Saturday, January 1, 2011

Years Like Avalanches

New Year's Day, 2011. The day that in a silent clamor, new words fell across the untrodden internet gravel of Spiral Reverie. For the first time in almost but not quite two months.

Excuses were offered, manly tears left unshed. Minds like fuses were blown, their boxes unplugged and shipped first-class to deep space. The nebulae were unappreciative, as they usually are. And then the aforementioned excuses were packed up into additional crates and fired off into the future - to be included in an incoming jumble of overdue blog posts delayed for various reasons over the time period not quite known and not quite named "The Missing Months."

So yeah, none of the usual holiday season or new year's fanfare here. "A curious silence," you guys undoubtedly thought - when I say "you guys," I mean the theoretical three or four of you who might accidentally stumble across this blog on Google at some indeterminate point in the past and/or future. This past holiday season was probably the first in which you could say I wasn't "feeling it." However much time I spent trying to get into the "holiday spirit," "cheer," and whatnot, I didn't feel like any of it. The whole season felt like a very sudden and rushed week - a busy and somewhat stressful time, pleasant though it otherwise was. A brief little typhoon, but for the most part, I felt like an outside observer, even inside my own body. And now, just like that, the year's over.

It doesn't really feel like a year's passed. I still feel like I just got over being ill in the late spring/early summer a mere few days ago, though it's January. A January starting with a 62-degree high, following lightning striking thrice in December, in snow falling here several times when it usually never does in December. And this year, it even fell on Xmas night, for the first time in over 60 years. Ups and downs. Pleasant, surreal, and at the moment, a warmer day than I'm fond of seeing in January lies ahead. Looking back, it's the aforementioned illness and its aftermath that defined 2010 for me - not exactly the sort of thing you want defining a year. It's as though a car of some kind just plowed through me when I fell ill back in May last year. I struggled with eating comfortably afterward, and I still feel like I'm not eating entirely normally or comfortably like before now either. I began to starve in the earlier half of summer for how I was feeling, and that's not a problem now, and I've grappled on and off with issues of discomfort with leaving the house and traveling in moving vehicles. At least some of this is probably due to ongoing problems with allergies that I'm to blame for anyway, with a lot of cleaning and dusting to do that's needed doing for months. Congestion can be a real killer. But still, I've felt "off" for over half a year now, and that uncomfortable feeling has yet to cease. It's definitely brought out the hypochondriac in me, and it's hardly a positive - the stress brought on from constantly thinking a million different things could be wrong with you.

These feelings acted as a continual source of distraction for me over the latter half of 2010. They distracted me from keeping focused on my writing - which amounted to attempting to juggle a dozen things at once, from writing contest entries to query letters to writing job applications to regular blogging to novel work; when you chase two hares, you will catch neither - and led me to often seek distraction in my hobbies or the internet. Anything to take my mind off my feeling stressed out, off-kilter, and as though there was something wrong with me in terms of health that I couldn't quite pinpoint, which it could very well just be a mere matter of months of crushing congestion taking a heavy toll. Unfortunately, my talent for adapting to discomfort has its limits.

I have other excuses for not posting here recently, but as alluded to in previous paragraphs, you'll see those excuses in the openings to upcoming posts as I work on catching up on my blogging backlog. I still owe you guys several months' monthly stories and half-cogent babbling on some other topics. (How do you feel about sustainable agriculture?) What better time for this blog to resume a somewhat more reliable update schedule than the new year?

Yes, it's horribly contrived - we begin every new year with the empty tradition of pretending we're going to resolve to accomplish something or some things that year. The older we get, the more mockingly we treat the idea as we realize how self-defeating it is - people rarely change, and even more rarely achieve their ambitions. We'd all be internet superstars if it happened for just anybody, and the very notion of drawing notice would lose all its appeal. We'd have to go counter-culture again, rebelling against the accepted and lauded norms before eventually coming full circle and having to find a new way to reject everything we'd achieved and stood for. Kind of like that recent controversial Patton Oswalt article about nerd culture needing to die in Wired that's prompted a collective temper tantrum from the internet's dominant nerd populace.

Still, as much as I dislike the tradition of "New Year's Resolutions," knowing as much as any other adult that they're wishful thinking that I'm no more likely to achieve than anyone else, I feel that same cringingly unoriginal urge to look forward to the new year ahead and think wishfully of the coming days. Let's organize these thoughts into bullet points - everyone loves bullet points!

- Publishing. Over the course of 2010, I only ended up sending out 8 queries total, falling far short of the number I wanted to send out. Out of those 8, only 2 got replies - both of which were rejection. In perspective, getting responses, even just for rejections, from a quarter of the agents queried isn't bad at all. But I'm still nowhere near the aspiring writer norm yet - I haven't hit the double or triple digits in queries sent, and I'll definitely hit the former this year, though it's hard to say in regard to the latter. You haven't really had the full aspiring writer experience until you've been literally buried if not flat out drowned in rejection letters. You have to be so accustomed to "No! GO AWAY!" that a positive response is nothing short of paralyzing.

I'm planning on finally getting another batch of letters out this month, and more in the spring - the real challenge is narrowing down just whom to query. Agent research continues, at any rate. I just need to find some more agents whose interests include the sort of strange literary fiction I produce.

- Finances. I'm only just over four and a half months from entering my late twenties, those last few years spent teetering on the terrifying brink of one's thirties. A time spent trying not to fall into an abyss constructed by a culture terrified of aging gracefully - or aging at all. You've gotta enjoy those shining years of your youth, 'seishun,' as they say in Japan. After all, once you get into your late twenties, early thirties, and beyond, that's when you get caught in the "real world" bear trap.

Get up, go to work, come home, relax briefly, go to sleep, repeat. Make money, spend money, pay rent and utilities, pay for things you don't have the time to enjoy anymore but are fun to think about. Find someone just as stressed out in their trapped, structured existence, bond, blow off some steam by sleeping together, do that a few more times, then make some mistakes like getting married and having kids. Grow older, realize you were never really in love with anything more than the concept, and that you were both afraid of being alone. Get a divorce, try to live vicariously through your kids, watch as the retirement age is raised every so often in the name of punishing the average person for the mistakes of the wealthy and corrupt. Eventually retire, stress out over reduced medical benefits and the inability to afford to enjoy retired life, get cancer, look back on a life spent working just to get by, die full of regrets.

This structure, when laid out and described in this manner, fits millions - if not billions - of lives across the globe. The magnificent insignificance and quietly tragic mundanity of our existence. So many lead this life or some slight variation of it - I'm ridiculous in that I want to avoid much of it. There's no satisfaction in a traditional life for me, just suffocation in an iron house lined with sleepers; some peaceful, some fretful.

I have yet to make a cent on my writing, though I'm staggering toward hopefully securing some freelance work I'd be suited to. Enough in time, ideally, to be able to make enough of a living to get by on my own. Nearly went with a job I was probably a bit overqualified for last autumn, but as the site's launch neared, I got the sense that it would be better to back out. So far, it's looking like I made the correct choice. I won't name said site, however - considering that this could be seen as a bit of a jab - out of both an interest in professionalism and personal respect for those involved with the site. I just need to keep looking for some kind of freelance writing work I'd be well-suited to while I continue to work on getting my first novel published. It would probably be ideal to find a steady paying writing gig for a longer period in the future too, if even possible, considering how hard it is to make a living on published novels - and writing in general - these days. Print and publishing have been dying for years now - it kind of only figures that my skill set is dependent on these fields. On people actually being willing to pay for my writing, and to pay to read it.

- Relocation. Moving didn't happen last year, but it's definitely on the table for this year. I need to get out on my own and 'begin' my life at last. San Francisco's still the primary destination I'm looking at, but things've only gotten more complicated. I need to work on arranging a trip out there for probably a week or so sometime this year - and to arrange it months in advance to minimize costs, as travel's hardly cheap - to get a feel for the place. One of my best friends and I were planning on splitting rent on an apartment when I moved there sometime later this year - he's kind of pushed that aside without warning now in lieu of now planning to get a place with a friend from his grad school instead, so I'm getting more into high-and-dry territory here, with costs of living now significantly increasing again. Lovely. This aspect of my plans for the year just got a lot more complicated, so it'll be interesting to see just what happens.

- Redesign. Still need to work on redesigning Spiral Reverie. Meant to last year, but never got much work done on that front. I still like the shades of gray-themed visual color scheme the blog's always had, but I know that it can be altered to work better overall. And frankly, the blog could stand to be more visually appealing - I'm sure its current look has driven off plenty of potential readers. I'm still just not sure where to begin - I'm disinclined to use the new Blogger template designer, since that's entirely geared toward using others' template designs, color schemes, photography, and other visual elements. Rather than looking like any other number of blogs out there, I want Spiral Reverie to be unique. The problem is, I lack the skill and visual design talent it would take to remake this blog into something more ideal. Still as much of a problem this year as it was last year.

- Novel Numero Dos. I didn't make nearly as much progress on Project Princess as I would have liked last year. I need to find the time to pick up the pace again this year and ideally get most of it finished within the year while balancing more regular blogging again.

- Those Crazy Electronic Thingamajigs. On a leisure note, Nintendo's launching their new 3DS portable in North America in March. A deluge of new information and game media will be coming out starting just a few days from now up through the Japanese launch next month and into the near-spring as the North American launch date nears. It has one of the most exciting game lineups - if not the most exciting - a new platform has ever had announced before launch. So as a video game nerd, it's a damn exciting year for the hobby, considering how the platform practically makes a good case for console obsolescence with all of its features and technical strengths. This is the first new platform launch since Spiral Reverie's birth on the internet four years ago today, so I'll undoubtedly be writing up some more nerdy commentary on it in the comings weeks and months. Look forward to that! (Or beware, depending on your interests as a reader of my blog.)

As of this coming June, it will have been four years since I moved home after finishing college. These years are passing far too quickly, and far too much of my youth seems to be quietly evaporating before my eyes, forming regret-condensation on my windows as the months wheel by and my precious cold months inevitably return to the heat that consumes more of each passing year. I have a lot that I need to get done this year. I've got to get better at juggling - I've got to stop feeling off-kilter and feel healthier again. I've got to get my life on track, my writing out there, before it stalls any further or worse yet derails. With each passing year, I carry only more pressure on my shoulders, only more stress, but there are things I need to do, that I need to accomplish like anyone else. Assuming it isn't a complete disaster, 2011 will be a big year. And I suspect that like the last, it too may tumble by like an avalanche.

Until everything ends, the future is always oncoming. It's hazy and often imperceptible, and never guaranteed to be bright and shiny - neither for individuals nor nations. All anyone can do is grit their teeth and continue marching forward. We have to try not to trip.


livenomad said...

Hey Ben, almost a sombre post.
Would like to mention that with a year end comes a new beginning. This year promises to be an exciting one for you, with the potential move and the year starting again to push your book some more.
I have been away from my blog for months as well, and this new year brings forth a renewed attempt to kickstart it again and to keep going with my aspirations.
All the best with your plans for the year. :)

Benjamin Fennell said...

It's what the changing of the years brought to mind. 2010 was more frustrating than anything else, and I have a lot of difficult things that I'm striving for in 2011, but it's hard to be overly optimistic. I just have to keep pressing onward and doing the best I can.

Ah, so I'm not the only one who's been inconsistent in the blogosphere! Haha. Good luck with that, and likewise for your plans this year. Here's hoping we both have productive, successful years. :)

livenomad said...

Cool; looking forward to an awesome year 2011. :)

CrazyCris said...

cheer up!!! this does sound a bit somber... I hope 2011 has continued on a bit better for you!

As for "After all, once you get into your late twenties, early thirties, and beyond, that's when you get caught in the "real world" bear trap." DON'T BELIEVE IT!!! I'm about to hit my mid-30s (scary!) and (like several of my friends) life is anything but a monotonous bear trap! Your life depends on YOU.

Looks like I'm not the only one regretting not being able to blog more, or wishing I had the skills to set up my own blog template to be more original and regretting not having the time to learn how... *sigh*

best of luck for 2011!