I’ll be participating in a live reading event on Saturday, May 15, 2021. My face is on the banner and everything… (That’s a new experience for me.)
Anyway, I’ll probably read an excerpt from Stars Fall Out, so if you’ve been following that particular project, this is a great time to hear me read a short scene while trying not to talk as fast as someone who grew up in Rhode Island tends to talk.
The event combines a series of live readings with a Follow-an-Author Giveaway. Here are links to both:
A few months ago, I made a list of 36 excellent and useful fake names. I wrote them while doing laundry at my parents’ house, on the type of notepads that charities send out to guilt people into donating money, and found them again today, crumpled in the bottom of my backpack.
Given the rise of silly internet games with the pandemic going on, I thought this would be a good time to post them. Possibly because my brain is broken, I laugh uncontrollably every time I read the full list. My partner, on the other hand, hates them with surprising vehemence, even though they’re totally normal and definitely don’t sound like fake American baseball player names from a 1980s Japanese video game.
Anyway, get out a d12 or a random number generator, pick a list, and find yourself a very respectable alter ego.
The other day I reread some of my recent scenes in Stars Fall Out, for reasons of both continuity and procrastination. Given the current, pandemic-type situation we’re in now and all the emphasis on hygiene, I saw the scenes in a new, corona-tinged light. A theory popped into my head, the type of theory one tends to develop after watching something like The Lord of the Rings dozens of times. In my case, it’s not a movie I’ve watched dozens of times, but a book that I’ve been working on diligently for about a year-and-a-half now. Either way, it’s a story I’ve had a great deal of exposure to. Unlike the coronavirus, at least as far as I know. The theory, of course, is that I gave my secondary-world character coronavirus. As it happens, I have plenty of shifty, circumstantial evidence to support this theory.
Exhibit A: Face-touching
“Can you confiscate things?” I turned back to Piroszehlt, and the question burst from me so suddenly that he startled, and his arm dropped off my shoulders. “You might have been right,” I said, though I didn’t have the time for this, “about being the same person. I know you.” I scrambled to my feet, and offered him a hand. “But you don’t know me, not as well as you probably think. Can you confiscate things?”
“What?” He too stood. “Tyatavar, what is this about? What things?”
“Magic things. Ghordaa’s things. Zanhrori got him kicked out of his lab, and he’s investigating. You’re involved, right?”
“Yes,” he said slowly, “I am.”
“Then,” I said, pointing down the hill at the university, to where Ghordaa and my sister navigated the walkways and crowds of students searching for something, someone, and most likely me, “can you confiscate his things, if you need to?”
“Yes,” Piroszehlt said with more confidence, if not understanding, “I can confiscate things.”
“Good,” I said, reaching up to touch his cheek with three fingers. “Because I do like this face of yours, and I’d rather not see it get hit again.”
On rereading, it does also come across kind of clunky. Too many saids. But I’m not editing it for the sake of this blog post because a) I don’t fiddle around with stuff like that before revision and b) it involves the love triangle, which might mean it’s too cheesy to exist anyway.
Exhibit B: Further face-touching
Leaning back in his chair, he touched three fingers to his cheek, stared up at the ceiling, and let that sting.
They were as painfully well-matched as a gritty patch of ice and the raw palm you caught yourself on.
Exhibit C: Reference to being out-of-breath
“Do you want to keep it?” he’d asked as we blinked in the sunlight, waiting for our eyes to adjust. He held out the glass anchor wrapped in ratty old fabric.
“The dress? You should probably burn it.”
“You’d be better suited to the task,” he’d said, and shook his head. “Oneiromantic fire. Can you stop doing amazing things for a couple days and let me catch my breath?”
When I wrote it, I assumed that last line was figurative. But I don’t know, maybe he has a virus-related respiratory problem?
Although I’m definitely not taking my story this direction, it’s interesting to think what the consequences would be if this character did actually have coronavirus. Less than a week after the last snippet, he has to give a statement at a hearing with at least two dozen people in attendance.
That might not go so great.
Running up all the stairs in an enormous tower would probably also not go well. Nor would the day-long walk to reach the airship.
On the other hand, I’ve written in the draft that the city of Nirsuathu is a pain to enter and leave. Perhaps the virus wouldn’t spread throughout the Northern Provinces.
Yeah. The other Northern Provinces are sounding pretty good right now. Or any secondary world, for that matter.
You come to a cliff. Here is the edge, where the wind whips at your body, and everything beneath you is impossibly tiny. A single movement of your foot, a slight lean of your body weight, and you could throw yourself right over. One simple movement.
But you wouldn’t actually jump, right?
That’s how I feel about making phone calls. Self-preservation determines that I wouldn’t take the last step, and I won’t hit the call button either, whether or not both of those things are logical.
In truth, the small corner of that flowchart isn’t even what it says it is; I hadn’t yet created the full flowchart at the time I posted about it. I added fake boxes to the edge and faded them out to give the illusion of more flowchart beyond.
If you look at the full, uncropped version of that chart in my graphics program, one of the fake boxes reads:
Thng thing thing thing but an axe thing thing thing but the only sad ounoahuenohunoetuhn cheap onuhoanteuhnotuwith rayon.
But it’s positioned so that the only full words you see are “axe” and “sad.”
The other reads:
Screw that, this is America, and I’m not just going to do something so ridiculous as to
But it’s positioned so that the only visible part is: “Screw that, this is America.”
My phone call anxiety hasn’t improved in the five years since the original post. I have an office job now, one with Microsoft Everything and Calibri Everything and spreadsheets for which I can choose unnecessary color schemes. There is also a small black phone with no caller ID and my own extension and sometimes, on a bad day, a phone call that I can’t divert into an email exchange instead.
Exposure therapy is a thing, so my theory went that, in being exposed to phone calls, their effects would blunt over time, and they would no longer be the cliff I can’t jump off.
That… kind of happened. I am exactly as terrified of most phone calls as I’ve ever been, but I deal with my work calls without too much drama or figurative nail-biting.
And as for my non-work phone calls…
(imagine the haggard, stumbling man from the beginning of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, coming close to announce…)
The Social Anxiety Flowchart for Dealing with Phone Calls Badly
About two months ago, I took a 5×8 index card, wrote “Onerous Health To-do” at the top, and divided up sections for my primary care, ob-gyn, and therapy appointments, the ones I’ve been putting off scheduling for eight, one, and two years, respectively. On this, I wrote every phone call I needed to make, and every task that preceded those phone calls. Then I made the mistake of doing the same for my partner so we could both tackle everything in a single day and move on with our lives.
Although his phone call anxiety is less severe than mine, this still resulted in both of us procrastinating for another six weeks. We broke out of the cycle only when my partner told his friend to call him on a Friday morning to remind him to remind me to do the thing.
What no productivity system in the world will tell you is that it can’t help you with anxiety over a task.
You can break up a task into next actions. You can rephrase it to use an action verb. You can put it on an @Home or @Phone list. You can choose it as one of your three must-do, priority tasks of the day. You can migrate it to another page in your bullet journal. And if you have anxiety over that task, you’re going to keep migrating it, keep rewriting it, and keep finessing it.
Those are the steps you take by the edge of the cliff because you don’t want to take the one step that matters: hitting the call button. Eventually, the task before every undone task is “deal with the anxiety I have over this task,” because of course it’s best to deal with the root problem of something.
Only now you have months of therapy before you can switch your primary care doctor, and you can’t make the phone call to get into the therapy because you wouldn’t jump off a cliff, would you? WOULD YOU?
That day we finally made the phone calls, I assumed that kicking myself off the cliff would result in a rush of anxiety, but that my bravery would ultimately be rewarded with medical appointments that I don’t especially want to attend.
Instead, I learned that my health insurance’s website is the real-life equivalent of a Liars and Knights puzzle. One always lies, and the other always tells the truth. The one that always lies is the website. Between that, busy signals, and voicemails, I tackled everything on my Onerous Health To-Do list, and still got nowhere.
I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. Maybe it’s about perseverance. Maybe it’s about bravery. Or nihilism. Or next actions. I’m not sure. All I know is that I’ve climbed back to the top of the cliff, the fat green circle at the start of the flowchart, and it feels exactly the same here.
*Figuratively, because I kicked my life-long nail-biting habit during the swine flu outbreak of 2009. Now, nail-biting, mine or others, would probably destroy me. Thanks, OCD.