Lollypop Tongues

This has been a year of reeling.  I’ve learned that it isn’t only the bad times that knock me down and shake me up, but the good ones, too. No sooner do I get my feet under me, take a few carefree steps when BOOM! – something else comes out of nowhere. The year is dense with overload, bristling with good and bad things like lurid lollypop tongues. It isn’t a bad year or a failed year or even a grieving year. In many respects, 2012 may be one of my most accomplished years, one full of opportunities, revelations, and surprising detours. It is a year of change.

blue lolly oceanAnd that’s not any kind of year for a stability junkie.

Or is it?

The shifting landscape of my life has forced me to find a calm center that isn’t based on any illusion of control. In the past, my days were ruled by an unwavering agenda. I ran my life like a tight ship, never straying from my course or getting stuck in the doldrums. Small upsets to my schedule made me anxious and fearful. I was inflexible in the weirdest of ways, and continually insisted on doing things that didn’t need to be done simply because I had them scheduled. It took decades for me to learn that life isn’t a boat, and I’m not a captain.

Life is an ocean. Beautiful-terrible, mercurial life! It is the last thing you were ever expecting it to be.

My prissily planned days were an artificial representation of the ocean of life. Sure, you can eliminate unnecessary complexity in calculating forces by assuming all horses are shaped like spheres. The rude fact is that horses are not spherical, and that forces aren’t always easily calculable. Years like this one make me aware that no matter how tightly I pin down one dimension of the equation, there are more variables I hadn’t accounted for popping up elsewhere. I’m finding this in my WIP. It started as a book, expanded to a triology, and is now projected to be a five book series. A series! I am in the second revision of the first book and the draft is … tumescing. I’ve added an additional twelve-thousand words, shutting down any hopes of writing a slim novella. And I’m not finished with the edit, which means that this book, like life itself, is going to keep me reeling.

I mentioned a calm center, but I don’t find them in these frenetic, strange words sparking in their own tinder-boxes of potential. The calm is here, though. All the time, right here.

To reach it, I had to abandon myself to the incalculable tides of fate. The waves stole my flip-flops, the undertow dragged me down. Down, down into my core. At first, it was incredibly hard to sit still quietly with myself. Panic was a threat, an intense urge to make lists was a threat, loud music and cold beer were welcome threats to the simple act of surrender. Yet in the quiet of my core, away from the spinning wheel of the daily, that is where I find true, unchanging peace. Moment to moment, I can go there and be free of what plagues me. There are such bad things, and some such good things, that shift my entire sense of self into a new spectrum of understanding, loathing, or loving. Those are the times the center is needed. Of course, those are also the times when I box in the asshole in the Beemer or snap at the nice guy from IT (and one should never, ever under any circumstances snap at the nice guy in IT!). The discovery of calm hasn’t made me perfect, but it has made me more aware of when I have spun out into the tempest. To go to my center focuses me. The stillness of calm gave me the strength to get out of my Ambition Room, the empowerment to define my own ‘All,’ and access to the conduit that sends me the stories I write.

The calm isn’t contingent on the world or reality. It is untouched by the whirlwinds of tragedy and triumph. It is within me, and it is my grace.

 

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What The Guild Said to Me about Indies, Fame, and Frittata

The Guild: Season Five is being re-released on the Geek and Sundry YouTube channel. I watched the season on Netflix as soon as it was available, so consider this a Spoiler Alert!! I’ll be discussing aspects of the show that have not aired yet in their new home, so please – watch then read! -aniko

Season Five, like all of The Guild webisodes, spouts clever dialog pertaining to funny scenarios. It is an entertaining, giggle-inducing foray into a gamer convention replete with coffee-scented farts, steampunk, and frittata.  If that’s all Season Five offered, it would be a likable frolic.

Season Five didn’t stop there. Instead, it took on bigger questions. What is the relationship between creator and fan? Do fans have warped perceptions of famous people? Are indies offering unique content that can’t be duplicated by bigger companies, even if they acquire the rights to indie-produced content?

To maintain the fizzy-fun of the show without sacrificing depth, the examination of these questions is incorporated organically into the plot. The Guildees are at a convention, MegaGameORama-Con(!). Baldezz and Vork team up to make money off of Bladezz’s minor celebrity as an internet meme. Zaboo is organizing Seat Savers to help fans get into the sessions they want to see. Tink indulges in cosplay to hide her identity, a fact that turns out to be hugely revealing about her identity. Meanwhile, Clara wanders around with a bad case of “baby-brain,” which results in a hilarious dalliance with corsets and a flying-gondola-blimp-thing. Codex, the narrating protagonist, struggles with an unrequited crush. That’s the light stuff.

The story-within-the-story is a bit heavier. It starts when Codex deeply insults the creator of The Game that brought The Guild together. Here’s a snip:

(These may not be exact quotes; I watched the show twice to catch the phrases, but mistakes are as unavoidable as they are unintentional!)

Codex is playing a sneak-peak trial of the newest version of The Game:

Codex:  “What are they, smokin’ crack crazy?”

Random Guy, Who Turns Out To Be Designer: “The creator oversaw the changes personally.”

Codex: (lots of vitriol about how stupid the changes are)

Random Guy: “I spent hundreds of hours on this, and you spend like two minutes and start to tear it apart.”

The conversation continues, ending with the designer pointing out to Codex that she has “trolled” him to his face. He invites her to create something better, and then leaves. In a later scene, the designer says that it’s hard to take the daily personal attacks. He appreciates some of Codex’s criticism, and incorporates her suggestions in a revision of the game – but even valid criticism can hurt when delivered with the delicacy of a blunderbuss. The creator is a human being, with feelings. Fame is not a shield from negativity.

Season Five goes on to show this is not only true for creators of content, but also for actors portraying content. A side-plot has Vork meeting an actress of whom he is a fan; in fact, he launched her fan club. Vork was crushed when, many years prior to their meeting, the actress chose to leave the show which made her famous. Her explanation is that her character was just a prop in gang-rape scenes, and she no longer wanted a job portraying the character. Vork reacts with near-religious zealotry. The divide between idolatry (Vork’s view) and “just a job” (actress’s view) is quite a deep. The skewed nature of their relationship illustrates the acquisitive tendencies of fans, which encroaches on a sort of ownership-at-distance of another person.

This sets the backdrop for an examination of the distorted perceptions of fans towards the famous. One of my favorite scenes in Season Five is a party full of famous people to which Bladezz wrangles an invitation. In addition to being chock full ‘o guest appearances (Eliza Dushku!), the party scene portrays the huge delta between what a fan perceives and the reality of life for a star. Bladezz critisizes the snack food, and a star replies that he got a great deal on them by buying them in bulk. Bladezz responds with incredulity, “Famous people don’t buy in bulk.” A series of short conversations with different stars results in the progressive dismantling of the myth of fame. Famous people aren’t always partying; they eat healthy food, like spirulina, which is “a party for your colon.” Their houses get leaky roofs, they suffer from eczema, they go to the dog park, and they turn in around nine. Famous people are… human beings! Stars face the same mundane problems that plague everyone. In addition, stars are expected to be a commodity for fans to consume. Once the veneer of misperception is removed, it becomes clear that fame is a nasty side-effect of doing or creating something unique.

When it comes to unique, think indie. This is a premise behind both the main plot in The Guild: Season Five, but also behind the creation of The Guild series itself, which started out as entirely indie produced. The theme of the relationship between creator and fan ties in with the examination of indie vs. corporate because the creators are always people – living, breathing, feeling people. The strain of the false idolatry and subsequent trolling has driven The Game’s designer to consider selling The Game to a big company. In one scene, a representative of the big company cajoles, “No matter what you do, you’re going to be dogged for it. Cash out, man.” The designer says he’ll sleep on it, and leaves the bar. The big company rep pockets money out of the tip jar, a not quite-sly commentary that is seen only in the background of a dimly-lit scene.

Throughout Season Five, there is a running discussion about how The Game, an indie-produced platform, will be ruined by acquisition by a big corporation. The assertion is that making things “glossy” for marketing kills the original spirit of the thing independently created. Codex pleads with the designer, “Look, it’s not easy to do what you do, but no one else can do it.” Isn’t that the essence of any creative endeavor? It has to start with the passion of an individual, or a group of tightly-aligned individuals. It can’t be created by a formula, and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to either art or entertainment. Season Five could only have made its point stronger if it had a banner somewhere that read, “Yay, Indie!”

Best of all is that the serious issues are chased by a double-shot of laughter. One of my favorite phrases in Season Five is, “pre-owned frittata.” That’s what’s essentially lovely about The Guild: there’s plenty of fun to go along with the thought that it provokes.

My takeaway from Season Five? First, remember that creators are people. Give them your thoughts respectfully and with empathy. Second, remember that what we think is true may not be the reality, and try not to make assumptions about other people, even if they are famous. Third, support an indie!

Watch the Guild

 

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This Woman Can.

If you were on the internet at all in the past two weeks, it would have been hard for you to miss the links to Atlantic’s cover article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne-Marie Slaughter. The bold claim in the title piqued my curiosity, and I started to read. My unease grew with the page count, mostly because the ‘all’ described in the essay has nothing to do with my life. I don’t want children. I don’t want a high-power job running either a country or a company. I don’t want advanced graduate degrees. I don’t want to need a job that pays me enough to hire a nanny to step in when I’m too busy running whatever it is I’m supposed to want to run. I don’t want Slaughter’s ‘all,’ at all.

I celebrated my thirty-fifth birthday at the end of June. I’m old enough to have had dreams that didn’t come to fruition. Old enough to know that there are hard limits to what can be attained by me, given who I am. Old enough to find joy, rather than despair, in those facts.

I lead a simple life. I like to go to sleep early. I like to stay in at night. I like to eat lunch at a picnic table. I like to walk my dogs. I like to talk with my husband, laugh with him, sit quietly with him. I like having a place to think. I like day dreaming. I like to travel, but not too often, because I love being at home. When people ask me if I’m doing anything exciting on the weekend, I always say no. I don’t need to do something special or ‘exciting’ because I’m fulfilled by what I have. I love the way I spend my days. Not one of these factors was part the ‘all’ described in the Atlantic, but they are each essential to my sense of fulfillment, my sense of ‘all.’

I don’t run a company or country. I don’t even lead a team. If I change the world, it won’t be in the boardroom or public office; it’ll be one human kindness at a time.

I’m not rich, but my bills are paid. I don’t frequent fancy restaurants, but I always have food. I don’t drive a luxury car, but I have a reliable vehicle with working AC. I have a book budget, but with indies producing quality books for reasonable prices, I haven’t even come close to my limit.

Writing is an important part of who I am. It is a huge piece of my ‘all,’ an integral act of devotion to the mystery of being. I could lose almost everything, but if I keep my freedom and ability to write, I will thrive.

Sure, there are always nicer things, fancier places, more ornate houses on less run-down roads. But the boring, simple fact is that I’m happy with the ‘all’ that I have, even if it doesn’t measure up to someone else’s estimation of what ‘all’ includes. This is a powerful, freeing realization.

Aniko Gets Kreativ III:  I can have it all.

I’ve fallen behind in my Kreativ Blogger nominations, but I’m exited to tell you about my newest, wonderful nominee! Jacquelyn Smith is a fantasy author. Her blog , Wayward Scribe, is entertaining, encouraging, and responsive to commenters. Please join me in congratulating Jacquelyn! If you read fantasy, I’m sure she’d be thrilled if you joined The Tribe of the Wayward Scribe to receive newsletters & a free download of one of her stories!

Until next time, jazz hands! xoxo

 

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Aniko’s Steps to Overcoming the “This is Crap!” Phase

Revision is hell. Whereas mediocrity is expected in the first draft, revision is the fabled realm of shiny, awe-inspiring perfection. I tend to forget that revisions are like climbing a up a pyramid: the first step will only get me a little ways up from the cruddy, muddy bottom. On an intellectual and experiential level, I know that this is a phase. From a metaphysical vantage, I’m looking up at the dense clouds obscuring my path and wondering if there is really even anything there to attain.

Here’s an excerpt from a Sunday brunch conversation:

Me:  “I just realized I’m writing the world’s dumbest book.”

Mr. Aniko: “I guess we’re at this stage again.”

Me: “Stage? What stage?”

Mr. Aniko: “Where you say your story is stupid, and maybe it would be better to stop. You did this four or five time with Stolen Climates.”

Me: “I did?”

Mr. Aniko: “Yes.”

Me: “Well that was silly. Stolen Climates is good. Not at all like the dumb story I’m writing now…”

May your words flow like spilled nail polish...

I have entered my first This Is Crap Phase of the revision process, and thought I’d share a few tips on what I am doing to overcome it. Yes, I am sharing these tips to avoid revision. I am also sharing because Mari Biella, author of the delightful novel The Quickening, has nominated me as a Beautiful Blogger! I hereby declare the first step to overcoming the This is Crap Phase to be:

1. Befriend other writers that you admire. Find writers who are fierce in their dedication to craft and honest about the legion of difficulties inherent to writing. I am fortunate to have the members of #TESSpecFic as well as Mari in my circle of writer friends. There are others, both online and off, and I can’t tell you how often they have given me the courage to keep going when all I want to do is curl up with other people’s books and ignore my own.

Once you’ve assembled a climbing party, the next thing to do is:

2.Tackle your overgrown yard. Yes, this is a metaphor for revision. It works best if your yard is so very, terribly, embarrassingly, non-HOA-compliant that when you drive down your street, you wonder where your house is.  By clearing away the canopy of overhanging limbs, twining vines, and (really!) impressively tall weeds, you discover that you have a house. A cute house. Not perfect, but not the worst house in the entire world. This is the essence of revision: weeding, chopping, rearranging, and discovery.

Now that you’re at your desk, looking out on a recognizable yard & not a jungle, you need to:

3. Paint your nails. You’re going to be looking at your hands a lot because you have a LOT of revision to do. Extra points for nail polish that has a clever name, like “So Much Fawn” or “Commander in Chic.”

4. Tie your hair back. Yes, even the blonde-streaked bangs you got by accident, but turned out to look pretty good. Hair is a distraction you don’t need when fighting off a hydra of hyphens.

5. Wear your most comfortable, jersey stretch skirt. Nothing ends a writing session faster than a tight waist band. If you can wear a matching shirt, go ahead, but comfort trumps style.

Now for the difficult part. Bravery, bravery and nerves of steel! It is time to:

6. DISCONNECT from the internet. Yes, it hurts. Do it anyways.

The final, yet crucial step:

7. Open the file for your Work in Progress, put your pretty hands on that keyboard, and prepare to haul your jersey-clad booty up another level of stony, revision hell.

May your climb be happy!

 

PS – For those who got an early email with incorrect numbering, sorry! This puppy chose to publish itself before I was ready. A little less polish to it than I like, but my nails sure are pretty! xoxo

 

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