train on a track that takes a while to slow down.

The upshot of this, then, is that editorial thinking so far hasn’t burned me out on academic thinking. I was a little concerned that might happen but the movement and interaction of ideas is functionally different.

Anyway. I dropped this here in the hopes that it would shed weight from the cars, let the rail brakes do their job better, because tomorrow is another packed day at work and I definitely need the rest.

Good night.