My 2014 Attack Plan

This is the fifth New Year’s post I’ve had the opportunity to write on this blog– hard to believe my little writing experiment has been going this long. From a writing perspective, 2013 has been a fairly good year: I had three stories published, and wrote half a novel during the Clarion West Write-a-thon. On the flip side, I didn’t actually finish the novel… but more on that later.

Of course, looking back on 2013 in the future, I won’t be counting stories published or places seen or anything else. 2013 will be indelibly etched in my mind as the year Mom passed away. And even though it’s been ten months since then, and a lot of good things have happened this year, it’s impossible for me to really say 2013 was a good year, in a larger sense. Losing a family member isn’t like most pain, in that it doesn’t fade away with time. It’s just one of those things that you learn to live with, because you have to. So while other successes and triumphs and failures and losses will fade with time, that will not.

But that said, I did lay some groundwork in 2013 for things that I very much hope will result in many positive experiences and memories in 2014. In mid-November, I quit my well-paying I.T. job, with the intention of focusing on a few creative and business-related ideas that I’ve long pursued in some form or another. I’ll be writing, of course; I’m also planning start a hypnotherapy practice and I also want to work on monetizing my photography. My goal is that by the end of the year, I’ll make enough money from a variety of sources that I won’t need to return to the world of I.T.

If not, then I hope I’ll at least have a couple novels, some epic photographs, fond memories, and a fantastic year to show for it.

From mid-November until now, I’ve largely been on vacation, enjoying some time off and travelling to see friends and family on the East Coast. But it’s January 2014 now; this is where the rubber hits the road. I have a long to-do list, which I won’t post in its entirety here, but suffice it to say I have two new websites for my photography and hypnotherapy businesses that I’d like to get up and fully running by mid-January. I also want to get into the rhythm of writing– actually writing, not just social media content or blog posts– for at least two hours a day, and work to increase that as I settle into a routine.

It’s always been tempting for me to try to clear the rest of the to-do list first so that I can focus better when I sit down to write, but the problem with that approach is, there’s always something else on the to-do list. So writing is my top priority this year; even if I don’t make a cent, I’ll consider this year a success if I have a publishable story or two by the end of it.

I have other weekly and monthly goals as well. I plan to have at least least one interesting “photo expedition” every week– whether it be exploring Seattle or some part of its surrounding environs, going to a big event like a convention, or doing a pre-arranged photoshoot. And I want to keep going to the gym and doing full workouts at least twice a week (preferably three).

There’s a personal goal I want to strive for as well. In my New Year’s post for 2013, my second resolution was to find a talk therapist and work on my depression, which is something that I’ve been struggling with for a long time. I did find a talk therapist and worked with him for a few months, but we never really clicked. That’s okay, though. I feel like I did pretty well in my struggle against depression this year; I switched from taking Sertraline to taking a combination of Escitalopram and Bupropion (aka Lexapro and Wellbutrin), and overall feel pretty good about where I am. My confidence has generally improved, and I feel more in control of myself and my goals.

Yet I still feel quite a bit of anxiety when it comes to interacting with others. This manifests most strongly in how I interact with romantic interests, but to some level affects my interactions with family and friends as well. Looking back, I can even see how I’ve unconsciously sabotaged relationships in the past, because I was confronted with a new and different set of anxieties with which I was not familiar.

In essence, it comes down to this: I know how to be depressed and alone; it’s something I’ve spent years doing, and even though it’s not healthy, on some level of my subconscious it’s nevertheless home. It’s a natural state of being; a comfortable blanket I can wrap around myself, because even though I’m depressed, at least I’m used to it. I think on some level all our minds seek out homeostasis, that comfortable mental and emotional status quo with which we’re most familiar. When something threatens that (even if it’s a positive change), it can take a strong conscious effort to embrace the change and not recoil in fear.

I feel like I’ve learned to embrace a more positive state of being on a personal level. I have the confidence to confront and dealt with the things that come my way, and to set difficult challenges for myself (as evidenced by my career plan this year). in 2014, I want to work on extending that to how I interact with others– to have confidence in my ability not just to confront unknown challenges for myself, but to confront unknown challenges with others as well.

When confronting personal challenges, it’s easy to shove anxieties to the back of my mind and successfully deal with whatever comes my way, but when confronting interpersonal challenges my subconscious mind seems to actively work on creating new anxieties, and it’s much harder to just push things to the back of my mind so I can deal with what’s in front of me.

So in 2014, I want to work on not being so anxious when new people get close, to work on improving my ability to trust, and not to defensively wall myself off. Because that defensive recoiling doesn’t just protect me against negative things, it sabotages positive things. (And it’s not a particularly great way to deal with the negatives either.) It even hurt my relationship with my Mom in the year before she passed. I need to trust myself enough in how I deal with others that I no longer feel a need to withdraw into that safe, comfortable shell of loneliness. Or, at least, to gain better control of that need.

So I’ve got plenty to keep me busy in 2014. Working for myself is going to be a huge exercise in self-discipline: to actually buckle down and motivate myself on all these goals, and to accomplish everything I want to get done. In a year, I don’t want to look back with regret and feel like 2014 was wasted; I want to look back and be proud of what I was able to accomplish.

Wish me luck. And here’s wishing for a wonderful 2014 for you and yours.

Story up at Lakeside Circus (and Happy New Year!)

A couple months ago, I announced that I had sold a story to Lakeside Circus. That story is available on their website now, and can be read here: Natalie

I’ll have a New Year’s post coming in the next few days, and possibly a recap of my month-long December trip to the East Coast as well. It was a fun trip, and 2014 is looking exceptionally promising. In the meantime, hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year!

“If They Can Learn to Hate, They Can Be Taught to Love”

I’m back in North Carolina for a couple weeks now. And as I was driving around Durham this evening in my rental car, I listened to the BBC doing a long retrospective and discussion on the life of Nelson Mandela, who passed away less than a day ago.

I have to admit, Nelson Mandela has always felt a bit distant for me as a political figure; I probably grew up a generation too late to really appreciate what he meant to the world. I was 8 years old when he was released from prison; I was 12 when he became the President of South Africa. And even though I was vaguely aware that Big Important Things were happening in that part of the world, I didn’t actually understand them, or pay much attention to them.

But tonight, listening to the radio and hearing various interviewees talk about what Mandela meant to them personally, I couldn’t help but be moved. One particular quote of Mandela’s stood out to me, amongst many; part of a speech he gave after the assassination of politician and apartheid opponent Chris Hani.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Nelson Mandela was not only a leader, he was an idealist, especially after his release from prison. With a few words he could have likely sent South Africa tumbling into a civil war; instead he worked to be a uniter, to bring South Africans together. This can be seen in the quote above, and many others of Mandela’s. It can be seen in the events that inspired Invictus, in which he appeared on-field to present the trophy to South Africa’s mostly-white rugby team in 1995. Perhaps most powerfully, it can be seen in his decision to serve only one term as South Africa’s president. Unlike so many other revolutionary rulers, he had the courage to step down, and thus demonstrate his faith in the country he helped build. In that sense, Mandela was like George Washington, who I suspect was also fundamentally an idealist about the human condition.

A long time ago I made the decision to be an idealist over a realist. By which I mean I wanted to be focused, politically and socially, more on the ideal than on what people might or might not think was possible. The way I define it, an idealist fights and advocates for what they believe is right; a realist fights for what they believe is possible. A realist often gets bogged down by pessimism over the human condition, and spends a lot time worrying about what can be accomplished instead of fighting for what should be accomplished (or, if you’re a particularly strong idealist, what must be accomplished.)

Despite my terminology, I don’t actually think realists have a stronger grip on reality than idealists; rather they’re more focused on what they perceive to be current reality, as opposed to the idealist, who is more focused on their goals. Obviously, everyone who cares about the world has elements of both, but as someone who considers himself a strong social progressive, I’ve always preferred idealism over realism (or pessimism masquerading as realism).

When it comes to major victories in the history of social progress– the end of segregation; the suffragettes; the slow-but-steady recognition of gay marriage; the continued growth of feminism throughout the past decades– I feel like it’s often a victory of the idealists over the realists. Because even though many of the realists may support the cause the idealists are fighting for, they will still often drag their feet. “We’re moving too fast,” they might say, or “It’d be nice, but society won’t be able to handle the changes.”

And I definitely feel that dynamic playing out in today’s battles. In the fight against sexual assault and rape culture, the realist might say, “Well, of course we need to educate males, but boys will be boys…

In the fight for gay rights, the realist might say, “Well, of course we want to improve gay rights, but we don’t want to move too fast…” (I’ve heard the latter used by serious pundits as an argument against court action.)

To use a recent real life example from an argument with an acquaintance of mine, his view (paraphrased) was pretty much “We should improve the culture of I.T. workplaces, but it’s just in men’s nature to sexualize their female counterparts…” My view, on the other hand, was “We need to change the culture so that sexualization and prejudice in the workplace is not tolerated.” What he sees as fundamental, I see as changeable. Sexism, racism, religious intolerance, homophobia, on all levels– I firmly believe that these are, and always have been, products of human culture, and that they can and will be eradicated, despite the naysaying realists.

And okay, maybe in some cases, it’s important to have realists around, to temper determination with a voice of caution, and to make sure that even the most idealistic social progressives have a plan. But all in all, I feel like there are more than enough realists in the world. I’d rather be an idealist. And if someone tells me that I view the human condition too optimistically, that I argue for things which are too difficult or unrealistic to achieve– well, that’s a criticism I’m prepared to embrace wholeheartedly. Hell, I’d engrave that on my tombstone.

But in people like Nelson Mandela, I see concrete evidence that sometimes the idealists really do win, and win big. That society improves, despite the naysayers and the pessimists and even the realists who support you but are nevertheless afraid of change, or just can’t believe your dream is possible. Strive for what you believe in, and you really can win.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mandela.

A Few Notes on Published Stories

Best Regards, Waylines Magazine

Waylines Magazine is holding a Reader’s Choice Poll for Best Story of the Year, and Best Regards, which was published earlier this month, is in the running. If you read my story and enjoyed it, please consider dropping by to cast your vote.

Natalie, Lakeside Circus

Issue One of Lakeside Circus is out, which contains my science fiction short story Natalie. The only way to read it at the moment is to subscribe, but over the next couple months the stories will gradually be released to the website one at a time. I don’t know yet when Natalie will be available on the web, but I’ll let you know when it’s up.

And that’s about it for now. Sometime soon I’ll post a more substantial blog entry; on Wednesday I’ll be heading back to the East Coast for a few weeks to see friends and family, and needless to say I am very much looking forward to that.

I hope everyone had a great and delicious Thanksgiving!

New Story Up at Waylines!

Issue 6 of Waylines Magazine is out, and I’m pleased to announce that I have a story in it! The title is Best Regards, and it’s more than a little bit inspired by the day job I’ve held the past couple of years. For anyone who’s ever worked in I.T. (particularly Support of any kind), this one’s for you.

There’s also an interview with me and the other Issue 6 authors, so check that out as well. The interview only contains about half of what they asked me; I believe the rest will be in the digital download edition, available November 30. But you can read the story and a good portion of the interview right now at the Waylines website. Check it out here.

And Now, Time For Something Different

So, a few days ago I gave notice at my job. My last day of work is November 15th.

I’ve been working in I.T. for almost nine years now, and I’ve enjoyed most of my time at the places I’ve worked, but I feel like it’s time to take a break for a while. Maybe even for good. Between my own savings and a portion of my Mom’s estate, I find myself in a position where I have enough resources to spend most of 2014 working full-time on projects of my own. And I hope, by the end of that period, I’ll be making a sustainable income.

That’s the plan, anyway. It’s still open to adjustment. And I’ve got some traveling to do first; I plan to spend December back on the East Coast. I’ll see my Mom’s completed columbarium for the first time (the engraved stone wasn’t finished at the time of the memorial service) and spend some time with old friends, then travel down to Florida and spend the holiday season with family. I kind of feel like I’ve been working with my head down ever since I got back from Mom’s funeral in March, so in December I plan to take my first real vacation in a while.

In 2014 I may do some more traveling, too. I haven’t taken an international trip since my 2010 trip to Europe. But we’ll see.

As for what projects I’ll be working in 2014, well, of course I’ll be writing. I have two novels I want to write, so if nothing else, by the end of this “freelance” period I hope to have a couple stories to shop around. I have a separate non-fiction endeavour I’d like to finish and publish on my own, so this will also give me an opportunity to work on that, and test the waters of of self-publishing.

In the meantime, I’ll also be working to expand my photography, doing photoshoots and events, selling prints, and getting a business running.

I’m also planning to start a hypnotherapy practice. Those of you who follow my blog will know that hypnosis has long been an interest of mine, and I’ve even blogged about the relationship between hypnosis and writing. I’ve been a certified hypnotherapist in Washington state for over a year, and I’ve already started planning what it will take to finally put that into practice.

This is a big list which has the potential to keep me very busy, even if I’m working on it full-time. And the opportunity to spend some serious, long-term time working on dreams of your own isn’t one that comes around very often, so I very much feel like this is an opportunity knocking on my door, and a day/month/year demanding to be seized.

This site will still primarily be about my writing, but as other big news happens (like as I get my other businesses and their websites running), I’ll likely post about it here. After all, this blog is ultimately about my own personal journey, and this is certainly part of that.

I feel like I’m embarking on the biggest change of my life since 2010, when I stuffed everything I could fit into my Hyundai Elantra and drove to Seattle. This next change I’m hoping will be a little more focused and goal-oriented than that one, but it’s one I’m very much looking forward to.

GeekGirlCon: Fandom, The Next Generation

I spent Saturday hanging out at the Washington State Convention Center, enjoying GeekGirlCon. This was my first time attending GGC since its debut year in 2011, and I was blown away by how much it’s grown. In 2011, it was in a tiny suite of rooms in the northwest corner of the Seattle Center; this year, it took up most of the Conference Center at the WSCC.

I loved the atmosphere at GeekGirlCon. The place was busy without being jam-packed, and there were wide-open lobby spaces for easy photography, meeting friends, and even concerts, courtesy of Molly Lewis and The Doubleclicks.

But of course, “atmosphere” means more than the physical surroundings. I got the distinct but hard-to-define sense that GeekGirlCon was a much safer space than usual cons. Maybe it was the prevalence of gender-bending cosplay, and people taking risks with their cosplay that they might not at a usual con. I don’t mean risque cosplay– although there was some of that, too– I mean cosplay that involves stepping out of your comfort zone, to play someone who’s not like you, either in gender, or body shape, or personality. People seemed more willing to open up, try something different, even potentially embarrassing, because of the friendly atmosphere that permeated the con. I suspect that just the name and theme of the con attracted a more open, welcoming, and socially aware crowd, and that was reflected in people’s comfort, and also in the overall atmosphere.

The crowd at GeekGirlCon was an all-ages crowd, but trended toward the young side. It felt like most of the adults I saw were in their 20s and 30s, and there were also a lot of families with young kids. That second part in particular was nice to see– I truly did feel like I was seeing a lot of next-generation fans. And kids at GGC got a chance not just to indulge in the typical range of media properties that are classified as “geek,” but also to kindle the love of creativity and science that to me, more than anything, defines what is at the heart of geekdom.

One of the coolest features at the con was the DIY Science Zone, where panelists and volunteers helped kids do various science experiments. Apparently one of the panelists even brought a small piece of the Chelyabinsk meteor for show-and-tell. I think one of the bigger challenges facing not just geekdom but society in general is how to bring more inclusiveness and diversity to the Science and Technology fields, not just for this generation’s sake but for the next, and so I’m always glad to see GGC maintain such a strong focus on real-life science and tech.

The exhibition hall, meanwhile, was full of local artists and small craft folk; most dealer’s rooms generally are, but I got the sense at GeekGirlCon that there was a much larger portion of artists just starting out, maybe even folks operating a booth for the first time. And I don’t mean that in a bad way; there was a charming, almost homespun feel about the exhibition/dealer area that I liked a lot.

But ultimately, the number one reason I say that GGC felt like the next generation of fandom is because of how open, diverse, and inclusive it felt. To me, it felt like how fandom and geekdom could be, once we get past the misogyny and homophobia and various market-driven forces that seem determined to tell us how to be a geek in present times, how certain pursuits and books and games are “boy” or “girl”. I was only at GGC for one day, but I still felt that in some sense GeekGirlCon represents the potential for what geek culture could become; hopefully it really is a window into the next generation.

Occasionally during and after cons, I hear people fretting about how fandom is aging, or dying out, or withering away, but having been to GGC I’m quite confident in saying it’s doing just fine. Sure, it’s changing, but all in all, I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.