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Archive for Personal Life

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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Personal Life

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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Parenting, Personal Life

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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Parenting, Personal Life