Month: August 2012

The Idea I Didn’t Want to Know

I was having this feeling the other day that a new idea for a project was coming toward me: I could see a pattern to the things I was seeking out.

I have a stack of books checked out (some overdue, because I’m having a hard time letting go of them) that are about magic, illusions, brainwashing, stereotyping, con men, how we fail to perceive really obvious things, the idea of “evil,” and hypnotism.  And poisons, but that book is more about how forensics got started, and how forensic tests for poisons were developed–the mental processes that people had to go through to get to the solutions.

In The Artist’s Way, the author talks about how you’re going to receive inspiration from God – well, she does say that in place of “God,” you can use whatever word you like to indicate something bigger than yourself, an orderly flow in the universe – an inspiration that feels like it comes from outside of you.

Well, I had my first one today.

Note – after I’d finished the 12 weeks.  Not during my pass through the book.

I was out on a longish walk and the point of all the research I’ve been doing hit me.   Bam!  It was like someone held an intervention to tell me something I didn’t want to know:  “Here is what you’ve been thinking all along, the idea that you’ve needed to know but didn’t want to admit to yourself.”  –I won’t go into detail about the particular idea; it’s not ready to be talked about yet (as soon as I had the idea, it started getting pushed back down, harder to think about, harder to think clearly about).  But when it hit me, I burst into tears to the point where snot was running out of my nose.  I did not want to know this, I did not want to think about it, I did not want to admit that it might make for a decent story.  NO NO NO NO NO.

I’ve never had that kind of reaction before.  It really did feel like someone walked up behind me and said, “Look, you’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m tired of waiting for you to admit that it’s what you’re thinking about, so I’m just going to tell you.”

And, as the idea faded, and the emotional impact of what it meant lessened, I saw that it was a good idea.  I should be writing about it, when it gets fully developed into an idea, instead of just a flash of awful insight.  It’s not a new thought; I can think of a dozen writers off the top of my head who have played with it (including Neal Stephenson; you know it’s a good idea if he’s gotten to it first).  But this is a new way of approaching it, in a new genre that you don’t usually see it in–but has been poking around the edges of this idea for awhile.  The new incarnation of an old idea, whose time has come.


–But, as I’ve been observing lately, awe isn’t just awesome, it’s awful: it’s so big that it can’t help but be horrible and wonderful at the same time.


The story you tell yourself, as a writer.

On the other side of finishing The Artist’s Way, here’s something else I can see: writers are down on themselves.

A lot.

I mean, I was.  And I can see it in a lot of other people.  But now I feel like skipping, I’m so not-down on myself.  Not flying, because I have stuff to do, but, you know, walking around with a little extra spring to my step.

1) We think we suck at writing.  Even when other people look at our writing, or listen to us talk about writing, and say that we must know a lot.

2) We think we’ll never find success as writers.  Even when other people are praising our writing (and not just to be nice), or in the face of publication (“sales will suck, I’ll never get in the markets I really want to get into”) or winning prizes (“so?”).

3) When something good does happen to us as writers, we undermine it.  We freak out, stop sleeping, get sick, and believe that any minor road bumps are the real forerunners of The End.

4) We rip the holy shit out of other writers who do have success, because of minor flaws, or because their work doesn’t fit our tastes (“they sold out”).

So here’s how the ripples of going through the book are changing me:

Look, these are not your thoughts.  These are other people’s thoughts.  These are…society’s thoughts.  I mean, take racism.  Do you know racism as a baby?  No.  You only learn racism from other people; it’s like a virus that you pick up.  It’s not a naturally-occuring part of your brain.

1) Student doctors, student lawyers, student managers don’t go, “I suck at being a _____.”  No.  They’re students.  Before you’re a professional, you’re a student.  To think that you suck at writing because you’re a student at writing…really?  It’s irrational, and it’s non-creative disciplines don’t have to deal with it.  Why is that?

2) When other people praise doctors for saving lives, do doctors go, “I’ll never be a doctor.”  No.  When people praise your writing and they’re not trying to be nice, you did your @#$%^&* job.  You engaged them: you did your job, you did your job, you did your job.  You can’t say, “I’ll never do the job” at the exact moment that people are saying thanks for doing your job!

3) Is it really you that doesn’t want to succeed?  Or is it that you’ve been told, over and over and over, that creative work is a waste of time…and that you’re afraid that you actually are good at it, and that you might have to waste your time for the rest of your life? Because that’s all you’re good at?  Because it’s not as good as being a doctor?  Or a janitor?  Or a horse trainer?  Or a teacher?  Or a politician?  Why are you judging your profession so negatively?

4) Is the important part of a creative work…the bad parts?  Is it better to make fun of something you don’t like?  Is it okay to think that people who are a little too enthusiastic about some creative work…are crazy?  Are there barriers between you liking any kind of story?  Girls are told that horror movies are too scary for them.  So are kids.  Boys are told that romantic comedies are something that you get dragged to on date night, and you have to secretly roll your eyes all the way through them.  Upper-class, well-educated people are supposed to read literature.  Boys aren’t supposed to read…they’re supposed to play video games (despite the fact that all kinds of parents and teachers are trying their best to change this).  Society pushes our buttons about what kinds of creative work we’re supposed to like or not like.  And it pushes our buttons to tell us that being creative, and enjoying creativity, need to take a back seat to devoting yourself to your non-creative job, supporting (or raising) your family, and learning how to do same.

Be a robot.  Make more robots.

(Yes, They Live!)

In an era when nobody wants to hear anybody else’s opinion, and they certainly don’t want to risk changing their minds, creative works are encouraged to be insular and divisive.  Creative workers are encouraged…to stay within boundaries.  Or quit.  But the function of creative workers is to broaden, to share perspectives, to heal, to reveal hypocracy, to illuminate mercy and love, to mock power…

Are you a crappy writer? Could be.  But these thoughts will hold you back from becoming a non-crappy writer, so…ditch them.*

You’re not a doctor.  That’s okay.  You’re there to make sure that doctors remember that they’re doing it for their patients, not the insurance companies (thanks, Julie).  You’re there to make sure lawyers remember what it’s like to defend the innocent instead of chasing dollars (just picked up a copy of The Lincoln Lawyer, finally).  You’re there to remind people of…all the lessons that you’ve lived, that people forget about.

Think about the creative work you love.**

That’s your job.  Yes, it’s possible to learn your job.  It isn’t genius; it’s learning your job.  The way to not suck at writing is to learn your job, not to give up.  The way to succeed at writing is to learn your job, not to dismiss yourself as not really having any talent.  The way to enjoy your success as a writer is to think about what other writers have given you, and know they’ve felt as attacked by success as you have.  The way to nurture creativity in yourself is not to rip other creative people down, but to see what they did well, even if it doesn’t push your personal creative buttons…so you can do your job better.

I’ve done everything all wrong. And I’ll probably do it again, because we are just battered by people telling us how worthless we are–and the worst ones are the other creative people who buy into this crap.  “Don’t share your process.”  “Act like a professional and keep your failures to yourself.”  “Enjoy it while you can.”  “It’s just part of the business.”

Bullshit.  Here’s me, not giving up.  Not putting up, not shutting up.


You don’t have to, either.

*No, it’s not that easy.  I recommend The Artists’s Way, but do what works for you.

**”Anybody want a peanut?”

The End of The Artist’s Way

This is my last week of The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.  Or maybe it’ll turn out to be the last week of my first time through.  I’m considering doing it again, because of the things that I didn’t really commit to, the first time through (in the weekly exercises).

If you haven’t been following my journey though, in short–it’s a book for creative types (including writers) who are stuck, and leads you on a twelve-week program for getting unstuck.  You spend about 30 minutes every morning freewriting (the “morning pages”), read a chapter a week, go on one “artist’s date” every week, and do exercises listed at the end of each chapter.

I thought I’d had trouble with the other weeks.  But it turns out that it’s this week where I don’t want to do the morning pages, because I don’t want to think about the things that I’m digging up.  It’s this week that I’ve been making excuses.  The last week.  Sheesh.

I don’t want to know the things I’m finding out this week.  I want to delay them.  I want to pretend to think about them before dismissing them, so I can feel like I gave these things “fair play” without really having to do so.  I’m even having trouble nailing down the timeline for all this, because my brain keeps trying to move things around so I can’t find them.  I feel it happening.

–And you’re going to laugh.  I mean, I have to laugh about it.  It feels like a life-or-death situation, and it’s just not.  That’s the way I feel; I don’t deny it.  But I’m tripping over myself to deny the things I’m figuring out.  Maybe I’ll change my mind, and it’s all just a cloud in the sky that blows away.  On the other hand, maybe I’ll bury something important.

My awareness of the dominoes tipping started with Lee’s Jeep, on Saturday.  The power steering went out in such a way that the whole power steering unit (whatever that is) was rattling around in the engine making horrible noises.  This was Saturday.  It had been getting worse, and Lee just hadn’t talked to me about it, so it came out of the blue for me.  I think he was in “I can fix it” mode until then about it, so didn’t bring it up, because it wasn’t a deal.  But Saturday we were going out for a Ray Day for Christmas in July (a “Ray Day” is where  she gets to pick out whatever she wants to do), and I was scared to ride in the Jeep, it was that loud and awful.

So we took my car: front windshield is cracked, front wheel well still shattered from an accident, uh, almost two years ago.  Driving along, a guy behind us in a traffic yelled that our tire was going flat.  It was low.  We drove to a station and added air.  A lot of air.  To a completely bald tire.

I knew it was bald.  I knew it.  And the other tires, well, let’s just say I need new ones before winter.  It being Colorado, that means I better get them before September, because who the @#$% knows, you know?

We got through the day.  I was just getting a cold, so I was headed downhill, so I pooped out before Ray did.  We went to Which ‘Wich, then to Brunswick Zone to play video games, and watched Ice Age 4, which I liked, because evil monkey pirate on an iceberg, and “Any questions?” “WHEN YOU DRINK OUT OF YOUR TRUNK DOES IT TASTE LIKE BOOGERS?!?” “NO!  Well, okay, sometimes.”  Ray wanted to do laser tag at Brunswick, but I just didn’t have it in me.  I want to do that with her sometime soon, though, so tell me if you’re up for laser tag next week (before school starts), and we’ll do it.

And we went  home.

And…all around me, I could see things running down.  Because I’m a freelancer, and I’m not making enough money at it.

I’ve started making more money at it.  But not enough, not by a long shot.  I’m always making just a smidge more money at it. Not enough.

And then Lee and I talked about what to do about the Jeep.

This Jeep…a 1996 Jeep.  Lee was describing what his buddies thought would have to be done to fix it, and he ended that story with, “And they said it would be easy to do.  But…”  Or something like that.

I said, “I think you should get a new car.”

And we talked.  We talked and we talked, and not just about cars.  What came out of my mouth, before I really even knew it, was, “I feel bad for not helping support this family.”

And he said, “I promised you five years, and I won’t go back on that.”

And I said, “I know.  I know you support me.  I know you’re okay.  I feel bad. I’m setting myself a deadline.  If I can’t make this profitable by next year about this time, I need to stop freelancing.”

In my memory, I remember him just freezing at that point.

I said, “It’s not the writing.  I love the writing.  I feel like I’m learning a lot and growing and growing.  I’m never going to stop writing; I can’t.  You don’t need to worry about me giving up on my dream, not like that.  But I don’t love the freelancing.  If it paid enough that the pain in the ass parts were worth it, then…I’d love it.  But it doesn’t, and I can’t seem to make it work that way, and it’s a lot of pain in the ass for not enough money.”

But that wasn’t the end of it.

On Sunday, I read the last chapter of the book (“Recovering a Sense of Faith”), and…

…and I started saying, “What if…what would I want to do?  For a job job?  I have a year.  I don’t have to take just damned anything.  I don’t even have to take a technical writer position.  What do I want?  What industry do I want to work in?”  Because if I don’t think about it, I’ll end up back out at a military base again.  Not that that would be horrible; it’s just that the running joke was whenever someone left, you made bets for when they’d be back, and a lot of people did come back, in a year or two.  Contracting for the military is comfy and stable, no matter what it looks like from the inside.  Your position gets cut?  They try to find something for you.  You’re family.

And I love that family, but I realized it wasn’t my first choice, because the next step from being a technical writer is either getting into management or re-tracking into another area.  You can’t expand as a writer in that environment.

So I asked Lee to come and talk to me: he went through the ritual of Internet and espresso, and when he actually woke up, I asked him if it would be okay if we moved in order for me to pursue some kind of dream job.  I didn’t have anything in mind, just…a hypothetical situation where I could a) make money at a job and b) feel excited about the job itself.  It was…just an impossible idea.  There couldn’t be a job-job that could be a dream job that wasn’t “professional writer.”  Just asking, you know, hypothetically.  He said, “As long as I can find a job, okay.”

I, of course, started leaking at the eyes.

Lately, Colorado Springs has been headed downhill.  I don’t want to say that, either, but it’s easier than everything else.  When we moved here, there were tech jobs all over the place, new cars, lots of hope.  (And then: everything closed up shop.  Just as we moved in, in 1999, and the tech jobs were all flooded with applicants.  THAT was the economic collapse, for us.  It was so, so hard.) And I loved the people: Look, I may not agree with most of them due to one reason or another, but that doesn’t really stop people from being friendly with each other.  It didn’t.  I come from the Midwest, and everyone says it’s friendly, but no.  Not like this.  People just talk to you.  Because.  There you are.  And they look at you, and they notice the odd things about you, but they don’t glare at you.  Example.  After a while, I started wearing colored Crocs out at the base, because they were comfy, and the hell with it.  OH, how they freaked out (especially ex-Marines hee hee hee) about those Crocs and how ugly and unprofessional they were.  But nobody, nobody ever expected me to actually not wear them.  I got a weird kind of respect for continuing to do so.  Nobody gave me the Iowa Glare, that implied I was insane for being just that little bit different.  They gave me the “Young Lady Marines Don’t Dress Like That and If You Were My Daughter I’d Make You Change Those” looks.  And then I just became that chick with the Crocks, go on, tell her the dirty joke and see what she does, ha ha, she made you blush, didn’t she?  Nobody ever stopped talking to me.  Until lately.

But now–the roads are full of holes, and traffic is backed up at non-rush-hour times in weird locations, and funding is always being cut for schools and firefighters and cops and streetlights and everything but the @#$%^&* churches on the north end of town, and everyone picking sides and getting too pissed to give each other friendly crap about their politics.  They’re letting the grass die out in the parks.  Because of politics.  I wanted to spend the summer exploring the town by bus with Ray, but it’s too far to walk to a bus stop in 100-degree weather this summer, too far to make it fun, because of all the bus stops are closed.  Because of politics.  I’m too pissed to talk about politics.

So we’ve been talking about moving to another town nearby, so Lee can stay at his current job.  But so we can live in a town that’s not just…letting itself fall apart.  Just to be stubborn.  A place where streets get plowed after blizzards.  And where the YMCA doesn’t own the public swimming pools, and lets them fall to pieces.  I just about cried the last time we went to the pool.

You see the theme, there?

Stuff falling apart, because you’re trying to eke things out just a little bit longer.  Just push harder.  It’ll work out.

But I’m sucking myself dry, and this town’s sucking itself dry, and maybe it’s time to stop participating in that.

Monday, we got a new car: a Mitsubishi Endeavor (2011, 35K).  I’m really proud of Lee for…the way he did the research.  One of the things we’ve been talking about lately is jumping into things because some damned salesperson talks us into them, and the inordinate amount of money that gets wasted that way, because you not only have to buy that crap, but you have to go back and buy what you really need later, too.  I told him to look at the top 5 of the things in the classes that he wanted, and he ended up with a bunch of bullshit that he disregarded.  So I had a mini-meltdown about it: not the screaming and the yelling, but the, “I can’t give you step by step directions for what you need to do, so if you didn’t get the information you needed following my directions, that doesn’t mean that you can stop looking, because you still don’t have the information you need, so don’t just go, ‘I’m going to get another Jeep,’ because the word ‘Jeep’ is just some damned salesman trying to sell you what you don’t really want.”  I was so frustrated.  But…he listened.  He really did.  He went out and came up with his personal top five, based on features and numbers, not on brand names.  (Jeeps were still in there; they aren’t bad for what he wants, not at all.)  And then we went and looked at them, and the salesman at Carmax (which I recommend, because the only pressure that guy put on us was the pressure that anyone who is obsessed with a subject puts on people who are less obsessed, not the pressure for BUY IT NOW O GOD O GOD LET ME PUSH NAMES ALL OVER YOU UPSELL UPSELL) made some other suggestions, and Lee had enough information to…assess the suggestions.  Calmly.  Rationally.  With emotion, but not led by illusion.

We’re getting better at this, I swear.  Or at least Lee has.  And when it’s my turn, I expect him to nail me down about it, too.

And that was Monday.

And on Tuesday I thought, “What if I could get a job editing at Amazon?”

One of my blue-sky dreams is to start an ezine, so I can edit it.  Not just copyedit.  But pick things out and make sure they shine.  It’s part of the reason that I’m self-publishing, because I want to…I mean, come on.  When you start listing editors as your heroes, you have to start admitting to your conscious self that you’re not just a fool for wanting to be a writer, but a fool for wanting to edit.  I dream of running a kids’ magazine for kids who hate reading.  KID PULP.  But part of me treats that like a trip to Scotland: a nice dream, but hardworking freelance writers don’t have the money for that.  I shut myself down about it.


If I have permission to stop freelancing.  And I have permission to move.  And I have permission to go after a dream job.  Then.  I could ask the people at Amazon to take me, get my foot in the door, find a way to learn editing, learn more about marketing and publicity and sales, and and and!!!!!!

I couldn’t do it well yet.  I know that.  But I know…I know in six seconds or so whether a slush submission is worth reading or not. I know that it’s about the market, not the writer.   I don’t know how to make the final call yet, of what gets paid for and what doesn’t, but I’m paying attention.  I’m getting better at book descriptions.  Better at genre covers.  Better at saleable ideas.  I’m not there.  I feel like if I knew all that, I’d be selling pro markets right and left and making more money on my self-published books, and I’m not.  And there are thousands of small considerations I don’t even know about.

But.  Give me two years in that environment, and I’d be good at it.

I was trying to explain why editors tend not to send personal rejections to writers yesterday, to a writer.  She was upset.  She wanted me to be nice.  Instead of professional.  Eh, writers will suck you dry, the n00bs will.  They just will.  But give me the ones who have written a story that I like….I get depressed when the issue comes out, and it wasn’t them, it was someone else.  I love those stories.  I can’t even be jealous of them.  It’s a bit sad, but I can probably go to bat for something I truly love even harder than I can go to bat for my own stuff.  I have editor brain that can wait until it’s time to edit.  That can step into another writer’s shoes and see what the writer is trying to say.  I can mediate between the writer and the reader, not just get involved in power struggles and insist on Commas Where I Want Them (on various levels not just involving commas).

So here I am, going, “So, in a year, I might rip my family out of everything we know for a job that I don’t think I can do yet.”  And then I just shut down, trying to keep myself from really thinking about it.

I’m sure there’s all kinds of stupid reasons for not thinking about it.  And I’ll work on finding them out.  But posting this…I can’t just erase it out of my head.  I have to at least think.

So thanks for listening, and I’ll have more later.  When I’m calmed down enough to actually think instead of pretending to think and really just trying to convince myself the answer is what I think it should be.


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