Random Thoughts: Still wearing that hat?

Right. So it is somewhere between 4 and 5 am and I cannot continue the fight against insomnia, so I figured maybe it is time for a blog post. I know that my output here doesn’t look like the next statement is true, but I do write every single day. Fiction and journaling work marches on though it goes, mostly, unseen. Once upon a time I tried to keep some pretty rigid rules for myself around what I put into a public space, particularly if it isn’t related to writing work, but you know WWIII could start tomorrow so screw it.

It’s no secret that sleep has been sort of hard to chase down. I suspect this is true for a lot of us watching events unfold and dealing with the impact of this political moment in our daily lives.

I have probably discussed this one before, but it is hard to describe the sense of alarm I feel whenever I see one of those red hats with that bullshit statement on it. Any red baseball cap in that red color makes me reach for my mace and I still don’t relax even if it turns out not to be THE hat. But the notion that there are people still, at this point, willing to advertise their enthusiasm for fascism in the White House disturbs me for a couple of reasons. One: If this one person is gauche enough to announce this affiliation to the world how many are there out there that I can’t identify? Two: The ones in the hats seem particularly rabid and hostile. Three: How does the person not understand that no, I don’t want to talk to them and why that might be?

I’m not saying that noticing someone’s proud republican bumper sticker hasn’t caused any reaction in the past, but I can’t remember actually feeling afraid in the way that I do when I see a Trump hat. Someone’s poster declaiming political views that I don’t share might irritate, or spark some sort of ranty internal monologue, but I have never reacted with the level of paranoia that the Trump hat engenders. I’m not saying it’s right, but I am saying it is something I have to work through to get through my day. I am not alone in this. And this is only a very small detail involving American life under the current regime.

You know, on inauguration day eve in my new town, I saw one person wearing that hat. It was a young person, he was by himself and all smiles. I avoided eye contact and kept on walking, probably at a slightly faster pace. I was on my way to a march in a major city nearby. At that moment, I did not feel all that threatened, the only threat I felt was the possibility that the person might draw me into unwanted conversation if I did the friendly thing and smiled back in spite of the hostility implied by his head wear. I marched and felt hope for the first time since the election. There was a moment when I was struck by the beauty of all the voices raised in solidarity echoing off of the tall buildings and I cried. I am in a new place. Everyone there was a perfect stranger to me, but I don’t remember a time when I felt so connected to the humanity around me, so at one with something so much bigger and more important than my own individual turmoil. At least, it has been a long time. Selfishly, it turns out, civic action just feels amazing.

And then the week after inauguration happened.  ( If you want a list of all the atrocities already in play, I recommend presterity.org. ) Of course I’ve got the day to day to attend to. Day job. Bill-paying. Chores. Writing and workout schedule. All the usual stuff we would be grumbling about at any other time. But during all that there is this constant backdrop of anxiety, anger, restlessness. A desire to be doing something further than making phone calls and ranting on twitter about what is wrong with the political landscape right now, a need to do something meaningful about it. Sometimes the road is clear and then sometimes it is not. There is one firm, incontrovertible constant and that is that this is wrong, it is not normal and we must stand against it and support others who are standing against it. It is the guidepost that keeps me moving forward.

The next time I saw a Trump hat, it took me by surprise and it upset me more than I thought possible. But by then it had been a week and the terrifying executive orders had started. I believe that day the issue that had my brain spinning was freedom of the press. I was at the laundromat. When I do laundry I tend to go for a walk between wash and dry cycles, rather than sit around waiting. But during the dry cycle, it’s a habit to take advantage of the television there. It is always on local news. I don’t have television at home, so it is kind of a nice thing. Standing in front of that television was a guy in that hat. I wasn’t exactly sure what the broadcast was about except that I heard the word “Trump” and saw the guy in the Trump hat standing alone with a smile. I saw him before he saw me and so I went over to the corner where my laundry was in the process of losing the last of its moisture and hid behind a long row of machines. Why did I hide? Well, one of the things about hanging out in a laundromat is that generally, people like to engage in small talk. It was crucial, at that moment, to avoid the possibility of interaction with that person. His smile at the mention of the Neon Narcissist’s name registered as creepy. And anyone, who by this particular time could proudly declare support of that man, seemed a person to avoid, at best.

One thing that crossed my mind is that all of these people in their creepy red hats might be baiting the opposition. Do you think they might be baiting us? If they are looking for a reaction, they certainly have one. In my case, it is simply avoidance.

The trouble with that is there are plenty of scenarios where we cannot avoid them. The co-worker who voted for Trump and won’t stop talking about it even when you politely decline to engage for the sake of a harmonious workplace and, oh, I don’t know, keeping the job. The family member you have to see at holidays and family gatherings if you have a desire to maintain relationships with other, less insane family members. How do you balance the mandate to rail against with the need to survive your daily life? The answer is somewhere in that old cliché, pick your battles. I have no easy answers. There is no panacea. Sometimes the stream is clear and other times the river is muddy. (Feel free to use that quote for pee jokes, Alec Baldwin.) I’ll speak freely with my allies and strategize for meaningful action. I’ll yell on the streets in a march, I will state my case on the phone or in a letter to my representatives in congress. But I can’t reach across the aisle to directly engage with what amounts to Nazi support.

So how about you guys? How do you navigate the daily with this crap in the air that we breathe? What do you use as the metaphorical face mask to filter out the poison? What are some of the small details in your day to day that are different? I ask because I think it is important to note these things. They are the things that will become normal and hard to pinpoint later. There’s more to say, there always is, but for now, coffee, workout and words in the fiction project I am working on. Fingers crossed I see no red baseball caps today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts: On Writing, Politics, and Silence

Today, I am supposed to be writing a dinner scene among a family between whom there is no political agitation. Given the political agitation that is currently in the very air we breathe this is no easy task. The brain desperately wants to engage with that while the particular demands of the story I am writing now require that my brain engages with something else. The fictional family’s conflict that I am writing about has to do with combatting negative paranormal energies that they are, as humans on the living side of the equation, unaware of. This has nothing to do with politics, as far as the moment goes. Except that I remember in fiction, as in politics, conflict arises when character agendas diverge and come into opposition. So maybe I can use the present turmoil as a way in, as I write, even though the characters are fighting with ghosts rather than an oppressive regime. Maybe, if I can trick my brain into understanding that all conflict in story is still a mirror of conflict in general I can make it do what I want it to do. In a sense, this is sort of what writers do every day under any circumstance when we sit down to confront the blank page, the story that we are trying to write that has nothing to do with our real lives. Except that these aren’t normal circumstances, are they?

I don’t have any easy answers. We still have our work. We still have our voices whether we are writing escapist fiction or political allegories or essays or articles or engaging in rigorous journalism. But one of the thing artists of all stripes do is use everything around them in their work. Of course, we will use this too. This isn’t the only thing I think about of course. What we present online, on social media, or in fiction can never tell the full story of what is in our heads.

I’m thinking a lot lately about silence. There is power in silence at certain times. The silent protest, the vigil, the silence you employ in your personal life to protect others. The silence you choose in the workplace because you want to pick your battles wisely. The silence you choose because it is better in some cases to listen than to shout. Example: when someone speaks about marginalization that you yourself do not experience it is better to listen than to weigh in. Example: when you are in a classroom setting and are there to learn something that you previously did not know. Example: when you do not know if you can trust the person in front of you with personal information.

There may come a time very soon when some of us choose silence in order to use resources other than our voice in order to save others.

But when someone demands your silence you can bet your ass that something very shady is going on. Someone’s rights are about to be violated. Someone’s dignity is about to be forcibly stripped from them. Abuse is about to occur.

It is not comfortable for everyone to get loud. But now is the time to get very loud. It is past the time to get very loud.

In the past I often opted for silence on certain topics because by nature, I am a harmony seeker. I wish to understand before I speak.

One thing that I understand right now is that silence is no longer appropriate. Human rights are being attacked. The government currently is trying to push progress back. The arts are under attack, and yes, science is under attack. All of this will negatively impact human beings. It will negatively impact all of us, even those that support the Neon Narcissist because here’s the thing. Narcissists require approval. They are a sucking hole of need in this regard. When that man stops hearing accolades, or the accolades get repetitive enough that they begin to register as insincere his paranoia will grow stronger, and even those heaping accolades on that man will come under attack from him. He is already doing this with the press. You, in the Neon Narcissist’s line of sight, you might suffer last since you are playing along, but trust that you will suffer the worst. Do not be silent about his abuses when they happen. Get very fucking loud.

I know what happens when you remain silent in the face of an abuser who is like this. The behavior escalates, because when they can’t get accolades, they will seek a reaction, any reaction, even a negative one just to feel like they are in control. They are not in control, they are in chaos. This should frighten every single one of us. This should frighten those in the inner circle the most. This should give pause to those who are in support of the administration. Because the Neon Narcissist will not stop with attacking the enemies that he can see in front of him, he will go on to those he imagines are enemies. And eventually, those people who experience his wrath will be those who supported him.

Random Thoughts: Just Checkin’ In

Hey, everybody.

So the political landscape right now I suspect has a lot of us fiction writers both distracted and energized, focused and scattered, angry and hopeful. All of these swirling and conflicting emotional states are tough to cope with. We are distracted from the work of writing fiction because the horror show of what is going on in American governance seems like dystopian fiction. It is hard to look away to focus on our work, it is hard to believe that our work is significant enough to merit stepping away from the news cycle and missing something crucial. But our lives and our work are crucial, too. Stories are important. Whenever you lose sight of that remember politics is also made of story. Want to change the stories that play out in real life? Write stories that nurture empathy in your audience. Reminder: All stories, whether escapist fiction or literary, nurture empathy in an audience.

So that’s the distracted part, here is the energized part. We are all seeing people come together to work against injustice and tyranny. Anger, when channeled into action can be a wonderful motivator. This is true of fiction writing also. There are some writers who do beautiful work that is fueled by anger. Anything that we experience as artists can be used as food or fuel for art. Use it for your work as you are using it for action. This, also merges with where we are focused. We know what is causing the anger and that cause points us in certain directions regarding our work and our civic duties.

But we are also scattered. It can be overwhelming to decide which call to action to heed. Which organization to volunteer for, whether to go out in the world and march or stay home and use your time to call your representatives. The American people are being attacked on so many different fronts right now it can be difficult to prioritize. And we have our personal limits. We have families and day jobs and obligations. We have things in our lives we must attend to because if we don’t no one else will, but the call to action right now is the same. If we don’t no one else will.

So pick something. Easier said than done, I know, but if we all choose at least one action, large or small, we can and will make a difference. Use your art, or not, but know that art itself can be an act of political defiance. When I wrote about the LGBT characters in Getting On With It, it did not feel like a political act. The manuscript was completed before November 8, 2016. It absolutely feels that way now. Like I said, any story asks for empathy for those who might be unlike you, whether that’s the author’s intention or not.

When I was in college, I remember having discussions about different political stances and movements and types of discourse and ways of approaching causes. There was a lot of judgment and blame bandied about in those discussions. (There still is.) This person isn’t doing enough, this group is too aggressive, this one is too quiet, this other one is too loud. At the end of those discussions it can feel as if there is nothing that you can do right even among your allies in a particular cause. This is difficult to confront, but we have to decide as individuals how we will approach things. We have to choose our own paths and stick to them. No one can do it for you, which seems lonely, but I guarantee you will find other people walking alongside you on the same path.

Whatever else you decide to do, though, keep writing.

 

Writing Life: On Being an Indie Author During #GrabYourWallet

So this one is a bit thorny and I suspect a lot of us are dealing with it. It is no secret by now that politically, I am firmly against the Predator-Elect and all for resistance. One of the ways in which we can enact that resistance is with where we put our hard-earned and sometimes difficult to come by cash. Shannon Coulter brilliantly began something called the #GrabYourWallet campaign, a call to boycott all business carrying the Trump brand. An up-to-date list can be found here.

If you opened a link you will note that one of the first companies listed is Amazon.

Amazon is where you can find my recently released book, “Getting On With It.” It is currently the only distribution platform for that book.

The plan to publish there was made before the election, and I chose to follow through for the sake of consistency, the ease with which the Amazon as a platform makes it available to potential audience. I’m not going to pull my book, though the conflict of interest is quite painful to me. As an indie author the difficulty is obvious. Amazon is still the distribution platform with the largest reach.

I am also aware that during the #GrabYourWallet campaign, it is very likely that my numbers through that platform are likely to be lower than anticipated. Folks who might be drawn to read my work are very likely the same people engaging in #GrabYourWallet. Career-wise, I should be concerned about this, and I am, except not really. Some of this has to do with my perspective on writing and getting the work out. Slowly building an audience has been the expectation since I started self-publishing. The kind of success authors dream of is not something that happens overnight, it is even slower when you have very little budget. But there will be other projects, other work, other paths, other things to try. So I’m worried but not. Maybe it is more accurate to say that I am concerned more for this particular work than I am for my career overall.

That said, I hope that audience who were anticipating the work will not forget about it, and of course make the purchase eventually. (Link, for ease of discovery.) Digitally there will eventually be a release through Smashwords. Keep an eye on my various digital spaces for that.

I mentioned already that I can’t be the only indie-author using Amazon for distribution and struggling with this particular conundrum. But I also think that the situation we are facing offers something useful, at least for the #GrabYourWallet campaign. That useful thing is an argument. It might be a weak one, since corporations are not well-known for their conscience, and since individual indie authors have little impact on Amazon’s practices as a whole. However, as a collective our value to Amazon is more significant. The longer they carry the Trump brand, the longer our livelihoods might be impacted negatively. That is something that Amazon should consider. If we don’t make money, they don’t get their cut. I just mention this as something you can use when you speak up and tell Amazon why you aren’t shopping with them this year. Do I think it will contribute to a desirable outcome for the #GrabYourWallet campaign? I have no idea. But it is something to think about. It is something that can be leveraged.

So my question is, who has data? Because that would be useful going forward.

 

 

Random Bloggery: One of those writing days….

So today is one of those days in the writing life when I open up ye olde work in progress, stare at the screen, position my hands over the keyboard ready to write and then…. nothing. Most of the time, I just write without worrying about the outcome (something I learned how to do, in part by participating in NanoWrimo.) Most of the time, I am able to squeeze something out of my head and onto the page when I have set aside time to work on fiction, but these days do happen. As I write this blog it is still early in the day. Not even noon. But my brain seems to be spinning out a bit for some reason.

So, I take a deep breath, a step back, and consider where I am with the work.

And then I remember that I have a novel that is just about ready to be published. All I need is cover art and a few tweaks to the back cover blurb and BEHOLD A BOOK SHALL BE UNLEASHED UNTO THE WORLD.

Then I think, “Holy crap!”

And I remember how creative endeavors have their own cycles. When a project is this close to completion, it makes sense that I need to relax for a few beats about productivity  with first drafts. I always hit this moment and try to push through in spite of myself. And I also hit the same moment of frustration each time. There’s a moment when I have to put a lid on the self-generated pressure to produce. I have to remind myself that the words and ideas will still be there and it is okay to take a break.

It is kind of strange that this moment hits on the first day of NanoWrimo, the month in which word count is king. Maybe there is something there, though. Yes, push through, hit those goals, do your best to finish the thing, but its good to remind ourselves that we are human and need breaks. Take those five minutes, get a coffee, do that chore that you’ve been procrastinating on. Then come back to the writing work happy that you no longer have to do that irritating chore.

It seems counterintuitive but it is true that sometimes increasing productivity means taking a little break when you hit the wall. As a person with workaholic tendencies I can tell you that I have wasted time trying to push through when my brain simply would not co-operate. When I am self-aware enough to understand what’s going on I take that needed break and end up producing more and better work than I might have without it. The thing is that it’s hard to recognize when that moment hits sometimes. Everyone’s cognitive/creative process is different, nuanced, and only we can know when a break will benefit us and when it will not. Advice? Pay attention to yourself to figure out when that is. I said before that you can learn a lot about your own process when you participate in NanoWrimo. This could be one of the things.

 

 

 

Random Thoughts: Sometimes When I Can’t Brain…

*note : “I can’t brain” is a phrase borrowed from Che Gilson, who borrowed it from somewhere else.

So this past week was a bit of a blur in Reggie-land. I had all of these plans (do a proper video for the new Patreon page, get at least two chapters written on the new sf novel, start the first round of proper edits on the sequel to Haunted, make evil marketing plans, finally teach the parrot how to swear properly… you know.) In all of my well-intentioned plan-making I completely forgot that two very major family events were occurring.

Event the first: Brother visited from several states away to celebrate his birthday, Lutz-style, before event the second, my uncle’s wedding. YAY!

Somehow in the midst of all this excitement and wonder I thought I would still get these things done.

Yeah. I know. That was probably not the brightest assumption to make. (Also, I definitely need to check the workaholic tendencies. )

Anyway, a good time was had by all and my brother received more cowbell. He needed more cowbell. Trust me. I think we all need more cowbell, sometimes. (Translation: He sometimes makes songs and a cowbell was my gift to him.)

Then everything was over and I had to confront the neglected task list...

…which had grown, somehow. This completely stopped me from getting anything accomplished for at least half a day. It shouldn’t have. But I felt like I had to reprioritize everything. (Which I did have to do, but it should not have taken the hours it did.) Anyway, I hit the “I can’t brain” moment, and ended up stuck there while my head bounced from one task to another without being able to settle on one thing at a time. Which is crazy. I’m always telling people (who ask) that things only happen by taking one step at a time, like if you start a bunch of little projects without finishing them you just end up with a huge mess and returning to the first thing is like starting over so you end up wasting time.

Sigh.

That’s what writer brain was doing.

Then I went outside. As soon as the door fell shut behind me something huge came flying at me out of the trees behind my house. Writer-brain shut off as I dodged the creature. Finally it landed on the door I’d just come through.

 

 

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Luna Moth

 

So I just stopped and hung out with the Luna Moth. According to some myths the moth represents rebirth and renewal. In this case, it made me stop the frenzied, internal monologue and just appreciate something wondrous and fragile, it forced me to be in the moment.

And when the Luna Moth was done with her visit, I was much calmer and able to “brain.”

Which I thought was pretty cool.

How about you guys? When your head starts spinning, what helps you make it stop?Reconnecting to the natural world in any way can function this way for me.

 

 

Random Thoughts: In Which I Take Issue With Some Commonly Trotted Out Advice

Yeah, so sometimes I think I’m out of stuff to say about writing. When I keep hearing the line from Ani DiFranco’s Outta Me, Onto You going through my head, “You know there isn’t much I have to say, I would rather just shut up and do…” it usually means its time to ignore everything except working on the next project. I often feel that everything that can be said about writing has already been said about a bajillion times by other folks. But then I start to see some of the same old sayings floating around and it turns out that some of those things either need to be repeated or argued against.

I think the people giving the advice mean well but that it can fall short of being useful. I don’t think that when folks dispense writing advice that the intention is to steer new writers in a bad direction, but who knows. A lot of these are phrases that only have useful meaning after you’ve been doing this for a while.

That said, I have a big problem with the idea that if someone isn’t upset by your writing then you aren’t doing your job. It lends itself to the message that all writing is necessarily antagonistic and that antagonism should be the goal. I also don’t think that the level of anger in your readers is good barometer for your work. While it is true that anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, that is created by an artist and then comes into contact with the public has the potential to cause drama, discomfort and in some cases, rage, I don’t think antagonism is the point of writing. It can be for some. I think it is essential for certain kinds of expression (punk comes to mind) but with fiction I think writers can get lost in writing with the express purpose of being antagonistic. If that’s your voice as an author, then great, but I think maybe telling everyone that their work must be intentionally fight-inducing or it has no value is kind of a crappy thing to do. Particularly for new writers who haven’t figured out what they want to achieve with their writing yet.

The same is true about shock-value but I’ve also seen advice moving in the opposite direction, that to me seems equally bad. The old, “You shouldn’t write just for shock value,” bull.

Sigh.

Here’s the thing. Some authors will be interested in writing about subjects that are shocking. And that’s okay. It has to be okay. WE ALL GET TO TRY DIFFERENT THINGS. Sometimes the work might be shocking or antagonistic. All of it is fine. But my point is that neither shock value nor antagonism is the measure of a good work. The measure, for the artist, should be whether or not your finished draft told a good story and accomplished what you set out to do. But advising people to write in order to make certain that they do shock or don’t shock an audience seems crazy to me. It is also something that is based on taste, and everyone knows that taste is arbitrary. Some folks like to read shocking, antagonistic work. Some like to steer clear of things that make them uncomfortable. That’s for the reader to decide. The reader doesn’t get to decide that about your work until it is finished and available for reading. (Also need to point out that what is shocking to one person barely registers on the freak-out radar for others.)

My answering advice is write what interests you regardless of its level of antagonism or shock value.

I could keep poking at that one, but I think that when you receive free advice from any source, think it through before you pick it up and run with it.

What about everyone out there in the blogosphere? What’s some writing advice that rubs you the wrong way?