December’s Slow March

I posted every day in October here, and I wrote tens of thousands of words.  In November, I hardly posted here at all, but I managed to get my writing goal accomplished.

I managed to maintain the writing inertia into December, and I finished the Mel Walker story.  That was a week and a half ago.

I’ve been trying not to feel bad for slowing down.  I’ve hardly posted anything here, and I haven’t done any new writing since I finished the Mel Walker story.  I’ve done some editing on Unclaimed Goods (formerly known as Baggage), but that editing was mostly using a highlighter and a pen to capture proposed changes.

Christmas did happen during this time, and I did take a trip to Southern California for work.  There was shopping, and work, and family, and work.  I’ve been busy, so I can cut myself a little slack.

Now we’re at the end of the year, and the start of a new one.  Let’s count some blessings:

  • I have some success under my belt.  I know that I can finish a first draft of a novel.  This is huge.
  • I have a couple of groups of people I meet with and share stories with.  These are really good people, that are talented.  They’ve given me feedback that I needed to hear, and they’ve tried to be gentle with me.  These are friends and peers, and I don’t have to feel alone in my solitary activity.
  • I have a new technological device.  I received a Surface Pro 2 for Christmas, specifically so that I would have a device for writing as my old writing laptop has deteriorated.
  • I have a family that is proud of me and supportive of my writing.  I couldn’t do this without their support.


I think the first thing I’m going to do in 2014 is give myself a writing schedule.  It’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution.  It’ll be good for me.  I’m good at following rules, and if I don’t do something like this, I run the risk of going silent again.


Feeling the I in INFJ

This week has been pretty rough.

It started with working late on Monday, to prepare for a trip to Southern California on Tuesday.  I flew down Tuesday morning, worked for several hours in a somewhat picturesque desert, then flew back that same night.  Wednesday was a normal work day, followed by writing with Michael and Cody (and Jenni!) at Starbucks.  I was so frazzled, though, that I forgot to grab the power cord for my laptop, and had to do everything with pen and paper.  Thursday was the holiday party at work, followed by the whole rest of the evening Christmas shopping with the kids.

Now it’s Friday.  As I’m writing this, there are a large number of teenagers in my living room, enjoying each other and having a Christmas Party.  My writing laptop is out there, hooked up to the stereo, playing Christmas music.  I’m hiding away in my garage, clicking and clacking on my mechanical keyboard, enjoying some distance between me and all that noise and energy.

I’m not an expert on the Myers Briggs personality types, but I know what this feeling is that I’m experiencing.  It’s the same thing I felt at the very end of Convolution.  I’m out of that stuff that lets me hang out with people in an enjoyable way.  I feel low.  I’m tired.  I’m on the edge of crankiness.

Fortunately, I’m also experienced with this little personality quirk, and I know how to deal with it.  First, I need to do what I’m doing now.  That is, I put a little distance between me and the rest of the world.  It’s not a huge gulf.  Melissa can still poke her head out and check on me, and I have walked in and been a little bit sociable throughout the evening.  But there is a shield I can duck behind, and try to get my thoughts in order, and breathe easy.

That’s one of the things that was so crazy about this week.  Normally, as a programmer, I can just put my headphones on, dive into my code, and the rest of the world goes away.  I have to expend energy on the programming, but I also recharge a little.  When I finish a particularly gnarly project, I get a huge boost.  Or if I’m feeling really low, I can drift into the monotonous, mindless side of programming, and spend my work day recharging.  It normally works out really well for me.

This week, however, I was constantly interrupted.  We have a huge project that we need to have finished as soon as possible, and for various reasons, we’ve hit snags and delays and roadblocks, and I’m one of the ones that’s best equipped to help us get to a finished place.  So all this week, I had a lot of phone calls, and a lot of people coming by my desk to ask me questions, or get my help.  I had no choice but to put down my headphones, put down everything I was working on, and focus on the person talking to me so that I could help them as best I could.

Even though I need to withdraw from people for a little bit, I can still get lonely.  Loneliness wasn’t my problem this week.  I only want to mention this because it’s a logical mistake to think that an introvert might not get lonely while they’re recharging.  I have, and I do get lonely sometimes.

Tomorrow, I’ll have a bit of time in the car on my way to the Oakland area for the Auspicious Northern California Writer’s Group.  It’s very auspicious, and I’ve been looking forward to it for about a month.  It includes me, Pol, Setsu, and Karen.  I’ve read all their work, and I’ve written down some notes.  I hope that I’m helpful, and I hope that the work I submitted isn’t judged too harshly.  I think I’ll talk about that fear in another post.

The interesting thing about the formation of this group is that, as Setsu put it, I’m the center.  Karen, Setsu, and I met at Convolution in the writer’s workshop, so the three of us are connected in that fashion.  Setsu and I have become really great friends since Convolution.  Karen and I have shared some correspondence since then, too, and it was Karen’s idea that we start a writer’s group when it became apparent that I couldn’t join her in any of the groups she was already attending.  I’ve been friends with Pol forever, and Pol and I have written together and enjoyed fiction together for years and years.  I’m the common thread in our group, and I feel some of the stress of being the hub in the middle of the wheel.

I’m not sure of the comfort level of all introverts in their ability to be the center, or if INFJ’s have some special, functional ability that helps.  I’ve been the central figure in other sorts of groups, online and offline.  The only way I’m able to function is to take an emotional step back, out of myself, and focus on the needs and goals of the group itself.  Then I’m able to make plans and act on those plans for the group, and not just for myself.

I haven’t had to do so much of that with the Auspicious group.  We’ve used Google Groups, and since Pol is hosting, he’s taken care of nearly all of the requirements for making the gathering happen.  All I have to do at this point is show up and be happy and energetic.

Which brings me back to this hellish week, and what I’m doing right this moment.  I’m recharging.  I’m going to go to bed as early as I can get away with tonight, and I’m going to get up early and be out of the house early, so that I can be by myself in the car a bit longer.  I’ll listen to James Marsters read me Jim Butcher’s Dead Beat.  If I get to the Oakland area too soon, I’ll find a quiet coffee shop and putter around with my short story.  I’ll be ready for tomorrow.  I just have to get through tonight.


What I Get from Giving

With the holiday season upon us, it feels appropriate to talk for a moment about gift giving.  As it so happens, I learned something interesting about myself this week, when I set up my daughter’s new computer.

Bryanna’s birthday is at the end of August, and for her birthday, I offered to put together a new gaming computer for her.  The computer she had was old and slow, and was really past its end of life.  I’d done something similar for my son, Chris, and that had turned out to be a really fantastic project.  He wanted to build it himself, so I pretty much just offered guidance, supplied the budget, and stood by as a safety net while he put it together.

Bryanna didn’t want quite the same experience.  She learned this year that while she likes computers, she doesn’t see a technical job as being in her future.  That seems fine to me, so once we got that straight, it was just a matter of me getting the parts and putting them together.

I was really excited about doing this for her.  I enjoy putting computers together, anyway, but this was extra special, because I was putting it together for Bryanna.  I knew what a huge upgrade it was going to be for her.  I’d played some League of Legends with her on her old system, and we joked about it being a potato.  This was going to be fantastic experience.

The parts came in on Tuesday, and I put it all together.  Bryanna was free to be as involved as little or as much as she wanted to be.  She seemed upset.  I got it put together for her, set it up, and she seemed wounded.  There wasn’t anything I could do or say that would make her smile.

Bryanna and I have talked about this already, and it turns out she had just been having a bad day.  Her horrible reaction to the new computer apparently had nothing to do with the computer or me.  It was just bad timing.

The problem was that I felt so horrible afterwards.  I felt like my heart had been cut out.  I’d been looking forward to the excitement in her eyes so much, and instead I found sadness and disappointment.

The take-away from all of this is that I’m not quite as altruistic as I thought.  If I was altruistic, I wouldn’t need to get the positive feedback.  I needed it, though.  I needed to feel like I had done something good for my daughter.  When that need was not satisfied, I felt terrible.

I’m not sure how to work on that, or if that’s even a problem.  I want to believe that I can rise above selfishness and do things for the benefit of others, purely for the benefit of others.  In practice, however, I’m seeing that I’m really just satisfying my own need to feel needed.  I wanted to give my daughter love and affection, and see it reflected in her eyes, so that I would receive love and affection in return.


The Value of Dreams

I had a bit of an argument with a friend, that turned into me getting called an idiot.  That stung, but the argument has had me thinking about dreams and hopes and motivation.

I’ve had a few people in my life tell me that they thought I was optimistic, and I’m thankful for that.  I try to have a positive outlook as much as I can.  Unfortunately, when I dig down deep, I find a dark, shadowy place that seems very cold and pessimistic.

To put it more clearly, I have dreams and hopes, but I can’t rely on my dreams and hopes as motivation.  It doesn’t work for me.

In order for me to move forward, I have to forget about the dreams and focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  That’s what I’ve been doing with my writing.  I’m not trying to become famous.  I’m not even holding my breath on being able to sell my stories.  The only way for me to move forward is to focus on the work at hand, and try to make it the best I can make it.

“But Brian, if you don’t believe in your dreams, no one else will!”

Who cares if anyone else believes in my dreams?  Dreams are like wishes.  They don’t edify.  Maybe some people can pin a dream on a clipboard and use it as a to-do list, but I don’t see it.  My dreams have always been too insubstantial, or too impractical, or simply too big.

Maybe a less negative view (see?  I’m trying to be positive!) is to think of dreams as The Future.  We’re supposed to learn from the past, plan for the future, but live in the present.  The work at hand is the present for me, so that’s where I’m keeping my attention.

When I was working on computers, I used to joke about being pessimistic about them, so that all of my surprises would be pleasant.  In a way, I’ve adopted that idea with other aspects of my life.  I don’t want to be hurt by failure.  I don’t want to get my hopes up too much, just to have them dashed by a few rejection letters.

Maybe that’s cowardice, but I don’t think so.  I think I’m avoiding unnecessary pain.  As long as I keep writing, who cares if I am pursuing my dream or not?  In practice, I am, but the reality is that can’t be my motivation.

The downside is that without things like NaNoWriMo, all of my energy for going forward is internal.  It’s all down to willpower, to put myself in front of the keyboard and get the words out of my head.  That means that when I get tired, I stop.  There is no external pressure to keep me going, or to provide a jolt of energy when I need it.

I’m in a couple of writing groups now.  Perhaps I can use the submission dates for those groups as external pressure points to keep me on target, when my internal engine is starting to lose steam.

As long as I keep going, I don’t think it matters.  I just have to keep moving forward.


Obama and Mandela

I was watching my news feeds today, and one of the first stories I saw pop up was about how Obama had lied about staying a few weeks with his uncle.  What the article actually said was that Obama failed to correct it when the White House said that he hadn’t met his uncle.  This was headline news.

My first reaction when reading this was, “So?” My next reaction was, “I wonder how some of the Obama haters in my friends list are going to twist this into Obama being the devil.”

A few minutes later, I read that Nelson Mandela died.


There are many reasons to respect Nelson Mandela, but the one I focus on was his ability to reject hate.  He had reasons to be bitter and angry and hateful, but he said that leaders don’t have time for hatred.  He was in jail for 27 years, and when he was sworn into office, he had one of his jailers present.

The timing of the news of Mandela’s death next to Obama’s “lie” drew me into making some comparisons.

I want to like and respect Obama as much as Mandela, but I can’t.  I don’t dislike our president.  I respect him, and I think he is a powerful speaker, and a good man.  I want more, though.  I want to see the measure of Obama’s convictions.  I don’t want him to sell his ideas to me, I want him to see his vision through.

Maybe the Republican obstructionist ways have been keeping him from acting.  Maybe he’s just one man, and I’m expecting too much.

Nelson Mandela was just one man, but when he stood for something, others stood with him.

I want more.  Maybe the healthcare reform is the thing, but I’m not feeling it.

The president is in his last term.  I want him to take a risk.  I don’t want him to try and do something popular, I want him to try and do something right.  I don’t know what that is yet.  Maybe if I figure out the answer, I’ll just go do it myself.


Death, Fame, Tragedy, and Connection

I’m a little late to this party, but I want to talk about Paul Walker’s death, and the reactions I saw to it in social media.

The initial wave of reactions I saw were mostly disbelief, or “RIP Paul Walker.” They were normal reactions, and similar to what I’ve observed when other celebrities have died.

The next wave of reactions were all about the driver.  The thrust of those posts were to say, “The death of Paul Walker is tragic, sure, but we should be remembering the other guy, too.” There was a kind of haughty smugness to some of the posts.

Those posts irked me.  I felt like they were berating people for acknowledging the death of one person over another.

The demonstrable truth is that it is normal for us to acknowledge or be impacted by the deaths of some more than the deaths of others.

If I were to tell you that Fred Smith died in a car crash this evening, how would you feel?  If we’re all being honest, we probably feel a little bit bad, if we feel anything at all.  Unless, of course, we’re Mrs. Fred Smith, or Fred Smith Jr., or any of the hundreds of people that actually knew Fred Smith.  Those people will be devastated.

(For the record, I don’t know any Fred Smiths.  If I coincidentally selected the name of someone that actually died in a car crash this evening, I offer my sincere condolences for you loss.)

I know how I felt when my Dad died.  I know how I felt when my Mom died.  I know how I felt when I found out that Paul Walker died.  I even know how I felt when I learned that someone died in the same crash as Paul Walker.  All of those experiences were different.

Here’s a breakdown of my perspective on the matter:

  • Death is usually tragic.  I want to say that it is always tragic for those left behind, but I can imagine scenarios where death is a relief after a long period of suffering.
  • Tragedies do not affect everyone equally.
  • It is our connection to people and events that provide the weight and substance to our distress when we are faced with a tragedy.
  • Fame provides a type of connection, usually unidirectional.  Your favorite actor may not know you, but you “know” your famous actor.

So falling back on the examples I gave, the death of my father hit me the hardest.  I was younger, and though he was in his 70s when he passed away, it happened suddenly.  He’d been healthy and vibrant a month before he died, and I wasn’t prepared.

The death of my Mom hit me pretty hard, but not as hard as when my Dad had died.  I had a different, more strained relationship with my mother.  She had been chronically ill for many years, and she really didn’t take good care of herself.  The death was not a surprise.  It was tragic, and I was sad, but it did not hurt me quite as much as when my Dad died.

The death of Paul Walker didn’t really hurt me.  I knew that he was an actor that played in action movies about cars, so the irony of him dying in a car crash wasn’t lost on me.  He was my age, and that made me think of my own mortality, and how it could have been me dying on the road in fire and metal.  It didn’t hit me on a string emotional level, but I felt bad for the people that knew him best, and I hope he rests in peace.

The death of his driver hurt me even less.  I read his name in one of the posts that seemed to be berating people for not remembering him in death, but I don’t remember his name.  I could investigate his life, commit his name to my memory, and invest energy in trying to get to know him, but what would be the point?  My only emotional connection to this driver that’s died comes in the form of annoyance for those people that want to use him as an excuse to berate strangers over the internet (I say, as I berate strangers over the internet in my blog).

The reality is that nearly 150,000 people die every day on average.  That’s a lot of dying.  Fortunately, we aren’t confronted with the deaths of those strangers constantly.  I think to try and mourn all of those strangers would be unhealthy.

Finally, let’s try not to get so upset when the deaths of famous people are acknowledged.  I look at that as one of the perks of being famous.  The famous are under greater scrutiny, are less able to move about freely, and are often expected to “perform” for perfect strangers on a regular basis.  The perks they get are not free, so let them have their death benefit.