Of Challenges and Change

I’m excited about moving.  I didn’t think I would be, but I am. I get attached to places and things very easily, and I tend to view my living space as a calm harbor in the storm of agitation, anxiety, and general stress that is my experience of the outside world.  Home is where I can relax, go barefoot, and stop caring about what other people think about my hair, or what I say, or how they see every tiny gesture I make.

And in that regard, this place has truly been my home.  It represents my first stab at independence, and my evolution into a relatively self-sufficient, bill-paying adult (I said relatively, Dad).

oceanSo you’d think that uprooting myself and changing my lifestyle like this would be a big trauma.  After all, I’ve spent the last five years in this place.  I’m bound to have gotten comfortable. But if I look a little closer at what those years have brought me, I can honestly say that “comfortable” is the last word that describes them.

I spent four of those years at a difficult, disheartening job, and I spent the last year unemployed.  I spent about eighteen months fighting an incredibly dark and desperate cloud of depression that left me unable to stop sobbing long enough to get out of bed.  I’ve had a string of discouraging romantic failures, including one that affected me much more deeply than it ought to have (yes, I date occasionally; no, it does not often go very well).  I experienced the death of my grandmother, whom I loved very much, and the passing of my cat, Solomon, who was my first and truest childhood friend (not to mention the fact that the day before I moved into this place, I had to put down his long-term companion, Shuli, after an early morning stroke).

But – and I’m glad to say there is a “but” – it’s also been an incredibly hopeful and fulfilling time, and I’m happy to have been able to learn a lot about myself, my goals, and my experience with the rest of the world.  I wrote a novel.  I conquered my fears and published it.  I was rewarded with recognition and fans and hopefully a modestly successful fiction career.  I have more projects in the works.  I took up crocheting again, and I’ve been able to express my creativity in a variety of ways.  I got a new job that I really enjoy, doing something that I love to do.  It’s an opportunity that will allow me to establish a long-term, lucrative career in writing, and I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.

I spent two years in therapy with a wonderfully talented, insightful, levelheaded psychologist who helped me navigate some of the toughest aspects of my life, many of which I had been too afraid to address.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve learned how to deal with my family in a fairly constructive way, and learned to listen to myself and trust my own mind.  Nothing matches the feeling of knowing that I have found a path that works for me, and that it will continue to lead me towards becoming the person I want to be.

So despite the heartache and the noisy radiator, the broken faucet and the worn out carpet, the terrible, inconsiderate, loud and smoky neighbors, and the fact that I can only use one burner on the stove, it hasn’t been all bad.  It’s been a tumultuous trial by fire, and I’m sure it’s not over yet.

Moving to a new place, however, represents putting all those bad things behind me.  It’s starting over as the person I want to become.  It means getting a cat again, being able to experience that love and joy and constant companionship, and that’s certainly worth the increase in rent.  It means leaving my little patch of quiet woodland (and my pool, unfortunately) in favor of a slightly-less-woodsy town, with stores and restaurants and things to do within walking distance.  It’s stepping up, and I’m so glad I have the opportunity and the strength to do so.  I wouldn’t have had the courage a few years ago, and that, above all things, gives me such satisfaction and hope that life will keep improving as long as I keep changing with it.

So I might be flat broke for the next six months as I pay off my moving expenses.  I might be frazzled trying to pack everything up in a logical way, and I might have sore muscles from hauling bags and boxes.  Things might be crazy for a while, and I might feel like the chaos isn’t really worth it, but it is.  It will be.  There are good things ahead of me, and the fact that I can say that – and mean it – is one of the best.

Well, Well, Well

This penguin suspected it all along.

So after taking a good look at the results in Friday’s poll, it looks like the majority of you are soulless sell-outs with no artistic integrity.  Why am I not surprised.

Kidding.  You’re just a bunch of greedy bastards.

Personally, I chose the hidden gem option, but that’s because I’ve never understood how to make myself popular, and therefore carry a deeply seated, reactionary adolescent grudge against everything the cool kids are doing.  Yeah, some of us never grow up.

But really.  As many of us who keep one eye on history and the other on the future (and a third eye on the #RIP hashtag on Twitter), I sometimes think about what it means to leave a legacy.  We’ve been losing a lot of brilliant, amazing famous people lately, known for acts of extraordinary human achievement or immeasurable contributions to comedy, culture, and literature.

And honestly?  I mean really, truly honestly?  I think I’d rather have the tiniest, remotest, most infinitesimal shot of being remembered as someone who left a positive mark on my chosen field; someone who entertained, fascinated, and maybe even got people to think a little differently about their life than as someone who made ten million dollars peddling soapy nonsense to an already addled generation of young people.

You’re joking, Jen, right?

Sigh. Okay, maybe the pigeon has a point.  I’ve been living on a shoestring budget for about a year now, and I can’t say it wouldn’t be nice to spend a few weeks throwing together a piece of zombie and vampire infested, post-apocalyptic BDSM young adult romance and reap the assured rewards. It doesn’t appear to be too hard.

So here’s the compromise: let’s just all agree to write our best-selling toilet paper novels under a pseudonym, buy our beach houses and BMW’s through an anonymous third party, and never speak of it again.  Deal?  Deal.

Friday Fun

Hey, everyone.  I’ve been a little zonked out this week, taking care of some appointments and getting back into the swing of things after my trip, so my apologizes for the lack of hard-hitting, take-your-breath-away blog entries in the past few days.

However, I did promise that the show would go on, and I just figured out how easy it is to make these little poll things, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I know other people have, too.  Without naming any names, we’ve all been aware of the meteoric rise of several franchises that are…shall we say less than pure genius.

They’re crap, in other words.  50 Shades, Twilight, etc.  We know they’re poorly written, of negligible literary and cultural value – and raking in the dough like nobody’s business.

So here’s my question: do you want in?  If you could ONLY have one choice or the other, would you rather write an absolutely amazing, life-changing work of literary genius that makes grown Pulitzer judges cry, but have absolutely no one read it, or churn out a trilogy of tripe and teenage tragedy, but retire at 35?

Vote below, and leave a comment if you feel the burning need to expand further on your answer.

A Poetic Interlude

I spent about an hour on Saturday night waiting for the Supermoon.  It was mostly cloudy, so I could only catch some brief glances when the sky peeked through.  I wanted to take some of those awesome pictures that you see all over the news when these minor celestial events take place, but I’ve never even tried taking a night shot before, and I don’t have the proper equipment.  A tripod would have helped.  Instead, I folded down the tailgate of my car, sat awkwardly in the truck, folded over so I could just point the camera in the right direction while looking sideways through the viewfinder.  It was not very dignified.

And I didn’t really come up with much.  Even the steadiest hand will shake a little bit, and holding a DSLR with a 300m zoom lens on it makes for wobbles, especially with a long exposure.  However, I do kind of like the atmosphere of the few pictures I did come up with, as long as you don’t mind the fact that the moon itself has very little to do with it.

Anyway, the point is that it reminded me of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago now, when I was in college (circa 2005) and fancied such things.  I’m so much more hesitant to share my poetry than my prose, because it does come from an emotional place, and I wrote most of my good ones when I was very, very insular and closed off from the world.  But I’ll give it a go, if you’ll indulge me.

Memory Lane

 Who knows how long I’ve wandered in that dark place where it seems

That my hopes are torn to tatters by the shards of broken dreams?

I look up and I wonder where the stars have gone tonight:

All I see are spots of brilliance that are furious, freezing bright.

No matter how I ache and scream and plead with mindless shades,

My cries don’t even echo as they wither and they fade.

The timeless, tuneless nothing whence is conjured up our fate

Is fairy lights and springtime to this shadow where I wait.

Haunted by the murmurs of “I wish I was” and “should,”

I look up and I wonder if the stars are gone for good.

The buildings in my memory and the constructs of my mind

Are wrapped around with warnings, with their windows leering blind.

The air is thick with ravens and the dust of all my tears;

I haven’t seen the sunlight here for many, many years.

The cadence of my footsteps is a sad and sorry song,

A soft and wild melody that follows me along.

The monuments and headstones to my grand and feeble plans

Reach grasping from the landscape like so many twisted hands.

The howling of my conscience makes me shiver with despair;

I wrap my pride around me as I hurry here and there.

Who knows how long I’ve wandered in the darkness and the gloam?

The many paths of Memory Lane are treacherous to roam.

***

We Who Are About to Write Salute You

I’ve been working at a pretty good pace these past couple of nights.  As I mentioned before, I finished most of the nitty-gritty setup, and have moved on to setting the real plot in motion.  I wrote a scene the other night that I really enjoyed, getting to know a character who I didn’t think would be more than a plot vehicle.  Turns out he’s kind of awesome, and his girlfriend is a bad ass.

Wave hello, Titus!

It also turns out that my characters know a lot more about what they have to do in order for the plot to unfold properly than I do.  I had another one of those moments where stuff just kind of happened without major forethought on my part, and I didn’t realize until I woke up this morning that there was no possible way the story could have moved forward realistically if I hadn’t done what I did.  Or what Serdaro did, I guess.  Mind of his own, that boy.

But anyway.  What I really wanted to say was that I think one of the reasons I’ve been productive lately, besides just simply getting over a hump, is that I’ve been on Twitter a lot.  I know.  I don’t say anything interesting.  But other people do.  I’m following a lot of authors, as well as some agents and publishers (besides my favorite comedians and such), which is kind of great.  It’s like a community where everyone is talking to themselves, but as long as you hit “refresh” at the right millisecond to catch it, you can have a little glimpse into their head.

Sure, the site is mostly populated with 13-year-old pop star fanatics, who are constantly having fan wars that baffle the mature human mind.  But as long as you build up the right network, it can be a very positive experience.  I think it’s great that most of my followers are other authors, trying to make it the same as I am, which is the same reason I enjoy reading comments on this blog, and checking out what other people are writing under the topics I usually use.

It’s probably no surprise that I prefer online community to the good old fashioned in-person variety.  Well, that’s not true.  There’s no substitute for being in the same room with people I like and know.  But with strangers, even if we have one big thing in common, I like the distance the internet gives me.  It’s because I have no social skills, really.  Don’t judge.  Or at least don’t tell me if you are judging.

The point I was trying to make, before I failed miserably, is that being around other writers, even virtually, is properly inspiring.  I think a couple of years ago I would have hated it.  I would have thought of it like a competition, and beat myself up over not shooting right to the top my first day on the scene, and resented other people for being “better” than I was.  But I really don’t feel that way.  I might not have any particular interest in reading what one person writes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect their right to say it.  Unless it’s really dumb.  So much for my mature human brain.

Character Assassination

I don’t really like killing people.  I know, it’s weird, right?  We’re talking fictional people, here, just to be clear.  Not that I enjoy killing real people, either.  Please don’t call the FBI.

Last night, I finished up Chapter One of The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun, which might not seem like a big deal to anyone, except that my chapters tend to be about 10,000 words long (11,545 to be exact), so it does sort of represent a significant investment in time and plot effort.  After my Eureka moment a few days ago (uh, weeks ago?), things started to pick up and the ideas have been flowing.  Peachy keen.

But I had to kill someone.  I hadn’t planned on it – I had wanted to make this person a significant character, but all of a sudden, when I got to a certain point, I realized that she absolutely had to kick it in order for the story to move forward in a meaningful way.

I sat there staring at my screen for a while, trying to weasel a way out of it.  I liked this woman, a lot, and she hadn’t done anything wrong.  It was unexpected and she didn’t really deserve it, which was why it had to happen. But that’s what made it hard, of course.  I get very attached to my characters, even the minor ones – especially the minor ones, sometimes, but that’s a different post – and it’s hard for me not to put myself in their shoes.  I end up kind of grieving for them in a way, which is tough.  That’s both a good thing, as an author trying to create richly drawn people, and a bad thing, as a reader who hates when my favorite people get knocked off (I can’t even begin to list all the times that this has happened to me).

But after I wrote the scene, I had one of those very intense, very hard to describe moments of writerly agony.  If you’ve experienced it, you’ll understand, but if not, you’ll think I’m a crazy person (as if you don’t already). It’s one of my favorite things about writing, but also one of the hardest to deal with if you don’t have other storytellers to talk to about it.

You know when something really dramatic or tragic happens in your story, and you just get that heart-squeezy feeling of oh-my-god-this-is-so-good-but-it’s-so-sad-and-I-want-to-tell-everyone-so-they-can-feel-as-awesome-and-sad-as-I-do-right-now?  You find someone and try to explain just how much it means to you, but they just give you that blank stare and escort you back to your padded room?  No?  Okay, fine.  The straight jacket is in the closet.

That happens to me a lot.  It happened more when I was a teenager, reading and watching all the stories that would help form my personality.  I took everything so seriously, in that overly-dramatic adolescent way, but it all meant something to me.  It didn’t mean anything at all to the people I tried to share it with, and that was character forming, too.  Unfortunately, it taught me to shut up and keep those things to myself, because others found it tedious and boring, and they started to dislike me because of it.  It’s taken me a long while to realize that I’m allowed to like what I like, damn it, and to seek out people who do enjoy the same things, because they are out there.

So that was my little experience last night.  I just thought I’d share.  Now it’s on to Chapter Two and the aftermath, so stay tuned.