Sometimes You Just Need to Be Upside Down

Gianna Crawling down the stairs

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Gianna does this all the time. She loves being upside down, whether I’m holding her up in the air or she’s doing it herself. I love when she bends over like this and watches us through her legs.

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I love how little kids don’t consider what other people think before they do silly stuff. They’re free to do whatever they want until they start learning to be afraid of what other people think. They learn to fear criticism and to worry about how other people see them.

They become adults.

It’s worth trying to remember that it really doesn’t matter if other people think you’re silly, goofy, or funny. In fact, if they do think that about you, you’ve probably won.

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The End of an Era: Reflecting on Life, Death, and Creating Things

Gianna in her Pants Hat

The only real benefit of losing someone you love (our Minitaure Pinscher Sally just died) is that it forces you to reflect on your own life.

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Sally was the last of our first generation of pets: Dulce the Chihuahua, Sally the Miniature Pinscher, Ivan the super Doberman, King the Akita/German Shepherd, PJ the Poodle, and Monster, Chewie, and Jihad the cats are all dead now. It seems like it’s the end of an era in our lives, I guess, now that they’re all dead and gone.

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I was devastated when Ivan died 4 years ago (read what I had to say back then in my post, My Ivan is Dead and Gone if you really want to see me feeling terrible. I still can’t read it without crying). But after he died, we still had Dulce and Sally and life carried on. Later that year, we picked up that biggest of doofuses, Clyde. Then Dulce and Jihad died and we found Gretel of the Crazy Hair.

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Even though Clyde is already 3 and a half, he’s still an idiot freshman in my mind, and Gretel is like a 6th grader. There isn’t any Sally left to stumble up and snarl them into submission. They’re the old guard now. They’re moving on. They’re not dwelling on the past or old friends. They just are.

Now that Sally, bravest of my beasts, that tiny courageous hero, gobbler of all food, lover of the good life, is dead, I’m moving on too. I have to.

Death is like a slap in the face that reminds you nothing stays the same forever. We’re all getting older all the time, obviously, but it’s easy to lose sight of that on a daily basis and just run on cruise control.

We’re all born, live our lives, then we die. It’s going to end some day, so you damn well better get out there and do meaningful things. Make the world a better place. Create something. Improve other people’s lives.

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I need to get back into the swing of writing my own stuff. I have been spending a huge amount of time on MisCon lately, especially the last few weeks. I’m trying to get George R. R. Martin’s airline tickets lined up, which is proving to be troublesome, and I’m trying to get the schedule out of the way. It’s all a pretty big undertaking, and it takes time.

One of the reasons I spend so damn much time working on MisCon is that it’s a way for me to do something nice for other people. I like helping make the convention as good as it can be, and I enjoy making people happy. It’s also a creative outlet (not that I need any more of those, but still).

All the work I put into MisCon is worth it to me, but I wish I could get down how to have it affect my fiction writing less than it does. I need to get better with my time these days, I guess. Part of my deal is that I’ve been staying home with Gianna this winter, and I’ve been trying to maximize my time with her. It’s sort of tough to figure out how to manage time with a little kid running around.

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Today, in the spirit of this post, Gianna and I played outside for a few minutes in the wintry sunshine. She was very excited to get outside on her own 2 feet, and it worked well until she insisted on  heading into the snow everywhere she could. She can’t make it over much snow, so she kept falling down and getting cold hands.

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So try to remind yourself that life isn’t forever. To make a difference in the world, you need to work at it. So get out there and do something creative, positive, generous, whatever. Make somebody happy.

And give your pets, parents, kids, grandparents a special love for me. We won’t be around forever and you’ll sure as hell wish you had more time. I know I do.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Rodin's Thinker

What are you afraid of?

Are you scared to speak up? Are you afraid of failure? Afraid of attention? Are you scared of dogs? Of hurting other people?

Examine yourself. Think about your fears. How does fear specifically affect your life?

Fear holds us all back, but we are given the opportunity to face our fears pretty much every day. It’s so much easier to do the safe thing (and live in fear, let your fear beat you, keep you from being happy, from building confidence), but you know what? Every time I face my fears, I feel better about myself. It builds my confidence and make me more likely to do scary stuff.

So what am I afraid of? I guess I’m afraid of looking stupid. I don’t like silence very much (that’s one reason I talk so much)–I’m not sure whether or not I’m afraid of silence, but I definitely feel compelled to fill it. I’m afraid of not being successful–ah fear of failure. That’s it, for sure. It’s probably a big one for me, although I never really consciously think about it. I just do things and keep going. But I’d guess that a good part of my motivation comes from the desire to be successful.

I used to be afraid of speaking in front of people, or of giving my opinions on some things (being as I’m one of the most outspoken, opinionated people around, well, I guess things change, don’t they?). I never wanted to speak up in class. I didn’t want to get shot down, was afraid of having everyone’s attention on me. I had an 8th grade teacher who forced me to talk louder in class (he did so by calling me out in front of everyone, making fun of me for speaking so softly, and pushed me to speak up). I think that was when I realized that I was afraid to speak up, so I started doing it more, just to challenge myself.

In writing this post, I realized that I need to examine my fear in more detail and really think about how it affects my life.

What about you? Do you need to build up your confidence? Are you afraid of what other people will think of you? Assert yourself.

Do something that scares you today.

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.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions!

We all jump to conclusion sometimes.

This is just a quick reminder that you should try not to do so. If I have a mantra, it’s this:

Stop. Step away and focus.

It’s in the list of motivating things on my Not Over Till It’s Over page. If I can manage to remember to stop, step away, and focus when I’m starting to get worked up, I can usually calm down and act appropriately. For me, the problem is remembering to slow down in the first place!

Lately, my parents have been remodeling their bathroom. Their new (and expensive) faucet was supposed to show up in the mail today, (or so they thought), and my mom planned on staying home to make sure the carrier didn’t leave it on the front porch. She’s always worried about someone stealing things left on the porch, even though it’s probably never going to happen at their house. They do live on a busy street, but there isn’t all that much foot traffic going right up to their door, and I just don’t think it’s likely that something left unattended for a few minutes will vanish.

I’m knocking on wood right now, as I imagine something vanishing now that I’ve tempted fate.

Still, we needed to go work up a quick bid on a paint job at 11 this morning, so my mom came over to watch Gianna for a bit while we were gone. The kid was napping, and being as she fell down the stairs yesterday (she’s okay, luckily!), I didn’t want to wake her up to take her with. My mom was worried about the package showing up while she was gone, but she came anyway. She can’t resist baby cuteness and she always helps us out.

We ended up finishing the bid and came home to make lunch–I made crepes with sweetened cottage cheese and strawberries. It was excellent stuff, even if I do say so myself. My mom ended up staying longer than she planned, and after while, my dad called to say that he had checked his email at work. The faucet had arrived and was sitting on the porch.

So she hurried home to find an empty porch. No faucet, no package, nothing.

As I’m sure you might already have guessed, my mom thought someone had stolen it. She called my dad, told him the bad news, then called me to deliver the same. My immediate thought was that it was still out on the truck and that my dad had read it wrong. She was fairly upset since it was expensive, and here I had been pushing her to not worry and urged her to just hang around a while and eat some crepes.

And she had listened to me, the consummate non-worrier, and now look what happened.

My dad was also all worked up, she said, more disappointed than anything, and I’m sure he thought she hadn’t done her job in being home to intercept the thing before the thieves showed up. I just told her it probably hadn’t been delivered yet and to just check his email to make sure it was right.

A little while after we hung up, she called me back and said that my dad had read the email wrong. The faucet wasn’t due to show up until tomorrow!

Needless to say, she was pretty happy.

So was I since it gave me an idea for a blog post.

Don’t jump to conclusions!

And if you do, don’t make a big deal about it. Apologize (if you do like I do and attack someone), be happy, and go do something creative.

Do or do not. There is no try!

You Are Not Your Job!

My Dad John Barba Flying his Cessna 150

You are not your job.

I don’t care if you have a crappy job or a great one. You are not your job. You spend a lot of time doing it, and it certainly reflects parts of you, but it isn’t actually you.

We might respect other people for doing what we consider excellent jobs (doctors, lawyers, professors, etc), and that’s fine, but jobs are just jobs. They don’t make you better than other people. They don’t make you worse. We are what we do all the time. The total sum of how we spend our time.

Recognizing this keep me going.

It motivates me to create, to produce things, to be better.

My dad is a great example of someone with a normal job who does extraordinary things. He builds cars, he flies airplanes, he travels all over the world.

My Dad John Barba Flying his Cessna 150
My Dad John Barba Flying his Cessna 150

He can figure out how anything mechanical works. He is a Renaissance man, but how does he spend most of his time? He is the foreman of the paint shop at the University of Montana. Obviously, my brother and I got into house painting because of him. That’s how we make money, so it’s a huge part of how we spend our time. But being a house painter doesn’t define me, just as being a painter doesn’t define my dad. It’s a huge part of him, but it’s not him in total.

So don’t let your job define you either. You’re more than that.

When you’re off work, in your free time, what do you do? Do you create things? Do you actively spend time doing stuff? Do you waste time thinking about your story ideas but not actually writing? Do you plunk your kid down in front of the tv instead of playing a game with him/her?

Do or do not. There is no try!

You Can’t Choose to Believe 2: the Onion Analogy

Rodin's Thinker

Last week, my post about the nature of belief (check it out here) drew a lot of disagreement. Yes!

I think a lot of it came from me trying to tackle a gigantic subject in few words. Well, I’m back to try again from another angle.

Faith is like an onion.

It has layers. When I say that we can’t choose to believe or disbelieve in something, I’m talking about the very center of the onion, deep down in there beneath conscious thought.

At this level, you either have it or you don’t. There is no thought involved. No decision-making. You can’t select anything at this level. The religious/spiritual decisions you make (like which religion to follow) happen a few layers up.

To be clear, when I say you can’t choose to believe in something, I’m not talking about life experiences that change you. I’m not talking about the church you go to, or the philosophies you like. I’m talking about the very core of belief or disbelief that you can’t just consciously change in an instant (like I said before, just choose, right now, to disbelieve your faith–nobody addressed that in my previous post and I’d like to see someone who claims they can just choose at will not to believe in their faith).

I’m not saying people don’t change religions throughout their lives–they certainly do. We all see it all the time, don’t we?

Just not spontaneously.

The question of missionaries came up as a response to my previous post. I am not saying you can’t be talked into changing religions. You obviously can. You can “see the light” and convert and start going to a church. You can suddenly, through new experiences, new exposure, whatever, shift your beliefs.


That isn’t you selecting a new religion. It’s something shifting inside you because of these new experiences and exposure to new stuff. You didn’t just suddenly decide, “You know, today I’m going to see the light and become a Muslim.” Nope. You didn’t decide that. Life changed you whether you liked it or not.

So there you have a little more of my thoughts on faith. What do you think?

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.


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.