Art! (And Friends)

So, I think I’ve written previously about my total and complete lack of art skill. It’s not just that I can’t draw, or paint, or otherwise produce visual art. I’m also not great at envisioning it. I can imagine a scenario in a story, or characters, or abstract symbols. But creating something visually interesting and artistically coherent is just not my strength. At all.

But I love art. I love to have color around me, and images of things that make me feel. I have collected figures and pieces from every place I’ve ever traveled or lived, and I love being able to look at them or pick them up and remember what the air tasted like, or how the birds sounded, or what I learned while there. And I love art that is unconventional, art that means something to me but others would find stupid. It’s like an in-joke with myself.

The house used to be filled with art, a picture or a hanging or a carved statue every 3 feet. We kept all of it, because it all had meaning, but moving to a smaller place meant rethinking how we deal with it. Also, while you absolutely can just line the wall with paintings, it’s much more effective visually when you cluster them together in a collection.

So, on Saturday, after 6ish hours of meetings for CONvergence, a couple of friends came over to help us do just that.

Here is the result:

Can I just say? MY FRIENDS ARE AMAZING. For so many reasons. But in this case…I mean, just look at it! It’s beautiful!

I keep walking into the room and just STARING.

I love everything about it. I love the shape, I love the balance, the colors, the way not all the frames have to be black to look like they belong. I love having all the disparate pieces that add up to who I am (and who Sarah is — it’s hers too!) put together like this. And this is just one collage of the three we did!

Moving left to right, we start off with a picture of Princess Mononoke. Beautiful art we bought at CONvergence two years ago from the artist, along with the picture of Nausicaa at the other end. Next in is the newly framed picture of our art print from Beth Kinderman’s album, which arrived just in time to take its rightful place amidst the beauty. Below that is my signed picture (that I bought, did not get in person, SIGH) by the voice cast from the 2012 TMNT. I like everybody, but, let’s be honest, IT IS ALL ABOUT ROB PAULSEN VOICING DONATELLO.

Ahem.

Starting above Beth’s art are a matched pair bought at the same 2017 CONvergence from a different artist; they happen to be characters in a series she puts out, but they also pretty much stand in for Sarah and I (I’m the tiger and she is the hawk). Next to them is the framed Morpho butterfly which was a gift from a friend after I saw them in person when we were in Ecuador in 2009 and proceeded to have a series of life-changing realizations about myself.

Then we have the two big ones, the centerpiece of everything. These we also bought in Ecuador from the artist. They represent the sun god and the moon goddess and they are. Just. Perfect.

(Even if the matting in the frames is giving way — we intend to get that fixed eventually.)

Those two used to hang over our fireplace in the house, so I’ve pretty much been staring at them nonstop for a decade, and I have yet to get tired of them, of the colors, of the symbols. They’re made with banana leaves and recycled paper, if I remember correctly, and the texture is really neat up close, too. Even after all this time, they still speak to me.

Anyway.

Below the moon goddess is a set of three which goes back to 2008 in one of the apartments. All three were found online somewhere (probably a long-dead Deviantart site) and meant to represent the three of us then living together — Sarah, me, and another friend. It was our promise that we would be a home and a refuge for one another, no matter what life threw our way. The friend lived with us for a long time, even in the house for a while, and now lives just across the river from our condo. But for 11 years, we have still be home base for him and for others.

The condo really couldn’t be home if it wasn’t home for more than just Sarah and I.

Left of those is my signed picture of Leonard Nimoy as Spock. It was in one of the last batches he ever signed before he passed away, and I was lucky enough to buy it from his website just in time. That was when he was also offering to be a surrogate father or grandfather for people as well, and I got in on that, too. He also sent a free gift when he sent the picture, which I have perma-loaned to my biggest Trekkie friend so she has something of him in her house as well. I miss him in the world and his wisdom and wonderful humor, but I’m so glad to have this piece of a person who helped define me as a nerd when I was sneakily watching TV long after my parents had gone to bed.

Above is my big TMNT print, also bought at CONvergence in 2017 but not by me. That was a gift from a friend who saw it and thought I would love it. I pretty much broke down and cried when he gave it to me. I didn’t even SEE IT when I was looking for art, and it just…I…IT TURTLES OKAY!!!

Above the turtles are a pair of wolves Sarah bought for herself, also from the artist at CONvergence, but back in 2013. She says they don’t have specific meaning to her other than the fact that she also strongly identifies with wolves, but I look at them and I see her reflected too.

(Which is not to say that the rest of the art is “mine.” It’s VERY MUCH MUTUALLY SHARED. But some things, like the butterfly or Leonard Nimoy, speak more to me. These wolves speak more to her. Mostly, though, it’s both of us.)

And lastly is Nausicaa, so we have Miyazaki on either side.

It makes me SO HAPPY to have this. To see these things brought together intentionally and beautifully, a space made for all of it. And doubly, triply so because I could never have fashioned this layout on my own. I needed my friends for that.

But I never could have fashioned myself alone, either, so it all works out.

There’s more art to hang, but this will be the centerpiece of it all, and very rightly so. After all, this is who lives here, feelings and experience and knowledge of self all wrapped in one.

And also nerdity and fandom.

Because, well. What else would you expect, really?

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Nothing to Prove

I spent the long weekend catching up on sleep, playing an impromptu game of volleyball with about a third of my Operations leadership, and continuing to turn the condo into home. I also started swimming again, and I’m up to 500+m of swimming in a session, which is a good start.

Which also means I’m very tired and my brain is all over the place.

Therefore, I just leave you with this. I love this song, and what it stands for, and everybody who contributed to it.

And also — the Doubleclicks are coming to CONvergence 2019! So if you want to see them live, be in Minneapolis in July!

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The Hero’s Journey

“so walk your path in your own shoes
send off what you stand to lose
cause you can let it be
or let your destiny
become the one you choose”

These lyrics are by my dear friend and acquired sister Beth. They come from the first track of her newest album, The Hero’s Journey.

And now I’m going to tell you why this album is FUCKING EPIC and you need it in your life.

The concept of the hero’s journey as written by Joseph Campbell was the original inspiration when Beth began on this journey of her own more than a decade ago. It’s a structure more than a trope, a monomyth that underpins so many, many,many stories in our culture. You can tell the story of Jesus, Ahab, Jane Eyre, Frodo, the last unicorn, Spock, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter, and a gazillion others under this model. Roughly, it’s been illustrated this way (thanks Wikipedia):

It’s a natural subject for an album, especially for someone so deeply embedded in music and filk culture as my friend Beth. But Beth’s perspective is always unique and I find it no less so this time than I have on any other song project.

(Look here for Beth’s rewrite of Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” No, seriously. And look at the lyrics. When you finish laughing your ass off, you’ll thank me.)

I’ve known Beth for more than a decade as well. We started as friends of friends — I was pulled into her group by a then-roommate who was regularly at her place for roleplaying on Sundays. Before long, I became a fixture at their table, and those Sundays were my escape from everything. Then I became a player in Beth’s game, and there was pretty much no going back from there. The people at Beth’s table became my friends, and ultimately many of them became family.

Sarah and I had tried doing music in the cities a tiny bit before we met Beth, including one hilariously disastrous Christian music competition (spoiler alert: being married kinda played against us). But we really didn’t know anybody, didn’t know where to perform, didn’t have any contacts or anything. One night, though, Sarah came up with me and we jammed with our guitars with Beth for a while, and she thought we might have something worth sharing. Not long after, we played our first gig at a bar.

(The only people who showed up were our friends and Beth’s band. But that was our biggest audience outside of a dorm room so we were more than pleased.)

For a few years, Sarah and I did some light gigging around the Twin Cities. We didn’t really seek it out for ourselves — but if Beth was performing with her band somewhere, a lot of times we could sign up to open for them. It was fun. Her bandmates are fantastic, and as often as not, they’d end up on stage with us jumping in to back us up.

Then, in 2010, Beth was performing at CONvergence but her usual backup singer couldn’t be there and she asked me to step in. Singing with the full band was amazing, but I got a lot more that night than a neat experience rocking out with Beth and the Player Characters. That was the night I spent at my first CONvergence, and when I crawled home at 3am, I woke Sarah up to tell her that I had just discovered our community and we needed to go to it the following year.

So, really, everything that’s come since then for me and CONvergence can be traced back to Beth.

In 2012, Beth and Dave (her producer, engineer, and originator of all the weird guitar noises) helped Sarah and I put together a 4-track album of our own. We only ever sold about 5 copies, but the experience was great for us regardless. And it meant we were a lot more prepared when we started performing at CONvergence ourselves.

But all the while, as Sarah and I figured out our style, and what sort of performance schedule worked for us, and what songs we could share versus which ones we kept for ourselves, Beth was working her way through this album.

Beth’s songs always seem to speak to a part of myself that I don’t always remember to listen for. She does things with music that would never occur to me. (Dave calls it the “key of Beth” and Sarah and I have to agree. It’s that thing where a level of mastery means you can break all the rules; Beth just does it naturally. It’s amazing.) She can hear combinations, melody lines, arrangements that my brain just can’t grasp. But she also writes lyrics that are so strong, so beautifully crafted. What she does putting language together to create meaning always leaves me in awe.

Like the hero in her album, Beth’s made her choice to walk this journey, but she does not come to it empty-handed. She’s not the plucky hero who has nothing going for her but a quip and dumb luck. She embarked on this journey well-supplied with talent and experience and allies and clarity in her eyes.

As an author, the hero’s journey is an important motif — knowing it, knowing when to invoke it, knowing when NOT to invoke it, these all help me create narrative. But I use it as a tool. I don’t think I could have done what Beth did here. She didn’t just tell a story. She turned the journey into an emotional one.

Not without help — the Player Characters really outdid themselves on this album. I will never get tired of listening to what they can create when they unleash their massive talents.

But anyway.

I’ll admit it. I am more often than I am happy with thoroughly intimidated by Beth and what she can do as a musician. Her style, her skill, her raw talent, her lyrics, her drive — there’s really no part of me that feels I could ever do what she does even remotely as well. But then Beth invites me to sing on her album, and all my feelings go WOOOOOOSH.

Sarah and I both sang on this one. We’ve sung on others, too, but this one was so much more. It was a project that was close to Beth’s heart and soul, and it was a project we watched eagerly when Dave gave us access to the files, because we could feel what it was becoming. The chance to be a part of this journey, well. There was no way we wouldn’t happily sign on to be a couple of side characters for a few steps of the quest.

You’ll hear us singing backup in a few places, but the ones that had the greatest impact are the Crossing the First / Crossing the Return Threshold songs. They’re some of the finest and most well-crafted pagan invocations of the elements and directions I’ve heard put down, and we got to be part of them. Sarah sings for Fire, and I sing for Earth. And when I think about standing in the studio next to Sarah and Beth, putting these verses together, I am humbled by the trust Beth put in me to sing this all-important set of tracks with her.

There is nothing easy or simple about letting someone else into what you hold dear and giving them the chance to ruin it. And I wouldn’t ruin it, if I could help it. But there was always the possibility that what I would contribute would not be right, would not be enough, would not fit. (Between Sarah and I, I am the one who is super lousy at harmonizing, and I have to really, really work at it to get something respectable together.) But Beth didn’t worry about that. She trusted me, and she invited me into her heart to get this project done.

Besides the music — and, believe me, the music is enough ALL ON ITS OWN — there is also some absolutely, positively stunning art. The artist made art for all 17 of the songs. They’re very difficult to describe. But they…I mean, they just LOOK like how the songs sound.

Talk about fanart. That is just the ULTIMATE in fanart.

So. Now that I’ve gushed at length about Beth, and her art.

Why did I want to put this in today’s blog?

Well, first. Because the album is out, and I have one, and I love it, and you will love it!

Second, because wayyyy back when I began blogging in the first place, I had always intended to spotlight people who were making things, people who deserved an extra boost of attention. Not that I have a wildly robust readership here, honestly. But if I have a thing, I share it, regardless of how big or awesome it is. I have this small blog, and this small audience, and if that’s all I can offer to a person who has been friend and sister and supporter and source of wisdom and kindness and help, well, then that’s what I’m going to do!

But third?

Last week I wrote about my own writing and inspiration, about the relationship between me and those who contribute to my creative process.

Beth is one of the most supportive people in my life when it comes to my own art. She has always helped Sarah and I with music, has believed in us, has offered us opportunities to perform or grow or learn. But she also can understand my investment in fanfic, can ask me about writing and genuinely care how I feel about it. We approach writing differently, but she has never been far from my list of trusted people I could talk to about stories.

What people do on AO3 with comments, on Twitter/Tumblr with fanart, Beth has done for me in person for the better part of a decade.

I don’t talk about my friends, my family, my Clan very often. Many or most of them are private, and I try to respect that. I don’t give many real names, nor links to ways to reach them. (Sarah is different; she’s always up on YouTube with me.) But promoting Beth, spreading her music and her message and her talent as far as I can is not an invasion or an unwelcome peek into her life on the interwebz. I have her enthusiastic consent to make known to however-many people read this thing how awesome she is and how you should buy her CDs.

While writing this blog (and also working), I’ve had the album on repeat. And I finish writing it feeling like that first time I’ve stepped into a new situation, a new place, a new adventure, and I’m breathing in that new wind and looking up at the new sky, and I am ready to start walking.

She actually captured that feeling for me, that feeling of taking a journey, of stepping into one’s best and truest self, and thereby finding the way home.

“so I’ll depart for more adventures
but know they’re only for a while
though my journey goes on, I am anchored
I’ll come back knowing I am free

I am awake
I am awake
I am awake
I have always been awake.”

My journey as an author is my own. My journey as a musician is bound always to Sarah. But Beth has been there for all of it for a decade. And now that I get to experience her own version of that journey, feeling what she has felt and hearing her heart in her words, all I can do is grin and feel my own heart soaring in return.

I put a lot of music in this blog. Rarely does the music mean as much as this does.

Beth let me step on her journey for a bit, and I am the better for it.

Go listen to it, go buy it. You’ll be better, too.

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HarmCon! And not quite a year late!

So, thanks to a friend with strong Google-fu, and some free software, I was actually able to get our video from HarmCon in 2017 into shape for YouTube! Truly, better late than never. Right?

Right?

We were joined on many of the songs by our friend and fellow nerd Dave Stagner, who always finds a way to make our music a hundred times better. The set list for this particular show turned out to be a mix of 3 covers, 2 of our original songs, and 8 parodies. We got a lot of laughs and commentary on the parodies, though you have to listen closely to get it all. I’m listing the songs for you here, in case you want to know:

Warrior (by the Wyrd Sisters, joined by Marina Krinsky)
Secure Yourself (by the Indigo Girls)
Phoenix Rise
Fearless (by Kat Perkins)
Sunfire/Breathless
Parody of Babylon 5 based on “Angles from Montgomery” = Aliens from Babylon
Parody of Stargate: SG1 based on: “Brown-Eyed Girl” = Brown-Eyed Goa’uld
Parody of ET based on “All By Myself” = All By My Kite
Parody of The Fifth Element based on “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” = Hit it With My Four Stones
Parody of Transformers based on “Hand in My Pocket” = Hand In Its Socket
Parody of Signs based on “The Water Is Wide” = Water, Water Everywhere and OMG It Burns
Parody of Star Trek based on “Take Me Home, Country Roads” = Insert Noun Here
Parody of Toy Story based on “Man of Constant Sorrow” = Toy of Constant Sorrow

We’re finalizing this year’s set now, to be performed a week from Friday. And now that I have new and exciting technology, I’m hoping it’s easier to get the video up sooner.

I was chatting back and forth with some of the CVG folks on Slack and a point came up about how hard it is to be creative with all the awful that’s going on in the world. What I said was this —

The shit part just leaks into everything though, doesn’t it? I’m working on my set for HarmCon and I keep looking at our songs and thinking “can we really laugh about gaming and Star Wars when insert-horrific-reality-here is going on?” And I have to keep telling myself that yes, we can and we must laugh. We can’t keep fighting for humanity, for dignity, for equality, for justice, for compassion, if we lose track of ourselves. You can’t beat back the dark without a light, and sometimes that light isn’t righteous anger, but the relief of taking one day off.

It was true last year in the summer of 2017 and it’s certainly true now. CONvergence in general has been something for me to look forward to, something for me to give time and energy and positivity when even the brightest day seemed dark. And it is silly to sing about gaming stories (we have some outrageous ones in the set and nerd jokes), but it’s also necessary. Just as it’s necessary to stop and breathe and rest between the waves of a struggle.

Not by accident, I think, this year’s set is more heavily weighted towards “our” stuff, and fewer parodies. At least for now. In a week, it might have grown a few more parodies. They’re sneaky like that.

Anyway.

Sarah and I named Candles Enough for the idea that between us, we have enough light to get us through dark times. Sometimes, that light is giggling. Sometimes it’s steady courage. Sometimes it’s just pure silliness. Sometimes it’s tried and tested in fire. But that’s who we are. That’s what we do. And this year, as much as we all need to laugh, we also need to be that boost of hope and truth. So “Jagged” is back this year, and so is “Trial by Fire” — along with new stuff written more recently.

If we can be that one candle in the dark for someone who needs it, then it’s all been worth it.

I think there’s only 4 or 5 people who ever consistently read this blog, and half of you will be at CVG this year. We can’t wait to show you what happens when you put out an open call for people’s ridiculous, silly stories. But for those of you who aren’t (yet) part of the CVG family, here’s a sample of what you’re missing.

It’s a MILLIONTH of what is good about CVG, of course. This is just our tiny, musical corner of it.

(P.S. You will NOT hear from me for at least 2 weeks. Next week and the week after will be my time to dive completely and totally, heart and soul and body and lack-of-sleep, into CONvergence. I’ll try to emerge with stories. Join us vicariously on Twitter, though. #CVG2018 is a good way to experience the fun from afar!)

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Rolling blackouts ahead, and wisdom from a Minnesotan native

So…yeah, things are really busy.  I have something like 5 evenings of meetings in a row this week, and more next week.  And then it will be CONvergence!

The blog might go a little fallow in the meantime.  Not that, you know, it makes a HUGE difference given my, uh, small but mighty readership.  I’m better about Twitter these days because I can put stuff on it from my phone.

But I’m here.  And I’ll be here afterwards, too.  Possibly with the whole story of why this year is trying so hard to break our community and how, exactly, we’re keeping that from happening.

If you do happen to be in the MN area the weekend after the 4th of July, come come hang out with us at HarmCon on Friday, 11am at CONvergence.  Hopefully we’ll record it this year, too, but no promises on when I put the stuff on YouTube. We do have several new songs, though. Including one crowd-sourced parody.

Not even kidding.

Also, crowd-sourcing is a FANTASTIC way to get hilarious gaming stories.  Just sayin’.

So if I drop off the map again, I’m sorry in advance.  I’ll be back, though. In my own time and my own way, probably, but without fail.

In the meantime, I hope your summer is treating you as well as can be expected.  The world is tough for a lot of us right now. For a lot of different reasons.

So take your lesson from this week’s viral adventure.

Make like the MPR Raccoon.

Keep climbing and never give up.  Rest when you have to, and know that it’s okay to be scared.  We’re all afraid of the fall.

But we were born for this climb.  Every one of us.

No matter what specifically your climb is, you can do this.

Climb on, my friends.  Climb on.

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Sense8

CVG season is heating up, and most of the time I’m not running around getting a million things done and sometimes wanting to throw a cupboard-worth of plates at walls is being spent aggressively taking time for myself to balance the chaos.  This has led me to binge-watching a few new shows to keep my mind and heart occupied and chill when the world around me is descending into near madness.

When it’s all over, maybe I’ll do a post about what the actual FUCK has been going on this year.

Anyway, in the meantime, Sarah and I have chewed through the TV series Sense8.

WHICH IS AMAZING.

NO, SERIOUSLY.

Sense8 was created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski.  So, first of all, GODSDAMN THAT IS A PEDIGREE. Storytelling and representation, HERE WE GO.  It’s about a group of 8 total strangers from all over the world who find out they are linked in a “cluster” — a sharing of minds beyond telepathy and going right down to being able to step into one another when needed.  So, if one is being beat up by some bullies, the combat master can take his place in his body and defend herself. It also leads to amazing and hilarious interludes of others in the cluster popping up and having opinions where, really, they might not have been needed.

The cinematography is fucking magical, and the storytelling is superb.

Oh, and representation?  YES.

Eight very different people, four men and four women which include people of color, LGBT people, people from 7 different nations, different economic backgrounds, educational experiences, etc.  And there is intersectionality represented as well. The fluidity of the representation of identity politics really drives the central idea that we, as a people, are more alike than we are different.  That humanity is humanity.

During some truly hectic days, when sometimes my life felt too big and too hard, it was a wonderful escape to settle in and see how it would be to be living  my life and seven other lives at the same time.

I had to hide a lot because I can’t watch needles even on TV without fainting and there’s a good amount of needle-sticking that goes on.  And because of a particular interest in sex across the cluster, there wasn’t really a good representation of aexuality or gray-A characteristics, which I would have liked to see.

But overall?  Absolutely, positively worth your time.  This series made SARAH cry. REPEATEDLY. And NOTHING does that.

Also?  I loved J. Michael Straczynski from Babylon 5.  That love was very much returned with Sense8. The man is just outstanding.

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New Shows and Me

So, apparently my new MO when it comes to television is to stumble upon shows either at the end of their run or after their run has concluded.  I got into Leverage 3 years after it’s last season, for example. The problem has compounded itself with Netflix where the last 3 series I started ALL had their conclusion planned for within 10 days of when I began them.  It was not intentional, and I’m certainly not cursing any shows because apparently all those conclusions were announced long before I started but…I guess I just have weird timing.

Anyway.

The TV show that I really didn’t intend to love and now really do is NCIS: Los Angeles.  Absolutely, positively NOT the original NCIS — I find one of the characters on it completely unwatchable.  But NCIS:LA works for me.

It has a Hetty.

Hetty Lange, played brilliantly by Linda Hunt, who is a PHENOMENAL actress, is a tried and true Cold Warrior, a spy who played the games of the Cold War, has stories and contacts all over the world, and basically became a legend and a terror to her enemies in the days of spy games.  Now she runs a team in LA and offers them tea, sage advice, and fierce backup.

The whole show is delightfully written, well-acted, and generally accurate in its portrayal of human intelligence tradecraft (the hacking stuff is ridiculous because of course it is).  But I pretty much watched 1 episode and fell completely in love with Operations Manager and all-around badass Hetty Lange.

Here’s 48 seconds to show you why:

I’ll probably geek out at you another day when I complete the fic story inspired by this series, but for now, I highly recommend this one.  As procedurals go, it’s better than most. As portrayals of national security and tradecraft go, it’s way better. (Also, let’s just note that this is a show where one of the main characters actively thwarting terrorism is himself a devout Muslim.  It doesn’t get all the identity politics and social justice right, but it is clearly making an effort.)

And they have a Hetty.

That’s pretty much enough for me.

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Cartoon song challenges

While March is busy coming in like a lion…

No, scratch that.  See this?

That’s outside my office at 4pm today.  And here’s outside my house shortly thereafter:

March is NOT coming in like a normal lion.  This is March coming in like some kind if Dire Ice Killer Undead Stormspirit Lion.

Anyway.

While March is proving that winter is not yet over in Minnesota (and apparently intends to go out fighting), here’s something else entirely:

First of all, people are awesome.  People who make this stuff, who embrace it, who dive into the fun and nerdy and fantastically wonderful are AWESOME.

Second of all, I have so much respect for whoever composed that piece and made it all work.  I do a little of that at the end of the year for the TCWC and it is HARD.

Third of all, what I really want to know is this —

Can anybody actually sing the lyrics of every song all the way through?  Because I can’t, and I’ve tried. But I also don’t KNOW all the songs. I can track what all the themes are, but some of them are from things I’ve never watched and don’t even know if they have lyrics to start with.  I keep meaning to look up the ones I don’t already know so I can finish it in my head, but…

This is what I do when I’m bored sometimes.  Find something like this and learn it cold.

I’ve already (mostly) mastered my ultimate favorite:

Although, if I’m going to get off, which I do about 60% of the time, it always happens right at Guinea-Bissau.  I get that far and then just…pleh. I usually miss a few beats to swear in frustration and then I come back in at Crete and, according to Sarah, sound very pissed off until the end, as if everything from there on has personally offended me — which it hasn’t, of course.

But if Rob Paulsen can do it, why can’t I?

Oh, wait.

Because he’s AMAZING.

Never mind.

These random thoughts and more during a snowstorm.  Welcome to March!

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Rebalancing My Writing Triad

I tend to believe that the ability to write a good story is born out of three separate facets: inspiration/creativity, skill (maybe also talent), and discipline.  You have to have an idea worth writing about, first of all, an idea strong enough to carry you from beginning to end whether you’re writing a 1,000 word drabble or a series of novels.  You have to have the ability to write a story well, balancing rhythm and plot, avoiding the black hole that is exposition, and knowing how to get the raw idea into words on a page that are in the order you intend.  And you must have the inner discipline to get it done.

For all of 2017, I struggled with writing.  Ultimately, I was able to bang out my goal 1 of 3 that I carry any given year, but neither of the other two.

Goal 1 = produce one chapter/oneshot per week to post in the following year, a total of 47 weeks of content (since I don’t post around the TCWC concert or CONvergence or the holidays).

Goal 2 = produce a minimum of 300,000 words.

Goal 3 = write an original novel

Yeah, I know, it’s ambitious as hell to have that sitting there on my shoulders year after year.  But the only way I get better is by working harder, and the only way I work harder is by pushing myself.

The thing is that, in 2017, I didn’t run out of ideas, and I didn’t lose any ability to create words and put them down in order.  But my sense of inner discipline suffered hugely due to all the stress around the things that happened in 2017 and the world it became.  This wasn’t “eh, I don’t feel like it” — it was “I can’t get a deep breath because I’m in a near-constant state of low-grade anxiety attack and who can think about one thing when everything else is happening?”

I know for a fact I’m not the only writer who had a year like that.

The discipline I’d honed in the years prior held me up and I got things done even when it seemed impossible.  I pushed through, I made Goal 1, and I’m happy with the content that is going up this year as a result.

But that push also exhausted me.

It’s the end of February 2018 right now.  In the past, eh, 5 years, I’ve written a novel in the Jan-Feb block pretty consistently.  But this year, I’ve definitely been feeling the effects of burnout.  I have no fewer ideas, but the mental and emotional energy to make anything happen with them has been low (also, the world has not improved much, so all that anxiety remains).

I decided I needed to do something really different to break the cycle of exhaustion and to give my brain a different stimulus than my usual “write write write!”

So, last week I made a list of 47 fandoms with which I feel mostly comfortable, one for every week of posting that will be needed in 2019.  Then I combined about 4 different lists of writing prompts.  Some random number generation and cross-referencing later, and I ended up with a list of 47 fandoms with a prompt next to each and every one.

My new goal is to write a oneshot for each of these fandom/prompt pairings.  I’m going to try to keep them all around 5,000 words or more, but I’m not asking myself to turn any one of them into a novel.  They’re just oneshots.  Short, sweet, fun stories.

For me, it’s like exercising a really different muscle.  Writing at length takes a certain mix of skill and focus and long-term planning.  I have to plant seeds even if I don’t know what they’re going to grow into or how I’m going to use their fruits later on.  But writing short stories feels like a burst of energy and focus, like lighting a firework and letting it explode, rather than having to till the land, plant the flowerbed, water it, weed it, and wait for it to grow.

I started this new process last Wednesday.  Since then, I’ve completed 2 of the oneshots and written more than I did the entire months of January and February until that point.  And I feel energized again.

It’s kind of a weird exercise, and weirder still for me to think that I might go this entire year without writing a novel.  On the other hand, if I get these 47 oneshots done quickly, I might have the end of my year completely free and clear of any pressure (since the 2019 Goal 1 will be done) and might find a novel in me yet.

What I’m learning about myself is that I really can write no matter the circumstances.  If it’s hard, I still get it done, even if it’s like dragging thorns out of my skin to get there.  If it’s easy, it flows from me as easily as breathing.  And sometimes I need to change the rules of the game to keep myself in the best shape.

My writing triad is in pretty good shape, even if I’ve had to bend it a bit in the last year and a half.  I’m still full of ideas and the will to write.  I still love the language and the act of putting thoughts into words.  And I still have the drive to push, to make writing happen no matter what.  I had to tip the triad up and balance it on a different point to make it stable for now, but that’s okay.

Maybe it’s not so much a triangle as a wheel, and once I soften those edges, it’ll get back to rolling along.

Writing is such a journey to me.  It’s an innate part of who I am and how I interact with the world beyond the TCWC or CVG or the people in my life.  It’s inscribed in my heart and stamped on my soul.  “Property of Writing.”  I belong to it as much as it could ever belong to me.  And through writing, I have found better parts of myself.  I’ve *created* better parts of myself.

It’s not *easy.*  Of course not.  Nothing worth having ever is.

And writing?  Is definitely worth it.

Even one short story at a time.

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More With Less

Sometimes, I think the whole process of moving out into the world, from childhood to adulthood, from student to member of the workforce, from novice to expert, is all the same process of learning to handle more with less.  More work with less sleep.  More stress with less certainty of success.  More emotional upheaval with less retreat to recover.  More expectations with less room for error.

Eventually, the time comes when a person is going to need something to backfill all the ‘less’ that has been sacrificed to the ‘more.’  And how a person goes about that is as unique as the person.

For me, it kinda depends what I need.

If I need meditation, or just calming the hell down, I turn to this song, specifically written and arranged to help people relax.

If I need a 1 minute giggle, plus some insight into something totally random, I find something from QI.

Or maybe I dig into the archives of MST3K.

If I need my faith in the world restored, I go watch Matt Harding’s videos.

Or maybe this from The Trevor Project.

If I’m feeling nostalgic for the place I grew up, or I want to get emotional and feel the blood thumping adrenaline of my favorite sport, I’ve got the Buffalo Sabres 06-07 season opening.

And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head that helps.  A handful of videos that can reset my head and give me a little more to handle the less.  If I had to, I could list dozens of songs and stories, each of which can bring me back to a better place.  Each of which can make the world seem less heavy and more manageable.

Sometimes you really do just have to buckle down and handle the more with the less you’ve got.

I hope you have your own ways to even the score and get a little more back, too.

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