Saturday Morning Musing

When this eventually posts, I’ll have been awake for five hours and working for at least three. Not because I have to, but because I’m a team player and mostly looking for something to for a bit of overtime that doesn’t require staying late during the week. Actually, it’s mostly the latter, though I’ll admit I do feel a little compelled to help out because the work needs doing.

The team I work for, “The Misfits” as we aptly call ourselves, given that we create stage machinery for use in theaters while working for what is ostensibly a theater lighting company, are in the middle of moving to a new location at our facility. It’s an entirely new section of the building meant to house all of Research and Development. Plus Marketing, it seems, which was a weird last-minute addition I think happened because they wanted to work in the cool new building. That’s an understandable sentiment, really, and it should be fine since this new building is a part of my company’s plans for growth. You can’t hire more people if you’ve got nowhere for them to work!

I’ve been with this company, and a part of this team, for almost two years now. I love the people I work with, I love the job I’m doing, and this company feels like home in a way my previous one never could have. I still struggle with impostor syndrome sometimes, mostly when I’m doing something like pushing a new process I’ve developed or trying to solve a problem that isn’t my responsibility, but that’s growing less over time as my coworkers and my manager support me. Which is probably the biggest change from my last job to this one. If I see a problem that needs fixing and actually do the work to figure out how best to fix it, people here see that and do their best to support my efforts rather than try to tear me down or get me to believe that everything is fine the way it is despite constantly complaining about things (which is literally what happened at my previous job). Even if doing all the work and trying to be the extrovert needed to push whatever changes are needed leaves me exhausted and unable to move from my couch to my kitchen at the end of the day, I know it’s worth it. Knowing I’ll be able to go in the next day and see everyone pulling with me rather than pushing against me (okay, maybe not EVERYONE, but most people) makes it worth it.

I don’t exactly wake up in the morning and feel excited to go to work, but I don’t dread it. Personally, I prefer it this way. Being that excited about something sounds exhausting and draining. I’ve got enough going on these days without spending all my energy on being excited about going in to work. I like what I do, the company I work for, and the people I work with, but genuine excitement is a rare thing for me. I spend a lot of energy trying to stay calm and relaxed as part of dealing with my anxiety and OCD, so I then to be enthusiastic without being excited. More of an enduring constant application of personal resources than a quick expenditure of emotional energy.

It’s a nice change, from two years ago. My life isn’t perfect and neither is this job, but it’s a good deal better than it used to be and I often find myself in need of a reminder. Not because I think it’s worse or because I’m miserable about something, but because it’s important to keep in mind how much things have changed over the years and how that change has tended toward being a positive change rather than a negative one. As I struggle to deal with all the curveballs life is throwing me lately, I need to keep myself focused on the arc of my life because it’s difficult to remember during times like these that the general trajectory is upward. It hasn’t always been, but it is right now.

It’s not something that snaps me out of my depressive episodes, but it’s something that makes it a little easier to rest at night or to release the tension I’m holding in my shoulders. I don’t think there’s any way to snap myself out of this one I’m in right now since it’s probably the first legitimate externally-sourced period of sadness I’ve experienced in a long time and it’s a time-oriented thing. It’s not going to go away for a while. It’s something I’ll need to learn to live with and part of that is contextualizing it. Finding where it fits in the landscape of my life. It’s going to take a while, but enough reflection and contemplation will get me there eventually. All that remains at this point is to make the time for them and that’s going to be difficult since I’m shorter on time than ever before.

Sorry if today’s post is a bit of a downer, but yesterday’s poem should make it clear that I got some back news just recently and I’m still trying to deal with it. I hope your month is going well and I hope you’re having a good day.

 

NaNoWriMo 2019 Day -335 (Saturday Morning Musing)

I did it. I broke one hundred thousand words in a single month (since I wrote this post last night). I ended this post with a total of one hundred thousand eight hundred thirty-five words for the month and I am immensely proud of myself. I even bought a bottle of champagne–excuse me, sparkling wine–to pop as soon as I finished this post and, while I’m too cheap to buy good champagne, it was nice to just have something to pop at the end of the day. It tasted alright, too, but I can’t really tell the difference between various wines and I don’t really care that much about it so I’m cool with that.

It was nice to actually manage this goal, given how my month went. So much happened…  Honestly, I’m pretty curious about how much I could accomplish in a month if I didn’t have to spend a lot of it learning to cope with my grandfather’s mortality and the constant stress of trying to lead my team at work into a new process I developed. If I actually had energy when I got home from work… The thought of just how much I could get done is staggering. I’ve done an average of three thousand three hundred thirty-three words a day and yet my actual median is about five thousand. If I could do that every day, I could do fifty percent more words in a month, and that’s at my current pace with my current levels of energy. If I keep up this writing thing, I might be able to get even more written during a focused hour than my current record of two thousand words. If I get a better handle on my mental health, especially my anxiety and depression, I’ll have more energy and get even more done in a day. There’s always room for improvement and I’m excited to see how I continue to improve.

While I’m sure plenty of people write more than I do, even if I do get up to one hundred fifty thousand words a month, I’m not looking to compare to them. Personal accomplishments count more to me, anyway. I’d rather beat my own record than compete with someone else for the high score, in both video games and my personal life. I love a challenge, I love having a rival, but I’m more about support and helping each other achieve new heights rather than trying to out-do each other or trying to be top frog in the well. As much fun as it might be to say I’m the best, that’s not really what motivates me. Striving to be the best is a journey with an end. Striving to be better is a journey that can take you from the day you start to the day you die. I’m all about the long-term, really, in everything thing I do. Finances, career, self-improvement, romantic/platonic relationships… Everything. I’m good at predicting outcomes and I rely on that skill to guide me. Trying to always be better than myself only ever leads me forward and upward.

As much fun as this was, though, I’m really looking forward to a thirty to fifty thousand word month. I need some rest and the winter holidays are going to be stressful enough without trying to spend every second writing. I mean, I’m not going to stop myself from writing when I want to, but I’m not going to force it again. I need a break to rest my mind. Since your brain is like a muscle, in that it gets stronger the more you use it, it is just as important to give it a chance to rest after pushing yourself to new heights. So I’m going to let my brain rest and recover these next few weeks and then we’ll see just how much stronger it’s gotten as a result of this month by trying some new personal challenge. Or, you know, just adding a reasonable amount of book writing in addition to my blog writing. It doesn’t need to be another month of one hundred thousand words. I’ll probably just aim for a thousand extra words a day of book writing. That seems reasonable but also ambitious enough to keep me moving forward. I’ll probably aim for a total over a month rather than a daily limit so I can deal with busy days that don’t leave me room for writing without feeling stressed out about missing a thousand words.

Honestly, as much as I really want to outline my plans for the next year, I think I need to rest before I do that. It’s not even nine and my brain is already so fuzzy that I have to go back and read through sentences I just wrote to figure out what I’m trying to say as I write them. I’m also looking forward to sleeping in. And an end to stress headaches…

As much as I want to keep going, I think I’m going to call it here. It’s time to rest and, while I plan to continue to update my blog every day, I think I might take an entire day off of writing for the first time in several months. Just… play some video games or something. It’ll be nice. Thanks for taking this journey with me and I hope something I posted was of use to you. I also hope you’re continuing to write. It’s a pretty great feeling to see your words on the page or screen, so I hope you get to enjoy that for a while longer.

Today is day -335 of #NaNoWriMo2019 and I’m excited about next year already! Really, though, this is a Saturday Morning Musing post and I wrote 999,999 words last month so I’m gonna rest now. I’m so tired.

The Words May be Broken, but My Streak Sure Isn’t

Today is the day. This is post 365. One year of writing every day and posting to my blog every day ends today. What a fucking journey it has been. The best part is I get a nice little bookending thing with it because I’m completely re-doing the story I wrote for last year’s National Novel Writing Month project for this year’s NaNoWriMo project. I’ll be able to see how I’ve changed and grown by reflecting on how the story has changed. It’ll be a good time! That being said, there’s still plenty of growth I can see immediately!

In the last year, for this blog alone, I have written 349,403 words (including today’s post). Those words were used to create 79 musing posts, 30 posts about mental health, 43 posts about tabletop games or gaming, 40 posts about video games, 42 reviews, 3 descriptive exercises, 55 poems, 39 flash fiction works, 30 posts about National Novel Writing Month, 36 chapters (including the introduction) of a science fiction story, and 3 short stories. If you did the math, that totals up to 400 exactly, but that’s because some of the posts had more than one category (including today’s), which is what I’ve been listing here.

As a result of all of this writing, I’ve grown as a writer. I no longer make the same mistakes my editor would catch when I first started out. She only does the serial story and poetry, which is why I tend to have so many typos in my other blog entries, but they all improved as result of her work and constant patience with my inability to actually get things done along the timelines I lay out for myself. I send her a chapter of Coldheart and Iron for review and she gets it back to me within twenty-four hours, which is great because I’ve probably sent her half the chapters on the day I’m supposed to post them. Same for the poems. She’s a saint, really. I also really hope she reads today’s post so she knows how grateful I am for her constant help. I thank her constantly and do my best to let her know how much I appreciate her help all the time, but that still never feels like enough. She’s helped me grow as a writer just as much as my college creative writing professor did. In a different way, but just as much.

Ideally, I’d like to have a space to thank everyone that got me through this year of posts, but people do stuff for me so constantly and often without drawing attention to it so I’m worried I’d miss out on someone import. So I’m going to do my best. My roommate was a huge help when it came to guns, military stuff, and medical references since he’s an air force medic studying to become a doctor. I have a whole raft of friends who view my blog, but none as regularly as my French friend and I can always tell when she does because she’s my only reader in France, so thanks for reading me more consistently than anyone else! I’d like to thank my Twitter friends, specifically the ones who do Bad Book Idea Duels, Edward Van Winkle and A.M. Hounchell, for making one of the largest time-sucks on the Internet actually fun for me. They’re both incredibly friendly, creative, and wonderful people. Their books are on my review list and I’ll do my best to get to them once National Novel Writing Month is over. I’d like to thank Andrew Bird, though I don’t know if he’ll ever see this post (I sincerely doubt it) since he’s an actually famous musician I’ve never met, because his clever lyrics are a delight to listen to and the way he weaves the vocals and instrumentation together in his music makes me want to sit and just listen to him sing instead of have him on in the background. I also want to just generally thank my friends for not telling me to shut up about my writing or blog. I talk about it constantly and I’m just glad you all are the kind of people who don’t make a habit of being discouraging. I’d also like to issue a special thanks the fiance of one of my friends, who I would now qualify as also being my friend since I finally got to meet her this year, for helping me contextualize social media and marketing myself online when I went semi-viral after asking Writing Twitter for books to review (I SWEAR I’m still working on processing all of those suggestions–here are just so many and I’ve been so busy). I’d also like to thank my boss for letting me take a week off out of the blue when I realized I’d forgotten what it was like to be in a good mood and that I was too burned out to continue how things were going. This isn’t super recent, but I also really want to thank my creative writing teacher from college because I would have given up on writing a long time ago without her help, guidance, and support. She was the first person who convinced me that I was worth believing in and she believed in me enough that I started to as well. She helped me build the foundation on which I’ve since built everything else, so I cannot stress enough how thankful I am. I don’t talk to her much, but I kinda hope she see’s this some day. Or she buys whatever book I first publish because she’ll be named on the dedication page. Whichever, really. I’m not picky.

I probably missed some people, but life is about moving forward so I’m going to try to make sure I recognize what people do for me as they do it and express gratitude immediately. And I’m going to keep writing! I haven’t missed a day in a year, so now let’s see how long I can keep this streak going! New goal is two years of daily writing and blog posts! And this time I’ll also get a proper amount of exercise every day I am physically capable of doing so. I can’t just repeat a challenge, I’ve got to step it up! There’s no point in just doing the same challenge over and over again. There’s no growth! There’s no forward movement! This will still probably be easier than my National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing 50,000 words, a terrible romance novel, and still updating my blog with NaNoWriMo posts and weekly Coldheart and Iron posts. I mean, that’s 90,000-120,000 words in a single freaking month. My current record is 80,000-ish, from last year when I updated my blog every day on top of writing 50,000 words. It feels pretty impossible from where I’m sitting right now. Which means it’s going to feel super kick-ass when I actually do it! Nothing held back! No reservations! All in!

I meant to review my own blog for today’s post. It was going to be witty, poke fun at some of my bad habits that make it into blog posts (such as saying everything with as many words as possible because I just love to slap them all together), and cleverly weaving in my gratitude to the review by mentioning how reliant the author was on his editor at first but how much he has grown since then. I also realized it was going to be as long as a recent Coldheart and Iron post and that is a LOT to ask of random strangers on the internet. I mean, not a lot of people writing 3000-4000 word blog posts. They’re usually quite a bit shorter than that if they’re frequent or about the length of this post if they’re not. Even my love of using all of the words I can couldn’t convince me that it was a good idea. So you get this. A plain, unadorned thank you with some interesting numbers and the knowledge that I’m grateful to you, whoever you are, for reading this post and participating in my journey to grow as a writer. This year has been all about me but I’m greatful I got to share it with you.

Also, shout out to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter account–and the man himself, of course–because getting his unbelievably uplifting “Gmorning and Gnight” tweets has made my days better. You should check them out or buy his book.

 

Saturday Morning Musing

The best decision I made in the past year was to start writing every day. It was also the dumbest. And the wisest. Probably not the most lucrative but definitely the most valuable. And it’s been nearly a year since I started, even if I’m still a month and a week short of the decision to keep what I started for National Novel Writing Month 2017 going for an entire year. I planned a month of blog updates: thirty posts about writing, what inspires me, and prompts to help people get working on their own National Novel Writing Month projects. This upcoming Wednesday’s review, the one that will go up on October thirty-first, will be the 365th post. I have a hard time believing I’ve almost done it and, at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I literally put everything (well, everything but the bare minimum I need to keep my life going) behind writing and posting to my blog every day. I haven’t played more than a couple of hours of video games a week since early September so I could make sure my blog got updated every day and I wrote every day even when I was working twelve-hour days. Because of this level of dedication over the course of a year, now the idea of not updating my blog or not writing every day feels foreign. I didn’t even stop to consider no longer updating this blog every day once the year was up, I just started planning all of my November blog posts so I could get some of them out of the way ahead of time and put more of my energy toward getting my National Novel Writing Month challenges done.

I have made zero money as a result of this writing, so far, and I doubt I’ll ever make much off this blog, even if I decide to add advertisements. That’s alright, though, because being able to write every day and to have writing projects to work on every day has lent my life an incredibly amount of meaning and satisfaction. The only thing that compares to a day of writing or posting a popular piece that gets a comment or two is what I felt when I played through Breath of the Wild for the first time, in March of 2017. I have gotten more, personally, out of my decision to push my limits like this than out of any other writing project I’ve ever done. It feels really good to have a purpose and a goal every day, even when work is slow or so busy I feel like I’m just being swept along by the tidal wave of work that needs to be done. Something that feels like forward progress when I can’t seem to make any in the other parts of my life.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t handle free time well. I suck at doing nothing and I will probably have a mental breakdown if I’m ever forced to just tend to my house or do small bits of gardening or whatever when I retire. I need projects. I need challenges. I need to feel like I’m growing or improving myself in order to enjoy my day-to-day life. Without that stuff, I start to feel like I’m stagnating or like I’m wasting my time. Most of that comes from my anxiety and isn’t reflective of my actual life in any way, and it would probably be more healthy for me to address the root of why I feel this way rather than fill my time with things to do, but finding projects is easier than analyzing my deepest mental health issues. Plus, I can do both. Analysis takes a long time and constructive projects within reason aren’t a bad coping mechanism. Working myself to the point where I’m too depressed and burned out to feel anything but tired is a bad coping mechanism. It’s also something I do far more frequently than I should. It’s also why I have several days off over the next week, because I pushed myself that far and a couple of friends plus my therapist all agreed that I really need to let myself take a break. Hell, even I agreed I need a break once I started being caught up in my own dumb attempts to convince myself and them that I was doing just fine.

I think I’m going to add a little bit more to my “writing every day – year two edition” challenge. I’m going to try to increase my efficiency so that I still have time for other stuff, like exercising every day and having downtime for stuff like playing video games or spending time with my roommates. Or dating again. Haven’t had time for that in a couple of months. Which is unfortunate because that was around when my desire to date came back following my breakup at the beginning of the summer. I haven’t had the time for a lot of stuff, like dealing with the four stacks of books on my floor, shredding junk mail, or cleaning out my closet. I’ve taken the time to keep all of those things orderly and organized at least, but I am getting a little tired of needing to step carefully through my bedroom door so I don’t accidentally trip on one of the stacks of books and knock over one of my bookshelves on the way down. For the next year, I’m going to take the time to do all that stuff and keep writing. I’m even getting started now! I’ve measure the one bit of open space I’ve got and I’m going to be using my vacation time to go find a shelf that will fit in that space. Maybe get my oil changed or, shit, get a haircut. I haven’t gotten a haircut in two years, as of this week, and I’m getting really sick of the whole “long hair” thing because ponytail headaches are the bane of my existence.

All that aside, I really do believe that writing every day was the best decision I’ve made in years. I feel excited by the prospect of working on all the projects I’ve got tumbling around my head, and I’m ecstatic to see the comments from my editor (whose advice and guidance is responsible for most of my growth as a writer) go from big notes about story structures and character details (especially about female characters) to minor comments about typing “then” instead of “them.” Without her support and assistance, I’d probably have given up on this daily writing thing a long time ago. But here I am. Four posts short of a full year. It’s a good feeling and I’m excited to show what I’ve got in store for my 365th post. You haven’t got long to wait, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I have been.

That is the point, though. Ultimately, anyway. I do this for myself and I’m enjoying the shit out of it, even if I’m so exhausted I dozed off while writing this half a dozen time.

Saturday Afternoon Musing

National Novel Writing Month is coming up. That’s a bit of big deal for me because I’ve at least participated every year since 2013 and won every year but 2016 when I was applying and interviewing for a new job. I also created a challenge for myself, to raise the stakes, every year since 2014 when I found myself a little bored with just writing 50,000 words again. The year after that, I wrote an entire story in a month (which is big deal for me since I am anything but concise). Last year, I wrote 50,000 words of a new story that wound up being more foresight than fiction, ran a support group for my friends who were trying National Novel Writing Month, and updated my blog every day of the month (which was a part of the support since it was stuff about writing, about what inspires me, and some prompts to help them push through when they feel stuck). This year, though, I’m struggling with what my extra challenge should be.

The support group could be fun to do again, but the only people I know who are doing National Novel Writing Month are people who have been doing it as long as I have been, or longer, and who don’t really need support to write. A space for us to connect and talk about writing is always good, but I won’t really need to actively support them. I still plan to do the blog posts, but that’s just the same thing as last year. There’s nothing new to this challenge, which means it isn’t challenge. It’s just the same thing all over again and that means I’m not actually going to try my best.

I could make the argument that I’ve never been this burned out, worn down, and just all-around-exhausted when starting a National Novel Writing Month before, so it’ll be difficult enough for me to get anything done on time or according to whatever plan I come up with (as evidenced by the fact that half my blog posts are “late” these days, showing up in the afternoon instead of their typical nine or eleven in the morning time). That feels like a cop-out. I dislike cop-outs. It gets to easy to let them slide in the future if you start using them now and I am all about staying firm and focused on my goals. I didn’t get to almost a year of writing every day and posting on my blog every day by letting myself compromise, so doing that literally the day after I hit 365 consecutive posts would feel like I was spitting in the face of my own accomplishment.

One of my friends suggested I write a humorous romance novel and, upon hearing that, the rest of them took up the call. Suggestions from something involving characters from a D&D campaign that ended a while ago to a romance novel about a modern male protagonist trying to live his normal 20-something modern life while his girlfriend is someone out of a highly-sexual romance novel that pokes fun at the sort of contrived situations involved in a lot of cornier (and absolutely amazing sounding) romance novels. Seriously, there’s a whole series about some vampire/angel/insert-monster-template-here brothers who kill vampire demons and are actually immortal vikings who sometimes time travel. How is that not a story you gotta hear? I can’t find the link my friends provided while trying to convince me to write a romance novel, but it was a riot. It would definitely be a challenge since I’ve read only a handful of romance novels and it isn’t something I’m normally interesting in writing. Being able to stay focused and working on a project that isn’t something I’m terribly interested in would be a good skill to have, though, since a lot of good writers wind up writing what the publisher wants rather than strictly what they want. Being able to do “made to order” fiction would be a good skill to work on.

All of my other ideas have something to do with my blog. For instance, I could keep up with daily posts with National Novel Writing Month support and encouragement posts, but also include my serial science fiction story and reviews. Maybe even throw in my flash fiction updates, too. Basically just keep up the popular part of my blog, the fun part of my blog, and the only story I’ll have ever finished if I keep at it. If I keep that up, I’ll probably finish Coldheart and Iron on Christmas Day and post the epilogue on New Years Day, which feels like a damn fine way to start 2019.

Of course, I could also do this regardless of my National Novel Writing Month. If I work my ass off over during the rest of October, I could have all my blog posts written. That’s only 50,000 words in addition to the 14,000 I have to do for this month’s blog posts. Totally possible to do all that in eleven days. I mean, that’s only six thousand words a day! Easy-peasy! No sweat! I could do that in my sleep! I mean, I’ve basically signed up for 50,000 plus 30,000 plus whatever my extra challenge is for next month unless I find a way to work ahead this month. All on top of my normal work hours, my usual obligations, and the fact that I’m going to need to work out or at least go on a long walk every day so I don’t turn into a pile of pudding. I really suck at taking it easy, don’t I?

But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? This isn’t supposed to be easy. I’m supposed to be working on stuff in order to grow as a writer. I want to widen my horizons, improve my skills, and try things I wouldn’t normally try. Fifty thousand words is all well and good, but I’ve done that five times so far. I want to do something new, try to push myself in a new direction, and maybe lose myself in something bigger than my own problems. I’m going to struggle with my mental health, but I always do. I may need to find better ways to cope with what’s going on in my head, but that also means I won’t be able to let it have as much sway as it does on days like today since I won’t be able to spend four hours writing a blog post that’s just over one thousand words.

As I’ve learned throughout my live, and during the past year especially, I work best when I don’t have room for error. Pass or fail scenarios are my jam, even if the chances of passing are small. I’m going to pick some dumb, ridiculously huge goal, try to cram a month’s of writing into eleven days so all my blog posts are written ahead of time, and then I’m going to create a made-to-order romance novel in order to force myself to improve my ability to write things that aren’t necessarily something that thrills me.

To that end, here are my three ideas:

  • Something based on some D&D characters from a really old game (that happens in a D&D world, with quantifiable numbers and stuff, rather than a “typical” fantasy world).
  • Aggressive Romance Novel Woman meets normal 20-something dude and worlds collide. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Astronaut/Werewolf/Demon/Mole-Person man meets Basic “Becky” and falls madly in love, but only during Pumpkin Spice season.
  • Air-Force Pilot/Old-School Vampire/Faerie/Lizard-woman falls in love with a hipster trying to French press his coffee in his yurt in the woods.

Comment your preferred option(s)! You can pick as many as you like.

Saturday Morning Musing

I read Hank Green’s “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” earlier this week. I’ve got a review coming for Wednesday, 10/17, but there’s so much I wanted to say about it that it didn’t fit in one post. I couldn’t even figure out how to string it together in one post, so these are the bits that have less to do with critical analysis and more to do with my reflections on the book, all of which kind of built from when I started reading until long after I finished writing this post. And they’ll probably keep going long after this post goes up.

While I wouldn’t say that this book really presented any new ideas to me, thanks in part to my own moment of being semi-viral on a small subsection of Twitter and the excellent speech Hank Green gave at the book event I attended, it still changed the way I was thinking. I’ve always been aware of the idea of the person-as-a-brand thing creators tend to do with their social media and the way that we all tend to be specific parts of ourselves when we’re online rather than our “whole selves,” whatever that means. I’ve even spent a lot of time thinking about it and trying to find a way to make my “brand” fit as closely with who I am that there’s little real difference. The problem is, by sticking to being myself, I’m actually losing opportunities to grow my following. Brands are simpler than people are. There’s a message to stick to and an idea to form everything around. People are more complicated and some of us like to just listen or observe before weighing in. I am a listener and I tend to save my words for when I think they’re important or valuable, so constantly posting and trying to stay “On Brand” is super difficult for me.

Beyond that, there’s the whole idea trying to fit your content to your platform, what content does well on a platform, how to generate an audience on whatever platform you’re on, and then how to stand out from all the people doing the same thing that you are. Twitter seems to be the preferred platform for most writers, but it isn’t really a place that we can host our content aside from the people who produce content that uses fewer than 280 characters. Most of us go there to connect with an audience and other writers, but constantly send them away from Twitter to view our content. We’re essentially trying to use a platform that doesn’t really support us, despite the fact that (at one point) Facebook literally had a way to post large chunks of text or specifically formatted text on the platform itself. I mean, I like Twitter better than Facebook so I get why we’re there (easier to generate a new audience, especially after the changes Facebook has rolled out and then changed over the last few years), but it makes it really difficult to be anything but a sound bite, so to speak. There’s limited room for expression of the self, just like there is on all social media, but it feels even more constrained on Twitter. Facebook has never tempted to me to distill myself down to 140/280 characters but Twitter is constantly challenging me to see if I can (this is an expression of how I feel about the platform, nothing else)

The thing is, you are who you pretend to be. If you distill yourself down to a brand that can fit into the space created by a single tweet or by a habit of tweeting throughout the day, morph yourself so you can fit into the social media mechanisms and algorithms, then you eventually become that. If you’re doing it on multiple platforms, then you become all of that. If you read yesterday’s poem, you can see I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I’ve talked with friends who work in social media and they’ve all said I need to “develop my brand.” The thing is, it’s super tempting. I have trouble connecting with new people a lot of the time, so the idea that I could find a way to be easily understood by people in a way that I also understand is super appealing. To be able to find a place I fit and have people support me because I fit sounds so great that it’s a constantly battle to hold myself back from fully committing to “Chris Amann: The Brand.” Because I could do that. It’s all a giant puzzle you can solve and I absolutely love puzzles. I could be good at it since I’ve got enough of an amorphous personality to pretty much fit into whatever space I want to.

But that’s a constantly battle. There’s no end to trying to stay relevant if you want to ride the social media train. There are exceptions, of course, people who managed to create their own niche rather than by conforming to the spaces social media creates, but that’s not really something you can plan on or prepare for. I mean, I’ve posted to this blog every day for nearly a year and I still have days with no views and struggle to break past the average of five or six views a day. Sure, I’ve had some big moments where I’ve gotten a lot of attention, but every single one of those has been from playing the social media game and leveraging other creators audiences. Or from that time I went semi-viral because it didn’t occur to me that Writer Twitter would go bonkers for someone who was willing to review books for free since it also never occurred to me that I could make money doing this.

I mean, this blog isn’t about making money. I specifically chose to not make money on this and had to actually do work to disable advertisements since I want this to be 100% about holding myself accountable for writing every day. I’m fine doing reviews for free since I want people to read good stuff and I know a lot of people who do great work but don’t necessarily have the money to pay for reviews and promotional services. Plus, I don’t exactly have a huge audience. I’d feel weird trying to charge people for reviews when 95% of the people who are going to see that review are their own twitter followers when they retweet my review.

All that being said, I still like social media and I’m still going to keep up my writing accounts because they’re a platform I can use for good things, advocating for positivity and kindness benefits from a platform of any size, and I can express myself however I want to on the internet. I may struggle to avoid reducing myself to a brand and I may get a little too addicted to feeding my anxiety by constantly scrolling, but I still think I benefit more from social media than I suffer from it. I’ve made some good friends, I’ve gotten exposed to some amazing media, and there’s a sense of community that springs up if you give it the time and space to grow. A lot of this same stuff can get used in crappy ways to spread fear and hate instead of kindness and connectivity (and indeed seems to be used primarily for those things), but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. We just have to work a little harder.

Saturday Morning Musing

We’ve all been there. Someone you love, perhaps a friend, or maybe just someone who shares a social circle with you, posts something on Facebook. It’s some alarmist post about candy-flavored crystal meth or the dangers of dihydrogen-monoxide. Maybe it’s something political, accusing some public figure of operating a human trafficking ring out of the basement of a single-story, basement-less pizza parlor. Heck, maybe they bought into the “QAnon” bullshit and think “The Storm” is about to drop the hammer on every politician they’ve been told to hate. You don’t really believe it, or maybe you do because that candy-flavored crystal meth thing seems like just the sort of horrible shit a no-good drug dealer would get up to in order to start reeling in a bunch of child customers. The point is, the pictures are really sad and the idea sounds just plausible enough that you share it to, or maybe you just think about it for now but then decide to share it later after you’ve seen it come up a few more times.

This is why I’ve temporarily (with the option of taking it permanent) deactivated my Facebook account. There’s just so much absolute garbage getting chucked around the web by people who would rather just share whatever horrible, terrifying thing they read to be on the safe side. It’s not like it costs them anything to click that “Share” or “Retweet” button. They just pass it along in case it might be true like someone refusing to take a stance on whether or not they believe ghosts exist because it’s immaterial to trying to address why all the lights on that side of the theater keep burning out so quickly. Except it’s not really the same, is it? If you don’t state whether or not you believe in ghosts, you’re effectively ending a conversation. It’s not like you’re going to walk around yelling that you don’t want to say you don’t believe in ghosts just in case they’re real, you just believe it, share it with people who have some common experiences with you, and move on. When you share stuff on social media, it appears to be an endorsement of sorts and other people who value your opinion will believe something they otherwise would not.

Don’t worry, I’m not just going to complain about this today! I have a solution! The rest of this post is dedicated to giving you some tips to figure out if something is true or not. I will also make a few blanket statements that you can take as true just so we can get them out of the way. First, vaccines don’t cause autism, though I will say the debate still goes on about whether or not autism causes vaccines. Additionally, the world isn’t fucking flat. I’m not going to cite this one because I will reach across the internet and belt you one or, in less hyperbolic terms, just block you if you ever argue that the world is flat. Google or even Wikipedia will provide all the evidence you need for that one and it isn’t difficult to find unlike good sources for the vaccines thing now that the anti-vax movement has learned how to market itself on the internet.

The first thing you should look for on a Facebook post of dubious fact is the original poster. Almost every asinine thing that shows up on your timeline was posted by some random person and then shared repeatedly until it made its way to your wall. If you can find the original post, you will often discover some interesting information. The few times I’ve actually been unsure enough to look, the original poster has had a lot of “fake profile” flags. Usually their username is random (you can check that by looking at the URL of their page in your browser), they have some random assortment of jobs and such that make little sense. They also generally don’t have a lot of friends or old photos of themselves. Additionally, their profiles are usually pretty open to the public as well, so it makes it easy to realize there isn’t much information attached to that profile other than inflammatory comments about some kid getting his mouth blown up by grape-flavored crystal meth. If that doesn’t settle it one way or another, give the story itself the sniff test. No actual drug distributor is going to great crystal meth in fifteen different flavors and sell exclusively to children for so little money it’s laughable to event consider.

If all that fails, or if the post originates in a news site for one particularly hard-leaning side of the media or another, check out Snopes.com. Most of the time, for all the big controversies, anyway, Snopes will investigate the controversy, rate its truthfulness, and provide a ton of information available to the public that backs up their rating. I’ve yet to see Snopes actually get something wrong and searching their website doesn’t show any promising results. Searching on google provides me with a list of results that themselves could use a check on Snopes, so I’m comfortable saying the site is reliably accurate.

If the post is on Twitter and it’s making the rounds through your various friend groups, Snopes is still a good place to check, but actually following it back to the first tweet and discovering the context of the quoted tweet will shed a lot of light on the quote itself. Additionally, a good thing to check is the profile of the person sharing it on your time and the profile of the person who originally posted it. You can usually tell whether or not either person is a trustworthy source by the contexts of their profile blurb, the things they like, and what they tend to comment on or retweet. If you find any conspiracy theories are aren’t shared as an example of the moronic things people sometimes believe, then I suggest ignoring them and everything they share entirely.

Probably the biggest rule is to think critically about everything you read. If it feels suspicious, then it’s probably fake. Not everything will be fake, of course, but a lot of the shit that passes through five meme groups, a profile for long-term child-rearing advice, and some kind of group that has a name like “The blankity-blanks for the unification of blankness” is probably not trustworthy. So much of it is the political/social equivalent of the emails that claimed you’d die if you didn’t send the email on to twenty more people before the next time you went to the bathroom. Find yourself a few trusted news sources or news aggregates (I prefer direct sources, though most of the aggregators tend to be good at providing direct links) and stick with them rather than what Mr “Aree-al Mahn” posts to Facebook.

Saturday Morning Musing

It took a while, but I think I finally figured out the complex feelings I had about where I grew up when I helped my parents out last month (mentioned in this post). Since I left after my first winter break during college, I haven’t gone back to visit for more than a week or so at a time. I stayed at my college for almost every break after that, working and living in the dorms aside from the few holidays I went back, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. I lived in the dorms and got used to staying quietly by myself when the campus was almost completely deserted aside from the foreign exchange students during the holidays. My little college town became my home, even though I moved at least once a year, from one dorm to another. The campus became the place I belonged and I stopped calling my parents’ house “home.”

I realized during one of my recent meditations that I no longer even think of their house as home. My old neighborhood is no longer my home. It’s the place I grew up and haven’t done more than visit in several years. I don’t really recognize it anymore. I know where it is and I’ll always know how to get there, but it’s just as foreign as the neighborhoods I used to park in when I drove myself to high school. I can navigate through it and I’ve got a basic idea of what it looks like, but I don’t really feel any connection to the place. I’ve still got that for the actual house I grew up in, but it fades a little bit as my parents make changes or slowly replace parts of the house. When I was spending time with my sister, I realized I didn’t know where anything was kept anymore and that I was essentially a stranger in the kitchen where I’d learned to cook.

I’m sure that’s a feeling many adults have to cope with from time to time, and I’m sure there are people who have similar (but different) feelings about visiting their parents because their parents no longer live in the home they grew up in. I even sort of expected it as I grew in college and started to see what it meant to me to have a place I’d chosen to belong. I wasn’t surprised when I finally felt it, just uncertain as to what it meant and why I felt it.

I’ve spent most of my adult life with a lot of difficult emotions tied to the place I grew up. I even spent a lot of time seeing it as the same place with the same people I’d left behind. It was static in my eyes, unchanging and always representing what I’d endured. Since my last non-holiday visit, I’ve been working on letting go of the emotions and memories connected to all those past painful moments, so I can finally start to see my family as they’ve become since then. I think finally seeing the places I grew up, the streets I had walked down and the yards I had cut through, as someplace foreign to me is a sign that I’ve finally started to achieve that. Those places are no longer static, no longer a time capsule to a past I want to leave behind. I feel like I’m seeing them for the first time since I essentially am, now that I’m not seeing them as they were a decade ago.

I still have a long way to go, though. I’ve gotten better about letting my family be whoever they are now, but it can be difficult to avoid the old habits and to not see them as the same people when some of the old problems still crop up. For instance, I didn’t find out my parents had gotten rid of their landline until I called it and was told the number was no longer in service. Panicking, I called every member of my immediate family with a cell phone and no one answered. Eventually, one of my sisters called back and explained what had happened. This was the summer I’d officially moved out for good, so it created feelings of disconnection from my family. It was startling to realize I hadn’t called the landline in months and that we hadn’t even talked in that time. The same sort of thing happened with the trip my parents went this summer, which was the whole reason I was in Chicago to spend time with my sister. I hadn’t gotten the group text or emails they’d sent out to the rest of my siblings about their trip and the need for us to lend a hand with our youngest sister, so I had made plans during most of the time they were gone. It was rather frustrating to learn about it only a couple of weeks before they needed help, and a bit late too since I’d fallen asleep that afternoon and missed the conference call they’d set up the week before.

That being said, I’m the only one who hasn’t lived near or with them for at least part of the year. Two of my siblings permanently live in the same general area and one of my siblings stays with them between employment engagements. The youngest is still in high school. I’ve lived in a different state for several years and only visit on the major holidays for the most part. I’m not much of a phone caller and I’ve always been pretty independent, so we don’t talk. It’s pretty easy for me to miss out on a lot of big news as a result. It can be frustrating at times, but I could also make a point to call my mom or dad once a week and I do not. I’m sure they’d love to hear from me, so it’s not like it’s all their fault or anything. It’s just difficult to remind myself to view my family as they are now rather than as I remember them when we’re having the same problems I remember us having.

Saturday Morning Musing

When this post goes us, I’ll be busy attending to my soul and mental well-being by going on a hike with a small selection of my favorite people. After several weeks of being too tired to do much and a constant lack of days we can all gather, those of us who are available tomorrow are just going to do something regardless of the fact that half our group is missing. It isn’t ideal, I’d rather spend the day with all of them, but I need to get active and to spend time with people who help me forget myself for a while. With all the stress and anxiety that have been building the past three months, I need to ignore my desire to stay home alone to work on processing review suggestions and actually go do something I know I’ll love.

I’ve always enjoyed walking. I like losing myself in my gait as I wander from place to place, maybe listening to music or just taking in the sounds of wherever I’m at. Hiking is a sort of extension of that, because it takes me out of areas that always grate on me, cities with the constant hum of cars and neighborhoods with the quiet noises of people going about their daily lives. If you pick the right hiking location, you can go the entire hike without encountering anyone. You can embrace the quiet of nature and the irritating hum of modern life that most people only notice when it’s gone disappears completely. You can lose yourself in trees and the quiet emerald peace of a nature at its strongest. If you’ve picked a place with some nice elevation changes, there are a ton of great places to stop and admire the world around you. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the horizon and having an unobstructed view of the sky and there’s just something wonderful about getting both of those things as a result of being on top of something that rises above the area around me. Only in hiking trips can I get all of that at once.

Even though I’m going with my friends, I’ll be able to enjoy that. These are all people who know me well enough that there are no awkward silences to fill. I don’t need to worry about how to maintain a conversation or how to segue from one thought to another because they all just get how my mind works enough to not always need an explanation. I can just be myself around them and their presence doesn’t intrude on my sense of peace and quiet. For the past several years, we’ve always done at least a couple of hiking trips every month, though we’ve been doing fewer of those lately because of how busy everyone has been. They’ve been some of my fondest memories and include some of my favorite pictures. All of the background pictures you’ll ever see on my blog are pictures I’ve taken while hiking. If I could, I’d do all my thinking and writing in a spot that overlooks the surrounding area and has an unobstructed view of the entire sky. My dream house idea focuses mostly around a taller tower with what is essentially a glass dome on the top so I can sit up there and read or write as close to the sky as I can get. Heck, the whole thing might just be a tower of some kind. But it would have to be on the side of a mountain or on the top of a tall hill somewhere. That would be amazing.

After hiking, I’m planning to do the Pokemon Go Community day since I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the game now that I don’t have my ex to give me a reason to keep playing it. I don’t really feel like it “our thing” anymore, thankfully, but I still wonder if I’m just wasting my time on something that isn’t really adding anything to my life since I have a tendency to play the game alone and let it distract me from the main purpose of my frequent walks. It’s so easy to bring alone and leave running in my pocket, but I’m not good at ignoring it when it’s in there and will start to feel anxious if I don’t check it for a while. It works the same way as notifications on my phone do. If I know they’re there, it will always cause me more stress to just ignore them than to skim through them and either open them or dismiss them. In order to save myself from needless stress, I’ve started disabling certain notifications on my phone and setting up hour-long notification silences so I won’t notice when they show up until the hour is over. I’ve also removed most time-waster games from my phone for the same reason. I also repeatedly install and uninstall Imgur as I cycle between just needing something to kill some time and realizing that I’ll just sit on the couch and browse through Imgur for an hour instead of going to bed or starting my writing. Which is why I’m still on the fence about Pokemon Go. I definitely benefit from still having Sudoku on my phone because it often works as a way of doing some mental stretching when I’ll feeling particularly tired or fogged up from how focused I’ve been on my work.

It’s a really nebulous balance and I’m probably going to be working on it my whole life. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to just figure out how much work to do and how much relaxation to put in and when it’s already to simply escape instead of doing something genuinely relaxing. Even though I love writing and reading, they’re still work. Even though I’m super excited to start reading all of the amazing books people have written and mentioned to me on Twitter, there’s still a lot of work to do just to find all the links, titles, and authors. I want to just wake up in the morning and dig right in to my to-do list, but I need to take time to relax and hike and let my to-do list remain undone. I’m still doing at least four hours of writing or book recommendation collation a day, so it’s not like I’m slacking off, I just always feel like it’s hard to justify taking the time to wander through the woods or spend a few hours walking around the city with some friends while we catch Pokemon. I’ve only got so much time, after all. I want to get the most I can out of it and it’s, no matter how long I live, I don’t think it’ll ever be clear how to do that.

 

How to Cope with Exhaustion

Feeling like you’ve scraped the bottom of the energy barrel to the point where the barrel no longer has a bottom? So tired you just kinda want to cry and find somewhere dark to curl up in the fetal position so you can finally let your exhaustion overwhelm you? Feeling like you’re stretched beyond the point of recovery and to the point where all of the stress has invaded your dreams so now you have to deal with it while your awake and asleep? While none of these things is a good position to be in, we often find ourselves in them when the shit hits the fan and we focus ourselves on simply doing everything one step at a time until we’re finished. Or until we collapse from exhaustion. I’ve done both, and neither one works out well in the end because we’re ultimately taxing our mind and body to the point of damage.

There are ways to help prevent some of the damage, or to mitigate the negative aspects of trying to buckle down and work through long days, busy weekends, or months of ceaseless stress. None of them are guaranteed to work and they’ll all need to be tweaked to fit your specific needs, but the core concepts should definitely work for you. I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with various forms of exhaustion thanks to insomnia in high school, business and insomnia in college, and stress and business after college, so I feel like I’m pretty qualified when it comes to figuring out how to cope with mild to extreme exhaustion until you’re capable of resting.

The first thing I’m going to say, despite it making me feel like a total hypocrite, is that these sorts of situations are best avoided. Even short periods of exhaustion or sleep deprivation can interfere with your short-term memory, inhibit the formation of long-term memory, wreak havoc on your immune system and muscles, and will for-sure exacerbate any health issues you have, be they physical or mental. It is good to know your limits and to be able to push past them when you need to, but there’s a pretty big difference between “I need to just push through this” and “I think pushing through this is going to yield the best results I’m going to ignore options that would leave me feeling more rested.” I guarantee that you will always have better results if you can rest first. You can’t always rest, but you should when you can. If you rest up or take good care of yourself, you will see your best results in the long-run.

If resting up isn’t an option, you should really figure out which type of energy you’re going to be running short on. If you’re physically active during this period of low sleep or high stress, you will be short on physical energy. If you’re stretching your skills and abilities in new ways or being forced into new situations without much time to prepare, you’ll run out of mental energy. If you have to take care of people or deal with people who don’t want to be dealt with, you’ll rapidly run out of emotional energy. If you’re doing something that involves all three, then I feel so sorry for you and I wish you the best because most of my strategies for coping with a low energy of one or two types requires relying on the other(s) to help carry the weight or be turned into the type that’s running out.

If you need more mental or emotional energy, some quiet meditation or music is usually very helpful. Something that will help you feel a certain way or that will help you process the feeling you’re dealing with at that moment. Maybe you need something to make you feel powerful or something to help slow you down to alleviate some of the mental strain you’re experiencing. If it’s physical energy, I suggest taking it easy by sleeping, playing games with friends, or watching something while you let your body rest. Even a couple hours of any of these activities, while you continue to work on other things, can help get you back to a point where you can make it through the day. I’d recommend against anything that might be destructive, like excessive eating, alcohol, or drugs. I haven’t got much experience with the later, but I’ve seen enough people make that mistake to have learned the lesson.

Additionally, a change in your diet can help keep you going. Avoid too much sugar since that is going to just set you up for a terrible crash later, unless you’re eating natural sugars from stuff like fruit or vegetables. I recommend eating plenty of both to keep you going since it helps to have something to do with your mouth while you’re trying to focus. At the same time, having an idea of what kinds of foods provide the most energy for you will help a lot. I know my body processes protein very efficiently, so I can delay encroaching exhaustion by eating a lean, protein-rich diet with plenty of vegetables and fruit. It’s not really going to make you feel energized, but it’ll keep you fueled and prevent your body from taking too much energy away for digestion. Throughout it all, avoid sugary sources of caffeine. Stick to things like coffee or tea and don’t add too much sugar to them or else you will get an immediate boost followed by a crash when the caffeine kicks in so you’ll feel exhausted and be unable to rest it off. Also, drink more water than usual. A good goal for water consumption is to drink half your weight in ounces of water. If you want something a little easier, I suggest going for at least three quarts or liters. It’ll help keep your mind clear and hydration is key at all times.

The last thing, and the most effective, is getting organized and writing things down somewhere. The exact methods for doing so depend a lot more on how you think and how you tend to organize information, but it’ll help if you do it, regardless of how you do it. For instance, the only reason I’m still sane and productive these days is because I’ve taken to writing to-do lists and journaling things as the day goes on. Not only is it helping my emotional energy, but it’s take a constant source of mental energy drain (trying to remember everything) and offloading the work onto a notebook. I can write down not just how I’m feeling, but also what my thoughts were on whatever meeting I just had, save ideas for later, and get a little mental clarity when I set everything else aside for five minutes so I can write things out. For people who don’t have issues with remembering things that only exist electronically, there are a ton of applications and programs out there, most of which you can get on your phone. Heck, even Google Now does a lot of that stuff.

Like I said earlier, it is best to avoid pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion, but hopefully these tips will make it easier to cope when you don’t really have any other choice. Good luck!