#Weeknotes S01 E04

I know this should be entry number 40something by now. What can I tell ya, it’s got a “4” in it at least.

You know how it is when you’re away from your blog for a while. You spend too much time thinking about how to make your next post something with a bang in it. But I have to give myself permission to just ramble if I feel like it. It is my fucking space after all.

It’s been a trying couple of months for me emotionally and as usual, I didn’t notice just how hard I get hit until the fog started to lift. You know, the fog of, “Wow, not only have you not made much writing progress for the past few weeks, you really haven’t felt much like making progress at all at… life in general.”

I could rehash it all but if you skip the #GhostHunters tweets on my feed, you can pretty much figure it out: sick feline family members, absent friends, new medication, etc. On top of that, I’ve got a couple of non-writing career-related irons in the fire–I feel like I’ve already jinxed them by saying even that much.

DAYJOB. As I write this, 2019’s Viable Paradise is happening right now. Also I have friends talking about World Fantasy Con next week. It’s a little bittersweet because if the irons I have in the fire right now pan out, I don’t know when I’ll be at an SFFH event or con again in the near future. So, I’ll either make some potentially career-altering moves in a positive direction at the (further) expense of my writing and involvement in the writing community or… well, maybe see you at Boskone or 4th Street Fantasy next year!

Yeah, as worst case scenarios go, I’m doing pretty well, I’d say.

WRITING PROGRESS. The longest Writing Chain I’ve had for the past couple of months hasn’t gone past 3 days at the best of times. I’m cutting myself some slack, though.

FEEDING MY EYES. I haven’t been doing much of that either until the past couple of weeks. Since then, I’ve added to my overlong reading queue:

  • ECHOES: THE SAGA ANTHOLOGY OF GHOST STORIES by Ellen Datlow (ed.) because as we all know, I’ll buy anything sight unseen with new M. Rickert in it.
  • FLY ALREADY by Etgar Keret, because what applies to Rickert applies to him, too.
  • THE ANTIDOTE: HAPPINESS FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T STAND POSITIVE THINKING by Oliver Burkeman
  • Tim Alberta’s, AMERICAN CARNAGE
  • Judith Hannan’s THE WRITE PRESCRIPTION, which I got after taking an impromptu writing workshop that referenced it.
  • Steven Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART — can’t remember where I got it in my head that I needed to read this. From the workshop maybe? It’s not in my notes, though. Oh well.

FEEDING MY EARS. Aside from the audiobook for John Waters’ MR. KNOW-IT-ALL: THE TARNISHED WISDOM OF A FILTH ELDER, I’m burning through the usual spate of podcasts on my commute to and from the dayjob. The thing that’s stuck out lately is Marc Maron’s WTF podcast interview with Rachel Maddow (which I think will expire after a bit if you’re not a subscriber). At about 1:09:10, they start talking about their experiences with depression and I’ll be damned if a lot of my internal self-talk sounds like what they say goes through their minds sometimes. Things like…

Anytime I’ve ever felt joy, I’ve been misled.

or,

Remember that nice thing I once said to you? I didn’t mean that. I was trying to be apologetic.

I swear, from now on I’m going to hear all my negative self talk in Maron’s and Maddow’s voices.

IN THE WILD. Happy Halloween, folks!

Viable Paradise XX (or, A Career Rebooted)

I haven’t fully processed my experience at the 2016 Viable Paradise Writing Workshop, a.k.a “VP20” or “VPXX” (Like a Chicago album!) as it was the workshop’s twentieth year. I traveled to Martha’s Vineyard from my patch of “10 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality”, survived the workshop including The Horror That Is Thursday, traveled back to NY and sat with a thousand-yard-stare on my face for about two days before heading to Columbus, OH (a place of bittersweet memories in my home state) for the World Fantasy Convention.

But I’ve pieced together some thoughts about my VP experience and here they are, in order of life-changing impact:

CONNECTION. The first face I saw when I disembarked from the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard was that of a VP staffer/alum who I’d met a few years prior at a Readercon and who remembered me. Seeing a familiar face, I thought, was an ideal way to head into the workshop. I’d figured that everyone I was going to meet that week was there for a single purpose so I’d have an instant in, socially. These were all thoughts borne out of anxiety. It was an unnecessary worry. I don’t think there’s another environment where I could’ve played “Thing” with total strangers by incorporating elements of my favorite episode of The Twilight Zone. These people got me, or got me enough that opening up was strangely easy. I can only hope I was the same way for some of them.

CRAFT. By a certain instructor’s own admission, you don’t get anything at Viable Paradise that you couldn’t get elsewhere. Anyone who’s even half-serious about the writing game can find small-scale professional workshops and critique groups just about anywhere, face-to-face and online. But what you get at Viable Paradise is all of that stuff, a lot faster. You know how once in a great while, as you plod along looking for writing wisdom on your own, you randomly come across a piece of advice that surges your writing forward, sort of like finding a needle of gold in a haystack full of bullshit? At VP, (a) there is no bullshit and (b) I personally found no less than three of those needles. I think everyone in my class got something. Some got what they wanted; some got what they needed.

PERSONAL CHALLENGE. There are classes, colloquia, group and one-on-one critiques, and Mandatory Fun. While those things alone are enough to wear anyone out, you can do these bare essentials and not lose a lot of sleep or (more importantly to me) introvert points. I decided, Fuck all that.

It may have been unwise of me to get four hours of sleep the night I got there just to go on the first of Uncle Jim’s 6 am walks to watch the sunrise. I went to one of the many off-book lunchtime sessions with a bowl of spaghetti in my hands. I made myself walk to see a harvest moon, luminescent jellyfish, and Methodist Munchkin Land when my mind and body begged me to just take some time and curl up under a blanket. I stayed up too late, and maybe drank more than I do in an average month. In fact, I don’t think I got more than 4.5 hours of sleep per night except the night before I left the island. No regrets.

Now, I am not telling anyone to disregard what they need for their mental, emotional, and physical health — there was even an off-book lecture on writer self-care (which I didn’t make). I am saying, with the usual YMMV caveats, that Viable Paradise is an opportunity to stretch yourself a little bit beyond your comfort levels in relative safety, and not just with writing. Taking advantage of as much as I could outside the workshop proper was a life lesson in deciding, in a calculated manner, to push myself just a little bit further. Something at which I’ve become a little rusty.

The Motto of Room 48

THE HORROR THAT IS THURSDAY. If you’re looking into Viable Paradise, you’ve no doubt come across this phrase by now. The legends are true. It’s a crucible. And when you come out the other side, you’ll sincerely believe you’ve created an abomination against literature. You’ll want to hide it. You might even consider killing it to spare it the pain of living what’s surely to be a short, bleak existence in a cruel, uncaring world.

But those options will be taken out of your hands. And when you and your classmates are forced to reckon with what you (and they) have produced, you’ll feel an odd sense of pride. It won’t make any sense. You won’t care that it doesn’t.

A PERSONAL TRUTH. My classmates will have their own individual takeaways. I speculate that some of those takeaways will be very personal. Mine definitely are. It’s been two weeks now and I’m still unraveling them.

But one thing became abundantly clear to me: My entire Viable Paradise experience — my one-on-one critiques, my group critique, the Horror That Is Thursday, every lost hour of sleep, every lost introvert point — and everything I got out of it is perfectly and unironically summed up by the ending of the film CIRCLE OF IRON:

And once I recovered from this realization, I was left with one thing…

A CAREER REBOOTED. I won’t give my litany of excuses for my stalled writing career. And I’m not saying that in a “Boo-hoo, poor me” kind of way. But it’s accurate to say, I lost some things along my path before losing the path altogether.

But after the general lessons I’ve learned about writing, some personal lessons about my writing in particular, and all the people I met (every classmate, every instructor, every staff member, no matter how many or how few words I spoke with each of them), I feel my writing career is back on track. I’ve looked my core problems in the face as well as some core solutions. From this point forward it’s “Put up or shut up,” with literally nothing standing in my way.

Chapter XLIII

Sorry I’m getting to this a day late, but it’s been a hectic couple of weeks. Chapter XLIII of my life began yesterday, and I’m hoping for some big things. I ended Chapter XLII with two major accomplishments: a promotion at the dayjob to a managerial position which not only gives me an office with a door I can close, but also the funds to attend the 2016 Viable Paradise writing workshop. That’s VP20, everyone! Or, is it VPXX? I’m partial to the latter myself, because it reminds me of a Chicago album.

Speaking of which, the song below is from Chicago XXXVI. With things to look forward to, I’ve been wondering if a new year requires a new attitude…

I think it’s time for you to lose that cynical suit, now.
You’ve worn it out and man, the jacket don’t fit you no more.
–Chicago, “Something’s Coming, I Know”

Let’s give it a shot…