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Archive for Personal Life

On Art, Writing, and Storybundles

I have often enjoyed experimenting with small scale magazine ideas. Some of you may remember the Fortean Bureau, my first foray.

When Nick Mamatas came to me with an idea to do a noir crime magazine called the Big Click, I was immediately on board.  We ran for a solid few years and published some amazingly talented authors, but ultimately, the spark died as it sometimes does. Revenue was never there, and we poured a lot of our own time and money into it.  The quality was great, but it just didn’t find a sustaining audience in its life. Perhaps in the afterlife, it will? You can now read nearly everything we published in a single collected volume available as part of the Noir Storybundle that Nick has curated.  There are a ton of great writers in the bundle, multiplied again by our collection.  It’s an awful lot of gritty fun for fifteen bucks.  You can find it here!  I’m very proud of the work we accomplished there, and I think this is a good place to leave things.

With this Bundle wrapping up the Big Click, I’m moving away from publishing experiments for the foreseeable future.  When I first became interested in electronic magazine publishing, the field was relatively wide open, but today, there seems to be a surplus of online magazines. As a reader, I can’t read a small percentage of the fiction that’s published in any given month, stuff that I’m genuinely interested in.  If I’d succeeded in finding a niche that connected with audiences early on and had a project become self-sustaining financially, that would have been another story.  The market’s matured, and new entrants are going to find it difficult to compete for attention and dollars.  The hard truth that few want to admit is that in fiction publishing, supply far outstrips demand. The thing that keeps many of these smaller magazines afloat is passion and outside money, and that was certainly the case for me and my projects. Alas, my passion for publishing is waning across the board.

Lately, I feel hesitant to even write at all, and haven’t written a word since I completed a novella in March. I feel that with each story I may just be contributing to an ever-growing surplus of content that nobody has time to read.  To pass my time usually spent writing, I’ve taken up drawing and digital sculpture as hobbies (the sculpture part, being a return to something I did in college).  I’m spending my time trying to learn the basics, watching tutorials, and doing exercises. I’ve never been a very good artist, and only a competent designer, but I hope with time I can create things that satisfy me as much as writing a story.  The visual arts have always taunted me. I have even less natural talent there than I ever did as a writer (and that’s really saying something).  I figure with raw determination, I can perhaps become competent before old age sets in.

It may well be that it’s not the pursuits that actually hold my attention, but instead the act of learning them.  I may be a learning addict.  With writing stabilizing at a level of quality just above mediocre, I feel ready to move on, at least for a while.  I doubt I’ll ever give it up entirely, but lately, it holds no spark.  The rest of the way toward writing “success” looks like an enormous, unpleasant grind with little improvement to be found.  But who knows about any of the above?  Maybe some fresh new success will rekindle my energy. A story sale, or a wildly successful Storybundle?  Maybe what I’m really seeking is some sense of a win, any kind of win, to make it all feel worthwhile again. I guess we’ll find out in time.

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My Dad’s Books

We recently bought some nearly floor to ceiling IKEA bookshelves which has almost doubled our bookshelf space. This has allowed me to finally process my Dad’s books out of storage and figure out which I will keep and which I’ll try to sell or donate. For those who don’t know, my Dad died of lung cancer at the age of 46 a little more than a decade ago. I inherited my love of science fiction from him.

Lots of memories in these books. We don’t have a childhood home to go back to these days, but looking at these books, I can remember exactly where they used to be on shelves in the two different places we lived before I went to college. I can remember which ones he recommended (Saberhagen, McCaffrey) and which ones he said I shouldn’t bother with. (So many Gor books, and Stranger in a Strange Land, which he thought I wouldn’t understand until I was older. He was right.).

Dad was a bit of a pack rat and never got rid of books. Many of his books (but not as many as I remembered, oddly) were scrounged and missing covers, so I think someone had passed him remaindered books cheap. We bought a lot of stuff at garage sales. In the 90s, he became a SF Book Club subscriber, and there are tons of Anne McCaffrey hard covers; a love for her work was something we had in common. There’s also a surprising amount of Andre Norton and Ursula K. LeGuin (one for every Perry Rhodan and E.E. Smith paperback). A surprising variety of stuff across all subgenres really, even D&D and Shadowrun tie-ins. I think I got him hooked on the Shadowrun stuff when I was in high school.

It’s weird; I can’t really say that my Dad had taste you could pin down. He was pretty damned omnivorous when it came to science fiction and fantasy. In the aughts, towards the end, he didn’t read SF/F anymore; he’d decided he was done with that stuff and had moved on to thrillers and mystery. I was sad that for the first time in my life post-college, I had time to read, but we could no longer recommend each other books because of his shifting tastes.  He read everything I wrote, though, and often provided me pretty good feedback on those early stories.  He lived to see my first couple of professional sales, although by that point, I don’t think he read them, so far gone he was.

Really, I think the only books I heard my Dad even slightly disparage were the Gor books, and even then, he thought they were pretty hilarious, just outside my age range at the time. He never outright forbid anything on his shelf from me, except maybe the book he was reading at the time. There were a few times where I tried to steal the latest book club books before he got to them, but never pulled it off.  I wish to this day I had his speed; I don’t know how he did it, but the man managed to read 5-6 books a week. He was also an avid library user for most of my childhood. There was no way we could afford to keep up with his habit, really.

At the bottom of one box, I found a near complete run of 1982 Asimov’s. I think those hit me the hardest. God damn, but I really wish he had lived to see me publish a story in there a few years back. I knew he was proud of me. In fact, the last words he ever said to me were to those effect. But sometimes you kind of feel like you haven’t earned that pride quite yet. Still working on living up to that, every single day.

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Miscellaneous Life Updates for March 2017

Spring has arrived and life is good. I feel a lot more relaxed with social media’s reduced stature in my life. Facebook’s basically gone, and I might be tweeting too much to compensate, but overall, I’m not spending a ton of time reading social media which was the real time suck. I’m reading books and writing. The first draft of “Dragon of Dread Peak”, the second Dungeonspace story, came in this week at 19,000 words. I’m working on revisions, and expect by the time I’m done it will be a solid 20,000. If all goes well there and it turns out great, I hope you’ll be reading it this year or early next.

Back in February, I got a preliminary diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. It hit me pretty hard. I’ve watched diabetes work its way through my mother’s side of the family for more than twenty years, and if there is a disease that scares me as much as cancer, it’s this one. My aunt died from diabetes complications, and possibly my grandfather’s heart failure was related. My mother and many of my aunts take insulin. I scored a 6.9 on my A1C, and anything above 6.5 receives a diagnosis. It figures that my three month blood sugar over the holidays would be high, but no, I’ve been pre-diabetic for years. I didn’t take it seriously enough. So I’ve found myself in the same boat as the rest of my family. I did quite a bit of self-flagellating over it. I’ve also been determined to reverse the trend, and I’ve been radically altering my diet and upping my exercise.

It’s been working, at least as far as one metric is concerned. In early December, I weighed 264 pounds according to my tracking, and as of today, I’m a little under 250. This is still way too heavy, but I’m trending in the right direction. Most of that weight, I’ve lost since February. Additionally, I take my glucose levels every other day, and I haven’t had a single result outside of the range for a non-diabetic (although that might be due to the medication they have me on).

This diagnosis has been a wake-up call for me to take better care of myself in general. I’ve cut 75% of the carbs out of my life, which isn’t easy when pizza is my favorite food. I’m eating more vegetables and fruit, which really can only be a good thing. In general, I eat a lot less processed crap. And I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. My stomach problems have mostly gone into remission. Really, the only complaint I have is that I’ve strained my ankle and I’m keeping up the exercise so much that I’m not giving it time enough to heal.

Of course, getting a diabetes diagnosis right at the time when Republicans have announced their plan to bankrupt and kill everyone who isn’t rich has been stressful. I’ve read many articles about “Trumpcare” or “Republicare” and there is not a single measure in which it is better for my family. I think there is a very good chance, if it passes, that it will result in a much lower quality of life for us. We have two asthmatics and a diabetic in the house. Chronic condition is the name of the game, unfortunately. I don’t know what we’ll do if we end up losing our ACA coverage. We don’t even collect subsidies; I pay full price for a market plan. But that price is set to climb astronomically and offer far worse levels of coverage under this plan. All so the wealthy base of the Republican Party can receive a tax cut they don’t even need. To be blunt: I will never vote for a Republican as long as I live. They have proven themselves unfit to govern. They have demonstrated that they would much rather people like me die off than receive care at some cost of  minor wealth redistribution.

But enough about politics. I’ve gotten a couple of stories written this year– a cybernetic eagles vs. drones story called “We Mete Justice by Beak and Talon” that I think is a lot of fun, and the aforementioned Dungeonspace story. I’ve finished reading dozens of short stories and a couple of novels, including The Great Wash by Gerald Kersh and I am Providence by Nick Mamatas. Both of which I enjoyed very much. Currently, I’m about half-way done with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. It remains to be seen if it will stick the landing, but her writing has some great, warm characterization. She doesn’t seem to do characters you can’t like, which I suppose is part of why it has garnered so many comparisons to Firefly. Regardless of how I end up feeling about the book in the end, she makes me want to write deeper, more interesting characters that readers can really come to love.

My kiddo Matty continues to grow and develop from a baby into a tiny little person.  Yesterday, we spent a lot of time together while Sarah celebrated International Women’s Day.  We walked to a local game store, and I giggled as he introduced himself to the store owner and asked how he was doing. He’s this exceedingly polite little thing, very gregarious unlike his parents, and full of boundless amounts of joy for the simplest things. My life is made immeasurably better by his presence. We play a lot of computer pinball together, we watch cartoons, and we go on walks.  And oh blessings of blessings, he’s pretty much potty-trained! Life as a Dad continues to be the best thing ever.

Lastly, some notes on web work. I’ve got two projects running this month, which is great, but I have nothing booked beyond what I’m currently working on, which worries me. Things seem to be coming in fits and starts this year, and while typically things pick up after everyone gets their taxes in the mail, I would really love it if people would start dropping me a line to inquire about my services. If you’re interested at all in having a site built or redesigned by me, please let me know. Between this and healthcare concerns, my professional life is feeling a bit precarious. I really don’t want to go back to a corporate gig if I can avoid it. I love working with my author and publisher clients. [/end sales spiel]

So, what’s been new with you? Any big announcements you want to share with me? Email me or post a comment, and let’s catch up. Until then, keep on being the best you that you can be.

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Personal Life

Why I am Quitting Facebook (Or Attempting to)

If I were to describe my Facebook habits to pre-Facebook me, he would be intrigued and more than a little horrified.  I suppose this makes me a bit of a Luddite these days, to question the value of something that has become so omnipresent, but I have serious beefs with the role that social media has started to take in my life.  I’ve spent over a month tinkering with things, trying new filters, and ultimately I’ve decided that Facebook has to go.

First– I’m not here to convince you to quit Facebook.  If you’re getting more out of it than you put in, and you’re happy with the volume of energy that you’re dedicating to the platform, then please don’t let me change that.  However, if you suspect that Facebook might be bad for your mental health or eating too much time, then perhaps read on and see what I have to say here.

Facebook, when it comes down to it, is too easy.  Prior to this week, I had it on my phone, my iPad, my work computer, and my writing laptop.  Whenever I was using any of these devices, my awareness that Facebook exists was there in my head. There is an endless stream of links, opinions, and general “water cooler talk” available over on the platform, merely a touch or click away.  You want to see aww-cute animals?  Facebook’s got it.  You want to feel outrage? Oh boy, do they have that too.  Do you want to feel soul-crushing jealousy at acquaintances living far more exciting lives than you?  Yep.  Facebook has you covered.

It’s not all bad.  It can make you feel more connected. It helps us keep informed on the lives of people that we would probably not stay in touch with as well without it. It definitely plays a role in informing people and sharing knowledge.  But as a “social” tool, I think its flawed, at least for me.  “Wow,” sometimes I would think. “I have so many amazing and cool friends all over the world.”  But I really examined this, and I realized that I didn’t really know how most of these people felt about me.  I don’t talk one-on-one with most of them, and I don’t really have a relationship to them. I have a relationship to a platform that mediates all of my interactions with those people.  Facebook chooses what you see, and no amount of tinkering can strip away that algorithm, I found.

It got to the point where I would be around friends in the actual physical world but I would spend part of our time together reading social media.  We’ve all been at meals where everyone stares at their phones, and this is the great damage that Facebok has done to me.  Because of that endless scroll, you almost feel obligated to keep up.  Afraid that you might miss something that will deliver a good little dopamine hit in any of those categories above.  I don’t want to make any weak drug analogies, but I definitely began to use Facebook in an addictive way. Wake up, check Facebook.  Check Facebook all day.  Read Facebook one more time in bed.  Repeat.  And the longer I went without checking it, the more uncomfortable I felt.  I was missing out! The world was moving without me if I wasn’t there, reading and reacting.

Being wired in to the action helps paper over feelings that my own life isn’t going places as much as I would like.  As a Dad, I get out and interact with the real world a lot less often than before, and working from home all day doesn’t help. Ultimately, instead of easing feelings of loneliness, Facebook seemed to be exacerbating them.  Or, to be more accurate, the way I was using it was.

I want deeper, more personal connections in my life.  I don’t need a large number of them, but I also don’t want a third party involved in those connections, shaping them in invisible ways.  I want to get to know you, not the you that you project to the public on Facebook. What I’ve come to realize is, my truest friends are the ones that I communicate with regularly outside the mediation of social media.  The rest just began to feel artificial, a cheap facade, and I was spending ever-increasing amounts of time on wishing it to be more solid than it was.  Far too much time.

It has not been uncommon for me to spend three hours a day reading social media and responding to it.  That’s time that could be better spent playing with my kid, reading, or writing. And reading, that’s really what has suffered.  I used to read endlessly, but it began to feel like a chore in comparison to the easy quick fixes of social media.  I read most often on my iPad, and there was always that siren call of “what’s going on in the world? What am I missing while I’m reading this book?”

My habits around social media developed with no thought to the consequences–no thought about the opportunity costs.  For every activity you devote time toward, there are dozens more that you don’t. That’s opportunity cost, and I’m not comfortable with them right now, especially not comfortable making them without careful consideration. I don’t like it when habits form unintentionally.

So here I am, trying to break the habits and form new ones. It’s not made easier by the fact that I’m unable to delete my profile due to some developer apps I have set up for clients. I’m allowing myself to continue to use messenger because that’s one-on-one interaction that I want to foster. This means that I do open Facebook still.  And if I’m not careful, I start scrolling and clicking reaction buttons like I never quit. (This explains why you may have seen likes appear and disappear from me lately.  Quitting is a process.)

One immediate impact from trying to remove Facebook from my life has been an increase in blogging.  Remember blogging? That think we all did before Facebook and Twitter came along to chop up our thoughts into even tinier increments?  Even that seems like it was a fad, as everyone makes 20+ long tweet threads that are a pain in the ass to read on a micro-blogging platform.  Even I do it, for the simple reason that probably 12 people read this blog, but several hundred (at a minimum) see my tweets.  There’s always that dopamine hit of people liking and retweeting.

I like blogging, too–I like taking more space and time to think and share my thoughts. Most importantly, this is a choice I’m making.  Less Facebook.  More books.  More blogging.  Deliberate choices instead of accidental habits is the theme of my life right now as I attempt to develop a much healthier lifestyle.  I’m choosing what I eat more carefully, and carving out at least 30 minutes a day for exercise.

I want my head space back. I want to spend my time in the real world, being more intimate with it and the people that matter most. I want to live in the now and in my immediate space. I want to get to know my own thoughts better.  Doing so can only make me a better writer, and hopefully a better person.

So that’s why I’m quitting Facebook and why I’m limiting how much time I spend reading on Twitter.  It’s possible that one day I’ll let myself use the service for a few minutes every few days to keep up better with extended social circles (I do care about you all, honest). If you think of me as a close friend, or would like me to become one, I hope you’ll get in touch with me via email or text or phone–any direct method of communication is alright by me. I’ll be reaching out to some of you myself as time allows. If all goes well, I should have more of it on my hands very soon.

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The Mid Life Crisis of a Self Employed Geek

There are times when being a cliche of a human being isn’t very helpful. This is one of them. I’ll be forty in December, and seemingly rising up out of the depths of my subconsciousness, great anxiety has breached like a whale made of insecurity. I’ve lost a lot of confidence in the last few months about who I am and what I should be doing.

Primarily, I make my living running a freelance web design studio. I build websites likes this one for authors and small presses, but really whoever has the cash and seems like a decent person. I’ll do small business websites, whatever. Nonprofits are good too. I have a solid client base, but lately, new client work is harder to come by, and that makes up a significant portion of my income.

Since November, business has tapered down significantly. I’ve run some advertising in some places that reach my target audience. The response to that was zero, so it was money down the drain.  It feels like either the opinion about the quality of my work out there has changed without me knowing it, or everyone is too terrified about the economic climate to spend any money on things like websites.

Then there’s the backup plan which increasingly has turned delusional. As a writer, I had a good break there with four stories published in one year, all sold the year before.  I thought it was representative of a shift and that I had finally started to stand on my own.  I thought that maybe it was time to start working towards novels and gradually increasing my income as a writer. Then last year happened, and I sold one story early on, then nothing.  A novel is an awful big risk for an unproven writer.  Twelve months of my life to not make a dime from the time, whereas if I write 12 stories and sell one, that’s better for us than a single failed novel.  I lack the sense of security I require to start novel-writing in earnest.

Working in tech and getting older is a terrifying prospect.  I read horror stories all the time about how hard it is to get a day job in tech over 40.  Us oldies in my line of work usually tend to move up to middle management, but that’s not an option in a one person company. For a long time, I thought that if I was going to start to decline as a designer/developer, I had the writing to fall back on.  But things haven’t worked out so well in that department, as it turns out.

The future looks like a chasm of uncertainty, and I’m plummeting into it without a light. I was once filled with optimism for how things might turn out. I used to have grand schemes that I would devote hours to with no pay, with the hope that some day they might matter.  Increasingly, it feels like time has begun to run out.  I feel like I have to make my time pay off better, because I only have so much of it left.

I don’t expect to live much past 55.  I have some bum genes that lead to significant health problems and my Dad didn’t even make it to 50 (lung cancer, though). It’s hard to see your life span going too far under those circumstances. So even when I try to imagine the long term future, there’s this hard drop off around that age.

I worry that by spending the last 8 years not working for someone else, but only working for myself, I’ve ruined my chances of moving into that middle management tier where jobs for people with experience are most reliable and secure, where we go when we can’t keep up with the latest and greatest technologies and buzz words.  I’m swimming in waters filled with increasingly young sharks.  How much longer am I going to be able to tread water?

I don’t feel like I’m any less competent at what I do.  Perhaps the drop-off in business is because I’ve reached the limits of the niche I work in.  Perhaps I’ve burned bridges without knowing it. Or perhaps we’re all so worried that Trump is going to end the world that the economy has been impacted negatively.  Maybe tomorrow, I’ll be flooded with prospects and I’ll forget all this uncertainty.

For now, I’m left questioning everything about myself.  Have I made the right choices?  What will I do if I can no longer do this? What’s my long term goal if I acknowledge that I’ll probably never be a good enough writer to have that make up any portion of my income? I’m full of questions, and coming up empty right now on answers.

I’m terrified about what comes next.  Unlike the past, I have a family that depends on me now.  And it doesn’t help that all this terror and uncertainty is such a cliche.  Luckily, I’m not well off enough to blow any money on a convertible.

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This is 39

Today is my 39th birthday. The past year, on a personal level, has been pretty good, ignoring the upcoming impacts on the personal that are happening at the national stage.

Clockpunk Studios is on track to do roughly the same amount of business it did the year before.  It sustains my small family, and pays a couple of regular subcontractors.  It helps fund the experiment in erotic publishing known as Congress Magazine.  I still love my work and I enjoy the challenges involved in running a small business.  I don’t want to go back to work for someone else’s company ever again. I hope in 2017, things continue to be profitable and sustaining.  I’m a little worried about the coming changes at the national stage (how’s that for a repeated euphemism), but optimistic I will find a way to survive.

On the writing front, I had three stories published, and I sold one that comes out in January.  I had aimed to sell three, and I guess there are a couple more weeks for that to happen, but I’m not super-hopeful of hitting my goal given that I only have two stories on submission right now.  This year marked a continued exploration into my personal history and writing stories that draw on my childhood.  These efforts have had mixed results, but I’m proud of the writing I did; I wrote quite a few stories in the first half of the year, and I even started a novel.  Then WorldCon happened and work got busy and I fell off the wagon.  I’m still tinkering, and still hoping to have a new Dungeonspace story done soon.  I don’t know what kind (or how much) of role writing will play in my life moving forward, but I know it will play some role.

Dadding remains the most satisfying aspect of my day-to-day life.  I’m frustrated with my progress as a parent, most of the time, much as I am with my progress of being a better writer or web designer. I desire to find more patience and calm in the face of toddler obstinacy especially. That said, the end product couldn’t be better; Matty is funny, lovable, smart, and all the other adjectives you don’t need to hear from an adoring father.  Each day, he finds a way to astonish and surprise me.  His growing mental faculties are fascinating to watch unfold.  I can’t wait to see what he becomes next.

My wife Sarah continues to be the best choice I’ve ever made.  She is the best person I know, and I love her more every day.  The things we make together will long outlast us.  I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Luke Cage Made Me Uncomfortable And That Taught Me Something About Systemic Racism in Media

Netflix’s latest Marvel series, Luke Cage, left me feeling somewhat uneasy in the first episodes. I wasn’t really sure why. I’d enjoyed all of the Netflix/Marvel series to degrees, but none of them had left me feeling quite so discomforted in the early part of the story. It was somewhere in perhaps the second or third episode when I finally began to put my finger on what was making me feel so strange watching the show. That led to even greater discomfort.

Why was I having trouble? I didn’t always get the cultural references being made. Some of the slang was unfamiliar as well, and I couldn’t identify with a lot of the life experiences of the characters. And then that last matter: there were very few white people on the show. Almost none in those early episodes. That couldn’t actually matter, could it?

My first reaction with myself was to get defensive. Why should that bother me? I’m not a complete stranger to that experience. I lived in Kenya for half a year in college, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to be the only white person around in my travel there. There were times when it was fine, and times when it was uncomfortable, but this felt different. I aim to not be or act consciously racist, although I know I struggle with innate bias like many do.  And so on the thoughts went.  Basically, the boiled down to “I’m a good person, I’m not racist, the problem isn’t with me, it must be with the show.”  Yawn.

If I stopped at that level of introspection, I wouldn’t be writing this post. Thankfully, my thinking went a little bit deeper. As I explored the feeling, it suddenly struck me: oh. Wait a second. What if this is what people of color feel when they watch 90% of American televsion, rarely ever seeing themselves represented, and when they do, it’s a stereotype, a caricature of a real person? Oh my God, it must be something like this. It must be like this with nearly every single show, movie, book. Day in, day out. This is what it feels like to not see yourself represented in the media.

Holy shit. 

I was supportive of the cause of more diversity and representation in our entertainment, but I didn’t understand it very well until now. I hadn’t walked a few episodes in the shoes of a person of color, so to speak. I hesitate to even make that analogy, because my short, weekend experience can’t begin to compare to a lifetime of that. I gained a little perspective, that’s all. But it helps me understand and empathize better, to connect with the words I’ve been hearing and reading for so long, but never fully understanding.

My discomfort passed quickly. I found I enjoyed the show even more for the fact that I was witnessing many things and viewpoints new to me. Ultimately, I think the character of Luke Cage is my favorite of the Netflix heroes. More than any of the others, he personifies an ideal, a struggle. To be good and do good for others. Honestly… he makes Daredevil look like a self-obsessed jerk.

All that said – nothing else I could say about the show really matters in light of that little glimpse I received, I think. You could very easily say that this isn’t a show for me. And you’re probably right that in some sense that this show was made perhaps to let people of color feel like  get to feel with nearly every damn show on the television. My experience is secondary to the primary experience. But I thought it worth mentioning. And I hope more white geeks like myself have a similar experience. It was eye-opening for me. And I really want to read about how the show made people of color feel. I can’t wait to listen to their thoughts and experiences with the show, so I can understand all of this even better.

In the future, I hope we get a lot more shows like Luke Cage. I hope they make me uncomfortable in exactly the same way. I eagerly look forward to watching them. As for my own writing, I know that I will take the lesson seriously. It’s going to change the way I think about some things. How exactly remains to be seen, but I am determined not to squander the perspective I gained.

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Sober Food

Last Friday, I was at the convenience store on a snack run. A couple of super-drunk college guys staggered inside after me from an apartment complex across the street.  As I inspected the candy selection, one lad called from the front of the store: “If you hurry up, I’ll buy it for you.”

The one said across the isle from me:  “I’m trying to figure out what will sober me up.”

He stood for several minutes, staring blankly at the beef jerky.  I watched to see what he would pick, but he seemed unable to come to a decision. I took pity on him and said, “You want food to help you sober up?”

“Yeah, man.  I’m so wasted.”

“Okay, get some pretzels.”

Now, I’ve never been drunk. I have no idea what sobers you up. My reasoning was that he could get bulk pretzels for cheap and maybe if he filled up on them, it would help.  I imagined the prezels acting as booze sponges in his stomach.  I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works, but I’m not a doctor, so maybe?

“Oh, thanks, man,” he said, then paused. “What about corn chips? Holy fuck, corn chips!”

“Yeah, sure, those will work too,” I said knowingly. Not knowing anything. He thanked me, grabbed a giant bag of corn chips, and left.

Even though I knew my advice was spurious at best, I still got a thrill from doling it out and (sort of) having that advice heeded.   I realize now, with some reflection, that this must be how advice columnists feel all the time.

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On Genuine Gratitude

There is an experience that I need to talk about, because I do not know how to properly navigate my way through it.  The experience is being on the receiving end of a complement regarding my work.  Lately, I’ve received a few in regards to my latest story, and my response to these compliments have felt lacking.

We’re taught from a very young age to say thank you in the most trivial situations but also to give thanks when we experience gratitude on a grand scale.  We use the same words when someone holds open a door for us as when someone compliments our dearest life’s work.  The end result for myself is that saying “thank you” begins to feel trivial, and I search my lexicon for a way to express a deeper appreciation for what has been shared.  I always come up short in the moment.

The greatest gift any stranger can give me is to encounter my work, experience it, and feel positively affected by it.  Taking that extra step to actually tell me about the experience is an even greater generosity.   I know that there are a nearly infinite number of ways for the reader to spend their time, and when someone (friends, family, or strangers) chooses to give one of my stories their time, it feels like a blessing.

When someone thanks me for having read something of mine, I don’t feel like common decency provides me the tools to express my own gratitude.  We writers work in solitude for hours and hours to produce good work that is meaningful to us.  When that meaning is successfully conveyed to another soul, it’s like a lightning bolt.  Everything is illuminated for a brief moment.  Shadows are banished and there is a clarity and a sense of purpose achieved.

I do not go through my life experiencing a sense of constant thankfulness and gratitude, try as I might.  I take so much of it for granted that it’s shameful to even consider right now.  Gratitude is a state of vulnerability that is impossible to maintain for long periods.   Yet still, so many of us crave to experience that vulnerability.  To feel vulnerable is to feel profoundly, deeply human.  Life is often a process of hiding and protecting our humanity.  Paradoxically, it is in unguarded moments of humanity when we truly live.

Lately, I make it a mission of mine to thank the creators that have reached me through their work.  I know how it feels myself.  I want to share that sensation and spread it around.  I encourage everyone to send notes to artists and writers who have created something that has impacted you, even in small ways.  It is a small thing, but so deeply meaningful.  And I suppose there is no reason to limit it merely to artists and writers.  Give your appreciation freely, I say.  It is a renewable resource, and it can power great acts of creation and art.

If you compliment my work, and I say “thank you”, please know that the words are merely a sliver above the surface. A great shadow of emotions looms beneath.  The words do not carry the density I wish they did.  Written, they lack any profundity or intensity; their dullness can only be sharpened so much along the edges of an exclamation mark.

Thank you must suffice, for now.  Thank you and so much more.

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Blogging While Toddler

My son is 21 months old today.  I do not understand the passage of time as it relates to the growth of a tiny human.  It feels simultaneously as if he’s been this way my entire adult life and that he was born yesterday.  Maybe the day before yesterday.

I spend a lot of time talking about him and his ways on Facebook in particular.  I document his moods and behaviors in a way that I used to blog or post about myself.  And I still do – I’m still at about a 70% on the self-centered scale.  I was wondering why I feel such an urgent need to capture these little moments, share them onto Facebook.  Is it because I’m bragging? Yes, probably, but I suspect more.

The truth is that my memories of adult life are not as concrete as the ones of my childhood. I can remember details about the geography of my third grade walk to school.  I can barely remember the names of the streets I lived on in my 20s and 30s.  By barely, I mean “not at all.”  Life goes so much more quickly when you’re this age.  There’s a million and one things to do.

I’m afraid I’ll forget what his childhood was like.  I’m afraid that as time moves ever more quickly, I’ll lose this.  These are some of the most precious moments of my life, but they might not… stick in the mind.

So I document.  I relate.  I use Facebook for some semblance of privacy, but I suppose I could keep a private journal just as well.  I am proud of my boy, and I like to share what happens in my life.

Just as much as I share these anecdotes with my friends and family, I’m sharing it with my future self. I desperately need him to remember.  Sooner rather than later, he will be me.

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