My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Hospitalized (Personal Update) Health and Writing

A month ago (on a sun-kissed Monday), I went to the emergency room. I wouldn't come out of the hospital for five days. Then I would convalesce at home, get an upper respiratory infection, and it's probably only JUST NOW that I'm starting to feel a little better. 

This is that story. I will tell you that there will be medical procedures, emesis, trauma, and an objective discussion of weight gain and loss (not as a goal but simply as a matter of fact).  If any of those things sound like they would be upsetting to you or ignite some of your own traumas, then you may just want to read to the bold section heading, and call it a day.

I'm okay now. My full recovery took about three weeks even though I was discharged after five days. And right when I was feeling better, I picked up an upper respiratory infection that knocked me out for another several days. Doing school on top of everything else was hard enough. Being BEHIND on school has been its own super nightmare. There are a lot of things I'm behind on in my life. I sort of thought that being bedridden was going to give me the time to get to all those things I'm usually too busy running around to do, but as it kind of turns out, that's unicorn rainbow spew. It isn't real. What actually happens is that whatever reason you're bedridden in the first place is going to make it pretty hard to do anything but convalesce. 

So right now I'm behind on…well, everything. Everything. From phone calls to peeps to school to, of course, writing. I had to prioritize the academic classes I'm taking and spend two weeks doing five weeks of work (in five different classes), and it's only been in the last couple of days (since finishing my second midterm on Wednesday…which I did not do that well on) that I've not felt desperately behind. And now I'm moving into the last two weeks, so I'm feeling the pressure from other directions. 

[If you're looking for the writerly wisdom for all this, I try to bring it home below.]

Okay, but what happened? (Trigger warnings above)

I typically have low platelets and have to be careful—very careful—if I'm bleeding more than just a little. For me a bad cut can turn life threatening. I'm not supposed to go skydiving, and my career of juggling chainsaws was cut tragically short.

The greatest dream I ever had was torn to shreds like the torso of my 
friend Aspen (who can't even juggle balls) trying to pull this off one Tuesday afternoon
in early March.
So tragic.
Do not even attempt to contain your tears.

It's all part of having a jackhole liver. My liver is cirrhotic, and we don't really know why. (I found out that this is true for almost a third of people with cirrhosis.) There are a couple of possibilities, but no solid answers. But one thing is for sure. It spends a lot of time taking drags off of cigarettes and saying in an outrageous French accent, "Ah yez. I remember ze early aughties. Back when ze platelets flowed like wine in a Sex and ze City episode. Oh Miranda! Zoze were ze dayz."

Well, it turns out that ANOTHER thing that can happen from having a messed-up liver is that veins can start pushing into your stomach—eventually far enough that their lining is eroded, and they start filling the digestive tract with blood. When your stomach is full of blood, the results can be….dramatic.  

Like exorcist dramatic. 

Hello. I'm here because there's literally no "throwing up blood"
GIF that isn't absolutely awful.
Let's just focus on my cuteness.

Anyway, I did that in the waiting room of the Emergency Room after being too dizzy to walk, and needless to say, I didn't end up waiting as long as the guy who skinned his thumb "really really bad."

Five transfused units of blood later, they had me stable enough to do an endoscopy, discover the problem, plan this really cool procedure to like fill my veins with Krazy Glue or some shit, so they'd wither and stop fucking bleeding into my stomach. There were a couple of days of observation before they sent me home with a fistful of diuretics to keep down the fluid in my peritoneal cavity, and home I went to try to recover. I was 20 pounds of fluid over my admission weight when I was discharged. (Which was bananas because I had had about three meals in five days and one of them was a "liquid" meal—which means you get some sugar-free jello and a cup of broth.) Once the diuretics started, over the next four days, I peed out like 30 pounds of liquid. (Like, no seriously—thirty pounds of fluid can make you bloated like you wouldn't believe. It's like four GALLONS and change.) I went from looking like a stuffed sausage to my skin kind of hanging off my bones a little.

So that was fun. 

And yeah, right when I was almost better, there was an upper respiratory infection. Not a cold—this was the real fucking deal. Fevers of 102 at night and coughing up a lung. I think my white blood cell count was tanked from the hospital, because everyone in two households got this infection but I was the one it absolutely leveled like a papier-mâché reproduction of Tokyo in the final reel of a Godzilla movie. 

Okay, no more gory details. Back to the touchy feely.

Where do I go from here?

I get back up. 

I dust myself off. 

I keep writing. 

I've lost a lot of income in the last couple of years as I recover from cancer, then "ha ha, no, REALLY" recover from the trauma of cancer, pivot on my career goals, get buried under school work, and lose weeks of productivity to everything from helping my nesting partner grieve the brutal killing of their boss and friend to being hospitalized.

I get it. I haven't been writing the way I used to and the economy has shifted even further away from most working class being able to make ends meet. People I know (including me), who used to have a few hundred dollars of discretionary income every month, are now barely getting by, and several of us trying not to bleed out our entire savings before we learn a new skill set. Even folks who were infinitely patient with my lack of updates through my cancer have noticed that I've fallen way off from then. I would never expect people to hang on ever, but it's been especially understandable lately. 

I'll rebuild that crowdfunding when I'm able to re-establish a regular practice of writing. I'm still determined to keep all my work (other than some newsletters) free and pass the hat instead of going traditional publishing or paywalls or anything like that. There may be some compilations made into ebooks, but the source material will always be available. 

So more than ever, I'm writing because that's what I do. Because I love it. I'm writing because not writing is the real difficulty, and I feel depressed and anxious if I neglect it. Maybe it's not much more than a Facebook post on any given day. Maybe it's for school. Maybe it's one more half-done article. But I sit and I write. It's not for money—that's dwindling. It's not for fame—whatever snippet of online infamy I once has disappeared these last couple of years when I stopped putting out two or three articles a week.

Now it's just me and the writing.

Which is all it ever is for most people.

And even though THIS isn't the most prolific time in my life and no one is asking me right now how I write like I'm running out of time, the wheel will turn. Life will shift and there will be time and energy (together…in the same room) again. And I will still have the habit and the routine and the discipline. But that will combine with the opportunity. And that's when things get exciting.

A lot of people can write (or sing or do their art) as long as everything's pretty smooth sailing. What a dedicated writer (or singer or artist) has to confront is how to handle things when the waters are choppy. Life is going to happen, and at some point, it's going to happen HARD. Someone's going to die. You're going to get very sick. You'll have a kid or two. Your world will turn upside down. That's when it's easy to quit…or maybe take a break that ends up lasting the rest of your life. 

And I'm not here to tell you what to do in those moments or what makes you "real" or how much you really care about your writing (or art) if you can't find the time or energy. I'm not here to tell you to get back on the horse in X amount of time. I'm not that inspiration-porn problematic for one, and moreso, I'd obviously I'd be a hypocrite if I tried.

What I AM going to tell you is that when that absolutely mind-numbing moment of shut down or overwhelm or frenetic chaos or debilitating depression/anxiety/whatever clears, and you have your first lucid thoughts after the upheaval….if those thoughts are of writing (or music, or art), hold onto that. 

There's more there about what makes you tick there than you know.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Summer Blues (Personal Update) Part 2

Part 1 is back here if you missed some context.

"But Chris—I hear you say*—You haven't failed. You're a righteous dude."

(*Okay, actually I don't hear you say it. I mostly read it in the comments. Although I did hear it from one friend in person. "Hey, so I read your blog….") 

I get it: You're saying I'm not A FAILURE. You're saying there is hope. You're saying that there were some successes too. You're saying that it wasn't my fault. You're saying that my story isn't over. And you're right, but I'm trying to hand out life lessons from my cloud of judgement over here. This world is big enough for both things to be true.

Thanks, giant incorporeal screaming cowboy!
That must be the cloud of judgement next to you.

But I have failed. Oh sure, there's some nuance. But that part shouldn't be in dispute. I set up goals and I didn't meet them. I had secondary goals, and I didn't meet THEM. And even my fallback goals for not losing ground, I didn't meet. I was paying ALL the bills with writing, and now I'm back to sitting pets and working side gigs to cover my car insurance and cell phone plan. And it's okay to acknowledge what that is. It is failure. We don't like failure in this culture—the only place we tolerate it definitively is as "the hero's lowest point" in a broader narrative of ultimate success. ("Get back up, Captain Marvel!") We recoil from the idea of genuinely failing like we've touched a hot stove.

But hey. Listen. It's okay. Breathe into this bag. It's just failure. If we humans are not failing once in a while (like literally about half the time), we've got goals that are too easy or no goals at all. Which is how most people kind of move through life—vague ambitions maybe, but no real goals. And if we're failing as much as I did in the last two years, we probably have goals that are too ambitious.

In either case, failure is an important compass in how we move forward. And an important barometer in what matters to us. And an electron microscope of…um…I think I may have overdone this tool metaphor. 

Failure isn't the end. Failure isn't moral or immoral. Failure is patient and kind and failure isn't envious or boastful…oh wait, that's something else.

Now I'm going to be the first to say that the post-capitalism hellscape we live in with its incessant demand for "productivity" is maybe not the most awesome ever atmosphere to be making goals. Unless you're in the top one percent of income earners (and really the top tenth of THAT percent), you are being exploited and not a little bit. So getting caught up in the hustle usually means your work life balance sucks so that you can make someone ELSE a lot of money. That voice you hear from everywhere around you that slowing down makes you lazy and worthless and means you deserve being lower class comes from a lot of people with a whole lot of interest tied up in you contributing to their lifestyle—which I promise has more more work life balance, leisure time, vacations, and relaxation than anyone making a million times less than them. 

I'm also going to say that understanding that we are stuck in capitalism and it demands more than most of us can give doesn't make NOT GETTING A PAYCHECK any easier. We can be kind and gentle with ourselves and self-care it up, but when the electricity gets shut off because the bill is two months overdue, we're not going to be able to explain to them that our lives have been "really overwhelming" lately, and we just needed a bit more time off.

Yeah, my goals were too ambitious. I had no business wanting to get back to writing so quickly. My body recovered from cancer in just a couple of months, but my mind and heart took almost a year. I kept thinking that I would be back to writing, saying I was feeling better, and getting absolutely overwhelmed for days by the slightest hiccup. It would have been better if I'd simply said, "Hey, I have cancer. I need a year hiatus. I'll be back, but I understand if your Patreon support goes somewhere else for the next year." Buuuuuut, I didn't want to go on hiatus. I wanted to muscle through and not risk the income I'd spent a decade building up. So instead I dragged things out and fucked them up and caused myself planetoids of anxiety about my productivity and made promises I couldn't keep month after month and kinda screwed myself.

I did that. I own it. It was the opposite of success. Learn from my mistake. 

Then my partner's friend and boss was violently killed and left her with sudden, agonizing grief to process. Again, I should have simply said, "I need to go be a good partner, and put my energy into caregiving and support. This is going to take all of me for a few months." Instead I spent every week thinking that the next week was going to be a little better, trying to pedal faster, and then it was June. And I had basically been making promises I didn't keep for 18 months instead of just a year. 

I did that too. I own that too. That was also the opposite of success. Learn from my mistake.

It's not my fault these things happened. I was absolutely too hard on myself. Capitalism sucks and the proletariat should not have to work 80 hours to survive. All true enough, but these things do not transmute my failure into success.

That's okay. Deep breaths. Use that bag from the fifth paragraph. It'll be okay that I failed. We'll get through this….together.

We can do anything as long as we have each other.
Now get to the choppah!

See…that's the brilliant thing about failure. When you succeed at something you had no chance of failing at, you learn nothing. When you don't set goals, you learn nothing. But when you fail (or edge out a success), you usually come away with some kind of deep insight. Maybe you know your limitations a little better. Or have an idea how better to accomplish something. The important thing is that you can sit on the porch with a piece of straw in your mouth and say it to the young'uns between your banjo songs. 

So what have I learned?  I mean, besides what to do the next time I get cancer?

  • One thing is that I want to be writing about more than just writing. It'll still be a part of my work, but there are a lot of other subjects I want to start to tackle. From ramping back up my social justice activism to my spiritual journeys through paganism to writing about running.  
  • Another thing I learned is that I'm going to want a more reliable income. I love paying the bills through writing and I felt ten feet tall when I could say I was a working writer without addendum, but a ten-year build to just barely covering the cost of a VERY modest living was only ever possible because of other income streams, and then letting those dry up because "ha ha suckas, now I'm paying the bills with writing…smell you later!" kind of screwed me over. I'm going to keep writing, but I'm also going to start taking on other projects.
  • I learned that even the best, hottest, most explosive sex doesn't really help anxiety go away. It just shuts your brain up for a hot second. (Extra hot…if you know what I mean.) You'll have to deal with the thoughts eventually.
  • I learned income is more resilient than I think. Oh, I lost a lot. Baby Jesus is over here weeping it up. My income got burninated like a peasant on roof-thatching day. I've lost over half my income at this point from this time two years ago. But…I didn't lose it ALL. And a lot of folks were just kind of quietly cheering my recovery even as I posted three or four things a month. It was going quiet for weeks and months that really hurt me. I probably don't need five updates a week to keep my crowdfunded income stream. That means everything from putting more attention to fiction to all these other side projects I'm working don't have to be overwhelming additions to full-time blogging. 
  • I learned that "hiatus" is maybe not the dirty word I think it is, even for content creators. It might be better and less stressful to just go ahead and take a full break and come back rather than dribble out content in a miasma of feelings of inadequacy and obligation.
  • When you get back to writing, you'll have to fight tooth and cliché to get your writing time back from all the things that have crept in where the writing used to be.
  • The things I built over the last decade didn't go away—they just kind of went into a deep freeze. Some people cancelled or lowered their contributions, but I still have the reach I've built. I still have a readership. I still have fans ready to see me return. I still have a ridiculously huge Facebook presence. Rebuilding my income will be easier and faster than building it the first time. Maybe some of those peeps will even come back.
  • If it's summer, get the kids into day camp. No seriously. No. SERIOUSLY.
Today the kids started school, and I was able to sit down for four hours and write this post. I am still reluctant to announce this as some kind of huge comeback moment. But despite my failure over the last two years, I seem to be starting to pick up steam on some of my successes. And while it's okay that I failed, I think I'd be pretty okay to put a few in the wins column.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Summer Blues (Personal Update) [Part 1]

I want to tell you about my failure. Because I think it's important for you to understand that I fail. Working writers fail. Successful writers fail. And my failure isn't the tidy little fall-down/get-up trope in a broader narrative about success. I fucked up. I failed BIG. Things fell apart. And I'm going to tell you about them. 

I want to tell you about failure so that you know you can fail and still be a writer. And I want to tell you about failure because my failure to hold up to my own rubric for success crashed my career, tanked my income, and has left me struggling financially, and is going to take years to recover from.

So in a way, I'm still proof of what I've been telling you about how to be a writer—about the hours it takes and the consistent (dare I even say "daily"?) effort.  I have simply taken up the mantle of "cautionary tale" for a couple of years instead of "behavior-modeling example."

I need to contextualize this. Some of you have heard this story or have been reading long enough to know what's been going on for the past two years. You can skip ahead. (Maybe somewhere around "Summers have always been hard." Although really you can wait for the next part.) 

For those that don't have the context of the last couple of years, here's a rough timeline.

I fell in love in April of 2021—oh, our first date was 3/14.  I know because it was over Zoom due to the pandemic and Rhapsody had to go make pies for pie day. I fell…HARD. And I am not a person who falls lightly and politely as it is, so I want you to understand what I'm saying when an incurable romantic with ADHD hyperfocus tells you they've fallen hard. I dove so willingly into that blissful feeling and I spent a couple of months being really bad about getting around to writing. I thought I would get through the spinning feeling of the new relationship energy, and get back to it. 

Except in late summer of 2021, we decided to move in together. It was rash. Impulsive. Too soon. We didn't care. We were madly in love—and all the clichés were true. We went from talking about it as an "if" to "when" pretty fast. By early summer, I was staying there multiple nights a week. By August, I was not really going home. By early September, there was a moving truck in my apartment driveway. It wasn't quite "lesbian second date" fast, but it was pretty close. Suddenly I was buried in two hour drives back and forth to load up the car with as much as I could carry and do some cleaning. Packing. Unpacking. Writing stayed on the back burner.

The day I pulled up the moving van to get the big furniture from my apartment, Rhapsody had to be careful with how much she lifted. 

She had to be careful because she was pregnant. 

We weren't ready. It was bad timing. Our finances were not in a good place. It would have shattered our lives. But if there's a place where I've been sorry I repeatedly picked writing instead of a typical life with typical trappings, it's in not having kids  I'm a really good parent. And I mean I'm a REALLY good parent. Kind. Patient. Nurturing. Gentle. But I've always been "Uncle Chris." And I always kind of wanted a kid of my own. Getting pregnant was stressful. It wasn't quite the awful news that was to come, but it put a lot more on our plates. I needed to get writing, but we also had a lot to talk about. Everything from having a third child in a three-bedroom (where one adult absolutely NEEDS their own bedroom) to trying to figure out how we were going to make an extra thousand dollars a month to cover childcare costs. I got some writing done, but there were a lot of doctors appointments and a lot of trying to figure out the next steps and strategizing. 

And then, in September, there was a miscarriage. The kind of loss that is hard to even begin to convey. They tell you—tell you in clinical, biological terms—how statistically common and insignificant the event is and how you ought to cheer up and not take it that hard. They don't tell you how to deal with the fact that you sat up night after night and felt panic shift to fear, but then slowly melt into a kind of glowing acceptance and this sort of giddy excitement that the most incredible journey you had ever undertaken was just a few months away—that a little human was coming, and that they would break everything in your world in the most wonderful way. Grief is hard. Grief is hard to write through. And even when you can write through grief, it's usually a grieving kind of writing that feels like sticking something hot and sharp inside you and letting feelings splatter out on the page, not a funny blog about an unrelated topic.

And before the ink had dried on a little poem I wrote to mark the passing of that idea, it was clear that I was sick. I needed a new primary care physician when I moved, and they took some tests "for baseline stats." I had anemia. And when they called me in to get some additional data, that anemia had gotten much, MUCH worse. So much worse, that the doctors were calling ME, and asking what I was doing that day…and could I come in. 

There were a lot of tests. 

I look back on it now, and I know they knew—they just wanted to make extra positive sure before they gave me a life-changing diagnosis. But they weren't running batteries of tests and scratching their heads. They were running the NEXT test to get to a cancer diagnosis, telling me they wanted to rule things out and not to worry, and acting like they hoped they were wrong. 

I tried to keep writing during this time. I did. 

November was tests—so many goddamn tests. By early December, we found the tumor. I was scheduled for surgery right before Christmas. 

I honestly cannot remember Christmas 2021. I asked my loved ones to make sure the kids in my life had gifts with my name on them, and I went into a fugue state. Anxiety. Fear. Panic. And then the haze of schedule II painkillers—only to be replaced by the blinding pain of NOT having schedule II painkillers before I was ready.

I thought I would pick up the pen before surgery, but surgery was all I could think of. I was scared beyond my ability to be scared. I thought I would start writing while I convalesced from surgery, but I was a mess. I thought I would write when I was physically recovered after six weeks, but I had debilitating anxiety and an involuntary trauma response. I couldn't concentrate on ANYTHING for more than a couple of minutes. I would lose the plot to shows and have to rewind. I would be unable to remember conversations I'd just had. I definitely couldn't write. 

The months wound on. It was shocking to me—truly breathtaking—how long it took my mind and emotions to recover. I was running long distances a mere six weeks after abdominal surgery. But it was almost ten months before I started to sleep through the night and be able to think clearly again. Writing was so sporadic, and any kind of significant article took days and days to finish. I was so sick of every post being about the cancer and about surgery and about how I wanted to get back to writing that I stopped writing them, but they were the only thing my brain would cooperate with me on. I hated it.

And then the 2022 holidays. I can usually write during tough times, but everything in my world had turned into slider bars instead of switches. I wouldn't have had a problem writing during the holidays if all my medical trauma and post-cancer anxiety were just…gone. I mean I would have, but I've written through busy times before. But anxiety didn't go AWAY—it just got easy enough to deal with provided everything else was going pretty smoothly. But not everything goes "pretty smoothly" during the holidays. So something that normally wouldn't throw me off—like a tough day of childcare or holiday prep—was just wiping me out. 

Early February of this year, Rhapsody dealt with the sudden, traumatic, violent death of her boss and friend. There's so much I have to say about that, and it's coming in future articles, but for the past six months, I've had a different role to play. I was actually starting to recover from having had cancer—the anxiety and PTSD were more and more manageable—and I was basically ready to get back into the writer's chair. But with what happened, it seemed like being a good partner and good person meant it was my turn to support HER. And that might mean I lose some patrons and stop writing for a few months. 

At first it was putting food in front of her. Then it was making sure she took a walk or we did something distracting once a day. I made sure Treble and Clef were getting to appointments and activities and school and getting fed as best I could. Writing languished on the wayside, and when I had the time (rarely), I was usually just wrapped in a towel after a shower, sitting in bed while I drip dried and doing a thousand-yard stare at the wall. 

Months went by. Things got better, but it was two steps forward and one step back in a complicated process of traumatic grief.

Then summer hit. Summers have always been hard. 

When I started Writing About Writing, I had a summer-school class where I was writing lesson plans (without any training in HOW to write lesson plans) based on a curriculum that was basically, "Try to teach them some study skills….or something. Look it's not that you're JUST a babysitter, but most of these parents just want a few hours off for a couple of days a week during the summer. Good luck, brah!" It took 25 hours a week on top of everything else I was doing, and it made getting regular updates really hard. Since that time, I've quit that job, but I've had kids I take care of, and no matter how many plans and activities you try to line up for them, it's not the same as having them in school. Summers are just kind of a little wild.

This year has been a perfect storm. Rhapsody is better, but not okay—especially not early in the summer. The kids aren't in school. They can kind of entertain themselves, but they get pretty "Servants! Entertain us!!" if they're not just on screens and that's ever a struggle. The six-year old either needs screens, constant stimulation, or he makes it everyone's problem. My own slider is down (even though I'm better) and I find my resilience to stressors is still just a little bit smaller than it used to be. It creates this vortex where I want to write, but it's just too easy to derail me. I'll start wrangling the kids, turn around, and a whole day will be frittered away. Or I sit down to write and suddenly be swept up in a couple of hours of emotional support.

And I want to be honest with you. When I've had time to myself, I've gone on dates with loved ones. I took a vacation in June. I just had company in town. Or maybe I just sat down and cried or stared off into space. I'm not out here just writing like the Bruce Almighty Gif with every spare particle that isn't in support mode. I decided to ramp up slowly and not pause everything in my life for writing until I felt sufficiently redeemed. Self care was on my agenda. So there's sometimes this internal monologue of Sopranos characters saying "Hey you human calzone, you have time to watch Supernatural? You have time to take a run? You have time to write." (Followed by a beat down.)

What do you mean this pop-culture reference is 20 years old???

But I have definitely failed this summer. And I'll talk more about that in the next post.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Let's Get Chris Some Questions

Hello, everyone!

I know better than to say, "I'm back." (Honestly, this jinxes things, and I fucking refuse to give myself the kiss of death on blogging for the NEXT month.) So I'm NOT back. I'm absolutely not in any way feeling ready to get back to writing. I certainly don't expect to have a post up tomorrow, and under no circumstances can you expect a little more out of me next week. 


HOWEVER….One thing I do know is that when I AM transitioning from a period of lower productivity and trying to get back into the routine and habit of writing—which, again, I am certainly NOT trying to do right now—mailbox posts are a lot like rolling the car downhill to pop the clutch. It just gives me a bit of a start to have that question. Trying to do a cold start on a ten-thousand-word dialogue post when I've been procrastinating for three years is WAY too daunting, but putting out a few mailbox questions while I let that percolate and get it outlined…that's a lot more manageable. So if I were hypothetically trying to bring myself back from the throes of miscarriages, cancer, surgery, cancer recovery, medical trauma, helping a loved one through the loss of a friend to sudden violent traumatic death, and too be honest, the brink of an absolute mental health implosion, some mailbox questions would be a good way to kind of get the ball rolling. Hypothetically. Not that I'm doing that. Because I'm not back. 


SO SEND YOUR QUESTIONS to chris.brecheen@gmail.com and I will answer them on The Mailbox. Don't forget to label them with the email title, "WAW Mailbox." (Which is not just an arbitrary rule that I made up to make your lives complicated. This is so I can find them in my mailbox archives and I don't have to try to dig through 5898 emails—seventy-four of which are unread as of today at noon—to find them.) Questions about writing—process, craft, grammar, linguistics, creativity, reading, art. Also, I'm still a few questions shy of my latest 20 questions compilation, so you can even send me any burning NON-writing questions you've had. 

Let's not light this candle. Let's not kick these tires or light these fires. Let's not hit the ground running. You will not be seeing some serious shit, even if this baby hits 88 miles an hour…which it won't be. I'm not back.


But send me your questions. You know…just in case.

Friday, June 16, 2023

The Shape Of Things to Come

My Patrons already got this news (because keeping the lights on around here comes with some perks) but there's going to be kind of a diffusion of emphasis in my writing. Writing About Writing is going to remain up and running and an ongoing part of my continuing work, so you don't have to worry about the blog going away, but I'm taking on a lot of new projects as well and committing to actually do some things I've been "meaning to get to" for years. So in the interest of accountability and transparency and some tiny modicum of predictability, I want to tell everyone what's going down and the timelines for each.

For those of you who have enjoyed my woo woo posts about The Morrigan over on NOT Writing About Writing, there will be a lot more where those came from. This work and that I'm dedicated to and a spiritual practice that over the last three years, I haven't so much built as has claimed me—sometimes kicking and screaming and definitely with a double heaping scoop of existential "But I'm a fucking atheist!" confusion. I'm also taking an intensive class on Morrigan lore from a native Irish priest for the next six months, so I imagine particularly focused attention for a time. 

I have joined a martial arts school. Clearly what I need as a middle aged human who never has a moment of free time for myself is to master Krav Maga—because that makes sense and isn't at all ridiculous. I'm not sure exactly when I'll be going to classes, but I have to pay the same amount whether I work in with one class a month or eight classes a week, so I'll probably be trying to get my money's worth. 

I am returning to school. I feel like I'm in a 80's knife commercial. "But wait!!!! There's MORE!!!" I'm going back to school for some certifications (not another degree), that will see me learning to be a fitness coach and eventually a personal trainer. I'm going to go part time since I'll have so much else going on concurrently, so it'll be a year (Spring 2024) before I have my first certificate and two years (Spring 2025) before I have both. 

I'm doing some research to become a death doula. I'm still in the initial research phases of what this even means (I've seen everything from a six week course online to six month course in person to the information that you just go DO it) so I don't know how long this education process is going to be or how intense it will be once I start it, but I've done something in helping Rhapsody deal with the loss of Jen and walking with her through that feels important and like work I want to do. 

I'm (really) going to start focusing on fiction. I've been threatening to pull this trigger for years, and the last two have simply been non stop nightmares with moving, miscarriages, cancer, surgery, major break ups, death, and intense grief.

I have a number of side projects. Before I got sick in 2021 (which turned out to be cancer), I had started the process of a number of compilation ebooks that would bundle a handful of my articles under a particular theme, give them a fresh revision and a new coat of paint and bundle them for a couple of bucks to anyone who wanted. All the articles would still be online—because I've committed to always keeping my writing free and accessible—but it just might be in a slightly easier format.

Summer has begun. I'm not sure where exactly my writing schedule is going to land, but summer is always a little bit interesting. Treble and Clef are young boys who would love it if we just let them do fifteen hours of screen time a day and their eyeballs could melt into rapturous zombie goo—and they also have a habit of making it everyone's fucking problem if we deign to deny them this experience—so trying to balance their demand for constant stimulation (or screens) will probably be a challenge of its own, vaguely akin to herding cats…on espresso. 

Rhapsody is still in the grief. Though Rhapsody has moved through some of the largest and most intimidating early feelings of denial and anxiety, there is still a long ways to go. I am not her only person, but I am her main person and often the one who takes up the slack when the feelings are particularly intense. Though things have been getting slowly better, and I want to emphasize that I'm not a victim and have made a choice to be actively supportive, sometimes that has involved hours a day of of simply holding her through deeply intense and uncomfortable emotions. I expect this will continue to improve, but I don't imagine it'll just go away. 

We are on a road trip. I am so hypersensitive to how my time "off" has come on the heels of a three-week, HARD bout of intense grief support that has required most of my waking attention in either childcare or holding space, and I've barely been writing as it is. But this trip has been in the works for months and I was never going to be particularly on. So I'm writing on the road (literally as Rhapsody drives) right now and will grab moments whenever I can, but I won't have good and solid seat time until the 25th.

This is all to say that while Writing About Writing will absolutely continue forth, bringing you articles about craft and process and other facets of writing, there is going to be a lot of other things starting to go on too.

Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Transcription Questions from the FAQ

[The following question has been changed from the standing FAQ. This is in response to a concern I received through Facebook about our accessibility. This is where my writing time went today, so I figured I would post it. ]  

5a- Why are you doing transcriptions of the posts?/Why do you often ask for transcriptions?

We're at over 1.2 million followers and I've been asked if it might be possible to level up our disability access so more people can enjoy. Many macros and memes are pictures of text or text ON pictures. (Things like screen grabs of Tumblr or Twitter, but even just macros.) This means they can't be read and transcribed with text reading software for folks who are visually impaired. 

Personally I am not going to have time to transcribe some of the longer macros or complicated visual images into text and/or I am often posting from my phone or posting from work where transcribing would be very impractical. So if I put "Transcribe?" (or some variation) with an image, it means that if anyone would be willing to do that, I'll cut and paste that text along with my sincere thanks and a shout out and add it to the text.

PLEASE CHECK THE COMMENTS OF SUCH POSTS FOR THE TRANSCRIPTIONS-- Eventually I get back to most of them and copy paste the transcription into the OP, but they may sit for hours before I have a chance to.

You can also send it to me through PM if you'd prefer no attribution and the transcription to be anonymous. I'll probably just use the first transcription I see that does a halfway decent description of the picture and text, so no need to keep going if you see someone else has. I'm not trying to slight anyone if I don't use theirs.

Feel free to use Google transcriber for the pure text macros (I sometimes do), but if I'm asking for a transcription, I probably am not at a proper computer where I would be able to do that myself.

5b- You could have just written the transcription in the time it took you to ask for one.

Chances are I'm on my phone or busy at work This may mean a couple of things:

1- I'm unable to see the image and what I'm typing on a single screen and going back and forth to make sure that it's perfect would take more time/energy than I have.

2- The transcription involves describing an image (not just rewriting the text) and that is what I don't have time to do.

Also don't be such a Judgy McJudgikins. I'm a fucking professional writer. Give me some credit. I know damn well what I can handle with speech to text at a stop light and what is too much.

5c- Why do you tell us what you're doing that you can't transcribe. Just ask for a transcription.

At first I did ask for a transcription. Then people got mad about that because (I guess because they thought I was being lazy?) and just asking was too brusque. Then I wrote an extensive explanation, and people either said I could have transcribed it in the time I took to write the explanation (see above) or they just thought I was being too descriptive. So then I offered these weird fake explanations about fighting terrorists or parasailing to Mars or something, and people complained about THAT even though it amused me. Most of the time these complaints were mostly polite, but their frequency and the rare aggression and threats to flounce (which is a one-strike-you're out no-no here and led to tons of drama) made me just want to abandon transcriptions altogether. So today I ask and offer a quick line or two for why I can't, and even though definitely not everyone is happy, I think I've found this tiny fjord of frequency and caliber of request that makes the fewest people complain. Basically someone always complained, this seems to be the thing that makes them do so the least, so I'm sticking to it.

5d- Why didn't you transcribe that post or ask for a transcription?/Why don't you transcribe all posts?

There are a few reasons.

1- If I'm sharing something from another page, I won't transcribe their meme. Folks can take it up with THAT page's admin if they want to. I'm usually just quickly sharing something I got a tickle out of. It also has to do with which text proliferates in the event of a "share." If that meme gets shared by lots of people, it will be the original post, not my transcription, that gets shared with it. It's not a pride thing, there's just a lot of work that is involved and it would have limited returns. Often with such posts I will ask if anyone wants to do it in the comments.

2- There are occasionally subject dense pictures (like a mural comic) that can't reasonably be transcribed. If we had UBI and I could find someone to transcribe images, I'd be happy to, but I am pinioned by a capitalist society in which I neither have time to myself or the resources to hire someone to do so. I am also reticent to ask for members of the community to spend what would probably be hours transcribing a single post. This is not a "fuck you" to the visually impaired community, it is simply a recognition that visual art sometimes is more involved than my ability to transcribe. My saying anything even remotely like this on the post itself creates no end of shitty replies in the comments, so I will just post the image to avoid the drama. Of course if anyone wants to try to transcribe the dozens of discrete images, they are welcome/encouraged to—maybe it'll be thought of as good practice.

6- Is the free labor of people doing your transcriptions exploitative?

1) Facebook pages don't actually make money. And the FB throttling algorithm was designed by greedy shitgibbons who literally fiddled with the knobs until they found the sweet spot between "That's a lovely outreach you have there. Be shame if someone.......THROTTLED IT." and "Fuck it. I'll just use Tumblr instead!" While I technically might make some Patron money via people from this page, most of them are donating money because they like my blog and my writing, not because I maintain a page that posts memes. (In fact, I often literally say when I post my Patreon something like: "If you're just here for the memes, don't worry about this, but if you like the blog I link to.....") While there is a symbiotic relationship and this page helps me promote my work, there isn't really a mechanic by which this page ITSELF makes me any money.

2) The particulars of transcribed posts are done for the accessibility benefits of folks who use assistive technology. For years there were no such transcriptions. I have been asked to do this, and I WANT to do so, but doing it all myself would be a tremendous addition of labor to what is already several hours a week on top of one job and a hundred side hustles I already have. I tried to come up with a compromise to saying "No. I'm sorry. I just can't do that."

3) I'm more than capable of transcribing posts, and often do so. However when I am flinging up a post quickly on my way to work or posting from my phone, I can't describe some involved four panel comic or essentially type out 250 words. I could just leave it without a transcription–possibly for hours–until I can get to it, but that seems to defeat the purpose, and the alternative is blowing some off.....and not in the fun way.

4) I'm not promising people exposure or ground floor opportunities or some slick ass bullshit to folks who help out. (I'm certainly not approaching professional transcribers and guilting them to think about the children.) If folks help, I assume it is because they want our page to be accessible, not because they think it will benefit them in some way. Everyone is free to help or not help. Sometimes no one steps up and the post just goes un-transcribed until I can get to it. It's not like anyone is being leaned on.

5) If I were making more money, I probably WOULD think about employees rather than volunteers. I pay my guest bloggers, editors, and others who help me unless they insist that their work is a donation, even if it's just a few dollars. However, I am down by half my income since cancer and THEN it was barely paying the bills. Perhaps the fact that I need another other jobs besides writing and innumerable side gigs will be indicative that I'm maybe not making as much off this page as people seem to think.

The community seems pretty supportive, but please let me know if you'd like me to revisit the question.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Facebook FAQ: Can I Send You a Meme to Repost?/I Sent You a Meme, but You Didn't Repost It!

Unretiring the threesome jokes?
The following will be added to the Facebook FAQ. 

Can I send you a meme to repost? When will you post my meme? Why didn't you post my meme?

In general, I love getting memes from y'all. I try to post several a day, and that means going hunting constantly. A meme from one of you that I can post usually represents an hour that I can just post something on the go from my phone and not be "on" all the time. Then I can go back to playing Horizon Zero Dawn without even pausing. But sometimes folks send me a meme and then ask me to post it right away or even get a little cranky if I don't. ("Hey man. I sent that meme to you out of the goodness of my heart. Are you going to post it, or what?")

There are a few reasons why maybe I didn't post your meme….

1- Check to see if I really didn't post it.  

Facebook has a very complicated algorithm that throttles the content that it shows you. It is threading the needle between so low that pages, desperate to be seen, will pay advertising money to get more engagement and JUUUUUUUST high enough that we don't give up on FB forever and take our content over to Tumblr. (And I'm sure that a small army of behavioral scientists are working every day and snorting lines of spice to find just EXACTLY that sweet spot for maximum profitability.) Even if you are engaging with every Writing About Writing post, you might only see half the memes I post if you don't click through the page, so please check. It's entirely possible that I actually DID post the meme, but Facebook just didn't put it on your feed.

2- You sent me something that I posted somewhat recently.

The world of writing (and writing-adjacent) memes is prolific, but not endless. I see a lot of repeats. Especially a year later when a viral post starts coming up in people's memories. Now, I'm definitely not above a repost—especially if it's been a while—but it might just be that you sent me something I posted only a few weeks ago.

I don't keep track of a specific expiration date or shelf life. If I see a meme I've seen before, I just kind of try to think if it's been recently or a while since I posted it. Very scientific. Much rigor. Wow.

3- I might like the meme, but it's possible it's not for this page.

I'm picky about my memes. 

I harvest only the finest artisanal memes from the Memeagne region of France, and perish the thought of subpar memes darkening my pixel stream.

I don't do the entire genre of memes that makes fun of people for not knowing "proper" English (which is just code for a classist, often racist, and slightly anachronistic elitism about a form of English that is taught in high schools without regard for nuance like linguistics or dialects). I know a lot of writing meme pages get off on that shit, like it actually makes them a better person to know when to use "less" vs. "fewer," but that isn't my jam. Funny signs because of a misspelled word? Sure. Making fun of PEOPLE? Pass. 

If there's a deliberate slur, I probably take a pass. People who are marginalized in our society can reclaim certain words in tweets or memes, and I think that's rad, but they're not my words to use and even hitting "share" can be fraught with some complication. 

3.5-There might be casual -isms or -phobias. 

Look, I can't make a MILLION people agree with my linguistic understanding that our language both reflects and normalizes deep seated prejudices and institutional oppression, but words like "crazy" or "stupid" or other casually harmful words will generally steer me away from even a pretty dang funny meme.  I'm not perfect, and some stuff gets past me—especially when I maybe don't think about how a particular kind of sarcasm is going to land—but I'm definitely not trying to create that kind of environment. Sometimes an otherwise awesome post has an ableist slur in it, and I take a pass.

I've tried putting these things up with content notifications so that folks will consider that maybe that wasn't the best choice of words, but then the comments just turn into a cesspool of "I don't see anything wrong with it! You're too sensitive!" And you know if legions of white dudes can't see what the problem is, there certainly couldn't possibly be one….because if anyone knows what marginalization is, it's those who never have to deal with it!

So…anyway, now I don't bother.

4- Someone I like just posted it.

There are a few meme pages out there doing essentially the same thing I am with basically the same philosophy about social justice and social harm, and I don't want to compete with them. These are great people and I hope we all succeed. If a page like Tara Wine Queen Writes or Tales of a Kitchen Witch have just posted something, I want them to get the clicks and engagement for at LEAST a few days before I come along with my bigger platform and steal their thunder.

5- Someone I DON'T like is responsible for it.

Sometimes shitty people say funny or poignant things. I'm not here to amplify them or their platforms.

Sometimes I actually know the source does not like to be scraped because they have announced as much publically. Sometimes my platform size means something I post will get back to the source, and they slide into my DMs. Some people thank me. Some ask me for credit (which I am thrilled to be able to give), some ask me only to share their stuff—not repost it (which again, I'm happy to do), and some ask me to die in a fire and never post their stuff again. 

I tend to remember those people. 

6- It's in the queue.

The search for memes is a feast and famine game. Some days I'm scouring the internet in real time for the next post. Some days I seriously have days and days worth of memes saved up on my phone or laptop and I've got them in sort of a mental queue. There's an art to shitposting. You want the sweet and then the salty. If I drop ten of the same flavor of meme, it'll get old pretty fast. So it could be that I have every intention of getting to your meme in the next few days. So, with all the love in the world….keep your pants on.