Worst-Case Scenario Thinking

Oh, here I go again. I have no idea what to write. Well, sit down and prepare yourself for a half a page of dithering and fumfuh-ing. Or don’t, it’s OK, you can skip this one. I won’t care. I’m just writing to get my word count in.

What’s on my mind tonight? I haven’t been feeling too well this week. Heartburn and gas. Yeah. I’m going, to be honest about my body. I’m also a bit feverish, too. Really warm and a little dizzy, so there’s clearly something going on internally. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Monday for a general physical, but it looks like it’s going to turn in to “Hey, Doc, I’ve got these symptoms, can you take a look?”

At least I have health insurance, and decent-ish health insurance, so I’m not even paying a co-pay for a visit. It’s covered. That’s good. But in the back of my mind, because I live in America and know how the American medical system works, I know that there’s a possibility that, if it turns out I have something seriously wrong with me, it could cost me thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s a very real, and very realistic fear that broke-ass Americans like me have to consider.

Because I have the Inner Negative Voice, too, that worry only grows and grows if I am not vigilant. My friends will tell you that I am often the one who thinks things can only get worse, especially when it comes to my own life and my own health. I think about Worst-Case Scenarios. That’s my deal. My friends joke with me: “It’s not cancer!” they say. But I’ve known too many people, close to me, who have died from causes that started out non-threatening and straightforward and just grew and grew until their lives were snuffed out.

I miss them. I can’t not think about them. And my thoughts about their deaths colors how I feel about my body and how it feels. It can’t not.

I also can’t help but google my symptoms, and we all know that that’s just a golden road leading straight to Worst-Case Scenario Town. They should really think of better ways to describe symptoms so that we, the searchers, aren’t immediately plunged into the icy depths of OMG IT’S CANCER. What if it’s just a mole? Why not let us linger there, with a door cracked open to the room beyond where it might be something worse?

Oh, hey, there’s the part of my brain that’s trying to make things better. I’m genuinely happy he’s made an appearance. I like knowing that the doom and gloom isn’t my whole being. If I keep typing past the initial negative thoughts, I do eventually reach the optimistic, can-do, let’s-fix-it, Brian. He’s a good guy if a little distracted and shy to come out from under the covers sometimes.

That’s the lesson for tonight. Just keep typing and eventually something will happen. I mean, I’ve learned that lesson over and over again as I’ve worked on this experiment. I’ve learned that lesson over and over again down through the years. That lesson is at the very heart of the NaNoWriMo philosophy. And yet, I have to re-learn it, often, and frequently. I’m happy to do it, though.

Maybe someday it will stick with me?

NaNo Rebels Unite

mistakenly used the word “cheating” in connection with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last week. Turns out that’s a faux pas; the preferred term is “NaNo Rebel“. 

For several reasons, it’s really dumb to claim you’ve “won” the NaNoWriMo competition by writing your 50,000 words before midnight on 1 November. First, the only real prize is the joy of doing it. Sure, some authors do go on to get book deals for their efforts, but those deals are few and far between. The vast majority of participants will only have their honor and a little badge they can display on a web page.

I was not planning on starting the actual narrative early. I was seeking to take all the ideas floating around in my head and capturing them somewhere. I wanted to have a reserve pile of ideas I can toss into the story if I feel like I’m flagging or woolgathering. And so I wondered if that was considered dishonesty under the standard terms of NaNoWriMo. 

Then I went digging, and found the link above, from the official source of rules for the competition, which specifically addresses this. As long as I only count words written between midnight 1 November and midnight 1 December toward the 50,000, I am okay. I’m still within my honor. I can still win it, even if I did some planning and plotting and character-ing before the official starting gun. 

On the other hand, as I may have mentioned on the blog before, but am too lazy to find and link, I am also considering taking no notes at all—in fact, I’m considering tossing out the whole idea of having a plan in mind in the first place! What if I approach it like I’ve approached my daily writing experiment: sit down and write until I reach my word goal. Improvised, imagine at the moment, no planning or forethought. Write and see what happens. What story develops over time? What characters emerge? Seat-of-the-pants writing.

(Which is why authors talk about the two types of writers: panters, vs. plotters.)

I’ve tried plotting things out first. I managed to finish a first draft that way, a long, long time ago (no, you can’t read it; it’s terrible). I learned a lot in that effort, and I have doubled down on plotting ever since. However, I have not been able to complete a first draft since then. Should I try it out the other way next? Is that what will help?

If I don’t have a prior idea where the story is going, there’s the chance it can go anywhere at all. The trail is not blazed. I don’t have to work to steer the story to the pre-determined conclusion. I could literally have aliens land and change everything, just to keep the story moving and keep me writing. There’s a lot to like in doing it this way, this time around. 

I will reserve judgment until I start. That, too, is permitted. I can go in with a plan, start to execute that plan, and then decide to swerve in the middle. The only rule is: 50,000 words in one month. The words don’t even have to be all in one story to count, although that’s the strong assumption when talking about National Novel Writing Month: one novel, one story, start to finish. 

Foreign Home

A restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans. At the back, a waiter takes the order of a man and a woman.

Been writing about home a lot lately, and my thoughts on where I’d prefer to live and what kind of house I’d prefer to have. It’s something I value, as an introvert: having a home, a nice safe, quiet place where I don’t have to worry about presenting any specific personality.

I wonder, though, if I can write enough words on the topic of… what’s the opposite of home? Would it be not-home? Hang on; I’m googling the antonym of home, which turns out to be: 

…foreign? Wait, home is a noun; shouldn’t the antonym be a noun, too? How weird. That doesn’t make sense, but let’s go with it.

I have not traveled to a lot of cities in the world, either domestic or foreign. My tourism has extended to North America and the surrounding sea, exclusively. I am not, therefore, an expert, and I will be the first to admit that. I would love to see more of the world, much more than I have to date.

With that in mind, I can speak about the cities and places I have been, and compare them to my hometown of the Portland of Oregon.

My favorite city in the world other than Portland, is, without doubt, New Orleans. I’ve visited there twice, and each trip included so many good memories, sights of charming and unique architecture and scenery, and companionable natives. If I had to move away from Portland and were forced to pick my new home, I would settle in New Orleans. 

Sure, I was drunk most of the time I was there. Both times. But I’m pretty good at being drunk, so my impressions still have value to me. I was first struck by how different the buildings were from Portland. The strong French and Spanish influence, especially in and around Bourbon Street, reminded me that I was not at home, while still feeling welcoming. The basic grid layout of the downtown streets made navigation easy, especially for someone deep in their cups, as I’d been, and probably would be again on my future visits. And the famous Southern hospitality was miles away from the passive-aggressive NW Nice attitude. People talked to each other, even strangers, and that felt good, even to introverted me.

I should point out that my two visits were in the winter, though. It’s entirely possible my impression would have been much different if I was attacked by mosquitos or drenched in humidity. But I’m aware of these things, and I will reserve my ultimate judgment until after that day I visit in the summer months. 

Still, New Orleans is the subject of many a daydream for me. I can picture sitting on a balcony overlooking streams of people, while I sip on a gin and tonic, and listen to live music, staying up until the wee small hours of the night.

I have not been back there since Hurricane Katrina; another possible source of discouragement for my love of this city. I imagine, however, that the lore and history of the area survived even the Bush II Administration’s willful negligence. People rebuild after disasters, and people tend to preserve the past. I hope that New Orleans is still layered in a rich texture of food, fascinating construction, friendly people, and history. 

Someday I will return, New Orleans.

Ross Perot Isn’t That Short

George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot, and Bill Clinton stand on a stage during the second presidential debate on 15 October 1992.
George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot, and Bill Clinton on stage at their second debate. 15 October 1992. Picture from the Wikimedia Commons.

I remember the day I learned I was short.

Let me back up. My height and weight were never things I thought about or considered. I was just me, in a me-shaped package. I moved through the world more concerned about what I thought and felt than what my body did or didn’t do. Thoughtless about anything other than thoughts is a good way to put it. Some people I had to look up to meet their eyes; others I had to look down to—but I did not keep a running tally of how many of each.

When I was a kid, and my mom would take me clothes shopping, I paid no attention to the sizes. I particularly did not stop to consider the array of sizes that were available. I’d pick out something I liked, and mom would then go find it in a size that would fit me. I let her do that stuff because she was Mom. I’d try clothes on, and she would ask, “does it fit? Is it comfortable?” and I would almost always answer “yes” regardless of how they felt on my body because they were on my body. As long as I could close the fasteners around the meat that stored my brain, I was good. “Fit” never bothered me, for good or bad.

I do remember, as I advanced through my teenage years, that mom would fret about the day when I grew taller than her. That was a milestone. My sister, a year older, passed that point before I did. And, of course, eventually, that day came and went. I noticed it, laughed a bit about it, but she was still Mom, and I was still just a Brian-sized skeleton and frame with Me, the important part, riding around between the ears. In the broader context of the world of humanity and the value judgment of “short” or “tall” or “thin” or “fat,” I was an outsider; not necessarily an outlier so much as an exception. This whole thought process was me manifesting my Straight White Cis Dude privilege. I was Special. My gender allowed me the space to give zero thought to the volume my Me occupied.

I retained this level of dissociation from my physical self until my late 20s, a fact that I just had to do the math on, and which I now find difficult to believe. I am astonished that I was unconscious.

The moment that all changed is something I will remember, however, for the rest of my life. I was sitting in my bedroom, in front of my computer, sometime in 1993. My computer was connected, via dial-up modem, to a bulletin board system (BBS) called, and I swear I am not making this up, “The Heartbeat of Portland,” which was run by a guy out of his home in SE Portland. I only knew the owner by the name Cuda, even though I had met him in person. The people I was chatting with were Jewel and Highlander. My handle on the board was Lunar because of course it was.

Without getting into the social dynamic at play too much, Jewel was the sweetheart of the BBS; flirty, funny, optimistic and charming, and Highlander was the guy she flirted with the most, so the rest of the board considered the two of them to be the unofficial Queen and King. Even Cuda, actually, and he paid the bills for all the phone lines required to keep us all chatting.

I was having some fun and playing along and joking with My Queen and King, and trying to find out more about these characters I only knew as words on a screen. This time was a much more innocent one, the community on the BBS was tight-knit, and there were very few topics we could not discuss, and so we all felt no anxiety talking about the presidential election of the prior year. Highlander had voted for Bill Clinton, Jewel liked Clinton but wasn’t convinced.

I mentioned I had voted for this Ross Perot guy (I was always an independent thinker). At the time, I didn’t really understand or empathize with the needs of the working class or the underclass, as I do now, so don’t make me defend my choice. I think I had reacted to Perot’s outsider nature, and his charming directness, much more than his policies.

When I mentioned Perot, Highlander LOL’ed (we only had text back then, folks; this is where all those abbreviations stemmed from) and said that there was no way Perot could have won. He’s a third-party candidate, he explained. “Plus, no man under 6′ tall has ever won the presidency.” (I have not fact-checked this; I’m quoting here.)

I considered what he was saying, but it didn’t follow. “What does his height have to do with anything?” I asked. Recalling the moment now, I can feel the cold, detached, scientific curiosity of my past self. Need more input, does not compute.

Highlander: He’s short.
Me: He’s as tall as I am.
Highlander: How tall are you?
Me: 5′ 6″
Highlander: LOL
Highlander: That’s short!

…was it? Am I? I scoffed at the idea, and the conversation continued. Highlander explained that he was 5′ 11″, and Jewel laughed at him and teased him for not being a full 6′ tall. And I played along, but after the conversation wound down and I disconnected, my mind reached back and put a bunch more scenes into context, movie montage style.

Being at a family reunion with my many uncles and aunts from my mom’s side of the family as a teenager, and being eye-level with most of my mom’s brothers, but having to look up at most of the uncles who had married into the family. Oh. I had inherited my height. Shortness ran in the family. (Having never met my dad’s side of the family, with the lone exception of meeting his father when I was very young, I didn’t have any of them to compare me to. Dad, however, wasn’t that much taller than most of my maternal-side uncles.)

Standing in a store with my friend Dennis and having the shopkeeper laugh at us and call us “Laurel and Hardy.” Oh. Yeah, I guess Dennis was tall and thin, and I was… not as tall and not as thin as he was. Did that mean I was short? Is that what that meant?

Was mom’s fretting about me growing taller than her worry about growing old? Or was it something more: socially-informed anxiety about being short?

It didn’t take long, maybe a day or two, for me to incorporate this new belief into my worldview, however. It still didn’t bother me, most of the time.

No, that being bothered by it came later, although it has always been mild for me. I believe that had I been, through genetics or whatever else controls height, I would have become a different person—I would have developed a personality other than the one I have now. Maybe I would have been less sensitive, less introverted, less thought-focused, and more physical-focused.

That is an experiment we can’t run, and I can quickly think of dozens of examples of tall but shy men, so I can’t even entertain the idea seriously. I am who I am. There’s no changing that now.

Being Creative Makes You More Creative

Someone writes out pages in a journal longhand.
Writing daily has helped me break through writer’s block.

On my way into work today, my thoughts turned to the upcoming NaNoWriMo event, towards which I have been building. I realized that since it’s the start of October now, I should also be ramping up my daily word count. I want to aim for more than 1000 words a day this month, in the hopes it makes the 1,667 words per day average to complete NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 words in a month easier. 

While I was thinking about that, I remembered that maybe now I should start noodling around some ideas of what, exactly, I should be writing next month. I need a topic. Don’t I? Maybe I don’t. Perhaps this exercise of just sitting down and writing is telling me I don’t need an actual plot. I can just write free-form, wild and free, and see what story, plot, and characters show up. Maybe that’s how I should do it?

And then, as is often the case, I remembered previous attempts, particularly my Untitled Political Novel, the one whose story and characters have been kicking around my head for nearly a decade and a half. The one about the slacker atheist Portlander who gets a political awakening in 2005 or so that Democrats aren’t going to do anything about the lawless Bush administration, and decides to run for Congress. Against the incumbent comfortable centrist Democrat. From the left.

It was, and remains, a great idea. I don’t need to tell anyone who lived through it, but the George W. Bush administration was crazypants. Christian evangelical policies, illegal wars, our environment under attack, and the continuing criminalization of protest and dissent

As the years passed, though, well, you know. Politics did not get less crazy. Things today make the mid-Aughties look sane in comparison. And I grew increasingly doubtful I could explain the times back then in a way that highlighted the madness but also drew parallels to what’s happening today. 

I set the story aside. Then, this year, I realized that it’s still important to tell, and tried working through the plot threads again. Made a huge diagram of the plot on my wall, complete with red ribbons and pushpins. But it still feels… mild. 

I still have doubts about telling that story. But I want to tell that story. And have it connect to today.

Then I had it. 

I have to start the story now. I have to assume all that I’ve plotted out already, the campaign, the reversals, all my characters. It all happened just as I’ve plotted out. And then… what happens next?

I have to write the sequel to the story I haven’t told. 

The idea of taking the characters who have lived in my head and finally going beyond where I’ve left them gave me such a flash of energy and excitement I knew that this is the right idea. I know these people, and now they’re here, alongside me, marveling and reacting to the three-ring circus that is modern life. Believe you me, they have things to say about it.

I still need to figure out where they go from here, but all the notes and sketches and half-written scenes will inform what I’m writing; while the skill I’ve been practicing for a month and a half now—just sit down and write whatever—will propel me forward. 

I don’t know if I would have found this solution to my mental doubts if I hadn’t been putting in seat time on my blog. Maybe, maybe not. But now, for the first time in a long time, I’m excited to see what happens when November 1st rolls around. 

How awesome is that?

Old Wounds Never Heal

Spending time writing on my blog every day means that sometimes, I go back and read old posts. It’s fun. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s fun. Other times there are other emotions I feel, reading what I used to write down.

I read posts that remind me of old relationships, and that’s always an emotional minefield. The posts are often about the good times, but thinking of those times and those people from the vantage point of right here right now I can’t help but also think of the bad times. I can feel my Negative Inner Voice spin up, ready to beat me over the head with words I can’t unspeak and actions I can’t not do. I’m sure you know what I’m saying.

Is this too vague to be a good post? I don’t want to pick at old wounds, and I don’t want to find the posts and link them here. So this isn’t very useful or informative. Maybe this isn’t a good topic.

But there are also the good times, often right there on the screen. And if I focus on those words, I can remember feeling good, and feeling happy, and feeling a connection with another—not just another, but The Other, the self that isn’t my self. Seeing a glimpse of the whole universe that lives inside someone else’s experience, that’s informed by someone else’s lived experience. And, wow, how magical is that (asks the scientist-skeptic, which is not a contradiction; many scientists allow themselves to feel that sense of wonder that observation of the universe inspires. It’s why they are scientists.)

I’m happy I’ve been able to document some of that in my own life. I’ve been writing this blog for a long time now, and even though I’ve been here for all of it, and nearly every word here (except for a handful of comments and a few guest posts here and there) was written by me, I still forget the specifics. 

In some ways, reading old posts is like finding and going through an old photo album. Each story is a milestone I’ve passed and made note of before moving on—a view of a forgotten shore from the seat of a boat in the river of time.

Writing it down now feels trite and simple. Despite my practice, I do not consider myself a poet. Poetry needs mystery and deliberate vagueness; my vagueness comes from fear of over-explaining and a strong desire for being direct and sincere. Feelings are all well and good but true feelings don’t come with words attached, and I resist attaching words to ineffable feelings for fear of diminishing them. 

I can’t blog feelings, though, so I have to make do with words. Hopefully these are enough.

Writing daily has been a great experiment and it has only gotten easier as I go along. I still don’t necessarily have something interesting to say every day, but I don’t stress about not being able to write something down every day. Last night, for instance, I didn’t know what I was going to write until I sat down to write it, only an hour or so before I planned to go to bed. I even heard my Inner Negative Voice whisper that maybe I should not do it today. 

I’m glad I persisted. I’m happy my streak continues. Even if I’m rambling in vagaries right now, from my desk at work (shhh! don’t tell IT (haha, that’s me)), I’m glad I am keeping up the practice.

Because maybe in the future, I will look back on this post and remember the feelings I am trying and probably failing to document—but Future-Me will have had enough practice to describe them better. I’m building something here, and every brick I lay makes a stronger foundation.

Or it’s all just typing practice. That’s OK, too.

I Had Something For This

Sterling Archer: "I swear I had something for this."
Sterling Archer: the man who swears he had something for this.

I had an idea for what I was going to write today but now, now that I’m home and sitting in front of my computer with nothing else pressing to do, I can’t remember what it was. You know the drill; I’m just going to keep typing until it comes to me or I get over my word limit.

Was it about work? No, it was not about work. That was not the subject about which earlier I said to myself “Self, this is what you should write about!” Work today was a bunch of little stuff: Outlook crashing, new users to set up, weird intermittent network issues that vanished as soon as I realized something was going on… Nothing pressing, no ongoing issues, no meaty technical problems I could research and then feel good about resolving. Just piddly little shit. Day went by fast, though, so that was good.

Was it traffic, or my commute? No, that wasn’t it. Although, now that I mention that, I have discovered an interesting new way drive. My commute is 30-40 minutes one way since I’m driving from far Southeast Portland to Canby, in the valley of the Willamette River.

Normally I take SE Division to I-205, then south on 205 to Oregon City, where I hop on 99E and ride that up the hill and along the river into downtown Canby. It’s just a series of boring straight shots, except for the pretty river view on that last bit. But even then, most times I use Google Maps during the drive to and from work; sometimes it directs me around big traffic jams, and, if nothing else, it gives me a readout that shows approximately when I will arrive at my destination.

Well, several times this week, in the morning, it told me to take backroads home and to work, and I let it. The route runs through farmland and past big brand-new housing developments, and then into the tiny little town of Carver, OR, on the upper Clackamas River, and includes a nice run past more farmlands along S. Clackamas River Drive into Oregon City. It’s very pretty, much more so than the view from the freeway, especially in the morning with some light fog.

I hadn’t been to Carver in many years, even though as the crow flies it’s not that far from where I normally go. My strongest memories of it are of it being a destination for weekend day trips as a kid, where the whole family would pile into the car and go out on the river. Dad would wander off to fish, my sister would play in the river or chat with her friends who tagged along, and I’d find a shady rock somewhere and read books and comic books. Carver was the town we’d buy soda pop and sugary treats and sandwich makings. That little store is still there, right by the bridge that crossed over the Clackamas River (though the bridge I remember has been replaced by a much sturdier concrete thing, rather than the wooden-railed one that may be a false memory).

But that wasn’t what I was going to write about. Just a happy coincidence that I have been routed through there this week, for some reason only The Algorithm knows.

Was it my poor sleeping patterns this week? No, not that. Last night I went straight to bed as soon as I got home, I was so tired. When I woke up it was after 10:30 PM, so I rose, nuked a burrito for dinner, watched some YouTube, and went back to bed around 1:30 AM. Not sure broken sleep like that is any better than whatever else I would have done, and tonight, again, I’m very tired. Maybe a bit rambly, too; have you noticed?

I feel like I was tired because I felt a serious but mostly-low-level anxiety all day. Tightness in the chest, dizzy, distracted, weird changes in appetite. Many (but not all, mind you) of the symptoms of a heart attack, which only increased my anxiety. But I’m pretty sure it was just anxiety. My stress was not helped by the ongoing political… spectacle? Yeah, that’s a good word. But the less said about that, the better. So I can state for certain that was not what I wanted to write about.

Maybe it’ll come to me again later, that nifty idea I had earlier. I have to remember to make a note of these things when they come up. It’ll help me in the long run. I would love to post some focused, tight, emotional writing here, rather than these stream-of-consciousness blatherings.

I do appreciate my readers, though. Thanks for sticking with me in these trying times.

Famous To Myself

I’ve had a tiny increase in traffic over the weekend and it’s fun to think that there may be people out there reading my words who aren’t close friends or family. Not a lot of other people. Just a handful. But, y’know, still.

Have I written yet about the odd-but-nice encounter I had at Rose City Comic Con a weekend or two ago? I was standing in some booth on the show floor in my Vault Suit and I turned around and saw a guy looking at me. He was wearing a nifty N7 jacket and was probably 20 years younger than me.

He smiled and said, haltingly, “Luna Rob Verse? Is that you?”

I laughed and (hopefully) mildly corrected him (“Lunar Obverse”) and admitted that that name was mine, and he said, to my mild surprise, “I’ve been hoping to see you! My friend has been talking about whether or not we would see you here.”

It turns out he and his friend ran into Max and me last year. We had all been wearing Fallout-inspired costumes, that’s how we noticed each other. And Max and I had told them about our podcast, Uncasting. While Max and I had been blissfully unaware, these two guys had been listening to our podcast, and it stuck in their minds enough to wonder if we would cross paths again.

This is a tiny little glimpse of what it would be like to have a small bit of celebrity, and it was surprising and heartening. It made me feel good, and it also worried me, that I had done something wrong. Somehow. I don’t know, I just know that my positive voice and my Inner Negative Voice were in a battle. Luckily, as I may have covered earlier, that weekend my positive self mostly won. I enjoyed the moment, glad that some small bit of my creativity and effort had gone out into the world and been noticed.

I made sure to let Max know about the encounter, and it inspired us to produce more podcasts, once Max has returned from his sojourn in the arid deserts of Utah learning how to fly.

And then, this weekend, seeing the little graph of visits to my blog spike, I felt that glow of attention warm my heart once more. The blog stats include not just visits but which pages are getting views, and it showed a wide range of older posts and the home page. So I clicked through to see which posts they had landed on.

From there I fell down a memory hole. I’m not going to link the posts, but a bunch of them were from the very first year of my blog. I read about being on the bus and observing people around me; I read about yearning for a connection with someone else, especially a romantic connection; I read about being in dive bars and strip clubs and drinking and my friends drinking; I read little one-off jokes and about boring weekends where I did nothing at all but eat and run. I read about complaints about politics and complaints about my neighbors.

There was a consistent cast of characters: random unnamed customers for whom I did computer work; a shortlist of strippers I really really really liked, like Sharai and Áine and Stormy; folks in my neighborhood like the barista J., and my next-door neighbor Old Barfy, and the convenience store guy Dave; and my friends, Tracy, Ken, and Kevin; and a random assortment of fellow bus passengers or bar patrons.

People who did not regularly appear: women I was dating—for the most part, those women did not want to be immortalized in a podunk blog, but also, I didn’t start dating much until much later in my blog’s timeline.

There were many posts I did not remember writing at all. Once I read the post, I could vaguely recall the experience, but the memories and feelings of those events I had decided to document had fallen out of my brain; the only emotional connection I had was in the words on my screen. It was as close to an out-of-body experience as I have ever had. Yes, Brian had written those words, after living through those experiences; but that Brian was gone, had been gone for a really long time.

But by all that’s holy the way I had written those things were inspirational to me now. I had written those posts! Me! Imagine it! Those words had come out of my mind and through my fingers onto a screen. I nearly wept from the conception that I had once been capable of capturing the yearning, the joy, the reckless disregard I had for saving face or covering up my flaws. My flaws, my human nature, was all there on the screen for anyone to see.

I had written with the dream that someone, someday, would read what I had to say. But that had been followed by years of beating myself up with the club of believing no one had, and no one will, ever read them, only to wake up one day seeing a bar graph tell me that someone is out there.

And it all turns out (turns out!) that the most emotional impact my old posts would have is on me, years later, remembering the Brian-That-Was.

Hey, Past-Me. Thank you for the memories. I miss you, sometimes.

The Strengths Thing

Yesterday at therapy, the topic of my strengths came up. A touchy subject, because one of the reasons I’m in therapy is because I’ve got a very loud internal voice telling me I don’t have any. In fact, during the session, my Inner Negative Voice actually got channeled and became my literal outside voice for a brief moment. As it (as I) spoke, I was able to notice that I shifted my posture, I used more forceful hand gestures, and my tone of voice deepened and became louder. It was an act, though. The Inner Negative Voice is definitely me, just a part of me.

Even when I allow myself to think of what my strengths might be, even if I can direct my attention at myself long enough to list some off, the Inner Negative Voice is there to critique and denigrate them. It’s not letting me write anything down, even now. That’s how strong a hold it has on my actions.

I don’t think of myself as particularly attractive. I’m short, bald, old, fat. Those are descriptors and they do describe how I look. I’m hard-pressed to think of more positive adjectives for those attributes. I am what I am. So in an effort to be more positive, I try to think of things I can do that may be more attractive. Actions, over physical appearance. Choices I can make that would make me a valued friend, co-worker, citizen. Those things I have far more control over than the number on a scale or a measuring stick.

So I can honestly say I work towards compassion. I try to be kind to others. I strive to see value in others, in their lived experiences, and I do what small steps I can to make space for marginalized people, to amplify their voices. These are choices, and while the world as a whole may not 100% agree that these choices make someone valuable, it is enough to me that these would all be strengths in the eyes of the kinds of people I want to be around. They would attract people I find attractive.

And then in comes the criticism, like a nuclear-tipped missile aimed right at my metaphorical heart: compassion and kindness are not inherent traits. They’re not who you are, they’re things you give to others. They’re services you do for other people. You’re just giving a gift and hoping they will return the favor. You’re buying their attention. How crass. How commercial. How very capitalist of you.

Kindness is a strength, though. Compassion is a strength. It may be like a muscle that needs exercise to improve, but it’s still something that is inherent to me. And the value in it is there regardless of the amount of return I get on it. I may never see the returns from it, but putting more empathy out into the world is making the world a better place, even in my small corner of it.

Another strength I would like to claim is intelligence. But here, too, I can pick it apart. I know a little bit about a lot of things. I’m a whiz at trivia, which is the most Straight White Man party skill ever. Tidbits of facts, factoids about the world, about politics, about science, economics, philosophy, pop culture, geography, you name it, I can… um… name it.

I have even been known to integrate and sort through and make odd connections between those topics. They don’t all just exist separately; they’re in a matrix and it all falls into place, each topic supporting conclusions in other areas, making an overall philosophy of life and the world.

Where the Inner Negative Voice finds a crack into which it can drive a wedge is in the application. I don’t always put that web of knowledge into practice, in my own life. In short, I often make dumb mistakes, for someone who is seen by others as so smart. Why is that? Why can’t I take this well-crafted model of the universe and use it to make a place for myself in the world? Where’s the disconnect between knowledge and praxis? The Voice hammers away at me.

Is it just that the Voice is the one holding me back? The Inner Negative Voice is there as a defense mechanism. Sometimes, defense is required. At one point, it had a use, and it helped get me and my psyche through tough times; I was a sensitive child and required mental armor and a way to hide.

I don’t necessarily need that now. Now that I’m in a better place, I can hopefully choose when I need defense and when I can relax my guard and let a little bit of me shine out. Scary thought but I’m going to be OK.

I hope.

Day #30 – The Habit Thing

Wil Wheaton speaking at Rose City Comic Con, 2019
Wil Wheaton speaking at Rose City Comic Con, 2019. “I won’t speak to myself the way I speak to my dog.”

Today I am writing the post that represents the finish line, as well as a new beginning. Maybe I shouldn’t think in terms of lines crossed; maybe it’s better to think about this as just another point of information. Regardless, 30 days ago I set out to do a thing (30 days of at least 500 words each), and to create a thing (a habit for making space for writing on a regular basis), and today I demonstrate that I have done both of those. So, good job, me!

I don’t have the exact number right now (requires manually adding them up (if someone has a suggestion for a WordPress plugin that will add up word counts for selected posts, I’d love to hear about it!)) but, not counting today, I’ve written over 16,000 words since I started this thing. That is basically a third of a NaNoWriMo.

I can do daily writing, I can do it, I can do this thing. Can I increase my output? The stupid Inner Negative Voice that lives in my head and narrates all the bad in my life doesn’t think so, but that asshole is not me. Not 100% me. It’s a part of me, but not the whole.

I can let the negative soundtrack run in the background, or I can talk over it, and talk back to it. Here is something I am trying. This past weekend I went to Rose City Comic Con, and one of the panels I saw was Wil Wheaton. He has been very open about his mental health and how he feels working with it and what works and doesn’t work for him in living his life. Something he said on that panel has stuck with me. I don’t have the exact quote but the gist of it was that he realized that his internal monologue is very mean to him, and that he would not speak to his dog the way he talked to himself.

“That’s why I can sometimes be heard to say, ‘Good job, Wheaton!'” he said, and I can’t really capture the bright and happy tone he used when he said that, but just imagine how someone talks to a dog they love and you will be able to hear it in your own head.

That’s what I want to try. I want to try to create the habit of praising myself for doing good things, and to be gentle with myself when I do things I shouldn’t. And, y’know, sometimes, I just want to give myself mental pets and tell myself I’m a Good Boi, because I am, and I can, and who doesn’t want to hear that?

After today, I will continue writing daily. I may not publish what I write daily, however, but I will publish regularly, so keep checking back. I’m going to aim for between 500 and 1,000 words per day. And I’m going to drop the numbering.

But for today: good job, Moon! Who’s a good boy? You are!