Choices and Priorities

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It doesn’t always suck to make the right decision. Everyone knows that when a decision is hard to make, whichever way you choose, there’s going to be regret. People assume that if that’s true, then decision that are easy to make leave no such regrets. Many times they’re correct. When they’re wrong, though, it really sucks.

There are many conventions taking place in my city this weekend. Many of which, I would greatly enjoy: games, writing, and anime are just three purposes of the different conventions. There are other conventions, which I won’t go into here, which I would enjoy even more. Instead, I’m here writing a post sooner than I had planned. Why? I made some choices long ago which I have every intention of honoring. That means those choices are a higher priority.

When these conventions came up, I had intended on attending at least part of one. Then I received word that the money I would use for the convention would be needed for something else. It was an easy choice to make. One night of fun. Following through on a commitment. I may have hedonistic tendencies from time to time, but I place a greater value on keeping my word. I would skip the convention.

Getting progress reports from friends makes me a little envious of their ability to participate. I know what I’m missing. I wish I was there. At the same time, I know I made the right choice. In the short term, I may feel excluded and even a bit lonely. In the long term, others now know I won’t compromise for short term gratification. It means I can be trusted that much more. It means I am safe. It means, when I say something, I can be believed. It means one more step in living as the person I want to be.

Relationship Representation

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With all my girlfriend and I have been through, it is amusing, appropriate, and somehow very representative of our relationship that our first culinary disagreement was over how to cook a hot dog. Those who know us are probably now laughing themselves silly.

As mentioned in earlier posts, my personality is more of a protector and teacher than caretaker. Despite my profession as a personal trainer and extensive background in martial arts, the protection I tend to provide is more emotional than physical. I try to provide a space where fear is acknowledged but pushed past, where anxiety is welcomed and soothed. When it comes to teaching, I try to teach by example. When I try to teach through words, I tend to revert to an academic style of “imparting knowledge”, which usually comes off as more than a little pedantic. So, teach by example and protect by providing emotional shelter. Though both can have lighthearted elements, they do have a certain gravitas that can come across as dominating, intimidating, or creepy.

My girlfriend, however, is a Brat. It is a title she embraces and thoroughly enjoys. She can be endearing or aggravating, impish or pestiferous. She’ll wiggle like an excited teenager, or pout like a preteen. True, she can be bull-headed, and will jump to conclusions based on emotion and insufficient evidence; but, she is also very intelligent and can present her side of an issue with much more cogency than I can. More importantly, she is very caring. She seeks to make her friends’ lives happier and/or easier. Sometimes it’s through making or hosting a dinner, sometimes it’s volunteering at an event they’re setting up, sometimes it’s as simple as making sure there’s a cold glass of water waiting for those she knows will like it.

Despite the differences in our natures, we are very well matched in the areas that tend to matter the most: ideas, values, and desires. We make a very good team. When aggression, argument, or detail is needed, she usually takes the lead. When diplomacy, multiple viewpoints, or calm certainty is called for, I tend to lead. Not that she can’t be diplomatic, or I can’t be aggressive, at need; but, those modes aren’t our primary modes of thought and action.

We do lots of things together, from grocery shopping to parallel play. With my background in personal training and hers in massage therapy, we occasionally geek out with anatomy and physiology, both the straight up as well as with suggestion and innuendo. When both people understand that the “sodium gradient” can be a reference to cellular respiration AND a reference to a sweaty body, much fun can be had. It is especially gratifying that we can discuss loudly and publicly about the strength and endurance of my pollicis longus, and snicker at the horrified looks we receive. (This post is PG. The full name is abductor pollicis longus, and is one of the muscles that pull the thumb away from the index finger.)

It is no wonder, then, that an argument about cooking hot dogs is weirdly representative of our relationship. If you take the tension between the literal and innuendo, mix it with our mutual desire to make the “best product” possible, garnish it with the acknowledged absurdity of the topic, and serve it with love, you end up with a pretty decent description of our relationship.

Addictive Reframing

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I was sitting in a computer lab, struggling to come up with a topic, when this energetic guy comes in, plops down in the chair next to me and logs in. Moments later, I reeled back from the stench of him. I’m not talking about being unwashed, but every time he moves (even to turn a page) the noisome odor of cigarettes rolls over me.

In my mind, I picture people like him surrounded by a symbiotic malevolent aura. He may be a very nice person, but cloaking him is this invisible monster. It spends some of its time controlling him, but the rest of the time, it reaches out to those around him and slowly throttles them. Every time it feels itself start to weaken, it forces him to light up and recharge. Then the man-monster symbiote returns to strangle more people.

No, this isn’t another rant about smokers. It’s an example of reframing. Reframing is a conscious shift of mental perspective. It can go either way. For instance, instead of a malevolent symbiotic entity, I could have thought of the guy as intentionally trying to ruin the day of the people around him. In the first example, he’s only partially responsible being both instigator and victim. In the second, he’s entirely responsible. The first opens the possibility of pity, empathy, or sympathy. The second is almost entirely adversarial.

Anyone who’s dealt with an addiction can see themselves in the first example of reframing. It’s even in colloquial dialog. “It’s the booze talking,” or “[drug] is the only way to appease this gnawing emptiness.” I’m not excusing anything. Addiction is a path that started with a choice. This is the reason so many people take the “blame the addict” stance.

The problem is after that first, perhaps almost trivial, choice, the ability to choose the other way disappears. The addiction grows and slowly takes over the person’s life. It becomes and obsession and a compulsion. It takes control and drives the person to the very edge of sanity, then seduces them back into its arms. It is territorial in that it finds ways to make the person shut out others that don’t share in the addiction. Addiction is a living thing, but only because it is part of the person.

I don’t like being around smokers. I don’t like being around alcoholics. And yet, looking at those sentences, it’s obvious that I define people (at least in this case) by their addiction. I suspect that most people view addicts this way. Fortunately, I have a tool garnered from Alateen: separate the person from the addictive behavior.

Remember that an addict is not a single person, an addict is a symbiote: part person, part addiction. When the addict is temporarily free of the addiction influences, that person may very well be a charming, decent person. It’s only when the addiction decides to sharpen its claws on the scratching post of the person’s soul does the harmful behavior come back.

Thus, when I catch myself thinking of someone in terms of their addiction (smoker, drinker), I consciously try to separate the person from the addictive behavior—I try reframing. The person who sat next to me in the computer lab is not “a smoker”, he is someone who smokes. His behavior, especially the result of his behavior, may annoy the hell out of me, but by blaming the behavior rather than the person opens the door to being his friend. And if there’s anything an addict needs, it’s friends.

NOTICE!

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Periodically you see posted signs with large type, bolded lettering at the top: NOTICE! Sometimes this lettering is underlined or italicized in an attempt to raise it from mere prominence to attention-grabbing radiance. The sign writer seems to believe that this simple written command will seduce its reader into paying extra attention to the message. Every now and then it even works; but when it does, commanding attention is the least of the posting. There is usually also an action component. NOTICE: report finding lost items to campus police. NOTICE: The Astronomy Club is looking for new members, inquire with ______ (president) or _______ (faculty advisor).

Paying attention to things around you is a good idea in general. But understanding the implications of what you’re seeing and then ACTING on those implication is even better. Simply “noticing” is not enough. One of the best examples of the difference between noticing a fact and understanding a fact I’ve seen so far is within one of the first few chapters (chapter 4, I think) of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. The scene I refer to is when Delauney asks Phedre to describe what she’d observed about the carriage and horses she’d just arrived in. She gives a very good description of them and thought herself very observant when Delauney praised her. Then Delauney asks Alcuin (who’d only seen the horse and carriage long enough for Phedre and Delauney to disembark and Delauney to pay the driver) to describe what he’d observed. Instead of describing the physicality of the horses and carriage, he describes that the unmarked carriage meant a livery stable, that matched white horses were rare and thus valuable (so that the stable was probably prosperous), that the driver had the mannerisms of someone country-bred but had been in the city long enough “not to bite the coin given by a gentleman”, and thus it would not be too difficult to trace the coachman if he needed to be questioned.

The more information you have in your mind, the easier and faster it is to do this. Also the ability to make connections between multiple disciplines is a good skill to train. (For instance: The reason why stars are dimmer than our sun follows the same principle why we do not bleed out every time our heart beats.) It’s one reason I love learning. Every time I find a connection between disciplines, I feel like I’ve pulled a gem from a bog. This is what I try to impart in my “running woman” exercise.

I’d been trying to get my students to think in this manner for many years before Kushiel’s Dart was published. I’d been giving my students a simplified example and asking them to come up with possible scenarios for what they see. I start with something like: “You see a woman running. What’s going on?” I usually address newer students first and rarely get anything other than “She’s running from someone.” Occasionally, I get “She’s out exercising.” Given that the “running woman” exercise is done in the context of a martial arts or self-defense class, the answers are understandable. If no one asks clarifying questions, I start adding details: “She’s dressed in slacks and a nice blouse.” There goes the out for a jog explanation.  “She doesn’t look back and her head is up.” Probably not running from someone. And so on. Depending on how quick the students are, I may end with “She has nothing in her hands, but everyone else on the street is carrying a closed umbrella.” If they need something a little more obvious, I throw in “The sky is filled with low, black rainclouds.” So instead of running from danger, she is trying to get home before she gets soaked. Depending on the level of interest and the number of light bulbs I see going off above people’s heads, I take it further into possible habits and thinking patterns.

Unfortunately, this sometimes gets me into trouble. As a very shy extrovert (not really a contradiction), I spend a lot of time around people without directly interacting with them. I also tend to score very high on empathy. Since I tend to think in sensations rather than words, it’s not difficult for me to see someone in distress and get “sympathy pangs”. It’s also very easy for me to get sucked into their problems. This is one reason I’m not a therapist despite many people telling me I have a talent for making people feel comfortable and safe; until I get these responses under conscious control, I would get burned out too fast be of use to anyone. I recently told someone, “If I see someone in distress, I can’t not respond.” As I said, seeing, understand, and responding sometimes gets me into trouble.

Seeing a NOTICE! sign, or posting one, is all well and good, but it is rarely sufficient to the underlying reason why the sign was posted in the first place. A notice sign calls for understanding and action. A paper posted on a bulletin board is usually about a matter simple enough to understand and act upon. But paper notices aren’t the only notice signs out there. Many of those notice signs are hidden beneath other things, and in order to see them you have to understand the implications of what you’re seeing on the surface. “Reading between the lines” is often hard enough in print. Graduating from the two dimensional of text on a page (or screen) to the four dimensional world of life is much harder, but it can be done.

Still recovering and other miscellaneous stuff

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I’m still recovering from ArmadilloCon. No concrud, just tired. Made today’s exercise session and private lesson a touch difficult to get through. Wonder how long I’ll last at sand volleyball tonight.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the challenge of a tough exercise schedule. Having spent all weekend doing another of my favorite activities just makes this week more awesome. I’m motivated and have the mental and emotional energy to push forward. Physical energy, though, is a bit lacking.

Mostly, though, I’m shocked at ReaderCon’s mishandling of their own no tolerance policy. I know it takes more guts than a Board of Directors often has to stand up to something like that, but if you’re not going to be able to enforce a policy, don’t have the policy. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the link. The ironic thing is that deep down, they probably realize it would help their numbers more than hurt. Despite a Big Name Fan blasting the con to his followers. This stuff gets around. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few cons banned him preemptively, since he has a record. A friend called the (lack) of sufficient action of the Board “terminally stupid”. I’d have to agree.

On a brighter note, I’ve also finished the basic outline of my next book. We’ll see how closely I manage to stick to it. I should probably revisit sending query letters for my last book. Hmmm. Decisions to make. This book is shaping up to be much better, but the other is still a good story…and a different genre. Maybe if I spend two hours on the new book and one hour on query letters (and the accompanying research), I can manage both. Though if I hit a procrastination streak, the number of posts to this blog may very well increase.

ArmadilloCon

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ArmadilloCon is one of those conventions that seeps into your blood. It’s not a wild “PartyCon”, nor is it known for outstanding costumes. This is not to say there aren’t any parties, or there are no costumes. On the contrary, there are usually two or three public parties and several private ones. Likewise people do show up in costume. This year, the notable costumes were a Victorian woman (spoiled only by a modern stroller), and a steampunk warrior whose armor seemed to be made from a spray painted set of lacrosse pads. ArmadilloCon definitely falls into the category of “Relax-i-Con”.

Few parties, fewer costumes, and a very relaxed atmosphere; yet I find myself coming back year after year. It is a science fiction/fantasy convention, but unlike most such, the emphasis is on writing rather than visual media. The panels are intimate, and the great majority of panelists are easy to approach. As might be expected at a literature-based convention, there are plenty of readings by authors and book signings. There are also many panels on various aspects on the craft of writing. Some of the panels I attended I would consider my favorites from this year’s lineup include: “The Still Changing Definition of Urban Fantasy”, “Story Ideas I Hope to Never See Again”, “Stump the Panel”, and “Writing Erotic Fiction”.

I find it amusing, though not terribly surprising, that the “Writing Erotic Fiction” panel is always among the funniest, most productive, and most helpful in improving the craft of writing–even in other genres. Maybe it has to do with the types of personality that write such things. Maybe it’s that the panel is held late at night when inhibitions have dropped. Whatever the reason, at every convention I’ve attended that had such a panel, the erotic writing panel has always been among the best. I recommend going, even if you’re not interested in erotic writing per se.

In additionn to the panels, the attendees at ArmadilloCon are friendly and willing to talk about nearly anything. Making new friends is easy, even for rampant introverts. Even shy people might find it easier to approach people here. Ironically, despite me living locally, most of the friends I’ve made this year live a fair distance away–like Oklahoma.

The most memorable thing that happened to me at this year’s con was talking with Elizabeth Moon for half an hour. (Yes, that Elizabeth Moon.) We started off with shooting candy from her miniature replica crossbow and talked about stuff ranging from how she chooses her reading selections to autism to getting to wield the actual Lord of the Rings swords used on the set (i.e. not the backups).

The only thing I regret is the tendency of this Con to sneak up on me. Why do I regret it? There is a writing workshop I would love to participate in. Unfortunately, by the time I’m aware of the approaching Con, it’s long past the deadline for submitting to the workshop. I’d love to get feedback from published authors, editors, and agents.

If you want to attend a convention with wild costumes and wilder parties, go to DragonCon. If you want a relaxed atmosphere, or an introduction to genre literature, or you want to examine and improve your own writing, ArmadilloCon is truly an excellent convention.

Into the lion’s den…

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Had to pick up some stuff from someone. This someone was at the core of the troubles that got me to start this blog. (For some really angsty stuff, read the first couple of posts.) I survived intact. Lots to say, no time to say it. Probably a good thing.

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