Being good, being great, and a slight overdose on writing process geekery

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking and talking with folks about writing and process. Earlier this week I had a write-in with a friend of mine who’s working on a non-fiction book. We talked about the differences between our markets, where we’re at in our writing careers, rules for our different genres and subgenres. Then this weekend I got together with some friends of mine to do the 48 Hour Film Project and wound up spending all of Friday night on a hotel room floor with friends fleshing out a borderline ridiculous idea into a 4-7 minute thriller/suspense movie script.

Since I got home today after helping with the shoot, my brain’s been still picking at those conversations. The primary of which is the advice I kept seeing over and over again when I was starting out writing again: Writer’s write. 

I remembered how much I used to hate that fucking phrase.

It seemed like just about the dumbest piece of advice to give someone who’s trying to figure out how to do it. Why give someone a frustrating tautology? So you’re saying that to become a writer, you must write. But if you can’t figure out how to start, how can you ever become one? It’s like advertising an entry level job that requires five years of work experience.

(warning: POV switch into second person ahead)*

You get advice like that, you either give up right there, or say, “Fuck it. I can figure this out on my own.” You keep doing it just because you’re pigheaded. So you try writing. But then you look at what you wrote and you look at the kind of stuff you like to read (that whole Ira Glass “having good taste” thing applies here), and you see that it’s not the same. It’s not even fucking close. You want to give up because there is SUCH A VAST OCEAN OF SUCK between you and where you want to be. But you do it again anyway. Could be the pigheaded thing again. Or maybe when you were reading through your stuff, you saw a glimmer of something you might like. It was ill-developed and badly executed, but it’s still there. So you write something else, trying to make that glimmer a little brighter better next time – closer to the thing in your head. It could have been a moment with one of your characters, or a nice turn of phrase. Maybe there was a cool plot thing that tickled you in a funny way when you were writing it and tickled you in the same funny way when you reread it. And the next time you write, that thing gets a little clearer and more deliberate. You wash rinse and repeat, polishing those little bits of good stuff that get into the giant messes that are your stories.

Then you start reading advice from other folks on how to fix the stuff that’s not getting better. Maybe it’s problems with your characters. Or plots. Prose. Setting. Pacing. When you start watching movies and TV shows, or reading books or graphic novels, you start paying closer attention to what other people are doing with those same elements so you can learn how stuff works, particularly stuff you like. Then you start seeing what kind of stuff gets done a lot. You start seeing patterns. You consume so much media that you get bored seeing the same pattern, but delighted when someone breaks it. You start getting excited about ways YOU could break those same rules or even other rules. Because we’re always delighted when someone shows us something new and unexpected. 

And now you start seeing the wisdom under that stupid, frustrating advice you got when you started out: about how writers write. You can see all of the things “write” encompasses: writers write characters; writers write plots; writers write prose. You can go down even further: writers write tragic characters; writers write space opera plots; writers write floridly worded Victorian Eldrich Horrors. There are so many god damn elements that go into writing anything, you can run down into these finer points forever. You can get into arguments with people about word choices and syntax and the different emotional effects those can have on the reader. You can write sociological or anthropological theses about why the Hero’s Journey appears in so many narratives from all over the world. And you buy those books. And you read them. And you can’t stop telling your friends about them. You can even go as far as to write a really long essay about how you felt after reading a blog post another writer wrote about the influence another writer had on him.

Then you stall out and can’t figure out why you’re not selling anything. Because now you’re a writer (because you write), but you want to be a Writer (somehow there is a difference in your mind, and for some reason that difference involves money [yes, this was the rule I gave myself before I could capitalize that damn W {and I'll tell you what, I STILL feel weird when I do it}]). You want to do to others what books and movies and TV shows and comics did to you.

So you look again at the second-most abstract and silly piece of writing advice that’s out there: write what you know.

You say, “Fuck you, Writer-Type-Person! I learned your damn words!” because you’re frustrated and exhausted because you’ve put so much damn time into it.

You hear people say that to publish, you can’t just be a good writer, but a great one.

You start looking at the stuff you think is just good, and the stuff you think is great. You try to tease apart the differences, and you start seeing that those differences lie largely in you. The good stuff might follow all the rules and satisfy you intellectually, but the great stuff shakes you. Maybe even changes the way you see things about yourself or about the world around you. 

You see it’s because those great writers are writing about YOU. That tiny moment of anxiety between the glass falling off the counter and it hitting the floor – the regret in it, the moment of solace that the glass is still whole for a few more milliseconds, the flash of the memory of the day you bought those glasses at Bed Bath and Beyond because you’d broken one too many during arguments with your boyfriend and then you had to wash (by hand) the same three glasses over and over again and you’re just fucking tired of it because you’ve been doing it for eight months now and now, and look, you’ve just broken one of the ones you just bought to try and take that anxiety away because it means you’re one dustpan full of glass closer to that being that person again who waits eight months to buy more glasses at Bed Bath and Beyond. And that writer managed to capture all of that moment in the way the character’s eyes traced the patterns the broken glass made on the floor.

So you write about you. Who you are. Why you are the way you are, because chances are it’s the same reason why other people are the way they are too. That’s the whole reason those story patterns work.

Everyone wants to know who they are – to see themselves how others see them. Because inside we’re all chaotic whirlpools of seemingly disconnected and random stuff. There’s good stuff and evil stuff. Beautiful stuff and ugly stuff. The hate and the apathy and the misery that we struggle constantly against, so we might keep feeling love and passion and joy. We want to be not plagued with these tiny, constant internal battles because we’re never sure what side is winning, and we’re so god damn exhausted sometimes.

It makes us scared to open up to other people because we worry that the more someone knows us, the more of that struggle they start seeing. Who isn’t afraid of someone seeing them at their meanest? Or their pettiest? Occasionally, though, you find someone else that is cracking in the same ways that you are. You see that same struggle in them. So maybe you let them see that in you. 

Great writers, artists, musicians, performers: all of them explore their own fractures and show other folks what they found.

When you start exploring other people’s fracture lines, you find out you can live a thousand lives in them, maybe even try to prepare yourself for damage you can see coming up in your own life, because if you push deep down into one, you can see which ways the fractures run and trace those back to the points of impact. Maybe you even eventually hope to see how all the break patterns fit together.

*Yes, I see what I did there. 

I’ve spent the last few months in introspection overdrive trying to get my brain back to the point where I can spend a Saturday night writing a blog post about this kind of stuff rather than clutching the remote close to my chest for fear of the stuff that’s been going on inside of my head. 

So please excuse the typos. I think I’m gonna risk a little bit of scotch.

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Thoughts like lead balloons

So I’ve been working on a book this year. By this point I was hoping to be mostly done with the revision draft, with the goal of getting to the end of it by July. 

That’s not even close to happening.

Depression sucks. My thoughts are simultaneously heavy and light – leaden enough to keep me from a more nimble mindset in which I can free-associate in order to put the right words down; and substanceless enough that what focus I can manage is easily lost to distraction. 

I’m trying. And I am getting better. I’ve managed to crawl out of the gravity well of despair and am now sitting listlessly at the edge, unable to pull my feet out of the tepid water. I’ve been in this place before. Lots of times. I hate it even more than the days spent crying in bed because I feel like I SHOULD be able to do normal things again – laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, writing, reading – but as soon as I sit down to do them, I have to wrestle with the lethargy. It’s exhausting. So I close my laptop, or my book, or let the dishes pile up, or run out of underwear and just sit and rewatch three seasons of Buffy in less than a week. I tell myself tomorrow will be better, but it’s always the same.

Even so, I remain optimistic simply because I HAVE gone through this so many times before. I know I’ll get there eventually, but for now I’m still stuck while everything continues to shift and recalibrate and I continue to drain the poison from my thoughts with the help of my friends and therapist.

I can go out with friends and laugh and joke. I can go to work and be productive and make chit chat with my coworkers. I can come home and go running or to yoga. But as soon as the quiet comes, I am, once again, destroyed. 

I can’t fucking wait until I’m myself again. It’ll just take more time and patience. So I’m gonna go bang my head against the keyboard for a bit and pretend like I don’t have four more seasons of Buffy burning a hole in my motivation. I will finish this book this year. I promised myself that much.

Call someone you love and tell them that much. They might need it.

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More than you ever needed to know about my smoking habits

I love smoking. 

I used to hate it. My dad would chain smoke More Menthols in our small, two-bedroom apartment when I was growing up. He’d have a cigarette hanging out of his mouth when he was cooking, or folding laundry or keeping box scores during Cubs games. The smoke would get in everything (to the point where my high school teachers assumed that I smoked). I also had asthma, which wasn’t helped by it. My brother started smoking when he was a teenager, but I stood resolute, vowing to never start.

But I’m anxious and kind of fidgety. Large groups of people and prolonged periods of socializing make me want to flee into a dark corner (or hide under a pile of coats, which I have done before at parties). And I’m a naturally obsessive personality who also happens to hate routine as much as I love it.

When I started smoking in college, it felt like I had found a lost piece. It gave me something to do with my hands while sitting outside drinking or waiting for a bus or walking somewhere. It gave me the opportunity to be alone for a few minutes at a time when I’d get overwhelmed socially: a ready excuse to stand by myself and not be bothered. It allowed me to create and destroy smoking routines on a whim, to help create a feeling of variety when I would be feeling trapped. It facilitated my meeting a lot of excellent people because we were the “smokers.”

Most of all, when I would start feeling anxious about pretty much anything, I could grab my cigarettes and go and stand outside, stare at nothing, think of nothing. They were miniature meditations that would always drain away the worst of my anxiety so I could keep on with whatever I was trying to do before, be it having a conversation with someone, being in a difficult social situation, writer’s block, failed experiments, work frustrations, depression, etc.. It works to abate pretty much anything.

Cigarettes have been my steadfast crutch through the worst years of my life.

Despite my love of my glowing, smelly little friends, I’ve quit before. I’ve quit a lot, actually. I quit at least a few times a year. The only year I didn’t try quitting at least once (I started smoking when I was 20), was when I was 29 and I decided that I was going to give myself permission to smoke for the entire year with reckless abandon and, for once, not entertain any feelings of guilt. It was a magical year. It also served to reinforce why I kept trying to quit.

When I’m smoking, I’m always a little bit wheezy. I can’t spontaneously go running since I need to give my lungs at least a day to clear out (SIDE NOTE: I started running again while I was still smoking – I had a whole system worked out about when and how much I could smoke during the week to make sure I was able to get my miles in). It makes me sleep like shit since it makes me all wheezy, so I wake up a lot during the night. It’s a giant cash suck (I probably spend $80-100/month on cigarettes right now). When I’m flying, by the end of the trip I’m just about ready to hulk smash everything and everyone around me. I hate the way it makes my hands and my clothes smell.

And I get so fucking sick of the constant background radiation in my life that I like to call “cigarette math”: I have this many cigarettes left in this pack, which will have me running out right in the middle of my commute home, so that means I need to find a time at lunch to go to the gas station to pick some up or else I’ll have to stop at that shitty gas station by the highway that has a crappy parking lot and charges an arm and a leg for a pack, or there’s a 7-11 that’s a little out of the way has the 75 cents off deal, so I should get three packs to get through the weekend, unless I’m sharing in which case…

I’ve never had a problem quitting. I always quit cold turkey – three days of hell is so much better for me than dragging out the discomfort and cravings for an entire week or more. In fact, I’ve quit so many times in the past twelve years that I make miniature games out of the withdrawal symptoms (for me: a headache that feels like someone shot your inflamed sinuses full of helium, slight tunnel vision, sore throat, raspy voice, MORE wheezing, ravenous appetite and insatiable cravings for random foods). I like to see how long I can go before taking any Aleve for the headache, or seeing how long I can hold out to a food craving. 

I do have a problem staying quit. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to just not do something. But in my case, quitting smoking means giving up something that helps me cope EXTREMELY EFFECTIVELY with my anxiety. And the determining factor for when I’ll start again is how well I can cope with anxiety as it flares up.

But I’ve been doing better with my anxiety lately, to the point where I think I might be able to manage not smoking for another good stretch before my resolve cracks (I’m hoping for six months, but we’ll see). And it’ll help me stop actively hating and avoiding going for a run (which is an awesome alternate coping mechanism, but requires more planning than a five minute smoke break does and can only be accomplished once a day). Someday I hope to just not smoke at all anymore, but telling myself that this time I’m quitting for good always makes it worse. It feels like inviting all of the future anxiety – all of the terrible things that could possibly happen to me and the people I love – down on my head at once, and taking away the only thing that helps me cope, moment to moment. So I always tell myself I’m just quitting for now so that I can get my running mileage back up and clear out at least some of the effluvia of stress that’s accumulated in my alveoli over the past few months. And if I need to start again to help cope with something overwhelming, that’s fine too.

I had my last cigarette about 14 hours ago and I’m well into the headache, sore throat, raspy voice, tunnel vision, ravenous hunger bit. But I’m feeling pretty good about it this time. We’ll see how long this time sticks.

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A Long Exhale

I started seeing a therapist recently. For lots of different reasons.

I’d been putting off doing this for years, telling myself that I was fine, or I would be. I’ve always considered myself a pretty self-aware person. I had ideas about the person I wanted to be – self-disciplined, productive, passionate, loyal, empathetic, kind, funny, intelligent, open, fearless, etc. – and I would work towards becoming those things, in spite of myself. And in my more compassionate moments with myself, I can see that I’ve done good work on myself. I am closer to being the person I want to be than I have ever been.

But a while back, I reached a point where I stopped improving on my own, where I chased myself in circles around a giant knot that was too big and too tangled to hold in my mind at once, or to tease out smaller bits from to work on.

And I reached a breaking point in January.

It’s hard for me to ask for help. I became acutely aware of this tendency in grad school, both in terms of my professional life and my personal one. I managed to mostly overcome it in regards to my professional life (I now happily embrace the words, “I don’t know,” because that’s how best to learn). Not so much in my personal life.

So I dug out a piece of paper with a name on it that had been sitting on my dresser for months, written down by someone I love. I made an appointment. And now I have a therapist.

It ranks up there with one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. At the same time, I’m surprised at how much I’ve been waiting to say.

One of the things we’ve talked about is writing. As you might imagine, I have a lot of feelings about this: Fear of failure, fear of success, problems with motivation, fear of plateauing, being too hard on myself when I fail to live up to unrealistic expectations – all fairly typical artist neuroses. And talking, so far, seems to be helping in ways not even directly related to the content of our conversations, like just having an outlet now for all of this stuff I’ve kept bottled up for decades is letting a bit of steam out of the emergency release valves.

And one of the results of this is helping me to feel less crushed by the unrealistic expectations I take to the keyboard with me whenever I sit down to write (which I’ll admit I stopped doing completely the last three months of 2013).

When my therapist asked me how much I would need to be writing to consider it enough, I responded, “All the time. Every waking moment.”

She gently suggested that might be an unrealistic goal. I knew it was when I said it, but it doesn’t change the fact that’s how I felt. How I still feel. It’s an unattainable goal, and no matter how much I write, it’ll never be enough. That’s a road with pretty scenery that leads straight to a chronic sense of failure.

As such, I was so grateful to see this post by Bear the other day about her writing habits and average daily word counts. Bear’s self-discipline (when it comes to a lot of different aspects of life) is something I deeply admire and aspire to, and I told myself that she must be writing every waking moment to be as outstanding and prolific as she is. But in reality she writes at a rate of four pages a day, which is about the daily word count I’m working with right now.

It helps to know this because it helps me to be less afraid. That this is something to be chipped away at, like running, or yoga, or therapy. Superhuman effort only serves to burn you out and leave you disappointed with yourself.

I have been working on being more patient with myself. It’s helping that I’m working on novel revisions for the first half of this year. I was able to finish a reverse outline of the previous exploratory draft and write a detailed synopsis where I fixed a lot of the plot issues and mapped out character arcs before the start of the Rainforest Writer’s Retreat (which was amazing, as always, and I already can’t wait to see everyone again next year to sit quietly next to, sharing nibbles and giggles and ukulele songs). At the retreat I rewrote the first 15,000 words of it, and in the week since I’ve been back, I’ve managed nearly every day to sit down and get at least an hour or more of writing in. The word count continues to tick slowly upwards.

I’ve done this before. Mostly for NaNos. But this feels different. It feels softer.

And most importantly, it feels like the me I’m trying to be.

Be patient and kind with yourself. You deserve it, even if you have a hard time believing it.

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That time that Kelly lost her mind for four minutes and fifty one seconds

I wanted to share something funny that happened the other day, which will require a little bit of background:

Relevant datapoint the first: I went to a four day long Burning Man decom festival (Youtopia) this past weekend, and as someone who neither likes nor has extensive experience with festivals or camping, I had a massive packing list of minutiae to make sure I didn’t forget something important so that at the very least my tent would be a safe comfortable space in which to retreat from the mayhem. I was massively victorious in my camping pre-work, and the festival was amazing fun, not only because of the content, but mostly because of the quality of the company (I love each and every member of the circus and the rest of their adopted extended family fiercely and deeply). A double-plus, would festival again. There was one setback in which one of the giant tubs of water I bought burst in my trunk the day before I left, and after four days sitting all shut up in the sun, my car stinks of mildew. So driving around the last few days I’ve had all four windows down with the rear seats down to air out the trunk.

Relevant datapoint the second: Because of a bunch of recent endorsements, and my own building ennui with my music library, I finally sucked it up and got Spotify premium. And because of a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately, I’ve been trying to keep my spirits bolstered by listening to stuff that is not my usual contingent of mopetastic shoegaze bands. This translates directly into obsessive abuse of the 70%-unlimited-wonderful/30%-holy-shit-this-song 80’s radio station.

Relevant datapoint the third: I live in San Diego. There aren’t many strong indicators of the change of seasons here. For example – this is one of my favorite houses in my neighborhood all dolled up for Christmas a few years back:

xmasSD

So I was driving home from work the other day on the highway, all of my windows down, warm(ish) October air blowing my hair in all directions, palm trees all around me, blasting 80’s music and this song comes on:

I can’t help myself. I start singing along. At the top of my lungs. And I became so joyously happy because, in that moment, I had become something that John Hughes had always promised me I would become:

For four minutes and fifty one seconds I BECAME A MOTHERFUCKING 80’s MOVIE.

And isn’t that all an 80’s kid ever wanted?

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Texas and an Imaginary Tower

First off is news: My latest story, “The Tower” is now up at the Journal of Unlikely Architecture!

I’m fond of this story – the idea for it came one afternoon from my friend Tucker on Twitter one slow afternoon at work. I was bored and looking for a way to distract myself, so he told me to write a flash story about a cloud, a princess and a tower. As such, an early version of this story was born before it swelled and swelled into a full-size story to accommodate all of the ideas I kept having about it. Much like the Triffid story, this one wound up being about the place stories occupy in our relationships to the people we love. But also a giant imaginary tower. And an amputated finger.

I’m also going to be at Worldcon next week in Texas, wandering around with a spring in my step and bourbon in my pocketses.

While I don’t have a schedule, per se (i.e. this Klagor’s not doing any readings or panels), you WILL be able to find me at the Glitter and Mayhem release party at a local roller rink in San Antonio. Because glitter! And roller skates! And old-school cabinet games! It’s gonna be yanking hard on my nostalgia (all those birthday parties as a kid spent at United Skates in Chicago, doing the Chicken dance as I tried to just not fall directly over).

Otherwise I will be wandering willy nilly to panels and readings, and most likely spending an inordinate amount of time at the bar (or attempting to participate in gym-con).

And there may also be an attempt to make Mick-Rolling a thing (for science!).

This’ll be my last con of the year (and likely my last con until 2015 since I’m going to be abstaining next year in an attempt to re-gain my sanity and vacation days).

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Why I Run

[Warning: contains lots of fitness and weight-related things]

For any of you who might follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed the daily exchanges with Elizabeth Bear, Fran Wilde and Sarah Goslee (and also occasionally Kyle Cassidy) about exercise-related things, and you might have wondered what that’s about.

Well, it started back at Worldcon last year, when I was kind of a wreck after breaking things off with a boy I really liked. Among the many things I was lamenting at the time, was that I’d lost my fitness acountabilibuddy. Now, I should mention that it was only a vague plan at the time with him to do that, and I hadn’t really started anything up. But because they’re awesome and I love them to tiny little pieces, Fran, Bear and I agreed to be acountabilibuddies on Twitter. Soon after, Sarah joined the party, and we’ve been tweeting progress ever since.

So the other day when The Oatmeal posted a six part comic about why he runs, I tweeted it to my accountabilibuddies.

Kyle had a completely different set of experiences that motivate him.

And I saw a lot of myself in the comic – but at different stages in my life. The Blerch used to have a deathgrip on me. Now: not so much.

I’ve had a fraught relationship with physical activity my entire life: partly because I was a fat kid, and partly because I have asthma. Despite this, I’ve always been vaguely athletic. As kids, my brother and I would go biking, or run around and play tag or play two-bounce piggy at the playground pretty much all summer long. I played softball from when I was about 11 until I graduated from high school. I was on the crew team until I ripped the muscles in my lower back (and acquired a sports injury that plagues me to this day – it hurts right now, actually.)

Despite all this, I wasn’t a jock. I wasn’t picked on either. I wasn’t really anything. I was that weird girl obsessed with the X-Files and Smashing Pumpkins, who endlessly scribbled bad poetry in a notebook when she wasn’t playing guitar. I had my close friends, but I was largely ignored by everyone else. And I hated myself. I hated myself a whole fucking lot.

So I ate. We always had junk food and pop around the house, and I didn’t have any self-control and I was always uncomfortable in my skin. At 16, I was at my largest at over 190lbs. I couldn’t run a block without reaching for my inhaler. I remember standing in the bathroom, gripping the rolls of fat around my belly and crying, resolving that I would start DOING something about it so maybe I could stop hating myself. I stopped drinking pop and lost 30lbs. By the time I started college, I was holding steady between 150 and 155. I still hated myself, but not nearly as much.

When I got to college, I was in charge of my diet for the first time in my life, and I had access to a really good gym. So I started swimming. I took Aikido. And aerobics classes. And I went to the gym and used weight machines. I even tried to start jogging. I’d even occasionally try changing my diet, but I was never successful. I was a slave to my cravings, which made me hate myself more. So I would overcompensate with exercise.

Even so, I stayed stubbornly between 150 and 155.

One day, a friend of mine I worked with in the Forensic Science department told me she wanted to do the AIDS marathon training program, but only if she had someone to do it with. To me, running was this mysterious thing that thin people did. Before college, I’d never been able to run for more than 30 seconds without succumbing to an asthma attack. But thanks to over-doing it, my aerobic fitness had improved enough that I was able to fumble my way through the three-mile pace setting run at the beginning of the training program and hop on board.

I agreed to do it partly because I wanted to see if I could. But I’ll admit that most of the reason was because I assumed that if I was training for a marathon, I’d finally get down to a normal weight.

So I ran a marathon. I ran another one. I wrecked my knees and hurt my hip and strained and re-strained my back. I ate like a monster unleashed. I would run 20 miles, then go with my roommates to IHOP and eat EVERYTHING, then walk back and sit in an ice bath. I didn’t lose a pound.

But running. My god, running. After that first marathon, but before hurting my knees, I loved it for what it was: blankness. I would strap on my minidisc player and just disappear from the world. And with the marathon training, I knew I could actually run FOREVER if I wanted to. And it gave me permission to eat a mountain of junk food. If I wasn’t going to be able to lose weight, at I at least going to enjoy myself. But I kept hurting myself and running became painful.

So I gave it up. I took up cycling. I met a boy with a bike. He and I rode together, going on 30, 40, 50, 60 mile bike rides on the weekends through the wilds of DC. I rode my bike ten miles a day to and from campus. Biking gave me a similar sense of peace as running, but I had to pay too much attention to my surroundings to disappear completely.

I moved to San Diego for grad school. I didn’t have to be the same person I had been before. I would bike everywhere. I joined the triathlon team. I started playing Ultimate with my friend Kendra. I joined a club softball team. I went to the gym. I walked all over campus. But I also started smoking in earnest. And then everything started falling apart. I hurt my right knee really badly and had to stop playing Ultimate. I stopped riding my bike. Financial stress became crippling. Depression set in. I stopped eating. I lost 10 lbs in my second year because, mathematically-speaking, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day was cheaper than buying food. Eventually I pulled out of my emotional tailspin and went right back up to hover between 150 and 155.

I got trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship. Grad school got worse.

I started doing yoga on the recommendation of some friends. I fell in love with it for a lot of the same reasons I loved running (the mindlessness, the competition only against myself), but it was too expensive for me to do regularly, and I didn’t have the motivation to do it on my own, so I gave that up too.

Things got so bad, I finally worked up the courage to drop out of grad school, and find a real job. Instead of walking around campus all day, I drove 45 minutes to sit in a cubicle, then drove 45 minutes home to sit on the couch. I started gaining weight, but it was okay. I had made a choice to change my life so maybe I could finally stop hating myself. I wrote more. I got into VP. I met my kin. I finally got out of that emotionally abusive relationship.

And I hit 165. It was no longer a thing I could wave off. I felt familiar crushing self-hatred pressing down on me, but I found I didn’t care as much. I’d changed. I had things under control, financially. I had a solid group of friends. The gamble I took to drop out of school was paying off. I liked who I was becoming. I decided that I wanted to do this because I wanted to feel healthier – to feel like I had when I was running, not because I was in training for a marathon (I’m never doing that again), but just because I could.

I got a FitBit. I bought myself a year-long unlimited membership to a fantastic yoga studio. I paid attention to what I was eating, and found I wasn’t succumbing to cravings like I used to. I quit smoking regularly (I still partake more than I would like). I started getting stronger.

And I started running again.

I used the Couch-2-5k program so that I wouldn’t get discouraged by injuries or asthma attacks. It sucked at first. It hurt, and I was gasping for breath. But I felt myself getting better. 9 months after starting, running had become easier. Joyful, even. I actually look forward now to getting home and pulling on my shoes because it’s a celebration of my hard work rather than a way to turn off the self-loathing.

I hit my goal weight of 139 a few months back. And even with injury setbacks, illnesses and traveling, I’m still running. Still going to yoga.

I ran 3 hard miles last night, despite not having run for three weeks (due to busy-ness, a trip to NY, straining my back again and acquiring the lung plague that’s going around). I was wheezing and tired for most of it, and when I got home and started stretching I had to be super-careful of my lower back. But I feel better today because of it.

I used to run because I felt I had to exercise. Now I run because I can.

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Artistic Mania – or How to Make a Movie in a Weekend

I love deadlines.

I really do.

A while back, my friend April decided that for her birthday this year, she wanted to bring together everyone she knew to help her make a movie for the 48 Hour Film Project. I, of course, happily signed on to help out with the writing bit. As this weekend approached, a flurry of e-mails went around confirming who was going to be on board, and what everyone was going to be doing. April went out and rented a bunch of equipment and got a centralized hotel room in Mission Valley to use as the base of operations.

So Friday at 5PM, I got to the hotel with my laptop, ready and waiting to get word on what genre we wound up drawing. The other writers showed up. We waited, joking about what we would do if we drew one genre or another. We’d thrown around some ideas beforehand, but nothing really stuck.

[Actually, a few weeks ago, I'd dredged up a character that I'd started sketching out for a now-abandoned story about a thief, and brought her up as a possibility as a main character for this project. And in thinking about her, and in finishing reading Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and in listening to Alt-J's album on a loop, I wound up vomiting out an entirely new story a few weeks back that wouldn't have existed if it hadn't been for that brainstorm session.]

Anyway, we waited, getting periodic texts from April at the kickoff event that we had won the use of some studio space up in Mira Mesa for the weekend, until we got THE text:

SUPERHERO

And of course, we were stoked. We’d been joking around not ten minutes earlier about how if we got Superhero, we’d do a supervillain origin story. With that in mind, we were off.

Five hours after the clock started running we had a finished seven page script about two superhero lovers who had grown apart, and how one of them becomes the villain she was destined to become.

24 hours after that, we had filmed all five scenes at four different locations around the city.

48 hours after that, the entire movie had been assembled by our post-production team.

It was manic. It was fueled by sugar and caffeine and baking and the love of April’s friends for getting together and just making things. It was both easier and harder than we thought it would be.

I loved it. Even the collaborative bits for the writing. When we hit a wall, we argued until we found a solution, then we moved on. If we got stuck in details, someone would scream at us about the time, and we would move on. “We’ll fix it in post!” became our mantra.

I didn’t love the fact that we had to move forward with what was, essentially, a first draft. But with a 48 hour deadline, we’re not looking for Fellini-level shit here. And considering none of us have ever made a movie before, I think we did pretty damn well, considering. We’re having a screening for all the cast and crew tonight after April runs the finished movie over to the 48HFP offices.

But the best part? April’s got the bug now, and there’s already talk of doing this again for shits and giggles at some point in the future.

I’ll embed the finished movie (called From Grace) on here next month after the festival’s over so we can all marvel in the ad hoc special effects (and my brief cameo in the movie as a stunt-neck).

Thanks to the 48HFP, I can now say I helped write a short film. And the bonus of getting an entirely unexpected new short story out of it that I’ll be fiddling with over the next few months.

Because there’s no deadline on that.

Posted in Movies, Writing | Leave a comment

It’s Like Slapping Yourself in the Face

I’m home again, for now, and I’m laid up for the night with a tweaked back again, so it feels like a good time to write up some general life updates (in chronological order):

I moved!

I hate moving. I’ve done it way too much in the last ten years, and I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do it again until I was moving to another city. But there are always circumstances that can wear down this resolve: the lack of a sense of privacy, an abundance of unpleasant memories, piles of boxes related to said memories that cannot be unpacked or hidden. My new place eradicated all of those. As such, I love it. And it feels more like home than everywhere else I’ve lived in this city.

I sold another story!

This one to The Journal of Unlikely Architecture! It’s a strange story I originally wrote ages ago in response to a flash challenge my friend and VP classmate, Tucker, posed over twitter one afternoon when I was bored at work. It quickly swelled beyond flash, and I’d fiddled with it off-and-on in the meantime until Fran pointed me in the right direction. It’s called The Tower and it’s due out next month. I’ll post the link here, and on twitter when it goes live.

I turned 31!

My 30’s really were worth waiting for, and it’s already become the most productive and artistically fulfilling periods of my life. The writing is going well. The band is going well. I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. Everything’s fucking ducky. Which, of course, means that my brain has switched into neurotic overdrive.

[Warning: emotions ahead]

[I'm not supposed to feel good: my basal state has always been to be kind of sad and lonely and broken. When I don't feel that way, I'm acutely aware that it's a temporary state at best, and that I'll go back to feeling slightly miserable again soon enough. It's why I try to appreciate those moments of passing beauty - because they're respites during which my tiny miseries are diminished. It's why I try to jam so many of those moments into the stories I write. They're important. They're what I hold on to. 30 was filled with them, and 31 promises to be packed.

So I'm trying to fix it, because the cycling between moments and misery is becoming more rapid, and the crashes harder to cope with. That basal state, as far as my brain is concerned, is WHO I AM. I'm not supposed to mess with it. It's too deep. But it's a trap. It's a lingering depression I've curled up with for so long that the thought of losing it gives me a strange anxiety, and it's the root of a knee-jerk flight reaction that's infuriating and confusing. I don't like myself in these liminal states between the two. So I'm working on it. I only worry that there are too many tangled things and I won't be able to work through them all on my own (which is a whole other bag of neurotic worms). Which also makes me want to entrench myself in over-intellectualization, where nothing gets solved because everything is hypothetical. The bummer about it is that though I have enough experience now to understand that doing is better than thinking, and when I try to do, I immediately run away. It's hard to make progress.]

I went to Madison! I went to New York!

I’m having a good fucking year for seeing all of my grad school family. We went through hell together. I love those kids to death. I always will. Madison was too brief, but we filled as much time as we could together with drinking and laughing and (swatting ineffectually at a mosquito army) and reminiscing and relief in each other’s company. New York was a week-long drunken mess of a cuddle puddle, full of bars and laughter and Spaceteam and Evil Apples and walking (oh, the walking), and even a rare appearance by Erik Melons, my friend Derek’s hilarious drunken alter ego. It’s hard to think about the fact that we’re never all going to live in the same city together again. Which is why we joke about buying a house together when we’re old and decrepit so we can keep drinking and laughing and talking endlessly about books and movies and video games and science and life. It hurts to keep saying goodbye to the people I love.

Well, that got maudlin fast.

But really, I couldn’t be happier. I have a bunch of new story drafts that I really like, my band’s got an awesome show coming up and our first EP should be coming out later this year, and I’m spending all weekend making crazy art with my friend April for the 48 hour film project. My free time is filled with stories and art and music and friends and laughter and joy. In all, I’m one lucky asshole.

Which, on a night like tonight where I AM in that weird liminal come-down state, is a helpful thing to remind myself of.

I hope wherever you are, you’re safe and warm and loved.

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Nothing’s Measured By What It Needs

Since my last post, I’ve been taking time, entire days on occasion, to think; about what it is  I want, what I need, who I am, who I’ve been, who I want to be.

Today’s been one of those days. Between periods of reading, I’ve been wandering listlessly through my apartment, staring at rain, staring at the ceiling, staring at nothing, really.

I can blame it on the book I’ve been reading (Lord of Light, which is beautiful and sad and funny and profound).

I can blame it becoming saturated with Woody Allen’s existentialist one-liners, which serve to haunt me at the oddest moments, where their absurd and pointillist nature mimic a lot of feelings I’ve been having lately.

I’m not gonna get into it because when I started this latest blog incarnation, I promised I’d stop posting the long, overly-detailed internal arguments I’m constantly having with myself about myself. Fiction is a better venue for that anyway, where at least we can all pretend that those arguments have a point, and that we can change as a result of them.

I’m trying. I really am. But it’s hard to shed the people we were.  As we get older, it  gets more complicated, as there are so many different versions of ourselves running around in our heads, including the best and the worst versions of us. As we get older, we see more of those edges of ourself. And we wonder which among those avatars, is the true reflection of who we are.

But that’s the wrong question. There is no one true version of ourselves. We are and always will be legion.

So we try to simplify – hoping to get at the root so as to kill the myriad weeds that keep emerging to choke us.

And the most we can hope for is to keep gathering data. Keep organizing it, looking for patterns of emotions, behaviors, reactions, so that we might try to change.

And perhaps that’s the only point of all of this – to understand that there is no end state, no nirvana of self that can be reached, where you will finally be happy and unhaunted.

I once asked someone I admired greatly if you achieve your dream, does the dreaming stop?

She told me it doesn’t. It just changes.

I was so afraid then. I was afraid of losing that sense of purpose. I was afraid of drifting, like I did for years during grad school before I decided to start writing again.

Drifting much like I am now. Unthethered, no longer in terms of what I wanted to do with  my life, but instead in terms of the person I want to be.

And so instead I’m trying to be okay with having no answers. With fighting tiny, ultimately pointless internal battles with myself in the hopes of achieving a state of happiness that’s as transient as everything ultimately is.

It’s a different tactic. And I suspect it will fail.

But one thing is certain: despite having been so many different things, there are pieces of those people we were that stick.

And I’ll always be a scientist at heart, so I’ll take all the data I can get.

Posted in Errata | 2 Comments