NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 25 (11/25)

As I sat at my desk with my therapy light going, trying to come up with something to write about for today’s blog post, I remembered a similar feeling from well over a year ago. From most of my life, actually. I’ve always been of the opinion that it is best to say nothing if you don’t have something worthwhile to say. We’ll, that particular thought has always been in my mind. It’s difficult to draw the line between something I’ve come to believe and something I was taught from an early age. They’re often related to each other in ways that aren’t necessarily clear. This one, though, is probably something I was taught early in life and internalized deeply enough that it became a strongly held belief.

Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see where I learned that lesson. As the second oldest of (eventually) five kids, it was difficult to get my parents’ attention. Not for me specifically, but for any of us. There was just so much going on as my parents tried to make not just their lives but the lives of the four little children they had (the youngest showed up a seven or eight years after the second youngest). They taught us a lot of things in order to cope with the sheer number of requests for attention, like waiting silently if someone is on the phone rather than constantly saying “mom” until we got a reaction. Or placing a hand on someone’s arm if we wanted their attention rather than yelling their name. Or going to look for someone to talk quietly rather than shouting across the house. Or trying to solve problems on our own before going to our parents. Or taking the time to decide if something was really important before bringing it to them. All of it points toward consideration for other people’s time and a thoughtful selection of what’s worth vocalizing.

There’s plenty of room to debate on whether or not thing was a good thing. I’m sure it made my parents’ lives easier when it actually worked and it taught me to be deliberate in everything I say which has helped me avoid saying something I’d come to regret when dealing with anger or sadness. The only real problem I see with it is the idea that holding back until you have something important to say lends power and worth to your words isn’t really how the world works. It may be how the world once worked, but I suspect that’s a bit of fiction we collectively tell ourselves to make it seem like the past was a more civilized time. I’m willing to bet the quiet considerate people who spoke only when they felt it was important were just as ignored back then as they are now. For similar reasons, too. I remember my first manager at my previous job telling me that I needed to speak up in meetings more if I wanted to climb the ladder. I told her that I generally didn’t have anything useful or constructive to add and I’ll never forget her response. “That’s not the point. You just need to appear like you’re contributing to the meeting so always say something about anything that comes up in a meeting.”

Needless to say, I refused. I still think this particular attitude toward meetings and competence is part of what’s wrong with corporate culture in every company or institution I’ve ever been a part of or heard about. The idea that someone will get promoted by constantly saying nothing important just so they appear to be involved in everything is probably why there are so many terrible managers in the workforce. Companies are literally promoting people who have done nothing useful except attach themselves to the accomplishments of others. It’s insane and I’d rather never get a promotion that get one because I’m faking competence.

Where this whole idea gets problematic is when it gets applied to my writing. I have had three other blogs before this one, all of them with the goal of updating every day or at least every other day, and none before this one ever survived very long. My common refrain, when talking to friends or writing teachers about it, was that I just couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say or write about. For a long time, the first year and a half of this blog’s existence, I did the same exact thing. I created this blog because I had something to talk about that I felt was important, and then I self-edited myself into silence by saying it wasn’t worth posting about all the time or by telling myself I should never repeat myself.  Deciding to post every day for a year is what saved this blog from eventually be consigned to the trash heap like all the others. It also taught me that I have a lot that’s worth saying, even if I’ve said it before. A lot of things worth saying are worth saying multiple times and in many different ways. It takes practice to be able to do that, but so does every kind of writing.

I still often feel like I don’t have anything important to say, but I know that I still have a lot that’s worth saying. So even today, when I sat down and felt like there was nothing important on my mind or stirring inside me, I could find something worthwhile to say. It has taken a year of practice and several hundred thousand words worth of blog posts, but I can finally say that I’ve gotten over this particular hump. I may not be constantly keyed into all of the most important issues in the world, but my views and my thoughts are worth writing about. It’s really difficult to be a writer if you don’t believe that on some level or another. It still feels a little conceited sometimes, to be constantly putting my thoughts out there for everyone to find, but at least I’m not running an anti-vax or flat-earth blog. At least what I have to say isn’t really hurting people. Like the description of Earth from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’m proud to say the worst I am is “mostly harmless.”

Well, I’m sure I’m also a little caught up in my own stuff from time to time and there are probably a lot of people who find my inability to get directly to the point frustrating, but all that kind of fits under the “mostly harmless” descriptor in my opinion. Even if I’m not doing everything I want to be doing, I still feel like I’ve gotten past one of my major hurdles to writing. It’s a good feeling, to be honest, and I think I should add that to my list of personal triumphs to be celebrated.

I hope your holidays are wrapping up nicely and I hope you got a lot of writing done! Or, you know, at least ENOUGH writing done. We’re on our last calendar week of the month and we’ve only got six days of writing left, but that’s still enough time! It might take a lot of work (I’ve got eighteen thousand words left to write), but if we dig deep we can get it done! I believe in you and I am here to support you as best I can! Good luck!

 

Daily Prompt

Humans are endurance hunters. We aren’t really faster than most of the creatures we’ve hunted over the course of history, but we’re certainly more durable than most. Animals often die of shock from a single broken bone and yet humans can live through things that take all their limbs. On a less gruesome scale, we’re also really good at enduring long periods of stress and strain. We can go without sleep for a while and are generally pretty quick to get back into the thick of things once we’ve recovered. How does your protagonist handle this kind of endurance? Are they graceful under long-term stress, or will they crack quickly without proper care? Can they deny hunger or exhaustion when the chips are down and they need to keep moving forward? Write a scene showing us how well your protagonist can endure whatever you’re throwing at them.

 

Sharing Inspiration

If you need a new book series to read or a fantastic series of fantasy books that’ll make you see the potential of Fantasy in a whole new light, you should check out The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Technically, they’re classified as Urban Fantasy, but they helped solidify the genre as its own independent genre that doesn’t need to rely on vanilla Fantasy for shelf space. It still usually does because most bookstores dislike that level of granular sorting in the books since alphabetizing things is a pain, but I’ve gone a bit further afield than I meant to. The series is creative, the protagonist actually grows from a misogynistic egotistical jackass into a real human being who is CLEARLY out of his league and only surviving due to a mixture of luck, audacity, and lateral thinking. At least at first. More recently, things have changed pretty significantly so there’s been a big shift in the formula for the stories and that’s super exciting. You should check them out and get into a great series whose newest book COULD be coming out soon! Sometime in 2019! Probably!

 

Helpful Tips

If you’re having a difficult time working your way through a scene, trying drawing it out. Not lengthening it, but putting a pen or pencil to paper and representing it with images or something. I like to use bubble charts when I’ve got a busy scene to write and I need to keep track of too many people to juggle while writing. Since I play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, I’ll do “round graphs.” The idea is that I represent the movements through the scene in six second intervals (skipping ahead a bunch when no one is moving) without attaching dialogue to the rounds because talking is a free action. If there’s a lot of dialogue between a lot of people who are also moving around, I’ll add dialogue trees to the rounds. If I’m trying to get some key element of a scene worked in smoothly instead of tracking a bunch of people or their speech, I’ll write down the core of that element and slowly wrap layers around it until it can fit in the scene. For instance, if I’m trying to show grief in each of the characters, I’ll start with what they’re sad about, how they feel about their grief, how they show their grief, how they think they’re showing their grief, and how other people see their grief. From there, it’s easier to just plop it into the scene where appropriate because I can just go to the correct layer for each character depending on narratorial perspective. The idea can work for pretty much anything, so I recommend experimenting with it until you figure out how to apply it for your own writing.

For What It’s Worth

During last night’s reflection, I had a hard time focusing. I spent almost an hour trying to clear my mind and start meditating, but I never quite made it. My roommates were being noisy (which is fine. That’s what excited people do), it was uncomfortably warm in my room, and I was exhausted. Every time I tried to relax and let my mind clear, some random thought would show up and bring a bunch of its friends along. Normally, that’s what I’m looking for, but this was before I could clear my mind so it was all about stuff I’d read that day or the games I’d been playing earlier that evening or the books I was planning to start reading this weekend. None of which is conducive to untangling the knots of my mind.

I took a break to get ready for bed because it was late and taking a bigger break from trying to meditate is better than fruitlessly trying again. A chance to reset, do some mundane tasks, and hopefully give the AC a chance to cool down my room without me in it. While I was preparing for bed, I caught myself feel slightly upset with myself about how the night had gone. Sure, I enjoyed playing video games with my roommate, but the game was less fun than usual because we spent a lot of time doing the same thing over and over again to unlock these quest item things we were given. It was frustrated to see how much work it would take to finish the quest and not to know if it was actually worth it.

I never ate before sitting down to play, so I ate my dinner at 10pm and spent more time than I planned eating and playing a handheld game, so I wound up spending an hour of what should have been my reflection time eating and playing a game. Throw in the general feelings of frustrations and anticipatory stress I’ve got from how busy my next two months are going to be and the fact that my phone call with my girlfriend was nothing but planning out the next few weekends. All together, it left me with a sort of general dissatisfaction that is only possible to feel when everything isn’t a problem now or got you exactly what you needed, but you know it’ll be a problem later or left you with the realization that you didn’t get what you wanted and initially set out to get.

Nothing bad happened, it just wasn’t satisfying. The general dissatisfaction with everything I’d done since leaving work and the specific dissatisfaction I felt at being unable to clear my mind combined into a heavy weight that hung around me neck as I brushed my teeth. It was not pleasant. By the time I was ready for bed and once again trying to clear my mind for a last stab at meditating, the dissatisfaction and disappointment with myself had settled into my mind like a boulder covered in fly paper. It attracted all of the stray thoughts in my head and held onto them, but it was too heavy to clear away so everything got to stick around and buzz angrily in my head.

After a while, though, I realized that I was being unduly hard on myself. The day had been long, I was tired, and I was trying to sort out some plans for this up-coming weekend that were outside of my control. All I could do was ask people things and hope I could make it all work out in a positive way for myself. I’d felt sick after work (which was why I didn’t eat when I got home) and hadn’t even gotten home at my expected time because work is growing increasingly busy. Plus the whole “reflect and don’t do your normal blog posts” thing is throwing my routines out of whack and that always upsets me. I like my routines. They make it easier to control my anxiety and focus on enjoying whatever it is I’m doing.

It was interesting to realize and really think about how much of my sense of self-worth is tied to daily accomplishments. It isn’t just “am I making progress on my goals?” that’s getting me down on myself. I’m asking myself “did I make progress on my goals TODAY?” and that’s a pretty unforgiving line of questioning. In the past, a lot of my focus on making this more healthy (or at least less unhealthy) has been centered around what I define as “progress.” Doing things like considering resting up after a busy few weeks or taking the time away from working to refresh my mind by reading something new as progress instead of just the quantifiable, measurable “more words written/things done.” What I probably should be doing is working on addressing why I lose self-value when I don’t make immediate progress.

Not that I shouldn’t continue redefining “progress” while I’m at it. Doing these blog posts and meditating during what is normally my writing time is the opposite of what I’d consider progress, but it’s going to help me in the long run by making it easier for me to write. At the very least, I should have more mental energy for writing if I’m not trying to make my way through or around my current mental knot.

This whole “self-value” thought process wound up being very productive. Apparently, I value other people at a minimum level based on the fact that they are a Human and all Humans are worth a certain amount of respect because they’re Humans. However, I don’t extend this value to myself when it comes to considering my own value. I know the reasoning behind that (or lack thereof) is tied up in a lot of the issues I’m working through, but I know one of my defenses against self-destructive thoughts was to always have something that I was doing that I felt must go on. These days, I don’t need that defense any longer, but I seem pretty stuck with the instinctive need for some life-affirming task.

I used to write almost every day when I was in high school. I dropped off a bit during college, but my senior year and the year after college saw me writing so much that I’m pretty sure I wrote more during those two years than in all the rest of the years of my life put together, excluding the one that started November 1st, 2017. These past seven months of writing would put my current record-holding years to shame. I’m writing an average of 1000 words a day and I’m pretty sure I’ll pass my two-year record sometime in July. If I go add up all my words, anyway.

That’s a huge deal. It may not be my record-setting days from crunches like NaNoWriMo or previous vacations where I’d write 8000-12000 words a day, but it shows more growth and consistency than I’ve ever seen in my own writing habits. That’s worth a lot, since I know a lot of writers who struggle to be able to write this much overall, let alone write every single day. By the end of the year, I’ll have written enough words to have written the entirety of the Lord of the Rings. That’s a lot.

And, honestly, I’m a human being worth at least as much as a human being is. This isn’t about accepting myself or letting myself off the hook as much as I’d let other people off the hook, this is about valuing my thoughts, opinions, and contribution to being human as much as I value everyone else’s. If I can do that, maybe I can go to sleep early some night instead of trying to cram in as much as possible before I crash. That was another thing that came out of last night. I need more sleep. After meditating for a while on the ways I assigned value to myself, I woke up at 4am with a crick in my neck, drool on my shirt, and numb legs. It took a lot of effort to haul myself into bed for the last two hours of my night. Maybe tonight, I’ll actually go to bed early because I’ll remind myself that my value is the same as everyone else’s, even if I go to bed before I strictly NEED to.

Saturday Morning Musing

There’s a part of me, deep down inside me, that worries I’ll eventually run out of words. Not in a “be unable to write or talk because I can no longer use words” sort of way, because even I do not have enough senseless anxiety to worry about that. This part of me is specifically afraid of running out of Things to Say. It worries that I’ll eventually say everything I have to say of any consequence and I’ll no longer be able to convince myself that I should be writing.

I don’t remember who it was, which irks me greatly, but I saw someone on Twitter post that to be a writer, you need a bit of an overly large ego. The whole idea of being a writer is predicated on believing that you have something to say that people want to hear. You can’t really write a story or a newspaper column or even a tweet without believe that what you are writing is something that someone wants to read. Sure, a lot of tweets are pretty dang meaningless and don’t have much thought put into them, but there’s also a lot of rather casual arrogance out there about writing.

Just like when you talk to a friend, writing a message includes the implicit belief that they care about what you have to say. Tweeting includes believing that the people who follow you care about what you have to say and that random strangers could potentially care about it. Writing a blog says that I think you, whoever you are, care about what I have to say. Writing a book says that I think a bunch of strangers will care about my thoughts or stories. No matter what I do, I have to believe that what I have to say is something that someone wants to hear.

I know it might just be a result of my OCD and the particular ways my brain words, but that thought feels like a vortex it’d be really easy to get stuck in. I struggle regularly with the belief that I don’t have anything worth saying. I don’t really posses an ego large enough to simply brush past that doubt, so I often wind up trying–and failing–to justifying writing something. And it isn’t just blog posts. It is everything from text messages to Facebook or Twitter replies. I can’t tell you the number of messages/comments/replies that I’ve typed up and then deleted instead of sending. For today alone, my best guess would be at least two dozen.

Some people say that anyone can be a writer and that is definitely true. What people often fail to take into account is that, like any other trade or art, it takes a lot of work to actually be decent at it. People go whole careers without ever being good at it and even fewer ever wind up being considered great. Writing gets treated as an after thought in a lot of work places and by a lot of people, but our increasingly electronic world depends more and more on writing. Thanks to the internet, the main way we interact with people is through writing. Video chat may entirely replace text-based communication on the internet eventually, but I think it’ll be a while before then since video still uses a lot of cellular data and that can still be very expensive for a lot of people (myself included).

Yet here I am, struggling to keep up with my daily blog posts because I feel like I don’t have anything worth saying. I find myself circling back to previously picked-apart topics and thinking I don’t have anything worth adding. I can’t find any thought or idea worth writing a poem about. I can’t think of any story worth telling here. That nothing I have to say is worth posting about.

It took me a while to realize that in order to consider whether or not something is worth saying, I actually need to have something to say. There’s little reason to shout down something as worthless if there’s nothing actually there and one thing I know for a fact about myself is that I’m not going to shut myself down over nothing. There’s always something at the core, even if I can’t seem to find it. Every thought spiral, every depressive episode, every single needling anxiety. There’s always something there, beneath the emotional/mental turmoil.

While it felt like a huge epiphany at the time, I’ve got to say that it really hasn’t changed much. I still wonder if everything is worth posting or writing or even considering long enough to see if I have enough there to write about. Hell, I wrote most of this out and then nearly trashed it since I don’t have much of a conclusion or anything thought-provoking to say. Mostly, I just wanted to say this so maybe someone else thinking the same thing would know they’re not the only one wondering if their words are worth it.

I’m pretty sure they are. Probably. You never know until you try?

Jumanji: Welcome to the Hilarity

Over the weekend, I went to see Jumanji at the cheap seats theater with my girlfriend. Despite the fact that the movie was out, I managed to avoid spoilers or any of the hype so my only real expectation going into the movie was that I was probably going to enjoy seeing Jack Black do the most realistic impression of a teenage Instagram-addicted girl any older man has ever done.

I want to officially go on record as saying this is not only true, it was so entirely believable that I forgot that he wasn’t actually a vain teenaged girl whose only pursuit in life up to that point had been more Instagram followers and how to take the perfect selfie. It was uncanny, amazing, and I recommend checking the movie out for this alone. You will not regret it unless you are some kind of awful person who dislikes laughter, hilarity, and anything fun. I think you will like it so much that if you watch it and dislike it (and prove you are not an awful, fun-hating, potentially-a-robot-who-wasn’t-programmed-to-understand-humor person) then I will send you my address so we can duel with sabers at sunset.

There are a lot of other really enjoyable aspects of the movie as well. The update to “modern” times was a lot of fun. Instead of being a board game, the nightmarish magic of Jumanji transforms itself into a video game for some obscure console none of the actually modern protagonists can identify. All of the new players get sucked into the video game and have to beat it in order to escape. The game world is filled with a bunch of wonderful nods to the way video games work, including NPCs with limited dialogue options, weird bits of food that are only ever called “rations,” and a really clever way to show the players how many lives they have left.

Each off the four protagonists falls into the four main high school kid stereotypes off “vapid popular girl,” “popular jock guy,” “Smart unpopular girl,” and “nerdy awkward boy.” Eventually, you learn enough about the characters to realize that they’re not just their stereotypes. The jock isn’t dumb, he just needed help with one of his homework assignments. The nerd isn’t just awkward and scared of everything, he acts confident in the things he does to cover up his insecurities. The popular girl isn’t just vain, she actually puts a lot of work into living the life she wants and has some startling insights into how people think and behave. The unpopular girl isn’t just smart, she is so worried about people not liking her that she pushes them away before they get a chance to make up their own mind. The entire movie is filled with these little moments where the characters break their molds. (Spoilers, sorta) The popular girl gives up one of her lives to save an ally without a moment’s hesitation or consideration. The jock winds up talking the nerd through his confidence issues and shows his wisdom. The nerd faces his general fear off the world and protects the rest of the group. (Spoilers, definitely, though not in the way this sentence makes it seem) The smart girl sacrifices herself to help the group win the game.

The world of the game is fun, the villain is super creepy, and the missing child is so mid-90s it almost hurts. The character stereotypes (the video game characters that the protagonists become) are hilarious. The rock acts like a small frightened boy and the only reason he doesn’t steal the show is because it has been hidden in Jack Black’s back pocket from the instant he opened his mouth to talk like a vapid teenage girl. The NPCs are hilariously only concerned with their little programs, which means that a character can explode five feet from them and they will continue to, once the dust has started to settle, hawk their “rations.”

Every character gets a moment to shine and there’s never a slow moment. Everything is incredibly well-paced and the only time I was pulled out of the story enough to anticipate what would happen next was when they had beaten the game and were going through the end of the game. Though it is a fairly simple movie that is exactly what it seems like it would be, I can’t recommend it enough. It is definitely worth two hours of your time, plus the drive to wherever its showing. Or at least a digital rental once it has been released.

 

My Words

My words are precious to me:
Little puffs of warm air
That I constantly heat
By clutching them tight
To my chest and heart
Even when they grow too hot
And burn my hands
As they attempt to flee.

My words are few and quiet
When they are voiced at all:
Hoarded and groomed until
I am certain they are ready
For whatever task is at hand,
Yet they remain fragile things
That cannot be used again
Once I have let them go.

Many words are worth little
While few words are worth much:
Communication is expensive
But can be bought with either,
While understanding is expensive
And drives a hard bargain–
Often requiring many words
That had once been counted few.

My words are worth more to me
Than any amount of money:
People say that words are cheap
And some, in fact, may be,
But I think words are the currency
People use to buy and sell
Ideas, emotions, and knowledge
In the market of civilization.

Most of the time, when I talk,
I use words that are not mine:
I wrangle words from the air
And let them pass through me
So that they sound like mine
But only on the surface
As my own words are too few
For mass communication.

My words are precious to me:
Little slivers of my soul
All bound up in breath
Like wisps of vapor in winter,
Puffing from my open mouth
As I move through the world
And do the very best I can
To share some of my warmth.