Time Is the Enemy

It’s been two weeks since I was let go from my job. In the last two weeks, I have become a house husband. In addition to reaching out to everyone who said, “Hey, get in touch with me after the holiday,” I started cooking and cleaning up. And trying to fill my days with writing projects, photography, and the small things my wife needs to get done, but is often to swamped to deal with.

I’ve also been on cute patrol, helping cheer my wife up with images of the cats. This particular image is of Adia and Tellus in their new favorite spot – the low, wide box Amazon sent our way. The cute has been needed. The last two weeks were fraught with stress. Most I can’t discuss here, but they are the kind where you look at the future and wonder: will I lose everything?

I’ve been trying to work to a schedule: Blocking out time for writing, time for job work, time for house work. It’s a technique I haven’t had to use in nearly fifteen years. But it’s necessary. The last thing one can do is drift – not focus on anything.  That leads to staying in bed all day and listening to podcasts.

And it is a temptation. Losing a job, especially like this, is a trauma. It triggers depression, even if you don’t realize it at first. It’s the slow, long depression that saps energy over time. But we take positive action to move forward – we send out resumes to folks we’ve talked to over the last two weeks. We work on novel outlines. And we take our victories where we can.

In this case, my victory came last night. I’ll quote my tweet:

If you live in the DC area, and have been a long-time Washington Capitals fan, you know the name Kolzig. And you also know why we are celebrating.

Learning to live to a new schedule, or lack of one, is tough. Change is tough. And time, well, it’s a bit of an enemy. When you have too much of it, you can drown.  So, I’ve got to learn how to swim.

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Unemployed in Greenland

I can see the moment in my head like a film sequence. Or a script.

***

INT. Office. Morning.

ANDY walks in, shoulder bag jingling. He turns on the lights and heads to his desk. He only pauses when he sees his BOSS and the DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS (DOPS) seated in the glass fishbowl conference room.

He approaches his desk and drops his bag into this chair. SLOW REVEAL – Andy looks down and sees a FEDEX BOX, open and empty, sitting right beside his desk.

Andy takes a deep breath. His hands start to shake, but he quiets his nerves and puts on a smile just as the Boss comes out of the conference room.

BOSS: Hey, Andy, can we speak with you for a minute?

Andy nods and keeps up his fake smile. He knows what’s coming. But he straightens out his cuffs and turns around.

ANDY: Sure! How can I help?

***

After three months at my new job I, and four others at the company, including the CEO, were given walking papers. In an irony only found in life, and badly scripted films, it was the 2nd anniversary of my marriage that day and this kind of corporate turnover was exactly why I wanted out of my last job.

What lessons? First – you can build a lot of dread and suspense with common items in just the right context. Anyone who sees a moving box on their desk one morning knows what it means. There’s one of two things coming. Either you’re being let go, or someone is running an elaborate Borderlands / Se7en in joke.

“Awww. What’s in the box? What’s in the BOX???”

Second – time is a blessing. It allows you to do things, yes, but it also gives you too much room to get lost in thought. Best to keep busy. Make a schedule. Stick to it. Shave every day. But keep in the back of your mind – you are still in shock. You need to have time to cope.

Third lesson – times like this reveal a lot about folks. The moment my departure hit social media, in addition to the waves of sympathy I also received a half dozen “Call me when you’re ready! Let’s talk!” Good folks react to a problem by running towards it and saying, “How can I help?”

So what do I do? First, take a vacation. I did not take off between my final day with my previous company and joining my last one. So, I’m rectifying this. Will start working towards a job at Memorial Day.

Now? Now I focus on the small things that need doing around the house and on my Litreactor course with the inimitable Gemma Files as my teacher. I will enjoy the vacation weekend I have scheduled with my wife in a secluded part of the Chesapeake Bay. And then I will get back to the job search.

One day, the scene I just wrote out will make it into a story. Just not today. Today, I need to focus on a few other things.

Tellus, my Cirni Macak

Normally, I don’t post life or pet related items here. But sometimes the need to write overrides the need to remain on theme. And, in a way, this is about my writing.

Meet Tellus:

 

He is a six plus year old black cat. And I named him after one of the characters in my on-hold novel, Ivre. But he’s been having a rough go of things lately. Last week, due to a blockage in his urinary tract, he was hours away from death. He’s spent the last week in and out of hospital care and, on Sunday, had surgery to deal with the blockage and try to prevent it from happening again.

His recovery has been slow. He’s not eating beyond a few bits of canard et pois pill pocket (his favorite) and a few treats. But he has been recovering his demeanor. Tellus was affectionate, demanding attention for the time we get to spend with him, but he tuckered out easily. We are hoping we can take him home tomorrow night and I can telecommute on Thursday to watch over him.

Growing up, all I ever wanted was a cat. A black one in specific. My aunt Ruzica called me cirni macak all the time. Black cat. My first cat, Emma, was a black cat. She was also pretty feral, sporting a birdshot under her skin and a kill count that included two squirrels, dozens of chipmunks, and at least one raven. Small wonder she wandered off and never came back.

Adia and Tellus were rescued from under a friend’s brother’s deck. He was a paranoid, antisocial little ball of fuzz:

 

And I loved him instantly. Now, I’m hoping to get him back the way he was and, when he hides under the coffee table among the blankets stored there, it will be for positive reasons.

Be well soon, cirni macak.

The End of November

November is, to most folks who write as either a hobby or professionally, NaNoWriMo month. People set themselves up to crank out over fifty-thousand words in one month’s space of time. For those on a certain side of the political spectrum, it’s probably a been a rough month. For others, they’ve probably beaten their numbers, though I’m unsure if policy briefs and manifestos count as ‘novels.’

Me, I set myself up to fail. And I did so in the most spectacular way possible.

My goal wasn’t to write a set number of words. Instead, it was to write at least three short stories by the end of the month. My writer’s group, as part of their NaNoWriMo prep, sectioned off five hours of time at a local library just for writing. During that dedicated time, I was able to crank out about 5k words per session.  Most sessions ended early, so my rate is a little over 1.5k words per hour. Had this been extrapolated across the month, I could have cracked the goal again.

But my goal was reached. Three short stories written, and a fourth almost completed. One has already been submitted to the intended market.  So how do I feel about losing?

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I regret nothing because I learned a lot.

  1. Screenplay outlines are my happy place – I was able to plot out the stories and get everything set because I returned to my home, the good old-fashioned Syd Field screenplay outline.  It helped me know exactly where I had to go, what each scene had to do, and how to ensure I was never lost in the woods of ‘Well, what should I write now?’
  2. Given a clear vision, I can write and research at the same time – some of my stories involved looking up real events, or people. I was digging through and confirming information at the outline stage, but also as i wrote.
  3. Time is my enemy and friend – if I have time and I can focus, I can produce quite a bit.

So what was the hardest part? The usual: “that’s five hours wasted – think of all the chores you could have done” or “Hey, shouldn’t you be working on trying to cross-sell to all of your clients even if they don’t need a product?”

My brain is still wired to never see writing as a ‘useful’ act.  It’s not work. It doesn’t earn money (so far) and won’t get me life insurance, mortgage payments, etc. I have to constantly fight my wiring and says, “I need more than a salary in my life. I want to tell stories. I hope, some day, someone reads those stories.”

At the end of November I know, the biggest enemy I still have (next to time) is this guy named Andy Popovic.

Traveling

Two posts this time around, mostly to cover a long silence. On May 21st I married.

Andrija and Lisa

And about a week later, we went on our honeymoon to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Vienna, Austria; and Prague, Czech Republic. I’m still working on processing the 1.5K photos I took of all three cities. Aside from giving me time with my wife to explore new places (and, in the case of Dubrovnik, introduce her to a city which dominated my psyche since I first saw it thirty years ago) it reminded me of the importance of travel.

Let me illustrate:

 

This is one (one!) of the lounges in the Grand Alchymist hotel in Prague. Created from two residences and a convent, it is absolutely unique. I’m still at a lost to describe the wide variety of Baroque decorations. Even one of the simple rooms (which we had) was a marvel. This place was unique, from the first time we stepped in to the last moments there, we marveled at every little detail.

I never would have experienced it had I not traveled. I never would have had a conversation with Michael, one of our porters, on coming to Roosevelt Island or walking along the George Washington Parkway in DC, were I not there. I never would have seen an old, battered android seated in the Alchymist’s courtyard with a cup of tea in its hand.

We cannot stay static. I’m lucky; I’ve gotten to get well away from my home and see different parts of the world. Not everyone has that chance, but there are other ways to travel, even if it’s just hopping the bus into a different neighborhood.

Talk to people. Look outside your world. Go places where you can hear different languages being spoken. Explore. Experience is the best way to feed the creative part of you.

August and Ever After

August was a long, and yet short, month. Personal items kept me from updating this blog and reviewing some of the thoughts I dredged up at the end of July.  It was one of those months when I said, “Aside from a compulsion, why am I doing this? Why am I trying?”

The answer is this: I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write, and I didn’t try to get something published.  So, I’m not going to stop.  Now, I know what you’re thinking:

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And you might be right. But I think, despite it all, I’ve gotten a bit accomplished:

  • I have a signed contract for publication in an on-line magazine (No date yet, but it is a paying gig)
  • I actually made it to the second round of review for a very high profile magazine with one of my short stories
  • I’ve completed Michael Stackpole’s 21 Days to a Novel course and generated a rough outline for Metaphysical Graffiti
  • I edited and posted a third of Ivre – and I’ve got at least one person who wants to read it.
  • I’ve been regularly writing and submitting flash fiction and short stories.

But I still have goals for this year:

  • I’m going to complete editing and writing Ivre, or whatever it ends up being called.
  • I’m going to have the outline for Metaphysical Graffiti in final form for November
  • I’m going to actually try to write like a madman in November
  • I’m going to write, revise and submit a story to the open call for Alien Artifacts & Were – two Kickstarter Anthologies – a great project to fund as well
  • I’m going to keep submitting stories until I run out of markets.

Now, to just deal with my crippling social anxiety that turns every attempt at networking into a massive impostor syndrome assault. Or, put it simply:

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2015: The Year They Return

The time is now. After five long years, the Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov will return from its voyage to Jupiter. This harrowing journey across a vastly altered solar system marks the half-way point in a decade which changed us all.

Er, no, wait. Wrong world. Sorry.

But I can think about the future, even if it lacks interplanetary spacecraft for human use. And to do so, I need to look at the past.

Last year, I set down a few goals. They could be summarized this way: “Complete novel, Ivre. I have about 32,000 remaining. This year, I’m going to focus on the short story market and try to submit several stories. My goals will be commensurate with those efforts.”

Well, I have completed Ivre. After giving it a bit of rest, in November I broke down the long “scroll” of a manuscript into individual scenes, chapters and parts. I’ve begun reading through and making general notes on what to trim & change. Keep forgetting how dialog heavy I can become – dangers of learning writing via screenplays.

And I have completed 4 short stories which are almost ready for submission. That’s one a quarter. I just need to get them in manuscript format and start shopping them when everyone returns from the holiday. Time to see if my stories have any legs.

And I (still) have a massive number of photographs from the UK trip. Many are posted on Flickr. And they’ve gotten me some compliments from a professional photographer, so I think I did a good job capturing the sense of place. Still have to dig around and finish things.

You’ll note, I’m not going on about the things I failed to do. I focus on failure far too much, usually as an excuse to pummel myself. But contrary to years of programming, this is not an effective means of negative re-enforcement. It just drives me to be less ambitious, to try for less and hope for little more than crumbs off life’s table.

So what of next year? What will 2015 hold for me?

  • Focus on Photography: My creative joy this year, my highlight so far, was creating this photo for ChuckWendig’s Awkward Author photo contest. Spending the time with Lisa creating thescene & the photo was a wonder. Seeing the finished product go out into the world was a thrill. But, alas, I did not get as many photos taken as I’d like this year,dispite the travel. And certainly didn’t get as many photos of people as I’d like.So, I shall come up with one, maybe two, themes for photos and see if I can get folks to participate after I make a proof of concept image.
  • Ivre– The Revision!: Basically, in the first quarter of the year I want to completely revise my novel, chop it down, and get it to a readable place. I’m hoping an early year focus on this will help me get my revision skills up to snuff.
  • Short stories, flash fiction & revision: right now, I think learning to revise my work in a timely way needs to be my a core focus. I won’t stop creating new things – no one wants me that crazy – but the more I revise, the better my initial drafts will become.

So what is the final hope for 2015? For my creative projects, I’m going to try and follow the commandments in my 2nd place prize in the Awkward Author Photo contest.

Art Harder Motherfucker.

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