Saturday, January 20, 2018

A New Year, A New You

Whether or not it will remain true under historical review, most people agree that 2016 was a lousy year. We’ve seen the deaths of many true geniuses, both artistic and otherwise, and those of us who are Americans see the gulfs between us citizens to be expanding to near uncrossability.

So let’s say goodbye to this pox of a calendar measurement and look forward. What can we who swim in the pool of speculation do to keep ourselves upon the onward and upward stroke?

Most use these few weeks to set resolutions, an attempt at reinvention or expansion to do more of what’s good and less of what’s bad. We usually fall short of this goal and thereby “fail” once again, proving to ourselves that we are a) worthless or b) never going to change.

The most popular of all the goals is losing weight/working out. Gyms across this fair land swell with memberships that become unused by mid-February. The biggest obstacle is usually not the fat attached to hips, bellies and legs but lies with the gray matter within our skull. Addicted as we can be to instant gratification (while this should be self-evident, please refer to any browsing history to see how needs must be met quickly), the body cannot respond as quickly as our attention span. The work of getting in better shape takes time and effort.

I happen to be someone who has successfully reshaped my body. From a weight of 280 pounds, which lead to such other problems as high blood pressure and severe, window-rattling snoring because of sleep apnea, I managed to shed 50 pounds. I used the Wii Fit and Wii Active systems, knowing that one of my main problems was going to a gym. With everything necessary at home, I could develop the patterns to make a permanent change.

While my body shape is far from perfect (my belly refuses to show off the perfectly good abs hiding under there), I’ve kept up with my exercise and have transitioned to other workouts to build muscle and endurance.

But here’s the dirty secret hiding in my “success” story: looking in the mirror can still be a nightmare. I still see only the flaws and faults, my thick middle laughing at all my progress. Despite real physical gains, I still see the fat dude who isn’t one of the trim Adonises who strut around my personal gym.

I also hear this same tale from many writer friends. People who have written many more novels than I still fear “being discovered” as a fraud, the horrible mindset known as Imposter Syndrome.

My own personal belief is this comes from a worship of quantity. The genre writers loved and respected throughout the last two centuries wrote at scorching paces, some generating millions of words.

Earl Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason and other pulp heroes, was asked why his characters always shot the bad guys with the final bullet in the gun. His response? “I get paid by the word.”

This is not how writers make their income now, although certainly the self-published have to keep the content flowing. But the attitude of “I could be writing more” has carried over from those feverish times. It leads to authors feeling guilty when they do simple things like watching a movie or walking on the beach. Such times are seen as “wasted” because others are furiously typing, putting themselves ahead of us.

This inability to relax plagues many of us and can certainly lead to feeling like we are pretenders not professionals. So let’s look to destroy that menace of creativity as we move into the future.

Let’s celebrate the words written instead of crying about those unrecorded. Let’s see each creative day as an accomplishment and not a missed opportunity. Let’s keep our eye on the horizon and out of the rear view mirror.

Because writing is like exercise. The immediate work doesn’t always feel effective. But pushing through day after day will eventually yield the rewards. And the more you work those muscles, the more skills you gain. The brain is a muscle and writing (or any art you practice) is your body. It’s a long haul, but steadiness will bring you achievement.

And so, in this first month of 2017, we will concentrate on achievement and reinvention.

In terms of challenging writers to stretch beyond accepted norms, A.F. Grappin presents “Breaking the Binary,” a look at creating new sexualities from many different points of science. Anyone building fantastic new worlds could use this info.

Next, Riley James Keith finds a pathway to acceptance with “The Measuring Stick,” a personal look at geek culture and finding one’s place in the world.

Finally, we’ll look back on the quaint days of yesteryear and how those innocent people saw the end of the world in Charles Hemard’s “Society’s Apocalyptic Visions.” By looking back, we can maybe see some hope for what coming soon.

But we won’t dwell on such negativity. Even when times look bad—and they do—it’s our challenge to speculate and find our new reality. We must see that time and our place in it. For there, in that tiny little vision, is hope.

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