Checking in On the Whole “Figure Out My Life” Thing

This post has ended up being longer than intended. There’s a lot of frustration. You’ve been warned.

I haven’t written much recently about my progress for a couple reasons. Part of it is that I’ve been pretty busy during Camp NaNoWriMo, working on a novel that I under outlined and had to improvise frantically with. So that was fun. I hit 50,001 words and stopped. I need to send it to my wife to see how awful she thinks it is. It’s gone into a lot of places I hadn’t intended or anticipated, and I don’t know how I feel about that.

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My First Date with Centerpoint

Before I get into my recent visit to the Centerpoint Institute, I thought I’d share a couple other related bits of news that don’t fit in elsewhere.

First off, the HR person from the Career Support group sent me some pages from a book called Do What You Are, specifically listing out likely career possibilities that fit with my Myers-Briggs personality type (INFJ). Some of what it says in abstract seems like it matches my personality. But the specific jobs seem less like a good match. I half wonder if they mean the same thing I do when I think “introvert.”

A lot of the things listed are very social: career counselor, teacher, social worker, “director, social service agency,” crisis hotline operator, “diversity manager-human resources.” A lot of these leave me with a feeling of cold dread in my stomach. “I have to talk to how many people?!”

There’s also a part of me that wonders if my general stress level is exacerbating my social anxiety, making it harder for me to think about jobs that require a lot of human interaction.

Second, in the interest of trying to offset some of my expenses (especially related to Mad Scientist Journal), I’ve started a Patreon page. So you can show your love with moneys:

So anyway, let’s talk about my visit to Centerpoint.

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Finding Meaning

I’ve written and deleted a few different posts that border on this over the last several months. Generally they revolved around some frustration with something I had done or was doing (going to conventions, writing, whatever) that I wasn’t happy with. I ended up scrapping them because ultimately the disatisfaction I experienced arose from my own internal issues.

I didn’t want to muddy other things just because I have issues, and I couldn’t give an honest assessment without reflecting those. So I generally gave up. Because I hate the idea of filling my blog with my own existential whining. And I have a lot of things I don’t talk about.

I’ve lately felt motivated to do something about this and begun taking small steps. Since I know I’m hardly alone in this, I figured I’d share my experiences. I don’t know where I’m going with this. But hopefully my broken and scorched trail will help someone else.

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Gone are the Days of Warlords

Some time back I tried to submit a story for a flash fiction contest. It was judged by Neil Gaiman. The theme was something like, “The future of classic sci fi.” So I jotted out this little piece at the last minute, sort of an homage to my love of the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. What would Mars be like after several years of cultural exchange with our Earth? Little did I realize that the due time was British Summer Time, and not Eastern Standard Time. So, I missed the deadline by several hours. Here’s the story I wrote. I have an amusing anecdote after it.

Otan-Dur clambered up into the cockpit of the airship, chuckling at the naivety of the owners. Some folks still lived in the past, believing that theft had been permanently extinguished from Barsoom. And that attitude made Otan-Dur’s life so much easier.

Most people blamed the Jasoomians, or Earthlings as they called themselves. Barsoom had provided them with the technology to create airships kept aloft by the Eighth Ray, oxygen creation with the Ninth Ray, even interplanetary travel with the Tenth. Jasoom in turn provided them with the allure of criminal culture. Gangsters with Tommy guns defying the authorities. Thousands of years without theft, eliminated in a few months by a few ruthless entrepreneurs from Jasoom.

He had just finished hot-wiring the airship when he felt cold hard metal pressed against his back.

“Thank you for doing all the hard work for me,” a sultry woman’s voice said behind him. “How about you hop out real slow and leave the rest to me?”

Otan-Dur stepped down from the cockpit slowly. He didn’t want to give this woman any excuse to shoot him. As he descended, he brushed hard against the knob of the levitation tanks.

From the ground he saw a beautiful woman, dark haired and copper skinned, seated in the cockpit, radium pistol aimed at him. Like him, she was dressed in a jeweled leather harness and furs. She gave a wink and pushed the throttle forward. The silent propeller sprung into life and launched her forward.

Behind her trailed a miasma of light, a color not normally seen in nature. She probably wouldn’t run out of Eighth Ray within walking distance, but he took a grim satisfaction in tainting her victory.

He continued down the street, wondering if any new gangster films were playing at the cinema.

I did try shopping it around unsuccessfully. One place gave me extensive feedback on the piece from multiple reviewers, which was nice. But many didn’t realize that this was set in a world created by someone else. Which was extra surreal since they made a movie the same year. This was the best:

“I wasn’t sure why Jasoomians (Earthlings) were even brought up. Were the thieves Jasoom or Barsoom? It is said the Jasoomians were to blame, but wasn’t made clear as to who this man and woman are. The[n] we have the “Ray” idea. I love this concept that various “rays” provide things like power and oxygen — that has a nice magical-yet-scientific feel to it. But without more words to explain it, this felt like an intro chapter to a much longer work set in this new realm.”

It had not occurred to me before that anyone I submitted it to would be unaware of the source material. I didn’t want to risk someone thinking I created this, so I decided to just stop shopping it. I hope you enjoyed it.

28 Days of Night Vale Later

So, I got involved in one of those secret penpal things on Tumblr. A couple of them actually. One in particular was through a Welcome to Night Vale blog which paired up users with secret penpals. We were to write to them throughout February and reveal our secret identities on the 28th. It wasn’t an ideal thing, since my penpal never contacted me, the organizer got huffy when I had asked indirectly about it (because there had been previously posted instructions), and the person I was the secret penpal for never acknowledged receipt of anything I sent her.

But I had a stupid amount of fun writing these. So after the first couple days I started sending them to Dawn as well. And then I thought, “I should just post these all on my blog!”

I hope you enjoy one of my brief forays into, “This is sorta like fanfic, isn’t it?” Besides Night Vale, the only things I knew my secret penpal was into were Avengers and Supernatural. So if you’re wondering why there are superheroes and an Impala in Night Vale, that’s why.
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More Thoughts on “Being a Writer”

A while back I wrote a bit on the notion of whether or not someone is a writer, prompted by a mean response from Brian Michael Bendis. Even after posting it, I’ve mulled it around a bit. It sometimes takes me a while to process something, and the processing never really ends.

The thing that I keep thinking about is this: Harper Lee.

In 1960, she published To Kill a Mockingbird. It was a bestseller and won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. She published a couple essays after that, but that’s it. According to Wikipedia, she started writing a couple other books, one of them in the 1980s, neither of which she finished.

In 2011, a friend of hers shared the reason she gave for not writing again. “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

But she did start writing other stuff at one point. I wonder at what point she went from working on other projects to not writing anymore. Did she have writer’s block?

If Harper Lee had said she had writer’s block for 20+ years, would you say, “Maybe you’re not a writer?”

Not every writer is Harper Lee. Heck, some writers aren’t even Dan Brown. But if you hit a slump of any sort, at what point do you lose your ability to call yourself a “writer”? There’s no answer beyond the one you decide to believe in. The only real thing you can say that if you aren’t writing something, nothing is getting written.

Live from Night Vale, it’s Thursday Night!

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to see a live performance of the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. A friend had envied my ability to attend and asked to hear about what it was like. So this is my attempt to convey that for her. I will avoid spoilers, as this is a touring show and don’t want to ruin any surprises for possible future audience members.

We arrived probably an hour before the doors opened and found that the line of people waiting to get in for the first show already stretched a block and a half out. In line were many people who were dressed in costumes. There were a couple Glow Clouds, at least one Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your House, several hooded figures, some Eternal Scouts, at least a couple interpretations of Cecil and Carlos (though not my favorite), and a librarian.

Meg Bashwiner, whose voice is usually heard at the end of each podcast, MC’ed the show. I’ve heard her voice so many times now, that it was immediately recognizable without introduction. (But she did introduce herself.)

The show opened with musician Jason Webley performing several of his songs while playing either a guitar or an accordion. With some songs he was accompanied by violinist L. Alex Guy. I’d seen Webley open for a reading of Neil Gaiman’s, but that performance hadn’t stood out the same way this one did. He had a small platform he stood on while he played, stomping occasionally in time to the music. The sound resonated through the theater far better than I would have expected, pounding a rhythm through the air. It lent a primal feel to the songs he performed. But I’m hardly a music expert, so it could be I’m just easily impressed.

After Webley’s act, Cecil Baldwin took the stage and did his “broadcast.” When I’d first heard the broadcast, the image I had in my head was that of someone who looked like the prototypical WASPy 1950s news broadcaster type, a bit like J.R. “Bob” Dobbs. Various fan interpretations have shifted that view some. I’ve never really thought of his character looking like the actual actor. Despite having seen several pictures of Baldwin, he’s never fit in my head as his fictional podcast persona.

The immediate thing that struck me as he began the show was that his voice was warmer than it is on the podcast. Normally his voice sounds really deadpan to me. But live his voice seemed much friendlier and intimate. A difference of audio production? Perhaps the result of multiple recording takes versus an unfiltered presentation? I don’t know. I suspect that the surfer-dude tone that his voice takes on in some parts of the podcast is closer to his real way of speaking. But I don’t actually know, as he never spoke out of character.

There was also his physical presentation, which I would not have anticipated from just seeing still images of him. Though the whole thing was mostly treated as though it was a strictly audio presentation, he would gesture and flourish as he read on the stage. He reminded me of a strange mix of the dean from Community (Jim Rash) and Jack Skellington. It was at once both flamboyant and inhuman, especially in how he used his hands. From pictures I’ve since seen of him with Wil Wheaton, I think he might also be a giant. Either way, it helped his voice fit with his face in my head. Because how I imagine things is very important.

He was occasionally joined at different points by Webley and Meg, who each took on roles in the audio drama. When they did “the weather,” it was also Jason Webley who played with a new song created for the tour.

All told, it was a relatively short show. Somewhere between 60-90 minutes? And we were hurried out quickly so that the second performance could happen. But despite the relative brevity, I had a lot of fun. The fans of Night Vale bring a really wonderful energy to the thing. I don’t often understand fan culture, but this time I felt at home with this flavor of weird. And there was an audience participation part of the show that was amazing, unannounced, and almost seemed to happen spontaneously.

How to Be a Real Writer

So this thing happened on Tumblr, and everyone lost their shit. Which is the way of Tumblr, I guess. But it started with someone asking Brian Michael Bendis, “what advice do you have for someone that has had writers block for the past 6 or 7 years?”

this will sound harsh but you’re probably not a writer.

writers write every day. it’s ok, not everyone is.

but if you consider yourself one, get off your ass and get back to work!! write about why you haven’t been writing . anything. just write.

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