I Don’t Want To Do This Anymore

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I’m tired of my life.

I’d like to stop it now, and get off, please.  Maybe I could ride another ride instead?  I’ve spent the weekend doing laundry and keeping all my long-term commitments.  I have bills to pay and tomorrow I have to go into work to keep making the money to make them.  I’m part-way through doing my church’s prayer list for the prayer team, for which I’ve been forced into a leadership role very much against my wishes.  And I’ve spent more time this weekend being an encouraging friend to several female friends.  Worst of all, in a week, I’ll be getting my internal organs bathed in radioactive soup to see if my cancer has come back or not.

I don’t want to do this any more.
Really.
I don’t want to be that guy that’s French-kissed the Grim Reaper and lived to tell the tale.  I don’t want to live in this soft, middle-aged body that’s been wrapped in too much fat from all the wrong food.  I don’t want to be that guy women go to for advice about their men.
I want to drink myself blind and skip work.  I want to go to a different church where no one knows me or expects anything of me.  I want to be the guy who camps and skis and rides motorcycles.  I want to be the guy who wakes up next to that woman so beautiful that your heart aches to see her, especially when she doesn’t know you’re watching and is totally un-self-conscious.

I want my life to be virtually effortless and filled with passion and joy.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.  It really seems like I work hard, but I just get more tired and further behind.  I go deeper into debt just to stay alive, or at least to know that I’m not going to die too soon.
But, I can’t help but think, what’s the point?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not contemplating suicide or anything so extreme as all that.  I’m just stuck.  And tired.  This isn’t the life I was planning on leading.  Ten years ago, or more, I had a plan, a direction, a map for getting to the life I thought I wanted, needed, to have.  As it turns out, ten years is a long time and a lot can go wrong and it did.  I’ve become a stranger to myself.  Someone I never intended to be.  I don’t know how I got here.  Sometimes, I feel like this life is an ill-fitting suit I’ve been forced to wear.  I just wish it were as easy to take off sometimes.

So, how do you reinvent yourself?
How do you become someone new, someone you want to be?
I know only that I don’t know, and that this week, I want to be someone other than who I am.

Finding Freedom Through A Lost Notebook

I’ve lost my idea net.

For more than a year, I’ve carried a small, black Moleskine and a pen to, theoretically, record all my creative ideas so I don’t “lose” any of them and can use them later.  At first, I faithfully used it every day to capture every crazy, wild idea that popped into my head.  Some of them were actually not bad.  Well, the whole “Biblical zombie army vs. a modern Templars” thing that came to me in the middle of scripture at church had some real potential.  Honest!  But, I will grant that some of the junk that built up there like chaotic, creative sedimentary rock was just silly.  Even that was okay, though, because it might have been mined for comedy gold at some point.
The real problem was that they never left that notebook.

See, that’s the thing.  I was great at recording the crazy ideas, but, frankly, I was terrible at getting them past that point.  It was great that I could get them down and feel like I wasn’t losing them to my Swiss-cheese, middle-aged brain, but, what’s the point?  I mean, if I never take those ideas and bring them to full-fledged projects.  Honestly, I’d settle for incomplete projects at this point, because even that would be something more than just scribbled fragments of plot, or character sketches or even just semi-random titles.  It would be progress toward something.
Look, I dream of being “creative”.  I fantasize about it like a day-dreaming school-boy.  I practically fetishize it!  But, it’s gotten to the point that I’m not even sure what I mean any more.  I know that ideas swirl around me like a swarm of gnats on a hot Texas night.  There’s an endless supply!  All I have to do is swat them!

What’s the missing ingredient?  In a word, execution.
Ideas are great and all, but what good do they do?  Everyone has ideas.  Ask any author and they’ll give you seemingly endless stories about fans who come to them with the same crazy plan.  The fan as a “brilliant idea” that they’ll “give” to the author, who will do all the grunt work of actually, you know, writing it up into a story, and for that invaluable “gift” the fan will split the proceeds with the author, who, of course, has the easy part of the deal.
But, anyone who actually does bring ideas from their raw state to a finished product knows that it’s just the opposite.  Ideas are free for the taking.  All you have to do is reach into your subconscious and fish one out.  The real trick is making them happen.  Taking anyone of those ideas and actually executing them, actually developing an end-product, is the real skill that separates a dreamer from a true creative.

So, now, I’ve got a choice.  I can get another notebook to endlessly fill with loose ideas, that may never actually get turned into something worth sharing.  Or, I can start focusing on actually producing something.
I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to make the shift, but I want to do more than just fantasize about creating.  I suppose I should follow the advice I give other people who are stuck and just be willing to make some bad starts so that I can eventually get to creating something I’m happy to share.

Sometimes, it’s better to make a bad start than not to start at all.

That Moleskine Isn’t Going To Fill Itself!

posted in: On Creativity | 0

So, you’ve got a notebook.  Great.  Now what?

It seems every creative person, or every person who fancies themselves as creative, has a notebook.  Mine happens to be a Moleskine, which are very popular, but yours may be something else.  It doesn’t matter, really, what it is, because they all serve the same purpose.  To be filled with ideas for later development.  Is it?

What are you writing in your Moleskine?  What fills your sketchbook?
Of course, the obvious answer is that you do, but that’s not what I mean.  What inspires you?  For ages now, I’ve carried that little, black notebook in my pocket, much to the amusement of some of my friends, jotting down the odd bit of intellectual fluff that gets stuck on the brier patch of my mind.  In some ways, I fill my notebook with those mental irritants that I need to scrape loose so I can think about other things.  Sometimes, it’ll be quotes or odd phrases that I jot down.  Other times, it’s titles or names.  Occasionally, whole paragraphs of thought will squeeze their way between those black covers.  Mostly, my Moleskine is filled with the flotsam and jetsam of an over-active mind that washes up on that paper shore.  Things I think might lead somewhere or that I might eventually use, either in a story or a blog post.

But, the thing is, only the things I actually bother to record there are what fill the pages.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter so much what it is, as long as it’s something I find interesting or important or worth tracking.  One day, I hope to actually, you know, use those things, which is why I record them, but, at least it’s a step.  For many of us, who long to be more actively creative, recording even the smallest bits of our creativity is the first, most important step to actually producing something.

Of course, everyone will find different things to fill up their notebooks or sketchbooks, Moleskine or otherwise.  But, only if they work at it consistently.
So, now, what are you waiting for?  Get to work!

The Idea Net


IdeaNet

Originally uploaded by Network Geek

Do you feel ideas slipping away?

I remember reading that ideas were as common as dirt and came in an endless supply. And, when I was younger, that seemed to be true. I never worried about losing an idea or not having enough ideas. But, things change. I’m not sure if it’s old age, or the side effects of the chemotherapy from my cancer treatment a couple years ago, but I noticed that I was having a hard time keeping all my best ideas around long enough to let them grow up. They were just never maturing into full-fledged stories or art projects or even blog posts. So, what to do?

Well, I had several really nice Moleskine notebooks that I’d been given or purchased, but that sat unused because I was waiting to fill them with wisdom or insight or lofty thoughts on deep, meaningful subjects. The only problem is that I never had those thoughts. I had common, every day thoughts that didn’t seem hardly worth the smooth, buttery, acid-free paper in a Moleskine. Until I finally decided that it was better to capture my ideas, no matter how insignificant they seemed, rather than let the notebooks go to waste.

Now, almost a year after starting to use this technique, I still carry that notebook with me.  I still capture the odd thought or bit of information that I don’t want to lose.  But, I find that I’m still not using them.  In the end, all these techniques are well and good and I could probably write a very successful book about capturing ideas in many, many ways, especially for the burgeoning writer, but, until I start actually using them, well, capturing them doesn’t seem to do much good, does it?

So, how do you capture your thoughts?  More importantly, how do you turn those ideas snagged in your “idea net” into something more?

Three Little Words

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Yeah, you know which three little words I mean.

And, no, I am not going to say them, write them or even think them too hard.
But, I’ll tell you why.  You see, as much as I enjoy them, words don’t mean a thing.  Especially those three words which seem to mean so much to so many people who can’t ever hear them enough.  Those words have been used as tools.  Tools to get what the speaker wants from whomever they speak those meaningless words to with no weight behind them.  I’ve heard them spoken so many times by people who need something from me, want something from me, that they aren’t even sharp tools any more.  They’re rusty and corroded and they could use a little oil because they squeak when they rub up against each other.  Too many times I’ve heard those three words, spoken by someone who wasn’t even aware that she needed something from me so that I don’t trust those words any more.  They’re far too easy to say and way too hard to mean.
Worse, I’ve used those words that way myself.  I’ve said them not knowing if I meant them, but knowing only that who I was with wanted to hear them.  That’s what I thought they were for, to give someone what they needed or thought they needed.  That was more important than actually meaning anything.  Getting and giving.  That was my only compass, my only guide.  What did I need to get and what did I have to give to get it?  Three insignificant words.  Three one-syllable words.  What harm could it do?

Most of the time, I didn’t even need to hear one of them.
If you say it right, the first word is implied.  When spoken, those other two words can only be directed at someone else, someone close.  The problem is, physical proximity and real intimacy aren’t the same thing at all.  There’s a lesson no number of words  can teach.  At least, not to me.  Not even the same two or three words repeated over and over and over make up for any lack of real trust, real empathy.   And, really, if everything else is right, only one word matters.  Probably not even the one you might imagine.  I remember hearing that the most magical thing you can say to someone is their name.  Not that anyone’s done it, but I imagine the most intimate thing a woman could do is to stand toe-to-toe with me, look me in the eye without fear or guilt or guile and just whisper my name.  Short of that, and something that has, thankfully, happened, would be to just start or end a sentence with a whispered personal pronoun.  And, yes, the whisper is a pretty important, because, again, it adds the required intimacy that makes even that most generic personal pronoun beautiful to hear.  But, you know, I’ve never told anyone I was with that, even though I’ve whispered a name or two my own self.

But, true intimacy doesn’t need the words, not really.
And, before you get too far down the road there Mario Andretti, just throttle back on where your mind is racing because when I use the word “intimacy” I don’t necessarily mean physical intimacy.  Granted, I’ve used the three words in question to advance my agenda toward the physical, but that’s far from the limit of their utility for expression.  The Greeks had words for all kinds of emotions and intimacies, for degrees of friendship and levels of romantic entanglement.  And, I can honestly say the three words that everyone eventually wants to hear to people who I’d really rather not see naked.  I’m not sure that was always true, but, you know, growth happens.  I don’t know how it works for anyone else, but my growth always includes pain at some point.  If it doesn’t start with it, or end with it, then the pain is all along the way.  My personal growth from the place where I could only say those three words in the hope of sweaty, vigorous, “Biblical” exercise, to mix a metaphor, to a place where I might say those words to someone not hoping and wishing for them to return the feeling has been filled with and punctuated by more pain than I thought possible for a single person to feel.  Some of it was even physical.  But, that’s what it takes, or so the judge told me.  Okay, maybe she didn’t really tell me that, but I think one of the lawyers did.  Or my therapist at the time.  Someone, anyway.
Not that I know much about it, really.  Intimacy, I mean.  The non-physical kind.  Not that I’d imply any special knowledge of the physical kind either, but, frankly, I think that’s easier than the other.  It’s mechanical.  A skill that can be learned, refined.  Something that they print manuals for, like a home-study course in small engine repair or locksmithing.  And, yes, it is something I’ve spent a little time working on.  It’s not the most measurable skill, but, still, it’s easier to gauge that than how good I am at intimacy, friendly or otherwise.  I mean, I’m not bragging or anything, because, I’m not claiming to be anything better than average, even when I was at my most “connected”.
But, that’s not the point and I digress…

I get all wrapped up in the words and start to think they’re what’s important.
But, really, I’d rather see how someone feels about me, than hear it.  And, I’d rather show it, than say it.
I hope I do.  I hope the people who matter know when I take panicked phone calls in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, why I pick up.  I hope it’s clear to them why I fix their computers, when I don’t really work on my own after getting home at the end of the day.  Why I’ll make their wireless network sing, when my home network limps along.  I hope they understand that I can’t say the words, but can find the money to buy lunch, even though sometimes, my bills are late.  I pray the know why I hold back the words I do, not just those three, but the other words, the harsher truth, sometimes, when I don’t think that’s what they need to hear.  I pray, too, that those people I can’t say those three words to, for fear of being rejected, know why I cover shared pain with jokes, even the dark jokes, sometimes.
Most of all, I hope that all my interactions with the people who matter most to me show what I can’t say.  That every minute we spend together is about why they’re still there in the first place, why I haven’t burned that bridge after burning so many in my life.

I wish I could say those three words instead.  It’d be easier.  But, as much as I enjoy words and using them, they don’t mean much.  Not compared to how I live and how I teat the people who mean the most to me.
So, I hope they know how I feel about them, without me saying it.
Or, those three, little words.

The Orphan

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False starts are part of life.

Certainly, I’ve had a lot of projects that started with promise, but which never seemed to get completed. Others may have been started several times, or re-concieved mid-launch, such as this very website. Most of my half-baked, orphan works have either never seen the light of day or been safely scrubbed from the great digital subconscious before anyone else became aware of them, thankfully. But, there’s a market that celebrates that bastard child of the creative process. An e-zine called The Orphan.

Go, and be gratified that those half-finished pieces you have cluttering up your desk or your hard drive are more common than you think.  You are not alone.

Thirty Days

posted in: The Infinite Library | 3

“You have 30 days left to live. Use them wisely”

That was the text message that came up on my phone.  When I checked the details on the message, it showed as being sent from “unknown sender”.  But, my cell is an unlisted number that’s on the “do-not-call” list to keep advertisers away and, frankly, is one of my most closely guarded secrets.  There aren’t many people I’ve given it to and they know not to pass it along.  In my business, it pays to stay private.

So that left the question of who would’ve sent this?  And, just what the hell did they mean bay it?  Was it some kind of threat?  A joke?  I can’t imagine the small circle of people who had this most private of numbers sending this as a joke.  A wrong number?  Maybe.  More likely than a joke.
But, what if it was a threat?  I’ve done a little government work, so there is always the possibility of a security breach and a threat, but, you know, generally, a computer consultant doesn’t get into that sort of thing.  We’re just not that kind of operational personnel, you know?  So, not so much a target.  But, still….

What if it were a threat?  What if some foregin agent, say, had spiked my latte with a particularly nasty bioagent?  What then?  What would I do with my last thirty days on Earth?  Screw myself stupid, blowing money along the way and screwing my creditors?  Why not?  No heirs to stick with the tab afterwards, so, might as well go out with a big bang.  Or, would I spend it chasing down whoever had screwed me?  Make them pay?  A sort of settling of accounts, in a manner of speaking.  What about other scores that needed settling?  Would I pay off my debts?  I mean my emotional, karmic debts, not those damn creditors.  Screw them.  No, more like making amends to all the women I hadn’t treated well and all the throats I’d cut, figuratively speaking, to get ahead.  Honestly, that just wasn’t my style either.

I leaned back in the booth, flipping my book over to think about it more, and sipping my latte.  That was when I saw the mischevious grin across the room.  The green eyes, like raw emeralds.  The washed-out blonde hair like burnt honey.  The girl.
I was slipping.  Good thing I hadn’t done any security work on those government contracts in years, because I should have seen her when I walked in.  One of those few who had my private number.  The one who’d had problems with a former boyfriend that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.  The one I’d taught to hide her number when she called, so he couldn’t trace her, even through some mutual friends who couldn’t tell him “no” either.  It’d been a long time since I’d seen her, but I knew she was regular here.  Or had been before she moved away.  Now she was back.  And obviously she’d been looking for me.
Maybe my “last thirty days” would be more interesting than I’d thought.

Good Intentions

posted in: On Creativity | 0

The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions.

Wow, do I feel like a slacker here!
When I started this site and blog it was with the intention of building a year’s worth of content in secret then bursting onto the scene with much fanfare.  Kind of missed that mark, haven’t I?  Well, there are reasons for that.  None of them matter, of course, since this site is so slim and hidden that it has no audience yet to connect to enough to care about my reasons for anything, much less my excuses.  The few of you who maybe reading this entry as it’s posted are new arrivals from a comment on another blog or faithful readers from my other, older, blog, Diary of a Network Geek, who have somehow found your way here.  For those of you reading this far after the fact in an archive, well, there’s no telling what you think of all this.

I’d intended to write up at least fifty-two posts, longer and deeper posts than usual, on the nature of creativity and my process in particular, before going live.  And, I’d intended to code my own, custom theme, too.  But, time has a funny way of slipping past us faster and faster as we get older and the year preceeding this one and this current year, too, just seemed to pick up speed the further along it got.
So, eventually, I decided that a bad start was better than no start at all.  As I’ve been preaching to all my many, many creative friends the past year, I finally thought it was better to start something, even poorly, than to sit and wallow in the mire my inner critic creates for me and create nothing at all.  It goes counter to much of how I have thought about my own creativity and work, but, frankly, that seems like a good thing.  I mean, my way hasn’t been producing much this past year or two, at least, so maybe it’s not such a good way after all, eh?  Maybe that means I need to get out of my sad, little creative “comfort zone” where, you know, creativity doesn’t seem to be actually happening, and move somewhere more risky where I actually produce something, anything.

But, the thing is, creativity isn’t some miracle.
It’s not some magic spell, or a gift from the gods, or even a pact with Satan.  It’s a habit.  Like anything else positive and productive in life, creativity and creation is just a habit.  A good habit that needs to be tended and nourished and encouraged.  This past year, I’ve spent a considerable effort in eating better and exercising because I want to look and feel better and be, well, just generally healthier.  Some months have been better than others, but, over all, the results have paid off and show.  I’ve dropped at least fifteen pounds and about two inches from my waist-line.  I feel better, healthier and it shows in every aspect of my life.
That change happened because I made a habit of it.  I made a habit of working out in the morning.  I made a habit of eating better.  I made a habit of watching my calories and staying more active and getting more sleep.  It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been a conscious effort to establish and maintain better habits.

So, on this cold, clear, snow-less Christmas morning, that’s the gift I intend to give myself; a year of creation.
I mean to make a habit of working on creative projects that aren’t work related.  Creation is not my day job.  I have a good job that pays the bills and lets me have the spare time to work on the projects that make my soul come alive with light and joy.  But, this year, I intend to make a habit of using that spare time to actually, you know, work on those projects.  To consciously pursue creative habits that make the day job worth doing, that make my life worth living.
Part of that, of course, will involve this site and blog.  Part of that will include photography, which I’ve discovered I love relatively recently.  Part of that will include working at writing fiction again, both here and elsewhere.  I expect to fail often, but that’s okay, because each failure is a lesson in disguise.  Besides, failure is proof that progress is being made.

I make few promises, but I promise that I’ll keep after it; the writing, the photography, the creation.
I hope the few of you reading this within its “freshness date” will have patience and stay with me as I work through this process of discovery.  And, frankly, I hope those of you who find this after it’s drifted off into archive status will do the same.
I suspect the journey will be the better part of the process.

Games and Gamers

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“Shall we play a game?”

You know, the funny thing about that quote is that everyone pretty much it remembers it wrong. For some reason, we tend to remember it as “Would you like to play a game?” Isn’t that funny? The quote, of course, is from the classic hacker movie War Games and was “spoken” by the computer. The thing is, we all play games. Sometimes it’s a game we play with ourselves, something that keeps our barely functional lives, well, functioning. Sometimes, it’s a game we play with the world, to try and make the unbearable easier to stomach. Sometimes, it’s a little of both or even more.

I have this thing I do with people.
Oddly, it’s something that I share in common with one of William Gibson’s earliest characters. Or, maybe, it’s just something that I read and identified as a behavior I can’t seem to shake either. Bobby Quine was the hacker from “Burning Chrome”, which I think was the first story of Gibson’s that I ever read, back when Omni was still publishing. Back before I worked on computers, sat at keyboards. But, with one line I identified with Bobby; “But Bobby had this thing for girls, like they were his own personal tarot or something…” And there it was. In my case, I don’t think the poor women even knew, or know, that I’m looking for some unknowable future in their eyes, their smile, their words. It must seem strange to them, the way I react. I’m sure it makes no sense to someone outside my head, that it seems random, arcane, occult. I do things to even out the pattern, but it always comes back. Like some disturbed biorhythm, in sync with an erratic moon passing through a hidden astrological house, creating ripples and waves in my mental and emotional life that I seem incapable of leashing, harnessing, harvesting.

My changeable moods have often made me wonder if I’m not bipolar, but my therapist assures me that I’m not. Nor, according to him, am I clinically depressed. At least, not any more. But, if my flesh and blood tarot deck frowns at me, or avoids my gaze or any of a thousand little things that only I can see or know, then I’ll suddenly be sure that all my hopes and dreams are doomed because, after all, if that one person shows displeasure at my choice of t-shirt, then everyone in the world hates me and will work to make me miserable. Surely, it must be so, for I have foretold it in the sun-kissed highlights and tiny laugh wrinkles of my walking tarot. And, after all, how could they be wrong?

“So he’d set her up as a symbol of everything he wanted and couldn’t have, everything he’d had and couldn’t keep.” Maybe that was the part I identified with so strongly. And what woman could stand to be the focal point of a life? Who could stand to be the pivot point on which my fate turned? Not my ex-wife, as it turns out, and, yes, she was my own, little tarot deck with painted nails and faces, spike heels and tight, black leather. But, predicting my future was too much strain, so now someone else plays “fifty-two pick-up” with her and the painted pasteboards of her life. I hope his fortune suits him better than I think mine does me. But, like Bobby in that second line from “Burning Chrome”, those people become far more than they are, or can ever know they are. What always gets me, though, is that, as much as I try to hide it, my friends always seem to see right away who has become my latest walking, talking, human tarot deck. But, I never seem to have seen it myself, or, rather, I have choosen not to see it most of the time.

The problem is that I do see it all too clearly these days. And, somehow, like seeing how a magic trick works, now that I can see the process, it doesn’t work the way it used to work.  The longing doesn’t inspire me like it used to anymore, just makes me tired and lonely and old.  Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten old, at least old enough that romantic dreams of a life filled with art and beauty and adventure in the company of beautiful travellers has so clearly passed me by.  Maybe because it hasn’t quite yet, but I’ve gotten so mired in middle-age that the ennui just isn’t quite so attractive as it used to be.

It’s an old game I play.  A kind of sad and deadly solitare that makes me washed out and gray like an old photograph, until I am just a ghost.  When I get like this, I hate myself.  I feel like my whole soul has been poured out, like ice water on hot pavement, leaving nothing but evaporating steam and an empty vessel. I know there’s no future in playing this game, and no one left to play it with, but the game comes so easily now that I’ve played it so long.  It’s an old habit, too hard to break.  I know my friends see it and think of it like the rogue computer in War Games said, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

Perhaps one day, I’ll finally lay down that last card.
And, finally, play that game no more.

A Story A Week

posted in: The Infinite Library | 2

No, not me.

So, there’s a guy over at The Power Factory, Jonathan Munn, who’s declared a goal of writing one story per week for a year.  He’s writing fantasy and science-fiction for the young adult market, a term I hate, by the way.  He’s off to a good start so far.  These are free, incidentally.   I love this idea, just because I love people sharing their creativity for the sake of sharing it.

Back in the day, when I was actively maintaining Fantasist.net, that was my intention, to write a story a week until I was “discovered” ala John Scalzi.  Of course, that was before I’d ever heard of John Scalzi or bumped into the reality of holding down a demanding full-time job, having time with my family, and getting to occasionally see the sun and how that all took time away from writing.  Well, no one’s perfect.
Okay, who am I kidding?  I can’t even make a single post every week on this blog!  I suppose that the other blog, Diary of a Network Geek, keeps me away.  Well, that and the pesky day job.  And the laundry.  I wish it were something more interesting, like a bottle of Scotch or, heaven help me, a woman.  But, no, it’s just life.  An all too busy life that I keep churned up full of meaningless, empty activity meant to distract.  To distract me, mainly, to distract me from the emptiness of life without creativity.  It’s been so long since I’ve written fiction that I’m not even sure I know how.

Now, all I know, is how to tell the truth.
Damn blog.

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