I see you, Failure (Pt. 1 – The Workout)

TeaParty-2.8x2I saw failure yesterday, so I invited her in for tea.

Failure was a woman this time, with the kind of toned, tight arms and back I’ve always wanted. She wore a ponytail and sweat didn’t sting her eyes. She came in for a post-workout protein drink. We decided to be casual for this party.

I figured my first tea party with failure this year would be work related. But writing is going well. Instead I’m paying for a gym, by gum, and want to freaking get my money’s worth. So I went to a class yesterday. That’s when Failure came a-knocking.

I’m very annoyed at the gym. It has various levels of classes, and used to have a yoga class in the mornings. But not enough people came, and now all the yoga classes are at bad times for me so I have to take the more strenuous classes. So I was already cranky.

The room was absolutely full. This is a ridiculously popular weights/cardio/yoga program, and just for funsies, it’s done in a super hot room. I had to have some very toned, already sweating people scoot to give me room for my yoga mat.

At the front of the room. Newbie in the front so everyone could see…

Fuck, I gotta get there earlier next time.

I’ve got an ankle with tendonitis, but just between you and me, I would have done poorly even if I hadn’t been modifying the program to make up for my brace. Just a few exercises in this furnace was murder. Plank, then down to forearm plank, then plank again! Mountain climbers! Burpees! Yoga with weights! Squats! Jump squats! Push ups! Funky crunches! MORE PLANK.

Halfway through I took a “water break” just to get out of the heat. This meant I had to walk through a bunch of tightly packed people exercising much better than me. “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else,” everyone says. But we all do. And I could hear, “this sucks, but at least I am not lumbering through and taking frequent breaks like that woman in front of the class.”

(My saving grace was I’d worn my prescrip. sunglasses and left my everyday glasses in the car. Once the sunglasses came off, I couldn’t see a goddamn thing. So if people were looking at me, I had no idea. So I had that at least.)

Near the end of the class, all I was doing was hanging on and hoping I wouldn’t faint. Or vomit up all the water I had drunk so I wouldn’t be left a dry husk on the floor. It was at this point that I had my epiphany. This was a failure.* This was something I had to do, accept, acknowledge, process, and move on.

At 42, with the metabolism slowing down, I’m rapidly becoming what Douglas Coupland calls a “thin fat person.” I’ve never been very big but what there is of me is getting squishy. I’m a writer and sedentary. I haven’t truly exercised since August. I have always had toothpick arms. And I sat in a car a lot over the holidays. Also, holidays. I am out of shape.

This is the second time I’ve done this crazy popular weights/yoga/cardio/hot as hell class. There’s no way I was going to do as well as everyone else in there. There’s no shame in that. I struggled. A lot. Then, I looked up at the ceiling while I was doing one of my 2,395 breaks during class, while everyone around me continued doing crunches, and realized it was OK. This sucked. It is going to keep sucking for some time until my body starts to wake up. That’s OK too. I just need to keep doing. Failure and I are going to keep working out together and keep trying not to faint together, and have a protein drink (do they have to taste so gritty?) together afterward.

I see you, Failure. Come on in and have a cup of tea – er, gritty protein drink – and we’ll talk about my workout plans.

* Please don’t worry about me and think that I’m super down on myself. Go and read this blog post about Failure and 2016.

It’s a Monday: Post-Illogicon and David Bowie Thoughts

We had a local con this past weekend, and I was Guest of Honor. It was the third time I had done the GoH thing, and it was by far the best. One previous time was nice, but I didn’t know a lot of people at the con so I felt strangely out of place, and another previous time should not be talked about in public. *

I also didn’t know HOW to be a GoH. No one tells you that. Well, no one except Mary Robinette Kowal, who included a GoH guide in her series of blog posts for debut authors.

But I kind of know what I’m doing now (in no small part thanks to MRK), what I need from the con, and how to get it. And this con had a lot of friends and colleagues and, bonus, my family were able to drop by.

I had an hour-long reading. I’ve not had very good readings at recent cons, again, not going to go into the details why, but my confidence has been shaken. So I read from a work my agent is shopping around and then just talked to people.

Then something amusing happened. To set the stage: In season 4 of Arrested Development**, George Michael Bluth is in college and, through misunderstandings and trying to impress a woman, suddenly finds that an app he and a friend are writing is blowing up to rival Facebook, VC angels are lining up to help fund, and Anonymous is targeting him. It’s one huge misunderstanding but he’s so taken in by the attention that he goes along with it. When you find out what the app really is, it’s a hysterical reveal.

To bring us back to Illogicon, with time still left in the reading, I started talking about various things I am working on. Because Ursula was my media escort (THANK you, Ursula. Kids, if you’re ever GoH, always get an escort. Even if you’re not going to be mobbed like GRRM or Gaiman, it’s still vital.) she was there with me, and we started talking about a very weird idea we have had together, one that our friends and family and agents think we’re crazy for coming up with. Contrarily, we’re even more driven to create this. I threw out the idea that we should, instead of making it a story, to make it a text based online story app (like the Choice Of Games) and said it could be similar to Hatoful Boyfriend. (Something I’ll write about later.) We laughed about it, and then the hour with Mur was over, and I went on to the next thing.

That night I read a blog post from someone who was there, and he mentioned “the video game Mur and Ursula are working on.” O_O

Then the VCs started calling. Then Sony. Then those TVs at gas pumps started talking about the mysterious game writing geniuses…

OK, maybe not. Ursula said if Sony called then we will do all that we can to make this damn thing a video game. But… Sony’s not calling yet. And we have nothing close to a story, much less a video game. But it was nice to have someone excited about it, at last.

Other highlights of the weekend: my kiddo did a hand-sewn costume of Frisk from Undertale which won her Best Youth entry in the costume contest! Did I get a picture? Sigh…

I did a Live Podcast panel where I brought Ursula to the stage to run through Publishing D&D, like Matt and I did at WorldCon for Ditch Diggers. It was a lot of fun (and I was more prepared). In response to a encounter with a little gelatinous cube that sat in the front row, regurgitated an arm to wave at her and offer “not a question, more of a comment”, Ursula drew this after the panel:

“Not a question, more of a comment.” Ursula Vernon

All in all, Illogicon was awesome! Thanks to the great volunteers for their hard work in making me feel welcome, and I can’t wait till next year because it will have Daniel José Older as GoH.

*Ask me at a con. After you buy me a drink.
** I’m so conflicted about season four of Arrested Development. It had a lot of problems, like uncomfortable problems. On the storytelling craft and episode editing, it was brilliant. On the actual story, showing how the characters had evolved, it was terrible. I can go on about that in another post, because it fascinates me and bugs the shit out of me at the same time.


A lot of times when celebrities die, the Internet goes into loud, collective mourning on social media, and I don’t join in. Sometimes I don’t feel my “me too, sad” addition will contribute, sometimes I feel more comfortable with my own thoughts. Sometimes I feel separated from reality, like I don’t understand how we can attack someone one day and then deify them once they’re dead. (eg: Michael Jackson.)

Or sometimes, as in the case of David Bowie, I don’t feel as if I had enough ownership of the man to mourn without feeling like a pretender.

This is ridiculous on several levels. As someone with perhaps… .000001% of Bowie’s fame, I still resent the idea that fans can claim an ownership of me and my work. But it’s what happens, right or wrong. When you’re a fan, the art speaks to you, it becomes part of you. You feel ownership. This is why people come to blows over insults against a piece of art. You insult this thing I love, you insult ME. But I never owned Bowie.

Aside: I like that. “Wasn’t a fan” implies I have active negative feelings instead of neutrality. “Didn’t own” can mean closer to the concept of accepting their talent but saying their work was never a big part of my life.

To tell you about my music and musical movie upbringing, or lack thereof, the first time I’d heard of David Bowie or Bing Crosby was when they did a duet of “The Little Drummer Boy.” I saw it on MTV as a teen and, since I didn’t know the old crooner or the wild young rock star, I didn’t realize the irony of that pairing for the song. I just thought it was a pretty song by two men.

Later in life when I saw the world outside the wee little mountain town I great up in, I always liked what I heard from Bowie. In particular, I loved Labyrinth. Loved how he snapped at Terry Gross about how Ziggy Stardust was a tiny bit of his huge career, but people love focusing on that part. And “Space Oddity” was the one song of his that simply ripped my heart out.

But still, I don’t own any albums, can’t tell you how his career moved through the decades. The world is mourning and I feel distracted and odd, sad but not sure I have the right to feel sad, and then I’m annoyed because dammit, I deserve to feel however I feel.

I can tell you this much, he was a genius, prolific, always evolving, and I’m very sorry he’s gone.

Tea Party with Failure – You’re Invited!


I am afraid a lot. I cover this frequently in my podcast, and yet the feeling never leaves.

I was doing a lot of thinking in December, and that’s when I heard the story about Inviting Mara to Tea. You can read the story in the link there, but essentially it’s a story of the Buddha who was being stalked by a demon of chaos that he had recently defeated. His aids would alert him to the demon lurking, and the Buddha would invite the demon in for tea. It’s a basic “face your fears” story. With tea and biscuits.

I fear failure. I don’t blog regularly partly because I’m afraid I have nothing to say, but I’m also afraid if I do have something to say it will fall flat, or resonate with no one, or no one will care, or I will miss the mark entirely of what I’m trying to say. In essence, I’m afraid it will fail. (Strangely, podcasting doesn’t fall into this realm because I have to work to listen to something I’ve recorded while the blog post is RIGHT THERE. Brains are weird. Shrug.)

After thinking a bit on this Buddha story, I also thought about all the things I used to do before I feared failure. Back in the early days of podcasting, I feared very little because I had succeeded in nothing. A little bit of success and suddenly I was introduced to something that could be taken from me, and I was afraid to try again.

I stopped making whatever idea came to mind. That’s a damn shame.

In 2016, I want to make weird shit again. I want to come up with crazy ideas and just do them. I want to write the stuff in my head that makes people look at me funny when I tell them the concept. I want to write more Shambling Guides. I want to do a video series. I want to do another audio drama. I don’t do these things because I am afraid of failure.

But I try to think about what Ze Frank said in my favorite video of his from July 11, 2006 (which mysteriously seems to be missing from the Internet, if anyone can find it I would be grateful! Full transcript is here, at least.) He was asked if he ever worried about running out of ideas.

I run out of ideas every day! Each day I live in mortal fear that I’ve used up the last idea that’ll ever come to me. If you don’t wanna run out of ideas the best thing to do is not to execute them. You can tell yourself that you don’t have the time or resources to do ’em right. Then they stay around in your head like brain crack. No matter how bad things get, at least you have those good ideas that you’ll get to later.
Some people get addicted to that brain crack. And the longer they wait, the more they convince themselves of how perfectly that idea should be executed. And they imagine it on a beautiful platter with glitter and rose petals. And everyone’s clapping for them. But the bummer is most ideas kinda suck when you do ’em. And no matter how much you plan you still have to do something for the first time. And you’re almost guaranteed the first time you do something it’ll blow. But somebody who does something bad three times still has three times the experience of that other person who’s still dreaming of all the applause. When I get an idea, even a bad one, I try to get it out into the world as fast as possible, ’cause I certainly don’t want to be addicted to brain crack.

To avoid being addicted to brain crack, in 2016 I’m going to face failure. I’m inviting it to tea. In fact, 2016 is going to be an entire year of tea parties, welcoming failure to come and have a sit down. The above graphic will go along with whatever stuff I come up with this year. I’m not denying failure. I’m not avoiding it. I want to talk to it, and get to know it, and share a cup of tea.

Won’t you join us?

Ah, Failure, my old friend. Earl Grey or are we avoiding caffeine this week? I just got a lovely mild green from Adagio. Would you like to try it?


Happy New Year! Preamble message: Get Bored

Neil Gaiman talked about this a few years ago when he took a social media vacation for six months to get bored so his brain would start working hard on some stories. I thought it was an interesting, if terrible, idea. (Terrible in the terms of “oh god I could never do that.”)

In Fallout Shelter: this is what happens when raiders attack and you’re pregnant and cutting a ham.

I took a major social media break in September and didn’t fully come back. I’m happier this way. But I have another drain on my time: iPhone games. Namely Neko Atsume, This War of Mine, and Fallout Shelter. (Heck, Fallout Shelter gave me my Twitter avatar.*) After realizing I had slid back into “gee I wish I would write something neat,” instead of, you know, doing my fucking job and writing something neat, I realized that when I encountered something that was dull to my brain, like car trips or waiting in line, I would fill it with a game. And those times are vital to my brain’s subconscious to do some freaking work.

How many times have you gotten an idea while in the shower? Cleaning? Driving? Doing something that forced you to give it attention, but only enough attention to do some unthinking labor so that your mind was free to go wandering? I have been robbing my brain of that time when it comes up and I don’t need to focus: someone else is driving, or hanging out with family in front of the TV**, waiting for water to boil. OH GOD SOMEONE HAS BEEN IN THE WASTELAND TOO LONG BRING THEM HOME BEFORE THEY ENCOUNTER ANOTHER DEATHCLAW.

I understand my brain. It wants to fill the spaces that I typically can use for the evil thoughts. The “you suck” thoughts. For example, instead of brilliant ideas I could think about every mistake I’ve ever made. (This happened while driving through rural NC at night in the rain recently. Fun fun.) Dopamine hits from seeing what cats have visited or finding a weapon in This War of Mine are much more fun than “remember that thing you did thousands of days ago that you’re long past? Yeah that was stupid, wasn’t it?”

But despite that downward spiral of self loathing that is, sadly, sometimes inevitable in non-sociopaths, giving your brain some time off makes it stomp around yelling, “MOM, I’m BOOOOORED” and then you patiently tell you brain, “Find something to do, dear,” and then you brain pouts a bit, and then unearths its old doll house and reenacts Hamlet with its dolls, and then writes HAMLET TWO: THE NUNNERY GETTING TO because your brain doesn’t know what a nunnery is in the terms of Hamlet and you don’t want to tell them because you’re so delighted that they did something creative.

There are other reasons why I am holding back, and I’ll work them out in a later blog post. But for now I’m tackling the thing that’s easiest AND hardest to fix: deleting the games from the ipad and iphone. Deleting the games is easy. Keeping them off is the hard part. Wish me luck. And consider letting you brain get bored sometime this year too. You may be surprised with what you come up with.

* I’ll probably keep the Twitter avatar. It just makes me so happy.
** OK, so sitting in front of the TV isn’t the best for the brain working on ideas either, but you know what I mean, dammit.