Sunday, June 29, 2014

Do-overs

Being a writer has certain advantages. You get to hang out with the cool kids in the back of the bus. You get a sweet membership card, get to learn all the crazy hand-shakes and secret signals, acquire awesome tattoos full of rich mythology and symbolism. You get a secret road lying under the normal roads you can drive on with no speed limits--wait, no, that's the Stonecutters.

Actually, being a writer doesn't give you many advantages. You dress weird, you don't get out much. You hang out with weirdos, imaginary and otherwise. You talk to yourself way too often for normal society. Occasionally you smell funny, particularly when you're three hours out from a deadline and your engine has been running for days on strange cocktails comprised of 90% caffeine and 10% desperation.

But there are perks. Nearly unlimited do-overs, for one.

The French have a phrase, "L'esprit de l'escalier," which sums this up. It means "staircase wit" and it's that moment when you've just gotten your ass handed to in an argument, you've JUST made it to the stairs and you think of the perfect retort...which would have been great fifteen minutes ago. This is one of the few cases where the French word is catchier than the Yiddish one: trepverter? That sounds like some kind of kitchen gadget. "Hey, Marge, put the rest of those carrots in the trepverter. Don't forget to rinse the grubber yung. Thanks!"

There's also a German version, "treppenwitz", which--in a complete upset--doesn't sound sinister, like most German words tend to do. But the French one is the best. Like most everything in French it sounds vaguely adventurous, something you'd say while flipping a long silk scarf over one shoulder after kissing a heart-stoppingly-beautiful member of your preferred gender goodbye before embarking on a multi-continent adventure, possibly to unearth a hidden city of some sort.

Never mind that staircase-wit tends to deliver those words you usually wind up regretting if you ever utter them out loud to the intended target. Biting wit is almost never something you just want to unleash without careful consideration of all branching futures, particularly the ones involving you getting curb-stomped by angry thugs or having to live with the consequences of having mouthed off to much-more-vindictive-than-you older relatives.

But you always fantasize. You wish you'd uncorked the gem you've just cooked up on the way out of the argument, damn the consequences. In your mind, you imagine all onlookers giving you polite applause or you hear a soft ding as you level up. In reality, it's usually followed by stunned silence and maybe a pink slip followed by weeks of being shunned. Trust me on this one.

But as a writer, you can do that. Until you pull the pin on a draft and send it to the presses, you can do over, and over, and over, until you get it just so.

Case in point. Yesterday I hit a point in the story where I bulled through that day's word count. Just put in the miles, so to speak. The bit I was writing looked kinda cool on the outline, but in practice that morning it was just lay-over C on the way from Point A to Point B. Kinda like the Hoboken Station on the New Jersey Transit of my story.

I pulled the pin, having put in my six hundred words or so and got on with the morning. I had errands, some running around to do (literally, in my case--the day was far too beautiful to not go outside and get some exercise in). But the entire morning, it gnawed at me. The actual text didn't really match up to my expectations. I'd been looking forwards to writing that bit of the outline for weeks.

I worried at it like a rotten tooth, probing away endlessly at the strangeness with my tongue. Finally, I sat down and reread it. It wasn't bad. It wasn't great either. So I started tweaking. Redid half the dialogue. Made the character they encountered weirder. Tweaked the flow. Added a bit of foreshadowing. Gave the main character a slightly different internal monologue to bridge the beats. Completely recast the scene. Now it works much better. And I had more fun writing it.

I can't really think of any other endeavor where you have this kind of control over the output without wasting any sort of materials. You can't rebake a cake--you have to do it over from scratch. Painting? There's only so much paint you can slather over whatever you do before you have to get a fresh canvas. And there are no do-overs in sport, professional line-dancing or cliff-diving.

Writing's kinda cool that way. You can polish and polish and polish until what you write is scrubbed bone white and then release it to the public. Then you pretend it was no big thing, that this is what everything which comes out of your head is like.

Totals:  649, 681, 517, 820, 694, 663, 833. Not a bad week!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Monkey Puzzles

Back in the early nineties, White Wolf productions wrote a role-playing game called "Werewolf: the Apocalypse." White Wolf were the same folks who gave us that RPG about vampires which everybody seemed to play exclusively for about four solid years, starting from '92 until around '96, when everybody, even gamers, realized that clove cigarettes and trenchcoat-wearing katana-murderers were kind of silly. I think it resulted in a TV show which aired on Fox for a bit and spun off a few movies and video games. It was part of the whole literary movement beginning with Anne Rice and ending with our current glut of sexy vampire media.

The White Wolf vampire game was D&D playing dress-up, the sort of game you discovered right when you hit college and wanted to be cool enough to talk to girls, but not so cool that you gave up on ALL of your hobbies.

This was a long time before nerd culture infiltrated society in general. These days, finding women who are into nerd stuff like D&D isn't a big deal. They're everywhere, but back then you had to drape everything in black Ray-bans, punk rock references and pseudo-improv-theater-trappings to have a chance.

But I digress. White Wolf did this game called "Werewolf: the Apocalypse."

It was fundamentally silly. You played a bunch of werewolves who fought against the evil spirits who were attempting to undermine Mother Nature, as embodied by faceless corporations and whatnot. Think Captain Planet with big furry murder-engines and you get the idea.

It took itself oh-so-seriously. It expanded on the universe laid out in the Vampire game, added metaphysics, symbolism. History going back thousands of years. Proxy wars between shadowy not-gods and their minions. On paper, it looked great. In practice, the game was more for people who liked rolling buckets of dice and mowing through paper cut-out enemies. For all its talk of metaphysics, the game was mostly about elaborate ways to eviscerate things.

I only played it twice. The first time, I ran it for a friend back in high school. He played an enormous chihuahua who got his nuts shot off trying to stop corporate flunkies from dumping toxic waste in a swamp. The second time was years later, when my roommate and I spent hours rolling up characters to guest-play in a friend's Vampire campaign only to find out that he'd planned to kill us off all along just to show how powerful his villain was to the rest of his normal group (which included his girlfriend).

If you dig past the silliness and early 90's gamer faux-machismo, there was some pretty awesome stuff in there. One of my favorites was the section of magic items you could create if you were playing one of the more mystically-inclined furry murder-engines. It had the usual selection of magic weaponry and stuff. And then it had the monkey puzzle.

The monkey puzzle was something like a Rubik's Cube or one of those blacksmith toys you occasionally see in gift shops attached to national parks. It didn't exactly occupy the normal three dimensions we know and love. For non-mystically-inclined folk it was irresistibly appealing. A non-supernaturally-inclined human would just sit and fiddle with it for days, trying to figure it out, follow the knots and twists and whorls and eventually they'd starve to death in a puddle of their own waste and empty Doritos bags.

In other words, it was kind of like Minecraft.

It was the ultimate enigma. You could whittle away at it for hours without getting anywhere, because it was the physical embodiment of a Zen koan, something that just is, without logic or sense or inherent direction. Whenever I run across something in life that's something of a paradox or results in cognitive dissonance, I think of the monkey puzzle.

I find something that's so awful or so compelling that I can't engage with it directly. I just have to realize that the solution is to just shovel it into a corner, walk away slowly until it disappears from my mental radar. The alternative is to get roped into whatever paradox I've uncovered and be entrapped by it until I realize that I've spent the better part of the week obsessing over something completely stupid, like something awful a coworker did in a meeting, or the fact that one of your friends did something extraordinarily stupid with something you loaned to them, or whatever drama is currently eating your brain.

In my case, I just have to realize that these things are like the monkey puzzle: you can't engage them on their own terms, because it's a trap. It's the event horizon of a black hole--you can't even poke at it without getting sucked in. All you can do is back off, slowly, and move on with your life. Or start smoking clove cigarettes and wearing trench-coats again, because seriously, White Wolf, man.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Constant Failure

I live a pretty mediocre life by design.

I'm always failing at something: having fun, writing a book, saving money, wearing pants in public, remembering to buy milk, whatever.

Is there a verb similar to "winning" which is at an exact midpoint between "win" and "fail"? Because that's me.

If you were to corner me in the middle of the street and demand what's going great in my life, you're going to get a blank stare because I generally don't know what's great about what I'm currently doing. I could tell you exactly what's going wrong at any given moment. Great, however? Nope.

My life is a never-ending apocalypse.

I nearly pulled a muscle in my right shoulder doing some rows in the gym the other day. My weekly grocery expenses are slightly too high, which has eaten into my goal of stashing some extra money into my savings account this month. I only did, like, five hundred words yesterday and I'm not really enchanted with the current chapter of my book. I could be outside slightly more, enjoying more summer weather, but spent that time inside looking at pictures of cats on the internet and playing a video game I've come to hate. I don't run nearly enough. I need new socks. Did I remember to brush my teeth today?

I hardly ever stop and notice what I'm doing well--it's one big parade of things I'm fucking up or in danger of fucking up or I could just flat-out do better than how I'm currently doing. At any given point in my life, I'm screwing something up and it's kind of eating my brain.

And, in spite of what you might think, that's not a bad way to go through life.

Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that constant failure like this is kind of necessary. If I'm not pissed off, slightly, about something I've done or not done well enough, I'm probably not making progress because I'm not setting the bar very high.

If I've got a bug up my ass about some perceived failure, I jump back into the fray and start kicking ass again. It's just the way my brain works.

I once read an article from a strength expert...Bill Starr, I think...who said that you can categorize workouts as good, bad or mediocre. For ever day you have in the gym where you feel great and you kick ass seven days to Sunday, you'll have two which are completely awful and will cripple your will to live. For every completely awful workout, you have another three which are just plain hard work. You drag yourself to the gym, grind your way through your sets and then go home without much to point to to justify your time spent.

When you do the math, it works out to one good day, two bad days, six mediocre/soul-crushing days. That's only one day out of ten when you feel on your game, and nine other days when you feel like just calling it all all off.

Just about everything I do falls into that pattern, at least the worthwhile things. The short-term bad/dull days are a bit soul-crushing but I've had to learn to laugh them off and enjoy them as part of the challenge of the process. Chalk them off as paving stones on the road stepped over, time I've put in.

You have to learn to enjoy it a bit, that sense of constantly teetering on the verge of crushing failure, that feeling you get when you get up at the ass-crack of dawn, slouch over to the laptop and stare at a blank page and wonder what the hell you're going to fill it with.

Or that feeling you get when you make a bit of progress but walk away at the end of your daily input feeling maybe you could've done it a bit better, worked that extra five minutes. Dug a bit deeper for inspiration.

Because long-term, that shit matters, especially the bad days. If you wait for a good day, that one day in ten you feel on the ball, you're not going to get anywhere because that's ignoring the other ninety percent of your days.

When you look at it in the long-term, and I'm talking long-term in the sense of using math, objective tracking, whatever you do to measure progress in what you're doing...it all evens out. Or works out better than you might expect. Those bad days? Not as bad as you're thinking. The mediocre days? It's all progress and, in some cases, it might work way better than you thought they did. And the good days? Sometimes your good days are pretty lousy, work-wise.

You just don't know when you're in the thick of things. You just have to grind out the mileage.

Totals for this week:  527, 598, 692, 753, 561, 565, and 808. Not bad.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Stranger Than (Genre) Fiction?

Fiction has something of a zero sum element to it with regards to how much oddity a given audience can tolerate: you can have truly weird characters or you can have a strange setting, but not both, beyond a certain point.

Your audience will only sit for so much. Push them too far, they'll tip their collective hats to you and walk out. Thank you kindly, sir, but having that ridiculous character in a world where ghosts and leprechauns play canasta with cyborg sky whales? That's too damn much.

Or that's what my brain tells me. It's odd. My favorite characters I've written are largely in more mainstream-friendly forms. Stories what don't have wizards in them, basically.

I think my brain can only water so much lawn at the same time. Weird up one part of the lawn, the other part turns brown and crunchy. I'm not allowed to water over THERE because of genre, so I'll water the shit out of this part.

It's funny. Truth is way stranger than fiction. None of my friends would do well in a book about robots and unicorns. Readers would complain that they're too unbelievable, even though they just read a story about a battle between two sentient rainbow-gods and a badger commando squad.

I think it's because there's a dynamic at work here. When venturing into strange territory, you have to give the reader a place to pause and take a breath. A safe island, so to speak. You have a big and scary galaxy full of evil wizards and pirates, an enormous fully-operational battle station, then your hero needs to be a young man, fresh from the farm, so the audience can shelter themselves in his normality.

You have a Cohen story about a dozen or so fringe personalities, full of chaos and defections and insanity...Brad Pitt, playing a dimwitted jock, or George Clooney building a secret sex toy in his basement dungeon. Then, you should probably set it against a backdrop of relative normality, things the audience can contrast the movie against. Putting Burn After Reading's characters in Willy Wonka's factory wouldn't work. It'd be like wearing a camouflage prom dress to the hunter's ball: nothing would stand out. All the humor would be lost.

But that also works as a writer. The part of my brain which picks out bits and pieces of strange sorts of people I've known, all the professional wrestlers and ex-carnies and high-grade liars and weirdos...this part of my brain is also the part which engages when I have to conceive of a relatively-consistent fictional landscape. The more I put into a universe, the less mental space I have to create interesting people to put in it.

You can have all the strange events that you want, but there's a tendency to tone down characters when you do so.

I had a friend once, one of those people you itch to put into a book because no man like him should go unrecorded. We called him Hairy Bob With A Knife, because we knew many Bobs at that point, but he was the hairiest and he usually carried a big knife. Not out of any attempt to be cool or macho or anything like that. I think he simply found that having a knife at all times was useful, on a purely utilitarian basis.

He was about as much of a renaissance man as you could get: he could speed-read a book in two hours or less, giving you as much detail on what the book contained as you wanted afterwards. He was good at math, but could fix a car. He sang like an angel but could survive for a week in the wilderness with nothing but a piece of string, his favorite knife and a keenly-honed sense of sarcasm. He could quote Shakespeare. He regularly picked up dates from wrong phone calls. He was the originator of my favorite vacation plan: withdraw money from the bank, pick a random direction and then drive until half your money is gone. Then you drive back.

If you ever wondered what kind of a person would be a bard in a fantasy setting, Hairy Bob With A Knife was your man. Pretty good at just about everything, but not excellent at anything in particular.

I've been itching to write a character like him into a book, but stories are like rooms. If you crowd too many interesting people into them, sometimes you won't have room left for furniture.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fiction: Corpse-Reviver

Four weeks later and time for another piece of flash fiction.

Wendig's alcoholic flash fiction challenge: pick or roll from a list of twenty different cocktails. I came up with the Corpse-Reviver, a slightly-revolting sounding concoction of apple brandy, vermeuth and cognac.

So we've got Peoria, the LA Dodgers, the ultimate hangover remedy and a retelling of Hercules and the Garden of the Hesperides.

My default voice seems to be noir for these flash pieces. I think it's telling me that my next book should probably be something hard-boiled.

Edit: this week's word totals are...581, 552, 761, 545, 576, 786, and 1042. The danger, I think, of having a lowball number is some days you just pick the low-hanging fruit and call it good, particularly if it's a busy, slightly-exhausting week. At least it's progress.

Read: Corpse-Reviver

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Running Out Of Toilet Paper

The time: last night.

The place: the parking lot of my gym.

I'd just finished up an ersatz set of deadlifts, the sort of set you put in when it's not a serious amount of weight but you're unaccountably weak anyway. Blame it on bad eating, bad sleep, a hangnail, whatever it is, you just ain't got it today.

You yawn your way through these kinds of workouts, do just enough to hang a sign on the day which says "I was here", no more, no less. It's the sort of day which would cause any personal trainer to flip a mental coin: heads, give you a lecture on putting more intensity into your training. Tails...but they're glad you came in anyway.

The Berkey theory of boring consistency and all that. It'll take you miles. I gave the day my full 50%, called it good enough and went the fuck home.

Or tried.

I walked across the parking lot. It was raining. I got in my car, turned the key. Engine came to life. Can't shift out of park.

Huh.

Phone's out of juice. Luckily, I had my charger and the engine ran fine, at least. I plugged it in and since I'm a 21st century type of guy, pulled up Google.

Long story short: easy fix, just didn't have the parts. There was a way to get it temporarily working, but it was a little iffy and not something common sense told me I should do. There's a fine line between jury rigging and suicide.

After getting the gym owner's okay on potentially leaving the car there overnight, I called my friend, who is one of those sorts of friends who would help you dispose of bodies should you need such services, asked him for a lift home, which wasn't far, and got home.

Stared at the screen for fifteen minutes and then face-palmed, grabbed a screwdriver and got a lift back.

There was an easier and much less scary jury-rig to get my car on the road, see. It was also very obvious, if you're used to duct tape solutions. And that potentially saved me a towing fee and a fairly humiliating talk at the shop: "You do realize all you had to do was poke this screwdriver right into this hole, right?"

Was it a bad day? No.

I'm fond of days like this, actually. There's a bit of rush when you're caught with your pants down in the bathroom stall and you realize you're all out of toilet paper.* You find yourself thinking creatively in ways which tickle your primate brain.

You find yourself doing things like wiping yourself with a page from Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene (true story). Not my proudest literary moment, but I'd just finished a difficult passage and the allegory was beginning to get to me. And, to be fair, there was no TP in that stall. I felt justified and there wasn't anything else in my backpack that I was more pissed off at than that.

I get inordinately pleased with myself when I have to do something like this. For example, I could break into my last truck using nothing more than a dime, a quarter and a small stick. And a bit of contortionism. It came in handy more often than you'd think. I think my keys had some sort of cloaking device or ability to teleport from my pocket to the floor of the truck. It was occasionally awful and you could set a calendar by the regularity of the occurrence.

None of these situations are particularly macho. It's not like I'm living on a rubber raft out in the South Pacific for six months, subsisting on sea gulls for food and hydrating myself by sucking the juice from fish.

But handling an emergency in a way that's almost insultingly low tech makes you feel like Tarzan sometimes. It's great.

I can see why people occasionally just go out in the middle of nowhere with the most minimal of equipment. Not enough to actually do it, mind you, since I'm a big fan of regular showers and not eating bugs.

* I can't take credit for the toilet paper comparison. A few years back, there was a book of occasionally-dubious entrepeneurial advice centering on that situation as a metaphorical hook. It was interesting and probably useful for people willing to just burn their entire life down and give their all to an enterprise, but the advice was laughably extreme at times.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Process

I've been thinking about money this morning. Not much of a surprise, really. I tend to reserve Sundays for boring adult shit, and not of the exciting unrated variety. Chores, mostly. Make sure the numbers in my head which represent what I think my finances are doing match the numbers floating about in the luminiferous ether, and if they aren't, I update one or the other until there's some sort of concordance. I also do cleaning, minor repairs, whatever needs to be done. Get every annoyance I can think of which would distract me during my relatively busy work week done so I don't have it wrecking my limited free time.

Boring, yes.

This entry really isn't going to be about personal finance, though. It's more about goal setting and how people (including myself) tend to fuck up.

I tend to get hung up on numbers and specifics pretty easy. It takes x amount in y account to create z result in the future. I need to have component a, component b, component c lined up before end result d happens. I have a tendency to plan my life like it's a line of dominoes and, if any of the dominoes aren't squared away correctly or have screwed up proportions, I tend to think that things won't work out.

Specific goals are easy to envision. They're easy to plan for. They slot into spreadsheets great. I do this in all sorts of things, not just money. Writing, getting caught up on reading. Planning vacations. Projects of all shapes and sizes.

Thing is, it doesn't work. Yes, it pays to have specific goals to shoot for, but the universe is a squibbly jellyfish of a thing that defies any sort of poking. No matter what your plans are, they will come undone. That's life.

If it's not the inherently chaotic nature of things, it's that you really have no idea whether your specific goals are achievable or even what you'll need when you get there. You need goals in the same way a ship's navigator needs a compass, but it's only one small part of the picture. Goals change because life changes--nobody can tell the future. What's more important is process.

And that's where a lot of people fuck up. I'm using the royal plural here because I do it, too, constantly.

You invest too much in the end result without stopping to think about the things you need to do along the way. You want to write a book, but fail because nobody just sits down to write a book. You want to run a marathon because you're too hung up on the notion of running a marathon to realize just how much conditioning it takes to get there. You want to get rich but don't think about all the things that people who do get rich have to do every day to get there. You get the idea.

What's more important is to recognize you have a goal and then make daily habits which support that goal without...and here's the important thing...getting too hung up on the big picture.

One of my favorite books is Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective agency. It was the first in Douglas Adams' other awesome series of novels. Not as famous, or as popular, as the big one, but just as entertaining.

The titular character had a habit when he was stuck for ideas in a case, of just randomly following people who looked like they knew where they were going. Invariably, it would lead him to answers. Not always the ones he was looking for, but answers nonetheless.

It was part of his process, following the universal zen until he came to some sort of revelation and settled the case.

Whenever I try too hard to reach a specific goal, I think about Dirk. Yes, it's stupid. No, you probably don't want to swan your way through life without a set goal, but there's a certain value to the approach. As long as you have daily habits which will get you there, I think just approaching each day as it arises is a good way to go about things. Not stressful. Pick a direction, hold steady and then just let things sort themselves out without getting too sussed about life.

Seems like this week is going to be another short story week.  The novel is going extremely well. I'm right around the middle of Act II, at the tipping point. At this rate I should finish some time this century and then...I'll shelve it and start the next. Such is life.

Update: daily totals for this week's writing challenge...631, 612, 1192, 628, 627, 875, 768. So, decent progress. Not enormously half-assed.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Clarity

On one of the message boards I frequent occasionally, one of the posters decided a few days ago to poll the other forum members about moments of clarity they've had. Turning points in life, crossroads, big events, little stones of fate which precipitated avalanches, whatever. The big moments which make you Rethink Things, look at everything you do and and then make a change, and hopefully for the better.

There were some doozies there. Stories of road trips gone bad. Girlfriends who'd taken everything but the toothbrush and the dog. Lessons learned from grizzled old folk in dusty towns in Nebraska, high tales of adventure and the like.

I may be making some of that up. I've been running a bit short on sleep again and I'm having trouble distinguishing dreams from reality. Isn't that right, Mr. Toad?

Anywho.

I started to think about my own. All the little or big decisions I've made which have altered the course of my life over the last, say, ten or fifteen years. Giving up most of my drinking, exercising regularly, learning personal finance. They've all spun off of various events, some little, some big.

The keystone for most of them, though, the granddaddy of them all was one Sunday morning when I found myself standing in front of my bedroom closet thinking to myself: "What the hell is all this shit?"

That's the first step which sent me down my current path of minimalism. I cleaned out my bedroom closet. Wound up tossing, donating, selling, recycling or just flat out giving away about half the stuff in there. Then I went and did the living room closet. And I kept doing it, over and over, until I found myself with a fraction of the things I've once had. It was hard.

The spark behind it all is a bit of a story.

I grew up poor—dirt poor—in a part of the country which isn't exactly known for riches. We did well, but money was never great and I lived far enough from my neighbors or nearby towns that I tended to hoard entertainment like we hoarded anything else useful back in those days: up until I was about thirty, I never, ever, sold or gave away a book. I'd even be careful lending books to people, as if a book were something more than a collection of words on crushed and treated wood.

Times were tight and if you had something like a book, you read and reread it because you never knew if you'd get another in the next few weeks. A trip to the library was like a pilgrimage to Mecca. It only happened rarely and was something you anticipated for weeks in advance and thought about for weeks afterward. When we finally got a VCR, we mostly used it to record and store movies which aired on TV. We had walls of carefully labelled videotapes, eventually boxes of them.

I took some of that attitude with me when I left home, went to college, found myself a real job. I'd hoard media: books, movies, and the like. Non-media things would stay as well. Old clothing. Things from childhood. Things passed down from my parents. I had mementos from dozens of places, detritus from years of life. Appliances and electronics. Computer stuff. None of it was trash, exactly, but very little of it was useful or indeed usable.

My apartment was becoming too small to hold all the things.

There came a time when some Shit Almost Went Down at work. I can't be particularly specific about what it was, even now, only to say that if it panned out the way I feared it would pan out, it would have meant job losses and terrible shake-ups. It was years ago, very few of the people involved are around still, a few of the people who knew what was happening are now dead. Perhaps in a few years, it'll be another story to tell, but let's just say that I lost about four months of sleep.

At that time, I knew very little about personal finance. I was years out from paying off my loans. My apartment was crowded with stuff to the point where I was thinking about buying a house (with what money, I have no idea) or moving to a bigger apartment to hold all my things.

I'd been caught with my pants down and I didn't even know enough about money to realize why.

The threat eventually passed. Everything began to slide back into normality. One Sunday morning, fresh from paying off my bills and in a particularly bad mood, I stood in front of my closet and I opened the door and I began to pull boxes out.

I was in a fey mood, like a stranger had possessed me. I felt like I'd kicked over a rock in a field somewhere and watched earwigs scatter every which way.

I opened all the boxes, looked at the contents with fresh eyes. It was one of those moments when a spotlight just flashed on in the back of my brain and I could see one thing in fine detail: this was all crap.

I had boxes full of fifth grade homework. Computer components which were eight years out of date. Utensils from my grandparents which I'd never use. What bachelor needs a spice rack with kittens painted on it? I had one of those. I had broken VCR's I'd never gotten rid of. Clothing I'll never fit back into because I'd have to lose fifty pounds of muscle to do so. Clothing that was musty, old, twelve years out of date. I had a box of rocks. Were they special rocks? NO.

It all went. Brutally, mercilessly and without pity or consideration of nostalgia. I cleaned and sorted and repacked until I could actually stand inside that closet.

Then I did the living room closet. And every six months since then or whenever I'm feeling stressed out, I sweep through my things and get rid of stuff I no longer need.

And as I did that, life went on. I paid off my loans quickly since I had a better clarity of vision. Not great, definitely not by my current standards, but I'd seen what kind of person I could be when I let myself wallow and I knew I could do better.

I started reading about money, learned to clean and organize. I sorted out quite a few things in my life. Gave up all sorts of bad habits which were weighing me down. Those are all different blog posts, however.

And whenever some similar (but not as severe) Shit happens at work these days, I think back to that Sunday morning when I realized that the stuff you own can be a terrible anchor which drags you down if you let it.

I think about all the things which spun off from that—learning about Fuck-You Money, emergency savings, killing debt, making plans Just In Case. Getting in shape physically and mentally. And it all came from one sunny morning when I threw open the doors.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Power Of Shame

Behold the power of shame!

As it turns out 500 words is just enough to shame me into writing, but not enough to make it onerous.

Five hundred words ain't much, folks, but it's enough to get a toe-hold for the day. It's so miniscule that I could, if I wanted to, pound out something with about fifteen minutes of effort. No matter how lazy I am, no matter how far in the dumps, or if I'm buried in a roach-infested junk heap of apathy or if I've convinced myself I'm way too busy to write...I can always find time to puff out five hundred measly words.

Five hundred words is nothing, too simple even to be a consideration...which makes it a perfect goal. As it turns out it's just enough to get the wheels turning. By the time I get through it, I usually can coast on for a ways more on simple inertia.

If writing just ain't happening that day, then it's enough to figure that out, too, and bail in favor of whatever gripping alternative my brain tells me I should be doing. Like stacking paper cups or organizing my stamp collection.

It's enough to bang out one chapter section (which I've taken to calling badonks for some reason), a scene or a cluster of related beats. Five hundred per day, at the bare minimum, is about a chapter per week, more or less. At the end of the 100 days, that'll be fifty large worth of words, enough to finish the novel with interest and start the next.

I have a good feeling about this resolution/challenge. It's not quite as crazy as the story per week one, but it has some of the same feel. Apparently, I don't do well when I don't have at least a modicum of public accountability with my writing, even if the only people who notice are Russian spam-bots and various webcrawlers. I can just imagine spacing out on the daily quota and getting a sternly-worded email in my inbox from some guy named Yuri chastising me on missing my goal. The horror.

Of course, three days in probably isn't worth a victory dance just yet. It would be like spiking the ball and doing your own specially choreographed shuffle while you're still on the 25 yard line. Or pulling your rally car over and taking a nap halfway through the course.

But I needed some kind of twist to get me back on track--the last month or two have had something of a doldrums feel. The winter wore down my resolve and I needed something kick me into summer, which always puts me in better spirits.

Progress started out non-existent last week, due to the vacation, for exactly the reasons I mentioned before. There was a late rally, which pushed me through a tedious bit in the chapter and now I'm pressing on into new territory. Good times.

The speed bump I was slogging through was integrating material from a previous draft into the current draft. I don't particularly enjoy covering old territory again, but it was good enough that I'd be stupid not to reuse it.

Totals for this week: 959, 720, 534.