The Real Cost of Experiences

This is becoming a really popular ideal among my generation, I think. Go out and do things, they tell you, don’t just rely on stuff to be happy. Inherently, it’s not a bad idea but it gets problematic really quickly, the way I see it.

Experiences are rarely free, even if they seem like it at the time. Taking a walk in the park? It’s maintained by park rangers, who work hard to keep that space safe and beautiful; their salary probably comes out of the taxes that you pay. Had an adventurous dinner at a restaurant? That meal was prepared by a staff of often barely make a living wage and the ingredients possibly come from a farm abroad that underpays their workers.

I’m a real buzzkill today, I know. But I guess I’m tired of being told that experiences (many of which I cannot join in due to disability) are intrinsically better than stuff. The Experiences are Better Than Things premise is no more free of the crushing bonds of capitalism than is the premise of If It Makes You Happy, Buy It. There’s no getting out of the loop. And capitalism, if you ask me, can be a pretty gross and exploitative system – especially toward women, minorities, and people with disabilities.

According to the American Community Survey in 2015, people with disabilities made only 68 percent of what people without any disabilities made. Even among people with disabilities, the gender pay gap is quite significant: median pay for women with disabilities is 69 percent that of men with disabilities.

Capitalism asks us to place a value on our own lives based on how much money we can make. And it demonstrates again and again that women, minorities, and people with disabilities are somehow less than their (usually) white male counterparts. “Problematic” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Don’t put a price tag on who you are. You’re better than that.

Welcome to Hellsgate, NM

I never watched Westerns as a kid. Never played cowboys and Indians, never really wanted to ride a horse, never felt the urge to learn to shoot a gun. It wasn’t my wheelhouse. I didn’t watch John Wayne movies or read Wild West adventure stories.

And yet, as a writer in the thirties, I have suddenly been starstruck by the genre known as Weird West. This subgrenre takes the traditional Wild West setting and adds elements of occult, horror, sci-fi, or fantasy. It’s an odd mix, to be sure, but something about the desert whispers secrets to me and wants me to tell stories of mysteries and strange happenings on the open range.

Ghost towns, gold mines, wild coyotes, steam trains, gunslingers, bandits – it all spells adventure.

And so I’ve dug up some short pieces I’ve written in a fictional town that I like to call Hellsgate, NM. Here’s the first piece, which was originally published on my blog 3 years ago and which, edited and re-worked, was published on 101words.org. Here’s the newest iteration:

saloon

Daryl “Deadeye” Wilcox died on March 23, 1903, at 1:27 p.m. At about 3:00 that same afternoon, he took his usual stool at The Jackson tavern and ordered himself a white whiskey. The messy hole blown through his chest made drinking a little bit difficult, but Shoeleather, the weathered old barkeep, was more than used to this kind of incident. He toweled up the spilled liquid and offered the ugly, soaked rag to Wilcox. Daryl nodded his thanks to the barkeep, stuffed the whiskey-soaked towel firmly into his wound, and ordered up another drink. This time, he asked for a double.

These things happen sometimes in the town of Hellsgate, New Mexico. The dead don’t always stay dead, the living don’t usually stay living, night and day never are too reliable, and folks who hear or see strange things most likely have the right of it. The massive pit outside of town leads straight to Hades, after all, so mind your horses and watch where you’re stepping. And don’t mind the howling of the damned at night – you get used to it.

Welcome to Hellsgate.

Turn Resolutions Into Progress

It’s easy to lose some steam when it comes to moving a project along. I mean, there’s the internet to distract you, dishes to wash, errands to run, jobs to work. All of these are really fantastic ways to be not writing. 

You know what drives me crazy? Doctors telling you to eliminate stress from your life. Are they kidding? Eliminate stress? Sure, I’ll just quit my job, stop paying bills, and raise chickens in the country until I die.

Right. Sure. 

So I’m not going to tell you to eliminate distractions from your life in order to make writing progress. That’s not going to happen. But it’s time to turn that New Year’s resolution to write more into legitimate writing progress!

writing-1209121_1280

I find that the most powerful motivator to make progress on a project is, well, making progress on a project. It’s an inertia thing, you know? Seeing the goal get closer makes the climb to it seem less intimidating. So the hardest part might getting over the initial hump of getting started.

Motivation comes from celebrating the small victories. 

Set small goals at first. Make them achievable, don’t make them so high that they’re unattainable. Set yourself up for success.

progress

Write 200 words a day. Edit 5 pages. Do those small things that will get the ball rolling, but that won’t scare you off. Then, start to ramp up your progress: make higher goals, push yourself more, set hard deadlines for achievements.

Think of every small goal reached as a drop in the bucket. Drops may seem small, but over time, enough drops will fill up a bucket.

Why Critique is Important (and when it’s not)

You Need to Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

wherethemagichappens

We all do from time to time. When we take on a new job, when we move to a new place, even when we try a new restaurant – we need to be a little adventurous now and again. Pushing ourselves helps us to grow as people. So, too, does sharing your work with others help you to grow as a writer.

Critique isn’t just one-sided; it’s a matter of give and take between members. Whether you work in a pair or a group, you spend some time reading and giving feedback on your partner’s work and you receive feedback in kind of them. This process of reading with a critical eye for storytelling makes you not only a better reader, but a better writer, too.

Listen, But Know That Not All Feedback is Important

why-active-listening-is-a-must-have-skill-1290x432

It’s true. Just because a critique partner suggested a change in your work, it does not mean that you have to take it! While it’s helpful to listen and consider what you’re hearing (especially if you’re hearing the same thing from multiple people), you don’t have to change anything that you don’t think will improve your work. It is your work, after all, and it’s your final call whether or not you’re going to take the feedback that you received.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers

download

We all have moments where we look around at our friends and family members and see what they’ve accomplished: travel, homeownership, a new job, a growing family. We’re proud of them and happy for our loved ones in these moments – but don’t we all compare ourselves and where we are in life to those around us? Don’t we wish we were maybe doing something better or different ourselves sometimes? I’m guilty of doing this pretty frequently.

So, too, do we sometimes find ourselves looking at published writers or our critique partners and holding our work up against theirs. But this path generally leads nowhere good. It’s certainly possible to admire the work of others and seek to emulate what they do – but this won’t necessarily lead to you improving your own writing. And when you hold your current work up against something published? You’re comparing your raw work-in-progress to their polished best piece of work. That won’t so anything but make you feel less awesome than you really are.

And here’s the thing: you are awesome. You are. Keep working and keep being awesome.

Nine

This flash fiction piece was a challenge. Espec Books held a contest in May  2016 for pieces with the theme of Defending the Future: Man and Machine – and it had to be 624 words or less. Whoo! I wrote and re-wrote and edited and edited and edited some more to get this shaved down without being watered down. And, hey, I won!

What I came out with is one of my favorite pieces of my work to date. It’s crisp and, I think, powerful. I’m really proud of it. I hope you like it.

exo

Nine

The geeks always tell me to relax during pilot acquisition, but I think that’s pretty much bull. The EXO-9 suit is 327 pounds of death and destruction; it doesn’t want you relaxed, it wants you tense and ready to pounce.

“Welcome, Staff Sergeant Vasquez,” the suit said in a polite, feminine voice.

“Uhh, thanks?” I replied stupidly. That was new.

“Let’s get started,” the voice urged. “Call me Nine.”

I called out to the geeks. “Hey! Whose idea was the lady in here?”

The blonde Specialist laughed. “We thought the sound of a woman might keep your attention,” she said.

“Har har,” I sneered.

Today would go better than last week. It had to. Falling flat on my face in the new exoskeleton armor hadn’t exactly endeared me to the geeks. Or to the Master Sergeant who’d been observing the mobility test.

“Staff Sergeant Vasquez, your heart rate is increasing,” Nine said.

“Uh, Nine? Call me Oscar. I’m sure it is; I’m going nuts in here.”

“Your patience and cooperation are important, Oscar. We will begin systems check momentarily.”

My screen flooded with data. Systems check would begin — finally. At least now I got to do something. Some unexpected graphics filled my HUD.

“Whoa. Why am I seeing targeting? I thought we were just taking a stroll today.”

“Schedule crunch,” the blonde shrugged from the test floor. “We’re doubling up, running a test of the weapons software to make sure it won’t crash the whole system. Don’t worry, you’re not toting ammo.”

One of the geeks said, “Unlocking braces – ready to take a walk, Vasquez?”

I heard the hiss of the hydraulics, then took a tentative step. The exoskeleton frame moved with me as if it weighed nothing at all. Next, the stairs down from the platform. This was where I’d fallen last time and I could see my heart rate rising on my HUD.

I took the first step with that sort of blind faith we reserve for walking down stairs — only most of us don’t do it while strapped into 300+ pounds of carbon-steel. Blind faith delivered and my foot landed firmly on the step. I slowly made my way down all six stairs in a dead silent room. The blonde stepped into view.

“Doing great,” she said. “First test: weapons recognition. Check each of the dummies on the range and target any with weapons the software IDs.”

Turning to my left, I took in the setup in the firing range. “Nine, Identify weapons.”

I watched the targeting rings whiz around, highlighting weapon silhouettes and locking on.

“Hmm, she missed one,” the blonde typed into her PAD. “Not bad. Let’s do a few range of motion tests then put her away.”

I turned back toward the blonde and watched, in terrible slow-motion, as the targeting rings flew across the screen and highlighted the heads of everyone in the room.

“Nine?” I shouted.

“Ammunition out. Switching to manual combat,” Nine replied.

“Nine! Stop it!”

“Assuming control.”

My legs were forced into a walk, muscles screaming in pain as I fought. And there was the blonde, staring up at me, eyes wide. Her PAD clattered to the floor as my right arm was forced back and swung forward, slamming into the side of her head.

A spatter of blood hit my visor.

“Nine, stop it!”

Nine forced me into a running jump and pounced onto the prone form of the blonde. My right arm was yanked back again and my metal fist slammed into the blonde’s head with a sickening crunch. Blood and tears blurred my vision.

“Oscar?” Nine asked in that disgustingly calm tone as she continued to smash my fist into the blood-smeared floor, “Your heart rate is increasing.”

Theories of Her

I’m so pleased to announce that I have a flash fiction piece, Womb, appearing in the Theories of Her anthology. The anthology is now available through Amazon.com and CreateSpace. Edited by Candace Habte, Theories of Her brings together over 50 artists and writers who have experiences to share when it comes to being a woman in the world.

theories-of-her

Candace writes:

Theories of HER was created to disrupt.

Theories of HER was also created to celebrate all types of women and showcase diverse voices.

Because much like this book itself, women have layers.

Over 50 contributors from all across the world, and all walks of life, have come together as they share what it is to be her, know her, and to champion her. This collection attempts to connect the seemingly unconnected -through poetry, essays, fiction and art- with contributors ranging from award-winning veterans to emerging writers and artists.

While each piece stands alone, there’s also a merging tapestry that takes the reader through a lifetime, with topics ranging from gender and societal expectations, to love, loss, relationships and self-acceptance.

Of course I’m a little biased, being in it and all, but the project sounds very exciting and I’ll be picking up a book this week! I can’t wait to dig in and see what this diverse team of voices have to say. Check it out and, if you read it, let me know what you think.

For Exposure Only

I have a pretty strong opinion about writing for exposure and it is this: you probably shouldn’t do it. I’m speaking as someone who is still trying to make it as a writer, using the skills that I have in that field to pay my bills. I’m not someone who is on top of the mountain of success; I’m still climbing it every day.

mountain20climbing20man20wallpaper__yvt2

As a writer or artist especially, you may be approached at some point to work for free because it will help your career in the future. But here’s the thing: what about your career now? If you start working for free, spending your valuable time and effort and skills on a project, and see no returns, then where will you be? And what if the exposure that you were promised never turns out to exist? It’s hard to measure any actual gains you may receive from these gigs.

There are a few scenarios in which you might want to consider working for no pay (because that’s what “for exposure” means – it’s a fancy way of saying, “I can’t/won’t pay you.”), like guest posts on an established blog or for a major publication with a huge readership. But then, if a major publication is offering you work, definitely ask yourself why they aren’t offering you compensation, too.

benefit-of-working-for-free

More than just a matter of not getting paid now, consider this: agreeing to work for free in the present makes it harder to negotiate better paying jobs in the future. It’s like admitting that writing – your writing, particularly – isn’t worth anything.

Also, if you ask me, it’s just insulting.

Insulting to your own hard work and insulting in that it implies that creative skills are worth nothing. Your hard work isn’t without value. Never forget that.