Snapshots and Scrapbook Entries

Where I post about the things that happened in my life. Sometimes they’re diary entries, sometimes works of non-fiction, sometime just random photographs.

On Signatures, Land Lines, and The Things that Become Anachronisms

I spent the weekend going through page-proofs of stories I wrote a decade ago, and one of the things that struck me were plot elements that seem anachronistic to me ten years later. The main culprit was Briar Day, which features two ex-lovers talking on the phone will all manner of chaotic things have them trapped in their respective houses.

2007 wasn’t that long ago, but it was still an age where smart-phones were just coming to prominence, logging on to social media still seemed like a shiny, new experience, and you could still set a story where getting news from a 6:00 PM report on TV seemed more logical than anything else. All the communication takes place through landlines, with no chance of knowing who is calling before you answer, and the story’s engagement with the more toxic elements of masculinity seems quaint given the rise of MRAs, GamerGate, and everything else in the years since it first saw publication.

Twelve hours after finishing the proofs – and talking myself out of rewriting the story simply because it all seemed so old-fashioned to me now – I woke up to the news that Mastercard is starting to phase out signatures as a form of credit card security.

It’s weird to think that signatures are going the way of landline phones, but it makes all kinds of sense. Signatures are a tool of a bygone age, in terms of maintaining security, and I can’t remember the last time I actually saw my signature checked when using a credit card.

Things move on.

When you run a con, you’re never really not-running a conference…

In the weeks before a major event, you never really switch off. You just power down for a bit, waiting for the next call where you leap into action and get things done.

We are five weeks out from GenreCon, and it’s my sixth go-around running a big event, so I know what to expect from this bit. I know that I cannot be trusted with an iron, because we’ve entered the period where I will just leave it on. I know I’ll climb aboard the wrong train and go 25 minutes out of my way before it occurs to me that I should be home by now. The nightmares have started and the constant, low-key adrenaline has set in.

People keep reassuring me that things will be fine, and I’m about 99% sure that they will be, and event like GenreCon is a lot of moving parts and this is the period where I’m not responsible for all of them. There’s a lot of handing off to others and waiting for news to filter back, and there’s a lot of points where people who aren’t familiar with the con start interacting with systems and processes.

This is the point where we start finding out what I’ve got right this year, and what can be improved next time. It’s the point where I am on alert at all times, in case I can circumvent just one more thing and keep it all running smoothly.

I play a lot of computer games in the lead-up to a con, because they’re relatively easy to immerse myself in when needed and put down when it’s time to fix something. I mainline a lot of TV. This year, I’m gearing up to run a D&D campaign for the first time in seven or eight years, and the sudden shift from very rules-light to moderately rules-intensive systems gives me plenty of things to tinker with when I need to keep my brain distracted.

It’s also a good time to learn new skills and experiment with my practice. Last time around, I switched over to drafting in notebooks after writing on PCs for nearly a decade. This time, I’m putting things into place to launch a micro-publisher going by the name of Brain Jar Press before the end of the year, the culmination of several months of set-up and planning.

Things I Am Currently Doing, September 8 2017 Edition

  • Sitting in the UQ postgraduate room, waiting until midday when I will go and meet with my supervisor about the work I’ve done while she was away at WorldCon. Happily, I can report that there’s been some movement in my thinking about Dramatic vs. Iconic characters in series works that will be useful to explore in my creative project, and I’m on track to finish the first of my novella drafts by the time we hit the end of September.
  • Working on said novella draft, dubbed Project: Red in my to-do list. The current word-count is spread the full length of the project, mapping out the plot and its movement, so much of what’ remains is going through to flesh out scenes and make them make sense.
  • Working on Project: Gladiator, which will be the first in a series of short, very pulpy novels that I may-or-may-not have danced around the idea of writing a few times on social media. Currently one-sixth of the way through and just sorting out the voice issues – I’m starting to deploy present tense, as this is very much trying to capture a B-movie feel and present tense is the tense of film treatments and scripts.
  • Working on Project: Beeman, which started out as a novella and is probably going to trundle into short novel territory.
  • Proofing The Birdcage Heart and Other Strange Tales, a collection of short fiction that I put together to test some ideas I was reading about for the thesis and liked enough to put as a book. This one brings together twelve stories on the fantasy/magic realist/slipstream end of my work.
  • Putting together Not Quite The End Of The World Just Yet, which will essentially be the follow up for the above that brings together some of the stories I’ve done which fit in the range between slipstream and SF.
  • Preparing to put together an email newsletter, which is one of those things I’ve been toying with for nearly a year now and have no real reason to avoid anymore.
  • Hyperventilating and fretting about things.
  • Getting everything in place to finish off a thing that’s been on my list as Project: Countdown for nearly a year now, waiting for me to finally commit to it.
  • Hanging with guinea pigs, which are considerably cooler than I first thought they would be.

Cracking open a Fresh Bullet Journal

It’s 11:05 on a Monday morning and I have already packed far more useful work into my day that I fit into the whole of last week. It took almost a whole weekend of planning to get me to this point, revising processes and outlining project and sweeping notebooks, email, and projects for the unfinished tasks that have been creating drag on my subconscious.

I’ve started a fresh bullet journal, having finally run out of space in the one I kicked off last September, and I’ve gone back to the cheap-as-dirt larger J. Burrows Journal  with 8mm rule after nearly a year using a Moleskin grid-rule. I loved the moleskin, but I’m juggling projects in nine different areas of my life at the moment and I planning a day so that I’ve got a clear idea of what’s necessary to gain ground in every area means dedicating two pages to a single day. That means burning through Bullet Journals faster and it means the extra space is handy.

It’s nowhere near as neat and tidy, but that’s not why I bullet journal. The internet seems to have transformed it into an ongoing art project as much as an organisational tool, but I am primarily interested in cranking widgets and getting shit moving.

Thesis work. Writing work. GenreCon work. All three seem to involve a significant amount of scope creep if not carefully tended and outlined before the day begins, which means it’s easier to give up than chase the impossible-to-reach horizon. Some days you’re so focused on getting to Mordor that you forget the first step is getting the fuck out of the Shire before the ring wraiths arrive.

Brain Popcorn, July 11 2017 Edition

  • It’s eight-thirty nine in the evening as I write this. It’s cold and I’m not wearing socks and my life is far, far better than I deserve right now.
  • My brain is mushy as hell thanks to spending the last eight hours writing a plan for a novella so detailed that it’s approximately one-quarter of the novellas total word-count, because I will figure out this planning thing if it kills me.
  • I also spent far more of my day researching the processes of dry cleaning than you would expect given how relevant it is to my overall story.
  • Yesterday Roxanne Gay posted How to Be A Contemporary Writer over on Tumblr – a post about being a writer that is so on-point and common sense that it should be read by everyone, and will be ignored by all the people who should be paying the most attention.
  • It’s been over a year since I taught a writing workshop or conducted a seminar, and it seems that I am unlikely to break this streak any time in the next six months. I am scheduled to host an In Conversation with CS Pacat on the 28th of July, though, and she’s running a two-day workshop on Writing Fantasy for Queensland Writers Centre starting on the 29th. Pacat is one of the smartest, most interesting writers I’ve come across in recent years and if you’re an aspiring fantasy writer in Brisbane I really recommend that workshop.
  •  I asked people to speak about their GenreCon experience yesterday and lo, people spoke out. Thanks to everyone who did so – there was a nice healthy spike in registrations over the last twenty-four hours. To everyone who is still thinking about it – there is also a nice, healthy chunk of registrations still waiting to be sold, and the social proof of other people saying “yo, this con is great” definitely beats out me saying it.
  • Angela Slatter’s book launch for Corpselight is this Friday. You should totally come.

 

Addendum to “You Had One Job” at Writerly Scrawls

The nice thing about being a writer is that you do things and you send them off and they frequently appear in the world at unexpected times. Case in point, my guest-post-turned-essay about writing processes and mental illness went live at Kylie Thompson’s blog over the weekend, giving me a little snapshot into the way my life was running a few months back.

So, here’s an addendum to that essay: I wrote You Had One Job back in April. At the time I was writing a novella that didn’t quite come together the way I wanted, and I’m not sure whether that was because it was actually bad or because anxiety got its hooks into me and started me obsessively rewriting the opening scenes over and over.

And despite ending my guest post on a relatively positive note, the days that followed writing that post were all kinds of not-good.

I knew this was coming, to some extent. Back when I was blogging for Queensland Health, I discovered that writing about depression and anxiety frequently caused me to become depressed and anxious. I thought I’d prepared for that, but I hadn’t.  I sank. I flailed. I panicked.

This is the challenge of writing about mental health. Stories and essays and blog posts end, because they have a structure. Life…it just keeps going. Good days turn into bad ones, and bad days turn into dark periods before you’ve noticed what’s going on.

Towards the end of April I finally pulled my shit together and called the psychologist my GP had recommended way back in January, which I’d been putting off for months because I kept getting an answering machine (I hate answering machine. They make me incredibly anxious. Making this call meant spending a week writing a script I could follow, even if I ended up ignoring it, and keeping a lid on the anxiety that then told me I should call back consistently until I got an actual person on the line).

Things got better, after that.

It’s been a familiar rhythm over the twelve months since I first went to my GP and said there’s something wrong.  It’s rebuilding stage by stage, fixing things as they crop up. And so the pattern continues: Things are okay, then things get worse, then steps are taken and things get better. Where I once felt broken, I started feeling merely cracked. Then, where I once felt cracked, I started feeling merely dented.

I’m remarkably okay with being dented, given where I was last year.

The Narrative Demands It

I’m on the highway, heading south, on a particular June winter morning. I’m doing hundred and the sun is shining and the road is almost empty. Just a few cars, far ahead, well past my turn-off, which means I get some space to myself in a world no longer fond of space.

I’ve had the stereo playing ever since I left home, and I find myself listening to the Stranglers Golden Brown for the first time in years. It occurs to me that I love this song. I’ve got things turned up a little louder than usual, and I turn it up a little more, and the music fills my head and obliterates everything else. I’ve got the car and the road and the ¾ rhythms of the keyboard and the harpsicord, Hugh Cornwell singing about the texture and sun and finer temptresses, that slow rise-and-fall of the music wrapping itself around my day like the last touch of a dream.

I feel good. I’m in the moment. I’m not thinking about the things I’ve done wrong, or the things I’d like to do right. I’m just driving a car and singing off-key and god, it’s so bright out there. The road is so empty. It’s perfect, in a way, for the length of a verse; the kind of scene that appears in movies, right before a character has a heart attack, or gets attacked by zombies, or finds themselves blindsided by a truck. Happiness as a portent of doom, because happiness does not last unless it occurs at the climax and becomes part of the denouement.

It occurs to me, any moment now, I need to die quite horribly. The narrative demands it.

Lull

I turn off Lutwyche Road and follow the street as it curves towards the baseball fields. Cross the road to avoid someone young and angry kicking the shit out of a chain link fence. It’s ten o’clock. I’ve walked down to the Valley and back again, just because I’m feeling restless. I don’t want to be in my apartment. Up ahead, the young, angry person kicks the fence six times, starts walking down the street again. They don’t swear or mutter or do any of the shit angry people usually do when walking through my suburb. I want it to be colder. Brisbane has been ignoring winter. I want it to be colder and I want to be thinking clearer.  The fence-kicker goes towards Lutwyche Road. I head towards home. When I’m around the curve, a safe distance away, I start whistling Ani Difranco ‘s Out of Habit underneath my breath. I tell myself that work is coming. That I will not have to think about how to fill the time anymore, sooner than I think.

Sleep

I woke several times over the weekend and went to work on my thesis prospectus in the wee hours of the morning. Solutions to problems kept coming to me as I dozed off, found their way into the work in progress because I didn’t trust myself to remember them later. Going to bed at 11 PM quickly turned into working until 5 AM, then sleeping until later in the day.

It was great. Incredibly great. It’s been nearly a decade since I worked those kind of hours. It happened all the time before I started working in offices, but the demands of being somewhere at a certain hour meant adapting to other people’s patterns. Getting up early has become such a habit that I’ve organised much of my life around it.

I meet a friend for breakfast once a week, at an hour based on the fact I used to rise at 6 AM without fail. I have a certain degree of flexibility over when I go to the office and work on GenreCon, or agree to meet with my thesis supervisor, which would theoretically make it possible to start later in the day, yet I still default to starting at 9 where possible.

 

But for the first time in years, I can look at the fact that I prefer to work in the quiet hours of the morning and sleep late and see it as semi-regular possibility.

Words to go

Three years ago I bought an apartment and began the process of moving in. I remember thinking, at the time, that I should probably stop buying new books because the ones I had already didn’t actually fit in my one-bedroom apartment with its outright rejection of right angles.

Obviously, I failed at that. It’s not really a surprise. I’d made a similar promise when I moved into my previous place, crashing in a friend’s spare room for a few years, and the bulk of my book collection went into storage. That promise resulted in nearly thirty boxes of books getting moved when I left.

 

Part of me resents the fact that I don’t get to move any more. I’m used to living like a hermit crab, always searching out a new shell when the one I’m in starts to feel restrictive. In another world, where I stuck with renting, I’d be spending the next month searching for an apartment on the far side of town that’s more convenient for getting to university.

Part of me watches friends moving out of their rental, quite unwillingly, and admits that I’m kind of fond of having a place that’s mine and will stay mine until I decide otherwise or I fail to pay the mortgage (which, quiet honestly, is so much goddamn cheaper than any rent I’ve ever paid).

So I stay. Quietly figuring out new places where books can be stored, or what can be thrown out in order to make more room.

And occasionally, just to keep myself focused, I sit down and figure out how many words I’d need to write and sell in order to pay this place off. Not that I’m relying on writing alone to do it, but writing is how I measure everything.

Current status: 2,984,186 words to go.

I really should get back to work.