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Archive for Personal Life

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

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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Fiction, Personal Life

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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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