Looking Forward

I’ve worked for the better part of the month to try and come up with a personal recap of 2012. It’s been a gnarled mess so far. There’s so much from last year that I never got the chance to cover on this blog, and I feel obligated to try and cover all of it, which makes the whole thing tediously long. Also, much of what happened to me this past year was, to understate things, difficult, and writing about freshly lived difficult experiences is, well, difficult. Plus, the idea of a recap of 2012 is just so comically late by this point; it’s almost February now.

So, I’ve decided it makes more sense for me to lay out my personal and professional ambitions for this year, as a means of letting people know what I want to work on, but also as a means of holding myself to my goals. There’s still some recapping, but it’s (hopefully) more focused.

I will continue to develop and challenge myself as an editor.

I feel pretty confident in my chances of pulling this off, to say the least. It’s been a very busy, rewarding year on the editorial front. I’ve spent a little under a year as the official managing editor at WFR ever since taking over for Angela Slatter, and I’ve also been helping the VanderMeers with other editorial tasks since earlier than that. It was all a bit overwhelming at first, sure, but by December I’d gotten the hang of it quite nicely. I like editorial work; I enjoy helping writers with their work and making sure it exists in its best possible form, and it’s rewarding to play a role in helping undiscovered or overlooked writers gain a larger audience. I’ve written editorials, reviews, interviews and the like, and I’ve discovered that, much to the surprise of my usually introverted nature, I’ve gotten better at talking to people and discovering connections with them and what they do. Barring any sudden developments, I’ll be at WFR for a while, and I’ve got a few (for now) secret projects in the pipeline too.

I will continue to travel to new places.

In April, I flew to North Carolina to have a mini-retreat with some friends from Stonecoast – Julie Day, Lindsey Bogason, Taylor Prestion, Mariel Morales, Amy Tibbets, Keith R. Potempa, and Derek Hoffman – with all of us shacking up in a beach house at Wrightsville Beach near Wilmington, on the Outer Banks. I got buried in the sand, among other things.

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In May, I took a surprise trip to Maryland for a job interview at a community college in Germantown, then drove over to Frederick for a night to visit my friend Devin Gaither, who was participating in a reading for her theater troupe.  In July and November, I flew to ReaderCon in Burlington, MA and the World Fantasy Convention in freaking Canada (Toronto, specifically). I say “freaking” Canada not because it sucked – far from it! – but because that was my first trip out of the country, ever. Both times, I traveled in support of my duties at WFR and Cheeky Frawg.

Four times, I flew solo to different places, for business and pleasure alike, and every time I flew out, I came back home with vital insights and peace of mind, and the joy and relief of meeting up with friends in person again, as opposed to just staying in touch electronically. That’s a combination of wonderful things I can’t get any other way than just packing up and going somewhere else for a while.

I will continue to attend conventions this year.

ReaderCon and WFC were absolute blasts and really helped me to find my place within the speculative fiction community at large and find new friends and colleagues. I visited ReaderCon with Jeff VanderMeer back in July, shortly after he came to Stonecoast as a visiting lecturer (I was visiting soon-to-be-graduates, and the timing worked out perfectly). So, I got to be his sort-of-sidekick for the trip, which was fantastic. We took a scenic drive through Maine before ending up in Massachusetts for ReaderCon. The drive that day was great, and so was the company. Jeff and I talked about a lot of stuff and got to know each other, and he was thoroughly traumatized by eating a whole lobster for the first time. I have evidence.

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Fun fact: husked-out lobsters make for decent makeshift finger puppets.

My experience at ReaderCon turned me into a bit of a social butterfly about halfway through my time at the convention, and as a result I met a lot of fantastic new people and was in my element in general, more than I expected. I took that new attitude with me to WFC, and so I really had fun and knew how to interact with others from the very beginning. My partners-in-crime this round were Malissa Kent (who has an awesome story in Steampunk Revolution that everyone should read: “The Heart is the Matter”) and Genevieve Williams (who is just awesome, period, and has a story in the new anthology Future Games). There were many adventures had at WFC, between helping Karin Tidbeck with her autograph session, setting up the Cheeky Frawg launch party with Nicole Koehler-Stace, Dominick Parisien, and Genevieve Valentine, and meeting many more new, cool people, along with some return faces from ReaderCon. As a whole, WFC felt like this great big epic party from start to finish, a truly transformative experience.

I also got myself a cool new sidekick out of the trip: a surly white rabbit named Krowley. He’s Canadian-American, since I share custody of him with Amal El-Mohtar, per our agreement at WFC.

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My owl mug is closely watching Krowley, lest he do something shifty.

I don’t know how many conventions I’ll attend this year. I’d love to go to ICFA and WorldCon, since I’ve never been to either, but I’ll have to see regarding money and timing. At the very least, I will be attending ReaderCon again. Bet on it.

I will exercise regularly.

My physical health slid a bit this year, most notably later on in the year when my workload began to press down on me. I’ve gained a little weight back, and I’m not happy about it. So, I’ve resolved to exercise regularly, as a means of rectifying this and also as a way to deal with stress in a more beneficial manner. Thus far, I’ve created a regimen I feel good about: squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and regular use of elliptical machines and treadmills to sweat my weight out. I’ve even discovered that I have an easier time using the treadmill when I’m reading; I get so absorbed in it, I don’t even notice the soreness of my body.

I will write and sell at least six stories.

I made my first actual sale earlier this year: “The Artist in the Tower,” which appeared in the December issue of Ideomancer. I’m incredibly proud of this story. I also don’t want it to be my only sale as a writer. That said, I didn’t actually complete a new work of fiction this year; all I have is a few fragments and aborted drafts of stories lurking in my hard drives and handwritten notes.

So, I’ve set the goal of selling six more stories to various publications this year, which I know means writing more than six, way more (which is the main reason why I set this goal). I’m comfortable with that. I need to set expectations for myself and retool my creative process so that I don’t just go queasy at the first signs of trouble in my drafts. I need to learn how to juggle multiple projects and work through rough spells, like actual professional writers do (or should do), and I need to learn how to write something when I don’t have a definite plan for it beforehand. Most importantly, I need to learn how to write and be productive regardless of how easy or difficult the rest of my life is at that moment. It’s a matter of discipline, I think, just sitting down and doing it, no matter what, and making it a habit.

I will start working on a novel at some point.

Or a screenplay. Or a play or two. Definitely a few essays and professional reviews or columns, if I get into a groove. Maybe even a graphic novel, comic book, webcomic, etc. The point is, I need to continue to stretch myself as a writer. Working in the same medium and mode constantly can get to feeling stale at times, which stagnates the imagination. Such is the case with me, I suspect, since I more or less work exclusively with short fiction. Even now, I’m thinking of how I tried writing a comic book script when I was in my first semester at Stonecoast, thinking I needed to transition to writing comics. Immediately after that, my interest in my own writing was rejuvenated, and I experienced a burst of creativity and sheer writing that resulted, within months, in five different stories I consider among my best.

I will make new progress toward my ideal academic career.

Which would be as a full-time, tenure-track professor of English at a university or liberal arts college somewhere, preferably teaching a mixture of courses: composition, literature, and, of course, creative writing. I enjoy teaching, but right now I do it on a part-time basis at a local junior college in addition to full-time work elsewhere, and I only ever get to teach basic composition and freshman composition courses. I don’t want to be doing this adjunct dance forever; the thought of doing this for even five or six more years while I try to go full-time somewhere makes me go a bit crazy.

So, of course I’ll keep applying for teaching jobs – most of which are in other states, because there isn’t squat for academic openings in Missouri – but I’ve also applied for Ph.D. programs in creative writing at four different universities. That would give me at least five more years to develop my portfolio as a writer and teacher and make me a more attractive candidate for a position somewhere (provided universities don’t plummet into financial oblivion in the meantime; great, now I’m bummed again).

I will move away to somewhere new by the end of the year.

The fact is, where I live right now isn’t a good place for my future. That’s part of why I like to travel: I’m kinda scoping out places I could come to call home. With luck, I will be moving somewhere else by the end of the year, either because of a new teaching job or a Ph.D. program. If neither of those things happen, then I would seriously consider moving just to move, and then finding new work once I settle somewhere. I’ve lived in the same place for too long, with too much a lack of opportunities for myself and my life, and it’s driving me nuts. It’s long past time to relocate.

I will be more active in fighting back against any dark moods that rise up on me.

I’m going to be walking a very fine line here between being perfectly honest and (hopefully not) disclosing too much personal information, so bear with me: oftentimes, I have trouble dealing with depression or general blue moods that seize me. It tends to happen when negative things occur and I allow my feelings to well up on me and metastasize, as opposed to dealing with them in a positive manner. Doesn’t make them suck any less, but still. And this year, it became a huge problem, bigger than it had in recent memory.

Contributing factors this year: a failed job search that lasted months and ended in another year of adjunct limbo; living in a community that has a middling-to-hostile relationship with higher education and a distinct lack of local friends and activity partners with shared interests to my own; an especially rough Fall semester of teaching (which was the biggest contributor to stress later in the year) where I constantly felt I was failing to reach my students and make them care about academics; the cumulative strain of failing to get any worthwhile writing done; and the ever-constant fear that I was trapped in a life situation that would never change. By October, it had become this giant twine-ball of anxiety and depression pressing at the back of my head, making me simultaneously sad, angry, tired, withdrawn, and fragmented. I was genuinely afraid that I would suffer a nervous breakdown before the end of the year.

As bad as it got, it could have been much, much worse. My work at WFR helped me a lot, because it gave me a strong sense of purpose, as well as something to focus on other than my own feelings and fears. My trips to ReaderCon and WFC saved me at vital moments this year from just wallowing in muck, and I came back home energized. My travels gave me a chance to find out how I fit in different environments, with pleasantly surprising results. As much as I maintained a policy of radio silence this year – that’s what I do when I get depressed, I just go silent – those moments where I stayed in touch with friends helped make things that much more bearable. My story sale to Ideomancer and its publication later in the year made me want to dig up all of my old drafts from the year and see if they were as bad as I thought they were; turns out they’re not (a danger of working on writing while you have a bad sense of self).

So, these are all the kinds of things I need to do and remember whenever it starts getting a little too dark for me. I just need to remember walking on the beaches of North Carolina, or navigating the busy streets of Frederick, or tasting my first Guinness at ReaderCon, or racing Dominick up the stairs while getting ice at WFC in a spontaneous burst of childlike energy. Just now, I smiled again, even if it was a little one, to myself.

I think the following picture best represents the kind of mental state I want and need to cultivate, even in the face of the unknown and the uncontrollable. My friend Lindsey Bogason took it when we arrived at Wrightsville Beach at the start of our retreat in April (she also took the previous picture of me buried in the sand). It was the first time I’d seen the ocean since I was in high school, when my family vacationed on the beach in Florida. I took my shoes off and walked toward the water, wanting to feel it on my bare feet once more. The closer I got to the water, the louder the sound of the ocean became. It filled my ears and became a second pulse, pushing my anxieties right out of my head to make room. I stood there for a minute, just listening to the ocean and nothing else, the sound of the tourists on all other sides of me drowned out. I could have stood there forever and done anything else I wanted, as long as I had that sound and the cold shock of salty water on my toes. Unfortunately, I live in Missouri, good ol’ landlocked, boring, pollen-infested Missouri.

Fortunately, I have a strong imagination.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Looking Forward

  1. Good luck on your goals. One step at a time, right?

  2. Pingback: Looking Back on 2013, and Looking Forward Too | Caught In The Dreaming

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