Not About Hugos
Not really, at least. Not mostly? Anyway, watching what seems like half the world lose their ever-loving minds over what is essentially an episode of epic-level trolling (albeit with a point) has been a delight. I’m certain we’ll be entertained (subjected to?) more of the same between now and LonCon in August. If you’re just joining the party – and there’s cold beer in the fridge and several lifetimes’ supply of popcorn – the fracturing within the Social Justice Warrior faction of the scifi community has been equally entertaining, with some of the usual suspect turning downright reasonable. Brandon Sanderson has again demonstrated what a stand-up guy he is, and Larry and Vox have come in for more than their fair share of vituperation. So much so, in fact, that the delightful Mrs. Correia has expressed her displeasure at having to reassure acquaintances that, no, her husband isn’t a dangerous, evil-minded hatey mchaterson who poses a clear and present danger to her and her children. (He’s a big softy, really.) Silly them. As Sarah can attest to, Larry is not the Correia whose anger you most want to avoid.
This isn’t about the Hugos, though. Really! That one’ll be at According To Hoyt, first Monday in May.
This post is about writing! This is a writing blog, and so we talk about writing here. Oh, very quickly, before I get to that, Mrs. Dave and I will be joining Sarah and Kate at RavenCon this weekend, where Sarah and I will endeavor to prevent Kate from wreaking grievous slaughter upon the SJW contingent in attendance. Ok, I’ll be working to prevent the two of them from tag-teaming the rest of the con. Ok, I’ll be holding their coats and mixing drinks for afters.
So, back to the writing. Especially in genre fiction, we work at portraying things which are alien. They may be immortal creatures of questionable moral views perpetrating great wickedness upon innocent – and not-so-innocent – humanity. They may be intelligences of other-than-organic nature, newly awakened to a stinky, smelly world full of illogical (and stinky) organic creatures. They may actually be aliens. Or, they could simply be the slightly odd kid next door who has nary a hair out of place and never leaves the house.
So, I have a confession to make. I’m not really a mad genius. Right now, I’m at best a disgruntled genius, and there’s a goodly bit of concern about the latter part of that epithet. A big part of that can – and should – be chalked up to the last few months being more or less hellish on the stressor front. Lots of travel, no routine, funerals, family dynamics, more travel, impending fatherhood (Mrs. Dave and Working Title are doing just fine; it’s Daddy that’s losing his mind) more travel, WE THREW A PARTY (so. many. people.) and now we’re off to RavenCon, and in a month Mrs. Dave will go into labor and sometime thereafter I’ll never sleep soundly again. I think my characters are lined up waiting to see if I crack, and that’s why they haven’t been pestering me lately.
So, yeah: stress.
We deal with stress all the time. For most of us, it’s one of the few things to pull us out of our skulls and force us to deal with the rest of the world. The stress of paying bills (note: need to get tax stuff set up for this year), the stress of opening the fridge and seeing two rubbery carrots and a container of questionable mustard, the stress of watching parts of humanity go nughouse bucking futs and attempt to drag civilization into a parallel 1950s (but this time, THEY’RE in charge! (this is not about the Hugos)). There are also “good” stressors. Going to a con, drinking too much scotch (that’s a thing?) meeting interesting people, hanging out with old friends, etc. Sometime soon, I need to get my motorcycle squared away, and that’s got its own set of associated stressors.
Stress is just a thing, neither good nor bad. In some ways, it resembles a tool that way. Like a circular saw, or a firearm. Theoretically, we can use it to our advantage. (If you know how, please fill me in on the process.) And when the stress load gets too high, things start to fall apart. “Fun” and “relaxation” become work, and things that we used to enjoy simply kill the time.
For me, my writing has suffered. A lot. You can probably tell from reading this that I’m not exactly the most focused. Fiction just falls apart. It used to be a matter of getting into a groove and just running with it. Lately, every word is dragged out of a noxious morass. And stuff.
Is there hope?
Of course, there is. Things always change, and rarely move in one direction for long. Personally, I plan to forge a new routine. I’m not really sure what that’s going to look like. It’ll have a lot of physical activity. I’ll dust off the bicycle, perhaps. Maybe I’ll just hit the gym several more times a week than has been the case in recent months. Exertion is one of those things that keeps me sane-ish and on a more or less even keel. When stress looms, find those things and cling to them. I have a friend who paints miniatures. It relaxes him. This is a good thing. Another thing I’ll be doing is building an airsoft trap and working on my marksmanship. Lots of fundamentals. Trigger control, breath control, stance, drills.
What do you do when life starts to wobble? (see? this wasn’t about the Hugos AT ALL)
Some stress is good. As I found out when unemployed, having no deadlines and no clear stressors makes my brain panic, because it can’t see where the threat is coming from and focus on preventing that. Once I focused on a goal – go fly a pre-WWII airplane several thousand miles – life became much simpler, and far less stressful, because I had something to organize around.
Too much stress is bad. My job consumes so much attention that when I make it to the weekend, I don’t feel like doing brain-intensive things I know destress me, like flying.
What I do when I realize life’s already wobbling like a top on slow rotation:
1. Clean up my diet. (Seriously, it amazing how not adding sugar rush and blood sugar crashes to my day make things much easier to handle)
2. Deliberately schedule and mandate to myself that I must exercise. Especially if I don’t feel like it! (Hard exercise is good for burning off all the adrenaline an overstressed flight-or-fight response has been leaking into your system. Getting that burned out by using it means that your muscles will finally relax, and let your nervous system wind down in the absence of constant chemical signals to be alert and ready to run or attack.)
3. Run a task analysis – I list everything I “need” to do, and “ought” to do, then divide into critical-urgent / noncritical-urgent / critical – nonurgent / noncritical-nonurgent. After I’ve focused on the critical things, then I choose from the rest. So the kitchen floor didn’t get mopped last week. Won’t kill anyone, don’t care.
4. Pray. Prayer is a very dangerous business, because G-d has his own timeline, and a rather interesting sense of humor. (The punchline to the platypus is that it has poisoned spurs.) Learning to put the sources of stress I can’t do anything about it G-d’s hands and let it go is a very hard thing, requiring constant practice. It also comes with the very real danger that G-d will pay attention, and say “Ah, yes. You. Go do this.” and “You really need to change this about yourself. Work on that.” And He’s right, but arrrgh. Like I said, dangerous business.
What WWII Aircraft?
I’ve barely written a lick since January. And yeah, I guess I’m pretty stressed, thanks to the idiots on first shift who I swear are sandbagging their work so that we get mandatory overtime on the weekends, because they think it’s free money (Since they don’t do squat on the weekends either).
My house and garden (what garden?) are suffering because of it, among all my other projects.
pre-WWII Taylorcraft. Ah, heavily modified after several decades of service in the Alaskan bush. She doesn’t go as fast as you think, but she flies slow and low, lands short, and climbs like a homesick angel.
I need to go out to the hangar and apologize. And wash her; she’s probably pollen-yellow right now.
I learned to fly in a Taylorcraft (BC12D IIRC), part of why my radio abilities are nil.
The owner of the airfield (gone now, alas, both the man and the Airfield) had a Jenny.
My dream now is to build an RV-7.
*chuckle* I’ll really try not to simply re-state Dorothy’s excellent reply. It’s all good advice, and remarkably similar to what I’ve had to learn the hard way (through mistakes, screw-ups, and cat-rear-trophies galore). These are things I do:
Drink water. Goes along with eating right, having some fresh veggies around for snackage (local farm grows *awesome* stuff). I wouldn’t recommend cold turkey on the caffeine (another stressor), but remember the water. I keep a filter bottle on hand these days.
Take walks. Schedule them, if you have to. Run or jog when you feel the need, but go from point A to point B (and back) utilizing man’s most primitive form of locomotion. Breathe in clean air, greet strange cats, observe the bizarre and strange social behaviors of homo supposed sapiens. Amazing how a good walk can settle the mind.
Smile at random people, greet those you must interact with (and do it respectfully), lend aid when you can. I am a right bastard some days. I tend curmudgeonly, standoffish, and I’m told I haven’t the most welcoming natural expression. Being pleasant to people is a skill, and it takes practice. It’s amazing what good can result from this. A smile from a pretty gal can turn a bad day right around, a genuine “thank you” (and nothing more) does wonders for a man’s confidence in his ability to face the demands of the world and know his best is, at least, enough.
Carry a tiny notebook with you (or make notes on your techno-gadget). I forget things. Rather a lot. Having a physical memory aid helps. Also, random doodling is fun. *grin*
Sometimes, a man’s best friend is a heavy bag and a good pair of gloves. Duct tape and pictures to punch on optional.
I also do long car trips to nowhere and back. If you have access to curvy back roads with little traffic, a decent vehicle, and cooperating weather, they can serve as a sort of Zen time to focus on zoom and zip instead of anything else.
Find something that makes you laugh. Really laugh, not snicker, not tee-hee, but big belly laughs that threaten your balance (thusly getting intimate with the floor). Good friends are excellent for this. Never forget your good friends. If you are avoiding them, there’s probably a reason, and it probably isn’t a very good one in most cases.
Forgive. I tend to carry a grudge until it dies of old age. Then stuff and mount it, so I can sneer at it occasionally. This is not a good-stress habit, don’t be like me. *grin* Forgiveness, as they say, is divine. If someone has done you ill, how important is it? Will this really affect you next week? Next year? When impersonal stress weighs down on you, take things in baby steps. Make a list, start small, and by-thunder mark those accomplishments. Finishing a real job that you can look back on and say “I did that. It was broken, now it’s fixed because I fixed it.” Cleaned, built, taxes done, whathaveyou. Accomplishments are heavy artillery when fighting stress. Boom! Objective achieved.
Don’t fear to ask for help. You help others in times of need, this does not mean you have to do everything on your own. Your friends want to help you, is it fair to deny them? Helping others is good two ways, it’s good to give thanks for help given and a moral good to help the worthy. Give your friends a chance to help, and they could surprise you.
Count your blessings. Often times, we don’t know how good we’ve got it.
Get some sleep! Physical fatigue is a stressor. I tend to make poorer decisions when I’m tired. And worry more over the most foolish of things. Make time for it, learn your sleep patterns, and work around the things that disturb it. For a while I had to get by on two hour naps every four hours or so (work schedule). It can be done. Just make sure you are getting *enough* sleep- how you get there is up to you.
Have a good time at Ravencon. Take care and be safe, all of ye!
Right now I’m trying to work on that forgive part. Or forgive and forget. I was done wrong by somebody for about 25 years, but couldn’t just walk away, now, in a few months, I can. But getting over the fact that I’m never going to get any kind of sorry, or redress, or even admittance that I was not the bad guy in that story, as I was painted to be from that direction (I didn’t start it, most of the time I didn’t react to it much either, just tried to endure – okay, I sulked and occasionally snarked a little, but even that snarking was rare) is surprisingly hard. And I’d like to say something nasty before parting, only it would accomplish nothing for me, to the other part it might be some sort ‘Ha! Told you! That’s what she is like’ moment and I don’t want to give that, only yes, it’s hard just to let it be. Even if it is probably the only good way to go.
Causing me quite a bit of stress right now.
Sometimes that’s the worst part about real life, most times the ‘bad’ guys – even the truly bad ones, much less the perceived to be ones, like where the initial cause may be just some misunderstanding and things then escalate and get stuck, and it can be hard to tell which is which – can keep doing what they have been doing with no obvious punishment ever landing on them. And most of us have that wish for fair, including getting the relief of being shown to have been right, or the innocent party, and the enemy wrong. Except then I look at something like politics, and no, getting obsessive about ‘fair’ is not a good idea, you’ll get people who try to redress perceived wrongs by obsessively clinging to their own side and refusing to even consider something else might work better, or by going after the easy targets when they can find them just because they resemble the ones they are actually angry at, and in the process they themselves have a good chance of turning into what they claim to hate. (Yes, some also are evil to start with, cynics who play with images to get what they want and think is good for them, and care nothing about anything else, but I doubt they are the majority in any group, most probably usually think they are trying to do the right thing)
Unless the wrong really is something substantial, like a real crime, it probably usually is easier to let it be and forget the minute you can. Mean and stupid will always be with us. And no way can you always win, not even when you by all rights should.
As one who did not realize how stressed she was until she almost collapsed during two concerts, I’m learning to recognize the new signs of overstress. I say “new” because, back in the day, it was a sour stomach and tight leg muscles. Now it is heartburn, inability to sleep, worry about totally foolish things (is the pain in my arm and shoulder a heart attack? NO, it’s from conducting orchestra rehearsals for three hours straight,) hormones going wonky, and rising heart rate without good cause. Good cause being, oh, chased by an angry dog, or a certified letter with the letters I, R, and S on it. That means I need to take a deep breath, back down for a moment, and find out what is causing the stress. And it means learning how to defuse and stop the stress cycle. Improved diet helps as does exercise (once I persuaded myself that the pain in my chest was tight muscles and not a heart attack. See above.) Otherwise what Dorothy and Dan said.
This. I actually had two separate doctors recommend that I quit my job and get a divorce because of the physical reaction I was having to stress. I eventually got fired from the job and did get divorced and now my body is back to normal. Turns out it was good advice, it just didn’t feel that way at the time.
Ah Stress. My mosted hated friend and my dearest enemy. I can’t stand stress, but I can’t get anything done without it. Lack of stress, oddly, is why I’ve never completed a novel. I don’t depend on my writing to make a living and therefore I don’t have the pressure to get things done the way a professional novelist does. Something else seems to be more urgent and so it gets pushed back.
The key to using stress is to come up with a plan to reduce it. It sounds weird. I know that, but stressing about something is a sign that it’s important on some level. You just have to figure out why it’s important and how it’s important and then rank stuff and go. Prayer is also a good idea, but I’m a big believer that God helps those that help themselves so if you pray about the hole in the middle of your backyard, don’t be surprised if you trip over your shovel the next time you’re in the shed. Yup. Actually happened.
So, to take a couple of examples from your post: Your motorcycle and your taxes. Your taxes are important. Why are they important? Because you’ll get locked up if you don’t pay them. How are they important? Life sucks if you’re locked up. Now for the motorcycle: This is a tougher one from my POV because I’m missing a lot of facts here. Why is it important? I don’t know. If it’s your main form of transportation or if it’s something you ride to cut down on the costs of driving a car, then it’s a big deal. If you’ve got a situation where it’s just something you like to ride because it’s fun though, let it go. How is it important? Does it save you money? Does it get you places you can’t get to otherwise? If not, then it might not be all that important. If it’s not important let it go. As for your trip this weekend; Enjoy it. Then it’ll be over and there won’t be anymore stress related to it.
The best thing to do is figure out what the problems are that you’re stressing about, and this can be harder than it sounds, and rank them. This needs to be redone periodically. Once you’ve figured out what the biggest problem is, take a hatchet to it. Seriously. Figure out what you need to do to get the problem solved and then figure out how to chop it into manageable chunks. Let’s assume (always a dangerous thing to do, I know) that your biggest problem is the taxes. I know it might not be, but work with me here. Let’s say you owe a thousand dollars. That’s a lot, at least to me. Is there a way that you can make $50 to put toward that though? That’s a manageable chunk, or at least closer to being one. Can you sell some of those lobsters that you dive for? Does Toni need a short for the website? That might be a couple hundred (Maybe, not sure what they pay for that, which may possibly be because I’ve never sold them one, but what do I know?)
I read your posts. I know the problem isn’t work ethic. But sometimes the difference between working hard and working hard on the problem (do you see what I’m saying?). I mean, I know you were punching cows a week or two ago. That just SOUNDS rough and probably feels rougher. But if it was to feed your family and not to pay your taxes (and again, I’m not saying it was because I don’t know the situation) then it’s not going to help with the stress. Sometimes you just have to find a way to make headway toward the problem before you can stop freaking out about it.
This is a different Dave. Maybe we ought to number them?
I don’t know, I think watching KilteDave vaccinating cows (in a kilt, of course) would be destressing.
I … can’t argue with that.
Sounds like you are very busy. And facing a huge change in lifestyle. Babies, above all, mess with schedules. So find some ways to loosen up your times. Have several things that you could do, and do the one that fits the kid’s current situation.
Instead of “I wanted to take you out to dinner, but the baby is cranky” try “Let’s order pizza.” And some other day: “Whoa! Look at the happy baby, let’s go to dinner.” And make note of local, fairly casual restaurants with fast service. No, I don’t mean MacDonalds. But my nearest chinese and mexican restaurants can have you in and out in half an hour, and if the baby gets cranky, to go boxes. For fancy dining, a babysitter is recommended.
Exercise? How about getting one of those jogging strollers? My experience is that the youngsters want to see and explore at a very slow pace, but before they are ambulatory you can double up excercise with baby minding.
Writing? Hmm, reading bedtime stories is a useful time. Because at this point, you’re just a reassuring voice. A science article about quantum theory or the monachs of the twelfth century are just fine. Talk through a plot point that’s bothering you, or read your own stuff out loud to help find typos. I learned to freeze a point in my mind, while dealing with a problem, then go back to writing. It wasn’t easy, but it was the only way to get any writing done.
Congrats, and good luck.
What do you do when life starts to wobble? (see? this wasn’t about the Hugos AT ALL)
I make beautiful music. I sing. Play piano. Okay, swimming, working out, getting physical but not with someone (wife excepted 😉 ) works.
I can’t believe you just referred to your unborn child as “Working Title.” It’s such an author thing to do.