October 2002

October 8th

I'm a self involved person and even I'm getting bored of the usual tone around here... There's only so much wallowing a person can do at one sitting, and I seem to be doing all of it when I'm sitting at the computer. Great - way to alienate the readers, Johanna.

***

So, I've been studying Taoism - as in I've moved from studying the divinatory tool which is the I Ching and finally sat down with the complete works of Lao Tzu in one hand, and the Big Girl's Taoist Reader in the other. As mentioned before, my goal-oriented Western brain is having a hell of a time with it, but progress is being made. I'm at that stage whereupon I'm looking around at my life and lifestyle and thinking "Oh yeah, things need to be changed." - although I think anyone would be at that state after being unemployed for the best part of a year.

But, of course, change isn't easy. I'm materialistic and egocentric, so dealing with thoughts of tossing out a large fraction of my stuff - whilst simultaneously panicking about unemployment and looming poverty - isn't the easiest of courses.

But change is only going to happen if I bring it about. I've got slay my own dragons in order to get out of this bullshit headspace and life situation. That means getting past the fear of rejection, getting past the habit of buying things (especially food!) for comfort, of getting over a lifetime's habit of jealousy, possessiveness and egomania.

So, yeah, the work is cut out for me.

The toughie is deciding where to start. My husband isn't a great fan of change, either, so I know I'm going to be facing resistance on the home front, as well as from within my own skull. Fabulous. So I'm working on the internal aspects. It's challenging, it's important and it barely impacts anyone except myself - especially at this early stage. I'm going to work on achieving a bit of inner balance, first, then I'll work on rearranging the external factors.

I've been surprised at the rate of some of my thoughts/wishes/ideas. Of course, a lot of it is just the zeal of discovery. I seriously doubt that I'm actually going to become a vegan animal-rights activist, but I was very surprised at having the notion cross my mind over the past couple of weeks. It bears thinking about, certainly. I suspect a compromise might be in my future - giving up most animal products, but probably just consoling myself on the activism front to cornering unsuspecting victims at parties and quoting large chunks of Fast Food Nation at them. I just don't see the point in feeling devastated at the plight of, say, dolphins in captivity shortly after having eaten a chicken enchilada. I'm pretty immune to noticing personal hypocrisy, but that double standard got even my attention...

 
October 15th

Once again, I'm sitting here, staring at the phone and waiting for it to ring with a job offer - or a rejection. I'm not optimistic that I'm going to get the offer but, at this point, all I want is closure. Unfortunately, I've got no other interviews on the horizon, which means we're going to have to sponge off my father in law to make it past this point. Alex is certain that Dan will help us out, but hasn't actually asked him yet. This worries me deeply. But thinking about it only makes my constant headache even worse, so I try not to. I know, I know, avoidance is really productive. But, the truth is that right now, avoidance is what works.

I'm usually an optimistic person - it hasn't had much a chance to demonstrated around here in the past year or so, but it's true. I believe in my friends, am willing to accept most people at their word and - generally - believe that no matter what storms, conflict or overblown melodrama happens to be going on at the moment, everything will work out alright in the end, particularly if one keeps their head on straight and does what they can to bring order out of chaos.

That said, I'm pretty depressed right now. I'm somewhere between "Generally down" and "Reaching for the sleeping pills" and veering more towards the latter as time passes.

No, I'm not exaggerating. But it's also something I'm not going to talk about too much. I'm too much of a coward and, to a lesser extent, too considerate of others to kill myself, but that doesn't stop the idea from pouncing on me during bleak moments.

Worryingly enough, I'm actually used to hysterical, momentary thoughts of suicide. I have a hormone cycle that's out to make my life far too interesting, and I get anxious, paranoid and hypersensitive during the week leading to my period. During that time, I often catch myself thinking about who I would want to give my things to, how to kill myself with the least amount of trauma to myself and others (an impossible task, I know) and what I would say in the obligatory note. Fortunately, these spasms rarely last more than an hour or so and, even in the midst of it all, I know dam' well that I couldn't inflict my death on other people.

Myself? I could do it easily, I think. Not believing in an afterlife helps - I fear no everlasting hell for my sins. But I'm keenly aware of the factors in this life. I might not care too much about my own future, but I don't want to traumatize my family, my husband and my friends - and there's no way I could kill myself without doing that. Suicide is a selfish act and, thank Whatever, I don't seem to be that selfish, yet.

What a relief, right?

As I say, these spasms come on me rarely - only once or twice a month when everything else in my life is going well. But the current freefall has cranked up my level of desperation and left me with far too much time on my hands to think of such things. So much easier to run away - forever - than deal with the here and now.

Well, fuck running away. I might have my weaknesses, dognose (it's an Anthony Burgess reference, go read The Wanting Seed) but I've sneered at too many friends who flee fixable situations for me to do the same myself.

See, pride saves me every time. I just hope it doesn't up and quit on me. Then I would be in trouble.

And my parents thought I was joking when, at dinner on Sunday, I mentioned "When I start therapy..." I have every intention of doing so, and not just because of crazy hormonal whackiness. But that's fodder for another day.

***

Written five minutes after saving this entry: Well, fuck. I didn't get the job.

Now what? I better go ask Alex to hide the vicodin, for a start.

October 22nd

I'm feeling somewhat better, now. I should know better than to give in to the slough of despond on the first day of my period. I forget which nifty hormone a woman is lacking right at that time, but that lack does incredibly nasty things to my head.

And it's a good thing I'm in the middle of my cycle right now, as there's been another round of total of and utter bullshit, lately.

  • One of my parents' foster cats - Bessie - is dying and will be euthanized in the next few days
  • Things aren't looking so hot for the second of their three cats - Chica - either
  • Meanwhile, my mom is having another nasty health problem (yet more things I agreed not to talk about online)
  • Which has prompted the unexpected and entirely undesired eruption of all sorts of skeletons from the family closet
  • Meanwhile, my sister-in-law and her three kids are recovering from being nastily shaken up after their car got rear-ended - they were at a dead-stop, the person behind was going about 35MPH
  • During this recovery, we are all giving thanks to GMAC's crappy engineering that ensured that the airbag's on Missy's (borrowed) Olds did not deploy, otherwise my twelve year old niece would be dead, instead of merely bruised

When people ask me "How are things?" I've quit saying "They could be worse" because they keep getting worse on me, damn them.

October 23rd

The last entry ended a bit abruptly, and I'm sorry about that, but I received a much-desired phone call from my family. Susan's situation had a best-case and worst-case scenario and the best-case one had manifested, so I was quite relieved to hear that. At least one thing is looking up, I suppose. Tomorrow, I go over to her place to visit, although I think the visit is unnecessary for Susan's sake. I suspect it's more to make Chris feel comfortable, more than anything else.

***

If nothing else, I rather hope that life looks up shortly because I'm rapidly wearing out what few good manners I have. "I'm here for you," is an almost meaningless statement, and I'm starting to get tired of hearing it. The speaker means well, and I suppose I'm somewhat happy to hear it, as it at least tells me that I'm not being ignored. But beyond that, it's a useless phrase. There is nothing anyone can do to support me through this, aside from exercising patience with my deteriorating temper. Hearing the same pithy phrases over and over again isn't making them any more efficacious.

***

Christ. I've just found out that Mark Brotherton - a former co-worker of mine, and I guy I considered pretty dam' nifty - has died. I hardly knew him really, so I'm not precisely shattered, but for heaven's sake, he was only 33!

So much for this being a month of just 'warning shots'

Postcript added a few hours later

Well, shit. Mark killed himself - jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge to be precise. 

I didn't know Mark that well, but it's still a shock. I remember a guy who was funny, dynamic, determined to make a go of every setback the dot-bomb threw at SF people such as himself. I guess something got to be too much - too many things, I'm sure. But I'm still a bit pissed off - at him, at circumstance. 

And, as I sit here, quietly seething, I'm rather reassured. There's nothing like real life to knock menstrual histrionics back where they belong. I'm not belittling the sometimes frightening headspace I can get into at times, but I find some reassurance in the fact that I'm angry and bewildered at Mark's death, rather than just cynical or detached. Realizing that I want to grab him by the collar and shake him (as impossible as that is) and ask him why he had to be so stupid...makes me realize that there's a point I'm not going to cross. At least, I don't think so, and I hope not. 

Poor Mark.

***

Where was I? Oh yeah...

So, there's this NaNoWriMo thing coming up. For the benefit of the half-dozen netizens who haven't already heard of this phenomenon, it's an exercise in collective masochism: write a novel in a month. It doesn't have to be polished, it just has to be complete - y'know, have a beginning, middle and an end. It's a sound idea, working on the notion that there are a bunch of brilliant novels out there that are languishing unfinished. I think it's Woody Allen who is attributed with saying "90% of getting published is simply finishing your work" - there are too many great-but-unfinished books out there.

Anyways, so it's an interesting idea, and I'm intrigued by it. I'm forever moaning about not doing enough (any) 'real' writing and here's the chance to tackle two challenges in one: craft a project of significant length (which I've never done before)  and write something that isn't a blasted RPG story.

However, Mr. Low Self Esteem entered the building and told me I couldn't hack it. My history to date is of short - very short - stories. I've read enough writing manuals to have an idea of how bloody difficult it is to write a novel that someone else would actually want to read. There are so many elements that have to be juggled, balanced and fit into place. So, as of last week, I chickened out of the dare - even out of my compromise idea of writing three longish-short-stories featuring a genre-character I have in mind. 

I want to have a go at murder mystery, you see, as so many authors I admire come from that genre and I like the idea of using a recurrent protagonist. So, I thought, rather than trying to leap from tiny shorts to a novel, perhaps I should challenge myself to three significant short stories - something that would be of novel length if published as a suite - featuring the same protagonist. It would be a good test of my character development skills, as well as my admittedly meager abilities at crafting mysteries which don't feature vampires and such like. If the character could stay engaging and interesting over those three stories, then I could think about tackling the novel form - either by developing one of the shorter tales, or with a whole new story. And yes, this would all be with the intention of polishing all the pieces up and shopping them around to an agent. If you're going to do a thing, do it all the way. 

But, as I say, Mr. Low Self Esteem let himself into the house and took me out at the knees. Particularly with all the family stress going on, and my ongoing preoccupation with finding a job. 

Well, you know what? At this point, I doubt I will be employed before Christmas - nothing more serious than seasonal retail, if that - so I may as well have a go at the dare. 

I've still got time to chicken out, and maybe I will. I spent two hours brainstorming today and made enough progress to realize how far I've got to go before I have anything resembling a complete outline. But I have a much clearer idea than I did two days ago.

Part of me is a little titillated by the challenge. A much larger  part is intimidated. And a teeny-tiny bit of me is suggesting that maybe I'm being motivated more by my alpha-female urge to compete with JB rather than actually write an interesting novel. Oh, what the hell. I should probably quit with the analysis and just get to writing...

Tomorrow, I'm visiting with Susan, and she's read more murder mysteries than I have had hot dinners. I'm not exaggerating by much, I assure you Kind Reader. So I might have a sit down with her and see if she's feeling up to a bit of brainstorming. My mom would be a very good judge of what makes for an entertaining protagonist and an engaging mystery...
October 27th

So, although I've been working on a plot, developing my protagonist and even thinking about the follow-up story, I'm still not sure if I'm going to go through with this NaNoWriMo thing or not. I will probably haver about this clear until the last minute.

Never mind Mr. Bad Self Esteem, I'm just not sure I'm ready for it, yet. I know the project is supposed to be a 'bash out a first draft, sweat the quality stuff later' sort of thing but, damn it, I've been working for years to drop habits like that. The number of people I've encountered at the NaNo forums who have announced they intend to plot-as-they-go has made me wince. I don't want to do that - and I won't - but I'm still missing elements that I feel are vital for even a first draft...

  • I haven't fully fleshed out my supporting characters. I believe in over-developing 'em, at first, so that I'm not caught short in the middle of the project. So I've got The Victim, The Victim's Father, The Culprit and The Roommate still to create and, oh yes, names are useful things.
  • My protagonist is a professional photographer, and I don't know enough about how and what a freelance photog does in order to fake it knowledgeably in prose. Does she shoot strictly 35mm, or has she got some medium format going? What sort of equipment does medium-format require? Is it any different from 35mm gear? What sort of lenses, film, papers would a freelance photographer who tries to specialize in portraiture have in her apartment? Is it even reasonable to have her specialize like that, or should I broaden the field.
  • My protagonist has artistic aspirations. Does she have an agent towards that end? Does she have one for selling random bits to the clip-art catalogs, or is that a direct sell?
  • Furthermore, there's the tie-in with the ad agency I wanted to provide (future plot hook and boyfriend fodder). Would a large, successful ad agency use freelancers/contractors, or do they keep all photography strictly in-house?
  • The Roommate is a serious Zen Buddhist. Where can I find a list of writer's cheat-notes on the subject, so I can fake that with some authority.
  • Never mind all this research crap, where's my subplot? Should I even worry about one at this point, or just start writing and see if one suggests itself along the way?
  • Why is my protagonist turning out so flat in her character outline? How can I spice her up without making it too obvious that I'm reaching for a hook?
  • What if I get 10,000 words into it and realize I've got no narrative voice?

Of course, a lot of this is worrying about nothing. Here's my plan:
Write the outline. Write the story. If it's less than the declared target of 50,000 words, I will not fall on my sword. I will make this story as long - or short - as it has to be. 

If I am still feeling enthused, I will see if I can tease the nascent second-idea I've got for the same protagonist into being - again, no fixed ideas about length, just see if I can write it and make it engaging. 

If I get to the end of that second story (unlikely but, what the hell, I'm thinking big, here) then I will work on a third short-ish tale - three being a nice round number - and then start looking for mystery magazines which might be interested in what I've churned out. Y'know, I don't even know if there are any regularly-published mystery 'zines any more but, please, don't burst my bubble.

Where's the agent in this plan? Somewhere after I sell a short story or two - if I can write them. An agent is going to be far more interested in a would-be client who has already published in the genre. If I manage to finish the tentatively-titled Weddings Are Murder (it's corny, that's why it's a working title) and I believe that someone else might actually want to pay money for their own copy of it, I'll have to find an agent. All the big mystery houses have a very clearly stated no unsolicited manuscripts policy. 

This is all long term, of course. The daydreaming about the fruits completion keeps me from giving up before I start - I'm really good at doing that. I'm already trying to sabotage myself, but I'm gritting my teeth. I keep saying I want to write something that isn't popcorn gamer-writing. It's put up or shut up time. Even if I'm left with 35,000 words of schmaltz by December 1st, as long as it is complete, I will have achieved something

Writing comes easy. All you have to do is stare at a piece of paper until your forehead bleeds - DNA

October 30th

Today provided yet another example of why one should never debate anything more important than pizza toppings via an online messenger. I was arguing something totally trivial with DW - a rules matter in CAST. Actually. I was rather enjoying the debate, given how rarely my neurons fire these days. However - and this is all according to my set of filters and biases, of course - it seems the DW thought I was getting hot under the collar. Not only that, but he proceeded to adapt a persona of his which, for a variety of reasons (some consciously realized, others not) totally irritates me. This persona - via the online medium, at least - is Mr. I Am The Only Calm And Centered Being in The Vicinity, And Now I Am Going To Counsel You, Little Grasshopper. This from a guy whom until quite recently, considered punching bare boards to be an adequate method of anger management.

I can be excitable at times, granted - particularly when I'm coming off a hell of a stressful couple of weeks. But to be patronized by DW is just a bit much. It's possible that DW didn't intend to come across as patronizing, but... see "Never debate anything via online messenger", above. I've decided that the online venue magnifies everyone's worst points, and belittles the better ones. So, I come across as an excitable shrew and DW struck me as a patronizing hypocrite.

There, at least I understand the roles, now. It doesn't make me feel any better about the situation but, there it is.

But I enjoyed the debate. I wasn't entirely satisfied with its conclusion but, fuck it, it's not my game. I think that certain game-tweaks that DW is enacting have holes in them that the munchkins are going to drive trucks through but, again, fuck it, it's not my game. As long as my character isn't fucked over by these canon changes, I shouldn't think any more about it.

As I remarked in my LJ, somewhere: life must be returning to normal if I'm able to notice bullshit melodrama again. Fierce debates over gaming rules fall under this category.

***

Writing kvetches:

I'm still not done outlining my supporting characters or my plot. Hell, it only just occurred to me to wonder about the role of the groom/widow in the plot, post-murder of his wife. Oops.

My plot is, in fact, so half-baked that I keep thinking of major tweaks every time I sit down at the typewriter - uh, laptop.

But, those tweaks I have come up with have been useful and important.
      For example, I realized that Kate's father (Kate is The Victim) should hit on Liz at one point, to warn the audience that this guy is a Major Philanderer - rather than a penny-ante one.
      Furthermore, I should build a hint of antagonism between Kate's Father and Michael (the groom), so as to keep the field of suspects pleasantly confused once it comes out that Kate's Father was the intended victim, not Kate (Sorry if you were waiting to read the story for that one). What is the source of that antagonism? Should I tie it in with the recently-healed estrangement between Kate and her father (ie, the fiancÚ was outraged on her behalf) or something totally different?
      For that matter, howinhell is Liz going to come to the realization that Kate's Father was the intended victim, particularly without having to resolve to tedious exposition from The Culprit?
      Another major realization that hit me in the shower was that I haven't nailed down the story's theme. So far, it's tentatively settled as being about a search for stability amidst (and despite) chaos. But that's rather verbose. Shouldn't good themes be summarized in one or two words?
      They're all good questions. But I need answers in a hurry!

And I have just learned that I can't think and sit simultaneously. All day, I was brain-dead - okay last night's wake for Mark might be partially responsible for that state, but still. I get up and walk to the thrift store to meet Alex whilst he's trolling for tee-shirts, and I identify a whole new passel of things I need to work on, and spawned a few ideas for same.

I have to rake up the front yard tomorrow afternoon - who knows what thoughts that might spur?

September 2002          November 2002