Health, Work, Discipline, and Pandemic 2018

Yeah, hi. Hi! Hello there! I am writing to you live from my living room, which is nothing short of a miracle on several fronts: I am not asleep, I am not buried under a pile of tissues, I am upright and dressed in daytime clothes, I’m even well enough that I feel like I have spare brain cycles and words to spare for a blog post, rather than pursuing any of my more pressing interests or obligations. Whew.

We won’t talk about my coughing fits, though. 

You may correctly surmise from this that I have had the flu. This is true! I had the flu, but the cough stuck around, and something-something bronchitis plus nose and throat inflammation, something something secondary infections, no seriously are you SURE you’re not a smoker...? (I am not a smoker. I have never been a smoker. I had to assure them several times. They didn’t seem to want to believe me?) 

This blog post, then, is made possible by no less than six prescription medications because asthma sucks, and so do secondary infections following influenza. Get your flu shots, kids, wash your hands a lot, and this year, if you get a sore throat and cough three times, get to the doctor ASAP for Tamiflu. Be quick about it. Tamiflu doesn’t do much if you don’t start it within a day or so.

So I haven’t done a lot of work over the last *looks at calendar* wow, three weeks. To be sure I’ve done some work — some few thousands of words of novel-writing and light scheduling — but nothing like the volume I’d set for myself as my January goals. I’d hoped to have almost twice as many words written than I have. I’d hoped to be on top of my email. These things have not happened.

Oh, but I’ve been sick. I can’t possibly expect myself to work when I’m sick, can I? Or... can I?  Health fails us all in the end, and if I don’t find a way to work even when my lungs don’t quite work right, even when my head is full of biowaste, even when I’m tired, surely this means I lack the discipline to pursue my craft and I should...

Shh, shh, stop laughing so hard, you’ll make a scene. People will stare.

There are many true facts underpinning this spectacularly flawed logic. One is that you can’t and shouldn’t wait for everything to feel and be right before you embark in your creative work. There will always be another set of dishes to be washed, another errand you should run, another loose end you really need to tie off before you can focus. And you do have to be disciplined to write. Doing the writing inevitably means not doing something else — maybe that something is a video game, but maybe it’s also laundry.

That other thing you are not doing so you can write should not ever be “resting so that your health improves.” 

It’s also true that one of the not-very-joyful joys of age involves an increasing degree of disability for most of us, and we all eventually need to find ways to work within the framework of our capabilities. I mull over this from time to time, wondering if I’m really feeling so poorly, or if I’m just making excuses to be lazy. But this working-through-the-pain should never happen at the cost of meaningful recovery, or if that’s not the hand you’ve been dealt, at the cost of worsening what level of health you have.

I think a lot about how Jim Henson died of pneumonia. It was a secondary infection after the flu. If he had arrived at a hospital eight hours earlier, he might have lived.

Take care of yourself, blossoms, and rest when you need it, and see a doctor if you possibly can. The future needs you much, much more than right now does.

 


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Time Out for Burnout

It’s funny how you can mean to take a week or so completely off, and instead you wind up running around like some kind of domestic berserker trying to deal with holiday-related cooking and cleaning, not to mention months of accumulated medical appointments and paperwork, restocking the pantry, all of those necessaries that make your life run more smoothly. Seriously, there is nothing like announcing “I am taking today off” to induce record-breaking productivity.

...Is that just me?  It can’t be just me.

The last month of the year, I wanted so hard to take a week or so off. But there were some looming pieces of work I had to finish by Jan. 2, not to mention those countless other things popping up like new heads on a hydra. I simply didn’t have it in me to burn through it all in a glorious two or four days. So instead I settled for half-measures; a little work, a little not-work, limping along to just meet my deadlines in time while not grinding the poorly lubricated gears of my brainmeats too hard.

Shockingly, this half-vacation punctuated with personal obligations did not actually cure my burnout. I know, I know, who could have guessed that still writing is not as good as not writing! So I was dreading work, procrastinating, the whole shebang. All I wanted to do was sleep in until 2pm and play video games until 2am, rinse and repeat.  

All of this half-holiday time was good for feeding new media and new experiences in to my brain, at least. I played through Gorogoa and tried Civ VI for iOS; I finished Null States and a series of LitRPG books; I watched The Good Place, The Last Jedi, and the last couple of seasons of Psych and its movie. I made ricotta cheese; I did some sketching; I started exercising and cooking for my family reliably. But I still wasn’t feeling quite myself.

Well, I finally did it. Thanks in part to the snow days in the Northeast, I squeaked out five whole days in which I did no writing, no edits, no meetings of any kind.  For most of them, I didn’t even leave my home, or my pajamas.

Funny thing, though. By day two, I kept thinking about my novel whenever my mind wandered. About the characters, the themes, the intersecting web of interactions.  By day three I was starting to get really excited about this book again. By day four, I was impatient for the kids to hurry up and get back to school so I could get to work putting some of this on paper.

This is how I work best; when an idea has worked its way into my brain and become a puzzle I’m trying to solve, constantly in the background. A low-level obsession. It’s like when you’ve played too much Tetris, except with narrative. I love it, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve felt like this. Definitely not since August, and maybe not since January.

And yet here we are. I’m back, and I’m writing, and I am so excited, because this is going to be so great, friends, seriously I love this thing I’m writing, gahhh Kermit flailing I love it so much. And I hope one day in the not-too-distant future you’ll love it, too.  And in the meanwhile: gosh, it is so great to feel like myself again.


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Happy New Year

I love New Year the way that some people love Halloween or Christmas: deeply, fiercely, reverently. I look forward to it for months, and I put as much care into planning out the celebration as I do if I’m hosting Thanksgiving.

....But less actual cooking, per se. It’s all fancy cold-served snack foods up in here, and movies in our PJs, with our family all piled up together like puppies. This year’s going to be gangbusters — we’re planning seven kinds of cheese alone, including one we’re making ourselves!

My affection for this particular holiday shouldn’t surprise those of you who have been around here for a while. I love New Year so much that I’m even given to throwing a New New Year a few months on, whenever I feel like I need a clean slate. (Try it sometime! I highly recommend it. There is power in giving yourself a new chance to be and live the way you mean to whenever you need one.)

But I also love this stretch of days leading up to our collective fresh start. Right now we’re in the liminal space between 2017 and 2018, looking backwards and forwards in equal measure. It’s the time for weighing, judging, and planning. Time to discard ideas and practices that bring us harm and shape new ones.

This is particularly difficult as we leave 2017. It’s been a hard year, and 2018 shows no signs of being any easier on us. Unfortunately, the struggles many of us face are imposed on us by the circumstances of the world, and lie well outside of our own control. What’s the use in resolving to lose ten pounds or drink less when everything will still be on fire if you succeed?

But the point of it all is that we are still here. Our spark has not been extinguished, and as long as there is breath in us, there is always more and better we can do. So in this quiet week of reflection, I would urge you to take some time to look within and find the spark burning inside of you. Don’t undervalue what you can do with your time and your care. Even kind words can be great works if you apply them in the right time and place.

Remember that New Year is all about hope and renewal. The light is coming back. It always comes back. 

 


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Stuff I Did in 2017

I usually look forward to writing these posts: a nice bow, bright and neat, wrapping up my accomplishments into a tiny package that I can pull out later as evidence that I do in fact do things sometimes, and that everything is not always horrible. They are not something I procrastinate on; rather, they’re the thing I write when I’m procrastinating on something less pleasant but more important.

But this year, in the quiet spaces between one tab and the next, between rounds of Gardenscapes, at stoplights and in checkout lines, a thought keeps popping into my head: I am not OK. It’s not that there’s anything in particular wrong with me, exactly. In every objective measure my life is pretty great, and in just about every subjective one, too. I’m not unhappy.

But there is an incredible emotional weight to discovering that the bedrock foundations of the world have shifted. The things I thought I could rely upon cannot be relied upon anymore. Like all of us, I carry that burden with me, everywhere I go. So: huzzah, I published a story! (But the world is still on fire.) Hot diggity, I got to visit Zurich! (But the world is still on fire.) Sah-weeeeet, I got to play Horizon Zero Dawn! (But... the world is still on fire.)

It’s not that I’m not OK, as such. It’s that the aggregate of all of the things going on are not OK.  I can’t hold the foundations of the world in place, but still I strain against the weight of them, trying to keep back the uncertain horrors that would emerge from their absence.

But I am nothing if not an optimist. No, truly! And so I am going to determinedly look back on the year and see how bright the bright side is, exactly.

What I Shipped in 2017

Novelettes

The Revolution, Brought to You By Nike (Fireside)

 Hard Bargain, Bookburners Season 3 (Serial Box)

Into the Woods, Bookburners Season 3 (Serial Box)

Patch Job, ReMade Season 2 (Serial Box)

Chosen One, ReMade Season 2 (Serial Box, out December 29) 

Short Stories

Three Laws (Fireside) 

 TeleTravel™ Release Notes (Patreon)

 Informational Survey for Benefit of Profit (Patreon)

Games

Waking Titan (No Man’s Sky ARG with Alice & Smith)

Kiss of the Revenant (The Secret World ARG with Alice & Smith) 

Spy Virtual Race (Macmillan Cancer Support and Six to Start) 

Zombies, Run! Season 6 Radio Mode (Six to Start and Naomi Alderman) 

 Zombies, Run! The Board Game, Guest Mission (Six to Start and Naomi Alderman)

Podcasting

The Cultures (with Naomi Alderman and Adrian Hon) 

 

There’s also one more ReMade episode I’ve written that won’t be out until late January. I will also have written two more episodes of Bookburners by the New Year, but since they won’t be published for some time, those go on next year’s ledger.

Aside from all that, I’ve written a number of essays and articles that I frankly haven’t kept track of; two more sets of scripts for other audio dramas; an all-new short story, written and sold but not yet announced; I’ve almost given up on selling another short, which I love desperately but cannot seem to place in a market; and I very noticeably have not written a novel, which fact I felt a lot worse about before I realized I’d written well over 80,000 words in various other forms as well as designing and writing for an old-school, work-hours-heavy alternate reality game this year. Plus, you know, parenting school-age children with heavy extracurricular schedules.

Wow. I guess this is why I do this end-of-year recap, huh? No wonder I’m feeling so burned out lately.

Of all of these pieces, I suspect The Revolution, Brought to You By Nike is the most significant and impactful thing I’ve done this year, and will not doubt be one of the highlights of my entire career. It is extremely political, and simultaneously the most personal thing I have ever written. And it was published in February, which has led to a curious hangover the rest of the year, a certainty that my most important work is behind me, and that none of the rest of it counts as much. I realize this is ridiculous, but there it is.

So that’s work. What about everything else, though?

Punditing, Travel, and Activism

After a lengthy hiatus, I started taking speaking engagements about transmedia storytelling again this year. And I found I quite enjoyed it, after my break! I even had conversations with a couple of universities about teaching at various games programs over the last year, but ultimately discovered that they couldn’t pay me enough to justify the opportunity cost — I would love to teach, but not as an adjunct. The math just didn’t work.

On the other hand, I took a year mostly away from science fiction conventions, which turned out to be for the best given how hard I was working, especially over the conference-heavy summer months. So I went to Confusion in January, and then spoke only at C2 in Montreal in May and CILECT in Zurich in October. (I also traveled to London for business in late June, and my family took a glorious trip to Disney World in August.)

I also tried to volunteer with the NYCLU, but I don’t think my skills and availability suit their needs, alas. If I’m going to serve the world, then perhaps my best path is imagining my way to a better future. (I’m working on that.) Meanwhile, there’s always more calling my congresspeople to do. And voting. Always voting. (I registered as a Democrat for the first time this year, after staying as an Independent since I was 18. It felt like it was about time.)

One thing is abundantly clear, in any event. The overall volume of work I’ve put out this year is unsustainably high, and I’m going to need to think some hard thoughts about how to more efficiently direct my efforts going forward. Especially because...

Health and Wellness

This was not a super great health year for me. I took a tumble down the stairs at Confusion early in 2017. Inauguration weekend, in fact. Two sprained ankles and a bruise turned into an antibiotic-resistant infection, and it seems the antibiotic that finally killed it may have also killed my Achilles’ tendons, which did not become apparent until I sharply increased my swimming length dramatically in June. (Magnesium supplements are apparently a miracle cure for me where five weeks of physical therapy was not.)

On top of that, I burned both ends of the candle very hard over the summer and through October to hit a cascading series of deadlines and other commitments, the net result of which was losing several weeks to a series of respiratory infections ultimately followed by several more weeks of asthma in which I could not so much as walk across the room at a normal pace without causing a sharp spike in my heart rate.

I have learned a lesson from that, and the lesson is that sleep is important, and I am no longer 24, and I need to be more cautious with my body if I want it, and ergo me, to stick around for the long haul.

What’s On Deck in 2018? 

Wow, I’m not sure. This is the first time in a long time I’ve stared at a new year without a long list of things I want to accomplish. I’m just... really tired, friends. Really, really tired.  Trying to hold up the foundations of the world takes a lot out of you, I guess. Plus, uh, all the work.

I want to write a novel for real in 2018, and I’ve made some thousands of words of progress in that direction. I want to do another season of Lucy Smokeheart, very, very much, and I think a lot of you want me to do that, too. I’m going to Confusion again in January, and then after that... ???

Aside from all that, I genuinely don’t know what I want or where I should go. Do I want to try to break into VR? Or put together a team to make some indie games? Do I want to start building a full-on transmedia franchise? Break into film? Should I just focus on prose writing? Build a direct-to-Kindle erotica empire? Should I quietly shut down all of my digital presences and take up a more serene life as a yoga instructor instead? Ha ha ha just kidding. Probably.

Well, I guess we’ll all find out together. Hit me, 2018. I’ll be ready for you.


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Patreon Changed the Game

Hey, friends! I’m cross-posting this from Patreon for the sake of posterity, and my apologies if you wind up getting this message more than once.

I’ve never been good at Patreon. I’ve written about how uncomfortable it makes me before, but a lot of that comes down to cognitive dissonance on my end. There’s a mismatch between how patrons approach their funding and my perception that I need to provide value for the money that people give me.

But in reality, a lot of people who back a Patreon never actually read or listen to the content they’re allegedly buying; I know I don’t even do that myself. I just like the creators I support, and I want them to have money so they can keep doing good in the world. That’s probably the same for a lot of you. You’re not very interested in whether I write a story for the Patreon this month, or ever. You just like me, or at least my work, and want me to keep doing the things I’m doing. (OMG!) And all of us who pledge based on that philosophy are doing what Patreon started out to facilitate: provide a way for creators with teeny-tiny audiences to get enough support and encouragement to keep going. It’s a foundation to build on, so that maybe one day we might become another John Green or Amanda Palmer.

The conversation going on right now about Patreon’s changing fee structure has made it clear to me that their direction as a company is pivoting dramatically. They’re not interested in helping creators with teeny-tiny audiences anymore. They want to focus on the people who are John Green and Amanda Palmer right now... and that’s for sure not me.

I personally think this is an incredibly short-sighted business strategy, because the internet is made for the long tail. Amazon didn’t become Amazon by selling only the fifty most popular best-sellers; you go there because you can get anything, no matter how obscure. And more to the point, Amanda Palmer wasn’t born Amanda Palmer — she had to hustle hard to get to the point where a VC-backed business like Patreon is interested in skimming their percentage from her.

But Patreon can’t know which of their teeny-tiny creators are going to become the next big thing. I may yet become John Green one day — but now, if and when I get to that point, I’m not going to be interested in Patreon, because they weren’t there for me when I really needed it.

This Patreon was already dormant, but now you shouldn’t expect it to ever come back to life, because I don’t mean for it to. Please feel free to delete your pledge to me, and I’ll know it’s nothing personal. I’ll be looking into deleting the account entirely in the days to come. And may we all find each other again one day in a better, wiser place.  


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