Big Think: In That Outer Windy Darkness

“It was such a small world. We kind of clung to each other, you know. A fellow nut you would think of out there in that outer windy darkness…you kind of cling together because you speak the same language.”

–Leigh Brackett, in a 1976 interview for Tangent

If you make a habit of following my rambles on this blog, you know I make no bones about what I like to write. I also make no mystery of my admiration for the long-gone writers on whose shoulders I stand (or flail, or wobble, depending on your estimation).

I could spend this post singing that lineage, so to speak, tracing the line that runs from my efforts back through Brackett and Moore and Howard and Burroughs and London and beyond, all the way back to the Gilgamesh poet—and it would be a good, fun, post (at least for me).

But that’s a topic for another day. Today, I’m inclined to speak not of the writers of the past, but of living writers who have, through some confluence of good fortune, become a presence in my life today, whether in the living flesh or in this realm of swiftly pulsing electrons we call the internet.

Make no mistake: there’s good in knowing where you come from, and there’s good in looking to the words and thoughts of those who’ve gone before. Yet there’s nothing quite like a living comrade in the here and now to help us along on our endless march and to be, as Brackett puts it, a fellow nut in the outer windy darkness.

These are the folks who offer kind words and guidance when things seem bleak, who share a laugh or an enthusiastic conversation, who bolster us and who are (we hope) bolstered by us in turn. They are our writers’ groups, our fellow enthusiasts, our friends.

If we want to be grim about it, they are our oarmates below the decks of that lumbering trireme called Writing, chained to the sweeps with us as long as we all endure our fates. If we’re of a more positive mindset, they’re our traveling companions on the long adventure we’ve all undertaken, each for our own reasons and to our own ends.

But however we see the situation, the point remains: we’re in this together, we few.

Not everybody writes. This is equally true of other pursuits. Not everyone paints, or sculpts, or builds, or sings. We each have our own callings, and for each of us the community that does, more or less, what we do is relatively small.

Smaller still the community that does just precisely what we do. That gets us, emphatically and instinctively. That speaks our language.

In the genres of SF and Fantasy alone there exists a myriad of subgenres, countless cubbies into which we can slot ourselves and our work. We can argue just as endlessly about where those distinctions begin and end, who fits where, and whether that writer’s work is a good and worthy fit.

But the point here isn’t dividing ourselves. Life does that well enough for us. Instead, it’s vital, I think, that we find and support one another when we recognize our own.

After all, though we aim to make stories for the public, our work is most often a solitary thing. We can labor for months and years on a manuscript, spending most of that time in relative isolation. If, on grim days, we turn to our friends and family who do not write, looking for support, we may not find it in spite of all their best intentions. Or perhaps we are unlucky, and the uninitiated around us greet our travails with indifference at best, hostility at worst.

Ah, but the rare soul who gets us! A fellow traveler who is going down the same road, or who has been there before, and who knows the nature of the thing we do! There’s a sudden flash of recognition there, and a sense of kinship. These are our tribe, our people, and with them we are stronger than we were alone.

The trick, though, is finding them.

The greatest thing that ever happened to me in that regard was the internet. Before that, my contact with people who shared my interests was limited to a few classmates, some of whom were inclined to talk to me—and some of whom were not. Add to this the fact that few in my family shared my passions, and it could get lonely at times.

And, when I started writing, the world got narrower still. Of course, I had good friends, several of whom always read my stuff and asked to see the next chapter, but as far as I was aware, I was the only person I knew with a (shitty) manuscript on her hard drive.

The only other folks I knew did that for certain—well, they were published authors with books on the shelf at the store. Gods, they seemed to me, magnificent and unapproachable, dwelling somewhere far beyond my reach.

But that changed when I got on AOL.

Sometime in 1995, a friend at school told me about this amazing place you could get to with a modem and a computer. It had all kinds of things to explore, but most importantly, there were certain discussion groups there, places where people just…talked about All Things Science Fiction and Fantasy.

My people, I thought, more or less. My people are online. I must find a way to get to them.

And so began the great campaign to get my household online. Eventually, my parents gave their blessing, and I soon discovered that this strange electric place that existed in the narrow valleys of the phone lines and the pulsing cities of the server banks was better than I could have imagined.

In fact, there were even some well-known published authors on AOL back in the day, and I eventually worked up my courage and emailed a few…some of whom replied.

(Raymond E. Feist, if you ever read this, thank you for being so kind to the idiot ninth grader on the other end of the keyboard.)

Online was the first place I really felt like I wasn’t wandering a howling, empty void. There were others there with interests like mine, doing what I did. In many ways, it was like coming home.

More than two decades on, not too many people from the old days keep in touch with me, though there are a rare and storied few. Most of us have drifted apart, borne on the winds of time and life and shifting circumstance.

But for all that Time is a thief, that old bandit has also opened up new horizons. In some cases, old friends brought me into contact with new ones. In other cases, I’ve gotten to know writers whose works I’ve read, or whom I met at an event or a gathering.

Just as they did more than twenty years ago, the other voices in the darkness continue to remind me that I’m not alone on this long, sometimes maddening journey—and my life and work is unquestionably better for it.

Without the support of my fellow travelers, I might have long ago given up on this pursuit. Their kindness has propped me up in dark times, and our shared joy and sorrow has made the world a wider, grander place.

So if you’re among that band, know that I’m grateful for you. And if you’re a fellow wanderer who, having stumbled onto this piece, finds it strikes a chord in you, maybe drop me a line or leave a comment.

After all, it’s good to know we’re not alone.



Lurching Toward Self-Care (Plus Cats!)

I hope you are having a most pleasant Sunday, my magnificent horde. (Or, if it’s not Sunday when and where you are, a most pleasant whatever-day-it-happens-to-be.)

As I go about the work of realigning my schedule and my priorities to better accommodate the business of writing, one thing stands out to me in a way I didn’t expect. So today I’d like to spend a few words talking about my experiments in creative self-care. Plus also—an obligatory cat anecdote, since my stats tell me you guys love cat posts, and especially cat posts on Sundays.

And because I am kind and merciful, I’ll tell you the cat thing first.

Cat Stuff

Lately the cats have been on a diet. The vet pointed out that Agnes, who is a very small kitty, has put on a little weight is basically attempting to transform herself into Tetsuo from Akira or maybe Jabba the Hutt. She accomplishes this by stealing Kane’s food whenever possible and then pretending she is famished so we will feed her again. I do my best to watch them at mealtimes, but Agnes’s SNEAK is up to like 99 or 100, and she can slip in, wolf down Kane’s breakfast, and be away before I notice.

So per the doctor’s orders, both cats have been condemned to eat low-calorie, extra-filling crunchyfood (we allow them to free-feed because they stress out if they can’t), and Agnes’s squishyfood portions have been radically reduced. We’ve also wrestled them into a much more conservative feeding schedule so they will eat what squishyfood they’re given right that minute and not leave any lying around in their bowls.

Thus far, it’s working, and Agnes has begun to de-puff just a bit (I wonder why). But she’s still phenomenally displeased with the arrangement and does everything in her power to subvert it.

Today around lunchtime, they got their midday squishyfood, which was promptly consumed. Agnes, of course, was displeased, and she was doubly displeased when she discovered that I had already collected Kane’s bowl and washed it.

So she licked the floor a couple of times—mournfully—and proceeded to give a few affectionate rubs to the fridge, where she knows the leftovers are kept.

Her overtures went unanswered, however, much to her displeasure.

Meanwhile, in the process of washing the lunch dishes, I noticed that the crunchyfood hopper needed replenishing, so I added some kibble.

Miraculously, this cured Agnes’s melancholy in an instant, since obviously the food I just added, which looks exactly like the food that was already there, will somehow be different. She headed straight to the hopper and began to partake, behaving as though I’d just dispensed the most precious thing in the world.

Kane (who had just been squirted with the water bottle for attempting to run off with a bugbear miniature sitting on the bookshelf) decided to see what was so novel and magnificent about the food hopper. Agnes, however, was not having it, and hunched over the kibble, refusing to give him any space.

This led to a ridiculous spectacle during which Kane put a forepaw on Agnes’s head to push her out of the way as he used the other paw to gently rake just one kibble out of the bowl and onto the floor to eat. They repeated this whole process about half a dozen times before Agnes decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, gave Kane a resounding slap across the face, and sauntered off to sulk on her throne (an old chair she defends from all other possible claimants).

And Kane? As usual, he was oblivious. He shook off the slap and settled in for a snack.

One of these days I’ll catch them on video and share, if I can. They are endlessly entertaining, and—who am I kidding here?—cat videos are internet gold.

Writer Stuff

Since the new year, I’ve set myself a pretty structured schedule. I’m getting up around 6:30am (I’ve moved back from 7:00—huzzah?) and sitting down to start my day no later than 8:00. Typically, I spend at least three to four hours on the manuscript, then break for lunch for an hour, and come back to do whatever freelance work I need to get done.

This means I’m checking out of Workland around 2:00 to 3:00, depending on the day and the particulars of the workload.

Which, admittedly, sounds pretty sweet.

But I’ve discovered there’s a catch (there’s always a catch), because even though work ends in the mid-afternoon, my standing obligations do not. Outside of just being a human with a spouse, I have Things That Must Be Done most evenings of the week, and these start around dinnertime and often run until 8:00 or 9:00pm. On Fridays, things run later.

Sometimes it’s errands or chores around the house, others it’s, say, running my Friday D&D game or putting in my time at the local game store to help teach the hobby to new players (both of which require prep time). On Wednesdays, it’s that I actually get to play a game instead of being the DM, so while that’s not properly an obligation, it’s a necessary steam valve in my life.

The end result is that by the time I hit the bed on Friday, I’m pretty damned tired. And pushing through the weekends these last several weeks has made me even more tired. It’s also put a crimp in the schedule around the house, since Saturdays are when we run most of our big errands and do most of our grocery shopping, and Sundays are when we do things like wrangle the laundry and cook a bunch of food to make meals easier during the week. Plus, if we want to do anything that remotely resembles spending time together, Saturday and Sunday are our best bets for that.

The rest of the week we’re both too buried.

So I’m going to have to admit to myself that I need my weekends—not so I can cram two more weekdays into my life, but so I can come down from the week, make sure everything is taken care of for the five days ahead, and generally remember that I live with another person, and that we both exist outside of our jobs.

The perfectionist, workaholic part of my brain hates that. Hates it with a passion.

You are awake and breathing, it tells me. You need to be in front of that screen.

And most of the week, you know, it’s right. Most of the week, if I’m up and away from the keyboard during the day, it’s probably because I’m farting around, avoiding work. But what the workaholic parts of my brain (or anyone’s brain) tend to forget is that we are not robots, and that recharging is somewhat more complex for the average human meat-puppet than just plugging into the wall till the batteries are at 100%.

There will be occasions when life will require me to push into the weekend. That just happens from time to time. But the rest of the time, I need to be willing to give myself space and time to recharge in preparation for the wild charge that begins on Monday morning (promptly, at 6:30, with cats in my face because oh god where is the squishyfood there is no squishyfood nevermind the hopper full of crunchyfood we are going to STARVE).

So that’s my self-care concession, after just over three weeks of reflection on my process and my new schedule. What about you, horde? Do you have a particular ritual, method, or stretch of time that you keep sacred in order to keep your batteries charged?

Big Think: Wolf’s-Head

Note: I’ve been sitting on this post a while now, uncertain as to whether I should publish it. After a recent conversation, though, I feel like it has to go up.

Lately, as you’ll note from my first post of the new year, I’ve been struggling with the realities of this path I’ve chosen for myself. It has weighed heavily upon my mind that I need to simplify things, focus on my intended purpose, and, in a phrase, fuck around less and accomplish more.

While contemplating this a few weeks back, I found myself running into quotes here and there attributed to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, which I had never read, but which I had seen or heard mentioned by friends. What I saw suggested the book might be worth reading, so I inquired of others what they thought of it.

The responses ran along the lines of “It’s good; you should read it.”

So I did.

The War of Art was a quick and inspiring read, the business of an evening, as was the follow-up volume Turning Pro. Both struck a strong chord with my current mindset, getting right to the root of issues that, until then, had no name by which I could call them.

What I did not consider was that the information I read would immediately begin to go to work on my subconscious, posing questions I’ve been dodging for some time. Yet this it did, and the result of this was both profound and profoundly frustrating.

In short, I had a dream, and I believe it meant something.

That may strike you as overly woo-woo, I realize, but humor me for a time if you will. If nothing else, you’ll understand the madness that follows a bit better for your troubles. Continue reading “Big Think: Wolf’s-Head”