11.22.2020

Failing NaNo - 4 Years and Counting

I looked, Dear Readers, and noted that the last time I saw fit to let the words fall from my brain bucket and onto these virtual pages was on the day that our nation typically celebrates its independence. That day now has a different, more special meaning for me, but that's not really what I'm hear to talk about. Oh, sure, there will be another post or 139 on the love of my life and how things shifted for me over 2 months ago, but this is not that post.

This post is a confession of sorts. It is also partially a discussion on a personal affliction I share with many authors and creatives, and well, quite frankly-lots of you out there. Again, I'm getting ahead of myself. 

For those of you who are blissfully unaware why many of your novelist/writerly/author friends look upon November with the side-eye of unease, I'll peel back the curtain. You see, many years ago, an event started that was meant to help people realize that if they just wrote X number of words per day, by the end of a month-any month-they would have 50,000 words. A decent first novel, if you will. The event was dubbed National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (or NaNo). Groups were formed all over the country and all over the world. Support groups, if you will, for writerly types (in some circles these are called writer's groups). In fact one of these groups played a large part in me getting one of my books, The Treachery of Rainbows from a fleeting thought in my head into a physical book that you can hold in your hand. 

NaNoWriMo, overall is a good thing, I think. And while it does have the ability to foster and motivate those creative urges, it has the power to do something else. For me, it can instill or amplify the crippling doubt that comes along with writing. Some have dubbed this Imposter Syndrome. That may or may not be the accurate term in this instance, but it's a familiar one that bears little explanation.

You see, around September or October, I get really excited for NaNo. The aforementioned book, The Treachery of Rainbows was drafted during the NaNoWriMo of 2015. I hit the mark that year. Over 50K in my word count for 30 days. AND, I had the first draft of a novel that I wouldn't look at again for another 3 years (but that's besides the point, really). So, you see, there IS some excitement, a hope if you will, that each November I will come up with the next great novel, or at least the draft for one. 

My ambition is high. As my Mamaw used to say when she warned me about putting too much food on my plate, "Be careful that your eyes aren't bigger than your stomach." 

And, it seems-or at least these last 4 years-that my eyes are bigger than my NaNo stomach. 

This year it would be quite easy to blame pandemic fatigue. After all, it's hard being creative in the middle of a worldwide illness unparalleled in over 100 years. And that may be part of it. 

It would be easy to blame the fact that I'm nearly 90minutes away from anyone in the writing group that sparked the energy and magic in 2015. But, Discord/Facebook Video Virtual write-ins have stripped that argument and quite easily nullified it. 

I could also blame the tools. The Freewrite Traveler with it's odd little 'typing like the keyboard buffer is always full' quirks, but I'm sure that's not it either. And besides, it is a piss-poor craftsman who blames their tools. 

No, the problem is me. My eyes were bigger than my stomach. 

I had been working on an idea for a book. The book is to appear in a box set on Magic and the Mafia that will be release early in 2021. And I really like the idea for the book. The book will also contain some seeds that will blossom in another book that I've got in the hopper. 

And despite the excitement, the tools, the support network, and the fact that one of my best friends is an author and my roommate, I still sit her on November 22nd, with only about six-thousand words written n that story. 

Like the colorful onomatopoeias that adorned every fight scene in the 1960's BatMan TV show, I see myself getting punched squarely in the jaw by Adam West, or the Ghost of NaNo, if you will. 

I look at the calendar and look at my word count and think Damn. Well, if you're going to suck, at least suck in a spectacular fashion! 

Don't get me wrong. I don't think I'm a bad writer (nor do I think I'm a splendiferous writer). No, I'm squarely in the 'Decent writer who pens stories that people seem to enjoy reading' camp. 

But that doesn't really stop the doubt from creeping in as the days on the calendar advance whilst my word count does not. 

I was talking through this last night with my girlfriend and came to the realization that I believe I had alluded to about 7 times already. The project I had started was too big for me. Too big for where I am in my life right now. 

I realized I had a couple of options. The first being to contact the curators of each of the three box sets/collections that I'm due to appear in next year and let them know that I am a terrible person and am sorry, but I can't do the set. 

This, while the easier of the options, sets myself up for many repercussions that I think are probably worse than the doubt and imposter syndrome floating through my head right now. 

Another option presented itself in that discussion. It's something that I initially was hesitant to vocalize, but looking at it after a fresh night of sleep, really makes the most sense, and speaks a little to my growth these last few months. 

That option is this, stay in the box sets. Stay a part of the collection, but don't put as much food on my proverbial plate. 

Nobody said I had to write a novel for these sets. This was just my own hunger, possibly my hubris, talking. Honestly, it's silly to think that if it took me 5 years total (about of year of that actively working) to get The Treachery of Rainbows into a readable book, why should I expect to get decent books written and edited in a matter of months. 

I'm good, but I'm not a full-time author. Not yet anyway. 

So, I have decided that for each of these sets, there will be a short story (possibly reaching the 'novella' page count-who knows?). I have decided not to have a word count goal for these stories. I want to write something that is long enough to tell a full, stand-alone story. The story will be set in the world of one of the full length novels I am working on. It will introduce some of the mechanics to the world, and may give some of the backstory that the books will allude to. 

Going to bed with that decision, and a belly full of bourbon, made for a wonderful wake up this morning. I felt lighter as I sat down to the keyboard. 

I have also realized that as much as I wanted to pen all of these stories using my newly arrived Freewrite Traveler, I will be writing them on my trusty 2015 MacBook Air. I have no doubt at all that I can incorporate the Freewrite Traveler into my workflow in a very productive and meaningful way, but changing the tools in the middle of building the house makes for a very shoddy finished product.

And, that my friends, is about where my head is at, currently. 

Oh...and about NaNo? Yeah. There's no way I'm going to hit 50, 000 words in the next 8 days. The math doesn't work out. It's OK. I'm not upset about that. I feel like the point of NaNo is to help you grow as an author; to find out what works best for you. And I feel like I've done that this year. So, yes, technically I'm failing, but not really. I am fully confident that I will have a solid draft of a story by the end of the week and that with some editing and polishing, it will be one I am quite pleased to put my name to, and hopefully one that the other authors in the collection won't be embarrassed to be tied to (but I'm saving that anxiety for another day). 

If you are participating in NaNo, know this--I believe in you! You don't have to write a great first draft, you just have to write. Period.

If you are friends with someone participating in NaNo, maybe just give them a hug and let them know you believe in them. We writers are swimming in doubt more often than you may know. 

If none of these apply to you, then huzzah--to you (and to all) I say --Have an awesomesauce day!!

-AT

7.04.2020

Little White Lies

This may not be an easy post to read. It wasn't an easy post to write. Or at least, as I'm only three sentences in, I am certain that it won't be an easy post to write. 

You see, it's a post that is as much as reaction to something I've recently seen as it is to the events that have been going on in our world. None of what is swimming through my head is easy to sort through. Nothing in my brain bucket right now is making much sense. 

There is a current of sadness that is swimming through everything right now. And I'm not entirely sure how to tread these waters. I've never been terribly good at swimming. But I know I'm not ready to let the waters consume me just yet. 

So...that brings us here. 

Well, now it brings us here. There was a slight break to grab a donut and a chai. Because there really isn't anything more typically white than going out and getting a chai latte. 

Right? Did you laugh? Does it seem like popping off to get a chai latte is a typically white, suburbia thing to do? 

 I guess that brings us to whats been weighing heavy on me these days.

White. Black. Brown. Yellow. Differing levels of melanin. The arbitrary judgement of a person comes down to something as simple as the levels of melanin in their skin. This is not new. This has been as much a part of the fabric of America since the colonies. 

Melanin. The same thing that determines the color of your eyes. 

Can you imagine thinking less of someone because their eyes were green? Seeing someone with blue eyes and instinctively clutching your purse for fear that they were going to try to rob you, because all you saw on the news at night were gangs of people with blue eyes causing the crime rates in your city to go up. 

So...what lead me here and where am I going with this?

I watched a movie last night called 13th.  And to say it impacted me is the understatement of all understatements. 

You see, I have been struggling with something recently.  OK, maybe not recently. More like for the last several years. This struggle stems around three words that in recent days has come to be a seriously divisive phrase. 

But I'm going to say it anyway. Because it needs to be said. 

Black Lives Matter
 
Stop reading now if your mind is already made up on the subject. Nothing I say after this will likely change your mind if you are not willing to look at things outside of your normal filters. 

For me one of the things that helped me put some words and thoughts to the feelings I'd been having was watching the movie I just mentioned.

I wanted to turn it off. Because it wasn't comfortable to watch. In fact, the opposite. It was uncomfortable. Things I recognized through my life. Things that had bothered me. Things that should have, but didn't.

I have been struggling to put into words my role as an ally. I am not a person of color. If you saw me on the street, I would be the poster child of the exact opposite. Middle aged. White. A mostly-hetero dude. 

What has been bothering me lately, with regards to Black Lives Matters is how it has been politicized--on both sides of the party line. The narrative is shifting. And I, honestly wasn't able to process that, or even find how my voice could help - or even if it could. 

13th changed that. 

It helped bring things into focus. 

What I originally knew of Black Lives Matter is that it centered around calling attention to and seeking to end police brutality. But not just police brutality. No, it was about the disproportionate numbers of POC dying at the hands of uncharacteristically escalated police response. 

And at its heart it still is, I believe.  

What I learned as I watched 13th  was that this was not new. This brutal behavior existed long before you or I or anyone reading this post was even born. 

Seeing how, from almost the moment slavery was abolished via the 13th amendment of the Constitution (from where the movie takes it's title), to now, it is clear that there never truly was a period in our nation's history where POC were put on equal footing with the rest of society. 

There exists an underlying framework that is designed to instill fear and doubt about the relation between crime and POC. This fear and doubt led to increased militarization of the police forces. This also  contributed to a lopsided prison population in our country. With 5% of the entire world population, the United States accounts for 25% of the world's prison population.

These things have, in turn, fueled the fires of hatred and racism. So...there is more than systemic racism  afoot here. 

Black Lives Matter

Here's the thing. I have been pulled over by the police 4 times in my life. Not one single time did it ever cross my mind that I would not make it home for dinner. My biggest concern was the points on my license and how much I would have to pay if I didn't get off with a warning. 

My ratio was 50:50.  4 stops. Two warnings. Two Tickets. No physical abuse. The closest I came was a second officer on the passenger side window who had his hand resting on the handle of his pistol, ready to be drawn. Had I been a person of color, likely it would have been drawn as soon as he was able to ascertain that fact. 

As a teen, some friends and I let off fireworks in a church parking on a summer evening. The cops were called, rightly so. Stupidly we ran. 

Three patrol cars were dispatched. We ran. And some of the officers gave chase. They caught one of us. The slowest. They didn't beat him up. They didn't cuff him. They didn't arrest him. 

They scared him a little. They drove around the neighborhood and on the PA they stated that they knew who we were and that they had called our parents.

They didn't. And they didn't. 

About 20minutes later, they got called away. And 5 little white boys from the burbs laughed and joked about how gangster they were because they ran from the cops. 

And there was not one single minute where any of us thought we were going to die. 
Please read this part again.

Not.
One.
Single.
Minute.

I was brought up believing that if I was in danger, I should find a police officer. Friends of mine of color were told something different. 

I don't have all the words. I know that. I'm gonna fuck up as we go forward. I know that, too.

But I want to help. It's not out of a sense of guilt. It's because regardless of color, nobody deserves to be treated as less than human. Period.  

Black Lives Matter.

Why do I keep going back to that?

Because it needs to be said.

The more it's countered with "All Lives Matter" or "Blue Lives Matter" the easier it becomes to dismiss the true issue. This false indignation that some feel when they hear Black Lives Matter is the fruit of the seeds that have been planted through our culture since the days of the Civil War. It's not going away.

Not without an intentional recognition and acknowledgement that, in no uncertain terms, 

Black Lives Matter.

4.10.2020

My Father's Eyes

Today is a special day to me. For some it's the day that a guy was crucified and then came back to life three days later. I'm not getting into religion or messiahs in this post. But I do want to spend a few minutes talking about a hero.

It is borderline cliche to point to your father and say that he's your hero. Or to say that he's absolutely not your hero. While I may be borderline, I try to stay away from being cliche. My Dad is not a perfect man. And the word 'hero' gets bandied about a little too much these days for my particular liking. That being said, the man that is my father, is very special to me. He is an inspiration. He is a rock in my life. And he is one of my best friends and fiercest supporters.

But that wasn't always the case. Now, before you get all huffy, I need to clarify. My dad always believed in me. He loved me with a heart that was bigger than I ever knew as a child. He sacrificed things that I have no way of ever comprehending for me. Someday I may tell you more about them. Today is not that day.

This is a picture of my dad in 'Nam.

This guy graduated high school early. He went to college at 16. He had an interest in marine biology and poetry. And then a few years later he went to war. Because, that's what the Skaggs men did. There is a stretch of highway in Kentucky that honors my papaw and his 4 brothers. Every single one of them served. My dad served. He was assigned to Americal, 23rd Infantry Division. My dad, a printer by trade, assigned to the unit with one of the highest casualty rates at the time. He wasn't my dad yet. And, he might not have been if something crazy hadn't happened. If he hadn't been talking to an officer the day before he was due to meet up with his unit, he might have still reported to the 23rd, and who knows what this tale would look like. But no, that officer learned that Dad was a printer. And he had need of a printer at the base at Long Ben. He told my dad to not get on the bus, that he would get the orders changed and get Dad reassigned. Keep in mind, this sort of thing never, and I do mean never, happened once a soldier was in-country. So, it was natural that the officer on the bus was upset that this scrawny puke from who-the-fuck-cares Kentucky was insisting that his orders were to be changed. I don't know for sure, but I suspect Dad was close to being busted for disobeying orders.

Then the transfer papers came through. I don't know who that officer was that needed a printer, or even if he's still alive. If I ever meet him, I buying him a drink. Or 7.

To say that his time in Viet Nam changed my father is the grossest understatement I can imagine. Only, I didn't know it. I never knew him before.

I can say that growing up the son of a Viet Nam vet wasn't particularly easy. And I never did look at things in a normal way as a child (I really still don't).

Growing up, my dad always seemed...gruff....short...quick to anger. He yelled a lot. Only, it wasn't yelling, because if he was yelling, I would know it. I cried a lot. Still do I guess. In the Father's Manual of the 70's and 80's there were entire chapters devoted to 'Why are you crying? I'll give you something to cry about." I'm not making any judgement about it. I was salty for a while (like pretty much my teens and twenties).  We didn't talk a lot. He didn't come to all that many of my school events, but I never felt like he didn't care. More like he was just busy running a family business and too tired to be bothered with some of those frilly things. We communicated through my teens via Star Trek, M*A*S*H, Robert Redford movies, and later through China Beach. Any time something came on about Viet Nam, I stared straight at the TV and pretended to never noticed the streaks on my dad's cheeks.

I did some stupid things in my teens that I won't really go into here. But there were legitimately a few moments where I was thankful my mom was in the room because I thought my dad would go off. Instead he just sighed, left the room and left me to my own internal punishment. My thoughts were harsher most of the time than any whipping he could give. Still are.

I got married pretty young. I don't really regret it. The best thing that came from it was my daughter. And with that came some insight into what being a father meant. Dad was still a bit gruff...but softened with the arrival of his granddaughter. Things with us were still...somewhat tense, but civil. There were certain things I didn't talk to him about, Politics being top of that list.

In my twenties I think it's safe to say that I still felt like my dad didn't truly 'get' me. But, thanks to having a child of my own, I was starting to understand him a little better.

I'm skipping a whole lot here (mostly because this really deserves a book), but somewhere along in my 30's, on a trip back from the Farm, Dad gave me some insight into the perception I had of him as a child.

It was mind blowing. And every single thing clicked. It was harder for him to tell me than it was for me to hear (which is incredible, because it was a pretty fucking intense conversation to have anyway), but him telling me was the foundation that brings us to today.

Today my dad is not my hero, but there are aspects of his life and what he went through that would render boring any origin story in the comics. He is someone who is an inspiration for me. I know unequivocally that my father has my back. That he will support me no matter what I do. And that I never have to worry about him judging me or believing in me anymore (this was a very real thing I struggled with as a child).

Dad was never big on celebrating his birthday when we were growing up. It wasn't something he had a child and I truthfully think it makes him feel awkward when people make a fuss about him (I get that). Sorry, Dad...but I'm making a fuss.

I can say, with complete honesty and sincerity, that I would be nowhere near the man I am today without my Dad.

And it kills me that I can't go see him today. That I can't hug him. That I can't through choked tears tell him how much he means to me while pretending not to see the tears well in the corners of his eyes.

All I can do is have a glass of Knob Creek, FaceTime him later, and hope that as he reads this, I've done a halfway decent job of expressing how much he means to me and how much I love him.

Happy Birthday, Day.

Love,
AT


4.05.2020

My Kingdom for a...Hug?!?

We are in some strange times. For example, if I keep going the way I am currently headed, you will get one post on this blog every month. For some I know, that's probably one post too many. That's fine. You don't have to read it. For the other 7 of you that stop by on a regular basis, all I can say is this. I'll try to do better.

In theory, I should have more time, right? Isn't that one of the things people are on about with our current pandemic-con? BTW...WORST CON EVER.

I don't know that I actually have more time to be creative.

I really don't have any idea where this post is going. At this point, it's kind of a freeramble. Or it will be as soon as I go cut my nails. Excuse me for a moment, will you?

Much better. I don't know what it is, but if my fingernails are too long, it bugs the crap out of me when I'm typing.

If you know me at all, you know that I am easily annoyed by people. You may also have picked up that I suffer from one of the seemingly garden variety of social anxiety disorders. One of the key tenants of this flavor of mismatched brain candy is that I tend to overthink the shit out of everything. And I rabbit hole things. And I have a hard time believing that even though you asked me to come some place, that you actually wanted me there in the first place, or shortly after my arrival you immediately regret your decision to invite me, but are too polite to ask me to leave.

If I have ever cancelled on you within ten minutes of the planned time you and I had to do something, please re-read that last paragraph again. You may gain some insight into what was happening.

All of these can still happen. The meds are good, but they aren't great, and my mind is like that shitty Dark Side of the Force swamp on Dagobah. The Meds are like Yoda, fiddling with his stick, telling me I don't need a blaster. And my mind is all like Luke, strapping on that gun and diving down that dark hole.

So, you'd think that something like this Shelter-In-Place/Stay-At-Home thing would be right up my alley then, right? No plans to cancel because we can't actually meet up. Normally I would say you are right, but the number of House Party invites I've bailed on at the last minute would prove us both wrong.

It turns out that while I genuinely have difficulty getting to a social event, once I'm there I usually do OK until my Introvert Low-Fuel indicator kicks in and I have to go home and do anything other than be around people.

Something else that is weird, is this. While I do have a hard time in social situations (you may not believe me, but trust me when I tell you that I do. Those inner voices are like Kylo-Ren 13 minutes before the Prom), it turns out that I actually thrive off of being around people. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I need physical contact. Hugs, man. I'm talking about hugs.

I freakin' love hugs. Hugs can run the gamut of intimate and emotional intent. But it's fair to say that regardless of the hug, I'm a fan. Being on this lockdown scenario for the last...what...18 days has just been...well....kind of depressing, if I'm being honest.

But Todd...you're quarantined with your best friend, how can that be bad? Well..normally I would agree, my bestie is pretty awesome, but you're forgetting the flip side of that--she's quarantined with me. And I'm kinda moody sometimes. And I bottle shit up. And I...seriously...did you miss the whole paragraph about being on Dagobah? No. Honestly, it's been fine. But it's not like it's all cocktails and Magic the Gathering every night.

I still have to work during the day. So, I'm working from home. Monitors and my work computer have taken over my writing desk.

Before I fall deeper into this rabbit hole, I do want to say one thing. I know that I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to do my job from home. I know a ton of people don't have that option. I don't take it for granted, and I'm not bitching about it in the way you may think.

What I do want to say about working from home is this--it blurs the work/life balance thing. Prior to this whole thing, there was a clear delineation. I got up, showered, went into the office, did my job, came home, threw on some shorts and boom. The evening begins, Todd time. Oh, gosh...not like THAT. OK...I mean...sometimes like that, but mostly just binging Netflix and sorting through Magic the Gathering cards for the evening.

That structure isn't really there now. My home space, that place I come to unwind, is now also the place where I actually have to do the things that pay the bills. There's no decompress time on the drive home.

It's just....weird.

The other thing that's weird in all of this is that I had just started to figure out what it might be like to start dating. Honestly, I can't really tell you how much I miss watching a movie, snuggled up with someone on the couch who doesn't have 4 paws and tries to lick the popcorn salt off my fingers.

But how do you get to know someone without breaking quarantine? Chatting goes so far. But until you can hear the voice, pick up on the cues, it's a mine field. Seriously. The way my brain is wired, what might seem like a little harmless comment by the sender could have me wondering what I said, and how could I be such a terrible human.

There might be some esteem issues I'm working through. It's fine. I'm not 50 until next year. Still got time to get my shit together, right?

So...I guess that's where we are. Starting this week, I will be dressing Business Casual from the waist up and SO not business casual from the waist down. Because, you know...Teams meetings with the cameras on. So...yay for that.

I don't know what it's going to be like after COVID-19 gets corralled, whenever that may be.  But, I can't wait for the day when we can actually be around people. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm probably not going to enjoy talking to them any more than I did before, but I at least would like to be in the same room. And I can't wait to hug my friends. To hug my parents. To hug my Gramps.  To hug my daughter.

I fucking miss hugs. I can't tell you, because I don't know the word that describes the indescribable depth to which I miss hugs.  But I do.

And I can't wait for awkward conversations over coffee. At least I'll know much quicker if I'm truly a dork, or just imagining it.

I hope you are all holding up OK out there. Seriously. I see a lot of people joking about this being the shit that Introverts were made for. And maybe for some it is. For others, like me, it limits the chance for me to break the cycle. If I'm starting to go inward and spiral down, I could always go somewhere...break the cycle by changing the environment. The options for that are much more limited these days, so it makes it harder for me to break that spiral when it starts.

There have been some moments. We've come too far for me to lie about any of that. So, yeah. I'm hanging on. Somedays it's with both hands as I'm pulling myself up over the edge to the good side of the cliff. Other days, I don't know, man. I just don't know.

All I can say is, we can make it through this. And by we, I mostly mean me (because there's still a part of me that only things like 4 people ever read this). But WE  can make it through this.

Just be good to yourselves. Be good to each other. Be good to the people who can't Shelter in Place right now, because they are putting themselves at greater risk on a daily basis.

And...I say this with no intent to scare you...but if we are friends...you can bet your ass that I am giving you the biggest hug I can when hugs are again legal. Count on it.

Until then...I'll try to use all this free pandemic time that we're all supposed to have and get some more of these blogs posted.

Love you my peeps.

-AT

3.12.2020

The Magic of Imposter Crab Chips

Greetings my friends. As I do so often on these posts where I have been the absentee author, I will start off with an apology. I know that you have many options out there when you are looking for something to fill the 73 seconds at the end of your Outlander binge-fest before Netflix asks you if you are still watching and then silently judges you based on how long it takes you to dust off the cheesy-poof dust before grabbing the remote to answer YES. And you chose my little corner of the web. Thanks for that. I don't know how many of you regularly still read this, but if you do, thanks. I know I don't say it often enough, but I do appreciate you.

If you know me, you know that I packed a whole lot into that seemingly innocuous title up there. Hopefully we'll be able to unpack it all here before I get annoyed that there are actually people now in the lunchroom and try to wrap it up as quickly as possible.

No. I wouldn't do that. OK. I mean, I totally would do that, but since it's been something like 3 years since I've posted anything, I'm going to try to get through some of what's been rattling around in my head.

And man...the shit rattling around in my head...Wow. The past couple months have felt like that weird Fisher-Price toy. You know the one. It's like a ball...on a stick. And there are wheels. And kids push it around...and inside the ball are other tinier balls. And as the toddler toddles, the balls just pop around in like a bloop blop bork bonk bip boop kind of thing as the little agitator causes the balls to plop around.

OK. I am going to be testing my urges to keep writing while someone is listening to TikTok videos on their phone loud enough for the rest of the room.

It's weird. I can be in a coffee shop and there's enough other people there that the people noise becomes like its own ambient sound. But when there are only a few other people in a room that was previously silent...well...yeah.

Anyway...shit floating around in my brain. Theres a lot of it. I'm not really going to unpack much of any of that right now, because, to be honest I don't know that I'm really ready to process any of it right now.

I've been playing Magic the Gathering (sorry for the abrupt segue, but if you've read any of my posts you really should be prepared for the utter randomness that is me at this point). If you don't know what Magic the Gathering is, I won't bore you with the geeky details. Google it. It's a collectible card game. You build decks and "battle" other people who have also built decks. It's just fun. I've really gotten into it. The collecting...the building of the deck. My brain just falls into a happy place when I'm opening packs and looking through cards.


So...yeah...it's fun. There's a new set coming out this week. The new set is called the Mystery Booster. It's going to have cards from 15 different Magic the Gathering sets. I'm really looking forward to drafting. Drafting is where you open a deck...pick a card...pass the rest.. This is done until the contents of 3 packs have been reviewed and passed. And you have something like 45 cards that you have to build a deck from and then...woot!! Time to Battle. I don't really ever win (unless I get the bye, which I totally count as a win, by the way). But it's fun. It's a hobby. And it sort of gets me out of the house. And it's social (demented and sad, but social none the less. Thanks, Bender).

So that's kind of the ongoing fun event that is a slow little current of activity and one of the things I look forward to in my life. 

Hey Todd, how come it's been so long since you've written anything on the bloggy blog or you know, talked about one of the three different books you've promised us by now?

I'm glad you asked. Let me clarify. I'm glad you thought of it enough to remind me about it. But, I'm sorry about the not having written anything in at least three fortnights. We've covered the magic part of the title. And thanks to your question, we're now into the imposter portion of the program. 

If you have friends who are authors or artists of some point,  you will have no doubt heard of them talking about Imposter Syndrome. Whatever your take on it is, I can tell you, it's real. It may not be an official mental illness with a full-blown entry in the DSM-5, but it's every bit as crippling. 

It's not a cry for attention, though it might seem that way from the outside. It is, at its core,


(We pause now, while your intrepid author moved from the TikTok'ing for Everyone Lunch Room and moved into another room that was, for now, empty)

the manifestation of a combination of self-doubt, sometimes low self-worth, and the belief that nobody in the world would possibly give two shits about what I write.  Add that to the fact that one of the only times I truly feel alive is when I'm writing. The other times are not necessarily PG or Family Friendly, and are the topic of an erotic blog I have yet to really fully do much with at this point. So. Yeah. 

You can see where it gets messed up with the shit ping-ponging around in my brain right? Like, I have to write...but at the same time, I feel like I'm complete shit as a writer. Thanks brain. And then any number of external factors or situations can pile on. 

I don't talk about depression much. I've been diagnosed with it in the past. I say in the past because when I was diagnosed with it, I was on anti-depressants. In addition to keeping me at an even keel (so even that at the end it feel like I was a Zombie), the meds also sapped whatever joy I took from writing. So...when I got to the point where I thought my life (and by proxy, me) was stable enough to come off of them, I worked with my Doctor and did just that. The downside was, my wife at the time had never known me off of the meds. So, as I was getting back to what I (and anyone who knew me before I was on the meds) thought was the 'real Todd,' my wife (at the time) was seeing this person manifest in her life that she had never met. As I was getting more in touch with the Todd I had lost, she was getting a stranger. I know that's not the only reason that the marriage ended. But the part of me that wants to take blame for every bad thing that happens to me or people around me, wants to believe that it was a major factor in the divorce. 

So...it's safe to say that when Imposter Syndrome is at its most fierce, I can say with a high degree of certainty that there is also some depression going on as well. It's a lovely little cocktail that has me wondering who the fuck I am and why I am even bothering. I have a good support system though. And I lean on them. Sometimes. Because...being me. I know, surmise, or can see, that they are going through their own shit. I mean. We all have it. We all go through it. It hits some of us harder than others. But when I'm going through it and I know a majority of my support system is too, I just keep it to myself. Or write shitty poems. Because to me, I don't want to bug anyone. Nobody really has time for my shit on top of theirs. Whether or not that's the reality or not, that's the facts that my brain comes up with. 

And then there's the writer brain throwing imposter syndrome into the mix. I was happy and sad to learn that some of my favorite authors also suffer from the imposter syndrome. Happy because it's good to know that I'm not alone (there's a whole series I could pen on alone vs. lonely, but that's for another time). So,  yeah. Happy to not be alone. Sad because this author (many of them) has achieved level of success I aspire to and they still got Imposter Syndrome.

What the actual fuck? I guess being a world famous best-selling author won't  solve all my problems. It's a sobering thought. But, if you don't mind, I'm still going to keep that on the dream list and let you know how it turns out, mmmkay? 

Cool. So. Yeah. 

Good news is...I have a few very close writer friends who helped me talk through what was causing this latest bout of Imposter Syndrome. And I have a plan. I have a goal. I have a mission. And as you can see I am writing again. 

And, in 9 days I will be at a writers' intensive workshop. Where 10 other people are going to critique a piece I submitted. 

I'm terrified. 

BUT.  And I like big buts...

I'm also exhilarated. Not only do I get to go on a road trip with my best friend in the whole world, but I get to work with writers who are going to give me valuable insight into how to make my story and my writing better. 

I hope.

My pits are still a bit sweaty and my palms feel like the outside of a cold can of pop on a hot summer day, but it's going to be good.

And with the imposter syndrome quelled a bit, I can focus a little on what's contributing to the depression and general malaise. lt's cool, though, I don't really need a list of supplements or essential oils or stretches to do. I mean, I probably do, but I'm not in a place where I can receive them constructively without feeling like you are trying to fix me. Because if you are trying to fix me, then I must be something you see as broken. 


See--this is why I can't have nice things. 

But I'm not going to end this on a down note. And this is a moment of growth for me. There was time in my life where I would have finished that sentence with some bit of deprecation along the lines of 'you didn't come here to see me mope about.' And that belittles one of the things this blog does for me. For me, this blog is an outlet. It's a way for me to work shit out. Some of this might help you. Some of it might not. Some of may just be a train wreck and you come with a fresh batch of popcorn to see what love I'm going to lament about this month. All of that is cool. It's honestly none of my business why you come here. 

Here's the happy note I'm going to end one. It's actually 2 pictures. The first is what I consider to be the best potato chip ever. OR at least I did. Until a friend (the same friend who turned me on to the chips in the first pic) sent me the snack in the second pic. 

It's a tough call. Really it's too close to call. 





In any event, I need to get back to work.

I'm so glad you stopped by. I really have missed talking to you. 


-AT 

2.10.2020

Painfully Cathartic



Self-discovery is a painful process. Or at least it can be. Sometimes. Look, all I'm saying is, what you're about to read is me trying to reason some shit out in my head. Some shit that's been rattling around for a while. Weeks. Months. Honestly? Decades. This is some 'A-ha--THAT'S WHY I'M SO FUCKED UP' shit that goes back to my formative years.

It's going to probably be boring to you. Or maybe helpful. Fuck. At this point, anything is possible.

If it helps you get a sense of where this might be going, the original title of this piece was going to be "Why You Should Never Date Me, And Other Lies I Tell Myself"

Yeah. It's that kind of night. Before I dive too deep into this, I will reassure some of you that might ask, yes, I am remembering to take my meds. Thanks for checking.

I have known something about myself for a while now. I just recently admitted it to a couple of people, one of whom I'm very good friends with, you might say best friends with, and one a friend I just recently met. Now, let's be clear about one thing here. As you read this, there will likely be many revelations that have you saying, "Uh...no shit, Todd. We could have told you that."  To which I say--Why the fuck didn't you?!?  Seriously. I could have used this wake-up call about 25 years ago.   Alright, seat-belts fastened? Tray tables and seat backs up and in their full upright positions? Good. Here we go.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I like to have sex. Yeah. I'm a bit of a freak. Don't worry, that's about as detailed as I'm going to get on this fairly open forum. Anyway, I am twice divorced. And I'm not currently dating anyone (we'll unpackage that nugget in a little bit). Couple those two things with that first little gem I left you with and you have an explanation into my recent foray into Tinder.

But Todd...why would you want to use the interwebs to hook up with random strangers when you could just as easily go to a bar and try to pick up someone in person? Good question. Have you met me? For reals? Do I look like the kind of dude who could pick someone up in a bar? Yeah, no. Which leads me to the first big jewel that has my anxiety kicking in as I'm typing.

I'm insecure. Not all the time. Rather, it's probably better to say, sometimes I get flooded with some very lasered beams of insecurity. Not about all things. But in the area of dating/girlfriends/wives, I am. There is something wired in my brain where I don't think I deserve that kind of storybook happy ending (not that kind of happy ending). As much as I can see myself in the When Harry Met Sally kind of role--you know, where the plucky, funny friend is always there and the other friend is like 'omg--he's totally amazing and he loves me and I can't believe I didn't see it before' and it works out in the perfect way it always does in Hollywood, but almost never does in real life. Yeah, sure. It looks good on paper.

But something about how my brain is wired up there in the olde brain bucket tends to lead me to believe that no matter what situation I find myself in, there is the underlying doubt river merrily raging between the two shores of You are totally punching above your class and there's no way she's not going to get sick of you at some point and You don't really believe that you truly deserve this kind of happiness, do you?

So, invariably, I find ways to make sure that I don't ever really truly open up to someone I'm dating. What I'm saying is, dating me is something that I wouldn't wish on anyone at this point. Oh, don't get me wrong, you may not actually see me express either of those two thoughts aloud to you, but they will be there. And somewhere along the way I will make a noble gesture. Something along the lines of saying that it's not really fair of me to hold you back. You could have so much more. There is someone out there that is way better for you than I could ever be. In short, dating me really sucks. And I don't do well with dating someone. I tend to go down the rabbit hole much more if there is a label on whatever the thing is. Let's be clear. It's not a noble gesture. It's bullshit. It's me being chicken shit and disbelieving you when you say there's nobody else you'd rather be with.

And here's the bitch of it..I will say that, and push you away even if, at that point in my life, you are the best thing in my life. Yeah. Fucked up, I know. But I have a lifetime of history to draw these conclusions from. It's a thing. It happens EVERY SINGLE FUCKING TIME. Somewhere in the dating process the doubt creeps in. I start to wonder why the person is with me. What could I possibly hope to offer them?

This doesn't just happen as I'm dating someone. There are times when this keeps me from actually starting to date, or even approaching the subject of dating. Because...my brain steps in and says, "Dude, that's cool and all, but you know it's only going to be a matter of time before you fuck it up or they wake up and wonder what they ever saw in you in the first place.

Look, I told you this was going down a dark path, shouldn't be a surprise. What's that? I didn't tell you that? Oh...shit. My bad. Yeah, my dude, this path is all covered in shadows-n-shit. Sorry about that.

Combine all the aforementioned doubt and sometimes mythic levels of self-sabotage with the fact that, after two tries at being someone's happily ever after (and the subsequent legal fees that ensued when the party ended), there is no way I really want to get married. Ever again. And not wanting to get married tends to put a damper on things at my age because many of the women in my particular end of the dating pool are looking for their last first kiss (no, that's actually a thing. You can make a drinking game out of it. Add in 'LTR' and you'll be blitzed by the 7th swipe). They want the knight in shining armor to be their soulmate-storybook ending. A lot of people my age or near my age are wanting those long term relationships, or LTR as the kids say, that will eventually lead to marriage.

And that's just not me. I don't really see myself as anyone's knight. My armor is tarnished and banged up, and to be perfectly honest hasn't really fit right since that last big dragon fight. So...there's that.

THOSE things are what led me to Tinder. Because...as I'm sure you all know from your vast interwebs experiences, Tinder is pretty much a place where consenting adults can post a work-friendly pic. If someone else likes your work-friendly pic and the words that may or may not be accompanying it, they swipe a certain direction and then you can match and eventually hookup (in pretty much all senses of that word). So...cool. I like sex. I suck at dating. I'm not looking for a wife or a long-term role as a boyfriend or whatever....so hookups it is. Seemed like a perfect solution.

Only, get this shit. Tinder somehow isn't a hookup site anymore. Somewhere along the way, it grew up. The number of 'not looking for a hookup' or 'if you're only interested in sex swipe left' comments in the profiles has led me to wonder if I'm missing something. In any event, suffice to say, there have been no Tinder hookups since I put my work-friendly pics up on there. Maybe it's because I'm honest from the get go. I figure that's kind of the point. There's a lot of 'don't want drama' and 'don't have time for games' things peppered in there, too, on the profiles I'm reading. Which--cool, me too brah. I don't want drama (see the aforementioned note of having 2 ex-wives). And I don't play those kinds of relationship games anyway. So, I'm upfront. I'm honest.

Because of that, I'm still sleeping with the laundry in my bed because when I roll over it feels like I'm sharing the bed with someone and not the big desert of solitude that it feels like when the clothes are put away. What? Don't judge me. Are you honestly telling me that you haven't left the clean laundry on half of the bed in such a way that it feels like you're asleep in the bed with someone? Oh. No? Just me? Fine, I'll be the weird one. I'm used to wearing that name tag-it's one of the few that fits me really well.

A friend I recently had brunch with asked me, "Why don't you just get one of those full length body pillows?" The answer was simple. Plausible Deniability. Dig this--if I leave my clean laundry on half of the bed, to the world, it just looks like I'm a bit of a slob and don't put my clean clothes away. But if I bought one of those pillows, I would be admitting that I needed that feeling every now and again of waking up next to someone. This hit home. It was one of the reasons, I think, that I rushed into my second marriage AND dragged my feet in ending that same marriage. So, trust when I say, that it's a thing that crossed my mind. But a pillow that broadcasts that to the world? Meh. Also I would have to actually put the clothes away. And we just can't really have either of those things, can we?

Didn't think so.

Oh--not to mention, those things are kind of expensive. So, there'e that added to the stack as well.

All of this is leading me to the place where I am really trying to take things at face value. I'm trying to be more communicative up front about things, and trusting that the other persons in my life will tell me if they have beef with me about anything. Or, I guess, conversely, if they have something good to say, that will come up too.  I'm trying to step around the doubt-bombs as I walk through this minefield...or rather mindfield, riddled with doubt a just enough self-loathing to spice things up a bit.

To recap. Am I alone? No, I know I'm not alone. My friends are amazing. Starting with the one who will readily tell you that she has a dork that lives across the hall all the way to my friends that I only see every 6 months. I know I have an amazing network of friends and I'm very blessed in that way.  But that doesn't mean that I sometimes don't feel lonely. There's a shortage of people in my life with whom I can start the convo with "hey...you like sex. I like sex. Wanna go do the sex?" Or the cuddling on the couch. Or the whatever kind of human touch and interaction releases those funky 'hey you're a human and life is totally OK right now' hormones throughout your system.

Also, while this may seem like the manifesto of someone in the midst of drowning in depression, I can assure you that it is not. I mean, think about it. A manifesto is WAY  more work than I'm willing to put into it right now. Also, I'm not entirely depressed. Sure, there are things I'm trying to work through to get me to where I think I'm supposed to be at this point in my life, but shit man, that's just life in general.

Thirdly, yes. I am currently taking my anti-anxiety meds. Trust me, if I wasn't taking them, there's no way I'd be able to put any of these words on the page without at least a full day of falling down at least a dozen rabbit holes. But no...I am. We're good there. It's the reason I can be so open. Well, that, and I know that only about 5 people are going to probably read this post anyway--so, it's all good.

The lesson I'm trying to live, and believe, and take to heart through all of this is, for fuck's sake, I need to get out of my own way. Getting cock-blocked is one thing, but doing it to myself just flies to a whole new level of ridiculous.

Look, I'm going to level with you here. There's definitely some more shit I need to work through on this, but it's stuff that's going to go in the paper journal. You can check out that journal from your local library in about 75 years. What? Are you telling me that I'm the only one that plans to have lived such an interesting life that my journals will be something that the public clamors for? Really? Fine. I mean...why else am I writing them?

Also, I mean it is almost 2 AM, and after the last two nights of not really sleeping, I need to try to get a few hours in. I've been missing time in Dreamland. Lately, there's be recurring visitors there. It's been giving me more fodder for the timetravel piece I'm still working on.

If you have made it this far, wow, thank you. I'm not sure why you kept reading, but it bodes well for when I publish things that are more intentional and not the ramblings of a lonely-dude with moderate to slightly severe anxiety disorder.

Alright my friends, I'm off to bed.

Peace Out
-AT

1.14.2020

A General Malaise

This post will likely be rushed. I’d apologize, but at this point, the quirkiness is more than likely something you have come to expect from me. 

It’s rushed for a couple of reasons. The first being that I have 28 minutes left of my lunch and feel like at 14 days into the new year and several months since my last post (it seems), this is long overdue.

The second reason it’s rushed is that I’m going to likely just do this in one sitting, no editing, no revising, no gut-checking any emotions or lack thereof that might find their way to this post. Again, I feel like it’s my MO at this point. 

Also, I’m lazy. Let’s be honest. Too many times this past year when push has come to shove and I’ve tried to impose deadlines on projects that I wanted to get done, something shiny has caught my eye and I dove into another, less productive time-suck. 

And that’s why I’m probably swimming in it now. That whole general malaise thing that’s going on. As is the case with just about any malaise (and specifically with a general malaise), I don’t have a good reason for the feelings. They are just kind of there. Like that sweater that was too itchy at first, to be avoided at all cost, it has been worn to the point where it seems comfortable, and I can’t really picture putting it back in the closet in favor for something that actually is comfortable and good for me.

Part of it is the writing. I know that. I know that when I don’t write every day, I hurt. Even these little blips on the blog help block the pain receptors and guide me back to that place where I feel like I’m doing something good with my life. 

And it’s been how long since I’ve put one of these out? Over two months. Sure, you’re right—I’ve guest blogged a few times since then, but in general, my lunchtime bloggy-blog has collected a fine layer of dust. And is giving me the side eye because I don’t take it out on the town and tell it how pretty it is anymore. 

It’s okay baby, I still love you as much as I ever did, and you are fucking gorgeous. 

That’s part of it, sure. I have to say though, I know that’s not all of it. Some of the other contributing factors are probably bordering on the edge of TMI, so I don’t care to dive too deeply into them. Suffice to say it has to do with the mounds of laundry I’ve kept on my bed these past few months. Because you know, there’s that little micro-infinity when you first start to come back from dreamland where you feel a presence in the bed, and it’s the person you were dreaming of and for that split second, the fact that you’re waking up alone feels like the dream, and not the reality. Again, I know some of that’s on me. I don’t do marriage all that well. Hell, to be honest, I’m pretty crap at dating, too. But I am a beast when it comes to snuggling, hanging out on the couch, watching movies, getting silly, and generally just hanging out.  Soooo, yeah. That was a little more of a reveal than I meant to give. Spoiler alert-I’m human. So, there’s that. 

On the plus side...I’m moving away from being on the plus side. Weight has dropped down around the 270’s.  It’s like a Freeway thing going on here. You see in Central Ohio, we have a highway called 315, and then our outer belt is called 270. I was on 315 for the longest time, and now I’m closer to being on 270. I’m not going to try to fool myself into thinking that I’ll ever be on 161 again (because that would make me look worse that Matthew McConaughey in that movie where he literally starved himself before shooting started. But yeah...I’m eating better. The bestie and I did meal prep for the week which has the trifecta of advantages: Controls spending; controls portions; and combats the lazy tendency when trying to decide what to eat to think that somehow spending money on Taco Bell is better than cooking something from the groceries we already spent money on. It’s Win-Win-Win. Plus...the soon to be routine of Sunday Meal Prep with my bestie is fun (takes care of some of that ‘feeling isolated’ thing).

I’m fighting the urge to cuss out the year. After all, it’s barely warmed up. And also,I feel like getting upset with an arbitrary construct just doesn’t do anyone any good and deflects some of the onus for me to own my shit. Although, I’m a little saddened by the passing of Neal Peart. And I’m also salty that people I love and care about seem to be getting mounds of shit dumped on their plate when all they were trying to do was finish the damn chocolate pudding that was 2019. 

And sure, work is busy. The fourth quarter of the year is our company’s busiest. I knew that going into it, but I still have the feeling on some days that I didn’t quite know how insane it was going to be. Still, even with all of that, this job is so much more of a better fit for me than probably any other job I’ve had in my life. Except for that time in High School when I was a DJ in training at a club geared for teens (Anyone remember Flamingo Isle, in Westerville?). Or the time I was a rock star for 6 days in 2008.

I’m not sure it’s going to be a better fit once I add New York Times Bestselling Author to the CV, but that’s not really going to be a problem anytime soon. I mean, in order for that to happen, I need to actually finish the books I’ve started. 

I’m working on that, too. I have a plan. I have a calendar. And I have star stickers. Each 500 words I write gets a star. If I get 50,000 words written in a month, I will celebrate with an evening of hookers and blow. And by hookers and blow, I mean a nice meal at a fancy restaurant.  Based on how I’ve started, January is safe. I might hit enough words to earn a meal at White Castle, but probably won’t earn a suit and tie meal at The Refectory. Maybe February.. We’ll see. At least I have a plan. And this little post that you’re still reading (dear god, are you still reading this?? I’m so sorry. You must be sick of baby Yoda memes if you’re still here) counts. 

I guess that’s one of the lessons that I’ve missed. Well...it’s one of the lessons that took me about thirty-seven or thirty eight years to figure out. And then I’m good for a few months. And then I forget it again for about a year or so. And then I figure it out again. It’s a vicious circle. I’d say cycle, but that implies that it can be broken at some point, and I’m beginning to realize that it can’t. Nor should it. You see, it’s usually when I get to this point of malaise that I figure enough is enough. Oh, I mean, sure, if you want to get picky about it, that point is usually when I run out of Moose Tracks and Coke Zero, but why be so hurtful?  Point is, here’s the lesson. 

Every. Word. Counts.

Yes. Some of the words are garbage. But you cannot edit a blank page. 
Besides, some of the words are not garbage. Some of the words give your best friend, who is easily one of your favorite authors on the planet, word-envy. OK, most don’t, but I’m hanging on to the compliments and motivations where I find them, you do what you need to do.

Oh—yeah. That. The thing about words. For me it’s words. Your mileage may vary. For you it might be every loop and knot in that macrame hanging flower pot you’re making. Or every measure you record on that kicking bass track in your basement. Whatever your thing is, it counts. Every single one of them counts. It is enough just to be doing the thing. 

You are enough.

Hey—Future Todd, when you read this, remember—You Are Enough. 

Have an awesomesauce day my friends!

Failing NaNo - 4 Years and Counting

I looked, Dear Readers, and noted that the last time I saw fit to let the words fall from my brain bucket and onto these virtual pages was o...