This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.
With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”
Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.
In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3” and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:
Don’t pursue a role, LIVE that role. Like my sister told me, back when I confessed I wanted to be a filmmaker…
“Then BE a filmmaker,” she said.
“That’s what I’m saying: I wanna be.”
And that’s when she gave me the million dollar advice…
“No – BE a filmmaker. You say you wanna be; just BE a filmmaker. Think every thought AS a filmmaker. Don’t pine for it or pursue it; BE it. You ARE a filmmaker; you just haven’t made a film yet.”
And it sounded artsy-fartsy as fuck, but it was CRAZY useful advice. A slacker hit the sheets that night, but the CLERKS-guy got out of bed the following morning.
The old writer’s adage goes: “A writer writes.” It means a writer doesn’t pine to write, a writer doesn’t think about writing and wishing, a writer does it. Good, bad, lots, little, it doesn’t matter.
It reminded me of a blog post from popular and well-awarded SF author, John Scalzi (whose books I love and is only 2 years older than me), I read some months ago, and then came across again recently: Writing: Find the Time or Don’t. And while he’s not normally this in-your-face, this is obviously a subject, the kvetching about finding time to write, that gets his goat — so he writes:
This is why at this point in time I have really very little patience for people who say they want to write but then come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they don’t have the time. You know what, today is the day my friend Jay Lake goes into surgery to remove a huge chunk of his liver. After which he goes into chemo. For the third time in two years. Between chemo and everything else, he still does work for his day job. And when I last saw him, he was telling me about the novel he was just finishing up. Let me repeat that for you: Jay Lake has been fighting cancer and has had poison running through his system for two years, still does work for his day job and has written novels. So will you please just shut the fuck up about how hard it is for you to find the time and inspiration to write, and just do it or not.
Kind of puts things into perspective, don’-it? Regardless of what goals you want to pursue. For me, writing has been what I’ve wanted to do since I read my first Ray Bradbury story around 4th grade. Solidified when I started writing narratives of my D&D game exploits around 6th grade. And what have I got to show for 30 years of wanting to be a writer? Three finished short stories and a novel that’s still shambling toward an ever-ungraspable ending. Bupkis! Why? Oh, because I have work, and family, and school, and yadda yadda yadda. It’s really all because I’m easily distracted. The Internet has helped give me adult ADD. My falling ass-backwards into a computer career didn’t help, as it forced me to multi-task. Oh, and good news, studies on multi-tasking has been shown to make you suck at everything you’re trying to do at the same time. Oh, and your general reasoning ability as well.
This excuse, that excuse…. Scalzi asks:
So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.
I’m sick of saying, “Yes, but…”. The answer is “yes, dammit!” Every year I age I’m closer to death. Closer to dementia. Closer to debilitating car accidents. Alzheimer’s. Embolisms and aneurysms. Things that will take away my ability to write without giving me any choice in the matter. Not to mention the fact that after 30, the adult brain begins to plasticize and harden neuropathways making it more and more difficult to learn new things, think in new ways, consider alternatives to assumed ways of thinking and knowledge — basically, makes you less of a nimble and adaptable person with a dynamic voice and ability to explore various and risky or challenging writing styles and subjects. Every year that passes is my life becoming less and less what I want it to be, with wasted opportunity and missed chances.
Find the time or make the time. Sit down, shut up and put your words together. Work at it and keep working at it. And if you need inspiration, think of yourself on your deathbed saying “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.” If saying such a thing as your life ebbs away fills you with existential horror, well, then. I think you know what to do. (Scalzi)
I am filled with that horror!
I can’t quit my insurance-providing day job, and of course I can’t give up my family. But I can squeeze those writing moments, those 250+ words a day, from the spaces where reading about how politicians are ruining our democracy, how the TSA are the new Brown Shirts, how religion does this or that, etc., currently saps my time and attention. The podcast “Writing Excuses,” episode: “5.8: The Excuses You’re Out Of” has three successful writers talking about all the “yes, buts,” and they reiterate what I encounter time and time again from writers (and other creators of art and scholarship) — they gave up TV in order to do what they wanted to do. Not necessarily all TV as at least one of them uses some shows as inspiration (more on some vs. all in a moment), but certainly the turning it on just to see what’s on habit — but the bottom line is you make the time to do what you want, and you make it a priority over the other things that you complain are sapping your time.
The idea of giving up wading through daily doses of political, anarchism, religious, social-critique articles and blogs and news and essays, cold turkey, is very daunting. Intimidating. Being a well-informed advocate of educating one’s self about the forces out there in socio-political economics and culture, is something I’ve become, is a central part of who I am. Ever since the late 90s, when I knew something was wrong with society and politics and middle-class life, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I kept hearing from both political sides what problems were and who was to blame, but it all seemed superficial and scapegoating for the real problems. Then a few years ago, I was introduced to a method of thought, an ideology (yes, “ideology,” no bones about it) that serves as a tool for examining culture and politics and economics and religion — everything, and everything made sense! I could begin, just, to see the roots of the problems and not just the symptoms.
One can’t unsee, unexperience, what one has seen and experienced. I can’t become that quality I loathe in most people in America who limit their entire social awareness and political activisim to spending 5 minutes every four (at best two) years in a voting booth, putting checks next to people who have been selected for them as their representitives, who don’t actually represent them at all! And then coast through life with smug arrogance that they’ve performed their civic duty and are engaged citizens of democracy — when all they’ve done is choose a lesser evil fed to them, maintaining the status quo, and aren’t any more engaged or civic than the person who stayed home during that one day in 1460 days (or 740). I can’t be that person. Granted, I use a lot of “yes, but”s when it comes to actually doing things like protesting or marching or letter-writing campaigns, and the like — but I see my endless shouting into the storm as a form of engagement with the cultural forces that affect my life without my consent. It’s a form of doing something that’s better than just passively watching FOX News or MSNBC and going “tsk tsk tsk” at the symptoms of cultural rot and manipulation. I don’t know if I can be passive and uninformed any more.
Part of my mind keeps trying to reassure me, no no no, of course not! Go ahead and be engaged in deep socio-politics and religion critique and the like, little bits. It’ll be OK. And I realize that voice sounds a lot like what I figure the mental voice of an addict tells him that it’s OK to still hang out with his druggie friends, or go places where people will be using. It’ll be OK. But I know hanging around Facebook with all the news feeds and interest groups that feed my “bad”-news-junkie addiction, will just suck me back into time-wasting distraction from what I truly want my goal in life to be right now. So, I have to ask myself, can I do it for one year? Can I block, set to ignore, defriend, unsubscribe from all the people and groups that send me socio-economic-political-religious news and info, and be a disattached and disengaged sleepwalker?
Unfortunately, not entirely, I can’t. Because that ideology I’ve embraced which makes sense of the world to me, is the same one I use to critique popular culture, literature, and the other subjects of my scholarly writing — the second aspect of my writing life I need to make active and viable. That aspect that I just spent years and racked up debt getting my Masters Degree in. I need to continue to nurture and engage the scholarship that will allow me to write interesting and applicable journal articles, and hopefully books. And no scholarship can be done absent of some model, some theory — some totalizing ideology. And, even if I were to limit my scholarship purely to the study of certain literature, I can’t avoid some engagement in contemporary socio-politics. More so since my general area of scholarship is in posthuman postmodernism. (Well, unless I wanted to approach it purely from a “liberal humanist” perspective and claim the text/film contains everything necessary within it already to expose the inherent “good, truth, and beauty of art,” with no need to contextualize it within its culture of its creation. Pah! Gag.)
So, I can’t cold turkey, but I can’t fall prey to rationalizations and distractions any longer. At least not for one whole year. I have this arbitrary new year to get rid of bad habits, make some new, and get significantly closer to the person I want to be, accomplishing the things I need to accomplish. I need to prune and lop off parts of the enabling where I can, and limit exposure to distraction everywhere else. To that end, my resolutions:
- Identify the Facebook friends and groups that are more than 33% about politics, socio-economics,religion, etc., and block/ignore/defriend them.
- Identify the RSS feeds that are the same, and delete them from my feeder/reader.
- Identify the podcasts that are the same, and delete them from my iTunes updater.
- Write at least 250 words a day, every day, of fiction or scholarly work — not blogging or journaling!*
- Read at least one short story or chapter of fiction a day, every day.
*250 words is basically only one page of text (without dialog), and isn’t much at all. I’ve written 15-page school papers in a day. But it’s Cory Doctorow’s minimum, and it’s a good low bar that should be do-able and won’t lead to ultimate failure. (Cory is a prolific author and social-political activist who straddles both roles and does it well! But then, I’m pretty sure he’s not human, either.)
Well, that’s my resolution for 2011. Hopefully by this time next year I can look back and proudly state that I see in me what I want to be, and there’s no turning back.