October Newsletter: The Bread of Doom

…or how tracking my life told me I was abusing coffee and social media

So there I was, my nails digging into my palms, my right molars pressed into each other. The air hissed in through my nose as my vision narrowed to a point. It was like hurtling down a roller-coaster. It was was terrifying, and I had no idea why it was happening.

I’d be doing nothing especially ominous – sitting down on the couch, carrying my younger daughter, thinking about bread – and suddenly I’d be gripped by this intense sensation of danger. BREAD! The image of a whole-grain loaf gained the mass of a church bell. DOOM! It rang. Toll the yeasty knell, oh brazen fate, for all men shall one day die. Die, oh, mortal flesh. Die and meet thy baker.
(whoo! I am so sorry about that pun. Deep breaths now…)

Tiny drops of steam
Ebb and flow before the light
With each of my breaths.

It was ridiculous, but of course knowing that it was ridiculous didn’t help. I was like a cat, freaking out for no reason. Or was there no reason? Aren’t I supposed to listen to my body, now that I’m meditating and whatnot? But what exactly was my body supposed to be telling me? Avoid carbs? Run from the couch? Something about my daughter…? Yeah, If I searched hard enough for a reason to be terrified, I’d surely find one. Now there’s a reason for fear.

So I meditated more. I stopped using social media. I took my daughters to the park and watched the sky as it changed from brass to rose and the street lights blinked on. I talked to Pavlina. And I realized that over the course of the past month, I’d gone from drinking two cups of coffee a day to four.

The trees turn black and
The sky, indescribable.
Look up and it’s changed.

Scheduling is hard. My older daughter’s in first grade now, and school starts at 8:10 in the Center. The younger one’s in kindergarten, which starts at 8:30 in Levski G. At some point, it would be nice if Pavlina and I could go to work, which is back in the Center. If we want to have breakfast and drink our coffee in peace, we need to wake up at 6:15. Three hours later, I’m finally in the office and I’m tired. That scares me because I associate being tired with being sick. Fatigue=death.

I’m supposed to listen to my body, but my body is a stupid animal. It’s not going to say, “you’re drinking too much coffee.” It says “coffee reminds me of being happy!” and “not being productive scares me!” It says “I’m tired! I must have cancer again!” It’s up to me to keep track of what I’m doing, cut out the distractions, and give myself enough mental room to notice the patterns.

Right. So that’s why I’m not doing social media any more. Because part of the reason I was too distracted to notice I was drinking too much coffee was the last newsletter I wrote. I posted it on facebook, which made me want to check facebook for likes and comments. And once I was on facebook, why not see what other people are posting? Oh. Oh. That’s what they’re posting. Oh no.

I debated writing this explanation. Why not just stop using social media? Why talk about it on social media? But my litmus test for whether I should write something is “will this help people?” Maybe this is helpful: social media is distracting and depressing. It fills my head with noise. Maybe you have the same problem and this is the solution.

The sky at seven
The color of hope that hurts
And the crying swifts

I’ll continue to post my work on my website (including these newsletters) and mirror or link to those posts on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. Readers are welcome to like and comment, but I’ll only read those comments once a week (Friday seems like a good day). Comments on my website, PMs, and emails to me will get my attention earlier. I won’t read any content that isn’t sent personally to me or that I didn’t sign up for. Hopefully that means I’ll still get news from people I care about, but not about tragedies that I have no power to solve. That way, I can continue to function from hour to hour.

What do you think? Is this going to work? Can I stay connected without sacrificing my mental health? Let me know in the comments. Or even better, email me.

In other news, I had some good writing stuff happen this month. Interchange has hit its 2/3 mark and, more importantly, its rhythm. I’ve managed to block off a fairly reliable 90-minute chunk of time in the mornings, which I use to meditate and then “speedwrite,” which means writing without thinking about what I’m doing. I generally end up with a single element of a scene, such as the conversation the characters are having, how they feel, what’s going on in the environment, or what actions the characters are taking.

Then I usually have some time after lunch (and my second and final coffee), and I can layer those scene-pieces onto each other and smooth the edges. If I have more time, I do research, which usually involves shooting messages to generous experts. In this way, the inestimable and inspiring Thomas Duffy helped me tie a ribbon around the center of my book, in which a biologist’s subconscious belief that she owns the environment she’s studying leads her to destroy it. As the forest crumbles around her, she blames herself…then makes exactly the wrong decision about what to do next. Yeah! Fiction! Thomas, I’m going to send you roses or cacti or something.

Another new tradition I’ve instituted is spending my Friday mornings not working on Interchange. It’s a little release of pressure, a chance to play and remind myself that writing isn’t just another chore I have to do. The first week, it was a short story. That one turned out so well, I’m going to try to publish it. It’s called “The Sales Event” and it’s about smart phones and general relativity. Do you want to beta-reader it?

I got another couple of “no”s from publishers about The Sultan’s Enchanter, but one of them was that very gratifying “no” that comes at the head of a long list of things I could do to fix the story. Making those fixes will be educational, even if that particular publisher still passes. Wealthgiver is rather like The Sultan’s Enchanter, after all, and the lessons I learn from one will be important for the other. The world needs more books about amoral Balkan people!

Yeah, I’m still working on Wealthgiver’s neo-Thracian language. I even posted a little of it on Tumblr. But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten my little goats!

Kapt kapēnon ainē kesa / byźai darsai ypo dēsâ.
Ēbron, aiźi, byźâs kâ / skalmon, bleptē, bystâs kâ,
As tae yper iatśikan / kapâ pe ta ve abbrinkan.

There were at one time / brave goats under heaven.
A kid, a nanny, and a billy goat / clever, loyal, and tough,
Who would dance up / a hill for to make themselves fat.

Dâ ispilsen opē rinkon strymē / parân ân, śân târâ dymâ.
Iśē iserpa źēryntē / źymlē mērē urdēnē.
Byźulâs ada pyrân źilmân / dâ bolvarâs pia rhobton saimân.

But a quick-flowing river blocked / the path with an evil guard.
There coiled a beast / a great water-dragon.
A goat will eat green grains / but a serpent will slurp blood

Peskēnon ērga ēbron do. / Pliskon ērga śân negō.
Źymlē zē semân iglytsa. / “Kis ēs tu?” Neston iglâtsa.
“Semâs manon ēm ēźo.” / “San ar ēsti? Abadam so!”

First comes the kid. / It splashes with its hooves.
The dragon heard this. / “Who are you?” she roared.
“This only am I.” / “Is it so? I will eat you up!”

Things are heating up! I’m still not entirely comfortable with the articles and deitics, but I do like that last line. And the orthography is shaping up nicely. I love googly things over letters.

Another potential conlanging project for that other hundred years I plan to live: Western Hellenism. What if the Greeks had conquered Iberia?

And finally, PROTECTOR! This is the comic project I’ve been working on for literally six years. Words by me and Simon Roy, inks by Atryom Trakhanov, colors by Jason Wordie, and lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhadu. What a crazy, fun, glorious process this collaboration was!

Protector is a post-apocalyptic scifi story about a slave who stumbles across “a demon of the Profligate Age,” a military cyborg who’s been in hibernation for the past thousand years. The post-human robots who are terraforming the Earth are not amused, and send in some sweaty future-vikings to put a stop to these shenanigans.

There will be five issues, and issue one comes out in January. If you’re interested, please order a copy, or better yet, tell your local comic or book store to order lots of copies! Give us some numbers that will convince Image to ask for a sequel 🙂

And finally, some books and stuff

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown – this book wasn’t as transformative for me as it could have been because I’ve read Brown before and I already agree with her. Shame is bad. Vulnerability is the cure. Bam. What I like about Brown is that she collects good data, lets it prove her wrong, and suggests how the lessons from the data can be usefully applied. It’s not just science, it’s engineering.

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold – I think this was the third read. What happens when GM humans become obsolete? What happens when an engineer has a spiritual epiphany? It wasn’t quite as much fun as some of Bujold’s other science fiction, but it has a lot of heart.

Spooky Action at a Distance by George Musser – an excellent physics book, examining the concept of space, which lies at the center of the contradictions of relativity and quantum physics. If space didn’t exist, the universe would be chaos, but a lot of experiments only make sense if space _doesn’t_ exist. Great stuff, and it inspired that short story I’m so proud of.

Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood – a refreshing splash of chilly New Zealand sea spray. Phryne pursues a jewel thief and has a little bit of sex, but a lot of good food, drink, and dancing. There’s also a hakka.

Wicked Prey by John Sandford – it was actually a little boring. The police’s side of the story didn’t hold up as well as the criminals’. But this is a relatively early book in the series, which means Sandford is improving.

The Upright Go Pro – it’s a little device that you glue to your upper back so it will buzz at you when you slouch. Immediately after I put it on, I realized I have little tiny tyrannosaurus arms that don’t reach any table or counter-top. It ran out of batteries one day and man did my back hurt that night. So I guess it’s working.

Gravity by Against the Current and Brighter by Patent Pending – Good Interchange music.

Be Kind to Yourself by Andrew Peterson – It makes me feel better.

Song of Durin by Clamavi De Profundis – I haven’t gotten goosebumps from a song in a long time. It’s about dwarves.

The Twits by Roald Dahl – I read it to my older daughter and boy howdy did Roald Dahl know how to write for children. Everything seems utterly ridiculous but it all somehow satisfies. Like eating dirt cake.

Steven Universe – My younger daughter found me rewatching it on my phone and made me cast it on the big TV. Now it’s all “I wanna watch Steeben dabout a Giant Woman. I’m Pearl.” No, younger daughter, you are not Pearl. Pearl is my older daughter. My younger daughter is Amethyst. Nobody is more Amethyst than my younger daughter. (And I’m Peridot)

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