Tag Archives: anxiety

Anger for Sprints, Humor for Marathons

Yesterday was my third mounted archery lesson. I show up early enough that the mists still cover the hills. The vineyards, the barn, and the arena are still chilled and dewy. Usually, no one’s around except for the dogs, cat, and occasional hen that come to see if I have food or cuddles, or both. When someone asks how my training is going, this is never what comes up. They expect the hobby to be fueled by revenge. They expect me to be angry.

Anger gives energy in short bursts. It can be an extra jolt of motivation, and armor to wrap yourself in. It converts two-way communication into a one-way street. Under certain circumstances, when you need to protect yourself, when you need to pull yourself up over the ledge — anger is excellent. Anger rises when someone has crossed a boundary. Anger is both an alarm system and a security system, and it will snap shut on the offender. It is as intense as it is instant, and when you’re done, you’re worn out. Even for those who have a long fuse, I’m referring to the moment the fuse triggers the explosive.

The obsessive mind latches onto a perspective and holds there. It takes a stance, chooses a narrative, and makes it into the sole truth. It chews and chews until the original flavor — the objective truth of events — is gone. Only the narrative is left, and that’s what the obsessive mind feeds on. If the narrative is the story we tell ourselves, then we have the power to choose that narrative.

For example, I’ve unconsciously started looking for his car when I’m out driving. I can’t help it. Since I don’t know how to stop playing this game, I look for the cars driven by people I love and am still close to, instead. Chew, chew, obsessive brain, chew on something healthier.

After the breakup and subsequent loss of our child, I couldn’t find my anger. I felt drained of strength, and without my strength, I had no identity. Without anger to shield me and energize me, I didn’t know what to do or where to go. What confused me even further was that the strongest feeling wasn’t anger, but love. I was still in love, and generated love, but I had no place to put it.

Without anger, I felt weak, but the love and warmth in my heart kept growing and growing. Love wrapped itself around the heartbreak and grief. I didn’t want to be bitter. I didn’t want to destroy or be destroyed. I wanted to transcend this, and be transformed by it. When I started practicing archery more often, those feelings imbued the experience. I wasn’t ok, (I’m still not ok), but archery helped me get out of my head and into my environment for a little while. I felt the bow, the arrows, the targets, the trees, the grass, the hawks and the quails, and my fellow archers. They and I were all wrapped in presence and stillness. In that stillness, I could pay attention to the tiny movements that influenced my technique. Shooting wasn’t about the kill; it was about the stillness.

When I found a mounted archery teacher, it was the same thing. We think of warriors on horseback as a thundering wave of death; but one-on-one hasn’t been like that at all. It’s me and the horse, learning to talk to each other. You have to listen to the animal, and acknowledge the terrain and other distractions. You also have to listen to your own mental state, and its effect on your body language. Riding wasn’t about taking power; it was about listening.

My body has always told me early on when something was wrong, from vitamin deficiencies to appendicitis. I’ve learned to trust it. It knew that anger wouldn’t make me better this time.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot of giggling in the midst of the zen. I’ve had arrows hit the target and then flip over themselves and land in the grass somewhere. I’ve done a great fast-draw and then dropped the arrow on my toe before I could shoot it. More than once, while standing in the stirrups, my horse would just stop and pitch me forward. This is silly, slapstick shit. Beauty and stillness is all well and good, but it’s not really fun. Fun is being able to laugh at yourself. If you want to climb a mountain, you’ll have a much easier time if you enjoy walking and sweating. If you can make your fuck-ups funny, you’re set. You look forward to the victories, but also for the jokes. It’s hard to quit if you love what you’re doing.

After the ride, I feed the horse and sit with him until he finishes. I brush him and pet his flank while he eats, the same way I pet the other animals at the barn when they ask for it. Then I take him back to his pasture. The exercise, the countryside, and being with animals is helping me heal in a way that breaking, burning, and screaming never could.

Even the self-talk has shifted. Rather than say “fuck!” when I make a mistake, I say “well, that was silly.” Maybe I was silly. Maybe the horse was silly. Maybe the arrow or the target was silly. Blame and negativity aren’t part of the learning experience. Each success is a surprise, and each mistake is hilarious.

So no, I don’t picture my ex when I’m shooting. I have no desire to do harm. My own pain was enough. When I ride, I’m with the horse. When I shoot, I’m with the landscape.

There was a woman I trained with a long time ago who always smiled. I’ve never seen a photo of her where she didn’t have a big toothy grin. At the time, I took her less seriously because of it; but I was wrong. She’s knowledgeable, formidable, and a fantastic friend. I think she was on to something.

If I were angry, I couldn’t do any of these things. I’d be stuck in the cycle of raging, passing out, and raging again. That’s not a long-term strategy.  Instead, I’m learning to flow with what is, and let go of what isn’t. I won’t hit the bulls-eye every time. I won’t always be graceful in the saddle. But if I’m laughing the whole time, who cares? I’ll be back tomorrow, no worse for wear.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
― Sun Tzu

Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
― Samuel Beckett

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Impostor Syndrome, Afterschool Specials, & Voltaire

Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. (The perfect is the enemy of the good)  

– Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet)

There are dozens of ways to interpret the above quote, but the one I’d like to wave around is: don’t let your efforts to achieve near-impossible perfection prevent you from getting your work done in the first place.

Recently I was asked to provide an expert opinion for a fantastic blog on Science in Science Fiction, and Fact in Fantasy. I thought, yeah, of course I could write about that. I have acquired knowledge through sweat-experience and collegiate study. I can totally do that. Then I read the rest of the blog to see where the bar had been set, panicked, and passed up the chance.

This happens to everyone. Impostor syndrome is when you find yourself in the position of a pro, an expert, or any other perceived high level, and you lose your nerve. You don’t believe you belong there, and walk out — transforming that belief into reality.

Could I have provided an article on par with what had been previously posted? Most likely, yes, but we’ll never know, because I didn’t do it.

I’m almost done re-cutting UDI271, which was the show we did last year. Now that I’ve listened to the audio four hundred million times, I have to say — this is not my best work. It is exactly the kind of B-movie meets Afterschool Special you’d expect for cranking out a play at 1am the night of a deadline. When I think about the other stories and books I’ve written, this doesn’t even really feel like it’s mine. The tone is odd. The voice is odd. The bad guys aren’t that scary, and the resolution is so neat and happy a middle-grade audience would be on board. I could Alan Smithee this thing, but I won’t. It’s not perfect, it’s not great; but it’s good.

Why is it Good?
1. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
2. It has interesting characters with complex histories.
3. It dances from complex philosophy and terrible puns with remarkable agility.
4. My lead actors were phenomenal.
5. It taught me how to be a director: to build a schedule, to have a master plan, to accept input and then filter it as appropriate.
6. I learned about audio software like GoldWave and Audacity.
7. I learned how much time and energy goes into producing a radio play, from concept, to script, to rehearsals, to re-casting, to making mistakes in public, to post-production.
8. I was asked to produce work, outside my medium, on a deadline, and we all saw it through to the end, on schedule.

Why did it miss Perfection?
1. There are a lot of skills I don’t have yet.
2. Technical difficulties.

For all of its flaws, I still plan to post it. I have some control over #1, and little control over #2. This work has helped me established a baseline for my own ability so I know to read more, or outsource, next time. If I had waited for it to be perfect, it would never have gotten done.

If I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have learned anything.

There will be times when you think it’s not perfect, but good; and the work actually sucks. You will fall on your face. That happens too. Try, fail, fail better. That was Kurt Vonnegut, wasn’t it? No — no, that was Samuel Beckett.

Was Beckett good, or perfect?

I, for one, will never say.

Worldcon in Spokane is happening.  My schedule might be finalized. See you there!

What is an Artspouse? I want an Artspouse!

I’ve never had a partner who reads my work, or has taken an active interest in my writing. This used to make me sad.

Then I discovered there are many writers whose partners actively discourage it, saying it’s a waste of time, it would never go anywhere, that they should be doing something “productive.” They can never work in an environment free from judgement and criticism.

I am so thankful, every day, that while I’m not always helped by my family (chosen or otherwise) they have never stood in my way.

As much as I am grateful, I find that my most favorite authors thank their partners or spouses first and foremost. Those partners work with their writer, around their writer, applying their shrewd minds, asking good questions, and pushing their writer to be the absolute best they can be. As a mushy example, the writer in Stephen King’s “Bag of Bones” had his wife type out the last line in every story. I’ve been giving it some thought, and come up with a word to describe this person:  Artspouse

This might be your husband or wife, this might be your best friend. This might be someone you absolutely cannot stand on a personal level; but when you come together to collaborate on a project, the results are absolute magic. This is the person who knows what you’re going through as an artist, as a creative, as a person trying to meet a bloody deadline — and knows when it’s time for chocolate and tissues; and when it’s time to kick the door in, turn the lights on, and yell at you to get your fucking act together.

Within this sphere of your life, on this particular path, they are your partner, your ally, your battle-buddy, your greatest nemesis, your soulmate, and anything in between. They are the constant measuring stick that says you can do better, and the little voice in your ear that helps you get there.

As a test request, here’s what I would look for in an artspouse. You may assume that these wishes are expressed with an intent of mutuality (I would provide the same support I ask for):

  • Interest in the same medium — a reader to my writer, an audience to my show, a hunter to my bladesmith.
  • Complementary strengths — if I’m good at structure, you’re good at emotional resonance. If I’m good at sculpting, you’re good at interior design. If I’m a lighting guy, you’re a sound guy.
  • Matching goals — whether it’s a quest for excellence, or commercial success, or attaining a certain level of mastery.
  • Seriousness of intent — less blah blah, more pew pew. We’re always aiming for the next level.
  • Commitment to your own work — different goals on the same path. It makes sense to run together for a while.
  • Enjoyment of each other’s work — I’d buy your stuff because it’s good, not just because I know you.
  • Fearlessness —  we can argue, we can risk, we can fail, we can get up and try again.
  • No man left behind — I’m speaking at this con, and so are you. I’m getting published, you’re putting on your show. I’m climbing this fucking mountain, and you’re coming with me. And in that vein…
  • On the level — we’re about the same skill level, or same stage of our artistic  careers. Maybe one of us is slightly ahead, but will be outpaced in a moment. They might piss you off a little because they’re so talented, and you have to hustle to catch up. There’s always something to learn, always something to offer.
  • Aw, buddy — we maybe, just possibly, actually like each other. It’s 2am. Let’s get tacos and talk about that weird dream you had the other day.

What do you want in an artspouse?
Do you already have an artspouse?

The Fine Line Between Hope and Stress – Working With What You’ve Got

My brother once said that driving a car is like waiting in line, and having a motorcycle is like having infinite cut-sies. Public transit’s on a whole different level of frustration. It’s like walking into court.

You can see it if you watch folk at bus stops. They’re so anxious, you’d think that being late to work is on par with receiving jail time.

They lean off the sidewalk, trying to glimpse the first rays of a headlight.  They check their phones for the next arrival time, sigh, put the phone away, then pull it out within thirty seconds. They whip themselves up. Delays and accidents become personal slights.

It’s insane. It serves no purpose. Agitation, stress and anxiety are not offerings the bus gods require before they deign to release their servants for our use. In fact, if you stare off into the clouds and make no offerings, the bus will still come at the same time.

(The bus gods care naught for your plans, you see. They are terribly complex, like spiders with seven brains and 191 legs.)

Stressing out about your lateness does nothing to make you less late. Stressing about your productivity levels will not make you more productive. Stressing that you’re not Steven King will not cause you to wake up one day in his bed, with his wife, and his career. Freaking out about an agent’s response, the granting of a grant, or anyone else’s actions will not affect them — it will affect you. Your wishes are fueled by hope, encouragement and optimism.

Catch the clouds now and then. Hope was never meant to be a punishment.

The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.
― Paulo Coelho

Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
― Corrie Ten Boom

Productivity Through Procrastination (Seriously)

Deadpool loves pancakes (and belongs to Marvel Comics.)

I’ve learned to appreciate procrastination as a useful force.  Procrastination, for me at least, becomes incredibly productive. Whether there’s a pancake or a crepe on my plate, I’m still eating that day, and that’s ok.

Pancakes are thick. Pancakes are a main event. You slather all this stuff on a pancake to enjoy the pancake. Pancake days are when you have extra energy — like thick ribbons of batter — devote yourself wholeheartedly to one thing, one project, one goal. When you’re focused, and you immerse yourself in what you’re trying to do, you’re guaranteed to get something out of it.

Crepes on the other hand spread thin. There’s not as much energy or motivation to work with, so it’s impossible to lay anything on thick. Crepes are usually a vehicle to deliver other things to your mouth anyway. There is no main project, but lots of other interesting things, like spinach & feta, or strawberries and chocolate syrup. Crepe days are when you devote a little bit of energy to a lot of different pursuits.

I had a crepe day this weekend. I had all kinds of writing projects I wanted to do, grown-up chores I needed to handle, phone calls I promised I’d make, and theater dates that I broke without so much as a lame excuse. I didn’t want to do a damned thing. I didn’t even want to catch up on Netflix. I was so deep into procrastinating that I couldn’t be bothered with the normal things I did to procrastinate. I ended up playing violin for hours. I haven’t touched that thing in years. As much as I wanted to get stuff done, and felt truly awful about not touching any of it, I can’t call it a wasted day.

In truth, there are no wasted days. Check in with yourself. If you feel like you’re spread TOO thin, pick a project and have a pancake day: immerse yourself in one pursuit. If you’re knee-deep and you want out, have a crepe day: reconnect with things you haven’t had a chance to enjoy. You’ll still eat that day, and that’s ok.

Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we’re taking on too much, but because we’re taking on too little of what really strengthens us.”
― Marcus Buckingham

Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”
― Sun Tzu