Day Jobs

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There was a big Twitter kerfuffle recently over someone who posted what I think was meant to be an encouragement to take risks and dream big regarding writing aspirations. It came out sounding more like, “just quit your job, you coward.” He got pretty thoroughly dragged as a result, to the point that someone wound up contacting his mother over it. Good grief, internet. I do think it was a pretty ridiculous and unconsidered thing to say, but I’m not interested in piling onto the guy further. So I’m leaving his name out of this post.

Still, the whole thing struck a nerve with me. Plenty of responses were from parents explaining how financial risks become more complicated when there are kids involved (this is true). Other pretty reasonable rebuttals involved wanting to be able to, you know, eat. Considering I’ve devoted at least 10-15 hours per week for the past year to writing – actual writing, submitting, editing, etc. – with less than $300 to show for it, the whole food thing is a decent reason to do something for cash besides writing. That comes out to less than a $2 per hour “wage,” if you’re curious.

Still, I do think it’s important to have a reason to go to work that isn’t purely survival-driven (for writers and for everyone else). Sure, wanting a stable income is a huge factor in my decision not to turn in my notice and ride off into the sunset in Pursuit of My Dreams. That’s not to say I haven’t thought about it. Believe me, I have. More than once. Especially on days like today, which involved a literal dumpster fire. But I keep showing up, and that’s not the worst thing in the world.

So here’s my other silver lining of a non-writing day job
for writers. It’s fuel. I’m lucky in that I can find a lot of intellectual, creative, and social interest in my work most days, and working with the public keeps my personal social bubble from getting too opaque. That’s good for both my writing and my humanity. Even if your job is terrible, though, it’s a set of experiences and probably at least a few human interactions that you can learn from. No matter how bad it gets, it’s basically a nonstop writing prompt generator /hands-on research opportunity, right? If you’ve got to have a job and it’s bumming you out, remember that no one else alive has your lived experience, which includes work, so use it (I think all of this is true for full time caregivers as well, incidentally).

I also like to remember Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Wallace Stevens. The dude turned down a teaching post at Harvard because it meant he would have to leave his position as an insurance exec, a career he spent most of his life in. With no disrespect intended toward the insurance community, is there a less poetic industry in existence? But that didn’t stop Wallace from articulating the mortality-affirming concupiscence of dessert.

So work your job if you have to work it, and enjoy it when you can and use it even if you can’t. There are worse things in life than to be employed (and/or to spend your time caring for people you love), and there’s freedom and a whole lot less stress in not having to make a living writing fiction.

And don’t forget who the only emperor is and embroider your fantails while you can. Gonna force that click thru, folks.

Good Enough

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“Good enough,” is what I tell myself right before submitting a tricky paper, clicking send on a delicate email, filing my taxes, or sending a short story out to a publisher. It’s always a cheerfully deviant moment where I’ve given myself permission to just stop worrying about something and boldly send it out in the world. It’s a moment followed by a long shower, a stiff drink, a bowl of mac n cheese, or whatever my comfort activity of the era is.

Then about fifteen minutes later there’s usually a total panic in which I bemoan my actions and frantically try to think of a way to recall whatever word bullet I just fired. But by then it’s too late and after tearing through the whole Kübler-Ross framework, I repeat my comfort action of choice and eventually, finally go to bed.

I just can’t get there with my current project. It was supposed to be a short story. Then I found myself googling “novelette publishing markets.” Then I blew through that length and got really into the idea of writing a novella. The word count range 20-40K felt roomy enough to accommodate the story without being a stressor. And now here I am at 48K, which according to my “short novel okay?” “lowest word count publishable” and “query 50000 words” searches is unacceptable. I need to find at least another 12,000 words in this story.

I know they’re there. This narrative spans about twenty years, so it’s not like I can’t find some spots to dig deeper. Every time I get to the end (and, weirdly for something I’m having this much trouble finishing, it does have a complete plot!), I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to the story and I need just one more developmental round to coax it out onto the page.

That’s fine, it’s just driving me bonkers. I’ve spent about three quarters of a year truly believing that it’s one final spit-and-polish edit away from being cheerfully good enough. It’s starting to feel like I’m approaching some sort of event horizon where I’m infinitely one more edit away from finishing the thing.

And of course my protagonist’s Achilles heel and internal motivation is a persistent feeling that she’s just not good enough. So at least that’s easy to write?

At least I can blithely click Publish on this subpar post without too much handwringing.

Tornadoes!

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This is part of an assignment I wrote for Gemma Files’ Litreactor course, also known as Installment 3 of “Anne Picks Horror Writers Who Are Dedicated and Wildly Supportive Teachers and Also Wonderful Humans,” after Brad Carter and Stephen Graham Jones – two other professional writers I greatly admire who gave me some kickass guidance.

We were asked to really drill down into three to five moments in our lives in which we were genuinely afraid. This was the fear that I wound up working with for my story, which has since jumped right on over the reasonable word count of a short story and is barreling toward being a full-on novella. 

It’s been an odd couple of months in which I’ve spent most of my free time either working on the story or watching Youtube videos of ballet dancers and tornadoes (both for story purposes). I hope I’ll be able to point you toward that finished piece soon, and that I’m not jinxing it by sharing its seed.

Anyway, here’s the fear.

I spent a good chunk of elementary school convinced I would die in a tornado. It seemed impossible that those things could exist in the world and not destroy me, or at the very least my house. I also have a very specific memory of being confused by the closed captioning icon that would flash in the upper right corner of the TV screen when a show came back from commercial, which I’d somehow convinced myself was a symbol for “tornado watch.” 

This wasn’t exactly a rational fear – the climate I grew up in did occasionally produce tornadoes, but I was in a mountain town tucked up in the Ozarks (in a house with a perfectly sound finished basement, no less), not a farmhouse out in the middle of the Kansas or Oklahoma prairie. We did get lots of thunderstorms, though, and when the Weather Channel told me to watch for tornadoes, I was on. the. case.  

I remember Mom packing us all downstairs – my brother and sister, the dog, and whatever cats we could round up. I also remember the sirens going off once or twice. That sound and the feeling it gave me are what jumped into my mind at the third blast of the Night’s Watch horn in A Song of Ice and Fire – the thing I always knew was lurking out there had finally arrived, and this was not a drill. 

A few years ago, I saw the aftermath of the 2014 Vilonia tornado in central Arkansas where it had crossed I-40. It looked like a giant monster had stomped through the area. Crazy angles in the metal guiderails, trees stripped, crumpled like toothpicks, thrown all around the place, billboards and heaps of sheet metal lying around liked used Kleenexes. But the thing that was somehow even more upsetting about it was that it was such a short diameter of destruction. Maybe a half mile or so. Its path was so incredibly well-defined – a strip of the world torn off revealing absolute chaos underneath.  

When my reptile brain tries to conceive of something touching the cloud-level sky and the ground at the same time, it feels like grabbing some kind of mental third rail. It’s just so cosmically awful. Lightning bolts trip that wire too, but at least lightning is brief. Tornadoes hang out and move around, in unpredictable directions. And they’re not really made of anything except motion. They’re such a perfect kinetic symbol of how completely out-of-control the world is, and how little bargaining power we have with our own fates.   

I don’t panic about tornadoes anymore, but it doesn’t take much climate change science reading at all to make me sick to my stomach.  

Here’s my favorite Youtube tornado (no one gets hurt). 

RHC 2018: Nick Cave: Mercy on Me by Reinhart Kleist

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This post is part of a series in which I describe the twenty-four books I read in 2018 for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

Task: A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image.

Alternate: A comic written and drawn by the same person.

This post got a little out of control in terms of length and amount of navel gazing. It also has very little do to do with the comic. So buckle up.

Reinhart Kleist’s graphic biography Nick Cave: Mercy on Me was the comics equivalent of a pint of Cherry Garcia for me. And I enjoyed a large portion of it during my daughter’s nap with a literal pint of Cherry Garcia (it was a wonderful afternoon).

This is a treat if, and possibly only if, you’re enough of a Nick Cave fan to immediately recognize his lyrics after being translated into German and then back again into English, grin every time Kleist’s art perfectly renders Cave’s constant vampire pout, or enjoy seeing characters from his songs loose and mouthy on the page (though I was disappointed that Kylie Minogue’s blandly virginal Wild Rose made an appearance instead of PJ Harvey’s infinitely more interesting murderess).

I am this target audience.

How I ‘Became a Writer,’ or alternatively, Buckets of Unicorns

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I decided to be a professional writer in kindergarten. Inspired by the Whisper the Winged Unicorn series, my best buddy and I made a pact to produce books of interest to both kids and adults. I would be responsible for the words and she for the illustrations. At the time, the pictures were the much more salient portion, and I remember feeling grumpy about being stuck on serif duty. But you couldn’t have a book without words, and she was the better artist, so I went along with it.

Whisper the Winged Unicorn combined the two most desirable traits of my My Little Ponies (favorites here and here and here and here). Who knew what other worlds could be imagined in a universe of such infinite possibility?

So, yeah, writer, speculative fiction, early on. Settled.

So you’ve decided to stop breastfeeding earlier than you meant to.

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I had blithely assumed I’d breastfeed for at least a year, and probably longer. It was a struggle at first, but I had great support, loads of information, and I finally made it to a point where I was able to thoroughly enjoy the sleepy, snuggly, hormone-drenched lovefest it became around eight weeks or so.

But. 

Hands

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I look at my daughter’s hands while she’s nursing. Her palmar grasp reflex is mostly gone now, but she’ll still make a conscious decision to wrap her pudgy little fingers around my index finger every once in a while. Sometimes she’ll push my finger away instead, or pet it like a cat. Her fingers are getting chubby, and they’re getting much better at doing what she asks them to do.  She folds and unfolds them like an adorable miniature silent movie villain and then presses the back of one hand to her brow like the same film’s damsel in distress. She can wrap her hands around things, wave them around, bang them on surfaces, and stick them in her mouth (my mouth, the dog’s mouth…).

She likes to reach out and grab my face, snatching at my cheeks and lips. Ripping off my glasses is a new favorite game. Sometimes it kind of hurts – her nails are razor sharp and grow faster than I can cut them. I hate cutting her nails. I slipped once early in her life. There was blood. She cried in pain, and out of the thousands of times I’ve heard my daughter cry, that was the one that was truly intolerable. It spooked me, and now I put off her manicures until tiny little scratches start appearing on her cheeks. It’s getting easier now that her fingers are bigger.

Ipso

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My cat died yesterday.

More specifically, I had my cat’s life ended for her yesterday. I slept in the guest room the night before last where I’d been camped out for baby duty, and a thump woke me up at 2:00 am. My little orange cat Ipso had tried to jump up on the bed and had missed. Then I watched her try to walk to her litter box and she fell over. This checked a box in the worst decision making tree I’ve ever had to design.

Ipso was diagnosed with kidney failure three and a half years ago. At the time, we were told she had weeks to months. That turned out to be years – three good years, where she felt fine and acted like herself. But she had been fading for the past few weeks, and I’d been trying hard to pretend like it wasn’t happening.

I picked her up and brought her into bed with me. She stretched her chin out over my wrist and started purring while I scratched her head. We talked about it. I made the decision. She curled up next to me and I stayed up with her for the rest of the night.

I woke Chris up and told him I thought we needed to let Ipso go. He called a local mobile vet, who wouldn’t be able to get to our house until noon or so. Ipso hated going to the stationary vet’s office and I couldn’t stand the thought of her last moments being in a place that caused her so much fear and stress. So we waited.