Panic?

I don’t know how else but to describe what’s going on in my head. It feels like panic. It feels like a circuit board burning out from too many feeds—system overload. It feels like I might catch fire if I sit still too long, because everything in me is moving too fast.

Here’s the story.

I wake up at about 7 this morning (I’d like to say this is late, but my 5:30 mornings seem to be a thing of the past these days). I roll out of bed, take my allergy medicine, and head into the office. Sit down. Open up Facebook. Scoff, grumble, groan, hate myself, mumble, curse. Turn off Facebook.

Maybe I play a video game; I don’t remember now. But at about 8:30, I officially start working.

Now, on a side note, I don’t get paid hourly. I run a little company, and get paid commission on my sales. Not a terribly important bit of information, but I’m sure it contributes.

I turn on a YouTube video to play in the background (It was an episode of Modern Marvels about some ancient machine) and spend the next few hours finishing a few designs for clients (3 designs total). Actually, I told that backwards. I started designing, and then around the end, I turned on the video to listen to the narrator as I designed. Anyway, I get them all done and sent off, and then I tackle email. I have five waiting, three from this morning. Not bad for a Monday.

Also during this time, I take a phone call from the home office and banter a bit about the New Year. Completely forget to ask the question a made a note to remember. I also get in touch with the company’s tech guy to ask his advice about a problem I am having getting into our advertising account. He says he’ll look into it when the agency is open tomorrow. Sweet.

I feel icky. That’s right, I didn’t shower this morning. Time to shower.

Clean, fresh clothes, email time. I send out four quotes, and make copies of the request files. In that time (It takes about 30 minutes) one of my contacts writes back for more information. It’s not good news. I give the lady a referral and continue with my day. It’s about 3:30.

So I have worked for about six hours. Not even an 8-hour day. Chris brings me a big ole’ Gin and Tonic. Yum. I decide to take a break, and play as video game for what feels like an hour. Well, I get bored and decide I need to get back to being productive.

What to do? What to do? Well…

I need to create a new online quote system—something that will let my customers enter the specs for their order ideas and get an instant, obligation-free, anonymous* quote. Simple enough. I know how the code works; I’ve written this very program on 3 platforms to date. Easy—tedious, but easy.

And this is when my world falls apart.

Seriously, I freeze. My heart starts beating faster; my skin goes cold. My hearing dulls, and tunnel vision sets in. What do I do?

Come on Nick, just write the freakin’ code.

Then, I question myself. Do I really need to rewrite the code? Why not just update the form I built? It feels like 100 answers occur to me. This is why I must use the form. This is why I must not use the form. I decide that I just need to code a form by hand.

But… but… but… a thousand buts.

I should complete the web programming course I started. I should complete the video game programming course I started. I should complete the marketing class I started. Wait! Don’t you have a D&D game to run on Thursday? I should plan for it. No, you know what, I just need to make a list. Make a list of all the things I need to do.

Why aren’t I writing? Speaking of writing, the guy organizing the Writers’ Conference next September** is looking for people to join the advisory board for this year’s conference. Am I smart enough to be on an advisory board? I’m almost 42, I d@mn well better be smart enough. Seriously though, what am I doing with my life? I should be writing.

You know, N. K. Jemisin*** is an amazing author. She writes huge books. Amazing books that actually mean something. Why am I bothering even thinking about being a writer anyway? Honestly, I *should* have an entire series out by now. I wrote my first manuscript in 1994, and I have what? One novel published? Seriously, who do I think I am.

I shouldn’t be writing; I should be coding that d@mn form for custom quotes. Or, maybe finishing a course—one of the many I have started but not finished. Oh yeah! I also need to assign design ID numbers to my new designs, and write up a Social Media post about them to keep my company in the public eye.

The company I don’t get paid an hourly wage to run.

The company I only get paid commission for.

Why am I not a master-soap-maker yet? I just dropped $120.00 on soap. Oh yeah, I need to learn a lot about FDA regulations and stuff, and master the art of soaping before I can think about selling soap. Good thing I have that URL ready—the one I’ve been paying for for almost 20 years now. Great investment that.

I’m 42. Why am I not a master anything yet? I should be writing. I should make Thursday’s D&D game. I should take a course. I should code that quote form. Holy crap, I need to make dinner.

I need a drink.

God, just.. let me have a drink to turn my damn, useless brain off. Just slow it down. Just a little…

There are 3 ounces of cheap vodka in this cup now. As much Lemon Juice and as much Triple Sec. And maybe 9 ounces of Tonic. I have been working on it since I started this blog post, and you know what?

My brain has not slowed down one bit.

Back to the point: Panic. I feel like I’m panicking. Drowning in ideas. All I need to do is .. freakin’ focus on one. Just one! Knock it out, and do the next.

I realize I’m supposed to be submitting Saundra to a publisher this month—this week. But, I haven’t finished my edits. I pitched her. At the last writers’ conference.. the one the library wants me to volunteer for. Advisory committee…

Tangential thought…

I’m a pretty “good” salesman; I put good in quotation marks, because I mean it in the D&D way. Good versus Evil, not Good versus Loser. I’m good. I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to cheat.

I can tell in under a minute if someone is interested in what I have to offer. God, I can’t tell you how… hard… those extra minutes are—the ones it takes before they realize that they aren’t interested.

It’s in the eyes—what a cliché. But, it’s there, they lose their focus—drift to my shoulder. The corners of the mouth soften, loosen. The wrinkles in the corners of the eye disappear. Then it all tightens.

The eyes snap to mine. The mouth pulls tighter, lips thin. A smile, but no wrinkles in the eyes. Pupils sharpen, and a thousand thoughts zip by behind them. How wide should they smile? How do they get out of this conversation? It costs how much?!

God Damn, how often I see that in people. The instant they realize they are not interested in talking to me… Panic.

I smile. Stop speaking mid sentence. “But, I’m yammering,” I say. “I’ll let you look around; let me know if you have any questions.” The look of incredulous relief that settles over them breaks my heart. At the same time, it makes me feel like the kindest 42-year-old on the planet.

The no-eye-wrinkle smile returns. The gratitude and overabundant enthusiasm—the attention to price tags—the desperate search for something cheap to throw a few dollars at so they can flee my presence with a clear conscience. God, is this my life?

I break eye contact. Find something to busy myself with to that they can slip away “unnoticed,” or offer their thanks and promise to “stop by after they’ve made the rounds,” which I enclose in quotes because 9 times out of 10, it’s an exaggeration (at best).

But I should be writing. Or coding. Or studying one of 10 or so classes.

And finally, my brain has begun to wind down. I’m not in panic mode any more.

I’m… maybe drunk. I think I’m drunk. I feel pretty drunk. I definitely will be after another one of these cocktails. That’s what 6 more ounces? 3 vodka 3 Triple Sec? Something like that. God it feels good.

The numbness in my cheeks and fingers is nice, but only having one thing on my mind is heavenly.

Sure, I still need to do all that crap, but it’s 7:04 now. Time to mix up dinner and whatnot. I won’t be writing tonight, and I sure as hell won’t get any coding done.

Jotting down all of these thoughts has kinda’ gotten me depressed, which is stupid, actually, because I’ve not said anything that warrants depression. People don’t like high pressure sales; that has nothing to do with me. People have literally no idea how much stained glass costs, so when they freak out about the price of my sun catchers, that’s not about me. Customers genuinely appreciate my candor and honesty.

I can not tell you how many times people have thanked me for not selling to them. That sounds stupid… But, seriously, people have been truly grateful that I told them the truth, rather than let them make a several hundred dollar mistake. Sure, that doesn’t spell riches for me, but at least I’m not a predator.

Do unto others… and all that.

So, my thought is complete. As you have read, thus are my thoughts. This is what my mind does when it comes time to build a web form, or write a thousand words in my manuscript, or edit a chapter.. or anything. I panic. It feels like panic at least. I feel like I am afraid of something, and if I can just distract myself long enough, then it’s not my fault if I don’t do anything.

I don’t enjoy any of it, by the way. Just on the off chance you were wondering. I enjoy the instances of knowing that I have not hurt someone. Making sales makes me feel guilty. Do I really need all this money? It takes me 8 hours and $30.00 to make a sun catcher; am I an asshole for accepting $60.00 for it? Seriously, am I worth $3.75 an hour? If I had focused—mastered the trade—I could be making sun catchers in half that time. Would I be worth seven and a half dollars then? Aah, but if they don’t spend that $60.00, then I’ve done them a service. Why, that’s a meal in a moderately nice restaurant. I bought them dinner. What a hero I am.

What a narcissist I am.

I don’t enjoy it. I don’t like coding; I like having coded something. I don’t like drawing; I like having drawn something. Or… or maybe I do enjoy it. Maybe all of this gloom and doom is just coming from the vodka, and my fear of actually applying myself and suffering a few pains and disappointments along the path toward success. Or, maybe it’s a bit of everything.

So, I took an hour long break in the middle of writing this to surf Facebook. Didn’t read a single interesting thing, but I sure as sh!t wrote a page about why we need to encourage our neighbors to clean up after their pets. I included links to city ordinances and everything.

I’m about to get up to mix the beans which I had simmering all day with the rice I cooked while I was writing this. Then I’ll dice an onion, saute it in butter, salt, pepper and… probably sage. I’ll mic all that together and then may or may not announce dinner, because we have a huge crock pot of soup on, and Chris doesn’t care much for rice and beans.

What the hell is wrong with me. Seriously, I’m asking. I’m eating Saint John’s Wart like it’s candy, but I don’t see myself getting over what seems to be depression. I chug coffee all day long, but it is not helping the… disorder that shall not be named… What the hell is wrong with me?

8:09. I feel like I’ve gotten nothing meaningful done. Off to finish making dinner.


* Anonymous is important. Sorry to get emotional, but I am sick and tired of sales people trying to trick and bully people into buying. I can not bring myself to do that to someone, and maybe that’s why I’m not a successful man. But, I just can’t trick someone into giving me money—too much conscience. Too little hypocrisy. See, when I shop online, I want to be anonymous. I want to visit a site, see how much a product costs, and move along. I’m the same way in stores. I *peek* at price tags, and actively avoid employees, because I don’t want to be pressured and (rolling my eyes at myself) I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings if their prices are too high—stupid, right?). Anyway. Online, I hate those sites that make you submit an email address to get a freaking quote. I always feel like they’re making their real money selling my information to advertisers. Seriously people, if your product is worth what you intend to charge, then give me a price.

Take this with a grain of salt though. When I show my stained glass at a craft faire, I intentionally turn all of my price tags out so people can glance at my prices and make a decision on their own. I don’t make them turn over a tag and then put on a poker face; no. No games with me. Heck, I don’t even look at my visitors. I greet them and smile, and stand at a respectful 3/4 position to them, but always seem distracted enough to allow them to surreptitiously suss out my prices so they don’t feel pressured. 0% pressure folks! I stand by my art, and I empathize with your “shopper’s discomfort.”

Ask me a question and “it’s on,” though. I stand by my work.


** Drop me a line if you are looking for a writers’ conference in the Midland/Odessa area to attend in September. I’ll send you the deets.

Do people still say “deets?” Is it still cool to say “deets?”


*** http://nkjemisin.com/ Seriously. She is amazing… but if you’re a White Dude like me, you’re going to need to be ready to check your invisible knapsack. Her writing is.. WOW. Holy crap. Amazing… but get ready to think outside yourself.

I really hope you like thinking outside yourself. I mean—no. Nevermind what I mean; this part isn’t about me; it’s about her. N. K. Jemisin is an amazing author, and I want her autograph, and if you like very human fantasy then you owe it to yourself to read her books, and if you resent her voice and message, well, that’s all you. Check her out. Visit her page. Read her books. Read her blog.

Her.

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Love of Money

1 Timothy 6:10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Money is simply how we control exchange. It is neither evil, nor holy. It’s the love of money—of material wealth—that poisons us.


In the U.S., I was raised believing that money was the root of all happiness and power, that money reflects one’s work and value to society. If you had a ton of money, then you deserved a “better” life. This is what I learned.

When I was a kid, I learned this philosophy from my parents: Why buy something that you can make? If I saw a cool spaceship toy in a commercial; Mom and Dad would give me a refrigerator box and some crayons. I saw an awesome fantasy costume at a festival, Mom taught me how to sew. I saw delicious looking treats in the grocery store, Dad taught me how to cook.

That having been said, I remember being so envious of some friends in high school because they lived in a house that was twice the size of my family’s. They had great computers, camcorders, cars… I felt so poor. Then one day my friend mentioned how much his father got paid (his mom didn’t work), and it was the same amount that my parents earned. I realized then that we too could be living in a big house with great cars and computers and camcorders! But, my parents were helping their families—sending money to aunts and uncles, grandparents… We earned the same amount of money, we just shared ours.

Then as an adult, I met a man whose envy and coveting were so profound that it became infections. When I met him, lived a very humble life, and I was more or less content. He taught me to feel deprived, though. I lived in a little apartment, and not a spacious house. I drove a small, used car, and not a big, shiny, new one. I didn’t vacation. I didn’t throw weekly parties. I learned to hate my life, because I did not have the money to keep up with what became my expectations. My debt ballooned from $2,000 to $16,000 in just a few years. I became miserable.

Then I met a lady who (at the time) worked three jobs. She worked in the shop at the company that employed me, she worked as a maid, and she cleaned schools. All so she could live in a tiny apartment, feed and clothe her kids, and send money home to her parents in Mexico so they could get the food and medicine they needed to survive, with the hopes of relocating legally to the U.S.. I never saw her without a smile on her face. She always waved and smiled and greeted me, and even though we didn’t speak the same language, I felt happier around her than I did with my White and English-speaking coworkers. At least around her, I didn’t have to listen to people complain about not having enough money for a vacation.

Then, I met the man whom I would ultimately marry. He had some money saved up, some investments that were holding steady, but he was living an extremely frugal life. He offered to help me out of debt. He helped me start over, and bit by bit, I began to unlearn the nasty money habits I’d learned previously. Now, we are comfortable. We have a cute little house, no debt (unless you consider mortgage debt), lots of love and creativity, and jobs we enjoy. If we really want something, be it a neat piece of home décor, a type of exotic food, or a ren-faire outfit, we make it.

Sure, I occasionally hear a figure about “poverty level income” and “livable wages,” and I will feel sick to my stomach, but I can look around and see my life and remind myself that we’re just fine. We have stained glass in our front door, and awesome faux metalwork in my office window. We have a closet full of unique costumes. Our weekly home cooked meal plans include Tex-Mex, Stir Fry, Curry, and any-darn thing else we want to eat. We keep our rings in U.S.A.-Made, Lead-free stained glass trinket boxes. We have paintings (not prints of paintings—actual paintings) on our walls. We wash with luxury soap, burn hand-made scented candles and incense, and bathe in luxurious bath oils.

We are rich, even though we don’t have a lot of money.

Gallery

A Little Place in the Wasteland

The East Face I love this little place. It speaks to me of dreams not yet lost to the ages.

The East Face
I love this little place. It speaks to me of dreams not yet lost to the ages.

The North Face Nobody around for miles, and it's just standing here out in the open.

The North Face
Nobody around for miles, and it’s just standing here out in the open.

The South Face The damage to the roof is pretty extensive. This is going to take a lot of work to fix.

The South Face
The damage to the roof is pretty extensive. This is going to take a lot of work to fix.

The West Face A lot of dirt and sand has blown in through the windows over the years.

The West Face
A lot of dirt and sand have blown in through the windows over the years.

History in the Making

Ladies and gentlemen across the nation, get your cameras ready. Prepare for the signs posted in store windows. Prepare for the notifications pasted to bathroom doors. Capture these things you see, show them to the world, and let us remember this moment in history as it comes and goes–before it is rewritten.
Let us record these visions before corporations try to sweep them under the rug that keeps our memory’s feet from feeling the chill bite of true history. Let us record them before the News Media distracts us with filtered, comfortable visions of what will be our recent past. Let us record them for the sake of the next people who will feel this sting of bigotry.
This will pass! This will, in time, all go away; what we are witnessing now is merely the final tantrum of a dying beast. However, the claws of the beast, which break our hearts now, will not be destroyed. No! The corporations, companies, and individuals will go on, and will likely never feel the bite of our collective indignation. We will not run them out of business; we will not run them out of office. No. They will not suffer, nor will they hurt as they have hurt us. This is simply as it is.
We will boycott, but we will not bankrupt. We will unite, but we will not destroy. We will rally, but we will not convert the world, because we have already won. The world stands quietly with us, and we will all wait and watch as this monster draws its final breath, as it has time and time again in our nation’s history.
So get out your cameras! Show the world the face of desperation. Etch this moment in history, because soon it will all be over.

Turning Forty

I remember my first thoughts of being “forty” came from when I was nine or ten. Some of my parents’ friends had an “over the hill” party, and kids were invited to play with cars and robots in their parlor. I remember being confused by all of the black balloons and paper tombstones, but party was a party, and I couldn’t wait for mine.

TV and movies at the time made the over-the-hill party out to be a huge deal—something of a grown-up quinceañera. Every adult dreaded, and yet looked forward to the day that they got to be the center of attention. Forty seemed to be the birthday that we get to celebrate after our 21st. It’s the last great milestone.

I also grew up thinking that turning forty was a terribly depressing event, when the reaper arrives to hover over us. From the point that we crest that hill, our life goal is to slow the breakdown of our bodies and to delay the inevitable end. We’re supposed to look back at all of our voided hopes and ambitions and wonder where the time went—what we did with our lives.

At forty, we’re supposed to be reasonable, disciplined. There’s no time for play except on the rare holiday vacation. We can’t eat anything we want to any more, and we sure don’t have the energy that we used to. The things we did as children are forever in our past.

Well, I didn’t fret too much in the months leading up to my big 4-0. Once or twice, the thought occurred to me that I was about to be forty, but I haven’t been worried about my age nearly as much as my weight. So, it just kinda crept up on me—bam! Guess what, Nick, you’re not 39 any more.

There was no over-the-hill-party this last Wednesday. No black balloons—no paper tombstones. I got a few phone calls from family, and spent time with friends. I look forward to relaxing and being social this weekend.

My big day was far from a grown-up quinceañera—I worked. All day long, customers demanded my attention, asking for redesigns on their art, negotiating the expedited manufacture and delivery of their orders. I cheered with delight at the sound of my “work day over” alarm and threw myself in a bath to relax and meditate.

So my fortieth birthday was not the delightful-yet-depressing event I’d been expecting since I was a kid. There was no fatalistic depression at all, just introspection and some emotional culling. There are hobbies, diversions, hopes, fears, and people who have not made it with me to this point in my life, but that’s not sad at all. There’s just a ton less dead weight pulling on my emotions now.

Of course, I haven’t given up on all of my childhood dreams and ambitions. While I’m eager to be more productive, I also want to be more social and have more fun. In fact, my birthday meditations introduced me to some great life-maintenance tricks that have turned into awesome video game ideas. Why shouldn’t responsibility and play cooperate?

Chris and I both cook pretty well. We have wonderful friends, and we have a home that offers pretty limitless opportunities for creative expression. There is no reason that every moment of life can’t be magical and productive. I just need to choose productive, social, and creative ways to spend my time.

Worrying about my age is a thing of the past. Turning forty no longer looms like a specter on the horizon—I’m here, and there’s a whole lot of life still ahead of me. It’s time I got on with chasing my dreams and doing the things I love.

Lamenting or Hopeful?

I am writing this during a minor reprieve from depression.

I will begin this by saying that when I was a kid, I delighted in the idea of being a storyteller and a designer. I wanted to write video games (not program or animate, but write the stories for them). I wanted to write adventures for Dungeons and Dragons. I wanted to write stories for television shows and cartoons. Storytelling was my passion for as long as I can remember, and I don’t know when I lost it.
I grew up in a military family—Air Force. This meant that until I was eleven, we uprooted and moved about every three years. As a result, I never really learned how to invest in friendship, and I definitely never learned how to plan for the long future.
Even after my family finally settled in Texas, it took several years before I realized just how poorly developed my social skills were. I began junior high school half way through the sixth grade, and we relocated again before I got into the eighth grade, so I spent one and a half years in one school, and one in another before high school. People came and went from my life; this was just the norm.
There’s a lot to say about high school, but I can summarize it all by saying this: I fell through the cracks.
By the time I realized that I needed to look ahead to my future, to build a career, to establish my livelihood, it was too late. I ended up getting a job in retail and attending community college. I say this as a joke, with a big, ironic (and slightly apologetic) grin on my face: it took me seven years to get my two year degree. That fact actually breaks my heart.
I found a boyfriend and moved away to Austin, and pretty much flushed the next ten years of my life down the toilet. I did nothing. I was accepted into Southwest Texas University, but I could not even afford the $80.00 orientation fee. I didn’t even attend a single day.
Five years after I got my Associate degree, I got a job as a designer with a small startup company. In some ways, a lot has changed. In others, nothing at all. I earn less today than I did back then.
These days, I run a little company selling the same product that I used to design. I make and sell Stained glass on the side. I try to write, but I can’t find the love for it—the hope for publication—that I once enjoyed. I am almost 40 years old, and I feel like I am where I should have been at 23.
I had some bad luck. I was a terrible high school student. And now, it feels like I’m just waiting for my time line to run out.
Mind you, I don’t feel any more mortal than I ever have. I just feel like this is all I will ever be. And even though I have exactly the job I wanted through college, (I telecommute, I have laid back hours, and I do artistic things to earn a humble and comfortable life) I now fear that I have sold myself short—that I’ve sold my boyfriend short.
I dabble. That’s my problem, and it’s not something I can just stop doing. I know a little bit about Flash animation; I know a little bit about designing 3D. I know a little bit about writing, and I even have a novel published (more or less). I even dabble in traditional art: painting, drawing, stained glass, sewing. No one thing drives me, and therefore, I excel in nothing.
People have said that they wish they were so diverse. They really don’t. Because, whereas I can make a stained glass sun catcher, design and create a costume for a Renaissance festival, and write a hundred-thousand-word novel in a few months, they can earn a living doing what they are doing. They’ve been places and done things. They take trips and vacations.
As I write this, I feel like it reeks of self-pity. Even I find myself saying, “Quit whining and do something!” I can’t even wallow in what seem like glaring truths about the industries in which I would like to work; there’s always an answer for my woes. So what’s holding me back?
Am I lazy? Am I afraid? Am I just an idiot? I don’t know.
I feel a blip of inspiration every time I remind myself that right now is my starting point. Not forty years ago, not twenty-four years ago—right now.
But now the blip fizzles when I remind myself that I feel passion for nothing. Writing doesn’t thrill me any more. Telling stories seem unrewarding and unappreciated by the people I tell them to. Stained glass is an expensive hobby, and very few customers appreciate the work that goes into it to pay what an item is worth.
The online markets are saturated with pay-to-show services that are, in turn, saturated with mass-producers of attractive goods—not great works, but attractive. The job markets are flooded with countless starry-eyed kids who are eager, energetic, and mobile. Industries are striking back against independent creators in order to protect their guild-like corporations.
But what does any of that matter, if I am putting food on the table and doing things that I enjoy? I know that I have a very skewed level of ambition compared to my current capabilities. I should just tell myself that I am a beginner, a starry-eyed adult who is intelligent, a little jaded, and experienced in unusual ways. Sure, I don’t have a peer group—a study group—like a college kid would, but there are plenty of resources out there for people like me: noobs. And sure, I will spend years churning out content in complete obscurity, but the more I work, the better I will get. Will success come from that?
I want to be inspired. I want to feel magical; this is what I want. I only care to be a popular novelist when I see other novelists’ popular books. I know I don’t want to live the novelist’s lifestyle! Traveling from place to place signing and showing. Well, I say that now, but running this little company has really opened my eyes to marketing, and it has greatly reduced my social phobia. So is there hope?
And then I swing back into pessimism with the realization that I am only writing this because I’m depressed. When I feel better, I won’t feel motivated to push forward; I will feel content. Then later, I will lament the time I wasted being content.
Anyway, that’s where I am right now, and I’m starting to feel annoyed with being depressed, so I’m going to go do something else now. I started some world building that I think I want to get back to.