a before and an after

I have a lot of practical thoughts on Viable Paradise, but I needed to get the emotional glurge out first.

The thing I’m learning about epiphanies is that they happen, and leave, and happen again.

The past week was a staggered set of such realizations, many-layered.

Realization the first:

learning never stops, no amount of understanding is complete, knowledge never sufficiently accumulates as to prevent the learner from needing more.

Weird though it be, this  profoundly reassured me. Possibly my most heartwarming takeaway from Viable Paradise (right up there with having this new family, my new ka-tet): the amount of knowledge shared between the instructors themselves. No one came into any of the lectures with an absolute dominion over a topic. Even when the material wasn’t necessarily new, often the way it was presented gave me different perspectives.

I am grateful the instructors allowed me to record my sessions, because one of the other profound discoveries of the week for me: the amount of degradation in my auditory memory in recent years. It was shocking to me in some ways to see this so starkly outlined. Difficult, too, because no one likes to see themselves as impaired and it’s clear I’m struggling with this specific problem, AND I’m completely capable of coming up with a solution and asking for help when needed.

Certain elements of this week were a trial by fire for me; some of which I’m certain I failed, some of which I crossed without noticing I was on hot coals barefoot.

One of my other moments came along late Thursday evening, when I realized literally everyone was having at least one of the feelings that I was. It might be the Impostor Syndrome Kraken, perhaps? But every single person I spoke to around that time mentioned a deep fear they were more or less isolated from the rest of the group in some way. Fearing they talked too much, or no one liked their stuff, despite having reams of paper to the contrary. Even my roommates–two of the brightest individuals I know, period, full stop!–were wrangling the same kraken in a different shape. Once it was clear this feeling happened to just about everyone (yes, instructors too!), it was much easier to limit its grasp. And I hope, to some extent, it helped everyone else I talked to about this, because seriously, this was a talented group of people to cram into a single space. Not easy by any means.

I joked, going into this workshop, that the only thing I might cry about would be positive feedback. And I wasn’t wrong; this did happen, completely unexpectedly, after a very kind gesture from one of my one-on-one instructors on Wednesday afternoon. He read and commented on an additional story of mine, even after getting through the 8000 words of my workshop submission, and had a lot of useful advice and some unexpected compliments. When I tried to express a flustered kind of joy-distress-gratitude, he replied with “We are here for all of you.”

And I had to reframe a lot of my thinking, in that exact moment. I am accustomed to viewing myself as part of the all, that’s perfectly normal, but I struggle with being singled out – – even favorably. To have someone go out of their way for me, specifically, was sort of… I’m trying to sift out the words for that feeling.

The takeaway in that moment, for me, was small and important.

That all the stuff I deliberately minimize in order to shield my ego is being done a disservice. That being part of the all in “all of you” doesn’t prevent me from being an individual with needs, too. That I’m still learning but I’m always going to be that way, and that’s a good thing!

And that whatever the hell this story is that’s burning at the core of me isn’t stupid or unimportant, just in need of care and feeding and support that I haven’t allowed myself to give nor accept from others. I’m working on it.

This feels really clumsy, but I’m going with it.

baggage versus luggage

A non-chronological personal assessment, taken around 4am in June 2015. Cleaned up a tad but not by much. The timeline, out of order but presented in highs and lows that map my past few creative months in an unexpected way.

I do not expect this to make a lot of sense, but then very little does for me right now.  (I got into Viable Paradise what the heck how did I get into Viable Paradise)

I. This weekend (late June 2015)

The whole weekend which just flew past has been weird, not least of which because it was actually a normal person weekend. Saturday, Sunday. Like a non-retail employee, like a real person whose entire life isn’t their job.

I know, right?

This revelation and my general demeanor about it probably says a lot about me without meaning to.

II. January 2015 

A conversation with my Internet bestie on IRC, paraphrased:

“Whoa. The instructor list for this Viable Paradise workshop is basically a who’s-who of your reading list, isn’t it.”

“I know, right?”

“So, what are you going to send in?”

“Probably nothing, because that’s how I usually do this kind of thing.”

“You get punchies.”

III. May 28th

Picture a lot of bickering between two people about something important that ends with:

“I don’t understand your self esteem. I don’t know anyone as smart as you who takes so little credit for it. You can pick up a hobby in a matter of weeks that takes other people years to learn. And you’ve been doing this for how many years? I mean fine, if you don’t want to, fine, but it seems stupid to not try.”

IV. February 2015 

Barcade. Belated holiday party. My partner’s employer has turned us loose with open-bar wristbands and rolls of quarters. We conquer several stouts and the X-men 6-player arcade game. After making the high score list for Millipede, I wander over to him and we’re  chatting about stuff to do in the summer and fall with one of the other techs.

“There’s this workshop in like, October. It’s basically… A ton of writers I like, but it’s like… it’ll be like over a thousand dollars.”

“How do you sign up?”

“You have to send a story and like, a letter about how you want to go.”

“Get in. We’ll figure it out from there.”


I should ask for more things in life when everyone is hammered.

V. June 6th 2015

“We need to buy a printer. It’s time. How did both of us get to age thirty without a printer at home?” I ask my partner.

“Printing stuff at work, mostly.”

“Yeah, exactly. If I print 50 pages double-spaced at work, my boss is going to notice.”

Sixty dollars later, I stagger across Holland Tunnel traffic with my new best friend. This printer and I, we have been some places and seen some things. 

VI. May 24th 2015

I can’t do this. I can’t fucking do it. This book is garbage and I hate it. I don’t have time to fix it. The deadline is so close, and I literally don’t have time between now and then to try to fix this.

VII. March 2015 

“This story is good, but it just wasn’t quite right for us. I wish you good luck with it elsewhere, and I look forward to reading more from you!”

is sometimes a far more soul-crushing rejection than,

“Thank you for submitting your story. It doesn’t fit our needs at this time.”

VIII. May 29th

I literally bought a book about self esteem. I hate this book, mostly because it is centered on cognitive behavioral therapy, which I find generally doesn’t help me, but certain specific advice and anecdotes within really do point to things I can do, or stop.

IX. April 2015

“Hm. The more I think about it, the more I think you should send your novel. Your short stories are good; there’s not a lot more to do than find them the right editor.”

“The novel is in pieces right now. Mostly garbage, really.”

“When is it not? Send it, you’ll learn how to fix it.”

“But it’s like, so bad there’s no way I’m going to get in.”

“You get punchies.”

X. May 30th, 2015

I’m at work, doing a series of presentations about mold making, and casting, and clay sculpting, and thermoplastics, because that’s what my job is.

It’s a little different and a lot more frustrating when my boss spends the whole day undermining me in front of the people who are here to see me talk, but whatever. Nothing I’m unaccustomed to.

XI. February 2015

For the second month in a row, one of my best friends on the Internet has written a thousand words or more per day. It really makes me self-conscious about my output, especially since I’m just wrapping up this class with Cat Rambo and feeling really pumped about the whole writer thing.

XII. June 2nd

Jury duty. Seven excruciating hours of waiting for me number to come up while watching the HGTV channel. The formula for Flip Or Flop is so grating after the 6th or 7th consecutive episode. My phone dies mid – revision in Evernote. Of course it does.

We need to save more humans from the indignity of daytime television.

XIII. May 31st 

So. It’s kinda weird when one of the other presenters from the work demo event, a friend of mine who is an Emmy-award-winning makeup artist, invites me to join the after-party crew after this demo. No one ever treats me like I’m one of the insiders, and I can tell my boss is surprised I’m included in the group of people who all head over to this bar together.

We all get to talk shop, and compare paint jobs and the seams on our prosthetics, and how awesome it is that SOME movies are going back to practical effects…

And my opinion and experience matters to these people, and then I remember there’s a goddamn self help book in my shoulder bag.

XIV. May 30th again

On the way home from the first hellish day of a 2-day workshop, I decide, what the hell, I’ll go see Mad Max again. There’s a non-3D showing at the mall here and it’s timed perfectly for me to get there and home at a reasonable time.

It’s the third time I’ve seen it, at this point. (I will not admit how many times I have seen this movie, don’t ask, don’t bother)

I’m honing in on those story-feelings that I’m dying for someone else to have about something I wrote. I’m not there yet, I’m not even in the same stadium, but what the hell am I doing if I don’t try.

XV. June 8th

“Can you read the first three pages or so and tell me if you hate it?”

He makes it to page fifteen before we’re interrupted by a plate of bacon wrapped jalapeño poppers. I do count this as a point in my favor.

XVI. June 10th 

I ask one of my coworkers to make sure this envelope with gargantuan manuscript inside makes it into the day’s mail pickup.

It doesn’t; she gets sidetracked by her kid’s school calling midday. I try not to panic, and send it out the next day, figuring it’s probably arriving too late to matter.

XVII: June 16th 

So begins the first day of The Long Wait. My friend, whose submission has been in the works since January or something, and I, both commiserate on the waiting time. Doing some rejectomancy research, I figure we’ll be waiting until the 22nd or so.

XVIII: May 25th

A random Twitter mutual inadvertently saves the day with advice which is subtexted “(no good options!)”–and while at the time, I’m working on the reality of not getting it done, they inadvertently gave me a boost I couldn’t have asked for, even if I had asked for one.

XIX: June 18-19th

In the wee hours of the evening, in IRC, I chat with my thousand-words-per-day friend during day three of the big wait. He disappears for a few and I assume he’s sprinting, but when he pops back in, he says, “Well, I did not get into Viable Paradise this year.”

and I feel really crummy for him, and have a sudden, deep terror of my inbox. But, at the same time, I know he’s a very different writer now than he was six months ago, even. He’s written nearly 250,000 words since then. That application probably doesn’t even reflect who he’ll be as a writer four months from now. Me, on the other hand? Who choked and quit, scrabbled for purchase on the ever-crumbling walls?

Maybe I just can’t do this.

So I open my email inbox and then I scream, out loud, first.

“Oh fuck, I got in.”