Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Friday, January 21, 2011

A task of light

It's amazingly cold today. The sky is that clear blue that makes you feel like the atmosphere has been scraped clean off the earth, and there's nothing above you but the stars and the moon and that deep, deep cold.

On the way to work this morning I heard an interview with a virtuoso violinist who is performing locally this weekend. Well. Most of an interview. The interviewer kept talking over him, and babbling on about how fascinating the things he was saying were, and then she'd play a "snippet" of his music which just served to remind you how much you'd rather be listening to him play, rather than her talk. And talk. Can you tell I've been working on my patience? Because I have.

Here's the important part: she finally got around to asking him 'what advice do you have for young musicians and their parents, just starting out?' And his answer kind of shocked me, and got me to thinking about writing.

He said "Enjoy it." I mean, that's a paraphrase. His long answer was something like "Do it because you're passionate about it, because it speaks to you and lets you speak to other people. Do it because it makes you a fuller person." And then he talked some about how there was a tiny bit of discipline involved to get over the initial unpleasant stuff, those first few years of learning to play and practicing while your family cringes politely around you, but once you're beyond that point it's just a matter of doing what you would naturally do.

At first I thought he was expressing typical British (because he's a Brit) understatement when he said "a tiny bit of discipline" but later I realized he was dead serious. That if you're having to apply huge sums of discipline to the task, if you're forcing yourself to do this every night, then what the hell are you doing? At least that's what he said to me.

That's contrary to a lot of what I've learned about writing in the last few years. Mostly because I'm not just writing, I have the day job and a busy social calendar (ha!) and I have to squeeze my writing time out increasingly smaller parts of my day. So until I'm able to more fully form my life around my writing, there will always be some element of discipline to the process. But that discipline needs to be supplemented by joy. Joy in the process, joy in the product, joy in the belief that what we're doing is making us better people. I did not enjoy writing the book I am writing right now, and I'm afraid that will show up in the final product. I'm sure it will. Whatever light there was in that work, I lost it in the scheduling.

So. I guess I'm rededicating myself to the joy of writing. Because otherwise, what the hell am I doing?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sealing up 2010

You may or may not have noticed this, but I haven't been posting much lately. This is mostly because of deadlines. 2010 was a complicated year, and we're well lodged into 2011, but I wanted to give a little meditation on the year that's passed and try to come up with some idea of what I'm going to carry over into the new year. Right.

Mostly, 2010 was about complications. Jen and I quite suddenly decided that we were going to build a house. We've been tossing around the next stage of our lives for years now, whether we were going to stay in the area or move somewhere else. Once we decided to stay locally, it was clear that we didn't want to stay in our current house. So, in the middle of one of the worst housing markets in recent memory, we sold our house and built a new one. Kind of like how, in 2009, I quit my long standing job and jumped to another company where I had no guarantee of long term success, right in the middle of the worst job crash in my lifetime. That's how I roll.

Part of the complication with the house stuff (other than building a house, writing the three largest checks of my life in quick succession, etc) was that we had to move twice. Blessedly, our house sold very quickly. Two and a half weeks quickly. And the new house wasn't going to be available for a long time, so we had to get a rental. Not just a rental, but a rental that would take an elderly dog and didn't mind that we were only going to be there for, like, four months. Those sorts of situations just fall out of the trees around here. Yeah.

But we found the right place. It was small, and we had to keep all of our furniture in it with the majority of our possessions stuffed into a storage unit. It was crowded, but we found a sort of simple peace in living there.

In the middle of all this, that company I jumped to began to disintegrate. Things are straightened out now, according to finance, but I have trouble believing it. I blogged about some of it then, but the easy summary is that my department lost about a third of its staff, and there were serious questions about whether the company would survive at all. I'm not convinced that we're out of it, because I still see a lot of the underpinnings in my daily job, and things haven't improved. We've just changed the way we accrue debt, and if the fundamentals are flawed then all you're doing is moving the disaster to another day. Anyway. Today I have job. Tomorrow, probably as well.

I think the last complicated thing that happened was I had a friendship collapse in fairly dramatic fashion near the end of the summer. It knocked me for a loop, especially on top of the strange living conditions and the job madness. I lost most of August and September to this kind of depressive static in my head, where I just couldn't produce anything of value, either creatively or socially. WFC was pretty much the final kick that got me out of it.

The real product of all of this is the writing schedule for Dead of Veridon went to hell. I was already having trouble writing the book, just thematically. I wrote Heart of Veridon almost three years ago, and I'm at the stage of my career where my ability and my style are still solidifying. I made a lot of decisions in the Veridon series about style and point of view that I wouldn't make today. I chose the noir style to clamp down on my usual florid wordiness, and the first person because I was having trouble getting into Jacob's head. Also, I wrote the early Veridon stuff while I was at a pretty consistently dark place. Considering the litany of trouble I've just unfolded for you, you'd think that would feed this kind of writing, but it didn't turn out that way. I'm just not as moribund as I used to be. I wouldn't call me a cheerful guy, but I'm different enough that getting into Veridon takes a mental shift that I'm not as good at, and frankly don't want to make on a regular basis. I'm happy that that isn't my natural state of mind anymore, and don't want to tour the old stomping grounds if I can avoid it. So I did a lot of avoiding. And then that depressive static kicked in, and I was hopeless.

The real upshot of all this is that while I wrote a lot of words on Dead of Veridon this year, I kept starting over because I wasn't writing something that I liked, or something that I thought was any good. I finally had to go head-down and just write, regardless of my schedule. So, uh, I've kind of written almost the entire book in the last two months. It's not done yet, but I got an extension and think I can finish it by the new date. Which is this weekend. And of course that's just a first draft, and there are some revisions in the early chapters that I already know need to be done, but it'll be "finished".

And see, in all this chaos I haven't even mentioned that I finished The Horns of Ruin in March, did edits while moving to the rental house, and it came out to much fanfare in November. Well. Fanfare in my head. And general fanfare. People seem to like it.

So the year ended. We're in our new house, I'm working like a maniac to finish Dead of Veridon, and I'm thinking about this new year. Here's what I'm thinking.

I want to have an uncomplicated year. Whatever that means. And I know we don't control the things that come into our lives, so I guess I'm just not going to intentionally do anything complicated. Not going to put off deadlines and make excuses because I have a lot of time, not going to worry about whatever happens in my job. Not going to build a new house, or ruin any friendships, take on any tasks that I don't think I can accomplish. This might be a year of reflection. Reflection, and writing.

So, happy new year to you. Live well.