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.

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.

My Special Challenge

I didn’t learn until I was thirty that my eyes make it impossible to track horizontally without special lenses. So for my entire life up until then, reading had been a terribly frustrating chore. Even now that I have good glasses, all I see in books is hours and hours of reading and re-reading, puzzling out what I’ve just read, and trying to remember what I read five sentences ago. Needless to say, I’ve never been much a fan of the written word.

So for me to announce that I want to author not just a book, but a whole series of books, or a line of video games, or a television saga, sounds laughable. Indeed, “friends” have said some very hurtful things to me when I tried to start writing in earnest. I don’t talk to those people any more, but I still feel like an idiot when I imagine myself telling stories for a living. Hell, even now I wonder who the hell am I writing this for? And, I have to remind myself that I’m doing it for me, for whatever that’s worth.

Unfortunately, a lot of the writing that I’ve wanted to do is not a particularly solitary pursuit, and sitting around a table with a handful of other writers, throwing out ideas to compete with all the other desperate egos in the room just doesn’t appeal to me. Wracking my brain for the best ideas and most colorful dialogue just to have those ideas criticized, vivisected and bastardized so that someone else can get their name on the screen—episode written by Jerkface McGee—is just not appealing.

So, then the voice in my mind says, you need to start somewhere, and that’s where you start if you’ll ever get your credentials to become a legitimate writer. And what’s worse, you’d have needed to start as an intern, and you blew that chance when you failed to go to university because you were too busy trying to earn rent. Enjoy your life not writing, loser! I embellished a little bit, but yeah, that’s pretty much what my inner voices sound like. And I fear that they’re right, but I don’t want to just lie down and give up because I got an irregular start. I mean, this is what I’ve always wanted to do!

See, ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with serial fiction—short stories strung together to tell a longer story, TV show style. It amazed me when symbols that were introduced episodes ago return to enrich the current plot. I wondered how anyone could think of so many amazing details, and keep track of them all, so long before their ultimate payoff.

Looking back, I see that D&D was a no-brainer for me. It lets me tell short, episodic stories that grow and evolve with the characters. It’s like my own little TV show with an audience of five or six. Perfection.

So, I want to tell stories, and I love short, serial fiction. I really have no ambitions of being the next great literary genius; I just want to take my little D&D world and make it a tiny bit more real, and there is nothing wrong with that. I know that I have a lot to learn about the craft of fine writing, and despite the fact that reading has always been difficult for me, I do understand that reading successful novels, both literary and “cheap” contemporary, will expose me to patterns and styles that I don’t get from television shows. I mean, I know how a fight scene should be paced in a TV show, but how the heck do I write one without it taking 30 pages? The color of someone’s lapel pin can be a subtle and thrilling clue on the screen, but how do I slip those things into text without beating someone over the head with heavy-handed foreshadowing? I can learn things like this from the examples of others.

If I’m honest with myself, I know that I’m not standing on square one. Chris is totally supportive of what I do, and I genuinely do trust his praise and criticism. As I work to find representation for Saundra, I’m encouraged by editors and agents who speak well of my scene building, plot twists, and characterization.

I’ve built up a good set of well-honed story crafting skills. Now’s the time to learn the finer points of translating my stories for the page. I think I will begin by making a list of the types of things in writing that don’t seem to be working for me—things that Chris, test readers, and agents have repeatedly pointed out—and research more successful methods employed by time-tested classics. I bet if I can polish up these rough spots, then a lot of the frustration that comes from writing and editing will evaporate. Yeah, I’m pretty excited now.

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.