Personal

In Which Jim Whines

Two weeks ago, I took time off of the day job so I could be with my wife during a surgical procedure and the first part of her recovery. Everything went smoothly, and I brought her home on day two.

For the next week and a half, I played stay-at-home Dad. I got up with the kids, fed them breakfast, and got them off to school. I took care of dishes, meals, laundry, lawn-mowing, pets, shopping, and so on. I refereed bedtime and got the kids tucked in.

Yesterday was my first day back at the “real” job. It only took a few hours for me to hate it.

Before I go any further, let me emphasize that I’m grateful to have a decent job, a steady paycheck, and benefits (despite ongoing erosion of the latter two). Given the economy in Michigan and the various health issues my family shares, I know how fortunate I am to be able to support us.

But for the past week and a half, in addition to all the housework, I was able to write for 2-4 hours every day. I added 20,000 words to the current draft of Libriomancer, more than double what I would have normally been able to do. I slept in until 7:00 every morning. I had time to use the exercise bike more than once a week.

I want that life. I want to be able to write in the mornings, and to jump up when the iPhone buzzes to let me know it’s time to walk down and meet my son at the bus stop. It was nonstop busy, but it was a busy that I loved.

If last week were my normal routine, I could pretty much write two books a year. Assuming a proportional increase in my writing income, we could probably live on that … if not for the lack of health benefits.

I’ve ranted about this before, I know. It’s the health benefits that trap me. My diabetes is the least of it. My daughter is the only truly healthy one in the family. Thankfully, my son’s asthma is under better control these days. But we need a full-time wage-earner with benefits, and unless something huge changes, that’s me for the foreseeable future.

I’m okay with that. I would love to work one job instead of two, but I’ve accepted that this ain’t gonna happen. For the most part, I love my life, and I know how fortunate I am. But these past two weeks have been a taste of what could have been, and while I’ve enjoyed it immensely, it feels almost cruel to have to go back to the old routine.

I’ll get over it. I’ve done writing + day job for more than a decade now. I don’t regret the choices I’ve made, and I’m not asking for advice or sympathy.

But I decided to give myself permission to wallow for one day. To envy all of my friends who have gone full-time as freelancers, either because they don’t have the ongoing health costs or because they have a spouse who is able to cover that. To mourn the lost time with my family, as well as the books and stories I could have written.

And now that the wallowing is over, I’ve got work to do. I hope this post wasn’t too much of a downer, but just in case, have a picture of Flit hanging out in the desk.

Family Blogging

Want to see something scary?  Here’s my web site as it appeared back in 1999.  At the time, I had sold only a handful of short stories, and was pretty much an unknown.  The site was a blend of writing and personal, as you can see by the Photo Album link.  (Only about half the pages on the archived site are still live.)  Later on, I added more photos for friends and family, including pics of my daughter.

As my writing career progressed, the site shifted more toward the writing, but I still talked openly about family and kept the pictures.  Then, when my daughter was around five years old or so, I got an e-mail telling me how hot she was.

I pulled the pics that same day.

These days, I rarely even mention the names of my children.  There’s a LJ icon I use that has them, and truly determined friends on Facebook can probably find some pictures, but that’s about it.

I’m revisiting that decision.  I know most people don’t come to my blog to read about how awesome my wife and kids are.  On the other hand, my family is a very big and very important part of my life.  I love them, and I’m proud of them.  I look at folks like John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell — both are successful, professional authors, but both talk openly about their families as well.  It gives a fuller, more honest picture of them, and I enjoy that.  And looking back at the guy who thought my daughter was hot, do I really want to let some creep control what I post?

Some things I’m considering:

  1. Nothing gets posted without talking to my wife about it.
  2. If I’m going to share stories or pictures of the kids, I check with them as well.  They’re only 9 and 5, but they should still have the right to control what goes onto the Internet about them.
  3. To the best of my ability, nothing gets posted that the kids’ friends might tease them about if they found it.

That still leaves a lot for me to think about.  I’ve spoken very openly about my diabetes, for example, and people seem to appreciate those posts.  In that same vein, do I talk about the health issues my son has been struggling with pretty much since he was born?  Some of them, absolutely not — see rule three.  But other aspects I’m not sure about.

How do you make the decision about what to share and what to keep off the Internet?  What about when you’re reading other people’s blogs?  I know I appreciate those glimpses into the personal side of authors I admire, but there are also times I cringe because it feels like the author is perhaps sharing more than he or she should.

Discussion is very much welcome.

Racist, Sexist, and Homophobic

I posted Monday about the “Writing the Other” panel at Millennicon.  Today I wanted to address one of the comments.  Jim Van Pelt (whose writing I love, by the way — check it out) described an academic panel in which the moderator opened by saying, “If you are white, male and straight in America, you are also, automatically racist, sexist and homophobic.”  Comment link here.

This next part is scary to write. To be clear, I’m not talking about you.  I’m not talking about Van Pelt.  I’m not talking about anyone except myself, ‘kay?

That moderator is correct.  I am a straight white male raised in the U.S.  I am also racist.  I am sexist.  I am homophobic.

While on the phone with a woman from tech support a few months back about a software problem, I found myself getting fed up, angry, and aggressive.  Afterward, I asked myself whether I would have been equally aggressive had the other person been male.  I wasn’t happy to realize the answer was no. Given the same conversation, I will be more restrained with the male support person.  Because the female is someone I’m “allowed” to be angry/aggressive at.  Because I am sexist.

I feel safe walking around my neighborhood, or to and from the parking lot at work, but I try to be aware of my surroundings.  Walking down the street, if I see a group of teenagers coming toward me, I automatically assess them as more of a potential threat if they’re black.  Because I am racist.

When my kids talk about getting married, I’ve told them that whoever they want to be with, that’s fine with me.  I’ve taught them that not everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, and that’s okay.  Yet deep down, a part of me still hopes they settle down with someone of the opposite sex, because I want them to be “normal.”  Because I am homophobic.

I’m believe in accountability, and a big part of that is the need to own your shit.  This is mine.  I’m not proud of it.  I’ve been working on this stuff for years.  I’m not done yet.

Does this make me a bad person?  You’ll have to make your own decision on that, but I don’t believe it does.  I know who I am.  I know my strengths, and I know my flaws.  I could try to hide those flaws, but it wouldn’t make them go away.  And maybe by sharing those flaws, I’ll work harder to change them.

I am racist.  I am sexist.  I am homophobic.

People tend to flip out when accused of these things.  I understand the urge.  I had to stop myself from trying to explain or excuse my behavior above.  From trying to show how, even though I screw up sometimes, I’ve done a lot of other good stuff.  (The nice guy defense.)

I’m not going to tell you how to respond to accusations of racism and sexism and homophobia.  I will share that owning my flaws takes some of the fear away.  It lessens my need to get pissed off, to argue and defend myself.  I feel like I can listen.  I might decide someone’s accusation is correct.  I might not.  But at least I’m in a space where I can listen.

A part of me thinks I should delete this thing and post a picture of my cat.  But after Monday, this felt like something I needed to write.

Discussion is welcome, as always.

Introverting

Random Link: My agent, Joshua Bilmes, talks about why he doesn’t currently take electronic submissions.

Random Thought: Ever since the Amazon/Macmillan thing, my obsessive checking of my Amazon rankings has decreased about 90%.

Random Taunt: Hey, John Scalzi!  Grover sucks.  Animal rules!

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I’ve always considered myself an introvert.  I don’t particularly enjoy crowds and loud parties.  Kids’ birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese are torture.  I’d much rather sit around in an empty house, reading.  But for a long time, I didn’t have a good working definition of what it actually meant to be introverted.  I assumed introvert = shy/quiet, and that was that.

Then a few years back, my wife — a licensed counselor and overall smart person — offered up an alternative definition.  Introversion doesn’t mean hating crowds.  It refers to the effect of being around groups of people.  Toss an extrovert into a busy convention, and he or she comes away feeling energized.  Toss the introvert in, and it’s an emotionally draining experience, even though both of us could be socializing and having a great time.

This was an eye-0pener.  Because I do have a blast at conventions. I love seeing everyone, and even getting up in front to do panels and readings.  (If you’ve seen me read “Creature in Your Neighborhood,” you could probably tell I was having a blast with it.)  I thought it was because I was learning to overcome my introverted tendencies, but being introverted doesn’t mean you’re incapable of being social and having a good time.  It just means there’s a cost.

There are times during the convention when I’ll sneak back to my room, shut the door, and just be alone for a little while.  I need that time to emotionally recharge.  It’s the same thing after the con ends — I hate going to work the following day, not because I’m physically worn out, but because I’m socially and emotionally exhausted.

I was surprised to realize that for me, the same thing holds true online.  In a week where I’m more actively engaged online, whether it’s the war-of-the-week or just pre-book promotion, I start to feel burnt out.  Which is probably normal, but what surprised me was that it’s the same feeling of burnout I get after a convention.  The same desire to burrow and get a little quiet/solitude to recharge.

The psych major in me is fascinated by the idea that virtual/online social interaction has the same effects (albeit perhaps to a lesser extent) as actual social interaction.

I know for me it’s been helpful to know what to expect.  To realize I’m perfectly capable of going to cons, hanging out at the bar with my writing friends, meeting fans and readers and fellow geeks, doing the readings and signings … but to also recognize that there will be a cost, and to be able to plan for that.  Or if I’ve been involved in online kerfuffling, to recognize that it’s okay to take a day or two off from blogging to recharge.

I’d love to know if others have run into this same sort of thing.

ETA: An article on introversion that explores a lot of what I’m saying.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s an interesting read.  Thanks the_gneech for the link!

Change of Plans

Originally, the plan was to mow the lawn, then try to get some more work done on the Red Hood’s Revenge rewrite before heading off to the RPG.  The past two days have been quite productive from a writing standpoint: two more chapters finished, and I crossed the 70,000 word mark yesterday.

Plans change.

The glasses were four years old, so I guess I can’t complain too much. Wish me luck finding a decent pair that doesn’t break the budget.

Anyone know that Oculus Reparo spell from Harry Potter?

Vacation Wrapup

My wife laughs at me for ripping open all of the mail the instant we get home from vacation.  Sure, some people might want to get some sleep at midnight after a seven-hour drive.  I am not those people.  I mean, come on!  After a week and a half away, the pile o’ mail included:

We also came home to find the new playset assembled in the backyard.  The deductible will sting a bit, but the insurance company covered most (not all, sigh) of the damage from the storm, including sending contractors to set the thing up.  I spent Sunday mowing the jungle while the kids explored the new playset.

Vacation itself was very nice, as you can see.  I got about 20,000 more words done on the Red Hood rewrite, as well as finishing the page proofs for Mermaid, but I also had time to relax with the family.  There were parades, swimming in Lake Superior, a few small fireworks, various kid’s day events, strawberry picking, late night cribbage, a little reading … and yes, I did squeeze a quick booksigning event in at the end.  Still, I might be starting to get the hang of this whole vacation concept.

Tune in soon for a chance to get your very own Mermaid ARC 🙂

Jim C. Hines