Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Resolute, Final Edition

Every year, I post last year's New Year's resolutions with a short analysis of how well I think I succeeded at them, and then I post this year's. However, I've decided not to make New Year's resolutions for 2020.

In the last few years, I've started to find the calendar too arbitrary to shape my life around - buying gifts for people on holidays instead of when I find good gifts for them, spending time with family during the worst season instead of the nicer ones, choosing self-improvement only when the turn of the month tells me to. My mind and heart move to a different rhythm; sometimes it's seasonal, but sometimes those moves take a longer or shorter time than a month or a weather pattern or even an entire year can encompass.

This yearly blog post has been helpful in organizing internal self-improvement, and in looking back on whatever happened to me across twelve months. But, in all honesty, I'm pretty tired of retrospective thinking. And I've found that either I'm trying to learn the same lessons over and over (fight self-doubt, avoid the distractions of the internet) or I'm trying small things that don't take an entire year to alter.

2020 seems like a good stopping point for this tradition. I may change my mind for 2021, but we'll see when we get there. In the meantime, I still want to analyze last year's (in greater detail here).

1. Rethink productive. If there was a single theme for my 2019, it was this. Whether I succeeded or failed, I don't know; I still don't have a good sense of how much work is enough for me not to feel lazy. There were weeks when I read five books and turned out five reviews, along with editing other people's work, promoting my own, and pitching still more; and there were weeks when I did nothing but watch Rifftrax, play phone games, and nap. I certainly learned, once and for all, that binging on work and then binging on relaxation is my natural pattern, and it takes so much effort to reverse that pattern that it's almost not worth it.

I'm still internally convinced that I'm lazy. Loved ones have tried to tell me that I'm not. My therapist asked me to define lazy, which set me back a pace or two. By the end of the year, I'd accepted that sometimes I must rest, but I hadn't stopped feeling guilty about it.

2. Lean into a hobby or two. Fail. Or that hobby was horses, which became a job. When I started volunteering at RideOn, I had to actively fight down the urge to be the best volunteer at the stable, to be the most useful person on any shift, to make special friends with the instructors, etc. It took real effort to be one among the group of people who helped instead of striving to be The Best One. I needed that experience, badly - but then I took it and turned it into a job instead of letting it be what it was, a hobby.

Cross-stitching would be better.

3. Bring collage and horses into my life. Success with horses, failure with collage, but I think the extraordinary success of the one (now I spend time with them almost every day!) nixes the failure of the other.

4. Be smart about yes and no. Success. I don't know if I did this very strategically at first, but I did finally figure out, during autumn, that reviewing as I was doing it had to stop. I started saying no and I kept saying it, continually asking whether X or Y opportunity would a) bring me money, b) bring me pleasure, or c) help with Ceremonials. If it didn't do any of those things, I said no. That's how it'll be for the next six months, too. Booya.

5. Be aware of the networking vs. friendship, promotion vs. information percentage. Success, only inasmuch as this turned out not to be difficult to navigate. Some friendships started professional and wound up better than that, while others ended up mixed, and still others stayed professional. I didn't have any trouble separating the wish to be personally liked from working well, which surprises me, as - see above with RideOn - I so constantly want to be specially liked. Not with the desperation of a people-pleaser, but with the internal conviction that I'm unusually cool and should be recognized as such by everybody. That sounds egocentric but I'm leaving it.

6. Teach. Failish. I did teach an online class, but I was imagining teaching in a classroom and that didn't come to pass. It's starting to be a running joke, my inability to get a classroom gig.

7. Travel. Success. I didn't go on one of the big trips I wanted to, and it might have been better if I'd gone to a book con in NYC I thought about attending. But I did go to Iceland and Chautauqua and benefited both my career and my soul in those places. Next year will involve a lot more travel, and I feel prepared to do it, with a passel of useful gadgets in my suitcase.

In 2020 I'm planning to listen to my instincts, hug friends, smile a lot, try hard. I'm going to write and think and breathe. I'm going to live, and I hope that living will be healthy and joyful, but I will reach deep down and far out for strength if it isn't always. Happy New Year, friends. Live well. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Time to Be Human

Here are some things I'd like to put in this space soon:
  • A list of all the books I read in 2019 
  • My New Year's resolutions and a report on last year's 
  • Thoughts on how my last essay of the year is going 
  • Pride and concern about how I'm prepping for the Ceremonials launch 
But mainly because of how the last essay of the year is going, I don't know if I can put together all of these posts.

I should have started writing it in November. I should have taken afternoons in the last six weeks to work on it a little bit at a time. Now there are three days left in the year and it's not done. I wanted to finish the essay in 2019 because it's the last essay of the book I've been working on for three years or so, and I want to submit the finished book to a contest that closes on January 31, 2020. I don't really know if I have a manuscript, and I won't know until I finish this essay and put all ten of the essays together. I should have finished the essay in November or mid-December so I could have assembled the manuscript already rather than worrying about getting it done in January.

But I didn't do any of that.

Today I started it, and the problem is the same as it was in November, if not worse: I have so much to say that I don't know how to say it all. I'm likely going to write and then cut a bunch of the draft, which is something I rarely do, but at this distance I'm having trouble distinguishing what's necessary and what interests only me.

I'm also presently reading for two book prizes. One has a deadline in early January, and just this morning I finished enough of the field to feel confident about voting for the choice I wanted to vote for all along. With one exception, the rest of the books in the field are truly wonderful, but my choice is a Mozart book in a field of Salieris. Sorry, everybody else. I really liked your books. The other prize has a deadline in February, and I'm a little less secure about whether I can finish the field in time (bigger field, longer books, I've read fewer of them).

My job has gotten easier both physically and emotionally. My body is recovering better all the time, and I'm starting to be more comfortable with the people and horses at the stable. Getting up stupidly early is working out better than I thought it would. I get up around 5 and spend half an hour settling in to my awake self: eating breakfast, drinking tea, reading Carolyn Hax, maybe doing a tiny bit of correspondence. I need that time to be human, and having it built in to my morning is great, even if it does mean I go to bed around 8:30 PM.

Planning for the Ceremonials launch and tour is going well. I'm done with booking all my travel and lodging and I'm finishing up gathering guests for my readings. I've had postcards made and am spreading them around, I've got plans for window posters for bookstores and little gifts for people who ask questions at readings, and other kinds of promotion are cooking along. I keep buying things for greater convenience while I'm traveling (a special heated brush for my bangs, a warm coat I can compress into a tiny ball) in the hope that I'll somehow be prepared for the tour experience, but underneath I realize this is just throwing capitalism in the direction of anxiety. Some things are worthy - I bought a rolling crate that I can check as baggage to carry my stock of Ceremonials, rather than lugging a cardboard box - but are packing cubes really necessary?

This has been an eventful year, full of highs and lows so numerous I can barely remember them all. I hope I always behaved well in the face of pressure. I can't be sure.

I put stickers on my drafting notebooks to make them mine, and because I know I'll probably fill the notebook before I get sick of the stickers. I've been using this book since 2017. It only has a couple of pages left. With the current essay, I'll finish it up tomorrow or the next day. The Petrified Forest sticker and the Wales sticker are both from 2017, but the Chautauqua and Iceland stickers both came from this year. And I'm visiting the "write" sticker all the time, every year.

Monday, December 2, 2019

How You Get Into the Pool

For the first time in a couple of years, I've hung a hummingbird feeder outside my office window. They've started to find it, the little birds, and they come visit me now with fair frequency. It's nice.

Most of my body hurts, and I'm moving pretty slowly. It's because I got a job a few weeks ago as a groom at a horse stable. I adore the job, and I'm so happy to be doing even the crummy chores required of me at the barn, but I won't romanticize what it's doing to my joints and muscles and spine. Going from 500-5,000 steps per day to 18,000-30,000 steps per day is a big change. I've Googled and Googled and yes, this kind of painful adjustment to a job full of physical labor is normal and in a few weeks I will be feeling better. But I'm a little worried. I'm almost 40, after all, and I can't bounce back from major exertion like I did in my 20s.

November was like how you get into the pool if you're skittish about water temperature. I wrote one thing, and then I read a book, and then I did no reading or writing for days, and then I read a little  more and wrote a little the end of the month I started feeling more like myself, acclimated to the water, ready to read and write with gusto again. But it won't be like it was.

"Burned out" is not what happened to me w/r/t book reviews this year. I just realized, sometime this fall, that I wanted to do more than one thing in a given day, a given week. As I took on more and more books, I watched fewer films, talked to fewer friends, did hasty work with my other responsibilities. If I had a maid, and didn't have a book of my own to finish, I could've kept it up. (Maybe.) Because I am who I am, though - profoundly scattered among interests and desires - it had to stop.

I'm not shutting down my reviewing work completely, but I'm done pitching reviews for a little while except in the rarest circumstances. I'll keep working for my regular folks, Locus and B&FG and a few others. However, I'm more interested in curating, and working on other parts of my creative life, for the immediate future.

More opportunities for curation will be abundant soon; I've been named the new Reviews & Interviews Editor for the VIDA Review. I'm extremely excited about this, and I feel, as objectively as possible, that it's a great fit for everyone concerned. We haven't had an editorial meeting yet with the new staff, so I'm not ready to talk about volume or strategy or pitches, but I hope you'll put a little bookmark on me in your head if you have something you'd like to pitch in the future.

Some Ceremonials news: I got a Kirkus review (no, I didn't pay for it); the first interview with me about the book has gone up; and I finally found a site that had a graphic template I could use to make a tour date postcard. (Soon to be in paper form; thanks, Moo's Cyber Monday sale.)

Many more guests will read than can fit on this postcard 

I will likely come to the east coast in July, and depending on how the book does, I might do a Midwest/Deep South leg in the fall of 2020. Ceremonials releases in two months and a week, or thereabouts, and I will have lots more news and info for you as the time passes.

A couple of publications I want to share here, in case you missed them:

  • An essay about Black Widow, a movie I love with absolutely no cult following at all, for Bright Wall/Dark Room. This was the fourth or fifth thing I pitched or submitted to them, and I had some heartbreaking near-misses, so it's gratifying to have something accepted.
  • This weird short story called "The First Snow," published in a paper volume of Storm Cellar several seasons ago, newly posted on the website this week. My opinion of my own short stories has shifted so much over time that I honestly have no idea anymore if it's a good piece of writing. I'm happy with what I did, so I'm kinda done worrying about it. 

Look for a short essay on Pink Floyd's The Wall coming soon, something I thought about for a lot longer than it took me to write it, and rambled endlessly to Matt about, poor fella. Listen for a podcast with me and my NB sibling from another...nibling, Ilana Masad, coming soon. Get ready for multiple angsty social media posts as December, my least favorite month of all, wears on.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Irrevocable and Important, Yet So Petty and Dumb

I've now put out all the most worrying fires that got started while I took the month of October off from reviewing. There are plenty of emails that need answering, and a whole chain of labor to do related to a relatively minimal chore (must print shipping label and proofs of freelancer pay, must move printer to desk in order to print, must organize desk in order to move printer, must organize rest of office in order to organize desk, must figure out bookshelf situation in rest of apartment in order to organize office), and o, the pile of books to read. But I feel okay about the future for now.

I do have lots of thoughts and ideas flying around in my head, which is usually evidence that I need to write a blog post. So here I am.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Falling, Falling

I have mixed feelings about fall.

I'm happy for everyone who enjoys it, whether the source of that enjoyment is Halloween or pumpkin spice or sweater weather, but I am not in that camp. When I lived in New England, fall was an arbiter of The Bad Time, when cold and snow would dominate my experience of the world. The crisp air spelled approaching doom.

I don't know how to explain my emotional experience of winter in a way that will convince you, especially if you're a winter-lover. I hated and hate cold, I hated and hate snow unless it's firmly outside a cozy window (and someone else is responsible for clearing off my car), I hated and hate having to bundle myself in garments before going outside and then having to shed them all again once I get where I'm going. I don't just find these things annoying or a little upsetting. I hate them with my whole body, with my whole heart, with my whole pineal gland. There's a reason I never want to leave California again; the climate is a matter of emotional survival for me.

And it's not because I have no experience with snow

October is my birth month, and I always like my birthday. However, the accompaniment to my birthday is always an extended eye-roll about Halloween. Whatever the gene is that gives people Halloween joy, I don't have it. So I coo dutifully at dressed-up little kids and shrug about Sexy Gene Roddenberry costumes and wait for November.

In California it's better, because the weather doesn't portend anything in particular (it was 96F this week). Bad feelings about fall have started to loosen in me, especially because here, months greater than 9 mean the rainy season is on the way, and rain in LA has a strange, supernatural, holidayish feel to it. I no longer feel like fall is an ending, and instead I feel more like it's a spot in a cycle.

All that said: I don't remember living through any prior October in which I felt so overloaded and so wildly incompetent to the task of my life. On Monday movers came and carried the stuff that we couldn't carry ourselves, but for the prior two weeks I'd been moving stuff from one apartment to the other, filling and emptying box after box, a slow, steady, muscle-aching bucket brigade of books and clothes and Stuff. It took me another three days to finish clearing out the old apartment of kitchen, closet, and garage stuff. I am very tired but my delts are ripped, bro.

I took the month off from reviewing, which seemed before I did it as if it couldn't be done, but was the right choice. Not that I could've kept up my regular traffic anyway, because along with the move, I have been working on a copy editing job that has been...just...terrific. The work is fairly easy and quick, the content is silly enough to amuse me, and I'm getting paid. It's a real bright spot in the grinding work that has been my freelance life this year. But I'd hoped to at least do my regular Locus reviews along with a few books from my favorite presses. Instead I made my apologies and did no reviewing at all, and almost no reading.

Because there was plenty more this month. For most of the month I was teaching my first online class, which finished up around when the movers did. I was selected to participate in a thing that I can't reveal, but which makes me very happy and proud. The film series I've been co-curating for a few years at CSUN has suddenly, inexplicably taken off, with much bigger audiences, more attention, and actual funding. I got an acceptance that I don't want to jinx by saying what it was, but which surprised me enormously, as I wrote the piece at the very last minute before deadline, which usually leads to terrible work for me. And it's a long time coming - I've submitted to this place a lot, with pieces I really care about.

In between all that, I watched almost 100 episodes of Parks and Recreation for the first time, as well as more than a dozen movies. I needed something to sit on the couch and do while resting between carrying loads of our stuff from one apartment to the other. I've rewatched old pals (Black Christmas) and tried some new stuff (Millennium Actress). It's been nice.

When October is over, I'm looking forward to enjoying reading again. That's the curse of this job: the traffic of it, and the nature of reviewing only new books, means the bulk of my reading isn't for pleasure. Someday it might be again, but not this season.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

One's Gotta Go

September, uh:

Fourteen reviews is a lot for one month. I didn't file all of them at the same time or even within a few weeks of each other, so it's a little disingenuous about the nature of my productivity. A little. But not a lot.

Now that September is over, I'm looking forward to doing fewer things. October has, oh, six or eight books to read, and November has even fewer than that, largely because I've been saying no to things and keeping well away from Nectar Literary's delectable newsletter.

Idly, I've been wondering what to do next. I'm trying to slow down the reviews because they're not leading to steady income (yet), and that's starting to become a priority. Freelancing is exhausting, and while I'm better suited to it than to a regular job, I'm so worried and keyed up all the time that I'd like to have something else in place by mid-2020.

I'm applying for various opportunities and putting my intentions out there. Irons in the fire include a podcast a friend is launching with me as a rotating guest, a one-time editing job that's going to be helpful on my resume, and of course the book I'm 9/10 of the way done with. The film series I co-run at CSUN has suddenly taken off in popularity, based on our newsletter numbers and an invitation we got for a Halloween event. I'm trying to teach off- and online. But underlying all this is a question mark about making the Venn diagram work for me.

I don't know whether to lean into stuff that I'm good at and makes money (legal work, detail management), or to keep limping along at what I like. I've lived both ways now, and I like this way better, but I sleep better the other way.

In April and then from August until yesterday, I watched the five seasons of The Wire, which I knew was some kind of phenomenon, but which I didn't comprehend as the monumental work of art it is until I was a few episodes in. I started tweeting it, and couldn't stop, and now I have this huge thread of tweets across several months that covers my emotional & critical reactions to the show. People who have seen the show have really enjoyed the thread, they tell me. I've decided to collect the tweets into a little paper zine, because making an internet-based text into a physical text always tickles me. Don't know when, but hopefully sometime in the next couple of months.

Now that I have one essay left, I'm balking at writing it. Even though I get great satisfaction from finishing things generally (TV shows, boxes of tea, leftover dinners), I don't like finishing creative stuff. I went over this in therapy last week and I think it's tied up with fear of success, and/or disappointment that the best part of the endeavor (the making part) is over, and the part I like least (the fixing part) has to begin. Luckily, I found a contest that it'll suit, and its deadline is October 15. So that's a good prod to make me do the work.

Along with that, I'm planning to reread Highbinder this week. An agent event happened on Twitter recently, so I pitched three folks, and got a full request from one yesterday. I haven't read it all the way through in...gosh, over a year? More than two years? Don't remember. It's time to give it another read. I was thinking about it the other week because I know I named a character Malcolm, and I have to change that because the only male character in Ceremonials is named Malcolm. They both look like Malcolms in my head, just of different kinds. But one's gotta go.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Additional-Fire Effect

Just now I opened up edits on a review and I had one of those moments where it all crashed on my head, the whole and entire weight of what I've gotten myself tangled up in for the last two years, all at once, CRASH. The edits were asking me to do the exact opposite of what I've trained myself to do because editors generally prefer it (reiterate the same point in the intro and conclusion, don't be too colloquial, don't go on weird tangents). So I thought about putting myself in the mindset of this editor's wishes, when I had just spent the whole morning in the mindset of editing my own non-review-related work, and had only an hour or so before I had to put myself in a teaching mindset, after spending a few minutes first thing this morning in self-promotion mindset...[pop]

All summer, the tarot has been telling me to be patient and things will improve. Things are improving exactly at the time and in the ways the tarot said they would. This is spooky, but also great, but also, even as things improve, my responsibilities are not decreasing. CRASH.

The best thing to do when I'm feeling overwhelmed is to accomplish a pile of small, overdue things. Getting the oil changed in my car, calling my website vendor, doing some chores for an authors' group I'm involved with. But instead I'm just making list after list of things to do and worrying about email replies I haven't received. Rearranging rather than doing.

There's good news. The last couple of weeks have been emotionally unnerving, but I channeled that energy into writing the Last Tango in Paris essay I'd 3/4 given up on. I couldn't stop working on it for the past two days, not even to go volunteer with the horses. Now, it's essentially done. That means I've written nine of the ten essays for Weird New Shit, which means I'm on track, and not behind. I will finish it by the end of 2019. That feels so good that it throws a blanket on some of the fires elsewhere burning in my freelance life. The blanket is semi-flammable. I elect to feel good about the smothering effect today and worry about the additional-fire effect tomorrow.

In the past couple of months I've stopped drinking almost entirely. I tried this out early in the year as a Decision, but it didn't stick, and so instead I'm trying it as a habit with occasional exceptions. My relationship with alcohol has never been addictive, so my motivations for the teetotaling habit are about feeling good, changing the physical cycles my body goes through daily and weekly, and sitting with psychological discomfort instead of blotting it out. I'm using vaped cannabis a little bit here and there, but it's so different from booze. I can't really get used to it or predict how it will affect me, so I like it less. Also, I have only been marginally successful at rewiring my brain to believe that cannabis is OK. Drugs were very, very not okay in my family, and that training has lasted despite the increasing legality of weed and, you know, being an adult with my own judgment.

Next week an interview that's been in the works for two years is actually being published. I think. I won't believe it until I see it. This week, a review is going up at a publication I labored to break into. Ask me about it sometime.

All right, enough, I need to spend the afternoon accomplishing small, overdue things. Oh fu--CRASH