Tag Archives: sun tzu

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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San Francisco Writers Convention – Pitchquest

This post is a bit long. Last weekend, from Thursday to Sunday, from 7am to 11pm, I was at the San Francisco Writers Conference.

It was extraordinary.

At the crossroads of opportunity and enthusiasm I had to take a second and stop — think about where I was on my writing path — and decide where I wanted to go. I had a completed manuscript and was ready to put it out there; so I mostly focused on pitching and marketing panels. I think I might have had more fun at the craft panels. No agents were harmed over the course of the weekend; but everyone wound up happily exhausted anyway. I’ll post my notes in the next few days.

Katharine Sand’s pitchcraft and pitch-a-thon started us off right on the first day. Most of us thought a pitch was a query letter, after reading them aloud we found out how wrong we were. We had to get a place, a person, and a pivot (or hook) as quickly as possible. I pulled out: “In an isolated kingdom, a monster raised by humans must rescue the queen and prove her innocense even if it means losing her family forever.”

Katharine Sands and Sorche Fairbank tore my pitch to shreds. Formula was good, but the world wasn’t clear. The idea of “monster” wasn’t clear. If you invent a system, you need to show it.

That bubbled in my head all the way through to the next morning.

Good thing, too, as almost everyone there was learning how to pitch. Asking to practice pitching was the easiest and quickest way to build a rapport with a stranger. We were all in this together, with the agent speed-dating right around the corner.

By speed-dating, I mean we have three minutes to sit in front of an agent and impress them. Boiling the pitch down to its barest bones, hopefully, would invite the agent to ask questions about the story, your background, your blog, and comp titles.Three minutes is not a lot of time to impress someone.

I met with an editor, Heather Lazare, to talk a bit more about my book. We reviewed my query letter, and I listened to what she said was interesting in the hopes I could frame my pitch around it. She said that as much as I captured the plot, all the interesting stuff — the worldbuilding, basically — was missing from the query.

I left her musing about the pitch, and re-writing it for the 12th or 13th time.

As the conference went on I met non-fiction authors, memoir authors, men who were trying to write YA women with no clue as to what women want or how they communicate. They were all kind and fascinating people, and I pitched to all of them. I heard a lot of really neat story concepts, from the pogroms that forced Jews out of Iraq, to life in various communes, to high-school activists escaping to Mexico. I did my best to help people winnow their pitches down as much as possible. During one of our wonderful lunches, one of my new friends and I must have passed a notebook back and forth nine times before we figured out how to frame her story.

After doing that for a day and a half, I had almost given up hope. I was so frustrated with my pitch I wasn’t sure if it would work. I even pitched to featured guest Julie Kagawa who, with infinite patience, gave me feedback and chatted with me about the industry and the time she almost met Neil Gaiman.

About an hour before my friend and travel-buddy Margit Sage went into her pitch session, it hit me.

“My fantasy novel is called ***. Pax, a Banmar raised by humans to hide her corrosive magic, is forced to choose between the humans she loves and the feral race that abandoned her.”

Ooh, said Margit. I think you’ve got it.

I went to the speed-dating session.

Who are the Banmar, the agents asked. Why is magic corrosive, they asked. Is it finished, they asked.

Would you send me pages, they asked.

That pitch, born of complete exhaustion, earned me a request for pages from every agent I spoke to. I sat with a non-fiction agent by mistake, and wound up talking to him about my monastery journal. I also pitched to an agent I knew wasn’t interested in my genre; but she agreed to forward pages to her colleague. With the time left over, I told her about my friend Lauren Sapala’s work. It felt really good to get out of that session and shoot off a text saying, I hope your manuscript is ready because I just pitched your book and got a request for pages.

As for the cherry on this serendipitous sundae… one of the last panels I went to was about turning books into movies. The producer running the panel asked us to pitch to her and offered critique. One of the other writers said my story reminded her of Frozen. The producer asked me to lunch afterward.

Now I’m sending out submissions and thank-you notes, with a moment to think back on it all. It was as if everything I was afraid of, how unready I felt, how sad I had been, had been smoothed over by this experience. I feel brave and validated for having gone. I’m so grateful to the agents I met and for their answers to my questions — even if this story isn’t a good fit for them right now. I appreciate the other authors, editors and publicists I met, from the terrified newbies to the industry veterans. I’m thankful that I finally have a sense of how to write about my writing. Our public face all boils down to what we stand for… and isn’t that the core of a good story?

Do one thing every day that scares you.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
— Sun Tzu

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Sleep tight, Wee Ninja. You earned it.

Worbla Halloween Mask

This year I have to wait until after Halloween to go trick-or-treating because it’s convention time.

This weekend is Convolution, featuring guests of honor Brian & Wendy Froud who helped bring Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal to life. I’ll get to meet lots of creative pros from writers and costumers to fire-dancers and falconers. The convention theme this year is the Realm of Dreams. Saturday can only mean one thing:  the Goblin King’s Masquerade Ball.

I don’t own any dresses, or masks for that matter.

What I did have was a grab-bag of steel and leather armor pieces, and some thermoplastic scrap worbla left over from another project. Making a mask with worbla is super easy, just grab your heat gun and get to work.

MASK CONSTRUCTION!

1.  Make a pattern out of paper.  Put it on your face. Look in the mirror. See if it makes you happy.  If not, cut it up.

  • I folded the fangs under to make them more symmetrical, and decided that I liked the look so I kept it.
  • I aimed for a combo of sharp edges and curving, organic shapes — somewhere between Maximus’ helmet from Gladiator, and the wrought-iron beauty of a Nazgul crown.
  • Scaling back the design was necessary, because I hate stuff on my face and wanted to minimize the weight.
  • Make sure that your pattern conforms to the shape of your face, including the bridge of your nose.

Base mask with cheek spikes folded under. Top strip will become ‘crown’ pieces.

2. Cut out your pattern, trace it onto the worbla with a sharpie marker.

3. Cut out the your worbla mask. Worbla is very thin, like the kind of cardboard they use for cereal boxes. General-use scissors will do you fine. If you have to cut fine details, use an x-acto knife or razor blade that’s spent some time under the heat gun. Warm knife through butter.

4. Heat up the worbla with a heat gun and press it to your face so it’s nice and form-fitting.

  • Protip:  make sure it still fits no matter what your mood. I tried to smile in it after I’d finished, and my cheeks shoved the mask right into my eyes. Not very dignified. Now you know why Batman’s so unhappy. Can’t smile in his mask.

5. Use the heat gun gently on the decorative and base pieces until they’re warm but not floppy. Press the shiny sides together, no adhesive necessary.

Remember what I said about your pattern actually conforming to your face? The strip across my cheek wasn’t long enough to attach to the nose-guard. I cut out and affixed a little bridge piece. You can pinch the plastic together like clay until it cools. Flaws add character to rugged, barbaric costumes. It’s the princess dresses that suck to make.

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Messy, but not unfixable. Trim off excess and sand smooth if desired.

6. Check for symmetry, string-holes and other details.  If your mask doesn’t conform to your face, you can re-heat and re-shape it once or twice more.  After that it gets too thin. If you have leftover worbla snippets, you can heat them up and sculpt them like clay. I added one to each cheek to make it look welded.

7. Hey, a mask!  Let’s paint!

Sittin’ pretty.

8. I used Rub ‘n Buff wax metallic finish to make it look like steel.

  • Gesso was not necessary with the wax finish. Nor was a seal.
  • I tried pewter and silver leaf RNB, and settled on silver. Pewter is a bit darker, and looked more like stone than metal.
  • Apply with a Q-tip in little circles.  Make sure you rub it in really well, a little drop will cover a few inches of surface area, and you don’t want it to rub off.

9. To get the patina, I used black acrylic paint and spit. Normal people use paint and water. Maybe the fumes got to me.

  • Darken the negative space to make your decorative details stand out.
  • Very lightly dry-brush black acrylic paint around the eyes, cheeks, teeth, and any other parts that would regularly come in contact with human grime.

Spit not pictured.

Check out your handiwork under different types of light to make sure you achieved the effect you wanted.

Combine that mask with black studded gauntlets, one segmented steel pauldron, black leather thigh-boots and a $12 black dress and you are all set to invade the Goblin Masquerade.  Dressed for a pit fight. Oops.

In the realm of dreams, I’ll rep the nightmares any day.

50+ likes on this post by Thanksgiving, and I’ll upload a snapshot of the whole getup.

The shadow is not inherently evil. If it is ignored or denied, it may become monstrous to compensate. Only then is it likely to “demonically possess” its owner, leading to compulsive, exaggerated, “evil” behavior.”
–  Rob Brezsny

All war is deception.”
– Sun Tzu