Friday, December 17, 2004

Looks like I'm gonna make it

1211 words on WITB today. 500 tomorrow will get it over 20k. Things are really hopping now. John's holed up in an old gold mine. He's being pursued by an armed search party that thinks he's a sadistic psychopath. Nothing like a freshly minted vampire trying to figure out how to survive under that kind of pressure for generating tension. Tomorrow the FBI steps in. That'll crank the heat up a few degrees more.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Mama told me there'd be days like this

Got no words today. None. My mind feels like it's slogging through mud. Oh well. It'll get better.

Started reading instead. Rising by Brian Keene. Decent so far, but nothing to really get excited about. He has a fairly interesting take on zombies, but the plot is way derivative. Think The Stand with zombies instead of Superflu. So far, we have the middle-class white dude, the guy who let this thing loose on the world from some secret lab, the black junkie chick from the inner city, and the aging black minister. Stereotype characters, stock plot, I sure hope he's got some interesting twist coming up, or it'll be 7 bucks down the tubes.

On top of everything else, I want a cigarette so bad I can't stand it. I've been quit four years, now, but today the craving's back. I think it's just my mind getting in my way so I can't work.

Hey, you! Sit down and shut up! You ain't the boss of me!

Huh? What? Oh, hi, Mind. Oh, nothing. You know I just get carried away, sometimes. It's cool. No, no, everything's fine. Just go back to sleep. I'll call you when I need you.

Whew! That was close. Shhhhhh. Gotta go...

Real writers don't

On Silent Bounce this morning, Holly posted about having to put her Secret Project on hold because of requested changes that would have compromised the story. That's a tough decision for any writer, especially one who depends on these books to put food on the table and a roof over her family's head. That's having the courage of her convictions.

It's always refreshing to see someone who values principle over making a quick sale. It has to be hard to turn your back on money in the bank in order to preserve the integrity of your story, but it's a decision that every writer will probably face at some point in their career. I hope I have that kind of courage when my day arrives.

We all face this dilemma in small ways all the time. Compromise and win or stand firm and risk losing. Compromise usually wins. The vast majority of the time, the principles involved are not really worth fighting for. We give a little to get a little. The challenge comes when the decision involves compromising your vision, your dream, your passion for a story. That's when it gets hard. That's when the rubber meets the road, as they say. Will I have the courage to stand up and fight for my vision. I hope so. I'm sure I'll have the chance to find out one day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Baby steps

413 words on Washed in the Blood today. That puts me over 1000 for the week and gets the total over 18k. I would like to go over 20k this week. I'm off work Friday and Saturday, so I'll be able to put on a push. Just on a whim, I'm going to try for 25k by the end of the year. It will be a stretch, but isn't that what goals are for?

"The Easy Way Out" was rejected by Conversely. The score is now 22-5. That's an 18.5% acceptance rate. Not too bad, I think. This one did put me into double digits in the Great Rejection Slip Contest at Forward Motion. One goal down for this year! I still have some things out, so it may go even higher.

Mouth shut; ears open

My wife and I (actually just her, I just helped) started a support group for people with clinical depression and/or bipolar disorder that she runs locally. Nothing spectacular, just a group of people getting together and talking about things once a week. It's been a real benefit to some people, and that's all she expects to get out of it.

I threw together a quick and cheap Web site at OrgSites (a truly great place for small non-profits). That site has put me in touch with people all over the country. They all tell me the same things, and they are the same things that I have experienced.

People who are deeply depressed feel very much the same things: loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, muddled thinking, lack of energy, etc. I have found that most "normal" people are afraid to talk to someone who is depressed, even a loved one. They are afraid that they will say the wrong thing and push them over the edge, or they just don't understand how someone can feel so bad without having physical symptoms.

What depressed people need (besides professional assistance, of course) is someone to talk to. I did not say someone to talk to them, i said "someone to talk to". Sympathy and understanding go a long, long, way to helping them feel a little better. I have spent a lot of time on the telephone just listening.

Depression isolates people by reinforcing their feelings of low self-worth. They can't stand to be around other people, because other people all seem so happy and well-adjusted. They wonder why they feel so bad when everyone else feels so good. "What's wrong with me?" is a frequent thought, as is "Why can't I be strong like...?" Withdrawing serves two purposes. It takes away the torment of seeing other people's happiness, and it allows the feelings of worthlessness to feed and grow.

When someone is depressed, they need to hear that they are worthwhile, that they are valuable just as a human being just as they are. They need someone to believe in them. Many of them also need someone to give them permission to feel bad, to lie in bed and cry when the darkness is just too deep. They need someone to care whether or not they get up in the morning.

They also need to talk. They need to say how badly they hurt and have someone believe them. They need someone to hold their hand and tell them that it will be all right, that the darkness doesn't last forever, and that they do have the courage and strength to pull through. They need an ear to bend and a shoulder to cry on, even if it's over a phone line. Knowing that you are not alone is very important. The feeling that you're all alone in the world and no one understands you is the killer.

What if they're suicidal? What if they say that they have nothing left to live for and don't want to go on living? First, take that statement as absolute fact! People don't talk about suicide until they have given the subject a lot of thought. By the time they get to that point, they already have a plan and are only trying to get up the courage to put it into motion. They need intervention immediately!

While you're waiting on the paramedics, ask them to talk about the reasons they feel the way they do. These are probably things that they have never talked about with another person. Sometimes the very act of talking about it lets them see that their thinking is skewed right then. Do not patronize them! Don't pooh-pooh their feelings and their reasons and try to laugh it off. For that matter, don't joke around at all. These people need for others to take them seriously and pay attention to their concerns and to know how they feel.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when dealing with depression is that depressed people do not think the same way that others do. Depressed people can only see the down side. When you show them sunshine, they see the tornado that is inevitably coming. When they hear birds singing, they hear a grating, irritating noise that is almost unbearable. When they look at themselves, they see ugliness and failure and weakness. It is easy to lose patience with someone in this state. Encouraging them to see the good things in life seldom works, if ever. The depression blinds them to that whole side of the world.

Understanding. Sympathy. Listening. These are keys to dealing with depression in others.
Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa, a Joyous Yule...Screw it, y'all just have an extremely pleasant Winter Solstice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"Lord, I was born a ramblin' man..."

Many thoughts, little organization. Welcome to my world.

650 words on WITB today. I hope I can get a better count tomorrow. I just really, really, haven't wanted to work this week. Too much psychic baggage. One of the marks of a true professional, whether writer, librarian, or whatever, is showing up for work even when it's a struggle. I guess I'm making progress.

True professionalism requires commitment. That's a real nasty word, these days. A commitment is serious business. That means that your word is on the line. Do you keep your promises? Do you show up even when you don't want to? Keeping your commitments means that you are maintaining your integrity.

True professionalism requires integrity. All professions have ethics. As a professional librarian, I refuse to violate my ethics, even in the face of anger or scorn from others. Integrity used to be a good thing. These days, it's seen as old-fashioned, out-of-date, and irrelevant. I beg to differ. Ethics are not situational. Morality is not situational. Though my standards of right and wrong may differ from others' in small ways, they will coincide to a great extent.

Integrity means standing up for what's right, even if it's not popular. Integrity may require me to be ridiculed and scorned, mocked, even cursed. That's the price I have to pay. That's the price any person must be willing to pay if they want to remain true to their beliefs. Integrity is a harsh and sometimes cruel master. What's right and good seldom comes easily and is never free.

Integrity used to be worthy of respect. That is no longer true. Today's world is built around the notions of selfishness and disregard for anyone or anything that is not desired by or pleasurable for a particular individual. Anarchy, in other words. Other people are increasingly considered objects that must be shoved aside or climbed over on our way to our goals. That is sad.

Back in my younger days, I fell in love with a novel by Alistair MacLean named H.M.S. Ulysses. Most people consider him a hack, and he really was in his later years, turning out books by the handful, all with the same plot, the same characters, etc. And making tons of money doing it. However, before he sold his soul to the Demon Moolah, MacLean gave the world one extremely unappreciated novel of honor, courage, and redemption.

I consider Alistair MacLean a failure. He wrote a lot of books and made a lot of money, but he lost his integrity. He sold his vision and his talent for a mess of pottage. H.M.S. Ulysses shows that he had important things to say and could say them with passion and beauty. I count it a great loss that he did not maintain his professionalism under pressure.

I got off on this track while thinking (actually brooding) about my wife's family crisis. H.M.S. Ulysses is about the men on an escort vessel on the Artic convoy run to Murmansk during WWII. Referring to an oil tanker that has been torpedoed and set on fire, the author writes: "Tankers die hard. Terribly hard." That statement also applies to families.

Families die hard. Love dies hard. Terribly, awfully, tragically hard. It hurts.

I am also put in mind of a line that sits in my "Ideas" file waiting its turn upon the stage. One day it will provide the lead-in for a really fine story:

"They say time heals all wounds, but sometimes an eternity is barely enough to stop the bleeding."

Monday, December 13, 2004

Rough seas and gale force winds

No wordcount today. I've been reworking the outline for WITB in light of the developments of the past couple of chapters. I think it's going in a much better direction now. More action, less talk. That will be for the best.

Other than that, things have been going to Hell in a hurry around here. The feud in my wife's family erupted into a firefight over the weekend. Massive drama, arguing, loud voices, crying, etc. There's nothing as vicious as sisters fighting. I am desperately trying to avoid getting drawn into the middle of it. That's just more trauma than I really need.

This fight has been an ongoing thing for many, many years, pretty much since they were children. It's just now flashing into open warfare, now that their mother is gone. It's not a benefit that they're all strong-willed (often bull-headed) and absolutely unwilling to budge, much less compromise.

What really hurts me is to see how they play each other and push each others' buttons. In no time at all, a calm, reasonable conversation can turn into a high-tension scream-a-thon. Most of the time, they can't tell me what they're fighting about. Certain words just evoke a massive Mutually-Assured-Destruction knee-jerk.

In the work I have done on myself over the past months, I have learned how to abstract myself to a certain extent and observe what I'm doing and how I'm reacting. I cen't always control my instinctive reactions, yet, but I can recognize them for what they are and try to figure out why I feel so threatened in certain situations. My wife is unwilling to do that at this time., so all I can do is stand by and watch them dance to each other's tunes. I really hate that.