Fall Season Reflections

Today is the last day of the fall writing season. It's time to reflect on what did and didn't work.

My approach with Daily Refills showed some success and some failure. It both worked and didn't. I was successful at writing a lot of short pieces on tight deadlines. I took some real pleasure in those pieces. I learned a lot about the rhythm of pieces of that length, and how long a piece could be before it would be impossible to get it edited and published in time every day. Reading over the pieces later, I think a lot of them are successful, and I've had the extremely gratifying experience of readers telling me that they enjoyed certain pieces, that certain pieces made them laugh. And it was definitely fun to play more directly with fiction. With the exception of the "Ben Writes About Stuff" pieces, just about everything posted in Daily Refills was either pure fiction or at least fictionalized. (Further credence to my argument that Free Refills is not a blog.)

However, doing Daily Refills and setting them apart from and not included in my 5000 didn't work. Yes, I'm nine months into the practice of every-weekday publishing, and I still haven't missed a day, so that part worked, but what I learned--what didn't work--is that trying to bring a piece from start to finish in one day just demanded too much energy. Sure, that I didn't include their word counts in my weekly 5000 had the nice effect that I certainly worked harder on my writing this fall than I have since my Double Month Writing Month back in January and February of 2012, when I wrote 100,000 words of zero-draft fiction (an experiment I intend to never repeat). That's gratifying in some ways, but the energy cost was just too high.

My choice to do the Daily Refills was highly influenced by my favorite webcomics, preeminently XKCD. Randall Munroe has been posting a new comic every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for years, and pretty much every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I check his site first thing. He does excellent work and I really enjoy it.

But the webcomic medium and prose writing are two different things, and while it was edifying to practice short, self-contained pieces, I found that ultimately it was getting in the way of doing anything more ambitious. And my ambition is pretty clear to myself: it's time for me to start--seriously start--working on the books that are calling me to write them. And that means making them the focus of my writing concentration.

I can't call any process in which I've learned as much as I did over the past 3 months a failure. But it's time to change my focus to something more sustainable and more in line with my long-term goals.

Soon We Will Rule the World

Even if you're reading this days after I publish it so that the event in question is long over, even if you aren't a skier, first of all head over to opensnow.com and give a quick read of today's Daily Snow.

Did you catch that? How twice in that piece Joel Gratz mentions free refills? He might as well be giving me high-fives.

The sun never sets on the Free Refills empire.

How to Win the Love of a Writer, Part 3

"Wait. You're saying you never even met her in person?" she asked, incredulously.

"Not never," I replied. "We hung out a few times. But it was uncomfortable. Stilted. Most of our relationship lived in text messages and chat windows."

"And yet you claim that you loved her?"

"Of course I loved her," I said. "She was incredibly precise with her commas."

I Bet Most People Practicing Gratitude This Week Aren’t Saying This

I have had zombie nightmares for years, since long before zombies became so embedded in popular culture. I dream lucidly sometimes, but never once while in a zombie dream, and so the terror and horror are always profound and unquestioned, and I'll bet if you're practicing gratitude this week (and you should), you have not taken a moment to be thankful that the zombie apocalypse is not actually real.

Not so far, anyway.

How to Win the Love of Your Stripper, Part 2

Yes, true, but: what if she is someone who is simply working as a stripper?

Perhaps it is like this: she discovered over the years a talent for taking her clothes off, and so, one day, reflecting on the career choices ahead of her, decided to go pro. It was a reasonable choice: lucrative, not especially arduous (besides the small detail of needing to wall off a certain part of herself in order to maintain her sanity). It's her job, but it's not her calling.

The heart of your challenge is this: she is someone who is an expert at being looked at without being seen. This is her defense against the hardship of her job. How, then, can you win her heart, when she cannot trust that it is even truly she and not a shadow whom you wish to love?

The Mysteries of Divine Agency

From the discussion over the last few days, it may seem that despite my initial mention of it, I have chosen to disregard the possibility that some sort of trickster deity had something to do with my shirts' disappearance. This isn't exactly so.

It is very hard to speak comfortably of an immortal's activities on our plane of existence, since in all but the rarest, most extraordinary cases, deities assert their agency via subtle influence rather than direct action. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that a person (or other physical force) becomes the agent for the deity's whims. But how, then, do you differentiate divine influence from that agent's more prosaic activities? Given our rather impoverished perceptual abilities (by the standards of the vast panoply of beings whose planes ever intersect our own, anyway), it's rarely cut-and-dried.

Imagine, for example, that you are reading a book that you are really enjoying. You're moving towards the climax, and the book's momentum is really picking up. You realize you're thirsty, so you decide to take a little break to go get a beverage before moving boldly toward the book's exciting finish. You set the book on the side table next to the lamp, and go get your beverage. When you bring the glass back, you realize you need to use the restroom, so you put the glass down next to the book. When you return, you discover that the cat has jumped onto the side table and knocked your glass over. Now the book is soaked. "Damn it!" you cry. "Stupid cat!" To our haughtily incredulous, post-modern world-view, that's the end of the story: the cat was naughty. But can you really comfortably say that the cat wasn't in some way compelled into that action?

Indeed, it is perhaps worth asking: Don't the cat's weird, almost alien whims ever make you wonder just what the hell is going on in its furry, befanged little head? Can you really be sure it isn't some kind of antenna for the eldritch impulses of supernatural entities? And thus the follow up question: Why do you even have a cat in the first place? Why didn't you just get another dog?

It Was Grey, Grey Like the Purgatory of Your Own Conflicted Emotions

To my stalker, taking the grey t-shirt had seemed like such a good--or at least, impossible-to-ignore--idea at the time. But every time she walked into her bedroom and saw my shirt on the pillow she'd dressed with it--a pillow to which she'd added a purple smiley-face-emblazoned balloon for a head, reasoning, "He's bald, after all"-- she felt a deep shame. Eventually it got to be too much. She moved to Peru, trying to escape her compulsions.

(How clean a break did she make? She took the t-shirt with her. She did, however, pop the balloon.)

But try as she might, she couldn't escape the feeling of something important missing from her life. After eight months, she had to move back.

Welcome back, my dear. I still want my t-shirt.


I went hunting through my old hard drives looking for a certain picture, and while doing so I came across another picture, wholly unexpected.

It was a picture of her and me together. Her and me together in a golden light, smiling.

I do not remember this as a bright time, you understand. I remember anguish and anger. I remember unhappiness. I remember darkness. You remember that time too, I bet: when the Ant People and the Water Nomads banded together to attack the purification plant. The picture is from the days just before their assault.

Also, we kind of fought a lot.

In the picture, bathed in a golden light, her and me in uniform (we knew of them massing, you remember) and we are with our arms around each other and the smiles on our faces are broad and pure.

It is hard to remember now that we were so fully in love.

The assault came as we knew it would and though we defeated them (as we knew we would), the casualties were not light and each of us survived uninjured but neither she nor I nor we survived unscathed. The Ant People returned underground, and the Water Nomads fled, routed, and our platoon split. Some sealed the tunnels as best we could, some gave chase, some stayed to tend to the damage. I went out, way out. She stayed behind. I came back, but from where I'd gone there was no coming back.

Insomnia (II): Job. Hunting.

Up in the wee hours again...

I've been applying for jobs. Jobs I'm not sure I want but also not sure I don't. I can envision what would be good about them and what wouldn't be so good.

The process opens me to things, things I haven't felt in a long time. I haven't had a boss, not the way we normally mean we have bosses, since 1999. I don't really want one now.

Of course I understand that, whatever I choose, I really have the same boss I've come to have over all these years. Every other boss I have, I will ever have, is just a game we're playing. An agreement hedged with a glance of misdirection. At least, it is for me. They might not understand that.

I am scared, if I take those jobs, that I will struggle with my sleep. Not struggle the way I used to struggle. Now I sit on the cushion in the dark and play with energy and eventually I get back to sleep. But sometimes I sleep well into the morning. And those morning hours are the best hunting...

Am I awake this morning because something scares me? Or because there are some things that are easiest to say in the dark quiet hours of the nighttime morning?