On Father’s Day

So this Father’s Day, I realized I was a father.

This might not exactly seem like a real leap. After all, I’ve been parenting for 8 months. We knew our lives were going to change starting last year. Really, I’ve had a long time to get used to this.

And yet.

Parenthood, I feel like, is one of the few roles in life that can never be changed. Jobs and relationships can be ended. But once a parent, always a parent. And now I’m a parent. What does that mean to me? It means trying to raise a child into an independent adult. But more than that, it makes me responsible (with my wife) to do that for KRH. What’s best for him is now a permanent part of the calculus of my life.

Today, Kameron Hurley’s podcast reminded me of something. Having a child is inherently a hopeful act. In the same way that planting a garden looks forward to a better world, so too does having children.

The state of the world has always mattered to me, because I live there, and so do all the people I love and care about, and even those I don’t care about. But to have a child is to believe that the world is becoming a better place. It’s to believe that I can make the world a better place. I darn well better, because I’ve made the conscious choice to bring an entirely new person into it.

We live in threatening times. I think all times seem that way, when viewed from the inside, but at no point in my 33 years do things seem potentially bleaker than today. It is in many ways our darkest timeline. But we’ve decided to raise a child in it. I now have one more reason to fight for a better world.

I think you can make a pretty good moral argument that improving the lives of everyone is a pretty fine reason to try and do your part in making the world better, even in small ways. But I’m not responsible for anyone else in the world in the way I am for KRH. I’m no longer just fighting for my world. I’m fighting for his, too.

This is part of the Fatherhood I’ve realized. And I’m glad for it. I didn’t know this until now, but I’ve signed on for something much bigger than I first thought.

The first week

It turns out that entertaining a baby all day is hard!

I mean, I knew that. It’s not news. I did it when my wife was out of the house over the past eight months.  But this is the first time I’ve been the primary person. There is nobody to hand KRH to if I run out of ideas or he gets inconsolably fussy. And so far, that hasn’t happened a lot, but it has happened.

Here’s where I’m at. Because KRH still doesn’t reliably take milk from a bottle or cup, we wake him up at 6:45 before my wife goes to work, so he can nurse. Then she’s out of the door shortly after 7. That’s a very different schedule than KRH had before, where he would often sleep until 8 or 9 am. So he’s getting used to a very different schedule than before.

Now, KRH is a pretty okay napper, but sometimes he’ll sleep for 1.5 hours, and sometimes for more like 30 minutes. Unfortunately, with him getting up much earlier, his short naps won’t cut it. So one of my first jobs is getting him used to a new nap rhythm. We’re only a few days into this, so I can’t really say how we’re doing.

We have been keeping fairly busy. Monday, we ran errands and went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. We didn’t really see any fun birds (only ducks) but it was a nice walk and picnic. Yesterday was rainy, so we mostly stayed inside and played, except for going to the gym, where KRH played with childcare. Today, we’re going to lunch with my Mom, and if it stops raining we’ll go on a walk, and maybe play with the cloth strips my wife made for him.

Whew. In some ways, its harder than I expected. In others, I’m finding it alright. I’m finding little bits of time here and there to myself, with which i’m not really writing yet, but I am doing some important writing-related work (queries) and listening to writing-related podcasts (currently Print Run and Get To Work Hurley).

I want to figure out the rhythm of the day (to both KRH and myself) before I start sitting down to write. I need to know how to snatch 10 minutes here or a paragraph there, without neglecting KRH in any way. That’s how I’m going to get things done over the next couple of months, and indeed over the next couple of years.

And on that note, I’d better get on with some other things before KRH wakes up from his latest nap. It’s only been a few days of this so I anticipate having more to talk about in the coming days and weeks. Until then!

The last week

Here it is. My last week at work before I go on parental leave.

This is an interesting period. On one hand, I’m hugely looking forward to spend time with KRH. It’s summer and he’s growing and maturing quickly. I’m going to take him to the zoo, to parks and festivals, and just generally spend lots of time with my cute baby doing fun things. I anticipate having to do a lot of learning, and I know it’s going to be harder than I think.

On the other hand, I’m also looking at the next fifteen weeks as a bit of an opportunity. In addition to spending time with KRH, I want to spent time working on me. I’ve been at my current job for over six years, and in the workforce for longer. This will, by far, be my longest break from the grind of the day job. It’s not going to be a vacation, but it is going to be a transition, and transitions to me are always opportunities for change. In a lot of ways, I hope this parental leave may be the transition I wanted KRH’s birth to be. Not so dramatic, of course (I really wanted his birth to be a transformation of my life and habits that, in retrospect, was entirely too ambitious). But I hope it will be an opportunity for reflection and some renewal. A leaving behind of some things and an adoption of some new things. A change to grow and evolve, as we all have to.

I’ll be embarking on all this slowly, because I’ve learned that trying to change everything at once for myself is a bad plan. And for the first little while, I’m just going to get used to the new circumstance. Spending time with KRH, after all, is the priority here. I’ve got some ideas about what I want to do differently and how to do them, but I have no idea how being the lead parent will be, so I’m going to have to adapt things to that reality.

So we’ll see how this goes.

The routine

I don’t think it’s a big secret to say that I’ve struggled a lot with writing since KRH arrived. If I’m honest with myself, a lot of things are going “wrong” with my writing right now. I’m finding it harder to find time to write, and when I do, I struggle to focus and concentrate. And when the stars align, I find myself easily pulled out of it. As such, the amount of time I’ve been butt-in-chair to write has been steadily decreasing.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was going to keep writing at the same pace after KRH as I had been before. More, in fact, because I was going to learn to be more productive and get better at finding small bits of time to write. This was a time of major life change, so I was going to use the opportunity to get better.

Hasn’t happened. I’ve struggled, a lot, and things seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Maybe this is understandable, given just how big a life change this has been, but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel desperate, when I should feel hungry. I feel this way about a lot of things in my life, but I’m not sure how to change them.

One thing I’m going to do to change this is start to work on my concentration. I do have time to write, so making good use of it is critical. I’ve heard a lot about the power of routine to build productive habits, so I’m working on a 4-step routine that I can do so my body and brain knows “now it’s time to work.” Here’s what I’m going to try.

  • Stretch – 2 minutes
  • Meditate – 2 minutes
  • Think about 3 things I’m grateful for
  • Visualize my true self – what does the person I want to be do with the time? What would allow me to look back and feel happy about this time?

That that’s it. I hope it won’t take more than 5 minutes, but that I can use it to build the productive habit. I’ll report back on how it works.

April’s Fuel

April came and April went. What did I do in April? I’m not entirely sure!

That’s a lie, of course. I did some things!

Shadows Linger and The White Rose by Glen Cook

I kept reading Glen Cook’s The Black Company books, and I finished Chronicles of the Black Company. The second and especially third books lacked some of the military themes of the original, but Cook still spun an excellent tale that kept me engrossed. I’d like to read more about the Black Company, and I know more exists, but it was time to switch gears to something else.

The Malice by Peter Newman

That something was the sequel to Peter Newman’s excellent The Vagrant. The Malice had been sitting on my kindle for some time, and I decided it’s moment was now. The Malice was a different book than The Vagrant, dispensing with the title character except briefly. However, in many ways this his story told in reverse, and it retained a lot of the wonderful power of the original, even if it lacked some of the visceral newness from the setting that I enjoyed when I read the Vagrant. Nonetheless, The Malice was an excellent read and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Dreams of Neo-Tokyo by Scandroid

I discovered Scandroid a few months ago. I’m a huge fan of 80’s-eqsue synth music, and the cyberpunk theme makes this that much better. But then we got a remix album. So. Good. A+.


Battle Brothers

I don’t find myself with a lot of time for games right now, and when I do, I tend to go toward a few stalwarts because I’m really just looking to forget about things for a while. So it takes a pretty good new game to interest me. But maybe it’s no surprise that after reading so much Glen Cook I found some time to play Battle Brothers, a neat game about running a mercenary company. I found it quite reminiscent of X-COM, in a low-fantasy sort of way, so I’ve been merrily leading my mercenaries around, slaying bandits, escorting caravans, and recruiting the sort of bloodthirsty men I need for this kind of work. The game is as much management as it is combat, which I prefer, and it’s also exceptionally unforgiving, with a lot of brothers dying random deaths from lucky hits or bad positioning. What I like about the game is that losing your brothers this way doesn’t necessarily mean a restart or necessarily being set back.

 

You might have noticed my progress on Cloudbreakers getting increasingly slow, to the point where actually very little is happening. I’m in a situation where, in order to take my parental leave, I need to wrap up about a year’s worth of overtasking. Unfortunately, that means less time writing right now. I hate that more than anything, especially when I don’t think I’m going to get a lot of time to write while I’m on leave. But I don’t think there’s a lot I can do about it, except soldier through and try and recover later.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
59% Complete
53,137 of 90,000 words

you’re not gonna die

So some great writers keep stopping by Reddit. This time, Yoon Ha Lee came to discuss his novel Ninefox Gambit (which was excellent and well worth your reading time). The authors who I’ve been asking lately were all later into their careers, and while Yoon has published many short stories, I asked him about his journey to publication. Here’s what he had to say.

I used to have a folder FULL of rejection slips. So yes, I have definitely been there! I know it can get discouraging, but please, keep writing and submitting. Somewhere out there is a reader who wants your story.

For general advice…hmm. I think there are a few big things here. One is perseverance–it’s an emotional skill. Writing is frequently isolating and discouraging, so finding ways to handle that is very important for your long-term sanity. (Personally, I vent to my husband. The stories my husband could tell…) Find other writers: writers who are not yet writing as well as you do, whom you can mentor; writers at your level, for solidarity; writers whom you aspire toward, to be inspired by. Keep pushing your craft. The only way to learn to fly, in writing, is to jump off a lot of cliffs. And the beautiful thing about writing is that when you jump off a cliff in real life, you’re probably gonna die (so PLEASE don’t literally jump off cliffs) but when you take storytelling risks trying new things in writing, you’re not gonna die. The results might be embarrassing, but you’re not gonna die. And you’ll probably learn something new and cool and add techniques to your bag of tricks.

Read–not just the kinds of things you want to write, but read things COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to broaden your horizons. If you want to write epic fantasy, read noir, read baseball match reports, read jewelry catalogues. I promise you that you will learn unexpected things about how to use language that way.

In a way, Yoon answered the question I keep asking. How do you develop toughness and grit? How do you persevere? I like the idea of it as an emotional skill. Perhaps I’ve been treating it too much as something mechanical, like it was something I could learn by repetition. And while I’m sure practice is important, maybe there’s something else to it. Something to ponder, anyway.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
59% Complete
53,137 of 90,000 words

The primary caretaker

Ever since KRH was born, now seven months ago, I have been Dad only part of the time. Which isn’t to say I haven’t always been a dad, but for much of the week, I am busy at my day job. For the most part, when I’m at work I’m not parenting. My mind isn’t in parent mode. In a similar vein, for at least some of the last seven months, while I’ve been happy to be the person taking care of KRH for an afternoon or an evening, I have never been the “primary” parent for a long period.

That’s in part been because of the physical reality, because although he’s started solid food, we were never able to get KRH to take a bottle with any frequency, so until recently he needed Mom at least a few times a day. And in part, my wife has been the one on leave from work, so the vast majority of taking care of the baby has fallen on her, even as she’s needed to recover from pregnancy and birth (a job I think we often underestimate).

Long story short, I’ve never really taken up the full time job of caring for a child.

That’s going to change shortly! Next month, I’ll be starting parental leave, while my wife goes back to work. For my wife, it’s going to be difficult to leave KRH, but we decided we wanted either of us to be able to take care of KRH on any given day, and we decided the best way to do that was to make sure I had time to be the primary parent. So for about three and a half months, that’s going to be my job. I’m really thankful that my wife is willing to give me the opportunity to do it, because I think I’m going to learn a lot and hopefully have great times in the process.

What this probably isn’t going to be is an opportunity to write a whole lot. I’ve already cut the time I’m writing down because I just haven’t been able to keep up lately. I’m expecting, honestly, to get almost no work done while I’m on leave. I’m expecting taking care of KRH, plus doing household things, to take most of my time. If I do have time to write, great, but I don’t anticipate it. So while my writer brain really doesn’t like that and screams about it, I’m getting an opportunity to just spend time with KRH. It helps, of course, that he’ll be as playful and independent as he’s yet been and it’ll be warm and lovely for the months I’ll be on leave. So I anticipate lots of summer walks and trips to the park and the zoo and festivals and all sorts of similar things.

I have a while until this begins, but I can’t wait. I’m sure when it happens I’ll have a lot of things to post about.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
59% Complete
53,137 of 90,000 words

I want it five years ago

I spend a lot of time thinking about personal growth. I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that we are imperfect creatures by nature, and that there is always some way or another we can improve ourselves, be it our health, our personality, our habits, whatever. As a writer, I see how slowly improving my writing techniques and output will eventually yield massive gains and indeed that has been my plan for a long time.

But somehow, I think, my thinking about growth has gotten twisted, or maybe always been twisted. As a society, I think we hear a lot of stories about people who made massive changes overnight. They quit smoking cold turkey or took up a health lifestyle or quit their jobs to write or were one day struck by an epiphany and did something. And I think we tend to idolize those people whose willpower, apparently, is simply enough to sit down and make that massive change.

I don’t think most change comes from that method. If it does, maybe it shouldn’t. Sure, if that works for you, but I can’t off hand think of anything I’ve accomplished through that kind of massive change. And yet, if you looked at my planning document(I use and love my Volt Planner, I’m consistently setting goals across multiple areas for massive change. I’ve gotten better about breaking goals down into achievable bites and strategizing methods, but I’m still often trying to pack big changes into a month.

I think one of the reasons I’ve found the jump to parenthood so difficult is that I somehow expected that it would be a milestone and an opportunity. I thought that since everything would be changing, it would be an opportunity to set all the blocks of my life exactly as I wanted them. I’d eat perfectly after KRH, I told myself. I’d get really good at stealing 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there of writing, so that I’d actually write more and more efficiently than before. I’d get to the gym more regularly, something I only started doing a few months before KRH was born. And so on and so forth.

Does it shock you, dear reader, to learn that none of those massive changes worked out? Even though I had broken things down into achievable bites? It turns out that having a baby was more difficult than I expected, in different ways than I expected. So here I am, six months after KRH was born, and much of my change is still unmade. It doesn’t help, I think, that when I set out to make a change, I want it to happen five years ago, and if not then yesterday will have to do.

Now, this realization is a bit funny because I’ve long mentally accepted the idea of continuous growth. But I think I really need to focus on the fundamentals and try and do less of what doesn’t work. So in May I’m going to do that, and I’m going to pick a few narrow areas to try and improve in, rather than filling my list with to-do things. We’ll see what kind of progress I can make.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
56% Complete
50,197 of 90,000 words

March’s Fuel

What the heck did I do in March? Well, I did spent a week in Mexico. I went intending to do a lot of reading, and while I did do some, it wasn’t quite as much as I intended. Nor did I spend as much time at home as I expected. So this month’s fuel was a little lean, and mostly books. And that’s fine! So what did I read?

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley. I first came to Hurley via her writing advice, and in fact she gave me some great thoughts a little while ago. So naturally I grabbed this book as it came out. I’d started reading some of her other work, but I admit this was my first completed novel by her. And wow. This was a great book. Really good. It put so many twists on so many sci-fi tropes, and always managed to surprise me. It’s very much worth your time to check out.

You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding. So this book isn’t fiction, but an author I’m a fan of recommended it on twitter. So I grabbed it, and I think it’s going to change a lot of things for me. The book is grounded in the idea that, because of how our brains work, we can train ourselves to get lost in emotional sensations sent by the brain. In fact, the more you focus on and think about these sensations, the easier it gets, because your brain is very good at re-writing itself (neuroplasticity). But if you can wire your brain to focus on bad habits, you can also use that power to train it to have good habits. I learned a lot from this one and I’m still applying the 4-step method in my life in a lot of different ways.

The Black Company by Glen Cook. I admit, I try to focus a lot of my reading on more modern novels. I want to know what’s being written now, not what was written years ago. But The Black Company has been sitting in my library for quite a long time, and I decided Mexico was a great place to read it. It was not a book I regretted reading, either. I found it to be written in a very different style than a lot of books I read, but never one that detracted from my enjoyment of it. Anyone into military fantasy will probably love this one.

Meanwhile, I’ve finished with rewriting those rewritten Cloudbreakers scenes. It still needs a lot of work, but it’s still an early draft so that’s to be expected. I feel better about where the novel is going and the overall state of it than I did before.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
53% Complete
47,476 of 90,000 words

Changing everything

So I haven’t been posting my Cloudbreakers status updates lately. It’s not because I’m not working on it, but I have had to pause the rewrite.

I came to a realization a little while ago. One of the three viewpoint characters was wrong. That part of the story follows a group trying to rescue the main character. I wanted a viewpoint inside the group, whose relationships with each other and acceptance of the friend is a major plot point. Each had their reasons to go along with the rescue, but each had different points of impact through the series. By choosing one as a viewpoint character, I was de-emphasizing the others. Worse, none of them had a reason to be a viewpoint character, so their motivations came through rather flat, especially the one I choose.

I’ve been working on this novel since September, and working it over in my brain since I wrote it as a short story back in 2013. Took me this long to realize that the viewpoint problem was right there. Another character accompanies the group, one who’s romantically interested in the main character, and who also manages to betray her. In other words, someone with a whole lot invested in the outcome of the rescue. She also functions as an outsider to the group, being able to comment and observe things. She travels with the group for the whole journey, so she’s in a position to tell the part of the narrative I need to tell. In short, she’s perfect.

Why I didn’t I see this until now? I’m not sure, but I knew from the start that it wasn’t working. I think this is part of the writing process, in which you understand what does work and what doesn’t.  I think a good writer will understand that when they read it, even if they don’t know why it doesn’t work immediately, which is possibly why I felt those scenes weren’t working.

So what do I do about it? That character’s viewpoint is about a third of the book. I’m midway through a rewrite, so this took me back to the start to fix those scenes, which I’m still working on now. I’m confident the result will be a better book, and I’m glad to have this solved on what’s essentially my third draft rather than a much later one, even if it does derail my progress a little bit.