Prioritize!

In lieu of telling you all the funny yet disgusting true story I had intended to share, I realized that this morning I need to channel my creative energies into my fiction instead of the blog. Also instead of MisCon stuff. I ‘ve been spending a serious amount of time on MisCon lately, and not enough writing.

Also, screw you, Facebook! Like so many of you out there, I spend too damn much time on Facebook, keeping up with everyone and everything.

Prioritize.

It’s okay to love a lot of things. Sometimes, though, you just need to set aside the fun stuff and get down to business (which in this case is writing fiction).

So goodbye everyone, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow (after having put some new words down on screen).

Passion, Enthusiasm, Motivation: Get Your Mojo Back!

Taco the English Bulldog Head Shot

Passion can be elusive.

It comes and it goes. It’s wrapped up in motivation and creation, feeling good about something, enthusiasm, happiness. It often turns into obsession. When we’re in the middle of something and everything is going right, feeding our passions is one of the best things there is.

And when passion leaves us?

The world becomes grey and humdrum, boring. Maybe sad, maybe melancholy. Losing your passion is just about the worst thing around. Life loses meaning and you just want to sit around watching the Price is Right.

In my brother Josh’s case, it was nothing quite so dramatic, but it illustrates my point: this winter, he got back into taking care of his 135 gallon saltwater aquarium. He tends to become obsessed about some new thing every winter while we’re not painting much, whether it’s firearms, Toyota 4Runners, cuckoo clocks, cooking, wood carving, you name it.

When he is passionate about something, Josh does amazing things, as you can see from some of his carvings:

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Saltwater aquariums were his thing for about 3 years–he read everything possible about saltwater chemistry, corals, fish, lighting, you name it. He built his 6-foot-long tank into mostly self-sustaining ecosystem with fancy lights and high-tech gadgets, and plumbed it into his house’s water supply. When we went to Hawaii in 2006, he could name everything he saw. His knowledge was impressive. A few years ago, the tank was overrun by green and red algae, his corals mostly died, and he lost interest in maintaining it.

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The mandarin fish, pictured above, can be a tricky one to keep. You need a healthy tank–this one lived for years before the tank died. It was fun to watch, with its weird red eyes and swirly blue and green pattern. My brother sure spent hours and hours staring at the creatures that lived in his saltwater tanks (for some weird reason, I don’t have any good pictures of the crabs, snails, corals, or most of the other amazing stuff he had). I do have a couple decent shots of his favorite fish, the cowfish (pictured below).

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What’s interesting here isn’t so much that he had a really cool tank filled with amazing corals and hard-to-keep fish. It’s how fast a turn for the worse in something you love can kill your enthusiasm.

So the spring the tank went to hell, he picked up a couple new coral fragments in Spokane, Washington. Well, little did he know, but the frags came with tiny bits of invasive algae that pretty quickly spread all over the tank.

The bubbly purple stuff in the following picture is Cyanobacteria, a tank killer that’s tough to get rid of. The green hairy stuff is undesirable algae.

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He tried everything he could find to kill the stuff, from frequent water changes, changing out his light bulbs, you name it. He fought it for a long time, but green hair algae just crept in and took over. Then one day, his favorite, the cowfish, died. That crushed him–the cowfish used to swim up to the top of the tank and eat right out of his hand, if you can believe that. It was practically like a dog in the way it would cruise by the glass and look at you.

The cowfish’s death, combined with the invasive algae, just sort of killed my brother’s passion for aquariums, and he just let the big tank sit there for 3 years. The corals died and so did  a few other fish, but it kept humming away, a hairy green mess. I wish I could find a picture to show you before and after, but some of my old pictures have been corrupted.

This winter he decided to clean up the tank and get it looking good again. He got back into the swing of things, cooked and scrubbed his rock, cleaned out the tank, replaced the lights, etc. About $1,000 later, he stumbled across a broken o-ring that had caused his protein skimmer (the main cleaning mechanism in saltwater aquariums) to stop cleaning the tank properly. It had all gone to hell because of a $0.20 o-ring!

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Now he has corals again, and a few black and white clownfish (one of them survived the bad years). Coraline algae is starting to build up (this is the good stuff, something you want in your reef tank). His water quality is perfect and the tank is on its way to looking great again.

He is really excited about aquaria now.

So the question is, what does it take to get back into the swing of things? How do you rekindle your passion? Where the hell do motivation/passion/enthusiasm come from?

That’s a great question, isn’t it? I wish I knew, really. I may not know why we feel passionate about something, but I do have a few ideas about how to go about regaining it.

Here’s the process I do:

Step 1: Examine yourself. Why did you lose passion? Did you do something wrong? Was it guilt or laziness? Were you sick? Self indulgent? (I’m listing all my problems here!). Did someone else make you feel bad about yourself? Did you screw up something? Take a good hard look at your feelings and figure out where they came from. Once you do that, you’ll be able to try and cut away the bullshit.

Step 2: Do something! Like my brother, you just need to start with a baby step. You need to force yourself to get off your ass and do something. Get up off the couch, turn off the tv, and do something. It could be anything. Maybe you’re trying to find the motivation to work out (like I am). So force yourself to get back into it. The first step is to do it. Set a realistic goal, and do it. You don’t have to run 10 miles right out of the gate. You just need to walk around the block. Get up and get moving. If you love working on cars, go open the hood. Grab a rag. Clean the air filter. Check the oil. Just get started.

Step 3: Keep doing stuff. That baby step needs to be followed by more baby steps. Those baby steps will turn into speed walking then running. Once you get going, you build momentum. Keep it up. Do it every day, just a little. Do what you can handle.

Step 4: Hope like crazy that your success will get you fired up again. You can’t control your feelings, but you can try to nudge them. Once you get up and running, you will probably feel good about doing something, accomplishing something. This can be the seed that grows into happiness and passion. Once you’re reminded that you’re good at something, it’s a hell of a lot easier to keep going.

Gianna's Tongue
It's not so easy to be enthusiastic like kids are, is it?

Step 5: Be positive/retrain yourself. Once you get on a roll, you MUST remind yourself that you’re on a new path. You’re not going to just sit and watch tv. You’re going to work out first. You’re going to carve something first. You’re going to write that story first. Or even just 100 words. You need to re-train yourself not to be lazy, not to beat yourself up for being a loser. Remind yourself of your victories, all those baby steps you’ve been taking.

Recap: Take a look at yourself. Why did you lose passion/motivation? Did you hit a setback like my brother did? When his tank went to hell and his cowfish died, he was so disappointed that he just lost interest. He tried for months to fix it, but the tank just got worse and he felt like he couldn’t get it. He lost interest.

And what did it take for him to get back into it? Well, he finally decided to try and start it up again, figured out what the problem was (the faulty o-ring), then regained confidence about his ability to keep a touchy reef aquarium. Every day that his tank improves, he becomes more motivated to transform it into something awesome.

This is  a picture Josh took of himself yesterday from inside his aquarium (he has a waterproof case for his camera).

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Now that I’m finally done writing what I meant to be a short little filler post, I am going to take Clyde for a run. I have been indulging my laziness all winter, gaining fat, losing fitness, and drinking far too much coffee with half-and-half and sugar (like a pot a day, at least). I know this run is probably going to really suck, but at the same time, I know I’ll feel better once I get home. Then hopefully I’ll get in some writing.

The Car Graveyard: It’s Not Just Junk. It’s a Time Machine.

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As you wander through a car boneyard, you can smell everything rotting around you–the fabric of the seats, headliners, rubber tires, gaskets, window seals. Some of the cars stink of mildew and off-gassing formaldehyde. The zillion colors of fading paint almost flake off when you walk by, and rust clings to everything. The cars have often sunk into thick mud. I’ve seen a tree growing up through the floorpan of an old GTO.

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A lot of the cars are just junk to most people, me included, but sometimes you’ll find some cool old stuff from the 1960s and earlier. There’s not much like suddenly coming upon an old 1930s Oldsmobile that has mostly gone to hell and getting a chance to see how they were built, the craftsmanship involved, the styling, the design. I like the steering wheels, in particular.

I got my 1955 Cadillac from this private yard outside Hamilton, Montana (the guy also had running cars) back in 2003, I think. We had gone there to look for parts for my dad’s 1959 El Camino that he was restoring.

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I just went along for the ride, really. I never intended to come home with a car, let alone an old Cadillac. I have always been into cars, and in more recent years, while the muscle car craze was in full swing, I developed an affinity for 1950s classics. They’re bigger, curvier, chromier (new word I just invented). They’re larger than life. They epitomize the good parts of 50s American prosperity (as opposed to all the racist events of the day). And in the case of my Cadillac, it makes everybody smile when they see it drive by. I fell in love with the big green monstrosity as soon as I saw it sitting there covered in dust.

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Being as my dad is always working on cars (and has been my whole life), I grew up going to car graveyards. When I was a kid, it sucked. It wasn’t any fun. But in those days, we were going there to find a cheap but necessary repair part for one of our vehicles. That’s not nearly as much fun as hunting for some little factory Cadillac or Oldsmobile or Chevelle or GTO part they don’t reproduce.

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Wandering around these paces makes me nostalgic for days that vanished decades before I was born. It makes me think about what the old days were like, and the people who designed, built, sold, bought, and lived in these cars.

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Junkyards like this are usually quiet. You might hear distant highway noise, but most often you just hear a little bit of wind, especially if you go off alone. I’m not sure why, but it always seems to be both muddy and windy when we go parts-hunting. The sighing of the wind just adds to the sense of being dislocated from our time and transported back. It makes me think of Laverne and Shirley, All in the Family, and Taxi, all tv shows from my early childhood.

It’s almost like I hear Archie Bunker sitting in his armchair bitching about hippies and I feel a little sad. Isn’t that silly? But it’s true–it also makes me think of all my grandpa’s stories of the cars he had throughout his life, the crazy things he did, the times he ended up in the barrow pit, or blew up a motor racing some guy in a Ford. I guess it’s a way for me to connect with the past in some way, whether it’s the real past or some strange amalgamation of real and imaginary things drawn out of my memories.

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I suppose I have been waxing nostalgic lately. It’s probably because Gianna just turned a big one-year-old yesterday, so I’m thinking about the passage time and what’s gained and lost as the world grinds on. It’s that and the fact that the novel I’m working on, Unleashed: the Eddie Black Story, takes me back to another era.

What about you? What brings you back to the “good” old days?

You Don’t have to Worry, Bozo

I’m not a worrier.

Worrying is  not in my makeup. I’ve never really wasted the energy or the time worrying. Well, I say never, and I mean it, although just like anybody else, I have certainly worried about specific things here and there–maybe the night before giving a speech or a test, or in the minutes before some important event. But I almost never worry about anything.

Why?

Who knows? I sure don’t. I suspect it’s genetic–if you could examine my makeup, I bet you’d see that whatever gene or genes are responsible for making us worry are just not expressed in me much. It’s a chemical thing that I can’t control one way or the other. I guess my way of thinking is also just not compatible with worrying. I’m always thinking about the things I’m working on–this keeps me busy enough that I am generally constantly moving from one project to the next and don’t take the time to sit around thinking about how things aren’t going to turn out.

There’s a reason this website is called Hey! There is No Try.

So, even though I’m the way I am and don’t have to worry about worrying (pun intended), I have one idea for how you worriers might be able to forget about your problems: do something.

Be creative or productive, or do something fun. On the rare times that I do find myself feeling anxious or tense about something coming up, I just throw myself into a project 100%.

I write, or blog, or jump into the MisCon schedule, or play a video game (damn you, Skyrim! *shakes fist at sky*), take Clyde for a

On a Walk
I recently took the dogs and the kid for a walk by myself.

walk, go for a run, play with Gianna, kiss up Melissa, whatever. Exercise is probably one of the best ways to divert your attention to something positive, especially since it saps your energy and whips you into shape.

Try it.

You’ll still worry, but you’ll have accomplished something and feel better about yourself.

As a side note, I got thinking about worrying this morning after reading an excellent blog post from Dakota over at Creative Chimera. She’s talking about being present and in the moment. Plus, she’s cool since she helped put together the program book for MisCon 25. Anybody who volunteers for a great science fiction convention like MisCon has to be pretty cool, don’t they?

So, as usual, get out there and do something. Don’t just sit around worrying.

Do or Do Not. There is no Try.

Helpful Distractions

Snowy Night

We finished up work early this afternoon, so after visiting with my mom and Gianna for a while, I went over to Hastings (a bookstore/coffee shop in case you don’t have them where you live), and worked on my current novel. I figured it would be good to get out of the house and away from the tv and secure internet (I don’t like to use unsecured WiFi if there are a lot of people hanging around since they might be trying to snatch my info) and get some writing done.

Usually, when I write in a coffee shop, I put on my headphones, crank up the music, and only rarely check Facebook. I put myself in a solitary spot within a group of people I’m not interacting with, and somehow, it stimulates me to get things going.

Well, today I forgot my headphones.

At first I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal–I would just tune out the music, the conversations, and the coffee machine then get to work. But the place was packed, and it took a while for me to tune out everybody and get into the flow of the story. This was especially due to a pair of older ladies sitting behind me who kept talking (really loudly) about things: hot flashes, irascible husbands, bible study groups, their kids, crocheting, among other things. One lady kept going on and on about her daughter (Jessica), and it became pretty quickly apparent to me that this woman felt a huge desire to show off to her friend.

Still, I persevered and managed to get into my character’s angry discussion with his current nemesis (an ancient lady who has screwed with his life since he was a kid and now wants him to do some things for her, even though she helped ruin his life). I kept hearing about Jessica’s amazing-ness, and the hot flashes, but I just kept going.

In the end, this conversation between 2 older ladies became part of the background of my story, part of the creative soup that I drew from in putting together this scene. In a weird way, I think the old lady nemesis will have had some hot flash issues in her past that she wouldn’t have had before, and her husband will probably have been a numbskull who always thought he was right and was obsessed with reading Val-U-Pak coupon books instead of exercising. I don’t think the amazing Jessica will make an appearance any time soon, but you never know.

So get out there and get to work. Turn off Facebook, tune out your neighbors, and make something. Write. Draw. Cook an excellent dinner. Pick up your pencil, and do it. Don’t tell yourself that you need the stars to align, that you need absolute silence, or your special writing music. Don’t make any more excuses. Just get out there and do it!

Do or do not. There is no try.