jakebe: (Buddhism)

The fifth spoke on the wheel of the Noble Eightfold Path is also the last one in the Moral Virtues (or Sila) group -- Right Livelihood. Together with Right Speech and Right Action, these form the backbone of how our understanding of the principles of Buddhism translate into practice through the rest of our lives. For most of us, especially the lay Buddhists who won't be joining a monastery, Right Livelihood means abstaining from taking work that harms people through cheating or fraud, killing, etc. It can be interpreted as, well, not making money through wrong actions. But it can also mean a lot more than that.


Let's tackle the job thing first. We live in a country where it's absolutely necessary to have a job in order to survive. We can't easily do odd jobs as they come to us, or rely on the goodwill of our community; we must choose a profession and spend significant time with it in order to make enough money to maintain a certain lifestyle. And a lot of the time, those jobs require us to do things that might run into trouble with a strict interpretation of Right Livelihood.


For example, I work for a company that specializes in digital marketing, providing platforms for companies to reach people through email, text and digital advertising. A lot of our customers have very questionable business practices, and there are one or two of them that I am in direct moral and political opposition to. However, the nature of my job means I can't necessarily discriminate between the customers who don't violate my principles and the ones that do; whenever I'm in contact with them, I must treat them all the same. Even if I believe that by helping them, I am in fact helping someone hurt someone else.


It feels like most of us are put into positions like that with our work. It's very difficult to be politically or morally conscious without realizing that there are a number of different ways we all contribute to a system that succeeds, even thrives, on practices that harm other people. In order to step out of that system, we would need to spend a disproportionate amount of time reviewing each company we do business with, what their business practices are, and what (if any) alternatives there may be. In order to be certain that our lives don't contribute to the harming of another living being, I think we'd have to remove ourselves from a capitalist system almost entirely.


So what do we do about that? I honestly don't know. I think, in some way, we have to make peace with the fact that there are certain moral compromises we all make in order to participate in society. At least, we must recognize all the ways in which our lifestyles are problematic. I've lived in poverty and near-poverty right into my late-20s. I've had to rely on the kindness of friends and strangers more times than I can count. Only recently have I been in a position where I feel like I have "enough". And now that I've spent some time here in the middle class, I'm beginning to realize all the ways I've allowed myself to indulge to excess.


I eat too much food, buy too many things and give in to impulses too often. It's very difficult for me to save money because I've always thought that the moment I have it I'll need to spend it on something sooner or later. The idea of holding back is kind of foreign to me; being able to purchase something purely for my own comfort is a novelty that hasn't worn off yet.


Then again, does it ever get old? I think we just get used to a certain level of comfort, then get very reluctant to make sacrifices in order to serve some different purpose -- whether that's being prudent with our finances or satisfying a personal moral obligation. I know that I've fallen into the trap of clinging to my lifestyle more than once; I know how bad being poor sucks from experience, and I'm reluctant to put myself in that position again.


That brings me to another interpretation of Right Livelihood. For many, it means to make a living from begging -- but not accepting everything and not possessing more than is strictly necessary. That could mean maintaining a minimalist home -- one plate, one knife, one fork. That could mean holding on to the things you have as long as they work, not chasing after the latest and greatest version of something. That could mean being more mindful of your impulses, and living comfortably but not excessively. I think the ultimate interpretation you choose is the one that your conscience will bear, and that's different for everyone.


So what does that mean for me? I suppose it means making sure that my lifestyle minimizes the harm it brings to other people. And that means buying less, being content with what I have, and doing whatever I can to address the ways in which harm is unavoidable. That means doing my best to combat climate change and environmental degradation; counteracting the ways in which I may be helping to further the aims of people who wish to perpetuate consumer culture, mindless bigotry or the insidious way advertisers are trying to make it easier and more effective to sell you things; and hopefully, trying to pursue a life in which I can make a living without feeling like I have to compromise my morality.


What I would really love is to be able to live closer to nature, tell stories and be dedicated towards helping people to be better. It may be a long time before I get to do that, and I accept that possibility. I think now it would be best to try and align my lifestyle closer to the one I want, where moderation is a habit painstakingly cultivated and my priorities are straight. I'm not sure that's the case now, so it will take some doing to get it there.
jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

This Saturday, at something like 2:16 AM local time, I will have completed my 36th trip around the sun! I'm not necessarily planning anything intense for my birthday; in the morning, I'll take my dear rabbit Puckles for his annual check-up with the vet, and in the evening I'll share dinner with a few of my closest friends. Between those two things, I'll probably write some, get in a bit of exercise, and spend some time with my wonderful husband. I'm looking forward to the day, and already I'm really, really grateful for the people that will be a part of it.


We all tend to get philosophical and introspective around our birthdays, and I'm no exception. It's been about two years since I've been dealing with my anxiety disorder and ADHD in earnest, and so much in my life has changed since then. Next month, it will have been eight years since Ryan and I got married -- and I can't tell you how lucky I feel and grateful I am to have him be the Constant in my life. Later this month, it will have been ten years since I moved to California to be with him, a seismic shift in my life that's laid the foundation for everything that's come since.


Over the past several years, a lot has loosened within me. In dealing with my fear and anxiety, I've come to face long-held difficulties with sexual expression, the culture of my background, my family and attitudes about a lot of things. I've expanded my social circle to include more women, more people of color, more people with various gender and sexual expressions, more people along the political spectrum. It's been wonderful, disorienting, fascinating and overwhelming. And, oddly enough, it's proven to me just how transient everything is. The idea of self as a permanent identity, distinct and separate from everyone and everything else, truly is an illusion. I am a nebulous, porous collection of influences that responds to my environment by remolding myself to whatever allows me to flourish within it. The person I am today is not the person I was a year ago, or two years ago, or eight years ago, or even ten years ago. That was a different me. A different life.


What's fascinating to me about this is not necessarily the fact that nothing remains static in this world -- it's that so much of the trouble I and everyone else gets into is built on our resistance against this. The concept of self is a very useful fiction, but loosening our ideas about it -- allowing ourselves to change and adapt, to become different according to the influences that surround us -- will reframe our perception about who we are and who other people are. We spend so much time wondering if people can change, but of course they can. They do. All the time. Whether they want to or not.


Next year, when I write about my 37th birthday, things will be undoubtedly different. We'll have a new President, and we'll be talking about different things in the new and pop culture. Hopefully, I'll have written a novel-length story through my Patreon serial and several other short stories elsewhere. I'll hopefully have cooked in more, saved more money, lost some weight, gained a little muscle and a lot of wisdom. I'll be calmer, more patient, and more confident. I'll be able to think and express myself more clearly. And I'll be better able to express love and affection physically, in words, and through every small and grand gesture I can think of throughout the day.


I sincerely hope that the world will be a more loving and understanding place -- if not, I at least hope that I'll be a more loving and understanding person. For now, that starts with my birthday and making sure that all of my friends and chosen family know how much I adore and appreciate them.


Here's to the interconnected set of influence that make up who I am. May they fit together harmoniously, and may they encourage harmony wherever their influence takes them.
jakebe: (Gaming)

The first game I ever ran was a Changeling: the Dreaming campaign way back in high school. My players were an eshu, satyr, redcap and sluagh, and somewhere in there I ended up crossing things over with The X-Files because I was young and didn't know any better. Do you remember those metal spikes they killed people with by stabbing it into the back of their necks? It was cold iron given to government agents to snuff out faeries. Yeah. I know.


I've run sporadically since then -- mostly Dungeons and Dragons in its various incarnations or Pathfinder. This latest campaign was an old idea that I dusted off and spruced up, thinking that I would finally get to tell it right this time. I quickly discovered, though, that Pathfinder can be just as crunchy with numbers as D&D, thank you, and that if you don't really understand the system home-brew rules will seriously fuck you up.


My players are a bunch of wonderful people -- they're smart, creative, passionate and fun. I'm not ashamed to admit that there is a huge amount of performance anxiety around running something for them. I want to do something that makes one friend feel like a bad ass, gives another friend the chance to explore psychological terrain he finds interesting, provide another friend with the political drama he's discovering an affinity for, and let another friend find an ingenious way out of a difficult situation. All while keeping a whole set of rules and story beats in my head, improvising characters and plot details on the fly, and struggling to keep track of what has happened, what needs to happen, and what CAN'T happen. Running a tabletop RPG is really difficult you guys, especially if you have good players.


I'm also not ashamed to admit that I often let that anxiety get the best of me. I've snapped at players once or twice for trying to tweak their characters to maximum benefit when really, that's just how they find enjoyment in the game. I've taken feedback badly, and let constructive criticism blow my perception of how poorly things were going out of proportion. I take storytelling very seriously, and perfectionist tendencies, chronic anxiety and an unfocused, disorganized ADHD brain is quite possibly the worst mix of traits to tell an improvised and collaborative story with people who are in all likelihood way smarter than you.


Now that I'm diving back into the pool, I'm trying to ease off the idea of telling a perfect story. I've learned a great deal about the way the story delivery mechanism influences what works best, and with tabletop RPGs I've found it works best to keep things a bit simpler. We've trained ourselves to think medieval fantasy has to have these sprawling, complicated worlds with rich societies and a gigantic number of characters, but when you're getting together with a bunch of friends for six hours once a month there is no way people can hold these little plot and story seeds in their heads. Dense, sprawling mythologies work well in stories that are a bit more permanent -- TV shows, novels, even movies. But I've found they work less well when you're basically sitting around a campfire.


The direct approach tends to work better. The immediacy of creating the story around the table lends itself to scenes and situations that grab your emotions by the throat. The games that are most memorable and fun are the ones where you have a bad guy you clearly hate, a tough struggle that you barely make it through, and a reason for triumph that's personal and reaffirming. The patience required to lay down a complicated story, brick by brick, is better spent parsing how characters can grow, change and excel within the confines of the system and the world you've built. Making sure your story is clear enough that your players know the next thing they need to do and why they need to do it goes a long way towards making sure they can get invested in what's going on. Shadowy figures and mysterious conspiracies work for a few games, but at some point there needs to be clear progress and a strong sense of momentum pulling the characters from scene to scene.


So what I've focused on with this latest attempt at verbal storytelling is crafting scenes that make for fun jumping-off points for the characters while having hooks that appeal to my players or at least their characters. It's been fun taking the metaplot, distilling it down to a series of actions, and then breaking up those actions into progressable goals from scene to scene. It makes the skeleton of the story strong but flexible, capable of carrying us all along but bending to suit the needs of the people around the table.


I'm so nervous about running this weekend, but really excited as well. I can't wait to put what I've learned to use and see how I've progressed as a storyteller. Wish me luck for this Saturday, folks!
jakebe: (Writing)
This summer I've been trying to focus more on my writing -- after all, I'm a writer, and that's what I do. The trouble is I lead a pretty full life as it is. I have a day job that's fairly intensive, so I need to spend my work hours actually, you know, working. My commute is pretty long, and while I can definitely fill the time with podcasts (and I do) that takes a bit more time away from my passion. I'm married, and I love my husband, which means I want to spend as much time with him as I can. And I have friends that I love to spend time with too! There's exercise, and cooking, and making sure the burrow isn't an absolute mess, and spending time with our rabbit Puckles, and reading, and general adult responsibilities, and...you get the point.

I've said all of this before, and if you're a writer who isn't making a living at it chances are you have the same devil on your back too. It's not easy, but the struggle makes success that much sweeter. Or so I've been lead to understand.

Despite the difficulty, I feel like I've been doing better with writing these days. That means sacrificing time spent doing other things while also learning to become more efficient with the time I do have, but even that's a good thing. The fact that there's such limited time to do everything that I want to do means that I really have to sit down and determine my priorities. Once that's done, I really have to make sure I know how I'm going to focus on them. And then, I painstakingly develop the skills necessary to actually execute on them. Little by little, day by day, I'm growing up.

The blog and the Patreon are top priorities, of course -- I've committed myself to a certain amount of output for each one, and I must set aside time to make sure I hit those goals. That's still a work in progress. I had to let the blog drop last week to concentrate on work, the Patreon and a few other things, and I'm still behind. It'll take some dedicated time and focus to catch up, but I think I can do it.

This weekend, I'll be running my Pathfinder game for the first time in a long while. If you've ever run a tabletop role-playing game, you know how daunting the prep work can be. I went into the whole affair relatively unprepared for the kind of story I wanted to tell, and paid the price for it. When Ryan went to Japan earlier in the year, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to step back, get some knowledge about how to properly run Pathfinder, and actually tinker with the game so that balance and story issues are hammered out.

I'm still not 100% there, but I'm pretty close. I've used the race creation rules in the Advanced Race Guide to retool my homebrew races so they're not quite so overpowered and I've made sure that my PCs were mostly up-to-date with their sheets. It was a good chance to revisit their power sets and really understand what they're good at. I've also taken notes on the players and my understanding of what they want out of their games, tinkering with how I tell the story to include more of that. Mostly, I wanted to re-dedicate myself to making the game fun for people. My anxiety about running got in the way of that in this really big way, so even though I'm trying to be more careful and focused I also want to be more relaxed. Not every experiment will work, but being adaptable is one of the most important traits you can have as a game master.

Beyond the blog, the Patreon and Pathfinder, there are a number of projects I'll need to tackle before September rolls around. There are two story commissions that I need to complete and publish -- one needs an editing pass while the other still needs the first draft. A third short story will need to be written for a zine that I'm lucky enough to be a part of, so I'll need to jump on that. And a short story for a Changeling: the Dreaming anthology needs to be pitched; I've finally locked on to an idea for it, so I'll be putting together the submission for that very soon.

At the end of August, I'll be headed back to college. I've enrolled part-time in a local community college with an aim to get an Associate's Degree that transfers to a four-year university. I haven't decided if I'll try to get a Bachelor's in English or Psychology, but either way I'm tremendously excited. School's no joke, of course, so I'll need to get even better at squeezing every drop out of productivity time that I can.

I'm juggling a lot right now. It's important that I'm smart about how I spend my time but also self-aware enough to know when I'm being overwhelmed. Stress management is just as important as being productive, and for someone like me -- prone to avoidance behaviors when my anxiety kicks into high gear -- it's imperative that I take the time and space necessary to remain grounded and focused.

That will mean having to say no to a lot more things, just for the sake of preserving my sanity. A cup that's completely full will not retain anything, of course; and the whole point of most of this stuff is to learn and grow as a writer and human being. Having the space to hold what I'm already working with is a necessary part of that process.

I might be a little harder to reach online and sparse in my usual hangouts for a while. I want to get better about setting expectations about my available time and energy, so this is part of that.

Things are busy right now, and they'll be getting busier. I might be able to dip my toe into the waters of the Internet when I've gotten my time figured out, but for now, the limited time and attention has to be devoted to other things.

I'll still be here, of course, and I welcome comments. I'll make it a priority to engage here!
jakebe: (Mythology)

One of the new podcasts I've picked up recently is Fear The Boot, this great gaming podcast that talks about aspects of role-playing in tabletop games, MMORPGs and other things. It's really a bunch of gamers who get along really well shooting the shit and offering their perspective on games both modern and...historical? They recently had this deep dive into one of the first D&D boxes that one of them found at a yard sale, and it was really interesting.


Their most recent set of podcasts talk about RPGs and mental health, and they're amazing. I'm all about talking openly about mental health issues in geek spaces, and it makes me so happy that other people are relating the experiences and perspectives that have shaped them. The gang talks about depression, anxiety and PTSD, offering perspectives that hadn't occurred to me before. One of the biggest things I took away revolves around talking to people who don't quite understand the irrationality of these things: if there were a legitimate cause for my depression or anxiety, it wouldn't be a disorder -- it would be a rational response to the things that are happening to me. The thing that makes depression and anxiety disorders is the outsized response they force us to make.


Since learning about my anxiety disorder last year, I've been trying to pay more attention to the anxiety responses within myself. They typically manifest as avoidant behavior; when I sit down to confront something that makes me anxious, my brain develops a Teflon coating that makes the task slide off until I focus on something else. This can happen with difficult issues at work, interpersonal communications (it's a big reason I'm so bad at email), or projects and hobbies I've given myself deadlines for.


This is especially bad with things that need to be done by a certain time. I get anxious about them, procrastinate, and feel guilty about not being productive. When I try to work on them again, I'm *more* anxious because I know that I've failed to work on it before and the deadline is even closer, so I can't take the pressure and procrastinate some more. I miss deadline after deadline, because the worry that I won't be able to perform this task perfectly freezes me until I just...don't do it.


I really hate that this prevents me from doing what I want to do, or being as present as I'd like to be with the folks that I know -- especially in difficult situations. I can be paralyzed by the desire to say the right thing or do the right thing; when it really matters what I say or do, the worry of doing the wrong thing is so strong. A lot of the time, it's irrationally strong; during normal things, where the consequences for mistakes aren't so bad, I still can't figure out how to move forward.


This feels like the result of a few things in childhood -- the fact that I was considered gifted when I was a kid and the expectation was to excel; the time when I misspelled a word during a spelling bee and my mother stopped coming to any of those competitions because "I always lose when she's there"; the stress of going to a really tough high school without learning how to work hard on anything I didn't get right the first time. When anything less than perfect is viewed as a disappointment through most of your primary education, you tend to develop a bit of a complex around these things.


I don't want to make this another "My mother didn't love me enough and it fucked me up" kind of posts, but...it's true. I know that this is a really common narrative in geek circles, and everyone navigates their way through and past it in different ways. But for me, the fact that I had no one who I felt loved me no matter what I did made it very difficult for me to accept myself for who I was. And when it comes to anything I do -- whether it's fixing a customer's problem or finding just the right order of words -- anything less than perfection is a disappointment, and disappointment can lead to abandonment and rejection. If I don't do things perfectly, I cannot be a person worthy of love. So it's better to do nothing than to make mistakes.


Of course this isn't healthy or productive, but the behavior has been ingrained within me beyond a rational point. Uncovering that rock to see what's there, then doing the difficult work of cleaning out the toxic self-talk, is one of those things that takes time and persistent effort. It also tends to happen in stages; cleaning it out might only enable you to see there's more there, more deeply ingrained, stuff that will be even harder to scrub out.


I am a fundamentally anxious person. I care about getting things right. While that's a reasonable impulse, the fear of getting things wrong is not. It's time to start working on that, which means leaning in to the things that make me uncomfortable, making mistakes and learning how to recover from them. I know that my husband loves me no matter what; I know that I have friends who support me no matter what; I know that no matter what, I am someone worthy of love and life. But there is some scared little child deep within me that believes none of these things, and it will take a lot of coaxing to change his mind.


I'll talk about more of my progress here occasionally, as part of that work. If you have issues with anxiety, performance or other mental issues, please consider this a safe space to share your experience and perspective. I welcome you. Let's work through this together.
jakebe: (Writing)

The biggest takeaway from my week of Infomagical is the seriously wonderful idea of narrowing my focus to one or two things and working on them until they're done. I have a bad habit of saying yes to everything, of getting excited about so many projects and/or collaborations that it becomes really difficult to keep track of everything -- let alone actually make time for things.

As part of the process of setting my priority, I thought I'd make a quick note of the projects I'm currently actively working on and where they sit on my to-do list. Of course, I'd appreciate any feedback you have to offer on this list. Do one of these projects excite you more than the others? Think I should be working on x instead of y? Let me know.

This is geared towards making sure I actually finish and submit most of these things somewhere -- either to professional print/online publications; here at The Writing Desk; or for free public viewing at Furry Network or SoFurry.

The Cult of Maximus
This is the big one: the first project for the Jackalope Serial Company has been a bumpy one so far, and I've only managed to post thirteen parts in the first 24 weeks of the year. Making sure I make good on my promise to post weekly installments of this story until it's done is my top priority. That means putting more work into plotting out the story, making sure I have a good handle on the settings and really solidifying how the supernatural elements of the world work. More than that, I really want to double back and edit previous chapters to "smarten" them up for posting elsewhere.

By the way, this doubles as a reminder that I have a Patreon for erotic serial stories. They feature M/M content, muscle growth, giants and some violent content. If you're interested, go here to sign up!

The Writing Desk
I definitely want to make sure that this blog is updated at least three times a week, and I've been managing a good pace with that so far. Really, it's just a matter of making sure I have ideas for articles ready to go when there isn't anything more pressing to talk about, and doing my best to keep up with Friday Fiction. That's the feature I'm most excited about here, even if it ends up being my least-read post most weeks. Hopefully, as I get better at flash fiction, that will change.

Short Stories
I would really love to write and submit short stories to all kinds of publications -- there is a booming market for POC voices in science-fiction and fantasy, and I think that I have a unique perspective and voice to contribute to that conversation. Right now, I think writing stories to their completion, workshopping and editing them, then putting up polished work online is my best play -- but there are still places I would love to submit to. For the time being, working through commissions and requests is the priority here. "A Stable Love" is draft-complete, but needs an edit; and the poor fellow who won my short story prize during last year's Write-A-Thon is *still* waiting for even a draft. It's time to get my shit together here.

New Fables
Admittedly, I feel a little guilty about this being so low on the list. If you haven't heard of New Fables, it's a wonderful annual publication that features anthropomorphic characters helping us understand the human condition a little bit better. The last issue was published in 2012, and the process of putting up the next one has been filled with stops and starts. It is *well* past time I get on the stick about doing the necessaries to get this next issue published. After that, the plan for the future of the title needs to be solidified.

Pathfinder
I ran a Pathfinder game for several friends some time ago; due to the fact that I had much less idea what I was doing with the system than I thought I did and the fact that I needed to actually plot ahead a lot more than I did, it's been on hiatus for a little while. However, we're getting the band back together on July 30th; that means I have a ticking clock to revamp characters and plot out the next phase of the story. There's certainly work to do, and it can't be underestimated.

There are, of course, a lot of other projects, but these are the five that I will be working on now. I consider my plate full, and just about everything else will have to wait until I'm done with these.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, folks -- here's to hoping that the focus remains tight until I've got a handle on these projects...

jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

Yesterday's Infomagical challenge was to have a conversation at least seven minutes long with someone about a topic important to you, either over the phone or in person. So...how was it? Was it harder than you thought it would be? Easier? What did you talk about? And did you learn anything from the conversation?

I had planned to chat with my husband about his Dresden Files tabletop role-playing game yesterday, but we ended up talking about Warcraft with my husband and my best friend after seeing the movie. They were both not fans, to put it mildly. Which put me in the position of being the film's sole defender -- and even on a good night's sleep with a bit of hindsight I have to say that it's not as bad as everyone has been saying. I think Duncan Jones worked hard to ground an inherently cartoonish world and mostly succeeded; it wasn't perfect, it might not even be good, but I liked it anyway. If you've ever had a long period where you were a die-hard Warcraft fan, you should see this movie on the big screen. It is made for you, to put yourself as immersively as possible in the world of Azeroth.

One of the things I came away from the conversation with is the idea that disagreement doesn't have to be a personal attack. Even though I think a lot of the criticisms that have been lobbed at the movie (yes, even from my husband and best friend) are a bit unfair, I see where they're coming from. And hey, just because I like -- or even love -- something doesn't mean I can't at least recognize its flaws, or the points where it leaves people cold, right? So yeah, good talk guys. I can't wait to talk movies with you again sometime.

Today is the last day of our Infomagical week. If you joined me for these last five days of challenges, thanks! I hope that you've learned a bit more about how you interact with technology and where your relationship with it can improve. If you've just been reading these posts, thanks to you too! I hope you've gained something from reading about my experience. Or at least found it interesting.

The challenge for today is to take what we've learned about ourselves, how we consume information and that feeling we get when we're chasing our goal and wrap it all up in one wonderful burrito of purpose. (I really want a burrito for lunch, you guys.) Today, we think about the lessons we've learned this past week and figure out how to apply it to the rest of our lives moving forward. What is the one big thing that we want to change in our lives as the result of this experience?

For me, the big lesson is the value of focus and prioritization. I have this tendency to say "yes" to way too much stuff, and even discounting the chronic depression, ADHD and poor time management skills there's simply no way I'll be able to get to everything in a timely fashion. Focusing squarely on single-tasking Monday gave me a window into a world in which I sit down with one project until it is finished, working hard on a single thing to make it the best thing it can be. That felt good! I want more of that in my life.

So, from now on, I'm going to shrink my focus down to the most important things to me. If there isn't time for other things that are distractions anyway, so be it. I'll read less Cracked articles, or spend less time on Facebook. I'll stop reading articles on professional wrestling. (Well, maybe not, but I'll read fewer of them.) What I do with my time and my technology will hopefully push me towards becoming a better and more complete storyteller, someone who knows the value and transformative potential of stories, someone who uses them for a very real and tangible benefit.

The Infomagical podcast for today is definitely worth a listen if you have about 15 minutes; it talks about the value of priority in your life and the cold reality that you must make conscious, difficult choices about where you choose to spend your time and energy. Tech, it's mentioned at one point, makes a wonderful servant but a poor master.

So if you're bouncing from Facebook to Twitter to blog to blog to blog -- stop. That's allowing yourself to be mastered by technology. Instead, make a conscious choice when you sit down at the computer, or take out your phone. Every moment brings a new choice; what is the best one to make? That's something only you can decide, and if you want your tech to be a tool instead of a tyrant, it's worth it to spend some time thinking about your decision.

Here's the full list of blog posts and Infomagical challenges this week. I'm not sure if the page will be up next Monday, but if it is you can sign up to take the challenge here. Thanks so much for following me on this experience.

Day 1: A Magical Day / Zen and the Art of Single-Tasking
Day 2: A Magical Phone / The Minimalist Phone
Day 3: A Magical Brain / You Shall Not Pass, Meme!
Day 4: A Magical Connection / The Art of Conversation
Day 5: A Magical Life / One Priority

jakebe: (Mythology)

Chronic depression is one of those things that can be very difficult to deal with, mostly because those of us who suffer from it exist in two states. When things are fine, we might think that we've rounded the bend and things will never be as bad as our last valley again. And then, when we find ourselves descending towards another crash, we have no idea how to stop it or make the cliff feel any less steep. I think most of us have an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude towards things that are big problems; when we're not actively battling our depression, we prefer to forget we have it.


But the fact is that chronic depression is a disease; an invisible one, one whose symptoms might not show up for days or weeks or months, but a disease that most of us will have to cope with for a major part of our lives. When a diabetic has his glucose levels under control, the diabetes isn't cured -- it's just managed so that the symptoms aren't making it difficult to function.


I think it's useful for those of us with mental health issues to think of our illnesses like that. The symptoms might not be bad enough to prevent us from functioning most of the time, but it's still doing its thing under the surface. There are things that we can do to help ourselves manage it; taking care of ourselves can make depressive episodes less frequent and less severe. I can't guarantee that we'll ever be completely free of it, but we can develop a number of coping mechanisms to help.


Learning how to live with depression is a process. Sometimes it might feel like we're making no progress at all; sometimes it can feel like we're sliding backwards into our worst places. But it's important to have patience with the process and with ourselves. There is nothing fundamentally broken about us; there is nothing that we can't handle. There are just a lot of considerations we must make that most others might take for granted. This can be a gift of practice; learning how to appreciate many aspects of our life that we wouldn't even notice otherwise.


Here are some of the things I've learned to do over the course of several years. You might find that different habits work better for you, and that's fine. It's not important to do every single thing that people recommend for you. It's important to find your own way of managing your mood and getting to a place where you feel comfortable and capable within your own skin. Take my advice, or discard it and forge your own path. But please try. It's worth it, I promise.


Sleep. This is single biggest piece of advice I would recommend for people dealing with mental illness: sleep well. I can't overstate the importance of rest in helping yourself to get on a more even keel. If you don't have a sleep routine, or you're having issues with getting regular or quality sleep, I really do think this should be a top priority. Sleep allows us to settle our emotions and builds our ability to cope with fluctuations in mood or changes in our environment that would cause anxiety. It is one of the best things we can do to care for ourselves.


Building a good sleep habit takes time and practice. The chemical imbalance that can lead to depression also impairs sleep function, so we end up sleeping too little or too much. However, keeping a regular sleep practice is a great foundation for routine that we can use to help us weather those times. Listen to your body; notice when you start to feel tired or your brain tells you it's time to get to bed. Notice when you're most likely to wake up without an alarm clock. If at all possible, build your sleep time around your own circadian rhythm. If it's not possible, determine when you need to get up and count back nine hours -- start getting ready for bed at that time.


It's not easy, and it's not quick, but it is effective. Once you're sleeping regularly, your body can begin the work of stabilizing itself.


Eat well. I know in a lot of situations this can be exceedingly difficult. Even for those of us in the United States, we might live in a food desert where fresh produce or lean meat might be hard to come by. Many of us simply don't have the money or time to make our own meals. I get it. But making sure we at least eat food that gives us a good balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fiber will give our body its best shot at managing itself.


If possible, eat three squares a day that includes lean protein, unsaturated fat and complex carbohydrates. Think a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, multigrain chips and fruit. Try to limit caffeine intake after 2 PM; we all know that caffeine plays havoc with the ability to sleep and too much of it will definitely exacerbate anxiety issues. Drink more water, and cut back on sodas and sugary drinks.


You hear this kind of advice all the time, and I know how much of a drag it can be to try and follow through. But it's definitely important. The better fuel you give your body, the better it will be able to function. That's the simple fact. And I know that the instant you begin to control your diet it feels like you're swimming upstream, and we just can't put in the effort all the time. But try. And keep trying. Notice how you feel -- how you really feel -- after you eat. Does the food sit heavy in your stomach? Do you feel gassy or bloated? Greasy? Light? Satisfied? Focus on the foods that make you feel good -- not just emotionally, but biologically. The more you listen to your body, the more it will tell  you what it needs. To be a god-damn hippie about it.


Exercise. I know, I can hear the groaning from here, but trust me -- being active when you can really helps. Just going outside or getting the blood flowing helps just about every part of your body, including your brain. When you find the activity that works best for you, your brain learns how to release endorphins that tell you that you're doing a good job. And again, pushing yourself to pay attention to your body will help you recognize how it speaks to you -- how it tells you that it's in pain, or needs food or water, or what kind of shape or mood it's in. Learning your body is the first step to being comfortable with it, realizing and accepting its limitation, and appreciating the things you like about it.


Most people think of exercise as a slog; huffing on the street during a grueling run, or sweating through some terrible routine that you can't begin to keep up with. But it really doesn't have to be; it can be any activity that gets you moving and makes you happy. For me, it actually IS running. I get a wonderful high and a sense of accomplishment after putting in my miles. But for you, it might be anything from playing tennis, basketball or football to playing Dance Dance Revolution or Rock Band on your XBox. If it gets your heart rate up and your body moving, it's fair game. Do it as regularly as you can without hurting yourself.


Therapy. This is another suggestion that takes on almost limitless forms. For you, it might be therapeutic to write your feelings down in a journal or talk to the spiritual leader of your congregation. It might be reading, walking in nature, talking to a therapist or taking medication. Whatever works for you, seek it out and do it; develop a self-care routine, arm yourself with coping mechanisms, engage with the world and community around you however you see fit.


Again, I understand how difficult this might be for some of us. We might live in places where mental health professionals are hard to find or prohibitively expensive; we might not have access to an understanding or capable support network; we might not know where to begin to develop a framework of self-care. But if you're reading this, you probably have access to the Internet and that gives you a leg up. Research things that might help you and try them out; describe the results when you use them, and determine if it would be useful to keep doing them. Seek out communities online if you can -- there are a number of websites and forums for those of us dealing with depression and anxiety. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Try.


Sleeping regularly, eating as well as you can, doing active things you find enjoyable and engaging in a therapeutic practice are all basic things we could all do to help stabilize our mood as much as possible. Again, these are a lot easier said than done for many of us, but please -- do what you can when you can. Seek out help and support where you can find it. And keep trying. What helped me most with my depression is seeing it for what it is. It allowed me to engage with it, really understand it. And by doing that, I understood myself a lot better. Self-awareness is perhaps the most powerful tool we have against our mental illness. It helps us learn how to cope with it and to live happy, full lives even while we struggle.


If you have depression, anxiety or another mental illness difficult to endure and tough to make people understand, I see you. I'm with you. I want to help. And I'm not the only one.


But the best way to get help is to help yourself. We can support you, but we can't "fix" you. There's nothing to be fixed. You're a human being, wonderful and complete just as you are. You deserve to live, to be happy, to be loved. For people like you and me, it takes more work and care. But it makes the results of that work so much sweeter.
jakebe: (Self-Improvement)
The past couple of months have been marked by the death of various tech around the burrow and the attempts to replace them. Now that Bigwig (my desktop) and Hazel-rah (the new laptop) are settled for a while, I can get back to the business of writing and I'm tremendously excited about that.
Hazel-rah is a Dell Inspiron 7559 15", and it is a beautiful thing -- it's got a 4K HD touchscreen, Intel i7 Core chip, 16G of RAM and a 1TB HDD. The resolution is so high that it actually doesn't know what to do with some apps or windows where things tend to be small, like my digital Pomodoro timer or the note cards for my Scrivener app but that's OK. We're still feeling each other out. I wrote on the laptop most of yesterday, and really loved the experience; I'm getting used to the international keyboard design, which means becoming more precise with touch-typing. That's never a bad thing, right?
Speaking of writing, here is what I'm working on: building a buffer for the Jackalope Serial Company, starting one long-overdue commission (the prize winner of a fundraising contest for last year's Clarion Write-A-Thon), editing another long-overdue commission, pre-writing another serial project being written in a shared universe (*really* excited about that!), and brainstorming ideas for submissions to People of Color Destroy Fantasy! and the Black Power POC Superhero anthologies. I'm hoping that I can write three short stories by the end of June while making good progress on the edit for a fourth, all while keeping up with the Patreon and the blog. That's why I've scheduled ten hours of writing a week!
In addition to that, I've been forced to learn better time management and organization techniques through work and I am ever-grateful for that. Learning how to juggle multiple responsibilities is not something I've ever been very good at, but what the crunch time at the day job has taught me is how to go into each day with eyes open about how things are likely to go and what needs to be accomplished in spite of that. I may not hit the mark every time, but I get a lot closer than I used to and that's entirely a bonus effect of work craziness. Thanks, day job!
This weekend will be The Overnight, a 16-mile moonlight walk through San Francisco to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health issues. I'm tremendously excited to be taking part in this, and extremely proud of the money I've raised so far -- $1,708.00. I didn't think I would be able to do this well, and I am very grateful to everyone who's donated so generously already. If you would like to help me bring more attention to this very important issue, please head on over to my Participants' page and make a donation. Any amount helps, and I would love to raise as much as I can for this.
In order to make sure I was prepared for The Overnight, I've really stepped up my running game. Over the past two weeks I've run at least three times -- short ones (two or three miles) at reasonably easy paces (only 12 minutes per mile) but for me the most important thing is consistency, which I think I'm learning to develop! So that's excellent. My diet is still a little shaky, but I've been taking strides towards eating better. More fruits, vegetables and fiber, fewer candies, carbs and fat. Hopefully this will translate into less of a pear shape, but even if it doesn't that's OK. I like what I eat and how much I move now, and hopefully I'll get to continue on that path.
I think that's it for me this fortnight: writing, time management, Overnight preparation. What projects are you folks working on? What do you hope to have done by the beginning of next month?
If you'd like to donate to the Overnight, please go to my participant's page here: http://theovernight.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=18579
And if you would like to hit up my Patreon, which features serialized adult anthropomorphic fiction, go here: https://www.patreon.com/jakebeserials?ty=h.
jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

I thought that 2016 was going to be different. With the launch of the Jackalope Serial Company and a host of opportunities for this little black geek to write stories for anthologies specifically for him, I had prepared for a big focus on storytelling. Now we're entering the middle third of the year, and the JSC is sputtering along, I've still only finished two short stories and I've had to take frequent breaks to manage other things that are going on.

All of the reasons have been well documented here, of course. I've changed positions at my day job, and that required a lot of training and focus; at the same time, the company I work for is undergoing a massive upheaval that means it's next to impossible to get settled, so there isn't a solid foundation for me to dig into. I've worked pretty hard to succeed in those conditions, and I'm getting to a point where I'm doing all right. But lofty goals for extracurricular activities had to be pulled back or scrapped entirely.

I've also had to learn a lot about how I'm interacting with the world and the various communities I inhabit; the climate of our society has become so aggressive and uncompromising and it's easy to be swept along in that current if you let yourself. I didn't like the conclusions or consequences that I was being lead to, and I had to pull back to reorient myself towards the truths I've gleaned from my own experience. That means pulling back, reflecting on my experience, and observing how others act on theirs for insight, connection and understanding. It's been a fruitful process, and I feel much more solid on my beliefs, why I hold them and understanding why people believe and act the way they do.

That's not to say that I have all of the answers -- of course I don't. I don't know any more than you do. But I'm a lot more comfortable with where I stand on my path and I feel more confident about the direction I'm going. I've made choices to stop, reorient and refocus, and what's left is acting on that knowledge to see where it leads me.

The Jackalope Serial Company will fire up again this week with chapter 3 of THE CULT OF MAXIMUS. I've set down an outline for the rest of the story, and it's allowed me to know what's really important character-wise as well as work out the kinks of plotting and purpose. The first two chapters felt...exploratory by comparison, and while that can be fun for exercises it's really not that great in serialized fiction. It's important to establish a sense of momentum, the idea that the story is leading somewhere, that there is acceleration, waystations, the whole bit. The serial has that baked in a bit more now, and I've learned from the bad start.

I'm working on editing "Stable Love" so I can finally clear that off my plate; then there's the People of Color Destroy Horror! story that I'd like to submit by the middle of the month. There is the Clarion Write-A-Thon prize that I still owe to a good friend, and right after that I'll set to work on my People of Color Destroy Fantasy! short story. I'm also working on a collaborative project that I'm quite excited about; I was nearly done with the outline there, but a few revelations about antagonists and character-building have encouraged me to take another look at it. There is a black superheroes anthology that I would love to submit a story for, a contest for transformation and mind-control stories that I think I'd like to submit something for, and online-only stories that I want to publish at least once a quarter.

My ambition to publish short stories hasn't diminished at all this year, even with the bumps along the way. I just have to make sure that my ability to deliver and be organized is up to where it needs to be.

Oh! Ryan and I have also gotten into cooking through this service called Blue Apron. Basically, ingredients for three two-person meals are shipped to us every week and we learn a lot about cooking through making them. They've been surprising and delicious, every week, and I've liked most of them (the only one I didn't really care for was the catfish po' boy). If you find yourself eating out a lot and want to have healthier meals, I'd recommend it. $60/week seems steep but if you compare that to the money you spend on restaurants you might find yourself in a wash.

I've also begun running again, which has done wonders for my energy and mood. This is nominally training for The Overnight Walk, to build strength and endurance in my legs, but the truth is I've just missed being out on the sidewalk. It feels so good to be out there again.

That's where I stand right now. The day job continues to be demanding, and I've taken some time to assess how to deal with that and work on the things that are important to me. Diet and exercise continues to improve, but the weight isn't coming off just yet. All in good time.

If you would like to support my serial erotic fiction project, please head over to my Patreon site and sign up! For as little as $1/month, you can have (almost) weekly episodes delivered to you!

And if you would like to help me support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, please make a donation to The Overnight, a 16-mile dusk-til-dawn walk through San Francisco to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health issues. My participant page is here; anything you can give would be very much appreciated.

jakebe: (Reading Rabbit)

The last time I went to an optometrist was about four years ago. When they checked my eyes, the doctor said she saw something that she would want to keep an eye on; she also wanted to know if I had any family history of certain diseases. That was the first time I heard about glaucoma.


On Monday I talked a little bit about what's been going on with me these past two weeks and how the stress has been a bit more difficult to manage because of certain things. I thought I would take off last Friday while Ryan was gone to give myself a three-day weekend that could be used to catch up on various projects and generally get in some extra rest and recuperation. Instead, I spent most of it with various doctors: first my therapist, then my optometrist, and finally a three-hour marathon with an allergenist where I learned more than I ever wanted to know about dust mites.


The optometrist visit is the one that's sticking with me, though. He was really helpful and knowledgeable, and taught me a lot about my eyes. Like the fact that my amblyopia (lazy eye!) makes it harder for me to perceive depth accurately, and that I can actually corral them with prisms in my eyeglasses. And that because I've been dealing with it for so long, actually having both eyes focusing on the same thing is something that might freak out my brain -- which is pretty interesting. But he also told me a lot more about glaucoma, and recommended that I start talking about tests and treatment with my doctor.


So, time for the definition: glaucoma is the name given to a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve, which takes the information from your eye to the brain for processing. It's a degenerative issue, so over time you lose your vision and in some cases go blind. It's also one of those things that just happen, so there's really no rhyme or reason for it. Certain people, like African-Americans (check) and those with a family history (also check) are at higher risk. It's too early to say that I definitely have it, but I'm at the age where it becomes noticeable and concerning.


I haven't noticed any vision loss outside of the ordinary; my glasses work a little less well than they did four years ago, but that's just how it goes. I know I have poor depth perception and favor one eye or the other when I need to focus, and when I'm drunk or tired one of them goes right into one corner of the socket and sleeps there. But these things always felt like manageable symptoms of getting older; your mind gets sharper, smarter, better, but your body doesn't work as well as it used to.


And that's something that I've never minded. I've often joked about being an old man, shuffling around and eating applesauce, bitching about the way things used to be. I love the comfortable self-possession of older people; they know who they are and what they want, and they have a much stronger idea about what's important to them. They've lived through so much that they know what's worth paying attention to and what can be safely dismissed. Well...the best ones anyway. I won't deny it was a bit of a fantasy to me, being confident about what I knew, what was worth knowing and what I could simply leave as matters for other people.


This, though...this rattles me. I think this is the first time I imagined getting older and being frightened by what I saw. My vision is so important to me. I read all the time. I love watching the subtle changes in facial expressions and body language within people. I love shades of color, and the way the green on the leaves changes when clouds pass in front of the sun. A future where I can't actually enjoy any of that is not one that I had anticipated.


I know it's early yet; I haven't made the appointment with my doctor. I haven't been diagnosed with anything. But I've seen the pictures of my optic nerve and I've gone over what they mean with my optometrist. I know that glaucoma happens earlier and more aggressively in people like me. I know that it may be likely I will have to shift my thinking away from "not losing my eyesight" to "losing it as slowly as possible".


That's a difficult adjustment to make. It presents a challenge to my embrace of the Four Noble Truths, the ideas of attachment to the impermanent leading to suffering. It's one thing to recognize a truth on an intellectual or theoretical level, to understand that one day your body will cease breathing and you won't see anything any more, and to suddenly realize that truth on an emotional, personal, instinctive level. One day, I will die. Oh my God, holy shit...one day, I will die.


The failure of my body has long been an intellectual and theoretical truth for me, and it's only been recently that it's become a personal and instinctive one. On one hand, I can be grateful that I have lived in instinctive ignorance for 35 years now; so many other people are forced to confront this much, much earlier and with far less capability to absorb this truth. On the other, it feels like I've been given a bum hand. Navigating my mental and psychological issues, and the terrible habits developed by my social and economic background, and learning more about the things I've struggled with for so long has been enriching and rewarding and exhausting. This last thing, this new wrinkle, feels like it's taking me close to the edge of what I should be expected to bear.


But the truth is this: the Universe doesn't owe me anything. Nothing lasts forever. My eyesight will diminish -- it may happen slowly, or more rapidly than I'm prepared for, but it will happen. In some ways, being aware of the clock winding down is a gift; it makes me appreciate what I have that much more.


I love the visual world. And this is a reminder to really engage with that love, to cherish what I see, and to have compassion for those who cannot. I will adjust, of course. I will learn to let go of the things that I hold too tightly to properly appreciate. For now, though, I just want to see everything I can and mourn that day in the future where I've witnessed the last thing I ever will.
jakebe: (Buddhism)

There's this idea in Buddhism about the Noble Eightfold Path -- after you've taken every step along the path, what comes next? You've attained Right View and Intention, Right Speech and Action and Livelihood, Right Effort and Mindfulness and Concentration. Where do you go from there?


You attain Right View after that.


Like the wheel of karma, the Noble Eightfold Path is also a circle; reaching one spoke of the wheel brings you to the place where you can reach the next one. There is no completion, even after you attain enlightenment; there is only the work of realization of the present. One of the reasons I identify with Zen Buddhism so strongly is its acknowledgement that perfection is an illusion. Being alive is a constant balancing act, maintaining your stance while rolling with whatever bumps and turns ripple through the wheel.


It also reinforces the concept of interconnectedness. One thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. In this way, one act -- however small -- sends ripples through the wheel of your life that shape everything that comes after it. This is really what karma is; the awareness of the consequences of your actions, large and small, predicted and unintended.


So: my dear husband Ryan has been in Japan for nearly two weeks. He's been planning this trip for months, and I'm tremendously excited to have him back with me so I can hear about his experience and see the places he's visited. I also miss him terribly. For the past two weeks, I've lived as a bachelor -- it's just been me and my rabbit Puckles, watching TV and eating whatever we felt like sprawled out together in bed.


Except not really. The home we share is in a condominium complex that scheduled a fumigation for the weekend after he left, which meant that I would have to get everything ready for that. All of our food and medicine had to be double bagged in special material in order to avoid contamination. And I would have to clean up as much as I could, because there's no way I'm going to let strangers know just what kind of things we let slide in our household.


The work was more intensive than I expected, so it meant many late nights. I don't sleep well without Ryan anyway, so that meant trying to snatch just a little more rest well after the alarm went off. That meant being unable to meditate and ease into the day before work, which meant that I arrived at the office tired, harried and rootless. That meant being less resilient to stress, which there was plenty of last week. And that meant coming back home with my willpower depleted, my brain fried and unable to rest because there was more preparation to do. Which meant more late nights…


You get the idea. For the past two weeks I slipped into a cycle where I had all but abandoned the self-care mechanisms I had been building for a while, and the effect was dramatic. My mood plummeted, my anxiety skyrocketed and my coping mechanisms disappeared. All from staying up too late.


Except, of course, not really. The contradiction here is that I made a series of choices that put me into that cycle. I could have made more efficient use of my time, or gotten up early anyway to make the best of so little sleep. I could have asked for more help with getting the apartment together before that weekend. I could have simply sacrificed precision (I couldn't ignore the opportunity to throw away expired food and medicine) for time. Each choice I made along the way nudged me a little more firmly into that cycle, until momentum made it easy to remain there.


And once you're there, you feel stuck. Life doesn't pause for you to get your head on straight; there was still work and fumigation and everything else. Taking the time to put in the effort to get yourself off of a bad path can be difficult to find, but at a certain point it's necessary. You have to stop and take a breath.


This past weekend I managed to slow down enough to consider the choices I make. I went to bed earlier, caught up on sleep, re-established my meditation practice, and took the mindfulness I gained off the bench and into the rest of the day. I'm in a better place mentally and emotionally, but I'm still recovering. Pausing and changing momentum is still energy that must be expended. I believe I'm applying Right Concentration now, making a concerted effort to make sure the changes I make today stick.


Eventually, I'll get to a place where I can work on attaining the Right View.
jakebe: (Buddhism)

It might surprise some of you to know that I consider myself to be an angry person, but it's true. I have a pretty quick temper, and like most idealists there's a strong sense of order and fairness within me that gets offended often. That sense of fair play isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead us to have strong emotions against the people who we think disrespect it on a frequent basis.


A lot of people think that anger is a negative emotion, but it's not; it's simply a difficult one to react constructively with. Acting on anger without thought leads us to do terrible things to other people in the name of "justice" or "revenge", and that doesn't really solve anything. It just directs pain somewhere else; instead of dissipating or eliminating it, it's amplified and channeled. Instead of stopping the behavior that caused the anger in the first place, these actions can often harden the targets of our lashing out. It makes them more defensive, less likely to listen.


I'm seeing this play out in activist circles, and it unnerves and exhausts me. Being angry about the problems we face is a completely reasonable reaction; we've noticed how unfair our society is, how few times those in power do the "right" thing by us. As idealists, of course living in a world where anti-social behavior is accepted as "normal" drives us crazy. However, I don't think we've learned how to really think about the best uses of our anger. I've mentioned before how it can be a catalyzing force for us to change, or a way that we keep ourselves firmly on the path of social justice. But way too often, I see us lashing out, hardening the very people we should hope to change, demonizing and disconnecting an increasingly large set of people. Our anger is beginning to put us into an echo chamber, where we're only willing to tolerate the people who think exactly the same way we do.


That's not good for anyone. So in order to find a better way of dealing with those injustices that are everywhere within the modern world, I have to figure out how to have a better relationship with my anger, to really understand and harness it. For me, the best way to do that is fall back on the foundation of my Zen practice and recommit myself to the precepts and Noble Eightfold Path.


The Four Noble Truths tell us that attachment and desire is the root of all suffering, and the elimination of suffering can be achieved by eliminating our attachments. This is often misunderstood as having no emotions on anything, having no likes or dislikes, simply existing in reaction to whatever stimulus comes our way. That's a mistake; taking such an extreme view of detachment isn't consistent with the Middle Way, of course. It's a form of emotional asceticism, another attachment to a bad idea.


I think what's happening these days in activist spaces is a deep attachment to our anger. Perhaps we've spent so long ignoring or repressing our anger that letting it out just feels too good. It's an empowering thing to express our anger and have other voices rise up in chorus with it. But that attachment is simply preserving the cycle of suffering; we hold on to our anger, use it to lash out regardless of the situation, and the resulting ill will and alienation just creates more anger in others...who then lash out, and pass on this cycle to someone else.


What detachment really means is being able to disconnect ourselves from our anger just enough to figure out the best way to express it. Sometimes that's organized protest; sometimes that's respectful debate; sometimes that's leaving a situation where it's clear there is simply no way you will be understood or treated fairly. It depends on a multitude of factors that must be considered before action; even though the stimulus is the same (something offensive happened), the things that gave rise to that stimulus are different and have to be examined both on their own and in relation to one another.


Anger is one powerful emotion, but that doesn't mean there is only one response to it. We must put our anger in perspective to figure out its proper place and usage each time we encounter it. Knowing more about our emotions, when and how they arise, what our instinctive response may be to it, and how people are likely to react to that all help us out with that work. And one of the ways we learn more about our anger is through meditation, self-reflection and listening to the experiences of our fellow human beings.


As someone who struggles to cope with a variety of strong emotions, it's very important to me that I have multiple tools at my disposal to manage them. Anger, anxiety, despair and boredom are emotions that I'm very sensitive to; that makes it much more difficult for me to put them in their proper places. But hopefully, with a firm commitment towards Zen, I can do just that.
jakebe: (Buddhism)

I'm not going to lie -- 2016 has been pretty stressful so far. The day job has been demanding and constantly shifting; racial and identity politics have been as contentious as ever; and the rise of Trump signalling the fall of the GOP has been one of the most depressing stories to follow. Meanwhile, there are reports that we've hit the +2 degrees Celsius shift that we had been talking about maybe avoiding some day; China's economy is faltering enough to make their government fearful, which makes what's happening in the South China Sea especially worrisome; there's also Russia, ISIL, Syria and a whole host of problems around the world. This is the time we should be uniting as a species to solve problems that threaten our existence, and we feel more fractured and disconnected than ever.


I realize that there isn't a whole lot that I can do about all of this besides try to be the best person I can and encourage others to do the same. For me, trying to be the best person I can means trying to be the best Buddhist that I can be -- so that means diving back into the Dharma and realigning my life to hew closer to its principles.


I don't talk a lot about Buddhism here because I've never figured out a way to talk about it that didn't sound like proselytizing on one hand, or exposing a vast ignorance about core teachings on the other. Being a Buddhist has always felt like a personal thing to me; I can make allusions to it, but that's as open as I'll get for the most part.


But the fact is that Buddhist philosophy is a very large part of who I am, and as I grapple with trying to be a better activist and a person who serves as a connector and organizer within his community, leaning back into Buddhist principles will help me tremendously with that. I believe that following the Noble Eightfold Path helps me to encourage my compassion, move past my fears, keeps my worry from curdling into despair.


Like most idealists, I have an attachment to the idea of a perfect world. People are kind and considerate in the ways that I deem most important, and their priorities are in lockstep with my own. We take care of each other. We take care of my environment. We're an empathetic people who can't see suffering without taking action to do something about it. We turn away from harmful things, even if they provide us with short-term pleasure, even if they're something we've been doing for a very long time. Connection with other animals is one of the best things we can do. We're accepting of each other's differences; we even celebrate them. Sadness and loss are tempered by love and understanding.


That's not the world we live in. None of us are perfect, and all of us have darker natures that we fall prey to. We are afraid, and angry, and selfish, and hurting. We make mistakes. We act maliciously. We do things that aren't in our best interest because we think it will make us feel better. Our differences cause disagreements, and those cause divisions that widen and deepen until we can't even see the other side as human any more. While problems get worse, we can't even reach consensus on whether or not there IS a problem. Some people -- perhaps most people -- will never agree with me.


One of the strengths of Buddhism is enabling practitioners to deal with what is right in front of them. I am who I am, and the world is what it is; wishing for a utopian version of either invites suffering. It is better to see ourselves exactly as we are, and take the best actions we can under those circumstances.


This is the Dharma that I will be trying to follow. I'm digging back into the basics for a while, to check my foundation. What are the Four Noble Truths? What do they really mean? What is my understanding of the Noble Eightfold Path? The Bodhisattva Vow? How can I marry the vulgar and the divine? How can I follow the Middle Way while driving, or in the supermarket, or on the toilet? And how does Buddhism inform my activism?


These are important questions for me to figure out, and I'll be spending a little time talking about them in the coming days, weeks, months.
jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

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.

Writing/Reading
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?

jakebe: (Mythology)
This month for Fiction Friday, I'll be giving the Br'er scenario another try. I'm not sure what people thought of the couple fragments I posted last month, but I wasn't really happy with them -- I think they came across far too "woe is me, poor special snowflake" and less "these are some things that folks like me have to deal with". Not my best look, fam; sorry about that.

I'm writing a little about what I'd like to do with the idea here, not to prime you to read the upcoming bits of fiction in a certain way, but to hopefully solidify my intentions and use this as a guidepost to look back on at the end of the month when I want to know how I did with them. I know it's important to let the work speak for itself, right? But this is the first tentative step to more involved and more ambitious stories, and this writing desk here is going to be my workshop for now.


I'm writing Br'ers as a way to dig into my experience as a black man on the fringes of black society. In a lot of ways, my folks can tell there's something different about me just by looking -- either it's the clothes I wear, or the way I carry myself, or how I speak. There's this impression that I give off almost immediately that codes me as "other", and that feeling only deepens once I start talking.


At the same time, I am undeniably black and the rest of the world sees me that way. I'm lumped in with a community that has distanced me from itself by the dominant culture, and there's not much I can do about that. I occupy this border between the world of black America and the wider one, maybe not by choice, but by simply being who I am. And here, my options are somewhat limited; no one thing is going to be wholly satisfying.


I could forsake the black community entirely and step out into the wider world in search of an adopted people. That's what I've done for most of my life; in my senior year of high school I found Dungeons & Dragons, Changeling: the Dreaming and the furry fandom. I didn't look back for 15 years. These are the people who understood me, who've accepted me as one of their own, whose excitement I've shared. I've been a geek for about 20 years now; it's an enormous part of my identity.


But over the past couple of years I've felt a calling back "home". Maybe it's being in touch with my family again, learning about the first deaths that will signal many more for my older relatives, getting to talk to my nephews on the phone. Maybe it's knowing that I had an aunt who was a lesbian and never reaching out to her; now she's gone and it's too late. Maybe it's seeing this awful parade of abuse and death to our young black men and women and thinking that it could have been my sister's children on the news, or even my sister. Either way, something within me told me it was time to reassume this part of my identity, and I've been working out how ever since.


Learning about the black geek community has been a wonderful thing for that. These are people who've grown up in ways that I recognize, who have experiences that I share, who love the same things I do. What they haven't done is given up their racial and cultural identity the way I did; they've stayed on that border and made a settlement there. They're influenced by both worlds -- the black American culture that I've found so difficult to deal with and the bigger, whiter space of science-fiction and fantasy. Their space looks like nothing else, this fusion of a long, painful history combined with wild and unbridled imagination.


The concept of Br'er came to me as I was thinking about how to marry my furry identity with the larger world of black geekdom. I like the idea that someone waking up one day as markedly different forces them to the fringes anywhere they go; no matter where they are, chances are they're the only one of their kind in the room. A new species borne out of the antagonistic relationship we have with our planet is an idea I couldn't let go of. Br'ers, just by being who they are, remind us of the awful things we've done and force us to deal with that on some level.


I imagine that Br'ers were a sudden and immediate phenomenon. One day, one in twenty people -- mostly in the most blighted urban areas -- woke up to find themselves some weird combination of human and animal. Because the change seemed to be based on a type of environment, it disproportionately affected minorities and the poor. You know, the kind of people who tend to live in areas of urban blight. What these animal-human hybrids are called varies depending on the culture naming them; in black circles, they're named Br'ers.


Those who've undergone the change feel like strangers in their own skin, even after the six months to a year has passed where our story picks up. They have to rediscover their own bodies, wrestle with strange and different appetites, move through a world that simply has no idea what to make of them. Because of the vastly different shape of their faces, they have no idea how to speak up. They're voiceless, and any method of communication they can use as an alternative probably won't really capture what is they're feeling, what it is they want to say. It's a frustrating and lonely existence, even if they know that they're not alone, that there are other people out there like them.


Their families and neighbors are weirded out by them; this is something beyond their experience and they have no idea how to relate to them. The world at large might be more accepting, but there are trade-offs. Chances are they come from minority or low-income backgrounds, without a lot of social or political power; they're kind of exotic, but kind of dangerous, objects of fascination more than living breathing people. Folks will stop them on the street and ask to touch their fur, or wonder how they manage to do things with their claws, or -- only when they're drunk or feeling REALLY comfortable -- ask them if what they've heard about their sexual characteristics are true.


The world of the Br'er is one where there is almost no safe space; your neighborhood holds you at arm's length, anything beyond that might be well-meaning but ignorant at best and downright abusive at worst, and there's no guarantee even among your own kind that you'll find kinship for a whole host of reasons. On top of that, it's a long and arduous process to find peace about yourself and who you are. You may never truly fit in anywhere, and you have to be OK with that.


That's the experience I want to capture here. It'll take me a little while to get it right; I'm still a novice at writing fiction and working with subtext is something I'm going to have to learn. But it's an idea I believe in, and I'll keep trying to express it until I get it right.


So thanks in advance for being patient with me on this. Any feedback is welcome -- even if it's critical, even if you don't believe in the idea in the first place. I want to hear from you. I know the first passes are going to be rough, but I sacrifice my ego to the altar of story. I will crash and burn publicly, because I want to forge myself.
jakebe: (Writing)
It feels like I swing back and forth with resolutions from year to year. One year, I'm all business with concrete resolutions that have a pass/fail success condition. Write 6 short stories. Read 10 novels. That sort of thing. The next year, having been beaten down by life and the unexpected, I ease back to more vague resolutions that have more subjective measurements of success. Be kinder to myself. Run more. Things like that.
This looks like it's going to be a year where I have soft and fuzzy resolutions. It's not necessarily that I don't trust myself to make big goals and keep to them; it's more that I just don't know what'll happen this year to take my eye off the ball. The more I settle in to the shape of my life and who I am, the more I realize that planning for November in January is just something that leads to disaster.
So I'd like to make resolutions that help me to refine my focus and habits towards a single goal this year. Instead of promising myself to hit a certain concrete measure of success, I'd like to make promises that help me fulfill my purpose. What is that purpose? To become a better writer, reader and person this year of course.
Finish what you start. This is a big one for me. I'll often jump into projects easily with grand plans about what the end result will look like, with a vast underestimation of the time and effort it will take to achieve them. Sometimes, I just don't have the space in my life to do what I would like to do; so it's better to pick my projects carefully and devote time to making sure they're finished before moving on to something else. If something that initially grabbed my fancy is really something I should do, then it will wait its turn in line until I get to it. It's more important that I do what I set out to do. You don't learn anything from a project until you have a finished one to look back on.
Be more organized. The ADHD diagnosis last year helped me realize that my brain just works in a certain way and I'll likely never get it to be as clean and straight-forward as other people's. Thankfully, I can rely on external tools to pick up the slack -- notepads to write down bits of information that I need to remember; to-do apps that help me keep track of projects and deadlines to provide structure for my day; rituals that prime me to do certain things in certain spaces. Writing stories isn't a science, or a project that lends itself to concrete and significant planning. But finally providing structure that allows me to focus on the important work will really help me to be more productive.
Read a LOT more. There are so many great stories out there you guys. SO MANY. As a writer, it's really important to read. Period. You have to discover the stories you enjoy and the way you love for them to be told to learn more about your craft. A writer who doesn't like to read is someone who has no idea how to create stories with an audience in mind. Besides, in order to come correct to the broader science-fiction/fantasy community, I'm going to need to know a lot more about what's out there. In order to be a part of the conversation, I need to know a lot more about what it is. I've got a reading list of short stories and novels prepared, and I'll be working on it throughout the year. I'm really excited to dig into books, comic books and other stories again.
See the spiritual in the mundane. The draw of Buddhism for me is the fact that its entire purpose is to push the mindset of the temple out into the world. For Buddhists, there's no distinction between the you that's on the meditation bench and the you that's answering customer calls at work. Every aspect of your life deserves your complete attention; every interaction you have with someone else is a chance to worship the Divine. As I'm running through my day trying to meet deadlines or do the things I need to, it's vitally important to remember this. Sometimes, that means slowing down, centering yourself, and doing the best you can to live up to your principles. It's something I forget in the thick of things, and I'll try to find ways to remember them this year.
Don't forget to take stock. This year I'd like to save concrete goals for weekly and monthly check-ins. This week, I've set goals to make sure that something goes through the Writing Desk three times; that the first two parts of my serial will be written; and that a review for a furry anthology is finally edited and sent off to another blog for posting. I'd also like to make sure I get in a couple of runs and I keep a tighter leash on what I spend. We'll see how that goes when I take my pulse for the week next Sunday.
So that's it: this year, I'm focusing on seeing things through, putting myself in the best position to do that, reading and connecting with people more earnestly, and making sure I'm mindful of who I am and what I'm doing. Concrete goals will be set every week; project updates will happen every month. That's the plan.
How about you fine folks? Have you set any resolutions for yourself this year? What does a successful 2016 look like for you, creatively?
jakebe: (Mythology)
Happy New Year, everyone! Aren't you glad that words typed on a scream can't shout? I sincerely hope that this first day of a brand new year is a great one, and that you are able to spend it doing exactly what you want to be doing -- whether that's recovering from last night's festivities, getting a jump-start on your New Year's Resolutions, or anything in between.
This last day of Kwanzaa is the first day of 2016, and it is meant to be spent in quiet reflection and meditation. We are supposed to ask the three questions of Kawaida, what we tackled when we spoke about Kujichagulia. Who am I? Am I really what I say I am? Am I all that I ought to be?
Imani, or Faith, is not necessarily a religious faith -- it is a belief with all our hearts in ourselves, our people, our parents, teachers and ancestors, our communities and the righteousness and eventual victory of our struggle. It is the belief that despite our flaws and mistakes, that we can achieve greatness in ourselves and our communities; that the problems we face aren't impossible to overcome; that by applying the Seven Principles to our lives every day will see us through.
One of the dangers of being an idealist is burning out on hope. When I look at the shape of the world today, it's really easy to do. We've known about the dangers of greenhouse gasses since the 1960s and scientists have been sounding alarms about the effects of climate change since the 1980s, but we still have to go around in circles about whether or not it's a real thing and the worth of adopting more environmentally-friendly policies that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels -- a non-renewable resource that will likely run out within our lifetimes. We must still remind people what happens when fear creeps its way into the core of our politics and way of life; how it makes us ugly, intolerant, even insane as a society. We must engage with illogical mental and philosophical gymnastics just to prove that the way racial, religious and other minorities are treated in this country is not OK -- and in fact runs counter to the tenets of Christianity and our Constitution. We are still debating issues that have the potential to tear our civilization apart, pushing us past the time for immediate action.
When I think about where we are as a society and the progress we're likely to make within the next generation, it's easy for me to despair. I don't think we'll be able to get our act together in time; I think even if things can get better, they're far more likely to get worse. I feel that my purpose, to connect people and promote and practice compassion, is simply putting a finger in a dyke that is failing. There are so many problems in the world, and so little being done about them. It feels hopeless.
Imani is our bulwark against that fatalism. It starts with ourselves, believing that we can change our thoughts and behavior to become the best version of who we are. We can take that progress to our communities, our fellow human beings, and band together to make our societies the best version of what they are. Our community can then rise up and be a beacon of light, or progress and greatness, that others can use as encouragement to continue the work that they're doing. Eventually, somehow, the world becomes a better place -- a kinder, more compassionate place; a just and equitable place; a sustainable, respectful, responsible place. But not until each and every one of us takes on the work to become kinder, compassionate, just, equitable, respectful and responsible people.
This is why we must ask ourselves who we are, whether or not we really are who we say we are, and whether we're living up to the fullness of our potential. Because the immense problems facing us won't be solved until we start working on us.
I may not have faith in the world, but I have faith in myself and my values. That will have to be enough for now; as I bring my progress to my community, I will see the strides taken by everyone around me; I will see how our self-improvement contributes to the improvement of my people; and I will see how the improvement of my people makes the world at large a better place. Think globally; act locally.
I have spent several days contemplating these Seven Principles and how they apply to my situation. Now, as I face a new year, it is time to put those principles to action. Today, I will contemplate how to start that process, how to continue it, how to encourage it in everyone I see.
Happy Kwanzaa, everyone. Happy New Year. Let's work together to make 2016 a great one.
jakebe: (Mythology)
2015 has been an amazing year for me in a lot of different ways, but one of my absolute favorites is learning about the wonderful people who are putting themselves out there with their stories. This year I got to meet Nora Jemisin (author of "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms") at Writers With Drinks in San Francisco; I saw "Danger Word", a short film put together by Tananarive Due at WorldCon -- and I got to speak with her for a long time about black horror, writing and storytelling; I learned about Afro-Futurism and its history from Ajani Brown at WorldCon as well; I was introduced to Mark Oshiro, Arthur Chu, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Troy Wiggins, K. Tempest Bradford, Daniel Jose Older, Ta-Nehisi Coates, G. Willow Wilson and so many others who are shaping the discourse of what it means to be a minority in the science-fiction and fantasy space. There is a community of people out there working hard to show the world the power of a distinctive voice. It really has been amazing to discover this; it's instituted a shift in my thinking about what I can do with my own writing, what I should be doing.
The principle we focus on today, the sixth day of Kwanzaa, is Kuumba or Creativity. I took this to mean that today we celebrate the different perspectives we have in viewing the world and how that translates to our stories, which I can totally get behind. Telling stories to make sense of our environment is one of the oldest and best things we do as humans, and I don't think that its given the proper appreciation.
However, in researching up a bit on the theme for today, Kuumba can also mean "continuous improvement". It's not enough to just "get by", or to "do all right". We must keep striving for the ideals we set for ourselves -- there's always a purer, uncomplicated expression of it that we can aim for. Kuumba is having the insight to see the many different facets of Nia; to see the shapes and sides it can inhabit. How can we stretch our purpose even further to be better people, to encourage our communities to be better?
Ryan and I watched the final few episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" yesterday, and there was an exchange that blew me away. One of the characters is having a crisis about what to do in life, and someone asks her what she wants her life to be about. She says, "I want to end poverty," and her friend says "Well, every choice you make in life should be in service to that." It's such a simple idea, so powerful, but so incredibly difficult.
Applied to myself, I have to think about how every decision I make serves my purpose -- to connect people to each other, to make them feel more comfortable with their world, to be OK with the fact that change is constant and they can weather it. How do my stories serve that purpose? How do my blog entries? How can I creatively refine my actions to make sure they achieve that?
My favorite protagonists in stories are the paladins -- not the people who sit on a mountain and reflect upon some ideal without having to make the attempt to engage it in the real world, but the people who come down off that mountain, who struggle to be the living embodiment of those ideals, who have to find ways to uphold it in the complicated and messy struggle of life. I believe that being an idealist means becoming intimately connected with failure. We're imperfect creatures moving through an imperfect world, giving ourselves over to a perfect idea that we'll never attain. But the struggle to achieve it means that we accomplish amazing things in the meantime.
Creativity is about so much more than telling stories, but that's one of my favorite expressions of it. It requires creativity to make it through life, simply to improve yourself when there are restrictions and road-blocks in front of you. Creativity is one of the best expressions of intelligence, making connections that aren't readily apparent, improving our understanding of life by viewing it from a radically different perspective. Creativity is a requirement for empathy; you can't put yourself in someone else's shoes without it.
It allows us to take ancient lessons and apply them to modern, more complicated times. It allows us to replace the lessons that don't work anymore because our understanding of the world has changed so much. It allows us to accept the tragedies in life with the hope that we can move past them and become better people. It makes us better thinkers, more compassionate people, more connected and sensitive to what's around us.
Over the next year, I will try to strengthen my creativity -- I will do my best to find creative ways to deal with the challenges in front of me, and to deal with people I might find challenging as well. I want to live and breathe the stories I create, and the stories I take in. I will use my creativity to sharpen my purpose, to make my actions precise and efficient, to trim the fat in my life. I will use my creativity to make myself lean, powerful and focused.
I would just like to thank all of you for reading these essays this week; your response has been amazing and much appreciated. I was very nervous about tackling this -- Kwanzaa does not have the best reputation among the people who know about it at all, and while I really wanted to make this holiday my own I was also sensitive of the history it comes with and the possibility that I wouldn't understand or explain the principles well at all. This has been a wonderful learning process, and I'm so glad we got to go through it together.
Have a joyous Kwanzaa today, folks, and a wonderful New Year. I'll check in with all of you tomorrow -- probably after I've recovered from my hangover!
jakebe: (Mythology)
Why are we here? The answer to that question depends on who you are and what you believe. Many people believe that we're here to reflect the glory of God and praise His creation; there are a lot of different ways to do that, but if it leads you to a more positive and compassionate life that's a good thing. Others believe that there isn't a purpose to life; we're here to survive long enough to pass on our genes, make the human race stronger in the next generation, and that's it. Again -- if it leads you to a more positive and compassionate life, more power to you.
Personally, I believe there's no inherent purpose to life, no grand design. But far from being a depressing realization, I find it's actually liberating and exciting. Because that means we get to make our own, tailor-made to our temperament and experience. We can decide how we will spend our lives, what we want to leave behind as our legacy, and what we'll be remembered for. The objective purpose of life is to find our own purpose, and once having done that, work towards it to the best of our ability.
The principle we're focusing on today, the fifth day of Kwanzaa, is Nia or Purpose. According to Dr. Maulana Karenga, this means "to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness." That's a concept I can get behind, actually -- how awesome would it be to lift African civilization and the African diaspora to great renown? How great would it be for our culture to be known the world over as the most advanced, responsible and utopian in human history? The more I think about it, the more I would love to see more stories featuring Black Panther's Wakanda -- an Afrocentric culture that has dedicated itself to achieving as much as possible.
We don't have many stories like that, in fiction or in real life. Positive steps towards uplifting our communities aren't reported very often; peaceful protests, community clean-up initiatives, organized benefits don't get the same kind of air time that disruptive things do. In America, stories featuring black people far too often revolve around death and poverty. In Africa, all we know of the continent is sickness, war, famine and death. We think of it as the continent of the Four Horsemen, a hellish landscape where there is never enough to eat and mortality is a daily fact of life.
Chimamana Ngozi Adichie tells us about the danger of a single story here. She writes about an Africa most people in the West never see, and encourages us to think about the people and the continent in a more holistic way. Yes, there are warlords and corruption, famine and sickness, but there are also people who are doing everything they can to make their world better. There are thinkers and creative people; friendly, hard-working dreamers; people who are proud of their community, tribe, country and continent. Africa is an immense place. It is diverse, wonderful, and so much more than most of us know.
The purpose I've found in life is to encourage people to become more connected with the world around them, more accepting of their fellow human beings, more comfortable with change and differences. What I want more than anything is to initiate and continue dialogues that allow us to know each other better, foster empathy that lets us step outside of our own experience to genuinely see things from another perspective. I want to understand you. And I want you to understand people like me. Humanity is a social species, and we are at our best when we come together for a common purpose.
So much about the black experience -- and the human experience -- is about alienation and disenfranchisement. The most dangerous thing I see about our future is giving ourselves over to apathy and disconnection, this idea that "as long as I've got mine, that's all that matters." We do not exist alone. We exist inextricably connected to an immense and complicated framework of socio-political, environmental and interpersonal factors. We are affected by the actions of our fellow man. Everything we do affects someone else.
A lot of us who have grown up being bullied or ostracized internalize the idea that we don't matter. We grow up really believing we're alone, and that it's entirely possible no one would miss us if we disappeared. We think that the consequences of our actions, such as they are, are ours alone and no one else has to worry about them. We feel so powerless and small, and can't possibly understand how each and every one of us has the power to shape our world -- and the responsibility to use that power wisely.
My purpose is to use that power to the most positive end I can manage. I'm still learning the full shape and force of it, and I'm still learning the limits of it. I still need to learn how to use it responsibly. But that's the thrust of my existence; I have my entire life to learn this. And I'm genuinely excited to do that.
What's your purpose? How are you fulfilling it? What are you doing to contribute to the restoration of greatness for the human race? This isn't a judgement question: I really want to know. What do you think about your purpose?
Have a solid Kwanzaa, everyone. I've been sick for the past few days, but developing a writing habit in the mornings has been something I very much look forward to. I'll check in with all of you tomorrow.

November 2016

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