Category Archives: Personal thoughts

I’m fickle and I know it

In college, I got accused of being “fickle” a lot. Yes, I’m going to go there: the dictionary defines fickle as, “changing frequently, especially as regards one’s loyalties, interests, or affection.”

Hmm.

Is that so bad?

I guess if you’re someone who wants to prey on people who stubbornly refuse to change their minds once they’ve made a decision, then someone who’s fickle is probably a wrench in your plans. But if so, you’re not someone I plan to keep around in my life anyway, so. There’s that.

What my not-so-friends in college were saying was that I wouldn’t be pinned down to one set of beliefs, one way of doing things, one nice neat box of interests, character traits, and core values. I’d encounter a situation, have some feelings, draw some conclusions, then learn some new information the next day – and change my mind about how I felt.

I try to learn from my mistakes. I try to rationalize new information when I get it. If something in my life isn’t working, I change it.

If that’s fickle, then hell yeah I’m fickle.

I’m a creative entrepreneur, always have been. I take on new and varied projects all the time, and I don’t see a lot of them through, because they don’t work for me and my brands. (Nikki would probably say this is due to my medium level of grit, and that’s not wrong.) I’m going to drop creative ventures like hot potatoes if and when going through with them sucks more than the reward on the other side.

When I encounter new tactics for the things I do every day, I try them. I love trying on new styles and trying out new tools. I’ll give new things a go for as long as I possibly can.

I obsess over things I’m excited to learn about, and what I’m learning (and therefore obsessing over) changes all the time. I don’t think I have any form of ADD, but my attention is not long for any one thing. Even when I am excited about something, I’m easily distracted by other shiny things.

And that’s OK.

Being fickle is sort of my thing.

How not to hate someone

I ran into the original Mr. Shoes the other day, and I didn’t even recognize him.

Weird sentence? Let me back up a bit. I call both of the individuals I consider my personal nemeses at work “Mr. Shoes.” Not to their faces, of course, but suffice it to say I’m not the only person who knows of this nickname.

Harmless, isn’t it? Yet…oddly condescending. My favorite kind of spell to take away someone’s power over my emotions and reactions.

The title of this post suggests I’ve had to do this often. Not really! In fact, I like all the individuals I get to know as a rule; that means those who are the rare exception really stand out for me. If hate someone, you know I’m not the only one. (Or else I really am the only one and that’s when I know they’ve bewitched everyone else.)

But when I do dislike someone, more often than not, I still have to deal with them on a regular basis. So back to Mr. Shoes: I encountered him outside of my normal work haunts, and when he came bounding out of his office to greet my manager with a weird handshake-hug combo, I didn’t recognize him. Probably because he was wearing a sweatshirt, and the Mr. Shoes I knew would never have dared to come to the office in a sweatshirt. That’s the kind of thing August, the wearer of flip-flops, would do.

I’d so resoundingly forgotten his momentary sway over my feelings that I’d forgotten what he looked like.

Call it a blessing of how my memory works, sure, but I like to think it’s because I was able to apply these tactics that help me not despise someone who rubs me the wrong way and then crosses my path on the regular:

  • Give them a harmless nickname in your head. “Mr. Shoes” works so damn well because it’s non-specific to the person. To someone who doesn’t know the context, the nickname is meaningless, meaning it won’t come back to haunt me later in my career.
  • Identify their positive traits and build an inverse caricature. This may be something you have to do on a daily basis with some nemeses, like I had to do with a former coworker I’ll call “Ben.” My friend and I had similar frustrations with Ben, on totally different projects, so we regularly let the other vent. Then one day, we found ourselves consoling each other with the sensical things Ben had said to our common enemies, and from then on, we could both handle his nonsense. It’s the little things.
  • Look for explanations that humanize, not dehumanize. People have bad days, OK? Bodies hurt, hearts and egos are bruised, or futures are bleak. Look, digestive trouble hits all of us on some days, and some of us on most days. Assume your nemesis is going through the worst, unless you know they’re being an asshole for other reasons.
  • Indulge in little rebellions for yourself. By deriding my choice in footwear during a meeting, Mr. Shoes presented me with the perfect tiny rebellion: wearing flip-flops on days I knew I might encounter him. I once had a roommate who hated a particular shirt of mine – so I would wear it on those days when I needed a little extra boost to get past her snark.

Of course, I’m not advocating that you overlook truly abominable behavior. Report that ish through the proper channels. This is for those folks who irritate the heck out of you…but who aren’t really doing anything wrong.

Beautiful moments of 2017

No doubt 2017 was a rough year for a lot of the world. I find myself among the privileged, so I can only imagine how it was for those who can’t hide away from the awful things in the news, because those things are a part of their reality.

So instead of lingering on the painful moments, and in the spirit of thankfulness, I wanted to record a few of my most beautiful moments of 2017:

Clicking “Publish” on Daugment, a moment I’d spent decades building up to.

Holding my first physical Cortana product in my hands for the first time, and talking to my digital progeny from the kitchen.

Communing with my flock of crows as they preened sleepily in the late spring heat.

Collecting a set of prayers, blessings, and spells from around the world on the morning of the total eclipse, then donning my special glasses to murmur the prayers and watch the crescent consumption of the sun for a few hours, knowing the rest of the country was doing the same in that creepy, blessed half-light.

Sitting perched on a stool, a hot laptop on my knees, with my Damn Shames crew around me, bantering with GrayheadedGamer and about 100 hardcore Star Citizen fans about Ships Illustrated and why we love making stories.

Screaming until I was hoarse at a Storm game, with Amy by my side doing the same, remembering exactly why I love the thunder and squeak of the basketball court.

Standing over Snoqualmie Falls with my husband of nearly five years now, marveling at how much we still love to kiss each other even when our noses are frozen red.

Taking myself seriously

Earlier this year, squadmate Amy sent me a Sarah Cooper article. Beyond the fact that the article was painfully spot-on (I’m guilty of all of them except maybe the one-handed typing and the moustache), it was well-written and enticing. I went deeper into her catalog.

And I found “Do You Take Yourself Seriously?

My heart sank as I read through it. Because no, I didn’t, not really.

These three quotes stood out to me, as what happens when you don’t take yourself seriously:

“You can no longer tell the difference between what you want and what other people want from you.”

“You resent people who do [take themselves seriously]. You look at people who promote themselves and their ideas and you think they’re egotistical or ridiculous.”

You rush through a half-hearted execution and don’t give yourself the time you need to learn something new, or do it the right way. And when it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted you decide it was a total waste of time.”

Oh. Ouch. That’s familiar.

Cooper even expresses her own doubts about writing the very piece that I was reading, published on Medium. Her thoughts, as transcribed, sound so much like my own inner monologue does on a regular basis: “Why am I writing this? This is stupid. This is repetitive. Hasn’t someone else said this before but better? Do I even know what I’m trying to say?”

Oh. Ouch. That’s familiar too.

If those lines hit you in the same feels they hit me, I recommend a full read-through of the article, because Cooper takes you swooping over those immense pits of despair she bitingly describes in perfect detail, and then up, up, towards the light, in a way pull-quotes don’t capture.

The thing is, what Cooper’s talking about is very simple, though not very easy. It’s “just” a change in mindset. “Just” an attitude adjustment.

That is to say: It is both an overnight and a lifelong change.

After I first read this article about four months ago, I decided to take myself seriously. How did it go? One clue: I finished Portent after just over two months of really working on it. Another clue: I still had to edit myself in the above sentence from “I decided to try and take myself seriously” to “I decided to take myself seriously.”

Progress is happening, it just ain’t easy.

Such tiny differences — making a conscious effort not to pre-judge myself, giving myself as much benefit of the doubt as I would give someone I love, and treating my ideas like cherished possibilities — have made some huge changes in the way I’ve done things since September. I think about my art as a business in a clearer way, and I’m reading and learning and writing (privately, so far) about how to make my publishing model work. I pitch myself and my ideas to people I’ve just met (admittedly, they’ve mostly been online).

I know the magic of this revelation could fade, and that I might need a reminder in a few months to read Sarah Cooper’s article again. But that’s okay. It’s a damn good article.

Halving the distance

I said something vaguely profound to my friend Amy in our GroupMe chat the other day. To me, I told her, “Life is about constantly halving the distance between yourself and perfection.”

I like that. Nice job, me.

That said, this isn’t an original concept. It’s a lot like the Pareto principle, or the concept of the asymptote from mathematics. Clearly, far more intelligent people than me have been thinking along these lines for a long time.

But this iteration of the idea works for me. It puts me in mind of a piece of paper, infinitely folded — always the same piece of paper, but tighter and tighter, ever-closer to its ideal form. Yet with every halving, all the way to infinity, you’re still left with paper that can be folded in half.

You’ll never be perfect. That’s an immutable, frustrating fact. As creatures of comprehension, we’ve got this concept of perfection strung up like a gold carrot. And it’s dangling right in front of our noses, we imagine — but it’s always much further away than we think.

That’s because the closer to it we get to perfection, the more honed our sense of it becomes. As a novice wielding a kitchen knife, I watched my own clumsy efforts and I thought, If I can just cut one something into perfect-sized pieces, that will be enough. As an intermediate home sous chef, that idea is no longer satisfying to me. Someday, I hope my dreams of cutting whatever is put on the chopping block into perfect-sized pieces will make me smile fondly and shake my head at my own lack of ambition. At the beginning, though, that would have been such a horribly specific concept that I wouldn’t have known where to start, and probably would have just given up.

My trick to life — and when I say “life,” I mean “self-satisfaction, a real sense of internal joy, and a time in this universe I plan to look back on proudly” — is not to be perfect. It’s to measure the distance between myself and perfect, and aim to cut it in half with any given self-improvement.

Just half. You just have to be 50% better than you were before you set out to improve. Fifty percent better at communicating with your partner. Fifty percent better at writing a short story. Fifty percent better at remembering to do your self-care routine.

Fifty’s a lot, isn’t it? Not if you remember that the bulk of learning to do something is doing the small, foundational actions over and over. Stretching until you’re flexible enough to do the splits. Tossing rice in a pan until you can flip like a line cook. Loping around your neighborhood until you’re ready to run that marathon. Writing continuously in five-minute bursts until you can crank out a novel in a month.

Besides, when I say “constantly,” I don’t mean to imply that every single instance of working to improve something, you can or should be 50% better than the last time you engaged. I mean that every action that you take to improve yourself, long- or short-term, should strive to make you at least 50% better than before you did the thing. Or it’s probably not worth your self-improvement time, to be perfectly blunt.

Fifty percent better than “unable to cook anything” is “able to cook one thing well enough to serve it to other people.” You go from nothing to something, modest though it may be. Your next step can feel a little bigger, a little closer to perfection: go from “able to cook one thing well” to “able to cook a week’s worth of meals well.” Then to “able to cook a menu’s worth of meals well.” Then to “able to cook nearly anything from one cuisine well.” And so on. Moving from branch to branch on a tree of learning hinges on your willingness to conquer the foundational things, one at a time.

You’ll feel a 50% increase. It’ll be measurable, in time or love or success. You’ll be able to point to a time before your change and say, Look, this is where I was before, and here’s where I am now. Halve the distance. Be better, in humble ways.

Mischievous mice: A short history

I’ve known Nicole longer than I’ve known either of my siblings (by a solid year) — we decided we didn’t want to play house with the girls in our Sunday school class, we wanted to play animals with the boys. We went to the same college. We got married within a couple months of one another. Oh, and she stole my original last name.

Pictured here at Nicole’s wedding. We rarely look this normal in photographs together.

And now she’s opening up her own shop, Mischief & Mouse.

I’m beyond proud.

***

Besides the fact that Nicole went to public school and I was homeschooled, we spent more time together than most childhood friends I know. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when we started collaborating artistically, but it couldn’t have been much later than age 8 or 9. Nicole was always the visual artist of the two of us, and I the more prolific writer, but we traded off those roles often enough to stay sharp.

The carnage of our collaboration, circa 2007.

Those hours upon hours spent art-ing together were foundational to how I operate today. I wouldn’t have half the graciousness in accepting constructive criticism that I do if it hadn’t been for how many times Nicole gently gave me her input on how I could make our shared project better. I hope my constant bothering for her to show me everything in her sketchbooks made it more compelling to produce art more often.

These days, we’re a little more honed in on what we were always really good at. I do my novel-and-UI thing, and Nicole — well, she did something incredibly brave this month: she quit her corporate job to start her own business based on her art. She sews up tiny woodland friends, paints gouache scenes, and designs adorable prints.

She’s following her dream, and trying to make art for a living. It’s opportunity meets hard work. It’s damn cool.

One last note: it’s always been mice. We loved the Redwall series together, and Nicole helped me take care of my mouse farm (long story for another time) and my pet rats, too. To see that mouse logo on her store takes me right back to when there was nothing but art to fill our time, and we filled it well.

Pictured here: typical.

It’s MY platform.

One of my very enterprising peer-friends, Nikki, told me about a year ago that I needed to start getting my brand in order. My…brand? was my clueless response.

She meant the brand of my online presence, the composite virtual face I was presenting to the world. At the time, I had little more than a LinkedIn page and a personal Twitter account used for silly interactions with my colleagues.

Nikki’s advice was sound. I’ve been trying to be a self-published author who wants to make a living off her words. A blog is a terrible thing to waste.

It’s been slow going, this “building a platform” thing. I started cross-posting to my Twitter and Facebook page, tried to keep up a more regular rhythm of public writing, and even finally put together a Medium page last month. All these little bits of digital progress…and I still don’t feel like I have a coherent whole yet.

Today I sat down to think about that.

I’ve done a lot of work. I’ve refined my brand messages a few times, picked at my bios, and read numerous times through each blog post I do finally publish (though I still miss things). I’ve started, and then deleted, a lot of posts that I deemed incapable of carrying The Brand forward. I’ve evaluated the drafts of various lengths sitting in my digital folders with the critical twin lenses of Audience & Salability.

In fact, I’ve worked really hard to second-guess myself.

Wait, didn’t I just realize something just like this in another recent post? Funny. Almost like there’s a common thread here.

OK, so the problem has clarified: I’m not giving myself enough credit or taking myself seriously enough. What’s my solution?

For one thing, every time I feel the urge to write, and then stifle it with self-criticism, I’m going to tell myself: It’s MY platform.

Nikki was right. I do need a brand. My brand. My weird, off-beat brand of silly, lyrical storytelling — which is the same, if more thoroughly edited, in my novels. This is MY blog. Who cares if “the Medium audience” will read it? I want MY audience to read it.

Because here’s the thing. Writers write. Writing isn’t always fun. If I’m going to make writing a life-long, every-day kind of habit, not to mention summon the motivation I need to go through the editing and publishing processes on my own… Well, I’d sure as hell better write what I want to write.

And sometimes, all I want to write are sappy space pirate drabbles. Yes, sometimes, I do want to write serious essays about things in the world that make me think. Then there are times I’m struck with a spark and just want to re-capture the magic of a remembered moment.

This is where the brand part, the platform part comes in. If I want to establish who I am, what I’m about, and what kinds of writing my audience can expect from me, I have to put what I write out into the world. A lot of it. Quantity will beget quality, and hopefully, when there’s enough, a clear and simple identity will emerge.

And if what I write is space pirate drabbles, serious essays, and magical moments, well… that’s what I’ll be putting out into the world.

Living computers

I’ve seen the Living Computer Museum‘s neon green sign fly past for five years now, and only this weekend did we stop in. And thank god we did. What a trip.

It seems modest enough at first, though as delightful as you might expect – all neon and big displays and the bright colors you’d expect of an exhibit on modern technological superpowers, like self-driving cars, virtual reality, and big data. There was a display on Barbie’s influence on women in tech, a digital studio section, and an old Cray unit. All very cool.

But then we went upstairs, to the living computers.

We all pulled out our smartphones in awe, to take some 20+ megapixel photos we could instantly share with people we felt like sharing them to.

And I immediately thought, How quickly we take it all for granted.

The sounds! The recent past was a constant tapestry of high-pitched whines, whirring fans and hard drives, clattering keyboards and ka-chunking switches. Somehow we lived and worked beside that sound, day after day of it singing through our brains.

The time it took to complete simple tasks now seems staggering. Back then it was the latest, the quickest, the newest. Something to compare to what your friends’ families had.

I walked from thrumming machine to stuttering screen, in awe of human ingenuity. And so much of what I saw at the museum was predicted in some form by speculative authors. The imaginations that play with the future shape the future.

How far and how fast we’ve come, how accelerated our acceptance of change. How young and unprepared so many of the icons were: Bill and Paul and the Steves, especially. I saw photos of Bill Gates in high school, looking 13, his hands on a keyboard. (Where else?)

Yet with every decade of silicon I wandered past, I wondered, how many times now have we faced the same questions and assumed the answers would be different, because “the world is so different now”?

It’s really not. The world is never different. Nature goes on, with or without us. The tools we’ve got to contend with the dull parts, those change a lot. But the things about a life that make stories timeless, the struggles and the triumphs and the quiet happiness, those don’t go away.

If we keep thinking our tools will change the world, we’ll keep making the same mistakes.