Categories
3. Other Things Authoring Writing Advice

Learning Lessons

Originally published on my Patreon in June 2022. Become a Patron!

My 2nd-favorite convention button* reads, “Oh, no, not another learning experience!”***

One lesson I still have not mastered is this one:  “When in doubt, say no. If you aren’t bedrock-solidly sure you should say yes, say no. In fact, default to saying no, and you’ll rarely go wrong.”

I say yes more than is good for me. Good intentions are listed among my many reasons, plus a high capacity for rationalizing my way into corners. I tell myself writing outside my own worlds will hone my writing skills and build self-discipline. (It does) Taking on creative work other than writing will recharge my energy for my own writing. (True)  Sharing and collaborating are personally affirming and help build community. Etcetera and so on.

Saying yes always makes sense when I agree to it, but roughly 50% of the times I’ve taken on extra projects since I became a professional writer, saying no would’ve been the wiser choice.

Great stats for a baseball player. Not so great for, say, bridge engineering. I don’t know if it’s good or bad for a writer.

Some projects turn out to be a bad fit emotionally, some became outrageous time-sinks of scope creep, and others bogged down in the mire of “great concept, not-so-great organization.” Some managed to be all three things at once. Even projects that were wholly enjoyable came with a high cost. Time and energy are my most limited resources.

Being a champion overthinker, I routinely revisit all the disastrous, exhausting, costly yes-es in my past and question my judgment. Was saying yes worth it when things worked out so badly, so often?

The answer, in a word, is Yes. (I bet you saw that coming.)

No matter how much wiser saying no would’ve been, I never regret having done things. I’ve benefitted in some way from even the most frustrating & joy-sucking “shoulda said no” experience. Each one taught me a new life trick or two, most taught me new writing or writing-adjacent skills–or refreshed & polished my existing ones.

I don’t make the same mistakes. Every time, I find new ones.

All that said, here’s the latest incarnation of my ever-evolving list of Important Things To Do If You Must Say Yes.

1. Decide your limits & engrave them like stone in your own mind.

2. Write down everything you’ll be expected to do. Go over this information up front with the person or people you’re saying yes to.

2.5. Make absolutely everyone understands this is the absolute limit of what you expect to be asked to do.

This is not quite the same as “get it in writing.” This isn’t about contractual obligations. It’s about the fallibility of memory & the inevitability of misaligned expectations. It’s about making sure you have a record of your own expectations for yourselfbefore you become entangled & invested in the project.

3. Pull out your written list & consult it whenever you’re asked to do more things, other things, or feel like you’re being pressured to renegotiate your role.

4. If you have to remind someone of the agreement more than twice, it’s 3-strikes-and-out, DTMFA, walk away time. Sunk-cost fallacy will be hard to fight (really, REALLY hard) but seriously? If someone creeps across the line twice, they’ll just keep asking until they wear you down or you bite their head off.

I’m good at the snap & bite part. Doesn’t make it fun.

My final words in this  Say No 101 refresher course: remember that small favors turn into big problems if you don’t protect your boundaries like a mama mockingbird defending her nest–and sometimes even if you do.

You can keep your shields on full, charge up your orbital lasers and your asteroid cannons,  have all your best spells locked & loaded & ready to cast–and still get ambushed by a bad situation.

It still won’t be a total loss as long as you find something worthwhile to learn from it.

That’s it until next time I feel like ranting, venting, or musing.

And here is a random image of carp in the Chicago Botanic Garden lagoon, photo taken on a recent visit.

***Oh-ho, you’ve found the footnote!

My favorite button reads, “There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives.”  It appeals to me for complicated reasons and remains my fave despite the quote coming from Scott Adams, whose sociopolitical stance proves he’s  more like Pointy-haired Boss than nerdy Dilbert.  I would’ve included a photo of both buttons on this post but I can’t find my button collection at the moment.

Categories
3. Other Things Authoring Writing Life

Time for an update post

It’s a gray achy kind of day, weather-wise, and a grey foggy day, brainwise, but I have taken a dose of my fancy ibuprofen+acetaminophen OTC pills (they are magic, btw, better even than prescription naproxen) and I am doing things I can get done instead of gnawing at myself over things I am not doing.

That’s the idea, anyhow.

I knew I would be wiped today after a yesterday that started 2 hours earlier than usual. It was worth losing sleep to accompany Spouseman to a car maintenance appointment & walk home w/him afterwards, but adding to an already-long ‘brar day had me dragging by the end. That’s on top of the way this week’s “Chill Drear to Sunny & Back Again” rollercoaster weather is kicking my ass.

So far so good. I got up earlier than I planned–7:30 according to my body, 8:30 according to the semi-annual clock fuckery–but it was a “I feel rested & awake & have Things to do” kind of wakeup, not the ass-dragging kind.

AND I have crossed off all but one thing I hoped to achieve. Granted, it was a short list. Laundry, Chili, Spread Clover Seed. And I don’t want to start the chili until closer to supper time. But it still feels good.

Getting in a blog post, too? EXTRA BONUS ACHIEVEMENT.

To-Do Lists are wonderful organizing tools, but days like today are why I rarely make “normal” ones with assigned priorities & firm timelines. That would be setting myself up to fail, given my inconsistent energy level & focus. Instead, I just list All The Things & then pick my way through them like it’s a smorgabord.

This week I evidently have an appetite for tactile, physical tasks. Writing has happened, as it often does when I stop putting pressure on myself, but I’m mainly indulging in Hand-intensive activities. Fingertip splits are making typing an annoyance, but otherwise my hands are staying in pretty good shape.

And wet weather sucks for me, but the garden loves it. Rainy days are good planting days, actually, and I’ve been plugging through seasonally-sensitive but generally time-forgiving tasks.

Here’s a tidy summation of Various Things I’ve done in the last week:

  • spread lettuce seed in improvised cold frames (planters covered w/recycled plastic greehouse roofing)
  • took down old, broken yard lights
  • stow the last of the holiday lights
  • reset bird feeders
  • removed squirrel-guard wire toppers off the bulb plantings
  • cleared all the herb beds are clear
  • overseeded front & back lawn w/a red clover and grass mix. (today!)

And now I can make new lists, all about starting seedlings, shopping for patio furniture & a pergola, researching low-decibel leaf blowers, and dreaming about MOAR PRAIRIE PERENNIALS.

Inside things I’m working on:

Restocking things I have to order online, like tea & replacement storage container lids.

Baking: I’ve already done biscotti & banana muffins this week. Apple crisp might get made tonight, depending on energy level. Otherwise tomorrow.

And adding things to grocery lists for curbside pickup to minimize in-person shopping. Because yes, I’m still minimizing in-person shopping & yes, I’m still masking in public spaces, including my workplace. (The one exception being a (VERY) few restaurants w/excellent ventilation & mitigations where I’ll unmask to enjoy a meal w/a trusted friends.)

Yeah, I’m vaxxed & boosted. But I also know how to calculate risk. If and/or when the local case count & positivity rates drop below the thresholds we hit last June, I’ll enjoy wandering around stores unmasked like I did last June. But we aren’t there.

Until then, I’ll just keep making that extra set of lists.

That’s enough blathering for one post. Have a photo of Pippin being angry I emptied the humidifier in my office.

Until later!

Categories
Whimsy Writing Life

I click links & read things. It’s what I do.

This episode of me is just three rambly items. That is all. Yes, HUGE things are going on In The Real world. Bad things. Humanity being awful to humanity at home and abroad. But. Not here. ITRW I’ve done what I can for now–I’ve put my money where my principles are, voiced words of support–and I will continue to do what I can. As I have been reminded, so I remind others: dwelling & doomscrolling & working up a knot of stress helps no one. So. This blog post isn’t about anything Real. It’s about the usual: reading & cats & randoming.

Thing the First.

Did you know Lido means beach in Italian, and in British English, it also refers to an outdoor swimming pool + its associated amenities? I did not, until today.

At long last, I have an explanation for why there are “Lido Decks” on cruise ships! The term always puzzled me when I watched Love Boat in the late 70’s. This trivium comes to us courtesy of a Guardian interview with some BBC broadcaster who’s probably a household name in Britain but who was completely unknown to me. Score one for a beautifully designed enticing headline.

Which I’ve already forgotten.


Random thing 2: the latest in Cat adventures.

Pippin’s current Favoritest Toys Ever are the tear-off strips from boxed Trader Joe’s hot chocolate packets. (not the packet w/chocolate! The litle strip you pull on to open the box.)

These bits of paper hold a narrow lead over mylar strips cut from the bottom of pita chip bags. Something about the way those things crunch fascinates him endlessly. There are a dozen or more Stacey’s Pita Chips bag-ends scattered about the house, built up over the last few months.

He is generous with his toys, too. On any given morning I’ll find up several of crunchy mylar strips on the bed. Pips naps with us at night, but he comes and goes–and every time he returns from a ramble he brings us a toy in case we wake up and want to play with it.


Lastly, I have discovered A Best New Game for me, courtesy of Louis Evans, who I follow on Twitter because…yanno, I don’t know if I met him or someone suggested I follow him, or he followed me for inexplicable reasons and I followed back, or what. I try not to let that ignorance bother me, but it still does sometimes. My discomfort over the parasocial nature of online connections is one of my biggest peeves with social media, and I have a LOT of peeves…never mind, this is digressing even more than usual, ANYWAY.

This game is Semantle, and it’s SUPER FUN. Like Wordle it’s a once-daily word puzzle, but that’s about all they have in common. I like Wordle’s simplicity, but that’s about all I do like about it. It’s a pretend word game. it isn’t about language at all, nor really about vocabulary. It’s letters as numbers, essentially. Finding a solution w/in 6 guesses is a process heavy on betting the odds of a given vowel or consonant being used, plus luck and eliminating variables.

I find it fun, don’t get me wrong. But it isn’t…stimulating, I guess? It’s about spelling, not words.

And don’t get me started on people who get hung up on use of wordfinders, dictionaries or other tools. Is it legitimate or does it constitute “cheating?” It’s a SOLITAIRE WORD GAME FFS. What is even the point of getting judgey & snobby about how someone else plays it? Any yet. People gotta feel superior, I guess.

Solving a Semantle occupies a lot more of my wording brain than Wordle. That’s my favorite part. My second favorite aspect is the no-limit guessing. There’s no “genius!” for a lucky break or any competitive triggering at all. Guess until you get it right, for pure solution satisfaction.

And like the name implies, it’s all about semantics. Associations. Connections. Right up my happy neighborhood parkway, in other words.

You’re attempting to guess a secret word based on hot/cold responses to your attempts. The more similar your word is to the secret one, the higher your guess’s rank will be. And once you get within 1000 words of the secret one, you get that clue as well.

Look. It’s kinda hard to explain but super-simple to play. Type words, type more words that seem related, rinse & repeat. My best result so far is solving the puzzle in 33 guesses, my longest game was 87 guesses.

I find Semantle MUCH more satisfying to play. There’s no right or wrong way to think of connections. I’m fond of Thesaurus.com for inspiration, but also fond of typing a bunch of ideas into Google & skimming the results for a word that just feels right as a guess, and also blindly staring at my list of guesses until the next inspiration strikes.

Spouseman still doesn’t understand how I could look at bureaucrat and leap to the secret word (historian) in two guesses. (president and constitution in between)

I can’t explain it either. But that’s the wild thing about inspiration. It’s always a leap into the dark that pays off. It’s an idea arcing across a void of not-knowing.

https://semantle.novalis.org/


And that’s that for tonight. Gonna go play wordle as soon as it’s midnight, and then off to bed.

TOmorrow I’ll try to write my Winter Subscriber Newsletter before it’s spring, and also get up some book reviews for all the amazing new speculative fiction I’ve been consuming.

Until later!

The water has disappeared. Pippin is disappointed.
Categories
Media Consumption Writing Life

After-Capricon post

Yesterday morning Spouseman gave me a cheery “You’re up early!” for getting my ass out of bed before 10 AM.

For context, I usually wake up 7:30ish this time of year. I often go back to bed to snuggle for an hour or two, but I wake up within an hour of sunrise when I’m healthy. (Even with blackout curtains.)

Except after cons. Sometimes I’m in bed as late as 11AM for a day or two or three after getting home.

And I usually get 7+ hours of sleep per 24, but I am rarely in BED for more than 6 hours at a stretch because my joints hate me lying still.

Except after cons. I’m in bed as much as 10 hours the day after a con.

Two data points. It’s officially a trend, right?

My brain pretty much shuts down for a reset after leaving high-interaction events. Unless I crash a few hours before leaving. That’s a simmering hot stew of awkwardness when it happens, so I try VERY hard to avoid it. I was home, unpacked & washed up after Cap before I crashed hard with a cat purring on my lap. Good times.

I had a fabulous time at Capricon this year. It’s always a great convention, but this time was extra-special because, well <waves vaguely> YOU know. Things. I had the most panels I’ve done at a con ever, and I enjoyed every one of them, despite 3 of them being in a room with a CAMERA POINTED AT ME.

And I moderated three panels (two in the Camera Room Of Doom, one in a room without microphones because tech difficulties) and I only screwed up a few times in each panel, so big yay and confetti and buckets of self-congratulatory happiness right there.

The Dealer Room was like a bookstore smorgasbord, books were sold, things were bought, plans were made, and fun was had. Evenings included hallway chats, hotel room haircuts, and late night conversations.

New friends were made (I think, I hope) and I enjoyed getting to reconnect with old friends too! (although not NEARLY as much as I wanted. Sorry to alla y’all who only got bits & pieces of my time, my energy was low & I had roommates & I didn’t feel comfortable crossing the streams or mixing up groups and, well. Anyway.)

Some of us should get together soon, masked & safe indoors. That’s all I’m saying. Soon.

Now the con is somehow a week in the past, Thursday is over, (it’s technically Friday morning wee hours tbh) and my biggest accomplishments since getting home have been…hm. Unimpressive:

  • laundry! Yes, it deserves the exclamation mark
  • dusted my home desk
  • dusted my work desk & did sundry library tasks over 2 shifts
  • put away con stuff, updating inventory & sales records
  • brushed the cat two days in a row (he forgave me both times)
  • reread 2 romance novels, ignoring the stack of lovely new books I really do want to read
  • surfed on Twitter & Facebook more than I’d like
  • played a lot of Absurdle
  • filled out a Con Feedback survey, gushed about my fellow panelists & praised other moderators
  • watched episodes of 2 TV shows and 2 movies (finished Stranger Things rewatch, started Mythic Quest, big thumbs up, sat through Free Guy & Venom: Let There Be Carnage, meh x2)
  • booked 2 hotel rooms & 1 plane flight for 2 separate future events. This involved multiple conversations, negotiations, and consultations over a couple of days.
  • read one whole chapter in the nonfiction book I’m trying to chew through. Stolen Focus. There’s irony to be found in my inability to concentrate on a book about all the ways modern systems demolish our attention spans, but I’m not appreciating it.
  • cooked a spicy chicken casserole from scratch. Well. From a boxed rice dish plus leftover rice from Chinese takeout, and various other add-ins. So, kinda like Stone Casserole instead of Stone Soup?
  • sliced up a cucumber I’d forgotten was in the fridge & set it to soak w/onions & brine for fridge pickles.
  • and wrote this blog post

It looks good written down, but hey, I’m a writer. I’m expected to make things looks good in words.

When measured against my days of otherwise unemployed time, the accomplishment level is…meager doings. George Carlin had a bi about stuff filling the space available. Tasks fill the time available, I guess.

Has it been restful? Oh, yes. And have I enjoyed myself? Mostly, when I’m not ambiguously frazzled, or second-guessing every recent interaction (at the con & since, online & off) and/or draaaagggggggggging myself through daily routines in pursuit of basics like personal hygiene.

It’s silly, all this listing I do, but it’s also soothing. In one sense it’s a long, wordy version of, “Look at me, I can do the bare minimum to survive!” And in the world I grew up in, making much of nothing is tacky, selfish attention-seeking nonsense.

But in another sense, these lists are the vital opposite of making much of nothing. They’re making much of things overlooked and undervalued. They’re balancing the meaningfulness scales.

I am proud of others when they do what I am doing, so it’s only fair I make note of the important basics too. Besides, even just thinking, LAUD ME, FOR I HAVE DONNED CLEAN CLOTHES & INGESTED SUSTENANCE! makes me smile, and smiles are always good.

So I shall feel proud of myself now that I’ve noted all I’ve done. I mean, I didn’t spend the WHOLE time surfing or reading articles about dairy cow milk production and teaching dogs to pull wagons. And I did get in a little good writing time. A teeny bit. But as the That Counts As Writing bot on Twitter points out out, it’s all progress.

So. Here we are, at the end of another meandering life post. That’s all there is to it. Except for a cat pic.

Until later!

Categories
2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts Whimsy Writing Life

Barns & other distractions

Did I need to research dairy barn restoration and collect architectural drawings of historical barn types yesterday & today?

TRICK QUESTION.

Checking my barn-related terminology for a single scene sent me skipping through Indian dairy farming advice blogs, across encyclopedia entries on cow breeds, and down a long sideline into the meaning of “Highline electricity” into power line work and voltage issues with server racks.

Fun facts: gawala means cattleman or head dairy worker in Urdu, at least according to two language sites I consulted after being puzzled by the term’s appearance in an otherwise all-English language paper comparing the efficiency of different cow configurations in milking barns. (Surprise, it was an INDIAN dairy industry publication. …which bounced me into a brief investigation of dairy farming in India.) Gawala may also be a kind of milk-based candy?

Highline vs lowline refers to the voltage carried by power lines. Also back in the day your builder needed to know whether your farm had highline or house plant electricity before drawing up plans for your barn.

And barn research totally relates to volcanoes, right? Okay, no, but I saw a news headline while I was closing a tab. Count on a geology/meteorology nerd like me to click on ANY link with a satellite photo of a huge ash cloud.

What happened in the Pacific last week will have global effects for a long time to come. Like every huge eruption, it’ll teach geologists a ton about what’s going on beneath the thin biosphere we inhabit. And like every huge eruption near humans, its toll will be expensie and heartbreaking. The videos and photos of the aftermath are incredible. The cost? Incalculable.

ANYway. Speaking of satellite photos, I’ve been watching US winter storms on assorted weather sites lately. The quality of the images is interesting (in a muttered curses way) because it pretty much indicates how blatant the site is about downgrading the available imagery to engineer subscriptions to the premium subscription strategy. Charging for something that should be a free public resource.

I recall my excitement a zillion years ago when my parents got cable television and a new TV with a remote. Not because we got HBO. Not because the TV picture was suddenly clear instead of getting fuzzy or staticky when it rained. Not because I could flip channels from across the room. Nope.

I was over the moon because I COULD WATCH THE WEATHER RADAR! MInd, this was not the amazing many-layered weather displays of today’s weather apps. It was straight-up regional Doppler precipitation radar on a 30-second loop. It still fascinated me. Weather patterns both local and distant shifted, grew, and passed right in front of my eyes.

I loved mentally connecting those trends to the conditions outside the window. My dad used to make fun of me for checking the television for the weather instead of looking outside (weather rock style) but matching screen to reality taught me tons about reading the sky for future conditions in just a few years. Priceless free education.

But I digress. The free imagery now available from modern satellites is MIND-BLOWING. You won’t find it on easily-accessible, fast-loading commercial weather apps, but it’s out there. Full-color, high-resolution visuals. Temperature gradients. Precipitation. Stills and animation loops for hours. Any time there’s a Big Weather or Big Fire event, I am up online ogling the imagery from space.

There are a lot of sites, but my favorites are https://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/goes/index.php for the US GOES-East & GOES-West satellites, and https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/satellite.php when I want Himawari-8.

That’s all for this episode of Research roundup. For your enjoyment, I am including a Weather Rock Photo.

Until later!

Oh, right. Obligatory “Hey, I Write Books” postscript: if you like my writing, please recommend my books to all your friends & enemies. They are wonderful books full of Good Things.

Science. Fiction. Love. Honor. Revenge. Knitting. Gardening. Thrilling escapes & cozy conversations. All that and more. Easy one-stop access: https://bit.ly/kmhlinktree