On Vocation and Let Your Life Speak

I’ve been in a ruminating space lately, somewhat personally in-process, allowing change to happen and setting the stage for personal evolution. What I’ve come to realize about my own process of growth is that there are equal parts taking the bull by the horns and just allowing things to happen.

LetYourLifeSpeakCoverAfter reading this post on Brain Pickings about the book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation I was inspired to pick it up from the library on Friday. It’s a quick read and falls under the category of ‘intelligent self-help’, at least by my classification. Author Parker J. Palmer writes about finding one’s vocation rather than a career calling and describes it in a way that I’ve heard other authors describe as one’s ‘soul work’. Palmer writes from a Quaker background, so he’s not afraid to use the big ‘G’ God and talk about terms like the soul. My experience and background are different but I still found it very relatable.

It took me a couple of chapters to wrap my head around the concept of vocation, but it sort of clicked when I read:

My youthful understanding of “Let your life speak” led me to conjure up the highest values I could imagine and then try to conform my life to them whether they were mine or not.

Essentially, just because you admire the work that someone else has done doesn’t mean that it’s the work for you. I know I’ve been caught in that space before and it’s what has lead me to make some of my big life decisions. Palmer encourages us to reflect back on early moments of our life, even deep into childhood to mine for data. Something in there will give clues as to what your true vocation is…

Now I know that may sound a bit woo to some of you, so let me try to break it down in logical terms. While I believe that there’s a good dose of environment in shaping personality, there are certain things that are just part of our nature. Example: I was always quiet and reflective, even as a baby. So to use some of these early clues about yourself and your nature to discern what your most fitting vocation might be doesn’t feel like such a stretch. You’re basically sifting through your own life for answers to that deepest question: who am I and what am I doing here?

And if that still feels like too much woo, then tough, I like woo, so deal with it.

I’ve been holding my breath

It feels like I’ve been holding my breath for over a year… almost two now. I’ve been away, plumbing the depths of my soul, making connections with the earth’s spirits, making friends with the faceless. I had thought that perhaps I’d never write another thing in this blog again, I thought that maybe I’d never write anything again. But the itch for communication always comes back. The desire to write, even if it’s not ever read, the thought that it might be ends up being eclipsed by the elegance of fingers drifting across a keyboard.

I’ve seen the stories about computer algorithms writing content in the near future. About travel or food articles being ejected out of a sterile maw, the machine speaking to itself. But nothing will ever match the elegance of the mind firing away, the artistry of a well constructed sentence. It’s that desire to create that makes the whole magickal. We creators are blessed with the inspiration of the universe, galaxies erupting from our firing synapses. We’re a powerful lot. We’re a dangerous lot. And I think as the Western culture progresses, we’re a more rare group overall. Our culture, it consumes everything, every experience, every thought, every blink is something to be monetized.

I lost my way among the twisting cords and pipes of that underworld, our overculture. I had spent so long trying to do the things that other writers told me I needed to do to become a success that the writing actually died within me. My focus was on creating a social media presence, making connections, writing blog posts, posturing as an expert or at least an acolyte on his way. The truth is that we only ever know what our experiences guide us towards. In a culture where so much simple information is so readily accessible, we’ve been driven to ignorance. It’s become harder to be a creative, to hone a craft, time as it is has become more compressed as our entangled social personas consume us, consume the space we used to give ourselves for true development.

All of this is to say that I experienced all of this, and I see a lot of others doing the same. I can’t condemn social media but the environment that it currently thrives in isn’t doing me any favors. I can’t write it off, after all, I’ll probably share this on social media when I hit the Publish button (although becoming more streamlined, more Luddite does have its appeal).

I’ve started to write again, I’ve started to pay attention to those ideas that are constantly pinging across the outer reaches of my mental atmosphere. It’s energizing, I feel the cool air coming back, I feel like I’ve started breathing for the first time in a very long time. It’s terrifying, honestly. But I realize how little I am without it, without that creative impulse… the world is expansive when I’m in touch with that tiny electrical pulse, the subtle heartbeat that propels. I’m happy to feel it again.

Lucius Shepard is dead

Damn, terrible news on such a beautiful day. Lucius Shepard was one of the most under-appreciated writers of fiction, science fiction and cyberpunk of a generation.
As this blog post notes, he was prolific as a short story writer and novella-ist but didn’t care for formats longer than that. Perhaps, sadly, he’ll gain more recognition in death as the shorter forms of writing become more popular.
Lucius had an enormous influence on my writing, he wrote often in a magical realism style with heavy psychedelic influences (I would also contend that he fit well within the ‘weird’ genre). His stories are immersive, they wrap their tentacles around your imagination and leave you changed. I often found myself having to process a story of his for days or weeks afterwards, like a profound hallucinogenic trip. He was that good.
People spoke quite a bit about the influence of Lovecraft on shows like True Detective. That’s very true, but without writers in the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s like Lucius Shepard, True Detective would never have happened.
Anyways, as the linked blog post says on his views of the afterlife: “You want to know happens? They dig a hole, they dump you in, and then they shovel dirt over you. End of story. Reincarnation? Think worms.”
Those are going to be some awakened, enlightened worms. Rest in peace. What is remembered never dies.

Candle in the Darkness: Towards a more hopeful science fiction

I think it’s easy in this era to feel pretty down about things. The rampant destruction of our environment, both on a local and global scale is terrifying for most of us. The problems feel so monumental that we’re left feeling powerless to make any sort of meaningful change. This is where I’m at right now. When I see the news about the general insanity that our climate is beginning to kick up, I worry (legitimately) about the future. And there is nothing more disempowering than worrying about events that 1) you can’t control and 2) haven’t even happened yet.

From wikimedia commons user Henry Mühlpfordt
From wikimedia commons user Henry Mühlpfordt

But as fans and writers of science fiction, we’re always thinking about the future, right? Back in December, someone on twitter (sorry, can’t remember who) remarked that it’s kind of astounding that so few people are writing fiction that includes global climate change as part of the narrative. Or even the subtext. That comment got me thinking.

Do we feel so fucked by this that even science fiction writers shy away from it?

Are there no imaginings of the future that do not include dystopia as the final outcome? Why are we skipping over the part where we come up with solutions? Even if they are fantastical? I know this isn’t a new question, it’s been brought up quite a bit in the last year.

Over on the Apex blog (of which I’m a contributor), M. Asher Cantrell recently published a blog post about 3 Reasons Why It’s Time for a Rebirth of 1950’s Sci-Fi. While I’d disagree about returning to that particular era for its cultural baggage and sci-fi in particular from then for its lack of inclusiveness, I think I understand what he’s getting at. The sense of hope and optimism, that even monumental problems could be solved and that the future would be a wonderful thing. That’s what I’m missing.

So to his list of reasons, I’d like to add a fourth: now, more than ever, we need a sense of hope for the future. How many countless people became engaged in the sciences because of the portrayals by authors of what the future could be like? I’m not advocating a Pollyanna-ish, “gee, the future is swell” approach. But I would like to see clear-eyed gazes that assess and begin to tackle the problems. Because our best hope might not be coming from us, but from our children. And we need to offer some inspirational and aspirational ideas up.

From wikimedia commons user Bob Lee.
From wikimedia commons user Bob Lee.

Neal Stephenson has created the Project Hieroglyph online journal, to address the dearth of optimism. Check out that link, there’s some good stuff happening there.

As writers, we’re used to being pretty low on the ‘power in a hyper-capitalist economy’ scale. I can only point to a small handful of people who are capable of using their creative power to eke out a living, and even they have a hard time of it. But we do have an outsize power when it comes to influencing culture. We don’t just write novels and short stories, we write movies and TV shows. We script out video games, comic books. We have podcasts and speak in public. We’re a diverse bunch and what we say still resonates.

Let’s embrace the future.

Tools for Writers: Butt kickin’, goal setting spreadsheet, free to use

Now that the curtains have closed on NaNoWriMo for another year, you may find yourself in the post-NaNo, pre-holiday slump. Persevere, dear friends! I’ve created something for you to help keep that old-timey NaNo feeling of panicked word production persisting throughout the year (sorry for the alliteration).

It’s a Google spreadsheet that– wait, where are you going? Come back! I promise, not all spreadsheets are boring, some can actually be useful, I swear! Especially for writers who are trying to keep on track and hit deadlines.

This spreadsheet is actually based on the ‘stats’ page in NaNoWriMo but you needn’t be a former NaNo participant to get use out of it. So, you’ll need to do a couple things to be able to use this spreadsheet. First, make sure you have a Google account. Then you can go to the Butt kickin’ goal tracker so you can pwn your novel! spreadsheet. You’ll need to make a copy of it so that you can edit it for yourself. Do that now by clicking on File –> Make a Copy. This will save it to your Google Drive.

targets

Just start out by filling in the project targets, the start date, end date and what you would like to achieve in that time. The other fields you see here are automatically calculated.

There’s even a message that pops up if you’re ahead of your target or falling a bit behind.

words

To the left, you’ll see a string of dates in one column and a corresponding target number in the next. That number is your cumulative goal for that date, in other words, where your total word count should be by that date.  The third column, labeled “Actual” is the one you actively fill in each day. It’s important to remember that this is a running total, not just the words you wrote today.

For example, you can see that on December 1st, I wrote 2600 words (I wish) and then on the 2nd, I have 4500. That means on the 2nd I wrote 1900 additional words, bringing my total to 4500. Sorry if this seems like hand-holding.

 

Finally, we come to the chart. For NaNo-ites, this is where the real action is. This is your visual representation of where you are on that golden novel highway… though based on the steep grade, you may want to drop it down a gear or two. Think of it as a highway to heaven. Heavenly, first draft goodness.

chart2

 

That’s it, it’s pretty simple but hopefully it will help you on your path. If you have any questions, just hit me up here, or over at twitter, @nmhall. And if you find this useful, give me some link love on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google+ or whatever other flavor of impersonal digital socializing you prefer.