On Growth

“Fear is the mind-killer.”

  • Frank Hebert, Dune

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. / Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. / It is our light, not our darkness / That most frightens us.”

  • Marianne Williamson, Our Deepest Fear


*taps mic*

Is this thing on?

When last we left off, I was reviewing my first book in the wake of having published my second, and it seemed as though I was entering a sort of writing renaissance for myself in which blog posts might become more frequent again.

That was October of last year.

So, you might ask, what happened to make me fall off the face of the Earth?

Well, I grew.

I have never written with the motive of doing so therapeutically—I don’t doubt that I have written therapeutically in the past, just without the intent to. However, today I see many of my friends and colleagues doing so, and I gotta say, perhaps that might be wise. So that’s where we are with today’s blog. Gonna get a little personal in here.

I’ve spent much of the last five years unemployed. To my own credit, I haven’t just been sitting on my hands the whole time—a few gigs here and there and a bit of continued education have dotted and beefed up the resume of my life. But I have never known stable, persistent work. There’re many reasons for this, and depending on who you ask in my vicinity, they’ll probably give you different ones. Some will point to my autism, which admittedly is not nearly as severe for me as it can be for others. Some will point to the general anxiety that is cripplingly prevalent on my father’s side of the family. Personally, I think the true cause lies somewhere in the middle, as I believe no one’s life is anything but complicated.

To put it bluntly, I have a crippling fear of commitment to the point of entrapment. It’s ironic, actually, because I think of myself as a very loyal person. But my fear stems from that loyalty itself trapping me into a fate I’d be unwilling to escape from. Could I see myself ever leaving a job I’m unsatisfied with, either merely to quit or to leave for a better one? Frankly, no, I can’t. And so, a fear of the unknown is created, a fear of the hypothetical eventuality of my possible employment that is frustratingly and, at times, overwhelmingly impedimental.

And, yet, I think I’m growing in spite of this fear all the same. It’s strange, and perhaps a little worrisome, as one of the themes in my books is the paralytic nature of fear. That I can be self-conscious of my own growth even in a suppressive environment of fear may unfortunately poke a hole in my books’ plans, or at least require further thought be put into the presentation of their plots.

In any case, I’ve begun to tackle and strike out at elements of my fear, albeit not the source mentioned above. I’ve long struggled with simple communication elements such as phone calls or emails (something some may attribute to autism) but more recently I’ve made significant strides in acquainting myself with both and, in effect, ‘getting used to them.’ I had always been hugely self-critical of both me as a person and my own accomplishments, thinking little of the things I’ve done—such as writing and publishing a book (or two), for instance—which has inhibited my motivation to submit applications for positions I may or may not be qualified for.

When I stopped adding to this blog last October, I was discussing how I was beginning to look for agented representation in the publishing world. That was a lie. I’ve long been looking for such representation, but as with job applications that I may or may not be fully equipped for, I’ve exhibited extreme reluctance to ever submit a single manuscript for representation to an agent for whom I may or may not be a perfect match. I’ve never once reached out to any agent. I do hope this changes soon.

I think it may.

Today’s world is one of profound horrors and struggles. War in Europe. Hunger in Northern Africa/Southwestern Asia. Environmental collapse and cosmically existential threats. It’s hard not to think about such things, and my rambling here probably doesn’t help. To some extent, these extremes put my own problems into perspective, but succumbing to the fear that surrounds these topics is just as paralytic and inhibitive as any other source of fear, mine included. Optimism and hope are the enemies of fear. Wield them. Grow with them in hand.

I think I’m beginning to, after many long years of not.

Well, that got a little emotional and almost preachy toward the end, huh? Maybe I can try to steer away from all that doom, gloom, and zealotry into something more mundane…like writing! That’s what this blog is for, anyways.

Growth in writing takes many forms. (Duh) Perhaps one’s grammar improves, perhaps their style becomes less monotonous and more enthralling. These improvements do come with time and practice, as most things do. The easiest ways to grow as a writer originate from criticisms of your work, some of which I talked about in my previous blog entry. But not all criticisms are inherently negative critiques; some come in the form of questions and curiosities, questions your readers are asking about your works that you may never have considered. I believe these to be the most valuable, and seeking them out—finding a reader dedicated and thoughtful enough to provide them—a paramount goal of an aspiring author.

“How does humanity even survive in this world?” was a question a close friend of mine asked of my novels, in which monsters and demons (there is a distinction!) prey upon mankind in a dark-fantasy narrative. I didn’t really have an answer at the time, and now that I think I have one, it remains a question I’ve come back to to make sure my answer still applies, even as the stakes and suspense of my world intensifies.

“What are the physics of Hell?” was a question I only recently found an answer for, after many years of pondering it. For clarity, the question asks of my fictitious plane of villainous demons, and not any biblical sort—you’d need a priest to begin to answer that one. But I look forward to finally incorporating my answer for my world in my future works, to further build upon and ground my fictional universe in a reality that seems ever more plausibly like our own. I find this hugely fun.

Sometimes your characters are the ‘friends’ that ask questions of your works (though I’d be cautious about befriending fictional entities) and oftentimes these are the most valuable, as it is your stream of consciousness beginning to find plotholes or areas for expansion within your world. One of my characters, in a scifi adventure I wrote a bit in high school and have since curtailed, once asked another what love was. I gave a bit of a lackluster answer at the time, but—obviously—the question stuck with me. And now, in the Crown of Thorns series, I’m writing a whole collection of novels within which finding a salient acceptance of love is a huge story beat.

Now, on account of writing this blogpost, I find myself questioning the nature and extent of fear, questioning whether my previous understanding of it is still valid. It may not be, and that’d be great to learn from!

There is no such thing as a stupid question, especially when it comes to writing. If ever you’re asked one, give it due to consideration, and I can wholeheartedly promise you that you and your works will grow in turn.  

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On Blogging

The yule-log sparkled keen with frost,
           No wing of wind the region swept,
           But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.

  • Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 78

It is only fitting that my first foray into this process be self-referential.

If I am not mistaken, the first time I encountered the word “blogging” was from an episode of Doctor Who. Not that I can remember which episode specifically, save for it being of the “newer” series and I believe featuring David Tennant. I recall the Doctor (presumably portrayed by Tennant) decrying the gossiping banter of his cohorts and using the term “blogging” to describe their conversation.

I’ve always liked that usage of the word, though I cannot find any established definition in support of it. Most, such as the Cambridge English Dictionary which the British show of Doctor Who undoubtedly consults for its scriptwriting, do require a degree of written word in the process of “blogging.” Urban Dictionary gives a pretty good one that I’ve grown to be fond of:

Breaking the mold, thankfully I've learned a bit about writing before delving into blogging.

Whichever definition of blogging one prefers, all involve the sharing of words from one party to another through some medium, usually digital text. Obviously, there is a stigma attached to the process—as evidenced by the Doctor’s usage and by the Urban Dictionary definition—but as with most stigmas, I am of the mind that holding blogging as a whole in low-regard is at best naïve and at worst arrogantly ill-founded.

The human race has, alongside its opposable thumbs and disproportionately large cerebral cortex, a profound creativity and morality that provides us with a significant evolutionary advantage over other species on Earth. Our creativity has provided us with logistical advancements in the sharing of information time and again throughout history, from chisel and stone to the printing press and now to the Internet and digitalization. In every era we have shared thoughts and dreams with one another. That some frown upon doing so now is, to pick a favored word of mine, hogwash. We spend so much of our time thinking to ourselves, but so little sharing our thoughts with each other. The digital age, and social media from it, has alleviated this silence somewhat, much to the chagrin of cynics. But we can, as ever, do better.

It is as self-destructive to internalize one’s thoughts as it is diluting to ignore those of others. I genuinely believe that the power of communication is so great that it cannot be put into words, to the point that—if a certain well-known origin myth is to be believed—it required divine intervention to prohibit. That, then, is why this blog exists; not as an argument that it unto itself is a second Genesis, or that blogging is the mark of an evolutionary advantage (though that is an amusing argument), but rather that the expression of thought is among the most human of actions possible to the point where any pursuit of it is beneficial to our species as a whole. Likewise, too, to the willing acceptance (not necessarily agreement) of those thoughts’ inherent validity.

Put another way, “You’re entitled to your own opinion.”

It is here that this topic begins to border on a darker and more politicized subject matter, that of censorship, cancellation, and the debate over freedom of speech. And while that is a topic that I feel merits further discussion, I think it does so to such an extent as to be deserving of its own article at a later date. So, for now,

“We’re entitled to our own opinions.”

And that will have to be enough.

Where there is an art, there is also a science. History, archaeology. Philosophy, anthropology. The written musings of a blog, and also the technological backbone and economic theory behind it.

Now having established the artsy impetus for this blog’s creation, I would like to talk a bit about the process itself.

This is not the first website I’ve created, but it’s certainly the most professional looking. In college at UMass Amherst, each Computer Science student was given their own subdomain and a username/password with which they could change aspects of their webpage, as well as some measure of hosting space—not more than a few megabytes, if I’m not mistaken.

WinSCP, a “secure copy protocol” client that lets users upload files from their host machine onto a remote server. I don’t believe the service offered by UMass exists anymore, so the censoring of my information thereof is perhaps not necessary.

I do not remember much about the page I made, only that it was strikingly 90s-era HTML and devoid of any CSS whatsoever. (Or, in English, looked horrible) Later, also in college, I worked on a website for a class project, though I did not do much of the front-end design for that site at all, instead doing more back-end development. That was some time ago.

In any case, I must say that the tools available to the masses—which I now find myself to be a part of—are now quite extraordinary. Time does fly, and with it, the ease of access to technology! Throwing this site up took a small handful of hours across a small handful of days, and while it’s not the next Mona Lisa, I am of the mind that it came out quite well. And what a wide array of toys came with it for me to play with! An idle mind is the devil’s playground, and an idle website a sandbox for a developer. Undoubtedly, I’ll be tinkering with things in the weeks to come.

And while I am impressed with the raw technological power so readily available at my fingertips for what is comparatively not a very significant investment, I must confess that there is a great deal of obtuseness to the process. How often do Facebook or YouTube update their user interface, leaving veteran users disgruntled in the wake of their changes? Now imagine you’re trying to find out how to build a website yourself and all the tutorials and tips are horribly out of date and referring to buttons to push and packages to install, none of which exist anymore.

Welcome to web development. It is its own kind of hell.

But for some incomprehensible reason I studied this hell in school, so at least I knew to bring sunglasses for the perpetual screen time necessary to sort through things. Behold, product placement.

Web development aside, there is also the matter of what to include in a blog, and how much of it. I’ve already decided that this blog can viably contain anything because—as of yet—it is not for-profit, but research suggests that successful articles are “long reads” between 1,500 and 2,400 words with a sweet spot somewhere around 1,900. If you’ve been counting so far, I’d first like to say that you have my pity, but so far this article is just barely nearing 1,200.

Yikes. That’s not very SEO of me.

But there is something to be said for knowing one’s target audience. Mine is that of those willing to listen, and for them I’ll do my best not to ramble too much so as to give them their own due time to reply, for silence from any is a disservice to all.

I think Tennyson would agree.

As to the rest, I can give no hard schedule for new entries for this blog—one’s dedication to a hobby is pursuant to the machinations of the rest of their life. I want to do weekly, but biweekly is a safer bet. There is a list of subjects I am eager to write on, but I am not opposed to giving an opinion on a reader’s query; see Contact for such information.

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