I live my life by certain un-written rules. Or principles. Or random-ass shit that gets stuck in my head and guides my decisions at various points, even when it seems counter-intuitive. They largely came about to take the element of decision making out of very small things, since I hate making decisions without access to thinking time, a white board, and a panel of experts willing to weigh in on the potential drawbacks of each option.
So, rules. I never thought of this as strange until back in 2012, when I had to explain my philosophy regarding onion rings to my boss while at GenreCon and it clicked that not everyone did this. Or, if they did, they didn’t actually talk about them.
I like to talk about things. On the internet. Not actually a rule – more an slight character flaw – but it happens. And so, a few years back, I started writing these things down, paying attention to why they’d come about and whether they were still necessary.
These are the ones that have survived the last three years.
RULE ONE: WHEN THERE’S PORK BELLY ON THE MENU, ORDER THE DAMN PORK BELLY
I come from a family that is thoroughly incapable of ordering from a menu when gathered in a group. Put the four of us around the table and give us a range of options, and you’ll be in for nearly twenty minutes of I’m thinking of getting this, what are you getting? and I think I’ve changed my mind and I can’t make up my mind until everyone else does.
When it comes to food, one way or another, we are coded with a hardcore fear of missing out.
Many of my personal rules are food-focused, because of this. It speeds things up.
And here is the thing I figured out about pork belly – I’m never sorry that I ordered it, and other people are frequently sorry that they did not order it when it arrives in front of you. Therefore, in the interests of saving time, don’t fuck around with a menu when there’s a pork belly option. Just order the goddamn pork belly.
RULE TWO: WHEN THEY HAVE ONION RINGS ON THE MENU, ORDER THE DAMN ONION RINGS
Not sure this applies in countries where onion rings are actually a thing, but here in Australia they’re a relative rarity. And I like onion rings. I am never unhappy with that option.
RULE THREE: WHEN THE FOLK WORKING IN A BOOKSTORE SAY “HAVE YOU READ THIS? IT’S AWESOME,” BUY THE DAMN BOOK
There are a long list of phenomenal authors on my bookshelf that I’ve only picked up because the people working at my favourite bookstores hand-sold them: Sara Gran; James Salter; George Pelecanos; Dennis Lehane; Ben Aaronovitch. Every time I listen to a recommendation and read the book, I’ve ended up going back and collecting everything else that author had written.
Folks who work in book stores generally have pretty good tastes. And I like reading things that I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own. When they talk, I listen.
It will be a terrible, rum-soaked drink intended to make you question your poor life choices. Things that come in tiki cups always are.
But, when it’s over, you still have the tiki cup.
And, if there is any justice in the world, a tiny paper umbrella that can be tucked behind one ear.
I cannot tell you why this makes me happy, but it always does.
RULE FIVE: IF YOU’RE DOING IT FOR THE MONEY, DO IT WELL (BUT EXPECT THE EXPERIENCE TO SUCK)
Every now and then I do things because the money is good. Freelance gigs, day-jobs, short-term contracts. And we’re not even talking about a lot of money – the reality of any kind of emerging creative’s life is that you’ll occasionally take gigs because there is rent to be paid and food is a nice thing to have.
Writers have to obey the laws of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs just like every other fucker on the planet, and I’ve spent enough time as one of the long-term unemployed that I have serious twitchiness about money and employment and the possibility of ever going back to that.
I don’t even like taking holidays because I fear the job not being there when I go back.
I am not against doing things for the money. And, when taking a gig for the cash, I’ll try to get that fucker done to the best of my ability. I still want to be able to look back and take a measure of pride on what was done. I still want to be able to put my name on it.
But I know the experience is going to suck at some point. It’s a given. Because, when I do things for the money, the shit that would be a mild irritation gets magnified. The shit that would ordinarily irritate you a lot becomes a source of self-flagellation.
If shit goes really, really wrong, as Neil Gaiman points out in his Make Good Art keynote, you’ll have done a whole bunch of work and you don’t even have the money to show for it.
Even if everything goes great – and my experience with doing things for the money is that this happens less than it should – I will look back a year afterwards when money is not so tight and resent the fact that I was thinking so short-term.
Because, once the need for the money is gone and you’re further up the hierarchy of needs, you forget what it was like to be unable to write because you were panicking about how to buy groceries that week and wondering how much you’d get for your kidney on the black market.
RULE SIX: REMEMBER THE CIRCUMSTANCES
Holding onto a rule that solves a problem that no longer exists is kind of pointless. Chastising yourself for decisions that were less than ideal in hindsight often means you’ve forgotten the reasons the less-than-ideal decision looked right.
Sometimes you have to actually stop and force yourself to think about the how and why certain things were done. Half the reason I blog is so I can remember what I was thinking at a certain time and place, which is incredibly useful when I’m trying to figure out why I did something stupid.
We are forgetting creatures. We aren’t coded to remember all the things long term. We keep the results and forget the process. We let the little things fade away and remember the consequences.
Don’t do that. Decisions get made in a certain context, and assessing them without remembering the context is just going to mess up your chi.
I don’t know about you, but I need my chi. It is vital to getting shit done.
And above all else, I love getting shit done.
RULE SEVEN: FOLLOW THE LEFT WALL
When you go into the dungeon, you can usually be sure of clearing the damn thing out if you just follow the left wall and take each room, one at a time.
Mostly applicable in D&D.
Surprisingly applicable in other parts of life.