2017 Look Back

City Park, New Orleans, January 1, 2017

The years teach much which the days never know. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I think back just twelve months ago, I remember a whole lot of uncertainty. We (the U.S.) had just completed one of the most surprising election cycles in recent history, and certainly in my history. My posts from a year ago reflect that state of uncertainty, to a degree. There was talk of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, some angst on my part over missing a #WritersResist event in New York.

I’m relieved to write that I feel a modest degree less uncertain now. The Republic still stands, the government still functions. (You can read into “functions” what you will, it’s a broad term.) On a personal level, I’m still employed, I still have some savings for the future, and I’m still writing.

This post completes the second full calendar year of this blog. On the “published writer” front, I signed a publishing contract with After Glows Publishing in the first quarter of 2017, and re-released The Incident Under the Overpass with them in September. I hope that the follow-up to TIUTO will release in the first half of 2018.

I had an essay published in OUTSIDE IN MAKES IT SO: 174 New Perspectives on 174 Star Trek TNG Stories by 174 Writers. I will have a short story appear in the sci-fi anthology Just a Minor Malfunction, issue #4, in late February 2018.

My progress in the published realm feels slow, but at least I can state that there is progress. And while I’m glad to be putting 2017 to bed, the year definitely had its highlights. I thought it would be nice to reflect on the new places I saw this past year:

  • Whitney Plantation: a sobering start to the new year, as I learned more about the role my ancestors played in the life of this once-successful sugar plantation. While not happy times for me, any occasion where my eyes are truly opened is worth remembering.
  • Düsseldorf: I saw a city in Germany I’d never seen before. Also of note, this is the only new place I encountered with my job—every other new place was of my own volition.
  • New Smyrna Beach: vacation with husband Tim on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
  • Murfreesboro, Tennessee: my first total solar eclipse!
  • Greece: a happier occasion to have my eyes opened, on vacation in one of the planet’s cradles of civilization.

So once again, Ralph Waldo Emerson states it best. The last days of 2016 certainly did not have places like Greece or things like a total solar eclipse in their sights. I’m grateful for the cumulative learning offered by this past year.

 

It’s All Greek to Me

I leave for Greece tomorrow. In the past twenty years, I’ve traveled to Europe many times. In the first five or so years of that twenty-year span, I would head across the Atlantic at least twice annually. But the frequency doesn’t diminish the impact. It’s always a big deal to me.

All of these trips, with one notable exception, have been for my job. I might have tacked on some personal travel (at my own expense, natch); but for the bulk of the travel, work was the main reason behind it.

Tomorrow’s trip is pure vacation. The only other time I’ve flown to Europe with no agenda other than sightseeing was in 2002. It was a couple of years after my Dad had died, and my Mom and I went to the U.K. We drove all around Great Britain, and covered a good bit of England (with a couple of forays into Wales and Scotland). I’ll sum it up with this: I’ve been fortunate to have several “trips of a lifetime” in my lifetime thus far, and that trip with Mom was definitely one of them. She’s been gone nearly three years now, and the memories of that U.K. trip only grow sweeter with time.

Greece will be with one of my best friends, Stacey, and her cousin, Zoe. I’m super excited for many reasons—one of the chief reasons being getting to spend time together. Stacey and I became friends when we worked for the E! Networks in Los Angeles. We each left our jobs there many years ago, and I also left Los Angeles many years ago. So I only get to see Stacey during visits. Once a year, if I’m lucky.

Back in the early days of our friendship, Stacey would refer to me as “International Anne.” (I worked in the international sales/marketing department. Thus, all the trips to Europe.) I think these days, Stacey’s international travel has far surpassed mine. Be that as it may, it will be the first visit to Greece for all of us. For the past several months, I’ve paid extra special attention to anything remotely Grecian that’s crossed my path. Here, in no particular order, are a few observations:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, Outside In Makes It So: I’ve mentioned this Star Trek: TNG anthology several times, because I have an essay in there (trying to do a better job at self-promotion). The title of that essay? “Time’s Arrow: I Might Be .004% Out of Phase with Plato”. Yes, famed Greek philosopher Plato factors pretty heavily in the piece (but it’s really accessible and easy to read, I promise!) I wrote it long before I knew I’d be traveling to Plato’s old stomping grounds.
  • Greek myths, titans, and gods: I haven’t specifically researched Greek mythology, but any deeper look into the origin of any story always seems to lead to something Greek. I’m working on a sci-fi short story, and in the course of researching some names, I’ve encountered these morsels:
    • Deucalion: He was the son of Prometheus, and, according to Wikipedia, “is closely connected with the Flood myth.” Like a Greek version of Noah.
    • Chiron: Sired by the Titan Cronus, he was an “intelligent, civilized and kind” centaur. He was also immortal. He suffered from a wound that would not heal, so he wasn’t that keen on living forever, so he traded his immortality for the life of Prometheus.
    • Prometheus: Kinda funny how he keeps popping up. Even though Zeus was really, really, pissed at him for stealing fire and giving it to humankind.
  • And to conclude with something completely different: I recently purchased the blouse featured at the top of this post. The blue trimming and the loose fit struck me as appropriate for Greece (and hopefully pretty comfortable for the flight over). But once I got it home, in a fit of buyer’s remorse, perhaps, it also struck me as something Pagliacci wouldn’t be afraid to wear. I’ve had “The Tears of a Clown” in my head ever since.

Quarter Report 2017: Star Trek TNG, Quanta, a New Year, and More

Chicago: I rode the L!

Annnnnnd, we’re back to The Fast and the Furious. I’ve written in these pages at least twice about the character Dom Toretto and his special brand of wisdom. When I first heard Vin Diesel utter the line “I live my life a quarter mile at a time,” I knew I had encountered a bit of cinematic brilliance. Something on the order of Patrick Swayze’s (as Johnny Castle) “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Or my own personal muse, John McClane’s “Yippee ki yay, *Mr. Falcon*” (as it appears in the censored version of Die Hard 2.)

Much like Dominic Toretto, I tend to think, and plan, in terms of quarters (yearly quarters, not miles). Discrete, three-month-sized chunks. As I reflect on the third quarter of 2017, I find it’s been pretty eventful. Some of the stuff I’ve written about (the eclipse, our visit to New Smyrna Beach, hurricanes, the release of my novel), but there’s plenty of other stuff I haven’t. Here, in no particular order, are some observations, tidbits, and events that have been swimming about in my particular cosmos in Q3:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, Outside In Makes It So releases today! This collection of essays covers every episode of Star Trek: TNG, plus the movies. It’s commemorating the 30th anniversary of the show’s premiere. I’m thrilled that my piece about the episode “Time’s Arrow” is included. You can find the anthology on sale here.
  • More about discrete chunks: While on a recent Internet search into famed physicist Max Planck, I discovered what he is most known for, and it’s this: quanta. Quanta, the root of the term “quantum.” As in quantum physics, quantum theory, Quantum Leap. Planck is credited with the hypothesis that the very nature of nature itself is not continuous, that change occurs in discrete increments. Regarding electromagnetic waves, he termed these discrete packets of energy “quanta.” This discovery earned him the Nobel Prize nearly 100 years ago. All these years of being fascinated and confused by quantum physics, and I’d never thought about the meaning of “quantum” before. And I’m sure some of you who have read this far are hoping you never have to think about the word again.
  • U2: I saw U2 in concert for the first time ever a few weeks ago. They are on tour, promoting the 30th anniversary of “The Joshua Tree” album. (Discrete chunks of thirty years seem to be a theme, here. I also attended my thirty year high school reunion this past quarter). Anyway, U2: during my heavy concert-going years (when I was between fifteen and twenty-five, roughly), I would have definitely bought tickets to see U2, if they had come to my town. (In those years, it was New Orleans and Tucson, Arizona). But they never did. I was glad the band opened the set with really old stuff, songs from “War.” The songs I would have wanted to hear, if our paths had crossed so many years ago. All in all, very worthwhile—plus, Beck opened for them, and he was fantastic.
  • Rosh Hashanah: I’m a little hesitant to write this, since I’m not Jewish, but I really don’t see this as cultural appropriation. I’m Catholic, which is a Judeo-Christian religion, and I’ve always been a bit ecumenical in my practice, anyway. So, Rosh Hashanah—about fifteen years ago, after a particularly rough twelve months (four quarters), I decided to start my new year’s resolutions at Rosh Hashanah. To give them a sort of beta test-run before January. With all this “30-year” backwards staring, I’m grateful that the arrival of Rosh Hashanah last week has me looking forward once again.
  • Chicago: And, oh yeah, I spent four days in Chicago last week with my job. It was a good time to be there, if a bit unseasonably warm. The pictures in this post are from that trip.

Spirit of Music statue, Grant Park
View of Lake Michigan and Adler Planetarium (I think) from Grant Park

 

Going home, connecting in Nashville

A Good Writing Day

Sunset, the day before my good writing day

So, Thursday of last week was a good writing day. A successful day in the calendar of Anne McClane, fiction writer. There are two bits of irony here, in that I don’t think I actually wrote much of anything on Thursday; and one of the things I’m about to share isn’t about my fiction writing. But it concerns an essay I wrote about fiction, so I’ll claim it falls under that umbrella.

Here’s what I have to share, in chronological order. I’ve included a header indicating what part of my writing life it bolstered:

  • Community: I met a New Orleans-based writer who just published a set of joke books for kids. He’s makes his living in PR (public relations), and I met him at a luncheon for PR professionals. (I don’t do a lot of PR work in my current job, but it’s something I have a fair amount of past experience with. I still go to the lunches when the topic sounds interesting). His name is Michael Strecker, and his books are: Young Comic’s Guide to Telling Jokes, Books 1 & 2. Basically, it was really cool to meet another writer, who devotes the time to writing on top of / in addition to other commitments. And I thought it was great that a publisher had picked up his work.
  • Development: I had a call with the editor I hired to do a developmental critique of my second novel. I really can’t place a value on that one hour spent hashing out plot holes, discussing character motivation, and just talking about the struggles I’m facing with the story, and how they might be fixed. After her line edits and that phone call, I have a pretty good sense of the work that needs to be done—a road map. Now, I just need to make the time to get behind the wheel…
  • Publication! I received the final proofread of an essay I wrote last fall, for an anthology commemorating the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The title of the anthology is Outside In Makes It So: 174 New Perspectives on 174 Star Trek: TNG Stories by 174 Writers. It should release September 28. And the proofreader was complimentary of my essay, which I thought was really nice, considering there were 173 other pieces to proofread.

With July behind us now, I’ll conclude by sharing July’s quote from my “First We Dream” calendar:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” –Henry David Thoreau

I’ll see what I can do to make it so.

Resistance

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Last week, I mentioned how I was reading Steven Pressfield’s DO THE WORK! Overcome Resistance and get out of your own way. I finished it a few nights ago—it’s a quick read and pretty entertaining. I’ve been pondering the lessons therein and what they might mean for me.

Resistance is the big, bad dragon in Pressfield’s book. Resistance is all the stuff that keeps us from pursuing what we truly long for. In my case, what I truly long for is a career as a fiction writer.

Some helpful advice from the book I plan to take seriously:

  • About the actual work of writing: “One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP. Don’t worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything. Get to THE END as if the devil himself were breathing down your neck and poking you in the butt with his pitchfork.” I think resistance is the devil Pressfield infers.
  • About finishing and actually putting your stuff out there—he borrows Seth Godin’s term “shipping”: “Because finishing is the critical part of any project. If we can’t finish, all our work is for nothing. When we ship, we declare our stuff ready for prime time.”
  • And finally, an anecdote about the lengths Michael Crichton would go to when he was nearing the end of a novel (he’d check into a hotel and work non-stop till he was done): “He knew that Resistance was strongest at the finish. He did what he had to do, no matter how nutty or unorthodox, to finish and be ready to ship.”

I’m fairly certain staying in a hotel and just writing is not an option for me; even if it was, I’m not sure that would work for me. But I get the gist of it—do what’s necessary (as long as it’s within my moral, ethical and economic boundaries) to “get ‘er done.”

But there are a couple of things about resistance that Pressfield doesn’t address. Number one, having subsisted on a steady diet of Star Trek: The Next Generation in my early twenties, I couldn’t help but think of the Borg, with all the mention of resistance. For those of you unfamiliar, the Borg are a massive collection of cybernetic organisms linked via a hive mind. Their insidious goal is “the forcible assimilation of diverse sentient species, technologies, and knowledge.” (Thanks, Memory Alpha.) Pretty much the scariest threat humans ever faced.

The Borg’s mantra? “Resistance is futile.”

Taken in context of DO THE WORK, it sort of makes resistance a little less scary. Like, all the resistance you face in trying to complete something might be futile in the end. If you stick with the project (for me, a series of stories featuring Lacey Becnel, a protagonist of my creation) and don’t let obstacles derail you completely.

HA! Take that, Borg!

So, I recognize that might be a bit of a stretch. I know myself—I’m not that optimistic, to think that I can consistently face down resistance by cheerily turning one of the scariest-ever lines of dialogue on its head.

My number two point feels a little more thought out. And it’s this: Resistance makes you stronger. I know this from my two favorite forms of exercise—running and swimming. Running wouldn’t offer all the same benefits if there was no pavement to offer resistance. Swimming would just be kicking and flailing about if there was no water (bet it would look pretty funny, too).

It never feels good when I’m “doing the work.” Struggling for breath, or feeling the impact on my aging bones. Or suffering through crippling self-doubt while writing. While that pain may be necessary, it’s also of limited duration. And ultimately, worth it. I’m a healthier human from the running and swimming, and (hopefully) a better writer from the work of producing manuscripts.