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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Critical About Questions

I’m going to talk about questions. Specifically, leading questions, their anatomy, and what they mean.

A couple of days ago, I did an experiment—a little bit of trolling. See, Facebook decided it would be a wonderful idea to point out a post to me, simply on the basis that an acquaintance had “liked” it. I was a little bit interested in the apparent topic of the post, so I read it.

Now, I’ll not get into the actual content of this person’s blog entry. I’m not interested in supporting or challenging them, and I’m not interested in talking about logic in commentary. I am only interested in the first line of the post, and the question it posed. I am changing the details to universalize this experience.

“Why does it seem that Scruletans get off on persecuting people?”

What is this saying? Well, just looking at the question, we can see it has two parts. The first sets the parameters of the poster’s query, and the other is the circumstance we’re being asked to evaluate.

Here are the two sections of the question:

“Why does it seem that,” and “Scruletans get off on persecuting people.”

The question is: “Why does it seem that?”

The whole allegation that Scruletans are getting off on persecuting people, is defined as a perception that is in question; “Why does it seem that, the following statement is a fact.” It’s not a statement of fact; it’s a question about the perception of fact. This differentiation is extremely important, because if we do not separate perceptions (and opinions) from solid facts, then we can easily misunderstand what we are reading.

This question is not literally asking about the behavior of Scruletans, it is asking about the very existence of a perception of Scruletans. The Scruletans are not active in this question, the active party is the person who perceives the Scruletans as, “getting off on persecuting others.” So who is making this perception? The answer to that may lie in the very nature of questions themselves.

Questions must be posed to someone, and that someone is usually you, the reader. In the isolation of this one sentence, however, the use of implied truism with the phrase “it seems that,” suggests a more universal experience—everyone’s perception.

Therefore, the question might be rewritten as:

“Why does [everyone in the world believe] that Scruletans get off on persecuting others?”

That question presumes a lot. Furthermore, it is unsupportable. For this question to be legitimately answerable, one would have to prove that every single human being on the planet does indeed believe that Scruletans get off on persecuting people. All you need is a single human to doubt that allegation, and the answer becomes, “But, they do not.” There is no “because” for the “why,” so the question is unanswerable—illegitimate.

So how can we make this a legitimate question? Well, let’s look at the nature perceptive words. Opinionated and perceptive terms such as “good,” “bad,” “ugly,” “terrific,” speak to the perceptions and opinions of the subject of a sentence. We, the readers, must understand who that subject is, so we can know to whose opinions and perceptions the writer is referring. In the absence of indication, we can only assume the writer is referring to their own opinions and perceptions. To figure out whose opinion is being stated, try asking, “Says who?”

“It is a beautiful day.” Says who? Says the writer.

“Based on what you’ve told me about you love for rain, it is a beautiful day.” Says who? Says the reader.

“Joann smiled; it was a beautiful day.” Says who? Says Joann.

So, let’s apply that to our own sentence:

Here is is again. “Why does it seem that Scruletans get off on persecuting people?”

We’re not asking about Scruletans’ opinions or perceptions; we’re asking why they (seem to) perform different verb (getting off). There is no other subject mentioned in our question. We can not presume the writer speaks for our own perceptions, because there is nothing in the sentence that indicates as much. Therefore, we can only responsibly presume the writer speaks for themselves. So, let’s clarify that.

“Why does it seem [to me] that Scruletans get off on persecuting people?”

Now that is a question with an answer. Of course, we, the readers, most likely have little idea what makes the writer perceive the world in the way that they do, so we are probably not the best ones to answer the question without gathering more information. So, we should probably read on to see what they are talking about. That is, if we care to.

Do we care? I mean, knowing that this question pertains to the writer’s own opinion, are we personally invested in the answer? That’s up for us to decide for ourselves. When we understand this opening question, we are ready to critically receive the work, if we so choose.

To finish my own story—the story of my trolling—I replied to the post and answered the question with my opinion, as if the writer posed the question all by itself. I said that the reason the writer perceived all Scruletans as getting off on persecuting people, is probably because the writer only pays attention to the Scrulteans who persecute people, and little to none to those who do not.

The writer did not appreciate my input.

All in all, I hope this post is helpful for writing and editing, as well as critical reading. If we choose our words carefully, others will understand us better, and if we read carefully, we may discover unintended and/or hidden meanings in the things we read.

Expensive, expensive, humble pie

In the beginning…

When I was a kid, I loved to tell stories. Mostly these took the form of of weekly Dungeons and Dragons games, short fiction I only ever shared with Mom, and video game plots I dreamed up when I should have been studying. Back then, magic and wonder defined my world, and teachers praised the rareness of my “talent.”

Now, I put the word talent in quotes, because I have since come to realize that there is no such thing as the unique God-gift that I was raised to believe in. Talent is an illusion. What we as creative people have is dedication to a craft. I really wish they would have evangelized dedication instead of talent.

I grew up and marched into my early adulthood thinking that I had what it took to be a great author, just because I had a “talent” for “storytelling.” Sure, I wasn’t a big reader, and I’d not gone to college to study Lit and Writing, but I felt positive that the quality of my stories would earn me an extra little bit of attention from agents and editors. I was to be discovered.

Nope.

People in the know don’t talk about talent and vision any more. These days, their message is all about work, experience, and expenses. “Buy memberships to renowned critique groups,” they say. “Hire qualified freelance editors.” “Join unions and alliances.”

At last weekend’s Permian Basin Writers’ Workshop, during Kay Ellington’s and Barbara Brannon’s lecture entitled, “Your Manuscript on the Flip Side: What Your Editor’s Looking For, and Not,” we were given this rule of thumb regarding the cost of preparing your manuscript for publication: “Expect to spend as much money as you would on a used car.” That’s… a lot of money.

I’ll tell you: it’s discouraging. A soul can write a novel, and then spend more money getting it publishable than they can ever expect to earn from it after publication. How could it possibly be worth the cost and effort? But, I’m beyond all that, right? I’m a bad-ass, amazing storyteller, right?

So, changing gears…

In all things outside creativity, I was raised to look at the concrete facts in the world around me. What is, is. What isn’t, isn’t. The proof, as the cliché goes, is in the pudding.

I spent a few years working as a paranormal investigator, which really taught me to be objective. I learned to test every tiny way to disprove hopeful assumptions. Orbs are most commonly dust, water, and bugs. Vortexes are usually camera straps, motion artifacts, and breath-fog. There is usually a mundane explanation for everything we interpret as supernatural.

As a supervisor in an office setting, I learned to look at peoples’ self-proclaimed credentials with some skepticism. A computer programmer who has authored exactly zero useful computer programs, is not a computer programmer. A sales guru whose numbers lag behind the rest of the team, is clearly no sales guru. A bad-ass, amazing storyteller who has not, by the time he is forty years old, published several acclaimed novels is not, in fact, a bad-ass, amazing storyteller.

To borrow from Fight Club, “[I am] not special. [I’m] not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” Man, this hurt to figure out. And, it’s scary too! How the hell am I supposed to get there? I’m forty, and I might as well have never written a word in my whole life! What have I been doing all this time?!

Despair.

Well, that’s all my fixed mindset crumbling down. If you’re not familiar with Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset, then you need to check out the book: Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, PH.D.

I, like most other cis male white people in my generation, was raised on a diet of “You can do it!” “You can be anything you put your mind to!” and “You are unique and talented with gifts from God!” They told me I could be anything I wanted to; they just never told me how.

This brings me to the now.

I have finished Saundra’s manuscript. It has gone through at least 7 revisions–two complete rewrites, countless edits. I have busted my ass to make this novel publish ready. I printed draft copies for test readers; I submitted first chapters for critiques at expensive conventions. I’ve done a lot!

For the past few months, I have been hunting for agents. I stalked my favorites on Twitter, Facebook, and their personal blogs. I read their wish lists, their advice posts. I learned what they read, what TV they watch. Armed with this knowledge, I sent out a batch of well-researched, carefully-crafted queries, and have heard a lot of nothing for it.

No worries, it only takes one acceptance! I will keep working, keep learning, and keep attending workshops like last weekend’s. I learned a ton about query crafting from Seth Fishman’s class, “How to Write a Query Letter and Find an Agent.” Sunday afternoon, I sat down to apply a new coat of polish to my query letter, only to find the original clunky and ugly to read. Yikes! Embarrassing! But, I fixed it–made it better.

Then, I set to converting Saundra’s manuscript into a more easily modified format. I imported her into Scrivener, and that’s when I saw it. Page one, paragraph three, word one—uncapitalized.

Holy. Crap. Nick. How did you miss that?

Well, I missed it because I only had two pairs of eyes on the manuscript for the past several edits. We just overlooked it—an honest oops. Sure, I felt like a complete moron for a while, but I know I’m not an idiot; I was just excited. I jumped the gun.
This brings me back to the Used Car analogy. After two conventions, one conference, and six text copies of my novel, I have spent over $900.00 getting Saundra ready to publish. That’s a pretty crappy used car, to be sure. I’m positive a professional editor would do me a world of good, but the fact of the matter is, I just can’t afford one at the moment: something to save my day-job monies for.

I’ll keep trying, of course. Every batch of query letters I send out will be better than the previous. With every class I take and critique I receive, I will reevaluate my manuscript to see where I can tighten it up. I’ll keep trying, and eventually, Saundra will get out there.