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Archive for Personal Life

Uzès, Day Nine: Markets and Social Blunders

Today was what we call a rest day – a day meant to allow us to recover from more extended outings like yesterday’s trip to the Pont du Gard where we focus mostly on in-town activities. I think it helps us not lose our minds navigating the French roads and it also allows the pre-schooler to recover from missing his naps. He’s on the verge of not needing them, but boy can we tell when he doesn’t get one.

We got a late start to the morning, heading up to the Saturday market around ten AM.  This was much later than our previous trips to the market, and we could tell just by the packed crowds. I would love to take some pictures of the stalls for you, but to do so would inconvenience people doing their shopping, and there’s nothing that sends me into a spiral of anxiety like inconveniencing people who don’t speak English.  Navigating the tightly packed stalls selling everything from fresh olives and tapanades to giant wheels of cheese to fresh duck meat with a group of four adults and one little one was nigh-impossible.  Eventually, I took some of the items on the shopping list and went off to collect them on my own. I just can’t seem to handle the anxiety of feeling responsible for four other bodies in such tight quarters.  We gathered up all we wanted and more (I don’t know how we’re going to eat all this cheese in time), and that allowed Sarah and I to wander back on our own while the little one played on his iPad with his grandparents.  I picked up a couple of French comics that looked interesting and yet more cheese (…so I think I have a problem).  Sarah bought some breakfast radishes. My muddled french gets me through basic transactions pretty well most of the time, and when they don’t speak English, Sarah is typically there to save the day.  This trip is a lot of work on her language skills, but I don’t know how we would do it without her, honestly.

With the shopping done, I settled in to get some work done on Ye Olde Laptop.  I’m working on my annual update to my base WordPress theme code.  I’m finally breaking things out into a core functionality plugin (I know, I know) and adding some new flexibility I’ve wanted for a while.  Along the way, I’m testing the new Gutenberg editor with the other tools that are needed for the complex sorts of back-end coding I use to build things like customized book pages.  So far, its awful and I hate Gutenberg. I hope they fix a lot of things about it before foisting it on us.  To my clients, I don’t recommend testing Gutenberg just yet. It’s still got a long ways to go before it’s ready for your sites.  But when it is ready, I’ll hopefully be much closer to being ready to develop custom blocks and such for it.

My code refresh is coming along slowly–I’m not sure that I’ll actually finish things completely before we go home. That’s probably okay. Maybe I’ll take things slow in June while I finish it up and get re-adjusted to Central time.  I really need to start earning money pretty quickly, though.  I wish there were about 50% more working hours in any given day, I swear.

As far as blunders, it took us until nine days to completely fluster a wait person at a restaurant.  Really, we should be proud, but the entire time I wanted to crawl under a rock. This was a pretty complex blunder, actually, so it took us some time to figure out what went wrong. There’s a nice pizza place a couple of blocks away.  We know it’s nice because we picked up a couple of pizzas from there as takeaway a few days ago. This is wood-fired oven, high quality pizza, very Italian style.  The two pizzas were more than enough for us. The problem came when we attempted to dine in and order roughly the same number of items.

The waitress tried in her English and then in French to explain that two pizzas was not enough food for five of us.  We tried to explain that we’d ordered take away and it had been fine.  Eventually, she went ahead and put in the order, but seemed pretty frustrated and annoyed by us.  Maybe not as much as we felt, but we apologized every time she came back, and I just wanted to run away and hide.

Sure enough, when the pizzas came, they were a bit smaller than the takeaway ones had been, or at least they seemed to be to me.  We tried to make up for things by ordering a lot of very tasty dessert. Still, I think they were happy to see us go. And it was a relief for us to get out of there.

Sarah felt especially bad because her French is the best of all of ours, but I think what we probably should have done was, when it was pointed out that we’d under-ordered, was went ahead and ordered a pizza for each person, as that seemed to be expected. These are the kind of stupid, low key social mistakes that haunt me for years for some dumb reason. I’ll probably have unpleasant dreams about it years from now, like those dreams in which you show up naked for a college final for a class you never knew you were signed up for.

Tomorrow will likely be another rest day – perhaps a visit to the local candy factory / museum in the afternoon, but otherwise, we’ll soak in some French life around the rental (and I think everyone is going to go to Mass except for me). Right now, it’s raining, the bells are ringing, and even the smell of the rain is different enough to remind me that I’m not in Kansas. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll make fewer faux pas.  And if not? C’est la vie.

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Uzès, Day 4

Another quiet, slow day, but a success on the jet lag front.  I may not have fallen asleep until 2 AM, but I was up by 9 AM and have yet to succumb to the dreaded afternoon nap, which gives me hope that tonight will be a completely ordinary full night’s rest.

Once again, I took the morning to find a bakery and pick up a baguette.  I had to range further than before because the usual place I’d been visiting was closed, but the place I found had far better bread, so it was a net win.  Because this town sees so much weekend tourism, a lot of local businesses are closed on Mondays.  It looks like tomorrow, things pick back up again.

Another trip to a grocery store was a bit of an adventure due to the heavy rain and our inability to read detailed product labels.  My father-in-law desired a clothing detergent sans enzymes, which proved very difficult to find. We spent at least 15 minutes reading labels, until I finally Googled the issue and found a recommended product.

Speaking of searching for difficult things, I have sought in vain a place that serves croque madames, my favorite French meal, but it seems that such a sandwich is a regional thing not available here in Uzès.  Instead, I had a tartine, which was basically an open-faced sandwich covered in greens, thin-sliced ham and cheese, and a heavy layer of tapenade.  Me, eating an olive-based product is practically a sign of the end times, but to be honest, I loved it.  Another confirmed kill in the war on my childishly limited palette!  Something about traveling helps me get over a lot of my food hangups and enjoy whatever is put in front of me.  Even Sarah’s fish soup, which smelled AWFUL, tasted good (not that I would want to eat the whole thing).

We spent part of the day planning the rest of the week, and we have a series of day trips planned around the region.  Tomorrow, we will go to a replica cave to see cave paintings by Neandertals.  It looks like a lovely experience, although I must admit I’m disappointed I don’t get to see genuine articles. Later in the week, we’ll be headed to Nimes to take in several Roman ruins — I can’t express in words how excited I am for that. I took Latin in high school for two years and those classes were as much about Roman history as they were the language.  I’m no expert, but I never really thought I’d get to see genuine Roman ruins.  My life is far more awesome than I ever expected back in 1994.

For years, I’ve had a certain type of dream.  In it, I am following the usual route home in whatever town I’m currently living in, and instead of going left at some junction, I go right, and I find myself in some entirely new location, strange, unfamiliar, and thrilling.  Being in Uzès is like living that dream every day. I spend part of each day ambling down the many narrow streets and alleys of the town. Each trip, I discover nestled avenues lined with quirky shops and art galleries. I don’t know what that dream says about my psychology except that it probably confirms my status as a neophile.  In life, I constantly seek novel experiences and places.  I have a bit of wanderlust that I suppress in order to keep a job and take care of my family, but if I could do anything I wanted, regardless of finances, I think I would travel nonstop.  Give me a small laptop and a couple changes of clothes and I would be happy wandering to and fro.

For those of you asking for pictures, I’m sorry–I’m not taking nearly as many pictures as I expected; the photos don’t really convey how I feel about the place.  My photography skills are more rusty than I expected, of perhaps it is the iPhone I am using rather than my standard SLR.  But I’m enjoying simply being here and experiencing it, though, and I am taking enough pictures to remember the experience decades from now.

Other than my quiet walks and spending times with the family, I’ve been reading.  I finished Wendy Wagner’s An Oath of Dogs last night, and quite enjoyed it.  I really look forward to seeing what she writes next.  Meanwhile, I’m about to crack open a collection of Roger Aickman stories next. I have never read anything by the author, but the description of his work I came across made me think that I would very much enjoy his work.  Having time to read something other than the internet for work is quite the blessing, and I aim not not waste it.  It’s been wonderful not feeling like I *must* spend time at the computer every day.  An hour or so to check on the status of my sites, run updates, and then write these posts.  How wonderful!  I do wonder if I might be able to make a vacation like this happen every year, even if it’s not overseas, but a disconnection from the internet annually could be quite good for me.  We’ll see!

No fiction writing as of yet.  I have half-formed ideas and thoughts, but nothing is begging me to write it.  So many half-starts in the past year, but nothing speaks to me lately.  I have relied for years on raw enthusiasm to carry me through the work of writing, and that enthusiasm has been missing.  My career has been going so well, and I wish I could find my joy for it again. I hope I do soon.  I’m hoping for this trip to help me with so many thing simply by giving me the space and time to think about them without worrying about work.  But enough about that. It’s time to read and relax once more.

Tune in tomorrow for details about the cave painting museum! I can’t wait!

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Personal Life, Travel

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Uzès, Day 0

Travel from the United States to a place like Uzès is not exactly easy.  We Midwesterners are used to traveling long distances to get to anywhere interesting, but I’ve noticed that especially for people not from the U.S., the distances and travel times don’t sink in until I walk you through them. Let me give you the nuts and bolts:

  • First, drive one hour from Lawrence to the Kansas City airport
  • Catch a flight to Detroit, about two hours long.
  • In Detroit, board a large plane to Paris for about eight hours.
  • In Paris, board a bus from Charles de Gaulle to the Gare de Lyon train station for an hour.
  • Wait four hours for your train to arrive.
  • Take a three to four hour bullet train from Paris to Nimes.  Get yourself a rental car at the train station.
  • Drive about 30 minutes from Nimes to Uzés on roads that probably were first laid out in the time of Caesar.

If you’re me, and you can’t sleep sitting up, this means you stay awake for a very long time (about 32 hours for me).  No big deal though when France is your destination! We pulled into town at about 7 PM on Thursday, after having been awake since 7 AM Kansas time the previous day. I was feeling the exhaustion, but my plan for dealing with jet lag on the first day was to roll on up to bed time local time, take my meds, and then crash.  So far, that seems to have worked.

After getting a lovely tour of our AirBnB from the owner, Pierre, we unpacked a bit and then headed out down the cobblestone streets looking for something to eat. We settled into a little pizza parlor on the place aux herbs.  We had a platter of meat and cheese, pickles, and various other finger foods, some wine, and for our main course, a couple of wood-fired oven pizzas that were delicious.  Uzés is positioned such that it has many different regional influences on its cuisine, and I don’t think these pizzas would have been out of place in Italy.

Within minutes of sitting down, a local boy a couple of tables over had roped Matty into sword fighting with him using a pair of plastic swords.  As the sun set and the fairy lights came on in the Sycamore trees around the plaza, the pair, who didn’t share more than a couple of words, darted around the large stone fountain and dueled.  We spoke with their parents briefly, who were very kind and welcoming and encouraging of their play.  We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome for our family in Uzès.  So far, everyone is incredibly kind, friendly, and welcoming.

By 10 PM, we headed to bed, and as far as I can tell, we all got a good night’s sleep on the local schedule. It’s now early morning of day one. We plan to stock up on a little groceries, unpack some more, and generally decompress. I expect a nap in my future after lunch.

Initial reactions: everything is amazing here and I’m never going home.

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Place aux herbes

Personal Life, Travel

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Preparing for France

In seven days, my wife, son, and I will board a plane headed for Paris where we’ll catch a train and then rental car to arrive, eventually, in Uzès, France. We’ll be spending about three weeks there before heading back to Paris for a week, and then coming back to the United States (assuming there is still a United States to come back to).

I’ve taken multi-month trips overseas before, but not in about 20 years, and back then, I didn’t have a job or a wife.  Back then, life was lighter, and I was less burdened with belongings and responsibilities. I don’t really remember the preparation for my trip to Kenya.  I probably relied on my mother to pull together most everything for that, because I was busy in college, finishing up one semester.

I’ve just about wrapped up all my work that needs to be done before I leave, but just enough projects linger, requiring attention and time that I’m in that odd, liminal space of not quite working, and not quite on vacation. Like most people, I find this neither-here-nor-there state uncomfortable and unsettling. I find myself wishing simultaneously that I had more time before departing and wishing that I was already there, strolling the cobblestone streets and taking in all the sights and sounds of a fifteen hundred year old village.

I like being places, but I’m not sure anymore that I actually enjoy the process of getting there. Part of it is the weird security theater we deal with to travel, and the other part is that travel is much easier when I’m only responsible for myself. Being a parent and traveling comes with all new anxieties.

Still, I’m hoping a four week vacation means I can relax more and worry less.  Who cares if we arrive a day late?  Travel mixups can happen and not take such a huge chunk out of our trip.  At least, that’s the idea. last night I began to obsess over whether our Airbnb had a shower or just a bathtub, and whether it had enough electrical outlets.  It seems that I’m an aggressive worrier and even a longer trip isn’t enough to calm my nerves.

Once I get there, I expect to really experience things.  I’ve felt sort of experience-deprived living here in Kansas lately.  Kansas is great for a casual day to day life, but there’s not a lot of excitement and novelty to the Midwest dad life.  Finding a balance between comfort and novelty has long been a struggle for me, and so if nothing else, I’m looking forward to an entire month of people and places entirely new.

And in my downtime, I hope to read and write and think hard about what shape I want my life to take in the next couple of years.  Freelancing for the past decade has been great, but I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut with a lot of it and I need to think about what direction I want to go into next.  For the longest time, I thought I would transition into more writing, but that hasn’t panned out quite.  Although one possibility for when I return is launching a Patreon for ongoing Dungeonspace stories. I feel like I have enough ideas to write those for years, and maybe that crowd-funding method could help me start that transition.  Sometimes I think I’m a little afraid of succeeding as a writer, and self-sabotage or get too risk-averse.  These are things I hope to think through when I’m enjoying the French countryside. Have a great May without me, everybody!  I hope to come back with some brand new stories to tell.

PS: tune in next week for an important announcement!

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Personal Life, Travel

All the things on my mind lately (a semi-condensed list)

Any one of these thoughts could be the subject of a carefully written blog post, but my thoughts around all of them are difficult to congeal enough to fit into this list.  When social media asks “what’s on your mind?” I don’t think they intend for us to answer truthfully.  The actual things on my mind lately would not be easily commodified.  Increasingly, I’m not comfortable giving them my personal life as a medium through which to sell Russian propaganda and pay-to-win freemium games.   Back to the blog we go, perhaps this time for good. Here’s some of what I think about lately in the quiet moments between the periods of work.

  1. The internet (social media) divides us specifically as it brings us together generally. People have been never more informed on what those around them are thinking or believing, and having access to this information has ruined us.  Meanwhile, companies like Facebook have taken the human instinct to be connected and piggy-backed upon this with a horrifying tool of mass information gathering that allows bad faith entities to further drive wedges between us. When the internet was little more than a glorified home shopping network combined with a digital Encyclopedia Britannica, it was intellectually useful, and socially neutral.  I would see us go back to that internet. I am seriously considering personally returning to that internet.
  2. Even though I worry about item #1, I struggle to put my beliefs into action.  Ideally, I would rather read a book than read another Facebook diatribe or another fifteen plus thread of tweets, but I find myself reading these things in great volumes over books constantly.  Am I addicted to screens? The information? Something else? Does it matter if I’m addicted when everyone else seems to be?  How can I break this cycle and return to deeper thinking and meaning?  I sometimes feel as if I have trapped myself in an intellectual tide pool, and it’s safe here, but I am slowly starving myself of a meaning only found in the depths.
  3. Shallow thoughts are my constant companion. I find myself formulating opinions not on the basis of my own thoughts but on the basis of what my political or social tribe seems to formulate, and I have found myself becoming swept up in a tidal wave of public opinion, carried forward with beliefs that don’t quite sit right.  I find myself wanting more time for contemplation.  I feel compelled by the pace of internet life to decide how I feel before I even feel anything.  I would challenge anyone who held opinions other than mine for going along with their tribe — why don’t I consider the source of my own conclusions and opinions more often?
  4. The modern internet, I fear, was a mistake, and though it provides everything in my life from friendships to my way of living, I wonder if it is at the cost of deeper meaning and satisfaction in life.  I worry that my superficial connections online prevent me from forming more meaningful ones on a local level.
  5.  My community is pretty white, however, as is my family.  Is my interest in helping my own communities and families a sign that I’m racist?  I worry that my desire to bring those in my family and my local communities back into something like the Democratic party means I’m secretly a white supremacist.  I worry that my concern for why my male peers no longer read, why so many of them seem so angry, means I’m sexist in a way I don’t see clearly.  How deeply can we lie to ourselves without having any hint of the truth? I worry often that deep inside, I’m all those things I do not like. Do I dislike them because I think they are morally wrong, or do I dislike them because I dislike myself?  What should I do about any of this?
  6. I worry at a secret notion.  It says that the best action I could take for the advancement of marginalized writers is to never write another thing again. To step aside.  The world is screaming that it has had enough of the opinions and thoughts of cis-hetero white men.  I want to do the right thing, but I am not sure if it is the right thing if it means giving up on my own dreams.  Part of me says, don’t give up. Continue to chase your dream and don’t listen, as part of the world will always want you to be give up no matter who or what you are.  Another part wonders if it my intent is to continue writing means I am in fact the monster I fear.
  7.  I watch my son grow up and I wonder if we are all born so inherently in touch with joy and happiness, or if that is something special to him?  Do our lives rob us of that connection, or do we not all get it to start?  How much was I like him when I was his age?  What is the nature and what is the nurture in the happiness of a child? And how do I protect his innocent happiness for as long possible?  Does anything matter more than that?
  8. Is an apocalypse or a famine the only way I will ever find to lose weight? How much longer can this husk of a shell put up with the damage I deal to it through inattention?
  9. Am I giving my business the attention it needs?  Should I be working harder, making even more money when possible? How do I know when is enough?
  10.  Having read over this list, I wonder, am I depressed right now? Or do I need a nap and a vacation? There’s at least one question I know how to answer with some certainty.

I guess most of what I am thinking about is, what does it mean to be a good person? How can I be a good person, or at least a better one?  What is meaningful and important to me in my life, and how do I accomplish that?  Perhaps a month of low-density work and travel will help me get my head around these thoughts and questions and figure out a way to become more comfortable with them.  Here’s hoping, as I’ll be headed to a small town in France for a month this summer.

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The Self-Employed Life – Happier, but Less Secure

Anyone who knows me (and I doubt you’re reading this blog unless you know me) knows that I’ve been self-employed as a web developer for going on 10 years now.  I have a lot of thoughts about the self-employed life, but first, a study that validates them:

The study by Professor Peter Warr from the Management School and Professor Ilke Inceoglu from the University of Exeter found that despite working longer hours and having less job security, self-employed workers were among the happiest with more freedom and control over their work life.

Self-employed people happier and more engaged at work, study finds – News – Faculty of Social Sciences – Faculties – The University of Sheffield

 

Longer hours?  Check!  Less job security?  Sort of!

I definitely work generally more hours than I did before I was a freelancer.  This is because half the jobs I’ve held as an adult couldn’t produce enough work to keep me busy.  At least one corporate job I had gave me something like 4-5 hours of work. Not per day. Per week. It shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone that I was laid off from that job at the start of the recession. I’d already been looking for something more interesting for a few months.

As a freelancer with a fairly well valued skillset (web development), I find myself employed mostly to the degree I want, and no more or less.  I’m very lucky in this  My billable hours goal for any given week is 20-25 hours, more if I want to buy a new toy of some sort, or more just because the work is interesting.  Of course, I work far more hours than that, but that’s how much of my time needs to earn.  And one great thing about being self-employed is, while the income is more variable, you see the writing on the wall long before the pink slip shows up.  The first time I was laid off in 2008, I was caught off-guard, if not entirely surprised. I was laid off a few months later from another job. I’ll never be surprised by someone wielding the ax again; because if anyone wields it, it will be me.  And that kind of hyper-uncertainty back in the Bad Old Times made self-employment seem far more stable even in the beginning.

The aspect of this study I do not dispute is that I have far more personal freedom than before.  If I want to take a walk, or a day off, I take a day off or go for a walk. If a project comes in that I’m not well suited for,  I can turn it down (provided I don’t need the money desperately).  In general, more personal freedom has led to higher levels of personal happiness.  Being able to do what I want, when I want, without ridiculous office place rules mucking things up has been wonderful. The downside on the happiness issue is, with great responsibility comes great anxiety. There have been times when I’ve been stressed to my breaking point by making to all continue to work.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone.  But if you’re like me at all and you get a shot, I recommend giving it a chance. You might find your quality of life significantly improved by it.

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Searching the Past for Weapons Against One’s Self

This one is for all those who have found themselves laying in bed late at night, replaying failures and mishaps from their past on the flickering camera of their memory.

A friend of mine recently asked:

Is there a word for that feeling you get when you want to bash yourself in the face for something you did 25 years ago? … Well, it happens to me so often, it feels like there should be a word.

No, I said, I don’t know of one anyway.  Arrogantly, I decided, I would coin my own phrase.

I’ve experienced this many times. I imagine you have a few yourself. The moment I insulted my grandfather, telling him I didn’t need his help with the card game I was playing, and the immediate hurt on his face.  I’ve relived that one a hundred times.  Decisions in young love that went horribly awry.  Acts of selfishness that make me cringe so hard I want to turn myself inside out.  Some mistakes, it seems, are worth repeating over and over again.  It’s painful, but I wonder if it doesn’t happen for a reason.

These memories feel like ghosts to me.  They have no form or substance, but they return to remind us of the mistakes they represent, mistakes worth not repeating.  At least, it seems they return of a will of their own, but I think that is wrong, holistically speaking.  Perhaps it is us that cannot let go of them, and we summon them to inflict harm upon ourselves again and again as a way of helping us be the people we want to be, and not the people we were.

Eventually what came to me was: digging up the restless dead. 

A little of this isn’t so bad. These memories and how they make us feel are a lesson to our present selves from the past to be better than we once were.  If we forget our mistakes entirely, if we never seek out the wisdom of our dead, then we do not learn from them.

But their usefulness must come to an end eventually. One day we put down the shovel and move on for each regret-filled memory. At least I hope so.

I worry that those of us who don’t learn with time to let go, those who find themselves becoming hostage to their regrets, will become weighed down, one phantom at a time, until they sink into the netherworld. What remains is a kind of living ghost, a body possessed by the collection of woeful spirits of their own making. A life with too much emphasis on our regrets is an overburdened one.  Just as we dig up the restless dead, we must bury them again, reseal them in their clattering tombs, and return only on those gloom-filled nights when we truly need their counsel.

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That’s Not Your Email Address! That’s MY Email Address (A Story Four Years in the Making)

You’re working away one morning and someone calls you out of the blue. You don’t recognize the number, so it must be a telemarketer. Perhaps out of boredom, you answer. The person on the other end of the line is far stranger than a telemarketer.

It’s me. The OTHER you, but not from another universe. From another state, another town. I am the original owner of the gmail address you think you own, but don’t actually possess.

For four years, I have received your credit card bills, phone bills, and travel confirmations. So many times, I’ve considered resetting all your passwords, canceling your trips, your phone, and your credit cards. Please, I begged the internet gods, stop sending me this other person’s emails. I never wanted to know so much about a stranger’s life. I have received your overdue notices for bills. I have worried about you. Were you having financial trouble? Out of work? My understanding if your life was too intimate. I didn’t want to have to worry about you. I have my own problems.

I have many times wondered why you keep using an email address when, for years, you have not once received a confirmation email. In fact, I have many questions about your life that would be inappropriate for a stranger to ask. Why do you change your cell phone provider so often? When you took that emergency trip to Mississippi, was it for a funeral? Did you ever find a job, or did you just stop looking? I’m guessing you must have, because this trip to a Florida resort is damned expensive. All we have in common in a name, but I know more about you than some of your friends probably do.

After all this time, a confirmation email comes in with all your contact details. You live in Macon, Georgia and now I have your phone number. This is finally a way to reach you that doesn’t involve my own address!

This is it. The holy grail! I’ve dreamed about this moment.

Nervously, I pick up my phone and punch in the number. I think about what I will say if I get a person, and what I will say if I get shunted to voice mail. If our positions were reversed, you would get voice mail. But no, you answer. You have exactly the southern accent I expected. Of course you think I’m a telemarketer, because I say:

“Hello? My name is Jeremy Tolbert. Are you Jeremy Tolbert?”

Confusion occurs. The connection is bad. But eventually I convince you, by referring to the latest email, that I am in fact Jeremy Tolbert and I have been receiving your email.

“That’s weird,” you say. “My email is [name+numbers]@[otherprovider].com”

I don’t ask you how the hell you type in my email address over and over again if that’s your address. I just let you know that I’ll forward you the resort confirmation there so you can have it. We laugh, and wish each other to have a good day. I hang up.

Like most things you spend so much time dreaming about, the actual encounter is a letdown. I still want to know why you have continuously used the wrong email address for four years. I guess now I have a way to ask you. The only question that matters now is… should I?

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I’d Rather Watch Battlefield Earth A Hundred Times Than Ever Set Up A New Computer Again

I’ve been struggling a bit with my six year old desktop machine for a while now.  Its been show signs of imminent hard drive failure and the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 left it odd.  Lately, windows would lose focus and refuse to come back into focus for no apparent reason, requiring a computer restart.  Chrome started taking an astronomical amount of memory for no good reason.  I decided yesterday that it was time to purchase a replacement. I resolved to spend the rest of the day moving files onto it, getting my software and development environments set up, and then today, I’d be back to work for my clients.

(cue sounds of hysterical laughter from the IT Pros in the back)

Computers are awful, terrible things that I don’t know how I would make a living without. I asked my wife today if she could remember the exact moment in time I went from loving computers to seeing them as little more than a necessary evil. She suggested it was while I was in college, learning a particularly buggy 3D rendering program called HASH: Animation Master. I poured more hours into learning that program than I did earning my degree, and half of them because it crashed often, losing all my work.

I save compulsively now and rarely ever lose more than a couple of minutes of work. Thanks, Hash!

Nothing ever takes how long you think it will when you set up a new machine, especially when replacing one you’ve had around forever, because half of the things you do on it have become muscle memory. It’s a trippy feeling to reflexively attempt a task and realize, oh, no, that application isn’t installed yet. I’m a fairly competent computer user, and I can only just imagine what this process feels like for someone who finds computers more challenging.

Well–that’s not entirely true. While I was waiting to pick up the new computer from having some more RAM installed at Micro Center, I stood next to the help desk and listened to the woes of many a senior computer user who, and I’m only loosely paraphrasing here, “just wanted the damn thing to work.” Amen to that, Granddad. You speak for us all. Despite my sympathies, listening to one poor tech patiently explain the same thing over and over again triggered my front line tech support PTSD and I was so physically uncomfortable I had to walk out of earshot to regain my calm. I hadn’t realized until then just how stressful I had found being a tech back in the day. I still do plenty of tech support, but not for hardware. Never hardware. If you open up the case of a modern computer wrong, the souls of demons will come screaming out. This shit is black magic compared to my 486.

Somewhere, a sixteen year old is reading the above paragraph and rolling their eyes so hard they’ll need transplant surgery when they’re my age.

Today, I’m typing this while yet another large batch of software applications install. I’ve nearly tweaked the new machine’s configuration to match the old one, far as I can tell. I intend to keep the old machine hooked up to a KVM switch for at least the immediate future so I can get back to it as needed. It will replace our Windows XP-running media PC as the media server for the house, but it will likely be months before I fully reconfigure things and catch every esoteric little thing that I need tweaked exactly right to feel at home.

I am newly resolved to avoid going through this nightmarish process again for at least ten years. After spending most of my adult life replacing my computer every three years, this last one made it six years (thank you, joys of parenting). Who knows? Maybe this one will last me into my sixties! Maybe I’ll finally become that cranky guy who writes on a decades-old word processing software because it’s what he knows and he doesn’t have enough time left to learn a new one.

Who am I kidding? I’m already that guy. I was using Word 2003 until this upgrade! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go take my fiber pills and blood pressure medication.

Pictured above, my workstation, prior to the switch. That’s where the magic happens, people!

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2017: Year’s End Review

I measure three aspects of my life separately: my day job professional life, my writing professional life, and my personal life. It’s important that I compartmentalize these very different aspects of my existence because if one of them is doing somewhat poorly, I can usually count on the others to lift my spirits.

On whole, 2017 has been a profoundly strange year, perhaps the strangest since 2008. I’ll get into the details below for each section.

Web Designer / Day Job Professional Life

We’ve had another record year at Clockpunk Studios in 2017, but I over-worked considerably to accomplish it. I took on too much in limited time frames, and my mental and physical health suffered for it. If we had seen something like 20% growth, that might have felt worthwhile, but it was something more like 3%. It felt like seriously diminishing returns this year.

I still enjoy Clockpunk very much and have no intention of stopping. In late 2017, we added a new major support client, Monte Cook Games. I’ve long been a fan of the man himself, and their new Cypher system is quite enjoyable to play and run. I’m very excited to see what things we will accomplish together.

Having MCG as a major client allows me to reduce the amount of work-seeking I have to do next year. It’s nowhere near enough that I can stop taking on new projects, but it cuts the number of new client sites I have to build to meet my targets in half. This means at the end of the day, I can spend more time working and less time chasing work. It means I can be a little more picky about the kinds of work I do take on, which is important. I had some less than ideal projects this year–not bad clients, but projects for which I wasn’t the best fit, I suspect.

In order to even get to “even” and not lose ground, I also had to raise my rates $5 an hour and the cost of all our support plans. I loathe doing this, because I know if things are tight for me, they’re likely tight for my clients too. But it had to be done, and that’s that. No sense beating myself up about it, and I’m still confident that I’m a bargain.

So in 2018, I expect this area to be a bit more stable, a bit less stressful. A little more 9 to 5, as much as a full time freelance web development business can be (which means, almost not at all). I know I’ll be working on a lot of great new projects in 2018, and I’m looking forward to the challenges.

One last thing – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I had Jenn Reese on board for nearly project in 2017 as a designer. I’ve worked with subcontractors before, but Jenn stands out in a class all her own. She’s talented, driven, responsible, and just a lovely person. It is a delight to work with her, and I hope we’ll continue to do so well into 2018.

Writing Life

I can safely say that 2017 was the best year so far in my writing life. I’m just going to break this one down by bullet points, as there’s a lot of ground to cover.

  • My personal horror-ish/fantasy novelette “The West Topeka Triangle” appeared on Lightspeed Magazine.  This story is eligible for nominations, should you be so inclined.
  • I sold “The Dragon of Dread Peak”, my first novella, and the second Dungeonspace story, to Lightspeed Magazine. It was published in October to considerable fan mail. Dungeonspace seems to have connected with more fans than anything else I’ve ever written.  This story is eligible for nominations, should be ever be so inclined.
  • I sold “The Dissonant Note” to Analog magazine. It looks to be appearing in the February issue. I’ve seen some initial luke-warm reviews, but I’m not too bothered. I’m really happy that the vision for the story that I’ve tinkered with for a decade finally came together, and Analog is a new market for me.
  • I sold “We Mete Justice With Beak and Talon” to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Charles Coleman Finlay has been a teacher to me for years, and to sell a story to him has been a dream come true. This story is the one I am most anticipating the reaction to in 2018 or whenever it is published. I haven’t heard yet, and it could take a while.
  • My story “Wet Fur” appeared in reprint on Escape Pod. I had an early streak of appearances in Escape Pod back before every online magazine also had a podcast feature. Most of my stories appear in podcast format on Lightspeed, so I haven’t been able to return there until recently. I love getting a chance to be read by their listeners. Also, I felt like this story didn’t get much notice when it first appeared, and I love it dearly. My one and only story to come to me with ease in a dream. It feels like something someone else wrote, more than anything else I’ve actually written.
  • My story “Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” was selected for and appeared in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by John Joseph Adams and Charles Yu. This was also a dream come true and a bingo space on my card. This marks my first Year’s Best reprint.

So all that is the good news. The bad news is that, due to personal life stuff, I haven’t written since March. I hope to spend the winter and spring banging out the next Dungeonspace story and a few other ideas I have ping-ponging around. It’s frustrating that in such a good year of publication and sales, I haven’t had time to keep up the work. A lot about being a writer is building momentum, so I’m determined not to lose what I’ve managed to regain in the last couple of years.

Personal Life

My family life couldn’t be better. I have an amazing wife and a now three year old son who is hilarious and kind and just the absolute light of my life. Every day with them is a genuine blessing and no matter what else happens, as long as we have each other, I think we’re going to be okay.

That said, the state of our country and the world sent me into a deep, terrible depression in mid year that lasted months before, after finding myself near-suicidal, I finally sought out a professional to help me work through things. I’ve been seeing her for a few months and I’m in a much better spot, but there’s a lot of stuff to work through. I’m by nature a bit of a negative person, and I’m trying to change that.

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with the levels of rage and despair that I have in 2017. My own life is mostly fine, but I’m terrified of the direction things are headed in. It’s almost like the external world is reflecting the interior state of my body, too.

I started the year with a diabetes diagnosis which, with diet and exercise, I’ve been a little bit able to limit the damage there, at least for part of the year. Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of hours I’ve had to spend behind a keyboard, I’ve done significant damage to my back and posture, to the point where I’m in considerable nerve pain for most of the day. My insurance, as a freelancer, is fairly terrible, and I’ve been spending over $100 a week on physical therapy, which works some weeks, and others not so much. Typing in particular aggravates things, which may be playing into how little writing I’ve managed to get done. This is all compounded by weight issues that I’ve struggled with my entire adult life.

It’s been hard, given my negativity and the problems, to not see turning forty as the start of a decline in health. I’m determined to stay in the fight as long as I can, but it can be discouraging when the activity you need to do to make a living becomes so painful on a day to day basis. I have my pain mitigation methods, but if physical therapy doesn’t start to show more consistent results, an MRI and surgery may be in my future in 2018.

I don’t even want to look at my reading and writing goals from last year this year. I’m trying to stay positive and I know my low success rate with them will likely drag me down some, and I’m trying to wrap up the year with a more positive spirit than I’ve had for most of it. Let’s just say that I did as much reading and writing as I could given the circumstances.

Finally–a good chunk of my leisure time this year was spent trying to bring a professional DMing company called the Level Up Guild into the world with mixed success. My time and my partner’s time has been limited, and we missed most of our end of the year deadlines. I’m hopeful that in 2018 we’ll find a way to get it up and running, at least in a reduced capacity. I really hope so, because I invested a rather large sum of money and time into things. I’ll talk more about that when/if it’s ready to launch.

I hope you’ve had success and joy in your 2017 as well. I hope we continue to fight the good fight together in 2018. May the Force be with you, and all that jazz.

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Gaming, Personal Life, Writing