January 2016 was an extraordinarily busy month; everything just took off like a rocket, and it was all that I could do to hold on. Most of the work was anticipated, but I think I under-estimated the effect of a lot of it, and of course my still-developing organizational skills weren't quite up to the task of keeping everything in order so I could get stuff done. I spent the last day of the month traveling from New York back to Silicon Valley, so exhausted I didn't even realize how tired I was until I got a good night's sleep.
Even still, I can't say it was a bad time. I did a lot of stuff that was fun and enriching, and now that I made it through the worst of it I can take a breath, look at what went right, what went wrong, and how I can use the momentum of the month to propel me through my projects for this one. Here's a brief rundown of the major events last month:
The Jackalope Serial Company
On New Year's Day or thereabouts, I launched the Jackalope Serial Company. It's an idea that had been brewing through the last six months of 2015, and I felt I was finally in a good position to make it happen. The JSC is basically the label through which I tell serialized erotic stories, one chunk every week, until it's finished. The idea is to put up parts of 1500 - 2500 words a week on the Patreon, then edit those parts into monthly chapters that get released to SoFurry, Fur Affinity and Weasyl at a later date. The first serial is The Cult of Maximus, which I'm expecting to be a 100K-word story when all is said and done. That should take us through the first year of the JSC's existence.
Launch was reasonably successful; to date I've got 17 patrons donating just over $100/month for the cause. I appreciate every single one of them! John Cooner did a bang up job on the launch poster/wallpaper, business cards and other assets that will be rolled out in the next month or so. And I've put up the first three parts of the story in January, with parts 4 and 5 coming (hopefully) this week to close out chapter 1.
I wasn't as regular as I would have liked to be starting out, for reasons that I'll talk about below. I'll be spending much of this month and next trying to build up a small buffer so I can make sure the schedule is regular even if something unexpected happens. For now, though, I'm flying by the seat of my fluffy white tail. Thanks to my patrons for the patience they've displayed and the feedback they've given so far; really looking forward to having things settle into a routine this month!
Further Confusion 2016
This is kind of the biggest furry event of the year for me, and this year was no exception. I took part in five panels this year: "Power and Privilege in an Anthropomorphic World", "Furries and the Other", "Write Now!", "Brainstorming in Real Time" and "Mindfulness and Transformation Workshop".
The first two were the biggest surprises and fulfilling experiences I've had at a convention in a long time; there's a real receptiveness to the idea of exploring our differences and power dynamics through furry fiction, and the audience was lively, insightful and wonderful. This is definitely a keeper; I'd love to be involved with it next year. The second two were awesome mainly because I just got to hang out with members of my writing group and talk with other writers about ways we can push ourselves past our blocks or think about constructing stories in a different way. I don't think I've ever laughed as much as I did in those two panels.
For Mindfulness/Transformation, my friend Kannik and I tried a structure to make sure we went over the most important ideas we wanted to transmit and I think that went over pretty well. The exercise portion of the panel could still use some work, but we talked about how to adapt that depending on the read we get from the audience; next year, I think we'll have a pretty good handle on things.
Away from the panels, having conversations and meals with a few people I don't get to talk to that often were the highlight. This fandom is full of such a varied mix of interesting, passionate and unique people, and cons are one of the ways we can plug into that directly. I love talking to people and seeing their perspectives on all kinds of things; it makes me fall in love with the community all over again.
The Day Job Summit
This was a bit of a wrench. My company had merged with a similar one in Europe after being bought by a holding company last year. Initially, the plan was to bring everything together slowly and carefully, making sure the customers for each side didn't feel spooked by what was going on. Apparently, the executives discovered that was no longer a concern and ordered a giant event for the merger kick-off this last weekend in January.
So, this was the first work trip I had ever taken, which is another milestone in my professional development. Thankfully, my husband came with me to hang out and be a tourist, so I was able to enjoy the vacation side of things through his eyes. We also know quite a number of people in the area, and we were able to visit with a few of them.
The overall effect of the summit was building a sense of community between two very different sides of the company; I'm not sure how well that came off, but I know that my particular department (Technical Support) grew a lot closer through the experience. I got to meet a lot of really neat people in European tech support, and we traded war stories. But for maybe the first time, I feel like a fully-accepted member of the team I work in, and that's just incredible. I can legit say I love the company I work for, and the people I work with.
We also saw our first Broadway show while we were out there -- the runaway-smash musical Hamilton. If you haven't listened to the soundtrack yet, do yourself a favor and pull it up on Spotify or your music-streaming service of choice. You will NOT be disappointed. It's a hip-hop/rap musical about a founding father whose story almost never gets told, Alexander Hamilton. The inversion of race (Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson and other major characters are black) really punches up the drive of the Founding Fathers, brings their tragedies home in a way I had never considered, and makes me empathize with them in a way I never had before. It makes this old, distant history alive and personal. It's so good.
New York City is a hell of a town. We visited Wall Street, saw people fondling the bull outside of the NYSE, visited Trinity Church and Fraunces Tavern; we went to Brooklyn and had brunch at Flatbush Farm with a major sci-fi/fantasy author (!!); and partied pretty hard at Celsius in Bryant Park, The Eagle on the lower west side (?) and Grand Central Terminal. We saw subway dancers who were amazing, listened to cellists and jazz ensembles, saw the knock-off mascots threatening people in Times Square. All in all, a hell of a trip.
I started out strong in January, finishing my first short story of the year for MegaMorphics ("New Year, New You") and wanted to have "A Stable Love" done but the JSC work sucked up all the oxygen in that room. I started The Cult of Maximus, but didn't get as far with that as I'd like, so this month will be a bit of righting the ship as far as that's concerned.
I did read an awful lot, though. I'm catching up on my backlog of comics -- I'm finding "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" to be a singular delight, and I'm really digging "Sam Wilson: Captain America". I finished Kindred by Octavia Butler, and that has been a life-changing book for me. It fundamentally changes my idea of black women for the better, and I'll need to let that cook for a moment or two. I started The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, and I'm looking forward to finishing that, and I finished the third collection of the Apocalypse Triptych, called The End Has Come. It features (mostly) post-apocalyptic stories, many of them continued from stories in the other two collections. It was a neat idea that had a satisfying and surprising set of conclusions, and I'm looking forward to talking about that later.
Meanwhile, my reading stack grows all the time. :) Since it's Black History Month, I feel like I should be reading something theme-appropriate, and there is no shortage of books that fit that bill. I'll talk a little bit about that tomorrow.
So that was my January in a nutshell; incredibly busy, full of wonderful and enriching experiences, as well as a lot of opportunities for growth and learning with various personal projects. Tomorrow, I'll talk about my plans for this month and what I hope to have achieved when looking back on it sometime in March.
How was YOUR month? What were your highlights? What stories did you complete or make progress on? What things did you notice that you could do better?
In the meantime, there are a number of projects that have been stacking up here on the Writing Desk. I have a number of essays planned about all kinds of subjects -- the meaning of bigotry, dipping my toes into the waters of afro-futurism, stepping up my game when it comes to tabletop RPGs, crafting a "season" of podcasts for mental health issues. I want to talk a bit about what sort of things we would want in a "perfect" furry hangout spot; if we had the opportunity to say, rebuild FurAffinity from the ground up, what kind of features would we want? What would the perfect user experience be?
I'm still working on "A Stable Love," with the hope that it'll be finished by the end of the month. From there, I'm moving on to three more short stories that I'm hoping will be polished and ready to show by October. I'd like to really get my act together for my Pathfinder game, and start doing periphery writing for my characters in other games. Kraugh the Togorian, Veniamin the werebear, Kerrebuck the Wookiee, and Takoda the troll all have stories that need telling. (Also, holy crap, I really do just play earnest giants, don't I?)
I'm reading an anthology of furry stories for review elsewhere, and I'm noticing an interesting theme that runs through the stories there. I'm really looking forward to writing my review of it, mostly because I get to talk about the intersection of furry fiction and minority issues. You might have noticed that's been something on my mind a whole lot this year.
So for now, head down, quiet time, hard work time. It's time to transmute the excitement of the convention into fuel that propels me through the effort of creative production.
Right now I have several marches in mind, but I'm trying to simplify even further. Really, they revolve around two things that I've been trying to give more and more priority to for the longest time: fitness, and writing. At the moment I weigh 196 pounds, more than I've ever weighed before. And unlike a lot of my friends I really don't have a good frame for it. Narrow shoulders, small back, thin limbs. Most of my weight is slung onto my belly, which collects fat to the exclusion of almost everywhere else. I'm not SO concerned about my weight as I am about having this huge tank that distorts all of my clothing and pushes all my belts down quite a bit. It's...not the way I want to look.
So, as far as fitness goes, my 20 Mile March is basically shrinking my stomach enough that I feel good about it (or not quite as bad). The best way to measure that is by taking a tape say, twice a month, and aiming to lose...I don't know, a 1/4-inch from my waist a month. I can achieve that goal by maintaining a healthier diet that's lower in fat and calories, and by exercising on a regular basis.
To that end I've signed up for one of Fitocracy's Group Fitness programs. I've chosen "Level Up Your Running," because running is my exercise of choice. There's always weirdness with it, though, where I'm hurting my knee or ankle, my legs feel tight, etc. etc. I'd like to have some sort of structure where I can check in and make sure I'm stretching, eating, drinking enough to actually exercise on a regular basis. The program starts on the 21st, and I'm really looking forward to it. In the meantime, I'll try to continue cutting out candy/sweets, curb my snacking, and at the very least exercise four times this week.
Writing has the same dual-pronged approach. In addition to making sure I write consistently on a project, seeing it through to completion, I need to make sure I'm reading on a regular basis as well. I want to immerse myself in the world of writing -- creativity, I've found, flourishes best in a nurturing environment. Reading the work of other people who've sacrificed and worked to produce something can be really stimulating that way, and I like picking through a story to find out what works, what doesn't, and how it either succeeds or fails. My goal is to write 1000 - 1500 words every day, and read at least 30 minutes every day. I think that between reading and writing, that's about 90 minutes of time a day to devote to it. I have that, somewhere.
That's the plan, starting today. We'll see how I stick to it.
My writing work hasn't been going quite as well. I wanted to write a short story for this year's "Heat," and while it's proven to be more difficult than I thought it would be I haven't given up on it just yet. I've just given up on it being written in time for this year's "Heat". :)
There's been a great conversation over the past several months about diversity in sci-fi/fantasy. People have talked a lot about how novels and short stories don't serve women or people of color very well, and I'm really glad that people are having this discussion now. As a black man, I haven't really noticed a dearth in people like me in sci-fi novels, but I can't lie -- if someone wrote a modern fantasy that featured characters from say, inner-city Baltimore, I'd read the hell out of it! I think there's an opportunity for folks like me to tell stories that are influenced by their background; it makes them unique in flavor and perspective, but if the story's good enough it can be relatable to just about anyone. If I can put myself in the shoes of the young white male protagonist, for example, there's no reason why someone else couldn't imagine themselves as a young black guy.
I feel like I have a fairly unique background and perspective. I'm a gay, black Buddhist who grew up in inner-city Baltimore and consciously made the decision to distance myself from my family and my culture. To a large extent, my sexuality catalyzed that distance, but I'm sure I could reach out and reconnect with certain members of my family at this point. But to be honest, I don't want to. The reasons for that are complicated, messy and (if I'm really honest) shameful and wince-inducing -- all ripe material for stories, as it turns out! I want to use my life experiences to fuel my writing in some significant way. I would really like to emerge as an off-center voice in the chorus of furry/sci-fi/fantasy literature.
But in order to do that, I have to write. My story idea for "Heat" involved a zebra taking her rabbit boyfriend to a family function for the first time. I wanted to make a conscious choice with the species for each character, to use them as a sort of shorthand/analog for societal, racial and background types. The zebra "coming home" to a world that she remembers and struggles to reconcile with is a theme that resonates with me; I wanted to explore the tension I feel between the life I have now and the one I've left behind. How has the zebra changed in her many years away from her family? How will she be seen by the people she left behind? What traits have she kept, which ones has she buried only to have re-emerge in proximity to her family? Will this contact to her old world help her synthesize these two parts of herself?
I often wonder about this sort of thing. I'm a minority that comes from a distinct culture, making a go at joining the majority culture (sort of). I know I could be seen by a lot of people as an Uncle Tom, an Oreo, a race-traitor. Someone could say easily that I've forgotten where I've come from. But you know what? It's not true. I remember where I came from all the time, and it's a big reason why I'm here instead.
It turns out the themes I want to explore in this story aren't quite easily done in a 5,000 word piece of erotica. I need more time with the idea, to see how it relates to the characters whose story I'm telling, to see how I can juggle this kind of subject matter in a short story. It turns out you can't really pick at old wounds on a lark.
So, in order to get my writing mojo back for now, I'll fall back to something that's a bit easier for me to bang out: macro stories! I have a fun little piece that I'm working on for Megamorphics, and I'll try to use a few writing.com interactives as a sort of 'stretching exercise'. I'll be using these little story bits to focus on the skills I feel I'll need to tell the zebra's story -- a clear sense of character and history, the ability to use setting to set a mood, how to pack in complicated detail in simple-sounding paragraphs. Meanwhile, Leticia and Dale will have to wait for next year's "Heat".
I found a pretty neat website called Superbetter through Lifehacker, and I have to admit I'm having quite a bit of fun with it so far. It's one of the early projects from Jane McGonigal, who's been preaching a gospel of gamification for the past few years. You know, the idea that you can actually effect positive change by turning a goal into a game. It's an idea I find pretty exciting, because hey -- who doesn't like games?
So besides counting calories (which I'm still doing), I've signed up to Superbetter and it's a place where I pretend to be a super-hero of mental resilience and weight loss. :) I could definitely use some allies, so if you're already on the website or have goals you'd like to hit and are looking for a community to help push you along the way, let me know and we'll hook up. I am...*dramatic pose* The Reading Rabbit.
I took the Full-Plate Diet Power Pack on signing up, and so far I'm digging it quite a bit. The Full-Plate Diet is a relatively simple idea -- basically, you look at eating better as a game of inclusion rather than exclusion. Instead of focusing on all the things you can't have, like sugars and unhealthy fats, you look at including high-fiber whole foods instead. By focusing on finding new foods to love instead of ditching the ones you already do (but aren't serving your waistline well), it makes the whole experience quite a bit more positive.
There are also a few simple tenets that are so...common-sense, it's embarrassing to have to be told this. They are: eat when you're hungry, stop eating when you're not hungry. And: stop to think about what you're choosing to eat. Duh. But it's actually helping me to make better choices and to eat less, so there's that.
This hasn't translated into weight loss yet, but let's see where we are in another month.
This has been one of those things that are going in fits and starts. I've been trying to focus on running because the Bay to Breakers race is just a few short weeks away, and that hasn't gone too well to say the least.
I've been trying to get into minimal/barefoot running, which means using as little a cushion as possible. This forces you to change your stride to something more...natural, I guess is the right word, because your body knows how to minimize the shock of running a lot better. This presumably reduces the number of injuries you get from running, if you do it right, and since I've had problems with knee pain I figure I'd give it a go.
So I picked up the Nike Free Run+ and a Nike Run sensor for it. So far the shoe isn't quite as minimal as I thought it might be, but it's fine to do this in stages. I'm definitely changing my stride -- my calves and shins are burning like never before after a good run. It's this change and, well, let's be honest, laziness, that makes running a bit more difficult this year. I've only just been able to run for two miles straight without stopping, and went for my longest run yet (4.15 miles) on Saturday. We have a lot of ground to cover if we want to be in fighting shape come mid-May, but Ryan and I are planning to push hard.
In addition to running three times a week, I try to hit the gym thrice a week. Chest and triceps on Sunday, back on Monday, biceps on Thursday or Friday. That leaves Wednesday as our only rest day, which isn't so bad. I like the way that comes off, but the fact remains that we haven't managed a full week yet. I have a good feeling about this one, though.
This is the one area where I'm falling down repeatedly and consistently, I'm ashamed to say. Every time I think about what I'm (not) reading, Stephen King's advice rings like an admonishment in my head. "There are two things a writer must do -- read a lot and write a lot. If you don't have time to do one or the other, you don't have time to be a writer." I'm paraphrasing here, but that's the sentiment and I've taken it to heart.
I think what's getting in the way is the perception that I just don't have time to really sit down and dive into a book. Which is, of course, hogwash. There's always time, I'm just choosing to fill it with something that's not reading. And that's not OK. I always *enjoy* reading once I start, it's just the inertia that gets me. I've spent too much time not-reading and now reading is a habit that's hard to build.
Towards that end I'll be taking my Kindle with me to the work kitchen and reading there while I eat lunch. I could use some time away from my computer (and its distraction of Facebook games) over lunch, and heading off there will allow me to read and pay more attention to what I'm eating. It's a win-win, and I'm sure folks won't mind an hour where I'm out of pocket at least.
Right now I'm reading Mad Ship by Robin Hobb and two apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic short story collections from various folks. What I've found with a lot of anthologies is that writers try to use the opportunity to get cute with their stories, and more often than not that just comes off as annoying. Call me an apocalypse traditionalist, but I'd like to have my PA fiction without any cheeky, self-aware, misanthropic metaphors, thank you.
That being said, there was one story that had a *great* PA world built into it. The story itself was pretty interesting but couldn't quite stick the landing -- the climax just crossed the line of believability. I can't remember the name of it off the top of my head, but I can recommend it. Later. When I remember the title. :)
This actually hasn't been going too badly. I've written a couple of blog entries for my website (http://www.jakebe.com, plug plug) that I wanted to make a bit more polished and professional-looking. I have a bit of a ways to go with that, but we all have to start somewhere. I wanted to talk about writing, stories and how we can learn about or change ourselves through the stories we tell ourselves and the lessons we learn from them. That might change over time, but that's what I'd like to do starting out anyway.
As far as fiction goes, that's stalled just a little bit. I'm writing a short story that'll be shown to a friend, privately, and then after that I'll be moving on to other projects I've been wanting to get off the ground. I'm also running a Pathfinder game and that tends to eat a lot of time for preparation and story development. I've got a really good bunch of players and I don't want to let them down.
So that's pretty much what I've been up to recently. How's everyone else? ;)
Like everyone else expecting a refund of some amount, I did my taxes early. I always do -- I really hate the rush of people getting their taxes in at the last possible moment, making the post office (and any place that delivers mail, really) a nightmare on Earth. Maybe it’s a holdover from my Adobe days, where I had to send so many certified letters with return receipt it literally depressed me for a week afterwards.
My heart goes out to all of those who’ve had to brave the crowds this week, no matter what side of the counter you’re on. :)
There’s been a lot going on recently, but when is that ever untrue? I thought I’d give capsule updates on different aspects and kind of deep-dive into the rest later. If at all.
We’ve finally unpacked most of our books from the move, so I’m getting into it again. I found my Kindle (it was in my backpack the entire time!) and bought a couple things for it that I’m working my way through now. One is an ‘amateur’ novella called 2084. It’s one of those ‘alternate futures told from the perspective of interviews and journalist essays’ books, in the vein of World War Z or War Day. Instead of a zombie outbreak or limited nuclear exchange, the great catastrophe that befalls civilization is global warming. The idea is intriguing and in the right hands it could have been astonishingly prophetic -- I believe we aren’t doing enough to combat climate change, and in a couple of decades we’re going to start to see those worst-case scenarios come to pass.
Unfortunately, these aren’t the right hands. The writing comes across fairly unconvincingly, and it’s clear that this guy has a political axe to grind. It’s nowhere near as effective as it could be, and this is coming from the choir. I can’t imagine someone else on the other side ever taking it seriously. It’s too bad, because it’s an opportunity wasted.
I’m also reading Storm Front by Jim Butcher, the first book in the Harry Dresden series. A friend of mine is running a Dresden Universe game set in Buffalo, and I’d like to get a handle on the feel of the setting before I dive into the role-play. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but those chapters have just breezed by; it’s a quick read, and Butcher opens the novel pretty well. I hear there’s a tonal shift in the writing half-way through that makes it less fun to read, and I’m glad I’ve been tipped off to it. If it’s not as bad as I’m expecting, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. If it is, well, I know it’s coming.
I’m also reading (at last!) “Contraindications,” the dragon’s fun set of short stories that he might be finishing up soon. Once I’ve cleared a little more space on my reading plate, I’ll dive back into the massive backlog of comics that’s been steadily growing since the beginning of the year and then get started on Daniel Fahl’s Save the Day. For some reason, furry superheroes are a little difficult to pull off.
The writing hasn’t gone as well as I’d hoped, to be honest. Right now I’m working through a poem a day in honor of National Poetry Month. I’ve been managing to average a poem a day, though I’ve fallen behind every so often and have needed to catch up. My writing for blogs and short stories have suffered a bit as a result...not that I ever did that very much anyway.
In addition to the poetry I’m trying to write short essays (around 500 - 1000 words) in an attempt to have a more polished personal writing style. I’ve come to really enjoy the flavor of a lot of writing/personal blogs out there, and there’s no more sincere way to show that than trying to emulate it. Of course, that’s stalled a bit because...who wants to read about someone failing to live the life of a writer? It’s better to get some experience under your belt before you open up that can of worms, am I right?
Long story short, I’m working on a bunch of things right now, and I’m progressing on all of them slowly. I keep hoping for the day when I’m actually able to show this stuff instead of talking about it, and that magical time is inching closer on the horizon.
This is another thing that’s coming along slowly but surely. I’m sure I’ve talked about my stress eating before, and it continues to be my biggest enemy. I get stressed about work or writing or exercise, and that’s then the cravings start to rear their heads. And those cravings are a lot more difficult to deal with than they used to be since I’ve given up candy for the year. On the bright side, it’s forcing me to be more mindful of them and to make conscious decisions about them. It’s a lot more difficult to mindlessly eat a cookie if you know it will cost as much as dinner, calorically. Candy is a lot easier to write off, and depriving myself of that out means there are no easy decisions.
I still slip up quite a bit, but I’ve gotten a lot more anal about counting calories and holding myself accountable. I was doing pretty well there for a while, nearing 182 pounds, which would have been the lowest weight in years. Something happened, though, and I’ve retreated from that. Now I’m waffling between 183 and 185. Now that I’m getting pretty aggressive about eating in more often, hopefully the weight will come down.
I’ve also gotten serious about training for the Bay to Breakers, which means running three times a week is going to happen, no matter what. If we stick to the dragon’s weightlifting schedule, that means exercise six times a week at least. I’m actually comfortable with that, even if I might complain a bit during some of the harder workouts. Back nights are never fun, and the long runs have gotten progressively more punishing. We just finished a six-mile run yesterday that just about killed me. Thankfully, there’s just a set of three mile runs for next week, giving us a bit of a break before we head into the home stretch. The next two Saturdays after our break week? A seven and eight mile run, leading right into Bay to Breakers weekend. I think I’ll take a full week off after the race before aiming for four mile runs three times a week.
I don’t talk much about work, mostly because there’s a dangerous blend between my professional and personal selves happening there, and I don’t want to encourage anything that would blur the lines any further. Still, I think this is the most fulfilled I’ve been at any job ever. I’m learning a lot about how to get along with people, business processes, my own personal project management style, and how to push myself to do better. It’s really great to see myself growing into my role and having that growth be recognized by other people. I feel needed, which is immensely gratifying. That newfound sense of ability carries over to other parts of my life, so overall work is just making me a better, more focused person. I really dig that. :)
So that’s what’s going on with me in a nutshell. One of the things I think people don’t talk about enough here is how these journals really are meant to foster a sense of community and interaction. I think we’ve taken that for granted a bit, and now we’re sorely missing it now that the LJ community is starting to break apart.
That being said...what would you guys like to see in this personal journal? What sorts of topics do you find yourself thinking about most? What do you think would foster discussion and input? What do you find interesting? What can I do, if anything, to keep our little corner of the internet active and engaged?