Monday, January 30, 2017

Living at One Minute to Midnight: A How-To Guide for the Whelmed

I haven't posted much of anything about politics, for a whole tiresome list of reasons. But I am foremost a student of humans and human emotions, and I'm seeing a *lot* of my favorite humans getting fried by the bug-zapper that is our news right now. So if you are feeling burnt and crispy, here is something to think about.

Whenever you are involved in something significantly larger than yourself - a club or group, a company, a family, a nation - it is essential to understand your role. If your job with your company is to get and keep clients, then that is what you do. You pay attention to marketing and budgets insofar as they touch your own work, but you don't stay up all night worrying about the 401ks. That's someone else's job.

The problem with the intersection of politics and social media is that nobody is handing you a clearly-defined role. And without that, it's easy to think you are supposed to do everything. Every outrage that comes across your virtual desk is somehow your responsibility. Every worthy call to action has to be acted on, every objectionable comment replied to, every feed fed. And that is too much, y'all. No wonder we are getting overwhelmed and dropping out.

But nobody is going to come over to your desk and dump half your virtual inbox in the trash on your behalf. You are going to have to decide for yourself what is and isn't your responsibility. Right now, I can see two ways of organizing your give-a-damns:

1. Filter by cause. Let's say you are all about minority rights, healthcare, and gun control. Those aren't just issues you have opinions about - they are the three hills you are willing to die on. So you go to the mat for *those causes specifically* - you call, you march, you research, you debate - and let everything else pass you by. Climate change is somebody else's job. Economic issues are somebody else's job. You are fighting in the Pacific theater, and you can not worry about Europe.

2. Filter by role. You know, a medic does not do the job of a sniper. If somebody needs some killing, don't call the medic. Conversely, the medic does not sign on to treat only a certain kind of soldier. They will use their specific skillset on *everyone* they can, to the absolute best of their ability. Maybe that's you. Maybe you have zero stomach for Facebook arguments, but you will gladly call your representatives and give them hell at the town hall meetings. Good! Appoint yourself the legislative muscle of the movement, and leave the diplomacy and debate to someone else. Or maybe you can't blow up phones and streets, but you are a rational, persuasive *boss*. Good! Be an outpost of reason and kindness here on the virtual frontier - help people understand each other, dig up the facts and figures that are getting buried under the hyperpartisan headlines, and add to the ranks of the thoughtful and enlightened. (God knows we need it.)

Regardless, y'all: it is essential, now more than ever, that we tap our individual talents and strengths, and trust our fellow-humans to do likewise. Don't do the things that hurt you. Don't let yourself get so tired and frazzled that you pass on the hurt to other people. This may be a war, but you are not the only soldier - and nothing proves that you have smart, sustainable passion for a cause like a list of ten other things you gave up to pursue it.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dia and the Dog Lady

The truth is, it has been a really shit week over here. I am just so tired and irritable and over-emotional and stressed about everything. Doubly so today, because today is the one-month mark for Dreams of the Eaten, and I haven't gotten my act together to do one single thing for it. No blog post or newsletter or nifty giveaway thing, no nothing. You would be forgiven for thinking I don't give a rip about my own book, for all I've done for and about it lately.

Turns out I didn't need to, because the party came to me. 

Kimberly Moravec, I don't know what possessed you to chisel out hours of your own over-full life to do this, but I love it desperately. It is beautiful - just monstrously, fantastically beautiful. Día and Mother Dog have never looked so good in my head as they do on your paper, and I have never been more clever than the day I did whatever it was that suckered you into being my friend.

Let's make a deal, y'all: if not-crying isn't in the cards right now, then we're just going to have to give each other something better to cry about.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Today's Mission: Renting Your Damns

Today's mission, should you choose to accept it: choose one item from your "things to feel guilty about" list and cross it off. Delete it. You are all done beating yourself up about that thing. You are more than absolved. You are officially Not Sorry, and all the rest of those woulda-coulda-shouldas cluttering up your headspace had better watch their miserable sorry step.

"No, you can't!" the remaining guiltlings will cry, squealing in chorus like a pack of mewling mice. "You have to feel bad about us!"

"I no longer give a damn," you will say. "I rent them."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Salute to the DFWWW

I haven't had time to do any kind of year-in-review post. I have less than no time to do anything at the moment. But I can't keep a lid on this part.

Whenever you work closely with someone, whenever you try something new (and ESPECIALLY when you are doing both in tandem), you are going to make some waves. And you are going to make some mistakes. I have inadvertently given some of my favorite people some really terrible heartburn over the past year. Realistically, it will probably happen again at some point. Synchronizing brain-waves and improving thoughtfulness-algorithms is a slow, trial-and-error process.
But I'm going to put it right here, today and in writing: DFW Writers' Workshop is my light, my heart, and my rocket-fueled reason for professional being. They are the bar-none best critique culture I've ever seen, and the ONLY reason any of the rest of the world gives even half of a rip about me or my work. Anything you like about me or what I do, I learned or perfected there. And when I get in trouble, it is usually because I am giving away DFWWW awesomesauce faster than we can make it.
So if you're a writer in DFW and you need a posse to help you go the distance - my god, have I got a deal for you. (It is right over here - - and I will proselytize on request. WITNESS ME.)

Better yet, witness THEM.
And to all my DFWWW posse, with double helpings for Brooke and Brian and Stephen and everybody else who's giving up their own writing time to keep the workshop working: thank you for firing me up, showing me off, and keeping me from burning the place down in my incandescent enthusiasm. I write by your light, and will do my best to serve you with mine.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Three Random Wishes

Three random wishes for a random Tuesday:

1. I wish I could make a living just helping out. Not selling services or whatever. I would just go and help the old lady clean out her garage, or spend an afternoon helping somebody fix up their first chapter, and rent would pay itself.*

2. I wish I had a manager. Somebody to do all the arranging and setup and coordinating and promoting, so I could spend my time actually doing the thing that I am actually good at.*
3. I wish I didn't like sugar.

*I think this is a huge part of the attraction of roleplaying games, by the way - Everquest and Warcraft and whatever the kids are playing now. We want so badly to live in a world that wants & rewards the things we're good at.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sharing the Work

Y'all. Realness. It is 9:15AM on January 1st, and I am used UP. I've had about twelve hours of sleep in the past three days, I'm still all raw and leaky from going serotonin supersaiyan yesterday, and there is a toxic, pit-of-my-stomach sickening amount of work waiting for me. I seriously do not know how it is all going to get done.

But if you are like me, and if today feels less like a fresh start than a really messy middle - take heart, y'all. Have courage, and some protein. Today is traditionally about resolving to do things better and differently, to make positive changes – but maybe it would also be healthy to make it a day of forgiving yourself and letting go of some old ambitions that don't fit right now.
Maybe you are not the person who will sit down and make that perfect Pinterest-worthy scrapbook of family memories. Wouldn't it feel good to put that project back in the water and let it float on downstream - give someone else a chance to find it and pick it up? Would it be enough to keep on taking the pictures, without feeling obliged to curate and arrange them?

Maybe you are not currently in a place to start a fantastic new eating plan and take up a gym habit, even though you really want to capture the traditional New Year's momentum to start getting down to a healthy weight. Would it be okay to return that vision to the ocean of possibilities and be ready to receive it again when it washes back up on shore? Is there a smaller, more sustainable way you can start doing a daily kindness for your body in the meantime?

Donald Maass said a really excellent thing at the Writer Unboxed conference I attended in November. It was the morning after the election, and a lot of us were feeling terribly raw and anxious. He said, "We have work to do – all of us. And we will do that work."

I've thought about that a lot in the past two months. And to me the operative word is "we". Sometimes it feels like we are stuffing our shirts with these work-stones, these task-eggs, until we're so overfull that two fall out for every one we bend over to pick up. We are the first and often only person we delegate to. We see a thing that needs to be done and automatically stoop to undertake it, without necessarily asking whether we are really the best person for the job. We take so much on ourselves, because we either don't trust or can't bring ourselves to impose upon the people around us. We hoard the eggs until they rot, not trusting our fellow-humans to keep from trampling them otherwise.

And I think we would be a whole lot happier if we got better at choosing and sorting our eggs. Some to keep and incubate ourselves - some to give away or trade with a neighbor - some to put back down on the ground and walk away from, trusting their place in the order of creation.

So before I load my nest with one more "I really seriously have to", I hereby resolve to ask:
1. Is this really, objectively a thing that needs to be done? Who will be hurt if it isn't done?
2. Am I the best person to do it? Who is better-equipped to tackle this?
3. Do I need to do it right now? What is the consequence if I put this away and re-examine it next week, next month, next year?

I would really like to get better at answering those questions - because if I weren't so busy trying to keep my own eggs from dropping or spoiling, I would have more time to help other people hatch theirs. That would free them up to help me and others too. We might expend just as much effort as we did before - but we could do it so much more joyfully. We could enjoy each other's company during the work we do together, and relish the special tasks we dive into alone.

The man is right, y'all. We have WORK to do. But more importantly, WE have work to do.

So if you've got as dauntingly long a row to hoe as we do, please make it your resolution to speak up: a mule and a plow can do wonderful things together – but first you have to get them the same side of the fence.