On life in 2020


Long time no see. Sorry about that. It’s been an odd year — not just for me, of course. Life has a habit of getting away from me, and crazy times encourage that habit, so I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the state of the union, so to speak. The last few years have been transitional for me, in so many ways. I’ve covered a great deal of ground along several dimensions, and had a number of experiences that have proven transformative in ways I’ve not known since University. This will be a bit rambling, but too bad. This is my mental dumping grounds, and appropriate disclaimers are on the site header, so … off I go!

Since I last posted, I’ve had my third child. I am the proud father of two boys, 4 and 2, and now a little girl, 1 month old. It’s hard to articulate what becoming a parent means. What it does to you. I’m shocked to find that many of the cliche sentiments young parents shared with me back before I had kids were actually true to the experience. It does change you. It does change your purpose. Or at least, it causes you to envelope new goals and desires into your existing purpose, a process that inevitable alters your trajectory.

Having kids has impacted me in all the predictable ways. Most notable, here on my writing blog, is the amount of time I’ve chosen to re-allocate towards being a present father. When sleep becomes a rare commodity and days are consumed by work and family, one has to be incredibly parsimonious with the single-digits of hours left over for “personal time.” Cutting further into this time are daily chores and the maintenance of one’s household and finances. What’s left needs to divide itself rapidly in order to keep the marriage healthy, in order to sustain one’s circle of friends, and in order to participate in one’s wider family/community. What scraps of time or energy that remain when these responsibilities are serviced are all I have for “me” time. For writing, or reading, or exploring a hobby. Many things I used to enjoy have been selected for burial, during this process. Gaming, guitar, VFX, TV / movies, exercise, online communities, programming projects, and so much more.

I’ll be honest. In some ways, I find that very difficult to handle. Those things were a big part of who I was and what I enjoyed. It’s true, though to my mind, there’s nothing wrong with that observation. Every choice we make in life requires stepping through one of the doors before us and agreeing to forego the others, as we depart that junction. It is perfectly reasonable to be joyful and content with the course we’ve selected, while simultaneously acknowledging the roads left behind. That is how it feels to me. Do I miss hours of writing until 4 in the morning? Of course! Just as I miss being a 4th grader without a care in the world. I’d never go back to 4th grade, if I could. Nor would I rather be on the road where I was still staying up all night writing because my circle of responsibility was so much narrower as to only include myself. But here in this moment of reflection, yes, I’ll pause to lament those sacrifices.

One of the real joys of fatherhood, that nobody did mention to me, is that it’s enabled me to see the world anew, injecting novelty into the familiar in a way I’ve not experienced in 30 years. Everything is new and exciting to a 4 year old, and he takes me on his journey with him. I find old memories are brushing off dust, and common experiences are seen through fresh eyes. It’s a strange combination of phenomena: I’m simultaneously reliving my own childhood, and re-learning how to appreciate the present. This is rewarding in ways I can’t articulate, though if you, dear reader, are a parent, then I probably don’t need to. You know what I mean already.

The biggest down side of fatherhood is the stress. I’m a worrier by nature, and that was hard enough when it was just me and my wife. Although, the truth is, even if everything went to hell, the two of us could have roughed it and pulled through. Now, with three kids whose childhood and development hinges on my choices? It’s hard to relax, I’ll put it that way. I’m self employed, going on nine years now, and particularly in the last 3 years, I’ve done very well for myself. I thought if I ever reached the levels of business success I’m flirting with now, I’d escape the stress and worry. Turns out the age-old mantra about money buying happiness is completely true. My state of mind has not changed. If anything, the pressure to maintain the present status-quo is even more burdensome, and the fear making a mistake that loses it all (which this COVID mess very nearly did) keeps me up at night.

These are the normal tides in a father’s mind, I suppose. Worry, responsibility, purpose, and joy. I’m riding the waves and doing my best, as we all do. The amount of true “personal time” that comes out of this equation averages 5 hours per week. Roughly an hour a night, most nights of the week. When one of those hours coincides with a small excess of energy (which is, say, half of them) then I get some writing done. It is minuscule and pathetic, sure, but I don’t really mind. I never set out to be a professional writer or to eventually change careers to be a writer. I write because I enjoy it so much, and given 2-3 hours a week when I can choose my vice: Scrivener + Lunhina does it for me.

What is the current state of my WiP? A mess. I crossed the 200K word mark some months back, and still had 20% of the story to write, as outlined. This thing was going to land between 250-300k words. I spent a lot of time debating if I should push ahead and finish, then worry about the size, or if I should remap the outline and break this monstrosity into parts, then spend my time making part 1 a self-contained story.

There is a good argument to be made on either side, but ultimately I decided to break the thing into 3 parts. I’ve been working on a heavy cut/rewrite of part 1 to make it contain it’s own fully realized arc. It’s going okay. I’ve been exploring a new crit platform over at Scribophile. I much preferred the personal interactions I used to have on FWO, but for two reasons I’ve avoided that: 1) Almost all of the members I valued so deeply have left the site, and 2) I really don’t have time for a proper exchange, or even a chapter a week. I’m not in a position to maintain a workshopping relationship right now. Scribophile is nice because I can crit 2-3 stories at my own (slow) pace, which earns me enough “karma” to post a chapter of my own for crit. I can do this infrequently, and the nature of their exchange system still ensures I’ll get feedback, even if weeks have passed. It means different people are seeing each chapter, which has huge drawbacks, but it’s enough. My intuition has grown a lot over the last 6 years of working this craft, so I lean on that more.

While my interest in writing hasn’t shifted much, other things have. I’ve experienced a lot of changes in long-held opinions, in a process that has been all together disorienting and confusing. I’m a liberal by upbringing, and typically fell on the left of all major political debates since high school. I’ve always put a lot of energy into being open minded, and over the years, that’s lead me to reconsider my position (sometimes more than once) on various things. The death penalty, religion, abortion, and things like this. While these are big questions, they are also fairly private, and the fact my opinions swayed one way or the other didn’t generate too much friction in my life. More recently, say starting around 2015, I found myself increasingly upset over the growing force of “political correctness” among my fellow liberals, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it bothered me. Around 2017 I found I just couldn’t watch the news any more. Everyone was so angry all the time, and finding the absolute worst examples of the other party in order to get more shocking headlines, not caring that they succeeded only in deepen divides.

It’s an interesting fact, but America is not more divided than it used to be, though you hear that a lot. America is presently, and has been for decades, about 50/50 democratic/republican. What’s changed is the contempt for the other. Each side hates the other side more. They villainize the other side. They increasingly see them as either stupid, racist, or choose-your-derogatory-dismissive-term. The media is nearly hysterical in playing their ideology games and demonizing the other half of the country, and I found that my stress level and even my general contentment throughout my day was worse the more I watched the news. Channels I used to trust started playing the same games, and eventually I just turned it all off. Enough. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Somewhere in late 2018, in the void that was left behind, I found my way into the “Intellectual Dark Web,” or IDW to get my take on the news. This is a term coined by Eric Weinstein to refer to a set of intellectual thinkers who, by simple virtue of their self-built media platforms, seem to be free from the ideological games that prevent many other people from speaking honestly. They can talk about things that would get studio-backed platforms cancelled. They can have important — even if controversial — conversations that would cause advertisers to pull out of a standard tv-slot out of fear of the twitter storm it might cause. It’s comprised of an informal set of people, about half of whom are liberal, a quarter libertarian, and a quarter conservative. Names like Sam Harris, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Eric Weinstein himself, and others. I’d include Coleman Hughes in this too.

The part of this that has shaken me is to discover just how much I’ve been missing by not actually exploring socially hard topics, up until now. So much is known, so much data is available, so many historical parallels exist, and yet the talking heads on the right and on the left seem to just ignore it all in order to toe ideology. The more I learn, the more I see the puppetry at work. It’s CRAZY. And it’s shaken me. I’ve found myself questioning many beliefs and world views that, not too long ago, shaped me. That I defined myself by. Now? I just don’t know. And it’s damn hard to find out, because you really can’t even talk about difficult subjects. You can’t even ask questions to try and make sense of things. To do anything except assert, forthwith, that some propositions are true, is to paint yourself a bigot and get you kicked out of the conversation.

The trouble is, real world problems are complicated, and require a lot of conversation. People don’t walk around with fully-formed understandings in their head… language is a part of how we think. We need to articulate our thoughts, try them out with different words, pair them with different reasons, bounce them off different individuals. It’s a process that means people are going to say dumb, uninformed things some times, but good for them. Unless they are a ideolog, they will learn something from the exchange. Their understanding of the nuance of the problem can improve, and they can get closer to truth. How is any of that supposed to happen if the immediate consequence for saying something remotely unpopular or misinformed is a mob assault to silence? How does that handling lead to anything except unidimensional analysis of what are actually multidimensional problems?

In some ways, this doesn’t matter. There isn’t anything I can do about the national tides, and over time these things tend to sort themselves out (unless they lead to a collapse). Maybe I don’t need to have clear opinions, but I admit it leaves me weary. It leaves me treading water, in a sense, to figure out how I fit into the world, all over again. What am I? I’m evidently not on the left, as it’s defining itself now. I’ve never been on the right, particularly with social issues. Does it matter? Do the labels count for anything? I’m not sure. Part of my journey the last 2 years has been trying to make sense of what I believe about the world, which is no small undertaking. I sometimes look around me and can’t understand why everyone else seems to have it figured out.

Times are strange, in more ways than one. I find myself navigating new ground on multiple fronts… kids, my world views, my business post/mid-COVID… but keeping ahold of writing is a good grounding force. It is something to return to, something I enjoy. Escapism matched with creativity and craft. The perfect hobby for such trying times.

I’ve ranted enough, so I’ll end it there. Hopefully I can post again to report a completed draft of the new book 1, and hopefully times will be less strained and confusing when I get there. Who knows. Until then, be well, and stay safe.

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