Holiday Madness

Yesterday, the conversation veered toward Thanksgiving plans. Makes sense since Thanksgiving is next week. When I was asked about my plans, I paused then said, “I think we’re going to do absolutely nothing this year. It’s just too much trouble in our family to deal with it and this year, I’m out.” Some at the table were in agreement, with one commenting that she wondered when it became such a traumatic nightmare for some families to be together on holidays (something like that).

Ignoring the incredibly awful commercialization of the holidays (I mean, really, who needs to go shopping for gifts at 6AM on Thanksgiving Day?! You can if you want to, I suppose and if you have nothing better to do, it’s something to do, but this holiday creep is insane) I’ve really come to dislike this time of year.

There’s the feeling that this time of year is supposed to be about being with family and that everyone is supposed be together and happy. If that could happen for everyone, that would be amazing. If you could be with your family – however you define it – and everything were as cheery as it seemed on TV, I think the world might be a better place. And if you have that, I envy you. Really, I do.

Because there seems to be this pervasive feeling that there’s something wrong with anyone who can’t get it together long enough to be around their family for the holidays. Even though, deep down we all know that not everyone lucked out in the family lottery and can’t have that. It makes great fodder for movies, the family torn apart by something, but by the end they’ve solved their problems, come together and are all enjoying some eggnog around the fire. Together, united as one big happy family.

We all know that doesn’t happen in real life, yet many of us pretend that it does. Or we suck it up and don’t say anything.

And those that do say something – for whatever reason – get “the look.” The one that says you’re the one with the problem. Or worse, you’re told “but, it’s family.” That may be true, but if being family were enough, would the problems that drove them apart exist? If being family were the be all and end all, why are there so many problems?

It’s like saying being biologically related trumps anything and everything else. Like just because you share some common DNA (or are married or adopted or however your family came to be) everything else that’s been bad about the relationship doesn’t mean anything.

Shouldn’t being related (however you are related) trump the other stuff? Shouldn’t being related mean you work these problems out? Or that they don’t happen in the first place? When did being related become and excuse for piss poor behavior? Piss poor behavior that you’re supposed to ignore because “it’s family”?

I’d love to see a movie, advertisement, even a Hallmark card that more accurately captures the essence of the season for (I’m suspecting) a lot of people out there. Perhaps Hallmark needs to have a line of holiday cards that express the sentiment of “Yeah, we’re family. So what?” (Note: new freelance idea to pursue.)

So, for all those who don’t have a loving family to hang with this holiday season, I feel you. There’s nothing wrong with it. It is what it is. I hope it gets better, but, if it doesn’t, that’s OK too. Because sometimes being family just isn’t enough.

The Inspiration Well

I’m very glad I opted not to participate in NaNo this month.

I thought I had a very good plot outline going, then I looked it over and decided I didn’t. I was making some tweaks to it and got stuck, distracted, overwhelmed and uninspired. Among other things. And now, it’s the 17th and I’ve written exactly 0 words. Is there a badge for that?

It doesn’t really bother me in the sense that I wasn’t planning on participating (officially anyway). It does bother me that I’ve been unable to find the right way to fix what’s wrong. I know exactly what’s wrong but can’t find the words or ideas to make it work. And I planned on writing this month and it’s half over and I’ve accomplished nothing, save for irritating myself seeing how little I’ve done.

Which also doesn’t bother me, per se. I know that sometimes it takes me time to find the right idea and work it out so it makes sense. If I ever do get the hang of this writing thing, I know for certain I won’t ever be called a “prolific writer,” the kind that cranks out a book a year. Or every other year. Or every five years, I’m guessing. And I’m OK with that.

What is bothering me is the other thing that’s inspiring me right now: angry letter writing. Actually, angry email writing to be exact, but you get what I mean. There’s an issue I’m trying to deal with and it’s something I’m passionate about and if you read my last post, you probably have some idea how I feel about the whole thing.

I was sitting in the office doing what has become my afternoon ritual of listening to Pandora and beating my head against the desk, trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with my WIP when an email response finally came in to something I’ve been expecting. I waited two whole weeks for this response. That’s a long time for me to keep my mouth shut when I feel strongly about something.

I took a deep breath and a walk (and by walk I mean into the kitchen to wash the breakfast dishes with a pit stop in the laundry room to switch loads) before I responded. Fortunately (for both of us) the person I’m now dealing with seems friendly and warm and actually willing to listen to my concerns instead of hurl insults (don’t ask). But, I’m still annoyed with the foot dragging and stalling. I needed a few minutes to compose my thoughts and make sure I didn’t come off as utterly obnoxious, given “something else” has come up and now she can’t examine my stuff for another few weeks. (Side note: uh-huh. Sure, you can’t. Whatever.)

So, I’m typing the response, and it took about 30 minutes to compellingly craft a five sentence response that was kind yet firm. And that was about 25 minutes too long, in my estimation. See, my mind kept wandering, I was so inspired by writing this response that I found myself drifting to another project.

This blog post. Sigh.

I found myself composing the paragraphs for this post while I should have been working on those 5 sentences. I kept thinking about all the things I wanted to say and rant about, and how it would be an excellent blog post. It was hard, but I managed to force myself to finish the response first before I came over here to craft his amazing blog post. (I know, it’s nothing special, but I need this right now.)

Well, it’s not the WIP, and it’s not perfect, but I guess it’s something. I know that realistically, as a writer, I can’t wait for the muse to show-up (thought it would be nice if it would show up at 9AM, coffee in hand, ready to go like I am). I have to chase it. Or work without it, But my current frustration isn’t that I’m not inspired to write. I am. I just don’t want to write a bunch of jumbled nonsensical crap that I end up throwing out. I know that’s my specialty, but I’d really like to diversify.

I wonder how these prolific writers manage. How do they crank out a book a year? I know there’s rumors about ghostwriters, but assume they aren’t. How do they do it? How do people work when the muse is AWOL?

Inspiration can come in many forms, I guess. I just wish what so easily inspired this blog post could inspire the WIP. That would be nice. Less frustrating. Or, if something, anything, could easily inspire the WIP. But that doesn’t seem to be happening, so I’m back to beating my head against the desk. It helps. Happy Monday!

Tenacity or Too Aggressive?

From time to time, I freelance. Lately, I haven’t thanks to a consistent part-time job, but sometimes, when I’m feeling adventurous (or poor) I’ll pick up a gig. I much prefer the consistent part-time job these days even if it has nothing to do with writing, because it actually pays. On-time. Every pay day. I don’t have to hunt it down, make angry phone calls and send letters threatening legal action just to get paid for work I did. Which costs me even more money. It just magically shows up in my checking account each month.

This tale is something I’m confident any freelancer can relate to as they’ve likely experienced it, especially if you’re just starting out and haven’t quite learned how to spot the scammers. You learn after the first few times you get screwed.

Since I’ve been personally screwed several times, I’ve become quite good at spotting when someone is avoiding me. These are the people who somehow don’t see my email until three days after I sent it, even though I sent a response minutes after they emailed me. I mean actual, literal minutes. Time date stamps are funny that way. It’s the person that says they didn’t have access to their email because they were out of the office then forget to delete the “sent from my iPhone” at the bottom of the response.

I’m sharing this information not just to be helpful, but because I’m sitting here waiting for someone to call me back about something important (but not about money since this had nothing to do with a freelance job). It’s about a personal matter but I’m dealing with a public agency and (potentially) elected officials.

It’s a really long story, but I get the impression that the entire office has been instructed to gently ignore me. A month ago I contacted someone about an issue I noticed and I wanted to know how I could get it fixed. I went back and forth with the contact person for a while and ultimately, she was rude. I was waiting for a response to my question but she never responded to me so after a week of waiting, I wrote an e-mail to her boss (not knowing who else to go to at that point. I wasn’t trying to escalate anything. She wasn’t responding so it seemed like the next logical step).

I was passionate and logical in that email. I feel strongly about this issue. I was also wordy (because I’m a writer and wanted to make sure they understood every point) so it was about 6 pages long. And included pictures in case my words weren’t strong enough. It’s important to me, in case that wasn’t clear.

A week went by and the Assistant Supervisor person emailed me back basically stating she was now the point person on this matter. Great! I emailed her back 9 minutes later (time date stamp, you know) to state I was available that day (Halloween in case you care) at 2:30 and she could call me back at a particular number. I rushed home to take her call an she never called. OK. Technically she never confirmed. It happens.

Then, she emailed me Sunday night and said, “Sorry, didn’t see your email. When can we talk this week? I’m at a conference Monday and Tuesday.” Fabulous. I emailed her back right away and told her any time on Wednesday. She never responded. OK. I’m not thrilled about that. So, Tuesday morning, I emailed her (knowing full well she was at a conference) saying, “Want to confirm we’re on for Wednesday. What time?” It’s about 10:15 Wednesday morning as I type this, and I have no email response and no phone call.

I get that she’s busy, but so am I. I’m not waiting by the phone with baited breath over this. Because, for starters, I’m not 16 anymore. But these tactics (because I don’t know what else to call them at this point) seem startlingly familiar. See above where I described clients who are trying to avoid paying me.

Anyway, I’m debating calling her right now just to say, Hey, I get you’re busy but when can we talk? Doesn’t have to be right this second, but I’d like to nail something down so I’m not wasting every one of my day’s off waiting on you. But, I worry that I’m crossing the line. I’d even consider another email saying “Hey, did you get my last one, what’s up?” But I worry that’s pushing it, too. And, once I’ve crossed the line to “crazy ranting person” they won’t take me seriously and nothing will be accomplished. Except I’ll be labeled “that crazy ranting person.”

The 6 page letter I had sent was beautifully written (if I may say so). But, it was also very direct. I wanted to let them know up front I wasn’t willing to negotiate and that I was very angry about their decision. Also, how their office then chose to handle the situation was less than stellar and a bit offensive. I’ve been nothing but professional and respectful, but I’ve also been very direct. And I know this can be very off putting (that’s a thing, right?) to some people.

However, the flip side of me is saying that she’s using the non-paying client tactics and I should say “screw it” and call her. Because it’s clear she doesn’t want to actually talk to me and deal with the situation. Particularly because I told them I won’t negotiate. (Side note, the reason I wont’ negotiate is there can’t be any give or take in this situation. It’s impossible. It’s not like buying a house where I start at one price and you at another and we try to meet in the middle. This is an all or nothing situation, just because of what it is.) That’s not a pleasant thing to have to face. I know because I’ve been in her position, dreading making that phone call. Which is why I’m trying to be nice about this, but it’s been going on for a month and I’m wondering if they’re hoping I give up and stop trying, even though I told them that wouldn’t happen.

So, I’m sitting here, waiting, even though I’ve got stuff to do, and wondering when being “aggressive and tenacious” becomes “please don’t call us again or we’ll get a restraining order.” I should probably get in the shower, because you know that’s the exact moment she’d call. Sadly, I’m beginning to think my day will consist of sitting here, waiting, stewing and getting annoyed.

The Death of Words

As I write this, I can’t help but think of “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

I’ve spent some time researching how to create a better blog. While I’d much rather spend time on crafting the best novel I can, I know it’s important to keep the blog up. Not just keep the blog up but to write interesting things, attract followers, and so on and so on. I’m confident that everyone that blogs knows that attracting new followers is a big thing. While I can write, marketing and selling has never really been my thing.

So, I’ve turned to the experts. By that, I mean, the Internet. Seems like the right place to go in this case.

I’ve never been an early adapter. I like taking risk (like jumping out of airplanes) but new technologies, not so much. Let’s just say when I was a kid, my dad bought the family a Betamax, convinced it was the perfect purchase. If you don’t know what that last phrase means, you should Google it for fun. I come to this blogging thing a bit late. In large part because I really don’t have anything interesting to say and also because when I ghost blogged, I learned how easy it can be to lose control of original content. And how hard it can be to get it back.

Late to the party, the experts have shown me that blogging is kind of over. Not dead, per se. Just passe. It’s all about You Tube stars (vloggers and people doing crazy stuff). Please. I can barely summon the courage to do this blog. I’m supposed to put my face to it?

Other advice has consisted of including gifs – or at the very least, pictures – within the text to break-up the monotonous chore of reading. No one wants to see too much text without pretty pictures apparently. Not to be obnoxious, but I can’t think of the last novel I read that included pictures, even YA novels. There’s also the ever popular listicle (a completely interesting word on so many levels). I have no problems with the list format as a method of writing and disseminating information. I worry, though, that it doesn’t improve my writing.

What really worries me is that the shift to these styles of communication and media (since vlogging isn’t exactly writing) is that it isn’t helping us as readers. I’ve gotten used to Twitter shorthand and now accept the fact that questionable spelling and grammar are necessary, required even, because of the 140 character limit. But when I’m getting advice like “stick a picture in there so your readers don’t have to read so much,” I get concerned that as a society, we’re failing ourselves.

Pictures on a cooking blog or a DIY blog make sense. If you’re giving me instructions on how to re-roof my house by myself, a couple of diagrams and pictures, even gifs, might prove useful. Of course, if you’re able to explain it clearly and I get it and can then do it without pictures, you’re an awesome writer. However, I feel that no one is that awesome, so again, pictures seem necessary.

But on a blog that’s sort of about writing? Or, let’s be real here, nothing in particular? I kind of feel like that says that I, the writer, doesn’t trust you, the reader, to fill it in. That I don’t think you can figure out what I’m trying to describe. Doesn’t that mean I’m not such a great writer? Shouldn’t I be able to create that image for you in your mind’s eye? Or worse, does it mean that I think that you, the reader, lack the critical reading skills to figure out what I’m saying so I just say, “Fuck it. I’ll throw a picture in here, just in case you don’t have that ability”?

What does this say about the experts that advise me to do this? Yes, I know, I went to the Internet for advice, so I kind of get what I deserve. And, also, I do know there is the giraffe picture on this blog. But it’s one picture. At the end of a post. And it’s a great picture of a giraffe.

I worry this means that we, as a collective group, are watching the death of the written word as a form of communication. Not just in terms of sharing stories, but in terms of sharing ideas, information, and even history. I know a picture is worth a thousand words, but what about when you don’t have a camera handy. A rarity these days, for sure, but it can and does happen. And then what? What happens when we lose the ability to describe something without a snazzy gif? How will that change things? How will that change how we communicate in any form?

 

It’s Hard to Be a Grown-Up

Long absence, I know. But that’s because I’m a grown-up and have “responsibilities” and such. Things I don’t want to do but have to. Some of them are legally required of me, some of them I just have to do because I’m a grown-up. But, man, it is tough sometimes.

(I know, I know, a lot of what I’m about to say falls into the category of “first world problems” but, due to lack of anything else, that’s what today’s post is all about.)

Like this blog post. I’m sitting here basically not doing it (even though I am) because there are other things I don’t want to do. Like mend a pillow case and paint some shelves. Easy things that will probably take all of about two seconds to do.

Then, there are the harder things, like waiting back on 2 email responses that I really don’t want to deal with. I mean, they are things that need to be dealt with and that’s part of being a grown-up. But I just don’t want to. I realize that if no one else does it, it won’t get done and then I will suffer the consequences, hence my taking the lead on it, but… Yuck. I really hate dealing with stupid stuff. Actually, that’s not true. Sometimes I just hate dealing with stuff. But, that’s part of being a grown-up.

And, I’m not even sure when this grown-up thing happened. I kind of woke up one day and said “How did this happen?” I don’t remember a ceremony marking the occasion. Or getting an official written offer that I accepted. It just kind of happened. Sure, there are some aspects of being a grown-up that are awesome. Like right now, it’s 10 AM and I’m still in my pajamas with no plans to leave them anytime soon and in a few minutes I’ll probably have a mid-morning power boosting snack of coffee and donuts. And, since I don’t work the day job today, I can go outside and play in this beautiful weather (probably the last one for the year).

Play. Like a kid. Only it will be grown-up play which is more like exercise, really. Like riding the bike and cleaning up the yard, checking on the fall/winter crops (OK, last surviving crop) in the garden. Adjusting the Halloween decorations. Which really isn’t play. It’s the grown-up version of play.

And then, oh, yeah, gotta work on the WIP, too. Trying to create a compelling character is rather hard work. I had hoped it would be an easy, natural process. Nope. I’m excellent at creating flat, boring, cardboard characters though. So, there’s that.

OK, enough whining. Off to work and all those other grown-up things I have to do.

I Like Pop, I Like Rock…

I like pop music.

There. I said it.

Don’t judge me. Or do judge me. If I was worried about judgement, I wouldn’t be blogging.

It’s called pop music for a reason. Because it’s popular. Now, I realize that calling it “popular” opens me up to a lot of criticism. Labeling it “popular” isn’t fair because who decides what popular is? And why is it popular? And how come it all seems to sound the same? And most of the artists seem to look/act/think a certain way? I know all this. But, allow me to continue without getting drawn into a debate about what defines popular. Because that’s not what this is about.

I realize there are many who will judge me, deride me even about this choice. Because, really, listening to a certain type of music is a choice. Pop isn’t the only thing I listen, too. I listen to alternative, and classical, and rap and pretty much whatever. If it’s a good song, I’ll listen. And possibly like it. Much like a good book, I’ll read whatever genre as long as I like it.

However, I can’t help but notice that Pandora seems to put a lot of pop in rotation for me. Taylor Swift seems to be a favorite these days. And I’m OK with that. It’s fun music. Sure, songs about break-ups aren’t exactly uplifting happy songs. But the ones with the revenge themes can be. Even the heart break songs can have a snappy beat that I can dance to. And dance I do. Unless I’m at work because I think that’s pushing the “I’m enjoying this” boundary a bit.

I feel like I should explain why I like pop music. It’s not because I want to defend the genre. It’s because it serves a purpose.

It’s fun, it’s silly, it helps me forget

Helps me forget?

Yup. It helps me forget about all the awful in the world. In case you weren’t aware, there’s this Ebola thing happening. (Side note, the conspiracy theorist in me says this is the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, but I might be wrong, so don’t quote me on it.) There’s the ever widening income gap that makes me worry about the future. I could go on and on about the spiraling costs of healthcare, or the issues in the Middle East (pick one these days) or the upcoming midterm election or what the Supreme Court is or is not ruling on. But, I won’t. Instead, I blast the radio (or streaming music) and forget about this world.

Because when the music is on and I’m focused on writing, I’m living in a world I create. One where everything works out (mostly. I’m not all sunshine and roses but you’ve got to have some happy in there) and the bad guys get taken down. Even if the lines of right and wrong are blurry and don’t exactly make sense, the good guys, the one’s you are rooting for, win. Whatever winning is.

That doesn’t happen in the real world. Good guys loose. A lot. Evil wins. A lot. And evil doesn’t always look like a zombie. Often it looks like a guy in a suit. Or girl in a suit. I don’t discriminate.

Hence my desire to read and write thrillers and sci-fi and speculative stuff. To create a world where the little guy wins (even if he has to bend the rules a bit). Since we don’t win very often in this one, it’s nice to have that kind of alternative reality to escape to. It can be a lot better than this one. And I sometimes help create that listening to fun, silly, escapist music.

So, judge me if you will, but I’ll keep on reading and writing the “fun stuff, listening to the pop stuff and shaking it off. Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Smile Pretty! And Don’t Wear Elastic

Wednesday was picture day at work.

It’s part of a marketing campaign. We’re getting our pictures on the website (among other things). I spent a bunch of time Wednesday morning trying look decent. Fussing with the hair, changing shirts a bunch of times and so on. I finally told myself I was over thinking it. It’s just a picture for a job I don’t care about, because really, I’m a writer. No one will ever see it. And, what do I care?

They take the picture and now I want to redo it. I hate the shirt, my hair looks silly, I look crazy. Blah, blah, blah. It’s not a vanity thing. I just don’t want to look stupid. I know this isn’t my true calling and in 10 years I’m not going to worry about it, but this is going on the Internet, after all. I’d like to forever be remembered as, “not dorky looking.” Or something like that.

But why am I so darn worried about this picture? Because it’s on the Internet and the Internet is forever. That’s part of it. But, the more I thought about it, the more I worried. I started realizing, it isn’t just about the picture.

I took this job because I needed money. The freelance/writing thing isn’t enough to to pay the bills, something I mentioned in the interview. And, my thought at the time was, it’s flexible, so that should make this writing thing easier. I can’t work more than 24 hours a week, I don’t have to work every day, I can, in some respects, do whatever I want. I have a set schedule, but I set it. So, I know exactly when I have time to write and when I don’t. I went into this with the attitude of, it’s just a job to help pay the bills. I’m not taking it seriously. Ever.

But.

I hear people talking about things at work and I get upset. Genuinely upset. Oh, they hired someone else and that person is already learning something new? Why not me? How come I’m not picked? Why did this person get this thing and I didn’t? At times, I find myself upset, jealous, even, of stuff going on. Concerned.

Which is stupid because everyone there is fabulous, and there are no egos there. No one’s angling for the corner office. Mostly because there isn’t one. But, you know what I mean. I should not give a shit about any of it and yet, I do. Because I like the job. I love it! It’s all kinds of greatness. Flexible, fun, doesn’t require a lot of brain power (leaving my mind ready to create), they pay on time. But, I wanted – needed – to look good. Not just for me but for the company. I want them to look good. As good as possible. I want this venture to work out.

Uh-oh.

Now, I’m comfortable. Now, I’m happy. Invested, even (not with money, though). Now, I want to stay and do what I can do to help this company succeed. In part because it’s a start-up and who knows? Maybe it will go public and we’ll all get rich. But I also want it to succeed because I want it to succeed. Because I care. Because I’m comfortable.

There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable. For example, I think elastic waist bands are a fabulous invention. Everyone should have those in their pants. And warm, snuggly blankets are awesome. But being comfortable at work. That’s a different thing. Especially when I took the job with the “it’s just a job because really, I’m a writer” attitude. It’s no longer just a job. It’s a thing. Not a career. But I could wake up one day and find it’s turned into one.

So, what to do? Ditch the elastic waist band for a suit? Metaphorically, of course. I hate suits. And jobs that require suits. Nope. That’s not the answer. There are a lot of really good things about this job that make writing work. Perhaps it’s time to accept it’s OK to like the day job and to be comfortable in it. To wrap myself up in it and enjoy the sense of comfort and security. For now.