Tag Archives: Writing

Yen

On this day last week, I was up all night finishing up some new stories – an eleventh-hour push before an event.

I have no such deadline today, and it’s hard to tell what kind of thing I want to write.

So I’m musing instead on the oddities of the writing yen. It isn’t exactly mood-based: I can be in a goofy, zany sort of a mood, but want to write something mythic or poetic. I can be in a sentimental mood, but want to write something didactic.

Sometimes, I can’t quite sense what it is that I want to write. That’s how I am tonight.

I can tell enough to know that it’s more introspective. It’s not a desire to hook up my forebrain to another’s and jump-start it with information. Nor even entertainment. It’s definitely not a comedic mode. But whether that means it’d lend itself better to a thoughtful essay, a bit of short fiction, or some roleplaying, I’m not sure.

When I’m lucky, I have specific inspiration. I got An Idea out of nowhere, or I have a couplet lodged in my head. There’s some distinct conceptual particulate around which the writing can condense.

Though this isn’t a sure shot, either. If I let the idea sit too long, if I don’t at least start the process while the inspiration is live, it’s harder to build on. The confluence of mental processes that brought the idea into being may not be in play tomorrow, much less next month or next year. It may still be an interesting idea, but it feels distant. Relic-like.

Obviously, what’s changed is how I relate to the idea.

(This is also why any completed work has about a six-hour shelf life, at best, before it goes from “as good as I can get it” to “utter trash that proves my insufficiency as a human being.” Either you keep writing something forever, never finishing it, never being done, changing it as you change and refusing to show it to anyone… or you do call it “finished” at some point, consigning it to a fixed point in time, after which point you’re forever growing away from it. It becomes a snapshot that reflects the idea, your understanding of the idea, yourself, and your surrounding culture, at that one specific moment in time. Whenever your understanding of any of those things changes, the work is only as good as Past You could make it, but it’s going to reflect on Present You for as long as the work survives. Which may very well be longer than you survive. But I digress.)

That’s why I find it important to at least start on any idea as soon as possible after I get it. If I get a good start, then the nascent work itself can help cue me into whatever mental state I had when the idea first came to me. Not with the exact same fidelity, true. Already, by the second approach, it’s become a bit of a performance: me trying to mimic the thought-processes of a previous version of myself.

There’s a sense in which all writing, and all reading, is an attempt to reconcile the differences between the subjective and the objective, between the self and the other, and between the present and the past and (ideally) the future. The very act of writing can change how we frame an idea, an observation, a belief, or even a fact – and that change in framing can itself change how we engage with it.

It’s like trying to remember a dream, really. You may or may not remember your dream when you wake up in the morning – but it’s less likely you’ll remember it tonight, and very unlikely that you’ll remember it next week. But if you write something of it down – anything, even keywords – you probably have enough to cue yourself to remember it later on. The act of writing helps you encode it into memory; reading that writing again later on, obviously, helps you trigger those memories again. But you do have to keep coming back to it, keep reminding yourself, keep making your present self acknowledge the ideas of that past self. Keep making those past-ideas into part of today’s thoughts. Like a time capsule you never bury.

And there may come a point where you realize that you aren’t remembering the dream as such anymore – you’re remembering thoughts you’ve had about the dream. You’re remembering yesterday’s memory, which involved remembering the day before’s memory.

That’s part of why it sucks to have unfinished works. There’s one story in particular that I always wish I could finish – but, really, I wish I could have finished it when it was more relevant, when the wire was still live. I started it my sophomore year of college, after all, and even then it was a ridiculous, self-indulgent, post-adolescent paean to my high school theater days. But that stub of a story is still such a guilty pleasure, and while I hate to leave it unfinished, I’d hate to start it up again only to realize I’m just too old and too far distanced from that young Thespian self to be capable of finishing the job.

I’m not sure what’s worse, though: the fear I’m too old and too lost to share an artistic empathy with my past self and one of my life’s most cherished experiences… or the fear it would be all too easy, because I haven’t traveled far enough from that self –  because my maturity and sensibilities and skills all stalled out nearly two decades ago.

A week ago tonight, I was writing a poem. I used to write poetry a lot when I was younger. I like words, I like assonance, I have an innate sense of the rhythm and meter of words, and so poetry feels like a fantastic puzzle. “Hmm, I need a two-syllable word or phrase that rhymes with ‘eyes’ and has stress on the first syllable, and that ideally has some assonance or alliteration with this other part of the line…” There are rules and formulas, and while I might fudge things a little, the attempt to create something that’s simultaneously cogent, rhyming, and rhythmic is so much more fun and fulfilling.

And yet I feel that “doesn’t count” as modern poetry anymore. As if “real poetry” doesn’t rhyme, has no meter, and has no particular need for evocative language of any sort, but instead has to be “free verse,”

the coward’s form
where everything
no matter how prosaic
no matter how much its supposed rhythm sounds
like a running unbalanced washing machine
tumbling
down the stairs
becomes a poem
so long as you refuse to punctuate
or submit to the yoke of capitalization
and so long as you break
your ideas
up
onto multiple
lines
because
like framing a random stain on a gallery wall
this format of
bite-sized
easily-digestible
phrases
gives the reader
permission
to slow down
to reflect
to listen
for one goddamn moment
and when they
are amazed to hear
echoes
in their minds
they think
the depth
is in the words
and writer.

I already feel guilty about how easily poetry comes to me, relatively speaking. I come to it armed with a rhyming dictionary and thesaurus, often, but I can make it happen with relative ease. And if my insurance-company coworker’s arrhythmic, mangled, CC’d-company-wide “parody” of “The Night Before Christmas” was any evidence, that’s not something the average Joe has the same knack for. Much like how I can’t move my body rhythmically to save my life – literally; I can’t even coordinate my limbs enough to tread water.

But my regular prose can already trend toward the purple, and if all I had to do was chunk it up onto separate lines to make it “poetry,” then what the hell fun is that to write or to read?  Shouldn’t all of this be harder?  If it’s easy, if it’s enjoyable, doesn’t that mean I’m doing something wrong?

Still, I’d stopped writing poetry when I was 12 or 13 – shortly after I learned the word “doggerel” – and except for a couple required assignments in a Creative Writing class, I didn’t succumb to the temptation again until this past year. (Assuming we don’t count song parodies, anyway. …Which are even MORE fun, because they have even more constraints to fulfill – like rhyming, or at least having some assonance, with the original.)

But, now that I’ve written poetry again, I can’t help wondering if it’s remotely “better” than when I left off. I still like to do it, but isn’t this, too, something I should have grown out of? Is it any surprise I haven’t gained any skills if I haven’t let myself do it for twenty years?

It’s the same old Catch-22 as ever: you can’t get better if you don’t practice, but you’re not allowed to “practice” because everything you do counts and has consequences. Whatever I do is only as good as I can get it, and my instinct is always to sit on it and hide it away and try again sometime when Future Better Me is capable of doing things right.

I’m getting better about realizing that I can’t just quantum leap from here to there, and that I have to do things “well enough” and make mistakes and revise things over time. Though that still feels like a free-verse sort of life, one where I decide that rules and consequences shouldn’t apply to me if I don’t want them to, so long as I’m conceited enough to believe I’m doing something “meaningful.”

Still. If everything is a constant series of mistakes, at least I’m trying to make interesting ones and to err on the side of creation.

But now, tonight, I’m tired.  And while this doesn’t feel done, or interesting, or anything, nothing else compels itself to be said.

I know I should write other things here.  Better things.  More meaningful things.  Things that address all the political absurdity going on lately.  Not that I have anything worthwhile to contribute, but it’s a civic duty sort of thing.  I can emit words in a place where they can be read, so I should probably damn well say some things about some things that may need to be said, even though they’re things that should damn well go without saying.

But, at least I fulfilled that yen for vaguely-poetic introspection.

Tomorrow, most likely, there will be improvisational fiction, and possibly some technical writing, and maybe some life-sciences sci-fi, and a bunch of regular old conversations. And, who knows, maybe some strange synapse will fire, and I’ll end up scrawling something that all flows together, just the way I want it to, just the way it feels like it’s waiting to be, in a way that could practically make you believe in the Muses.

Or maybe it’ll be, like most other days, a day where I have the permanent drive to write, but no direction or focus in mind.  I just have to listen to myself, figure out what seems to be flowing best, and set myself on that task as long and as well as I can.

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Impostor Syndrome

Today – technically yesterday – I’ve done something that simultaneously feels very bold and very belated: I’ve made a profile on a freelancer marketing platform.

I’ve always wanted to be A Professional Writer of some kind, and this is really the most obvious and respectable way of going about it.  But it’s still, to be completely professional and respectable, shorts-shartingly terrifying.

My relevant experience is negligible, and some of my most personally-meaningful accomplishments are so obscure that I feel like I’d need a thirty-minute long audiovisual presentation to even begin providing the basic context.  I couldn’t even bring myself to list the actual paying freelance work I did earlier this year, just because I’m sure the average client would find it unconventional to the point of abstruse. I’m nowhere near good enough or competent enough to do this.  But somehow I’m apparently doing it anyway?

I was somewhat relieved to see that the platform had skills assessment tests, right on site.  I’m one of those few, rare people who actually made Poor Life Decisions by not majoring in English, so I thought it would be nice to get some objective proof of my writing skills without having to spend four years of my life and another few thousand dollars in cash so that I could wave a diploma around.

But I was a little concerned. Sure, I love writing.  Sure, I’m pretty good at it. Sure, I’m one of those weirdos who loved spelling bees and competed on the high school Spell Bowl team. Sure, I’ve somehow cultivated such a strong and practically innate-seeming fluency in the English language that spelling, grammar, and usage errors can make me feel like I’m being stabbed in the brain.  But this is a site for professionals, and I am… not one of those.

So I took a basic English skills test and steeled myself for an “above average” at best.  Instead, I missed one question because it had two valid answers, and I wound up in the top 3%.

My first thought was, “There has clearly been a mistake.”

So I took a spelling test, and I wound up with the top score out of all users.

Rationally, I know that strong performance on an objective skills test is – assuming the accuracy of the test – absolutely strong evidence that the person is good at those skills.  And I’m pretty sure that it would be normal and acceptable for that well-performing person to feel some sort of pride and accomplishment.  If this were anybody else in the Universe, I’d absolutely believe they were really inordinately good at those skills, and I’d say they should be very proud!

For some irrational reason, though, those beliefs are not at all absolute if the person in question is me.

Instead, my brain pulls the Cognitive Dissonance Fire Alarm.

I actually feel intensely uncomfortable about doing well on these skills tests – like there’s something wrong with the test, or like I caused a problem somehow, or like they’ll somehow see my Google search history, see that I looked up a couple of the words after the fact because they got songs stuck in my head, and decide that I had somehow cheated retroactively.  Even if none of those are the case, I feel like I’ve just painted a big bright target on my head, and that everyone’s going to be paying attention to me to find all of my flaws. This is business, after all. AND it’s the Internet.  I’ve accidentally made myself out to be “better” than other people, and that’s absolutely unacceptable.  I feel even more like, from this point forward, I am never allowed to make any sort of mistake.

This is old familiar ground, really.  I’d say I’ve walked it before, but there was very little walking involved.  Instead, it’s a place of complete paralysis: the paralysis that comes of believing that mistakes are both unacceptable and unavoidable, and that, if you can’t be certain of doing something absolutely right, you have no right to do anything at all.

I even took another office skills test, just because I thought I’d do okay-but-not-awesome at it, thus putting myself in more comfortable territory.  Knocking myself down a few pegs before anybody else has the chance to.

I got in the top 3% of that, too, and I am doing to go dig a hole and hide in it.

For someone who is attempting to become a freelancer, this reaction is incredibly non-optimal.

This freelance platform I signed up on has gone through three name changes since I first learned about it.  I’m not even sure how many times I’ve gone to the site – whatever it was at the time – thought about signing up, decided I was nowhere near good enough to even try, and closed it again for another year.

I know it’s stupid to even consider it significant, but the fact I’ve signed up at all feels like a milestone.

But it also feels like a millstone.  So much is going to be expected of me.  Can I carry the weight of this?  What if I can’t? What if I’m promising more than I can fulfill?  What if it doesn’t matter because I don’t get any clients? What if I do get clients? What if they hate my work? What if I’m not actually educated enough in writing to do it correctly, and this seat-of-my-pants, doing-what-sounds/looks/feels-right is going to make me a complete failure? Because, seriously, I know what a grammatical sentence looks like, but I still forget what the pluperfect is, or what a subordinate clause is, so what do I really know?

And then there’s all the other practical stuff. What if they don’t pay me? What if I’m asking for too much money? Or not enough? Between this, the dayjob, my book, and that craft project I intend to have ready by mid-January, what kind of unholy mess am I making of my taxes?  What if I’m doing something terribly wrong as I start out that’s going to chaotically branch forth into uncountably many more mistakes with every step I take?

What the hell gives me the right to act like anything I do should be worth anything to a stranger?

The thing that bothers me most is that I know exactly why this reaction is happening.  Given the set of assumptions I have in my brain, it’s a logical, justified, and even necessary conclusion.  So it’s incredibly hard to make it stop happening in any way that feels equally logical, justified, and necessary.

Let me give you a little context about tests.

I did well at school, growing up.  As I’ve said before, it was the only thing I did well at.  I didn’t have any more practical skills or talents, I looked like a third-rate Muppet knockoff, and I had all the coordination of a newborn foal, but at least I could conquer a standardized test.  The most nervewracking part of any test, for me, was trying to keep my #2 pencil marks inside the circles while trying to make my mark heavy and dark. I got along with my teachers better than I got along with my classmates – they, of course, subscribed to that same value system.  But I was an eager participant in it all.  I wanted to listen quietly, hands clasped, and learn.  I was excited to learn new ideas.  I felt validated when something I said or did impressed an adult.  So I saw my grades as a clear, objective evaluation of my merit – the evidence for how competent, valuable, and worthwhile I was as a human being.

In second grade, I took a placement test for the gifted and talented program.  I remember sitting in the brown-brick cafeteria in an uncomfortable plastic chair at a round, beige table, looking at a question at the top of the right-hand page of my test booklet.  The test was nearly over, and I’d thought I’d been doing so well.  The math problems had bothered me some, but all the word problems had been easy, and the pattern-problems were fun.  But this innocuous multiple-choice question was confusing:  to my great discomfort, it had a word I did not know.

I squirmed in the ugly orange seat.  They’d said this part of the test booklet wasn’t like the rest of the test, so I raised my hand to risk asking a question of one of the milling adults – feeling like I was trying to cheat, not sure if they’d be allowed to answer.  But one of the adults came over to me, and I awkwardly asked the shameful question.

“What’s this word?”

The word, she – smiling – said, was opinion.

It meant your own feelings and thoughts, and so there was no right answer!

“But how do you know what to pick?”

The right answer is the answer you think is right!

“…But what if that isn’t any of these?”

Just pick whatever’s closest, or whatever you feel like picking!

All of this was profoundly uncomfortable.  I complained about it at the dinner table that night, feeling like I’d been tricked.

My new classmates, however, also gave clear and objective evaluations of my merit, and they were significantly less glowing. The more I tried to assert myself and my interests, the worse it got. Some refused to talk to me, some just tried out their favorite insults no matter what they were, some tried to mislead me or build up false hope.  A few brimmed with that carefree, pure-hearted cruelty that only a child can know.  The only reason I wasn’t actually beaten up was that anyone who touched me for any reason was just as shunned as I was – at least for a little while.

Adults, of course, did little to help or to teach me whatever social nuances I lacked. Instead, they recited that dreaded litany: Ignore Them And They’ll Go Away.  Forgetting, somehow, that they don’t, and that this only makes bullies try different and harder-to-ignore things. Forgetting, somehow, that nobody else was ever going to speak up for me besides myself.  And forgetting, somehow, that they’d instilled in me one core belief: that being wrong and doing wrong were equal, and equally prohibited.

Learning wasn’t as valuable as knowing, and improvement was only as good as an apology: it was expected, and it was even noble, but it was never as valuable as as never having made a mistake to begin with.

I couldn’t understand why, when it came to Statements About Who I Was And What I Was Worth, being incorrect no longer mattered.

Ultimately, I just couldn’t sanely sustain this belief that everyone – everyone but me – was allowed to be wrong, wrong, wrong.  I was supposed to be A Good Student, a gold-star stellar nursery in the nebulous fug of a thousand scratch-and-sniff stickers.  But I was nothing but the sum of a thousand red check marks, forever unbalanced against a straight-A+ ideal.   I wasn’t even truly good at the only thing I was good at, and no matter how good I was, it wouldn’t save me from all the other awful things about me.

The only way I could make any sort of peace with myself was to assume that everyone wasn’t wrong – that only the logically-consistent things people said about me were true, that I was simply too stupid to even know which things they were, and that my insistence on asserting myself – and even on having a sense of self – was the direct cause of the problem.

Early on in school, I simply couldn’t wait until I became an adult so that my fellow adults would take me seriously, appreciate my work, and even give me whole hundreds of dollars for it!  I was going to be a writer, and I was going to say really interesting things that would even teach the adults, and people were going to be proud!

Before elementary school was out, I was trying to go entire days without speaking or being spoken to, and wishing I simply didn’t exist.

I still did well on most schoolwork – when I wasn’t hamstringing myself by forgetting assignments or turning things in late.  But I no longer had the idea of doing well in school and getting a career and having a future.  That was hubris.  I was just trying to do whatever would be least noticeable, least bothersome, least remarkable.  I still hated the thought of making mistakes, still feared getting in trouble, still saw decades of horrible consequences spiraling out from my every smallest flaw – but I was so overwhelmed by it all that I couldn’t see the point of trying, sometimes.  Nothing good would make up for all the bad, and I’d only find a way to ruin it.

My best was never good enough, because it was my best.

Now I’m many years removed from school, trying to keep my head above water in the Real World.  But some of those old, bad lessons linger on.

Every time I venture into any new territory, no matter how small and well-calculated that step, I fear it’s a world full of classmates – now older, craftier, and more powerful – who not just might but will try to make my life terrible. People who do not need any reasons, who do not care about being wrong, who do not care about being punished, and who are serving me my rightful punishment for having the stupid, selfish gall not just to exist but to call attention to myself.

But I learned, not so long ago, that it’s really just a world full of adults: people whose answers often rely on ignorance, artificially limited choices, and carefully-filled circles.  People who, somehow, don’t know yet don’t feel wrong, don’t care yet don’t feel cruel.  People who legitimately don’t expect anything out of me in any way, because they will never even register my existence.  I learned that I am not, somehow, the focal point for everything everyone dislikes.  Not everything is my fault.  Even some of the things I could, in theory, have helped or have prevented, are somehow not my fault, and aren’t even mistakes!  People are not going to automatically blame me for everything just because it’s easy or funny. People do not magically know how awful I am.  They somehow don’t even realize I’m awful at all until and unless I tell them so, strangely enough.  Even then, they often say I’m wrong!  Regardless, whatever they know about me is based only on what I show them, and it’s not dishonest or necessarily even selfish to share the things that I personally find more appealing.

I wish I would have realized this a long time ago, in all those years of deer-in-the-headlight paralysis.

But, to this day, some part of me feels like the word opinion is a nasty trick.  Yet another setup by someone trying to get me to say wrong and ridiculous things about myself, trying to get me to assert anything about myself at all.

There are still times I wish I could be some anonymous, formless cipher. That someone could need work to be done, and that I could do that work, and could receive some sort of compensation and vague appreciation for having done that work, but without anyone giving me any actual attention or scrutiny. Something with personality and experience enough to make work that’s lively and interesting, witty and engaging, and worthy of the occasion, without in any way conveying the false idea that it, itself, is interesting or witty or worthy.   Something still so ultimately immaterial that IT, itself, is less than an afterthought.

A friendly ghost, only without all that unpleasant-sounding “being dead” malarkey.

Instead, I feel more like Schroedinger’s cat: not dead, not alive, unduly affected by the simple act of observation, and probably better left as a thought experiment.

But here’s the thing: I went through so much of my life trying to be a nothing, or trying to be whatever my observer wanted. And it was always out of fear that they’d be something more like a classmate.

The amazing thing is, though, that there are surprisingly few classmates out there, and a hell of a lot of adults, but there’s truly an incredible number of teachers.  True teachers.  Patient, compassionate, knowledgeable people of all ages and backgrounds who know wonderful things and are glad to share, who accept my interest and participation, who support my work as it stands, encourage me to develop, and even help me redeem myself for my mistakes. People who don’t just give me a checkmark, a gold star, a number, but – bizarrely enough – seem to want to learn things from me as much as I want to learn things from them.  People who let me work with them to help create something more amazing than either one of us could have accomplished alone.  People who see other people as they are, and as they can be.

It’s understandable that I formed such terrible expectations of other people, and it’s understandable that I tried to dissolve myself.

But it’s also understandable that I was wrong on both counts, and that that’s okay.

So I am stepping forth into freelancing, and maybe ghostwriting, and maybe things I can’t even expect – or maybe nothing at all.  But it’s a very me-ish thing that I’m doing. I’m putting myself out there with the one-and-only thing I’m good at, the supposed best of myself, and crucial, company- or even life-affecting assignments could be on the line. I’m going to make mistakes, and things are going to be imperfect, and there will probably be clients who are insensible or cruel or downright criminal.  And, yes, this is terrifying, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to live up to any expectations.  Especially not the expectations someone might have of anyone who, however accidentally, is showing themselves to be objectively high-performing at something. They will expect their perfect ideal, and I may or may not be able to fulfill that.

I just have to try to remember that most-incredible thing I’ve come to learn through all of this: that no matter how bad I’m doing compared to any objective measure, no matter how bad I know I am as a person, no matter if my very best just isn’t very much…

…Sometimes, maybe, it’s good enough to help someone today.

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Into The Wild

Now that my 30 Days of Songs endeavor is over – and now that it’s, er, exactly two years since I began it – I’ve been wondering what to turn my focus toward.  Current-events commentary?  General slice-of-life journaling?  Flash fiction, even?  Should I find a new set of writing prompts – perhaps one without a ludicrous time limit to which I would certainly fail to adhere?  Should I just write about whatever I feel like writing about, and if so, what is that, anyway?

As I’ve warned since the very outset, I had and have no fixed plans on what this blog was going to contain, or what “audience” I’m going to aim for.  Certain posts have been unexpectedly popular, which I greatly appreciate.  Others are ones that I enjoy, but that are likely too personal for anyone else to bother slogging through.  Still others, I believe, only got hits because of Google Image Search.  So it goes.

Part of my brain nags at me that I should be taking my writing more seriously.  That, if I’m going to be making a public blog like this, I should curate it more carefully: even if I do intend it as a dumping ground for stray thoughts, it should be a little bit more like a well-maintained compost bin, and a little bit less like an open-air latrine.

It even tells me that I should be busy looking for freelance writing opportunities, no matter how little they pay, and that I should try to cultivate a strong and specific niche.  Anything outside that niche should either be put up on some other blog or simply kept to myself.

And it tells me that I should do more to promote this, and post in it on a regular schedule, and display more rigor and consistency in every aspect.  I have followers somehow, after all!  People have liked the things that I’ve written – utter strangers – and they presumably want more of the same!  They don’t just want any old thing that I write, they want more of whatever-it-was that they liked, and the more diverse my blatherings are, the more I’m going to dissatisfy a lot of people a lot of the time.

And yet.

I relish the idea of wild spaces.  Gardens are lovely, of course – everything in its place, everything complementing everything else, with well-edged paths between.  And farms are important, too – productive and predictable, churning out nutritious things for someone to chew on.  But there’s something about the wild. You venture in, and you don’t know what you’re going to see.

Perhaps there’s a woodpecker bashing its head against a massive old tree – and, by some miracle, actually opening up a hole, exposing and destroying the bugs, and even making itself a place to live.  Perhaps there’s an old fallen log, damp and decayed – but now clad in an emerald shawl of moss.  Perhaps a little fungus grows, a pale ball of isolation, but with the smallest prod it bursts with eager and lively spores.

Perhaps, sometimes, there’s just a very angry badger.

I spent a lot of time in my backyard, as a child.  It was fairly large, and in a rather rural area, and so there were plenty of natural things to observe.  The stationary saga of the maple trees: from deep red buds on scraggly twigs to broad green leaves that showed their silvery underbellies when the late spring winds picked up.  The twirling helicopter-like seeds that spun to the ground; the browning and falling of the leaves themselves.  I took peace in the fact that Nature still seemed to know what it was doing, and would keep on in its own dispassionate and untouchable way.

It wasn’t really wild.  Trees were trimmed, bushes pruned, grass mowed.  Dead trees were cut down, to my distress. But, even within the fairly small confines of the yard, little bits of the wild always crept in.  Puddles formed in the gravel driveway, and mud daubers bowed by the waterside to gather their supplies.  Spiders wove their webs in bushes and under gutters – darting brown flatweb spiders, lurking in their funnels; slender-legged argiopes with their vivid black and yellow abdomens and their faintly cranial thoraces; bulbous orangey orb weavers, their webs rimed in mothdust.  Sky blue eggshells might lean against a trunk as Spring turned toward Summer; translucent, earth-caked cicada shells clung to the bark as Summer turned to Fall.  On a lucky day, there might be mantids or red-tailed hawks or little brown bats.  Once in a great rare while, there’d be a coyote or deer.

Whenever I ventured out the door, I always had hopes of what I might see.  But I learned a certain lesson early on, and I’ve found that it applies to almost every aspect of life.

And, no, it isn’t “Always carry a good Poking Stick,” though that can be useful, too.

It’s a somewhat more abstract and impractical lesson, and one that I sometimes had to consciously remind myself of as I explored – especially on those days in the jaws of February, when everything was brown and grey and silent, and I was hoping for any smallest sign of spring.

“Don’t look for, look at.

If I set out looking for something – if I tried to hunt for morels or even toadstools, Brown Thrashers or even Bobwhites, Swallowtails or even Sulfur Moths – I was usually disappointed. Not just because I didn’t see what I was looking for – Nature operated on its own schedule, not mine – but because I was so caught up in that specific quest that I failed to notice the other things that were happening all around me. I had specific criteria for what I wanted and expected, and if they weren’t fulfilled, I’d be chagrined – until I realized that the problem wasn’t with Nature being boring, the problem was with my expectations and perception.

Sometimes, acquiescing to that fact felt like lowering my standards. Sometimes, it even felt like doublethink – attempting to believe I wasn’t actually hoping to see the things I hoped to see.  Sometimes, it felt like the mindset of a ritual – on the one hand, my will; on the other, the world; my experience sitting in the middle, trying to bring the two into balance without making myself aware I was trying.

And so there was a corollary, as well:

“If all else fails, just be.”

The yard – and to a much greater extent, any given park or bit of wilderness – was a place where I could simply exist.  To stand as a creature among creatures.  And part of that was acknowledging that I wouldn’t see what I wanted to see, I wouldn’t necessarily get what I wanted, and my best bet was to learn to want whatever the world presented.  (Or, when that was frigid 30mph wind without a hint of snow, and nothing but empty limbs clawing at a flat grey sky, I could at least appreciate going back in to a warm living room and a comfy fleece blanket.)

At heart, that’s what I want out of this blog, too.

I don’t want to make an orderly garden or productive farm.  I don’t want to go about my day looking for things to blog about, denying certain things that don’t fit my arbitrary expectations.  I don’t want to limit myself only to writing about the most beautiful and rare things, or to writing about only those things that are most predictable and stable.

Perhaps it’s somewhat unprofessional.

Uncivilized.

But what I basically want is to open the door and write about what I’m experiencing.  Even though that’s often ephemeral and divergent; even though it may not relate to anything else, or matter to anyone.  I just want to walk into the wilds of my brain, see what’s happening in there, and put it into words.

I might plant the seed of a prompt and watch it grow.  I might analyze something specific, looking at it from all angles, turning it over to see the ant colony underneath, trying to investigate where and how far it sprawls.  I might look at my vague clouds of thought and emotion and attempt to see patterns in them – whether it’s whimsical pareidolia or an attempt to forecast the weather.

That may not be what anyone else wants out of this blog, of course.

But there’s no way I could satisfy everyone with this blog, and I doubt there’s any way I could satisfy anyone.  All I can do is say that this isn’t a single-crop farm, and it isn’t an orderly garden.  It’s not even true and noble wilderness.  It’s just a big park, full of small-scale wonders and surrounded by the painfully mundane – sometimes a place for peaceful observation, sometimes a place to play games, sometimes a place to rest in the sun while listening to music, sometimes a place to explore.  A place that’s trying really hard not to be bulldozed and turned into an office complex.

But it’s open to the public – and anyone who likes any or all of its manifold features is welcome to wander around with me.  There’s no telling where we’ll go or what we’ll see, but, hopefully, that’s part of what makes it enjoyable.

Though you might want to bring a stick.

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Day 24 – A Song That Describes Your Job / How You Feel About It

There aren’t any songs that will describe any of my jobs in specific.  I’m not Working In The Coal Mine, Working On The Chain Gang, or even Working 9 To 5.  I’m not a Blue Collar Man.  I don’t even dislike the jobs, so I’m not Working For The Weekend, and “Bang on the Drum” – catchy as it may be – just doesn’t apply.  Besides, one of my work meetings is always on Sunday, so I don’t even have a full weekend to look forward to.

When it comes to my day job, I’ve assuredly had worse. I get to work from home, in my pajamas, posting real estate listings for a property management company in the Big Apple.  Instead of a five-hour commute, I walk two feet from my bed to my computer chair.  I can set my own hours.  My work’s appreciated; my boss is cool, and it’s a low-stress job.  But it’s only part time, and the pay is somewhat on the low side, so it’s hard to make ends meet.  It’s better than the guaranteed nothing that I’d have without it, though!  I’ll do it as long as they let me, absolutely, and try to keep doing it even if a more profitable opportunity should arise.  But, to be honest, if it were profitable enough to be a more livable wage, with full-time hours and benefits and all that jazz, they wouldn’t be able to pry me out of my position even with a lever of Archimedean proportions!

But, as it stands, I appreciate it, and it’s keeping me afloat when I’d otherwise be utterly screwed.  I like it, and I can’t complain, but I know it’s not perfect, and there’s probably something better out there for me, if I can figure out how to make it happen.

So the song that best describes my day job is “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Good Enough For Now.”

You’re pretty close to what I’ve always hoped for
That’s why my love for you is fairly strong
And I swear I’m never gonna leave you, darlin’
At least ’til something better comes along.

As for my editing job, that’s even harder to address!  I’m editing the players’ handbook for a friend-of-a-friend’s upcoming tabletop RPG, a position which I fell into by a staggering sequence of increasingly-unlikely events.  I’m unsure how it’s all going to play out in the end.  It could be a big dang profitable deal!  It’s always possible it could flop, and that I could be the one who ruins it somehow!  Aaaagh!  But, to be honest, it’s fairly low on the strife scale.  And I tend to forget there’s even a chance of money in it.  I get to use my skills to help people out!  I get to help someone else’s cool creative ideas get the context and clarity they need to better explain to and inspire the players!

My bossfolk are the worldbuilders, and I’m just facilitating others in engaging with that world.  Maintaining the spacecraft that’s going to bridge the gap between Earth and that world, orbiting and surveying it. Checking for errors and irregularities, probing both craft and world for a breathable atmosphere and gravity that won’t pancake people or fling them into the void.  Making sure all the instruments give accurate readings, so the players can launch their landing pod, get out on the surface of that world, and have a damn fine time. And also get out from under the weight of the real, largely-sucky world.

So, with that metaphor in mind, perhaps Black Sabbath’s “Into The Void” would fit the bill. Especially given that game world’s design as a place where certain kinds of judgment and inequities simply haven’t come about.

Freedom fighters sent out to the sun
Escape from brainwashed winds and pollution
Leave the earth to all it’s sin and hate
Find another world where freedom waits

But I have another job on top of it all: the job of writing.  This blog thing, other short story things, and even a commissioned piece, recently, which made me a Legitimate Professional!  I don’t make a living off of this work, true.  But I’d like to say that’s just not true yet.  I’ll figure things out more, get myself out there more, and manage to get by.  I don’t want fame, by any means; I’m not out to be a bestselling author or anything.  It’s just that I want to do very little else but writing, and I’m good at very little else but writing, and I also want to not be homeless and starving, so if I could actually fund my existence through the act of writing, it seems like things would work nicely all around.

If I were a really good writer, of course, I’d be able to just write a persuasive essay that convinced people to give me money.  It worked for L. Ron Hubbard, after all, and he wasn’t even a good writer!  And I do enjoy religions and rituals.  So step right up, folks, and join the Gantist Mystery Cult — only $50 a head.  Is it a UFO cult?  Doomsday cult?  Lovecraftian cult?   Sex cult?   All of the above at once?  That’s part of the mystery!  You’ll pay good money for the opportunity to figure out what the hell you just paid good money for!

Ah, if only I had fewer scruples.

Wait, that’s the ticket!

SCRUPLES — $50 APIECE!  The more I sell, the fewer scruples I’ll have, and the more I’ll charge, so GET YOURS FIRST!

In all seriousness, I’m unfathomably humbled that people have actually paid for things I’ve written.  It still feels like the most self-aggrandizing thing in the world, having somebody essentially pay to read an assortment of your thoughts.  If I had a useful occupation, I’m sure I wouldn’t feel so weird.  Somewhere out there, there’s a guy who legitimately loves being a repairman.  He knows what the parts cost, he knows what his time and labor and expertise are worth, and he makes a living doing what he enjoys and excels at, without feeling like he’s ripping people off.  The value and utility of his work are self-apparent, and while nobody’s pleased that their stuff is broken, they’re probably glad to get it fixed.  If someone doesn’t believe the fix is worth the price, they can try someone else or go without.

But that’s just not the case with writing. It’s not so easily quantified.  It is so easily lived-without. A painting or sculpture, unique in all the world, may go for millions, but words suffuse everything. We notice when they’re missing from something, we notice when they seem to be organized strangely, we notice when they’re catalyzing a dramatic reaction.  But their mere presence or availability is unremarkable.  Only when we already know someone’s a writer, care that they’re a writer, and moreover care what they have to say, only then do we yearn to read their words.   A writer has to emit a whole secondary set of words in order to convince people to spend their time reading their primary set of words, when we’d really like to believe that the primary set of words speak well enough on their own.

Wouldn’t it be nice if words would just shine through the covers of a book somehow, glowing brighter for each person depending on how interested they’d be?  Every book a beacon.  Many a book a lighthouse. But it isn’t so, and so we must put out a trail of smaller lights to lead to our larger. We must tell people why they might want to hear what we’ve said, without directly telling them what we’ve said.  Or we have to tell people why other people might want to hear it.  Gatekeepers abound.

And, yes, I know this all just screams “Paperback Writer,” but I refuse to be so cliched.

Because it would be nice if writing just shone with its own light without anyone having to read it yet, but it doesn’t.  And because I haven’t been going through those gatekeepers of publishers, either.  No Dear Sir or Madam.  No rejection slips. Just my own (*shudder*) marketing.  Taking the thing I’ve spent so long fleshing out and condensing it into a little spore, hoping that spore gets noticed, hoping it takes root, and hoping it grows into enough of a neuron-overriding brain-mushroom that it influences the host to alter its originally-intended course of behavior in order to instead obtain and intake more of our words.

This is weird.  And creepy.

The way I feel about writing is not just about the writing and the trying-to-get-published and the making-a-living, it’s the fact that I essentially want to infect someone else’s brain with ideas.

It’s a particular sort of irony that, in writing about writing about writing, I can’t even write THIS particularly well.  Nothing seems to be coming together, the ideas are vague and sludgy, and it’s more like the compost of discarded ideas than an actual idea itself.  Compost that isn’t even fostering the growth of any seeds.  Light, spores, compost, seeds, but nothing’s growing, everything’s just kinda rotting in the sun.  It happens!  Maybe it’ll ripen pleasantly, break itself down in time, and become more fertile ground for other ideas later on.

All I know is, I write because I have to.  Something in my brain insists.  I remember banging things out on the family typewriter when I still needed help getting into the chair.  I remember reading Dick and Jane books and being so angry that they were so dumb, knowing that I could write better stories already than these adults were writing for me.  I remember writing stories in kindergarten with the teacher’s aide while everyone else was learning their letters. And I remember a time before I could write, when I had a basket of plastic play food and was taking my parents orders, scribbling on a notepad like a waitress — then being incredibly frustrated with myself, five minutes later, that I couldn’t read my scrawling pretend-writing scribbles, and couldn’t remember what they had said.  It felt like part of my brain was missing.  Or part of my memories, or part of myself.  There had been a thought, and because I didn’t write it down, it was gone forever.  I couldn’t follow up on it.  I couldn’t even try.  It was terrifying and depressing, and I fear that my life will have symmetry someday, and I’ll get old and senile and forget how to write, but remember enough to know what I’m missing.

Until then, every day, I write.  Blog posts or conversations or roleplay or complaints or workmatter or analysis; the format forever varies. There was a long time when I didn’t write fiction anymore; trying to plan my everyday life was stressful enough without standing at the helm of an entire fictional universe, guiding the micro- and macrocosm.  I even used to write poetry, when I was too young to know any better.  I write fewer analytical essays now than I did in college, for certain.  But – as was absolutely verboten in those essays – I inject more personal opinion and experience into these bits of enbloggenment that I write now.  What I write and how I write it, that’s always been in some flux.  That I write… that’s just a given.

So a song that describes how I feel about writing might as well be a song that describes how I feel about existing.  It’s… a thing that I do.  Not doing it sounds very inconvenient and unpleasant.  I don’t really have a great sense of purpose to it, or any real aspirations, and I’m not trying to achieve anything or become anything or be anything specific.  I’m just being right now – and I’m okay with that, and that’s pretty monumental!  I’m doing things, enjoying doing them, and being appreciated for doing them!  I can’t always try to write – or live – for people, intentionally trying to make them happy, because that always turns out crap.  But I can just do what I do, see it through, and try to believe that it’s going to turn out okay.

I can’t claim that I’ve “made it” yet, or that I have any real concept of “making it,” much less an expectation to do so.  I don’t have a destination.  But I am finally doing something; I am finally going somewhere, even if that’s just “away from all the before-crap.”  I’m writing things, I’m putting them out there in public, I’m sometimes even sort of advertising them, and I’m getting paid to write occasionally!  All of these things that have been stewing in my head forever are slowly getting out onto paper (or screen,) and being seen, and being appreciated, and every one seems to take me further… somewhere.  I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going, but there are people who are legitimately interested in coming along for the big weird wordy ride.

Ah ha!  It took a long and circuitous path, but I suppose it’s only appropriate.  The song that may best describe how I feel about writing – and existing – is “End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys.

Well, it’s all right, doing the best you can
Well, it’s all right, as long as you lend a hand
[…]
Well, it’s all right, even if the sun don’t shine
Well, it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line

 

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We Interrupt This Broadcast…

I’m still catching up on the 30 Days (ahem) of Songs, yes.  But I learned something this past week that’s thrown off my bloggery something fierce.

Not just the recent arrival of my new niecebeast.  I wish that were my excuse, honestly.  I feel rather bad that I couldn’t think of anything to say about this imminent human that I hadn’t already said about the previous niecebeast.   Surely I should have been able to distill that same curiosity and excitement in a completely different way, befitting the completely different protohuman?  I tried, but there was nothing I was thinking, feeling, wondering, about this new human that I wasn’t thinking, feeling, wondering, and writing down about the last.  The knowns were just as few, the unknowns just as multitudinous.

No, what’s rattled my writerly foundations isn’t the new niece with all her unfurling futures, all the wonder of what she’ll see and do and think and feel and become, the mindboggling ways that her every experience will, in some way, alter her every future experience. That’s her own story.

Rather, it’s a sense of sudden disconnect from my past, from my own story.

You see, I just learned that OpenDiary shut down earlier this year.

OpenDiary is – or was – one of the very first online journaling sites.  How old?  It predated the existence of the word “blog” by a solid year.  I left my first post on September 29th, 2000, and my last, it seems, on January 11, 2009. And apparently the whole works was shuttered on February 7, 2014.

I had no idea until I went to check it out the other day in one of my rare fits of curiosity.  Fits that had come less and less frequently, in time.  What once had been a near-daily haven became a fitful biweekly obligation.  A quarterly attempt.  It became less a path toward introspection and growth, less a way to push my way out of that psychological instar and grow into, let’s face it, just a bigger, weirder, slightly-less-inept sort of caterpillar… and, instead, it was more like sweeping up the past months’ moltings and trying to pin their dry, crackling husks to the page.  They didn’t stay, and they were barely recognizable, but it was important to at least keep trying to put up the facade of writing there.

To hear that OpenDiary is gone, and so long after the fact, is… a little like hearing that the house you lived in as a teenager burnt down to the ground.  But it happened a while ago – there’s no flame left to put out, the ashes have been plowed away, and it’s all been paved over.  Why should you be upset?  You don’t live there anymore.  It’s not like the fire went back in time and made Past You homeless.  In fact, if you’re lucky – and I was – you may have even managed to take out every single personal item you’d left there, perfectly intact. (Yes, OD allowed you to download your entire blog as a .txt file.  Yes, I have it.  I feel like I might have posted at least something after the end of the aughts, but perhaps I misremember.)

But to me, there’s something a little more to it.  OD wasn’t just where I felt “at home” with my journaling – though believe me, it was.  With each adolescent reinvisioning of myself, I’d adopt a new theme.  New background, new font, new colors.  From the ever-so-angsty red on black to a nature-seeking green on black, then finally forgoing the tedious pseudogoth phase in favor of ghostwhite backgrounds with bubbly purple borders, or with a starfield, or… I think I had blue on my sidebar and archive for a while?   Still with a ghostwhite background, though.  One I sampled for this background, as well.  Maybe it was just the habit of writing in such a familiar place for so very long, but it was so hard to write anywhere else.  LiveJournal, Diary-X, Blogger, just plain notecards… none of them felt right.  Even WordPress doesn’t feel quite right, to be honest.

It’s not as if I didn’t know the site was always in danger of going under.  They’d had two separate hacking incidents, one that resulted in the permanent loss of eleven weeks of entries.  I really wonder how my life might have been different if I’d been able to read back to some of those weeks, in fact – they were about a change in the nature of a relationship, a transition from “dating” to “boyfriend/girlfriend,” a transition that was not as smooth as I later wanted to believe – or as he’d later assert.  Server problems happen, and everyone understands that… but nothing burned worse than to write some long, cathartic journal entry, hit save, and watch it fail, the data lost forever.  To this day, before I save any writing on this blog, a forum, or even a particularly long Facebook post, I still compulsively hit Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, and prepare to paste it into a text file and submit it again if I have to.

But even though it was fickle, even though it was not the most secure, even though its management was out of touch, even though it was often somewhat gaudy, even after its various “makeovers,” OpenDiary was home.  If just because it was where I wrote nearly ten years of my life.  (Don’t think that I don’t see the parallel with my current online home.)   I put so much of my energy and my time into that, detailing my travails through high school, college, and living on my own, almost up until I moved.  There’s so much ME in there.  Or what was me, anyway.

I’m glad I have the words, still.  Bitterly glad.  It’s not like I want to read it all again – it’s got some of the worst of all adolescent whining, and so much college awkwardness and fretfulness, and there might even be POETRY in there… ye gods.  All the times lately that I sit and think about how much better off my life could be right now if only I’d learned certain lessons earlier, if only I’d made different decisions, if only I hadn’t wasted my time and affection on broken jerks, if only I’d taken different classes, tried talking to more people, stood up for myself… arguably every stupid decision I’ve ever made that has put me where I am now, it’s in there.  Of course I want to reject it, because I have only an uneasy peace with my past.  Still, it is my past.  It’s mine.  I wasn’t much for taking pictures, and I didn’t have many friends, and so I just don’t have that much from my past except for those ceaseless babblings.  Yes, it has the records of me fawning over and pining for people who are now anything from “acquaintance” to “What was his last name again?” to “bludgeon on sight.”

But it also has stories of theatre opening nights, and tales of my first days in college.  My first Rocky Horror.  Graduations from both high school and college.  It has stories of events, once so terribly magical and important, that are now not simply tarnished, but corroded.  It tells the tale of other nights which have only become even more storied and wonderful with the passing of the years. It has descriptions of average days that will someday be marvelously quaint, and descriptions of those rare days filled with small awesomenesses.  It has fanciful reinterpretations of suburban adventures.  It has my full set of introspective adventures into the “Mindscape,” and mock-interviews with the various facets of my personality and identity, in hopes of understanding myself better, reconciling my various drives, and figuring out how to be more like the parts of myself I actually enjoyed.  So much of it is probably so irrelevant now.  A dreadful amount might still teach me a thing or two, if I were bold enough to go back and read.

To truly put the loss in context, I might have to describe my relationship to the Internet itself a little more clearly. I am not a digital native; I remember a time before the Internet, before it was common to even have a home computer.  I remember having email-only Juno service, and eventually a 26k dial-up modem and AOL, back in the fall of 1999.  In fact…. a little research later, and I have an exact date: September 23, 1999.  I spent my nights searching random keywords of things I was interested in, seeing what I could find.  These were the days when you REALLY couldn’t trust what you read on the Internet, because it was probably written by some random schmuck.  Google was only two years old.  Wikipedia didn’t exist.  You weren’t ever supposed to put your real name or your picture on the Internet.  Not that you could see pictures very easily, anyway.  Did I listen to music online?  Sure – I was always looking up MIDI renditions of popular songs.  Some of the people at school talked about Napster and mp3s, whatever those were, though.  Me, I was jsut poking around on MUDs, using Telnet with no local echo – arguably THE greatest boost to my typing skills.  Or I’d talk about books in the AOL chat rooms, try to follow discussions on Usenet, or delve into H2G2, reading and writing and editing.  “Whoa, an encyclopedia of everything, just like the Guide!  What a fun idea!”  I’d wait half an hour for a Flash or Shockwave video to load on Newgrounds or Albino Black Sheep.  I’d marvel at the convincing photoshops in the video for All Your Base.  I’d roll my eyes at this week’s extrapolation of the Hampster Dance.  I’d delve deep into the yellow labyrinth of HyperDiscordia, and boggle at the 3D madness of CabaretDiscordia, and skim the staggering roster of the House of the Kiwi, and trail off into the Church of the SubGenius and Cthulhu Mythos.  I’d follow little blue links until I was learning all about chaos magick and culture jamming and glamourbombing, Temporary Autonomous Zones, the Cacophony Society and Burning Man.  I didn’t even feel like I was, or could be, part of that sort of counterculture – but just knowing it existed seemed to help somehow.  Just that awkward reassurance that it’s not just teenage rebellion – the world really is messed up, and even some adults are still trying to do strange things to reality.

There was so much more I’d wanted to do, though.   To make my own site, to download music or programs, to learn how to make my own MIDI music, to figure out how those animated icons worked.  I maintained a few gloriously tacky cabals on Geocities, granted, but nothing more legitimate than that.  I couldn’t have my own website, couldn’t download anything, couldn’t install anything, couldn’t update anything.  Ever.  Period. My uncle once mentioned The Palace, one of the first graphical chat rooms, where you could have your own avatar, any picture you wanted, and actually stand around in what looked like a room.  I never got to check it out, but that description alone defined”cyberspace” to me for most of my young life – something that wasn’t just a page and some comments, but a sort of place, where you could have an icon that represented yourself, and move it around in relation to other people and things, and write instantly to other people!  All the amazing things of MUDs and chat rooms and graphical video games, all rolled into one!  It sounded so futuristic at the time.  Such a relatively short time has passed, and it’s already so quaint that it’s hard to even explain how or why it could hold such fascination.  Still, just the idea of The Palace fostered my future fascination with MMOs, virtual worlds, and other digital social tangents – and my general desire for interaction with the Internet and its wealth of ideas, coupled with my incredible lack of agency in the real world, made such constructs all the more compelling.

I had a modest Buddy List, most of them friends from school, acquaintances, or relatives… but a few were Internet Friends, people I had met through the chat rooms or Usenet or whathaveyou.  Shocking it may have seemed, but they were generally more genuine, more honest, more caring, than the people I knew in person.  One was twice my age, but he helped remind me that it was good to be a weirdo in the world.  He reinforced that, painful as it could be at the time, I was better off for being able to recognize the oppressive thumb of the media in every aspect of teenage life – how we all defined ourselves through music and movies and products and clothing, our desires for freedom and individuality forever bought and sold.  He reminded me that so much of the drama of high school was, in the end, completely meaningless; it was just that pressure-cooker environment, closing us in and denying us any good outlet, making it so intense at the time. And, of course, we talked books.  Teachers and parents were so much older, so distant, so dismissive.  But his curmudgeonly arse was well prepared to rant with me against Society At Large, while still reminding me that at least that part of it was fleeting — and that I’d end up better off by the time I was as old as he was.  I suppose I am, now. And I suppose, in some ways, I have.  And now I have no idea where he is or what’s become of him.  I guess he was even more right, that the things and people that seemed so important when I was 16 would someday seem dim and immaterial.  Ah well.

But another such Internet Friend was how I found OpenDiary in the first place.  He’d found it through his girlfriend, then stared one himself.  I can actually still remember seeing his first IMs with links to his journal, peering at the strange URL and mentally parsing “opendiary” as one word that would rhyme with “incendiary.”  The friendship with him lasted longer – but it, too, faded, became a Was instead of an Is.

Let me diverge back to the old-timey mechanics of the Internet for a minute.  The Internet may still, in some ways, be a Wild West, but it was even Wilder and Wester then.  Different in the small things, like how links were shared – the fancy websites would let you click a button to fill in your email address, the receiver’s email address, and it would send a link right to their email!  Groups of sites on related topics would sometimes cluster up into Webrings, since it was so unlikely you could find more information just by using AltaVista, Dogpile, or by Asking Jeeves. If we had something to say about it, maybe we could find the author’s email address, but that’s probably it.  Not every page had a comments section Almost everything seemed to be made by individuals, not companies, and the user was on the receiving end.  You could only make a website if you knew HTML and could afford the hosting.  Geocities, Angelfire, and Tripod were genuine revelations – the easiest, most accessible way for an average user to publish content.  But even on them, you probably couldn’t get any comments.  Thus the everpresent Hit Counter – with no comments, likes, or shares, hits alone were how we’d measure our impact.

I rehash all of this as a reminder of how different it was to interact with information then — and how innovative OpenDiary seemed at the time, bog-standard as it is now.  To be able to write anything you wanted,  put it on the Internet, and get comments from other users – even if you didn’t know a lick of code?  That was pretty amazing!  You could even select certain blogs as your favorites, to read their newest posts more easily!  Readers could submit posts they really liked to a Reader’s Choice feature!  If you didn’t know what to write, the home page always had a writing prompt, under which you could read what others had submitted for it!  These were surprising and complex features for the time.  No, really.  Some upstart called LiveJournal started doing similar things a few years later, but eh, that was the site for the stupid kids – the ones with the pixel doll avatars with blinky eyes and sparkly jewelry, the ones who got so worn out after reading just one paragraph that they’d whine if you didn’t put the details behind a cut.

To actually have a sense of community online – of creating content, sharing it easily, having it be read in a timely fashion by other users, who could then comment and respond to those comments and so forth… this was genuinely new. And, though I didn’t have many friends on there, nor did I really follow many other journals, it still made a huge difference to my life.  Not just the venting, but those flickers of feedback, support, even empathy. One person in particular helped keep me sane and bolster my spirits when I needed it most.  Arguably, what I really needed was a swift slap to the face, an internal sense of validation, and a different boyfriend, but still.  To be encouraged like that, to be able to have “girl talk” even at a distance… it was an amazing thing.

But really, why do I keep explaining the nature of the Internet at the time I kept that journal?  Because that was a big part of the experience for me.  It wasn’t just keeping a diary.  It was sharing it.  Even if it was never stumbled over by anyone, even if nobody commented, I knew it was out there.  I knew it wasn’t just me ranting into the void.  “Anyone could read this, today or tomorrow or next year” was part of the excitement.  And the anxiety.  There surely were times I was tempted to put the whole works on Friends Only.  Times I was a little afraid to say what I wanted to say, not knowing who was going to read it.  Times when I wondered whether – or how much – I’d “crossed the streams” with screen names or character names or whatever, how much I’d made it easier for people to tie together the other anonymous threads of my online life.  But, in the end, it felt better to have it out there.  To be a face in the crowd.  To give myself permission to trust the other faces.  To reach out, even if nobody reached back.

I have the text, yes.  I have all the comments.  But I don’t have that sense-of-place.  I don’t have that sense-of-outreaching.  Nobody will ever reach back and take a hand unhinged in time.  I’ll never have to worry about somebody taking those details and trying to figure out who I was, or who I now am.  I used that site to understand myself for so many years, and now I never will again.  The first times I ever really dared express myself, try to find myself, study myself… it was in a way that, in theory, any incredibly bored user could randomly stumble upon.  And a few did.  And however they reached out back then, however I may have reached back, that connection is cut forever now.  It is, all of it, Past, no longer Present, never again Future.

So I’m shocked, and I’m gutted, and I feel a sense of loss.

But I also feel… okay with it.

I’ve changed, you know.  If slowly.  I’ve hung on for so many years to so many terrible things.  I’ve been slow to see how I’ve changed, how I’ve grown, how I’ve stopped being that small child everyone seemed to love to hate, stopped even being that sullen and cynical adolescent, that untrusting yet self-sacrificing college student.  I’ve seen how those other ODers changed.  That helpful and encouraging girl? Apparently she gets to make a living at both writing, being encouraging, and being pretty, now!  Meanwhile, that friend who introduced me to OpenDiary in the first place?  I haven’t talked to him in years; he unfriended me on Facebook after I called him out on one too many instances of taking jokes seriously and getting critical in illogical ways, then acting like his paragraphs-long complaint was, itself, a joke.  It’s one thing to try to make a heavy situation lighter with comedy.  It’s another to turn every single conversation into anti-humor performance art.  In the end, I couldn’t tell whether he wasn’t the guy he used to be, I wasn’t the person I used to be, or if it wasn’t really about either of us — more about the fact that I’d made, well, real friends – ones who didn’t just rant at me, ones who didn’t make flippant jokes and insults when I tried to make real conversation, ones who actually cared about talking with me, sharing things with me, having a proper give-and-take.  Friends who didn’t just talk to me because they wanted an excuse to talk.  And that other early Internet friend?  Even less of a clue – I think we’d stopped IMing even before I was out of high school.  I’ll probably never know what’s become of him.

Over time, and by forging new connections in a different online community, I’ve gradually felt more comfortable with myself.  In some ways I’ve genuinely changed; in other ways, I’ve just molted more of the not-me things that had been encasing me. The beliefs – some imposed by me, others by others – that molded my growth, that constrained my ideas, that paralyzed my ambition, that exaggerated my every smallest mistake into an unforgivable catastrophe.  Through it all, I’ve cobbled together a sense of self, a sense of identity, a sense of will.  And now, as I write in this blog, as I write my short story collection, as I write my character guides, as I write my roleplays, as I edit an upcoming RPG, as I prepare to go for some much-belated sleep before I work from home a while, game a while, eat a while, and continue another day of life… I realize I’m finally developing a sense of agency.  I realize that there are things I can do, not just in the abstract potentiality sense – you know, that bullshit sense that we use to tell kids that they “can be the President someday,” or that they “can be whatever they want when they grow up.”  No, I realize that here and now, in the actual world as it is, with the actual me as I am, I can actually DO these things.  And I am.  Multiple such things at any given time, in fact.

I know that all these things will pass, too.  The online community I have now, the one that lets me reach out, write, be reached to, tell stories, meet people, grow… it will be another Connection Failed someday.  The friends may fade – if just because I do that awkward thing where I essentially assume they don’t want to talk to them anymore, try not to “bother” them, and go years without contact.  But, who knows.  Even The Boyfriend could decide that all this stupid “feelings” crap I try to impose on his life is only getting in the way of his work, and he could tell me to leave one day.  Maybe nothing in my life right now will last, not even a little bit – it isn’t some glorious, shining future that will see me through to my old age, and maybe it won’t even last the next year.  For all my ostensible agency, I really don’t get to decide.  Regardless of how long it may be, it’s still a chapter, and it too will see its end.

Still.  It’s an undeniable fact that the span of my life that could be written about and posted on OpenDiary… is over.  Completely and forever.

It gives me… a sense of closure, really.

It feels as if the ME that was written about in OpenDiary is also over.  That melodramatic high school kid.  That anxious, overwhelmed freshman. That emboldened sophomore.  The sallow, hounded years that followed, cloistered like a hermit alchemist trying to turn lead to gold, apathy to love.  Those fitful, transitional years of first living alone, trying to hold a job and scrape together a future when I was still just barely feeling like I was allowed to exist in my own present.  I’m not the type to burn their whiny high school diary.  That’s no less emotional and maudlin than anything that might have been written in there.   This, I want to save.  I never knew who I was writing it for.  Me in the future?  Some future kid I knew I didn’t really want to have, but half-assumed I’d end up having anyway because That’s What Adults Do?  Maybe my nieces, I thought, once the first one emerged.  I still don’t know, honestly.  But I’m keeping the whole shebang.  I may never trust it to the Internet again.  I may never share it with anyone.  But it’s my past, and I’m not about to just delete it.  It was me. Though even the Internet doesn’t know that anymore.

I realize now that, though I may struggle – though finances are a horror, and job prospects are grim, though I struggle to reach toward what I want to do and be, though I still sometimes question whether I even deserve what I have now, much less what I want… I’m no longer grappling with existence itself.  I’m no longer trying, and so often failing, to justify my presence to the world and to myself.   I no longer feel so constantly judged, as if every person held an invisible dagger to my skull before I ever said a word – as if my existence alone was an invasion they had to defend themselves from. I no longer fear mistakes so profoundly.  To try and to err does not disqualify me from trying again, does not disqualify me from being an acceptable entity, does not disqualify me from having any worth, merit, utility, or potential.

I know this invokes all the most horrible types of irony, but it’s true anyway:  I accept my own existence.  I accept my sense of self – as a thing that exists in the world, and is allowed to.  I accept my sense of identity – as a thing that can be described in certain ways, that has certain characteristics, that exhibits certain behaviors, and is allowed to.  I accept my sense of will – as a thing that can wish that things and circumstances were other than they are, a thing that can express opinions and preferences, can make choices, can argue for its desires, can want to have an impact upon the world surrounding it by means of its choices, intents, and decisions, and does not need external justification or permission to do so.  And, though slowly, I’m accepting my sense of agency – as a thing that can actually act upon that will, a thing that can attempt art, share its ideas with others, collaborate to bring events and stories into being, and can otherwise manipulate its surroundings in order to cultivate circumstances it believes it would find more preferable.  Through so much of the time of that journal, I tried so hard not to be seen, not to be judged, not to BE – and now, I’m capable of asking other people if I could work with them in order to bring things into being.  I still feel riddled with hubris, often.  I still feel I’m pushing my luck.  I still worry about bothering people.

But it has been a long time now since I questioned whether or not I was really permitted to want, to feel, to think, or to exist.

I know I can still backslide.  That it may always be there, waiting for a moment of despondence, of confusion, of indulgent self-castigation, and I’ll lay myself back into the slow, sucking mire and, perhaps, never again convince myself I’m allowed to stand up again, never believe in another proffered hand, never be offered such a hand in the first place.  I worry, still.  I hold back, still.  Still, yes, but less. I know that the things I am wanting, the things I am doing, are – very often – not good, or at the least, they could always be better.

But I am doing them.

And, by this, the Me that is creating and influencing its world – if crudely – has walked away from the Me that waited for hope to happen.

This isn’t me telling my past self, or telling other present or future selves, “See, you can do it if you put your mind to it!  All you have to do is try!”  It’s a reminder of the long road I’ve walked to even become a person capable of trying.  It was not okay to be wrong, or to be unprepared, or to be caught off guard; I could not make myself try when I was not certain beyond all doubt that I’d succeed.  And my capacity for doubt is mighty.  And that vigilance is wearying.  I did not have much, but I thought it would all be lost if I made any sort of mistake.  On anything.  Ever.

I don’t think I could have been able to get here if I didn’t have this social structure I have now, this way of seeing myself reflected in others’ eyes, and reflecting them to themselves. Each of us standing on the other’s shoulders in that non-Euclidean geometry of friendship.  Mirrors reflecting mirrors, wheels within wheels, turtles all the way down.  It’s alarming how much different it’s made things – and a little scary to realize that, if that social scaffolding were to collapse, I’m not sure how well I could go back to that mire of silent isolation, now that I’ve been permitted an alternative.

The road to get here has been long and tiring. And I’ve found that, even once you reach Agency, there’s even more road left to walk, but you don’t know where it goes, and you may even have to create it from nothing.

I think you only get to find out by going there anyway.

Given an infinite Universe — or, perhaps, even a finite one — I’ll discover it for myself.

Off I go.

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Persistent Hesitation

I do indeed still exist.

I don’t have an exciting reason for the prolonged failures to update.  I don’t have any clear, solid reason for it at all, honestly. That isn’t to say that I didn’t have murky and nebulous excuses. But, since this blog is for nothing if not for overanalyzing things, I might as well write about that very lack of writing.

While it’s not exactly as if that last post took the Internet by storm, it did indeed get read more than I’d expected.  A lot more than I’d expected.  I’d been content, and in fact outright impressed, by a maximum of eight whole viewers one day.  After all, I knew I’d only sent the link to two or three people I knew, so that had to mean that at least one Actual Other Human Being had read something without having been pressured or obligated in any way, shape, or form!  Astounding!

Then I went and blathered about the Right Reverend Jerkface, and bam – 139 views in a day.

Having never had a Proper Blog before, or even any shambling excuse for one, I tried to do it proper.  Check back for comments.  Reply to everyone.  Read at least one thing from everyone who’d commented, comment on them if I could.  Realize my comments were probably too long; fret about being long-winded and self-important.  Realize other comments might be too short; fret about appearing terse. Watch as the comments died down.  Go about my business.  Wake up the next day.

And wonder what in all hell I should write.

It wasn’t a case of writer’s block.  I had a bevy of things that seemed interesting.  A few bits of new scientific awesomeness, particularly artistic videos, humorous news, personal ponderings.  There were a few drafts that I began and just couldn’t finish, couldn’t flesh out.  Other things that I just wanted to submit without commentary, but after what I’d hoped was a long and nuanced analysis of news and society and so forth — a post which (amazingly) made some people want to follow me — how could I just plonk down something so different?  What if that wasn’t what they expected, or what they wanted?

I felt like I’d painted myself into a corner – that whatever I wrote would have to be socially-conscious SRS BSNS.

“Or what?” said some bold but quiet backend of brain.

And then the Justification Trainwreck occurred.

It went a little something like this:

“If I don’t write something that’s long and thoughtful, anyone who followed me for Thoughtful Things will be annoyed and feel bait-and-switched.  But if I can’t think of something long and thoughtful, anyone who followed me with the expectation of being able to, y’know, read more actual words sometime would feel even more displeased – better something than nothing, right?

But, then again, that’s self-entitled as all hell — if I hold to that, then I could just start plonking down whatever half-cocked ninnyhammery I liked, claiming that anyone who didn’t like it could just unfollow and scram.  And what kind of dick move would that be!  No, no, I need to Know My Audience.

But I have people who like the science posts, and people who like the art posts, and people who like the personal posts, and people who like the social posts, and unless I were to personally conduct a sociological experiment and interpret the data through painting somehow, there’s no pleasing everyone.

But then how do I decide who to focus on?  Who do I write for, who do I try to satisfy?   But then again, doesn’t that make a work hollow, if its sole intent is to appeal to some arbitrary demographic?  I hate to read that kind of writing, and I hate to write that kind of writing, so why would I think that anyone else would want to read that kind of writing from me — even if I WERE capable of having such specific appeal?  However, don’t I basically have to choose between niche appeal and broad appeal? On the other hand, who am I to think that what I’m writing would actually satisfy anyone anyway!  That’s awfully pretentious of me!

But then again, isn’t it better to be pretentious than to convince myself that the best course of action is to write only appealing pablum?   And do I really think that I’m even in touch enough with society to be -capable- of writing appealing pablum?  But if I’m not writing this for other people, then I’m only writing it for myself – in which case this shouldn’t be a public thing in the first place.

But then again, there’s a difference between tailoring writing for a specific and totally-constructed “type” of audience or “type” of reader and just making writing available for any and all audience or readers to enjoy.  Moreover, it’s not like I even have a big sample size to begin with!  If I change my writing now to appeal to my current readers somehow, then what kinds of audiences might I potentially be missing out on by not writing other things?

But then again, if I’m having this bad of Choice Paralysis after a hundred views and a handful of follows and comments, obviously I can’t even handle a wider audience anyway!   It would be selfish to assume that made it okay to alienate current readers OR hypothetical readers – but then AGAIN, if I’m going to be fretful over whether I’m bothering or alienating someone no matter what I write, then shouldn’t I at least write about things I personally want to write about, because there’s no way to ever know if I’ve satisfied anyone but myself?

But THEN AGAIN, if I’m already presuming that I’ll fret over how others perceive what I write and fret about my writing’s objective merits, isn’t it the case that I will inherently never be satisfied by my own work anyway?  And doesn’t that obligate me to instead do my best to serve someone other than myself, because trying – even in vain – to satisfy others is always more valuable than certainly satisfying myself?   But where would that end, because if it’s a utilitarian argument, what if the writing that would please others most is the writing that would please me least?

BUT THEN AGAIN, do I even have any right to care about how pleased I am with my work, because I only deserve to be pleased if my work pleases others?

BUT THEN AGAIN, aren’t more powerful works often more discomfiting?

BUT THEN AGAIN, isn’t my work just amateur halfassed crap, not anything that’s even in the same room, building, or continent as Works Of Art?

BUT THEN AGAIN, if it’s crap and I have no business aspiring for better things, isn’t there no point at all, for me or for anyone, in pursuing it?

BUT THEN AGAIN, since writing is the only thing in my life at which I feel even remotely competent, if there’s no point in creating these writings, isn’t there no point in ANYTHING I do?

BUT THEN AGAIN, isn’t anything better than nothing, because no matter how horrible or vapid or pointless it is, it’s still some small creation spitting in the face of the void?

BUT THEN AGAIN, and this is perhaps the summation of the entire previous mess, AM I NOT JUST OVERTHINKING THIS, AND BESIDES, WHO THE HELL CARES?”

This, or variants of this, is what my brain does whenever I think about doing much of anything.   Moreso when it comes to writing or other acts of creative whatnot that I think about sharing with others, of course.  Writing is one of those few things that has always been important to me, even when I was at my nadir of self-esteem.  But almost any major choice or change tangles up a similar Gordian knot.

But why?  That’s the big question.  The answer to it is something I’m always pursuing.

And, truth be told, I did have a big examination coda thing at the end of this.  Trying to come up with some sort of answer.  And it’s been dangling here, waiting for The Reasons, since the end of last month.  Living up to everything it was trying to analyze.

The core of it, so far as I could find, is that I’m trying to seek justification.  Sometimes I’m trying to control things that I can’t control, sometimes I’m trying to not do anything until I feel certain about the outcomes, sometimes I’m just trying to avoid making mistakes or looking stupid, but it all boils down to the idea that I want to convince myself that whatever I’m doing is okay.

I feel that this is still unfinished. That, even if and when I do post the bit I chopped out, the bit where I explore the process of those doubts and motivations (and failures of motivation,) it will still be unfinished.  That, even if it were finished, it wouldn’t answer anything.  Or help anything.  Or matter.

But maybe that’s okay.

Maybe.

 

But then again…

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