chipotle: (beer)
Find your obsession.
Every day, explain it to one person you respect.
Edit everything, skip shortcuts,
and try not to be a dick.
Get better.

— Merlin Mann

In context, this is a slide from a "how to blog" presentation, but it seems to me to have a lot of general applicability for writing. Being poetic and a little crude is, well, very Merlin.

Blogs (other than this journal) that I've tried have failed, I think, because I don't follow anything like this advice, other than the trying not to be a dick part. I've tried for subjects that I'm interested in, but not ones I'm sufficiently obsessed with to say anything very compelling on. I'm a political junkie but generally don't have sustained enthusiasm for writing about it; the same is by and large true for tech. The latter subject I write about here occasionally, of course, and I may yet work my nerve up on the former. But these aren't things I want to make myself known for.

But then, what do I want to be known for?

Storytelling? (You clearly need to write more for that.)

Publishing? (Not so much, probably.)

Community-building? (You've got notes up the wazoo, but no code yet.)

As I've written before—too often, I'm sure—this has been my midlife crisis year, right on schedule despite my "midlife" feeling perversely like, at 40, I've reached about the point I'd wanted to be at when I was 25. Over the last couple of weeks I've found myself taking a few more (expensive) steps in filling up the living room, for instance: still only a single couch to sit on, but there's a TV now and many things to feed into it; this puts me back at about where I was in 1997, living in Brandon, except that there's still a lot more work to do to actually making the living room feel like it's really moved into. Yes, even after being in the place for nearly a full year.

But moping about that ain't gonna get me anywhere, of course. I'm spending a lot of time being, and I need to get back to spending more time doing.

This year hasn't been bad for that; I've written two new stories, and oddly enough, both were written for con books and then sold later. In addition to that I've rewritten an older story ("Shattered Stone") and have started a pretty serious rewrite of A Gift of Fire, A Gift of Blood, even though I've let it stall in Chapter 2. I'm trying to shut down or back-burner other distractions. I may yet try again with the idea of just spending an hour or so every day, maybe in the morning (grr), writing or otherwise working on personal projects. There's still a lot more I'd like to do, but  I have to get serious about prioritizing. Again. (Another recurring theme.)

In the interim, I've worked Merlin's little free verse slide into my desktop background. I know, I know, it's kind of like hanging a "Successories" poster in your cubicle. But I need to focus on, well, focus. On doing. And I think I could do a lot worse than to focus on that advice every so often.


chipotle: (furry)

The observant will, of course, have noted that despite the message bankruptcy I am indeed still using AIM and logging onto MUCKs. I’m trying to do less of each, though, particularly when trying to do something else simultaneously: office work, writing, what have you. Is this “working,” whatever that may mean? Yes, even if I have some distance to go. The next step is getting more serious about workspace organization (i.e., my room) and time management. The latter’s always been a killer for me, but I think if I can take the approach of today I would like to get X done for small but concrete values of X I’ll manage. To pick a real-life example, “write something I can show for Claw & Quill” is so large it’s paralysis-inducing, but “Get something started for Claw & Quill” isn’t concrete enough to attack.

What I have accomplished is writing a short horror story, with the intent of sending it off for submission to the Eurofurence program book. (EF’s theme this year is horror.) I’m going to get a bit of feedback from the writing group before shoving it out the door, and, oh yes, come up with a title for the damn thing. I’m fairly happy with it in its current state, though. It may eventually show up elsewhere, but—assuming it makes it into the program book—you’ll just have to go to the con to read it.

As for why I am sending that off to EF, my answer for now is: because they’re just swell people. (Which is, from what I’ve seen, absolutely true.) Any other answers are waiting on other people to say something. (“You go first.” “No, after you.”)

To reiterate past mentions, I do still use Twitter, as chipotlecoyote, and update it both more frequently and more inanely than I do this journal. If you’re desperate to get in touch but e-mail is too slow and old fashioned for you, a Twitter reply or direct message will reach me faster. Theoretically.

chipotle: (Default)

I read an interesting column on TidBITS; while this is a Mac news site, “Instant Messaging for Introverts” isn’t platform-specific. Instead, it’s about the author’s problem using IM and similar apps, and trying to explain first what an introvert is (i.e., not “shy, withdrawn, afraid of crowds, or lacking in social skills”) and why this can lead to the problems he’s describing:

Introverts typically need to concentrate on just one thing at a time, and are often particularly sensitive to interruptions and distractions. Now, I happen to think “multi-tasking” is a concept that should never, ever be applied to human beings (regardless of personality type), but be that as it may, I can certainly say that I’m easily distracted, and having more than one thing to think about actively at any given time is sure to make me both ineffective and grumpy. Chatting online while also working on another task, therefore, is unthinkable.

As Rands observed in his article about “Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder,” or N.A.D.D., the state of having a half-dozen different activity windows scattered about your computer screen isn’t multi-tasking. It’s context switching, or less generously, an inability to focus. I am less sanguine about the upsides than Rands is. People with N.A.D.D. have problems in 2008 that they didn’t in 1998 and really didn’t in 1988. The internet, and particular its flirtations with ubiquitous presence, offer opportunity for immediate distraction that has never existed before in all of history. No, I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.

In 2006, Internet law guru Lawrence Lessig wrote to his e-mail correspondents, “Bankruptcy is now my only option” and deleted all their messages, asking them to resend anything particularly pressing. I’ve gotten reasonably good at managing e-mail without just deleting it all, but I’m considering declaring IM bankruptcy.

Sound nuts? Here’s the thing. Suppose I have an IM window open and a MUCK window open, as I’m wont to do, and a couple of hours elapse. Now three or four (or five or six) tabs are open in Adium, each a different conversation; two or three MUCK characters are online, at least one of whom is sitting in a room with a handful of other characters, some trying to interact with him or her. In addition, several people will almost certainly be “paging” to one or more of those characters intermittently, in effect creating separate private communication channels.

That’s a half dozen or more one-on-one conversations and one or more group conversations at the same time. You wouldn’t attempt something that absurd in “real life,” but the mental context switching that you have to do online is the same. And if I’m sitting in front of the computer, the chances are there are other windows I’m trying to pay attention to, like a web browser or a text editor.

This is, pardon the language, objectively batshit.

Since many—not all, but many—of my correspondents across the internets read this, I’m going to put this here as a general beg for understanding. My “real job” work often requires real job attention, and I’ve learned from experience that I cannot write fiction and have any other communication window open. Given that at the moment I’m trying to write a novel as well as, at the immediate moment, an unrelated short story I need to get done ASAP… well, here’s my thoughts.

  • When I am on MUCKs, I may turn off pages more than I historically have. It’s difficult enough to keep up when I have a character in a busy room having “cocktail party” conversations — throw in a couple page conversations and it gets psychotic. (VR social dynamics apparently dictate the only cause for missing someone’s cues is because you hate them.)

  • I’m going to try to be more aggressive about setting my IM “away” when I don’t want to be disturbed. I’m going to try to do this instead of just not being on IM at all, but respect the away-ness.

  • When I really can’t be disturbed I’m just going to shut the IM client off, and log off the MUCKs. Sorry. Email, Twitter and even SMS will all get in touch with me in ways that don’t break my concentration (but won’t get an immediate reply).

Oh. And sometimes, when I am online, it may be appropriate to ask me if I’ve actually gotten the shit done today that I need to get done. I have about a decade of NADD to try and dig my way out of.

chipotle: (Default)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a real post; I’ve started and stopped a few of them, on various topics, but I think I should probably just spit out a quick life update type of post.

Today is, of course, tax weekend, and I’m facing something I haven’t in a couple years: the fun of 1099 status. For those of you not up on IRS lingo, your employer usually sends you, at the end of the year, a W-2 form showing how much you made and how much has already been sent to the IRS on your behalf. If, however, you’re working as an independent contractor, you are effectively your own employer, so the people paying you are not taking out any money, and they send you a 1099 form. And either you’ve been paying an estimate of what would have been withheld quarterly (the right way) or you pay it all at once (the wrong way). Since I started my 1099 work in August, I didn’t think about the quarterly estimated tax thing, and I am paying it all at once. Actually, I am also paying the quarterly estimated tax for the first quarter of 2007, which is also due April 17th. Last year, I only worked about nine months at varying pay rates, four months on W-2; this year I’m estimating my quarterly taxes based on continuous work at my current pay rate, which makes what I’ll pay every quarter this year about equal to what I owe for last year.

I don’t know that I will work all of this year, which is the fun of contracting—but things seem to be pretty stable at work. Being 1099 theoretically puts me in control of when and where I work; that’s part of the legal/tax distinction between “employee” and “contractor.” I’m not sure how far that can be pushed in practice, though. (“I’m moving to Napa and telecommuting three or four days a week, okay?”) Even so, I like the job and it’s paying pretty nicely.

Actually, over the last month it’s been slowly sinking in that my finances are… good. Assuming no negative change in the next few months, my credit card debt of doom will finally be paid off and I’ll be able to throw a lot of my income into savings and I’ll still have money left over to Do Cool Stuff. This is a position I haven’t been in for years.

I’ve started a little of the Cool Stuff Doing already; not too long ago, I went on a somewhat spontaneous weekend trip to Santa Barbara, which I should probably write up as its own little post. I’m rekindling my attempts to find more interesting slightly upscale restaurants in the local area. A couple weekends ago, I bought an Apple TV. And, I’ve been working on spring cleaning for my room—which may include getting some new furniture, as I try to figure out how to maximize the space I have available. Getting a 10′×11′ space to act as both bedroom and office is a challenge.

There’s also trying to find “personal project space,” which connects back to getting the bedroom into shape. My muse is starting to tug at me about my collection of unfinished projects, both writing and programming. I’m hoping to get some of them shoved forward soon.

chipotle: (Default)

So. How’s that “being inaccessible” thing working? Well, I’m combining it with a wrist brace, and it’s helping, although I think I’m stressing myself by constantly thinking it’s been 24 hours and I’m not 100% better now!

Beyond that, it’s a bit more… peaceful. I enjoy being in touch with people, and when I’m dining alone I’ve come to think of having the IM open as a sort of companionship by proxy, but it can also be, well, very demanding. If someone is buzzing me and I’m not answering—no matter where I am, even behind the wheel—I feel guilty. This is kind of nuts, and the best solution is almost certainly to detach. Of course, even if I’m successfully catching this before it becomes true carpal tunnel syndrome, it probably means my days of constant thumb keyboarding are over. (Ironically, this removes one of my biggest objections to Apple’s iPhone, although I’m still not sold on it.)

From poking around on the web last night, I’ve become interested in learning Lisp, at least as an exercise. I may write more about that later, but it’s time to head out the door a few minutes ago, and I have actual work to do at the office. Although I may see if I can head out to work at Panera, as ironically I seem to work better there. (The work, for the moment, is report-writing rather than programming.)

chipotle: (Default)

A few months ago I wrote about having picked up the book Getting Things Done. Since I don’t have the excuse of no free time now, I spent the last couple of days using a GTD plugin for Mori, a strange notebook/outliner program I have.

Does “GTD” work? It has a strong geek following: it’s an engineering approach to task management, built on the premise that what we actually manage isn’t time or projects but rather actions. The Excursion Society MUCK is a project of mine, but the individual actions I need to take for it involve better testing of the web interface, beating old Bandari players into getting onto ESM, beating myself into finishing porting pieces of Bandari over to ESM, etc. GTD is a formalization of the common sense notion that you get things done by breaking them down into small concrete steps and taking them one at a time—it’s a guide to turning your projects into actions, and then managing those actions. The idea is to get things “captured” on paper and thus out of your head, breaking the worry loop cycle. (There’s an explicitly acknowledged Zen component to the GTD approach: “mind like water” is the mental state you manage for. That also appealed to me.)

All well and good, but does “GTD” work for me? Outlook hazy. Ask again later. If I manage to make checking my “next action list” a habit, and make a habit of sticking everything I need to do, want to do, or think might be something to look at doing into my GTD notebook, I’ll have a good test for it. For the whole three days I’ve been doing this, it’s been working. I’m feeling some mild sense of accomplishment, which is definitely a positive thing.

I really am planning to advertise ESM, but that’ll be in its own forthcoming message. (Initially I’m just going to “advertise” here on my own journal.) One of my hopes for GTD is that it’ll clear enough mental underbrush away that I’ll be able to focus on my other projects better. Famous last words, I suppose. Even so, some little things that I’ve been failing to get done for months have been done now, and other ones are being captured.

In other news: a “next action” for today—now completed—was getting a writing sample together for an interview tomorrow. It sounds like this is with a company looking for ad hoc, project-based technical writing, not an offer of steady work, but I’ll see. I’ve also gotten a contact from someone at the company I did the 15-month contract for that took up all of 2005 and more, although my impression from the job description is that they’re looking for someone who’ll have specific technical skills I lack. Even so, I’ll review it and probably send a résumé.

My lost paychecks still haven’t arrived; in theory they’ll be sent to the personnel company’s office and I’ll pick them up directly Monday or Tuesday. I’m hoping I’ll hear from the unemployment office next week, too. In the interim, I’ve been doing the equivalent of looking for lost coins under the sofa. The little ad hoc subcontract I’d been working on is finished, from what I can tell, with just 15 billable hours. But I suspect I could probably make a living wage with just 15-20 hours a week if the rates were high enough (these weren’t, quite).

Final odd toy of the moment: I’m also playing with WriteRoom, a freeware program from Mori’s creator. It’s a simple fullscreen text editor, whose premise is “writing without distraction.” I’m not convinced that this sort of thing is necessary—one can, after all, hide the windows one isn’t writing in, and turn off e-mail and instant messaging programs—but this is an elegant implementation of the idea. I have to say that there is something focusing about having nothing but text in front of me. I frequently stop when writing to collect my thoughts, and I don’t have the opportunity to be distracted by anything else on the computer. There may be something to be said for that.

chipotle: (Default)

Spurred by introspection this weekend—not only the trip around Sonoma on Saturday, but the relative peace of Sunday as well—I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m too connected. I don’t mean that I’ve got too many friends and relationships, nor do I mean this in the Zen way of having too many attachments (although that’s not entirely far off). No, I mean this in the uniquely net-enabled, wireless fashion of the early 21st century.

In the past I’ve quipped, “The good thing about having a Sidekick is that I’m always reachable; the bad thing about having a Sidekick is that I’m always reachable.” But it’s only been recently that the “bad thing” has really started to weigh on me.

When you’re always easy to get in touch with, people are not only always in touch with you, they get worried—or even angry—when you’re offline. But really, it’s not them, it’s you.

You expect to have that connection all the time. It feels a little awkward when you don’t. Even though objectively you know just keeping up with all the text-based conversations in IM and IRC and MUCK is taking up way too much of your brain’s processing power and you’re being more stressed than relaxed, you don’t want to “give up.” You don’t want to disappoint people and make them worried and angry.

Unplugging is like having caffeine cravings at the same time you’re thinking that, at least at that point in time, you don’t like caffeine very much. This is what I ran into on Saturday—even with the intent of being in a nice bubble of solitude, I’d still turn on IM and invariably get caught up in multiple conversations from which disengagement was difficult. I felt like I was disappointing people by not being available on IM, felt a little lonely by not doing so, yet when I was on IM, it didn’t take too many simultaneous chat requests for me to start feeling harried.

So. What I’m going to try to do, recognizing that it’s easier said than done, is just be a little less of a net potato. I need my personal space back, and it’s not the physical space I inhabit that’s been encroaching on me as much as the virtual space.

This isn’t about methodically restricting my net access as much as it’s about giving myself permission to restrict it—to not run IM all the time, to not idle on MUCKs “just in case” (just in case what, I have no idea). This isn’t easy for me, particularly thanks to some virtual relationships some of my characters roleplay; I get a lot of “you’re never on” from people because many of my characters aren’t on that much. But at least one of my characters is on virtually every waking moment, and right now I don’t think this is real good for me.

This doesn’t mean I’m not going to still be around, particularly in quieter virtual venues. And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not going to be online in general—like it or not, most of my professional and personal life, from jobs to hobbies, revolves around the internet. It just means I’m feeling like I have to do a better job of tending to myself than I have been for a while.

Now it’s past time to head out to lunch, and to do something there I haven’t done on a lunch break in a long time: sit in a completely offline place, reading a non-technical book.

chipotle: (Default)
One of the things that made me a bit restless last week was—as strange as it may sound—realizing that I have no good place to read. See, there’s not a lot of light in my room and it’s too cluttered to really feel comfortable most of the time, but I can only really read in the living room if there’s nothing else going on there. Back in Tampa I really only used my bedroom for sleeping. This realization gave me a peculiar, but surprisingly strong, bout of homesickness for a while.

Well, I’m not sure what I can do to address the “how to make my bedroom into the best living space possible” issue; as much as I’d like to declutter it, there’s just not that much space available, even to fill up with shelving and storage widgets. This weekend, though, I want to see if I can think more seriously about other furniture arrangement in there and if there might be some storage widgets I could find that would make sense.

But, I finally took steps to address the lighting part of that. I used to have a torchiere from Ikea, which like all torchieres I’ve ever owned, broke a few months after purchase in inexplicable fashion. (There’s not that much there to break! How come it keeps happening?) So, I bought another torchiere. A cheap one. Not a halogen one, though—this one takes incandescents, and I “splurged” on a long-life natural light bulb.

I can actually see to read there now, at least!

I also bought a new “modern” box fan for warmer nights, and—something else that falls into the “I should have replaced this long ago” category—a new body pillow. I slept with one for years, but mine didn’t make the trip out here.
chipotle: (Default)
I went to bed last night at a pretty reasonable time--one might say positively early, just a little past 11pm, and set my alarm clock for 6am. I figured I might manage to get myself out of bed a half-hour after that and have a good 60-90 minutes before getting out of the house.

So, of course, I spent nearly two hours hitting the snooze button.

I'd try to blame it on the cloudy, rainy weather outside and the lack of sunshine coming in to help the alarm clock, but I'm pretty sure I was still managing to get rest through that time. I had snatches of strange "dreamlets" in those nine-minute periods. It's the state of consciousness where I'm most likely to talk to characters of mine and get unexpected things back.

As I have before, I have a nebulous idea of "getting things done" in the morning. On Sunday evening, maybe I'll try and fall asleep thinking about a specific thing to get done, so if I set my alarm clock this early again, I'll wake up remembering just why.

On the bright side, I do feel like I've slept better than usual...
chipotle: (Default)

I decided I’d take my laptop on the road—well, on the walk. For the past three hours or so I’ve been sitting in one of the company cafes, working here rather than at my cubicle.

Why? Good question and I don’t have a particularly good answer. My cubicle is probably (marginally) better ergonomically, and it’s not as if I’m sitting in a loud area or am surrounded by loud coworkers or even have very much interruption during the day. There’s actually considerably more background noise here, even though it’s been relatively quiet. The lunch hours are 11–2, so people have only been in here for snacks and such; it’s mostly been empty.

Yet, I’ve been feeling more productive and alert. I think what it is, basically, is: I like open. I like the space. I like having big windows letting in the outside light.

In one sense this may be something I had in Florida that I don’t have here at home; in solo apartment living, my bedroom was only where I slept, and my “workspace” was the whole living room, with the computer desk off to one side (within easy viewing distance of the TV, I admit). Despite having a terrific desktop machine that makes my laptop seem anemic, I’m still inclined to be sitting in the living room here working on stuff unless I need to concentrate.

Of course, that’s only a half-truth, in that I ended up going to places like Panera to work a lot back then, too. Open places a lot like this cafe.

I may have to try and do this more often in work afternoons, if I can.

Unrelated postscript: I appreciate the various offers of help with Claw & Quill and I do expect to contact one or two people, once I figure out exactly what I need beyond “more help” and also how to structure it from a technical/process side. (The CMS allows the concepts of editors and publishers and writers, but I’m not clear on what its definition of that is.)

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