Taken on our day outing after Milford.
"I'm an expert on Africa because I took a vacation." @cynthia_ward's shorter Bryan Thomas Schmidt on Resnick.
— Nisi Shawl (@NisiShawl) May 28, 2014
(My recollection is that Resnick has been to Africa quite a few times and for fairly long stays for a vacation, but the sentiment is still a valid point.)
I travel all over the place.
I do not confuse that with knowing what it’s actually like to be from those places or being of those peoples.
I don’t travel to feel like I know “all about” something. Yet, I can encapsulate the gist of my experience, while recognizing that experience is from a place of (mostly) privilege.
I travel because it makes me question my assumptions in ways that reading does not. I travel because it makes me think. I travel because going around the world has given me a feel for its size and heft that not traveling did not. It’s about as long a flight from Johannesburg to London as it is from London to San Francisco or Bangkok to Johannesburg. And, for the record, I do not recommend doing them as close together as I did last year on my two-week “Jet Lag World Tour.” (San Francisco – Wellington, NZ – Melbourne, AU – Bangkok, TH – Cape Town, ZA – London – home)
I travel because it raises more questions than it answers.
For me, the single biggest boon to writing is having more questions.
Charles A. Tan wrote about the recent submissions call for stories about Africa.
Would I have felt comfortable submitting to any of the anthologies Tan links to? No. However, I have a feeling I’d have been welcome to submit to the problematic one. Save for, you know, being a feminist and all.
I’ve been to three countries in Africa: Egypt (in 2007), Morocco (in 2011), and South Africa (in 2013). This means that, among white Americans, and especially white American women, I’m probably in the top 1/2 of 1% as far as direct experience with Africa. Maybe even higher up than that.
The problem is that between those three trips, I have a grand total of a week spent on the ground. The first two were two-day cruise stops (with one day spent in one city and one day in another), and the third was part of a 14-day around-the-world trip.
I also haven’t mentioned the cruise stop details before. We were shepherded onto buses, and each bus had an armed guard. The buses traveled together with a police escort. Think about how deep an experience you can have in that context. Even so, the cruise line (NCL) stopped going to Morocco after that because of the complaints about it. I thought it was a fantastic experience and would love to go back. No, it is not Geneva, but I went because it wasn’t Geneva.
For a moment that struck me with wonder: we visited the king’s palace in Rabat, Morocco. As we’re getting off the bus, the call to prayer starts. For smaller mosques, the call to prayer is often a recording. As this particular adhan started, the muezzin’s voice cracked. I don’t know why that moment of realizing it was actually live (not Memorex) sent chills down my spine, but it did.
I also don’t want to give the impression that I’m merely a tourist. I studied Middle Egyptian at Stanford Continuing Studies before I went. I actually wanted to arrive in Egypt understanding something more than what a tour guide would tell me. Unfortunately, arguing with an obnoxious vendor at Giza, I ran out of spoons for visiting the solar barque. Sigh.
In South Africa (Cape Town), I went to visit a friend, one I helped get out of Scientology back in the day. But still I was staying at a hotel. Cape Town has some of the highest disparity between income levels of any place in the world. So, when my iPhone was stolen, I was annoyed, but I couldn’t really feel angry about it.
Maybe it’s my time in Scientology, but I’ve come to mistrust people who seem to have answers, especially if they’re overly comfortable with those answers. And it feels like that call is looking for people with answers.
It bothers me that I’ve probably “interacted with” three cultures enough for that particular submissions call.
Know what I mean?
Some time ago, I realized I’d missed the two opening rounds of tickets for this year’s World Domination Summit and added myself to the notification list for the third round. And promptly forgot about it.
Over the weekend, I’d gotten an email reminding me that more tickets would be available soon, so I went over to the website and read up on the speakers.
I watched this completely amazing (to me) talk by Gretchen Rubin from last year’s conference.
Gretchen Rubin from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.
The segment about the Rubin Tendencies (begins around 19 minutes in), four different ways of approaching internal and external motivation was revelatory for me.
If you don’t want to watch the video, here’s a link to descriptions, from which I’ve excerpted the following short quote:
Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner)
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
(I also think there’s an inverse to the Obliger, which I’ve labeled Self-Obliger for the moment.)
It’s like someone explained my life to me in a way I suddenly understand.
Now, some of us pretend to be one of those that we’re not. And we can have tendencies in other directions. I’m a Rebel with Questioner tendencies, and I’ve gotten through life by masquerading a Questioner.
But I’m not, and the façade is exhausting.
It leads to long stretches of anxious busy instead of katamari busy.
So How Do You Motivate Yourself?
I’m a very in-the-moment person, and I suspect many Rebels are. We make choices without necessarily considering long-term implications. Yet, many Rebels wind up in either the clergy or military/police, which are very structured.
My preference is for well-defined loose structure: several large constraints but without a lot of rules, but where the structure is consistent. I prefer large swaths of nothing on my calendar. A day feels “busy” if it has one timed item on it, no matter how short that time slot is. This week, I have timed items on my calendar three days in a row, and that feels impossible.
Thus, I’ve tended to work best on long projects where I don’t have a lot of daily (or weekly) milestones that are externally imposed, but can proceed making progress at my own pace.
The catch is what motivates me: whatever it is I’m doing has to be the most interesting thing to do in the world at that moment.
And I’m a person who’s fascinated by a lot of things.
You see the inherent problem here.
There are a couple of other things that motivate me.
The thing I want to do can be the thing I most want to do in that moment. I can work on talking my way into that being something I really want to do. “Wouldn’t you enjoy eating something better for you than this bad thing? If you cooked it, you could have that.”
Like most rebels, I’m motivated by a realistic challenge.
A funny story of my teen rebel years. I wanted to take college classes while I was in high school, but the high school counselor said I couldn’t because it was against the law. Went to the library, photocopied the law (which, btw, said the exact opposite), came back and pointed out it said nothing of the kind. He still wouldn’t let me go to college, so I actually switched schools to the alternative school. My senior high school year, I had English, Physics, Horticulture, and (I can’t make this one up) Independent Study Table Tennis. In college, I took French, Calculus, and some other stuff.
Not many people would have done that at age 16.
On the flip side, I genuinely have never given a fuck about my GPA except where it has mattered for some goal I was trying to achieve. Instead, I’m that asshole who took notes during class, dutifully copying down all the professor’s jokes, never looked at my notes, never studied, often never bought the textbook—and aced the test. Obviously, I hated project classes unless the project was The Best Thing Ever.
Yet I wound up not only with a BA but also an MS (Computer Science) and an MA (Writing Popular Fiction). However, when I went back for the “F” (my MA program turned into an MFA program), my brain balked. I wound up dropping out because I realized that, for me, the money/energy/time was better spent on world travel.
That short stint in the MFA program led directly to the book I’m now working on, though, so it wasn’t a waste of time.
How This Affects My Writing Process
Given what I’ve told you already, do you think I’m a planner or a pantser? (Pantser refers to someone who writes “by the seat of their pants,” meaning without an outline or plan.)
My attempts to outline ahead of time essentially wind up like this:
Outline says: “Jake wants rents a boat and discovers a long-rumored sea monster.”
What I actually write: Jake gets mugged while hiking in the mountains.
Me, arguing with mss/outline, “But…!”
At the point where they diverge, I can’t even think.
Or, if I’m trying to interview characters ahead of time:
Me: “So what do you really want out of life?”
Character: “If you followed me around, you’d know this shit.”
Character: Turns back to me, and, like a cat, thumps her tail loudly on the wooden floor.
Fuck that shit.
I just can’t do an outline before I do the work. If it doesn’t lead to an outright block, what it does is drain the “new” energy out of the piece. That “new” energy is exactly why I like writing. I feed on it.
Some day, when I dig through this pile of stuff, I’ll upload the “outline” I did for grad school when I had to turn one in. Basically, I reasoned that I had X deadlines throughout the program, and each of those deadlines would be a chapter, and therefore I had X chapters to write. I was in a restaurant that had paper placemats, so I moved my plate aside and wrote down a short phrase (2-5 words) for each chapter.
That got me through the first draft, and it stuck.
I can only do that once I’m to a certain point in writing a piece, though. I generally have to start blind, write down a few ideas, and then Just Start Writing. I usually start at the beginning. In a short piece, I usually need to write the ending (so I know where I’m going) before I write the middle, but even that’s not consistent.
I often write longer books out of order, which I’m doing with the current book.
I keep a list of things I want to accomplish in the piece at the top of my document, and I’ll just delete those items as I use them. It’s not an outline, it includes all kinds of things like places, characters to introduce, a scene I want to write but don’t know where it goes, etc. Most of the items are plot pieces, though. (This was easy when I was writing in Byword, but not so easy in Scrivener, and I need to figure out a way that works for me in Scrivener. In Byword, I just peeled off a chapter as I finished it and kept writing in the same working document.)
When I know the order of those items, I’ll move them into order at the top before any of the unordered items.
At some point, usually 1/4 to 1/3 of the way in, I hit a wall. I know I’ve hit the wall when my productivity slumps and every time I write I feel like I have more questions than answers. Often those questions include, “Does this really go here?”
That’s when I need to start organizing a loose outline. It’s not what I’m keeping at the top of the document, but something more like a short synopsis.
The important thing here, though, is that it’s when the number of raised questions exceeds my comfort level. That’s something that happens organically during writing.
I’m Not Uncomfortable with Open Questions
I’ve discovered that I’m happier with more open questions than the average person.
As a real example of that, last year my boss told me a week before I was headed out on a long trip that I needed to cut it in half. I made a bunch of changes to my itinerary, but one of the questions that was left open was how I was going to get home from South Africa. I had a tentative plan in place, but it didn’t meet the constraint he’d set. Close, though.
I don’t know how many people would set off on a trip with such an important detail hanging. But I did.
Did it bother me? Only insofar as I wanted to meet my boss’s constraints.
I trusted that I had the ability to return from South Africa. After all, as an experienced traveler, I know how to work the system, and I know that there is a system. Plus, there’s always the “pay more cash for what you really want” option, even though that’s not the way I preferred to do it. So I waited for something to open up, and returned via London, catching a show I’d wanted to see.
Part of My Process is Trust
Trust that I can make it work, trust that I will make it work. When it’s something I haven’t done before, I worry, but then I remind myself that I’ve done similarly complex things before.
I trust in my ability to be resourceful and adapt to new information.
One of the things I know I’ll need to do for an upcoming project is to make a small font. I have no fucking clue how to make a font. Worse, I’m going to have to learn Illustrator for some of the mockups I’m working on, and I’ve been resisting learning that for about 25 years.
I know I can do it, though. I just haven’t had a real need to before now. I’m excited about it because I know it’ll be interesting and different. Yay.
That’s the single hardest piece of the stuff I’m doing. I am working on other things (to go with the font), and it’s all new and fun.
World Domination Summit
Getting back to the start of this post, why yes, I am going to the World Domination Summit. July in Portland, Oregon. Fun times.
I’ve also updated my events page with other places I’m going to be this year.
Last year, Rick and I took the non-stop to Frankfurt, where it took literally 1-1/2 hours to get from the gate we arrived at to the Lufthansa club nearest the gate we’d be departing from. Then we lazed about in amazing chairs for a while before catching our flight to Istanbul.
Our flight lands in Istanbul at 1:30 in the morning, though it was closer to 2 before we managed to pay our visa fees at the airport, get our passports stickered, and wander over to the immigration queue.
We took a cab to our hotel. The cab driver liked a genre I’m not generally into: light jazz.
Until the next song started. I remember driving along parallel to the Bosphorus, the famous bridge in the distance, mere days before the protests started up.
The song changed, and suddenly, I forgot where I was, completely involved in the music. I pull out my phone, launch SoundHound and ask it to figure out what song it is.
Yachts (a man called Adam mix) by Coco Steel & Lovebomb.
It had been used in the opening scene of Fairly Legal Season 2 and somehow I’d assumed it was incidental music written for the show. When we got to the hotel, I bought the song off iTunes.
Here’s part of that scene:
I started using SoundHound in 2011, and it’s really been great for finding songs that remind me of places and times. First song I bought after finding the tune with SoundHound? I was in New Orleans over the holidays.
Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing by Tom Waits and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
When Rick and I were in Puerto Rico having a great dinner, SoundHound found a song playing in the restaurant, Gilberto Santa Rosa’s Amor Mio No Te Vayas.
So. Check it out. I especially like the fact that you can have it listen for a clip, then save that for later so you can search when you have bandwidth. Perfect for international travel on sippy cup (or nonexistent) data plans.
Mom’s accepted an offer (over asking price) on her place. It was on the market for less than a week.
I hadn’t had coffee this morning when I looked out the window in Medford, Oregon and saw snow high on the mountains.
I thought, “Wow, it’s April and there’s still snow?”
When I lived in Vermont, the more obvious answer would have occurred to me: I didn’t notice it last night because the snow fell overnight.
As we began driving south, ascending toward Ashland pass, I was surprised to see snow hitting the windshield. By that time, I’d had two cups of coffee. The snow stuck on the trees, which was really pretty, so I’m glad I got to see it.
After we reached the summit, no snow. 🙁
We drove south to Yreka, where I found a pretty good drive-through coffee joint. However, not knowing if their coffee was any good, I decided to order a cinnamon latte.
South of Redding, storm clouds loomed. In colder times, they’d be snow clouds. These, however, were the “buckets of water” kind of clouds. It can’t snow in that kind of volume, actually. I have only seen this kind of rain in the tropics before.
We got all the way through the first storm front and most of the way through the second before the hail started.
Then, as we were approaching Vacaville on 505, not only did the rain stop, but we saw our first patch of blue sky all day.
Something was in the road. Something largeish. I slowed down.
I kid you not, a wild turkey crossed the road.
Since the only time I’ve previously encountered wild turkeys on the road, I was coming around a bend and hit them, I’m glad to say that today’s survived quite nicely.
Our next stop was in Vacaville, where we had uninspiring Mexican food.
From there, we proceeded south, then headed west before reaching Vallejo to cross around the top of the bay and go south in Marin. To me, the drive across 37 at the top of the bay is one of the prettiest parts. If you need to get to/from San Francisco to Sacramento on a nice day and you haven’t been that route, try it sometime.
I also love crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, though I don’t do it often. Such an awesome piece of engineering.
Then, around 6 pm, we finally arrived home. Sooooo glad to be home!
During my absence, the wrought iron guys finally brought the stair railing for the back. It looks great.
Oh, and it sounds like my mom may have an offer for her house already.
Got to say, though I’m normally not a Hampton Inn lover (because Hilton Garden Inn has better breakfast), the Hampton Inn in Dupont, Washington is awesome and very modern and trendy.
Had a beautiful day driving from there to Medford, Oregon, where we stayed at a more typical Hampton Inn.
We’ve left. We’ve left without the single thing I cared about, possession-wise. We left with almost all the things my mom cared most about.
After that, it was a thousand gnats, each of them annoying.
I got some writing done on the ferry. I also wrote some code on the ferry, which means I broke some code on the ferry. I didn’t have time to finish fixing it (as I was re-factoring something), so I was annoyed about that.
Why is it that when you’re land crossing the border between US and Canada returning to the US, and you have a Global Entry card, the people with Canada’s NEXUS cards get priority going through and you don’t? This has annoyed me more than once. Sure, I could get NEXUS, but I started with Global Entry.
Not that that would have affected us today, as it would have been bad form to not have that conversation given the carload of stuff we were bringing back. When we started listing what we had, the guy just wanted to know if we had any food. “A couple of unopened bottles of alcohol, but that’s it.”
He waved us through. Thank you Mr. Border Guy.
This time, we managed to get to Renton, home of Smoking Monkey Pizza for dinner at same. I love this place. While there, I checked my email. Note from my doctor’s office, probably about the refills I requested at the end of day yesterday.
Yeah, so apparently my new doc completely forgot that conversation we had about why this was working the way it was and what the plan was. And said no to the refill.
This…is going to require an ER visit if it doesn’t get sorted. The symptoms can be life threatening. I’m hoping he remembers the conversation because I may just go to the ER before I run out. Because reasons.
I am just hellaciously pissed off about the whole thing. Yes, I feel the new doc actually does correctly understand the source of the pain, but that doesn’t mean that the other shit that got messed up doesn’t need to be fixed. Nor does it mean that my body magically adopts biochemistry compatible with new doc’s treatment plan. Don’t we wish.
A Couple of Good Things
I fixed the code. It required another 3 minutes. So near to sanity, and yet so far.
We did miss this 6.7 earthquake by leaving Vancouver Island earlier in the day, so there’s that.
Also, my wordcount for the last 7 days is higher than the 7 previous days (I keep daily and running-7-day counts), so that’s good too.