All posts by Erik

Weekly Update: 3/27-4/2

I took my first work trip this week, flying to Atlanta to visit our company’s office there. It was a productive and exhausting time, but it had one serious drawback:

Atlanta traffic descended into chaos when a portion of I-85 collapsed due to a fire.

The bridge collapsed on Thursday night. Friday was my departure day. Unfortunately, the office is on one end of the city, and the airport is on the other. With some preparation, and an obscene amount of time stuck in traffic, I made it to my gate in time.

I get now why people complain about traveling for work. I love to travel in general, but travel during the week can be disruptive. You’re also stuck in someone else’s office, which can interfere with your productivity. I also ate out every night with my coworkers, and was totally bloated by the time I got back. I found it hard to sleep on the plane during my red-eye flights, and it was too loud for me to read.

This weekend I visited the Bay Area Renaissance Festival on closing day with a few friends. I forgot just how much dust and dirt blows around, especially after a week or two without rain. I guess getting totally soiled in dirt creates a more authentic experience, har har.

So some ugly things came to light in my denomination this week, chief among them the revelation that our hiring practices don’t reflect our values as a multicultural, inclusive church. The president of the UUA resigned, three months before his term was complete, after a memo was leaked indicating he didn’t think much of these revelations.

This is also not the first time the UUA has been taken to task in regards to its fair-weather friend attitude with civil rights.

Incidentally, I’ve been involved with a social justice workshop at my church, specifically for learning how we can be better white allies, and this topic was discussed at our last meeting. We’ve been having some hard conversations with long-time members about generalizations, institutional racism, and personal bias. My experience in this workshop, combined with these revelations, leads me to believe that while our intentions are good, we still have a long way to go.

I will be attending a writing workshop in about four weeks. Having gotten through the gauntlet that was last month, I’m just coming to realize how much work I have to do before then. Writing and submitting a story was one thing, but now semi-pro and pro writers expect me to critique their work. Me, with two anthology sales and monthly articles written for an IT humor blog.

What am I even doing.

Weekly Update: 3/20-3/26

(CW: weight loss, mental illness)

Saturday afternoon, I posted the following on my Facebook wall:

Heed my lesson on overcommitment:
Today, I had three social invitations, but due to distance and time I could only pick one. I settled on going to Tampa Pride.
However, I got a surprise at the office yesterday: I’m being sent on a work trip next Wednesday to our Atlanta office. That meant that everything I would be doing next week has to get done this weekend. I’m still not done today.
So I’m missing out on Pride, a Rogue One re-watch, and a bouncy house party. All because I promise too much. Ugh.

It wasn’t meant to be a complaint. I’m genuinely happy that people trust me with this much responsibility — and that my workplace is willing to spend money on flying me to another office to meet the division there — but it did stink that I had to miss out on seeing friends.

A friend replied that this wasn’t overcommitting, it was just adulting. That’s probably true. On the other hand, over-scheduling is itself a kind of overcommitment, as any change in plans means things getting moved, bumped or passed on to someone else.

So what are my commitments right now? Well, here’s an incomplete list, in no particular order:

  • Work
  • Freelancing for The Daily WTF (I just submitted one this morning, in fact).
  • Chair of the Adult RE committee at my church
  • Story critiques for my writing groups at Paradise Lost
  • Running for the Board of Trustees at my church
  • Miscellaneous volunteering duties

And here’s a list of not-quite-commitments and commitments only made to myself:

  • Food journaling/calorie deficit for weight loss
  • Completing a modified C25K program
  • Reading Leviathan Wakes for book club

I’m feeling some resentment, and I’m not sure why. I don’t rationally expect any reward or positive outcome, other than pay (for work and freelancing) and improved fitness (for my running and dieting regimens). I’m not being taken advantage of, as far as I know.

Could it be the opportunity cost? Maybe that’s what irked me the other day, the fact that my obligations kept me from jumping in a bouncy house with my friends or watching a pride parade in Ybor City. In fact, I had another conflict earlier this week: I wanted to attend a monthly social gathering, but went to a social justice workshop instead.

Social events tend to be spontaneous. “Hey, let’s all go to the renaissance festival this afternoon!” But obligations are, with the exception of that surprise work trip, made well in advance. “Sorry, I’m volunteering for X today.”

I find less enjoyment in online communication than I once did, so much so that I gave up Facebook Messenger a few months back. In college I instant messaged all my friends, but now I only use messenger if I have to. These social engagements and real-life gatherings are much more important for me nowadays. That might be why it stings more when I have to pass them up: as some of the few times I get to hang out with people my own age, they’re much more precious than they used to be even a few years ago.

I think this week was a fluke. Most weeks I have more than enough time to fulfill these obligations, and still have time for silliness. In fact, I’m making a point to keep next weekend free, as it’s the last weekend of the local renaissance festival, and I really, really don’t want to miss that this year.

Oh, so about running.

I mentioned a couple weeks back that my food journaling/calorie-counting was partly in response to a desire for more high-impact exercise. Last July, I fractured a bone in my right big toe. The swelling was something awful at first, but it died down after I replaced my shoes with a sturdier, more cushioned pair. I carry a lot of my weight on my torso, so if I want to do anything that doesn’t ruin my knees or feet, I need to drop some weight.

Back in 2010-11, when I was around 180-190 pounds, I ran a 5K in 33 minutes. That’s not an awesome time by any stretch, but in comparison, my last 5K time was about 45 minutes. I’m not that much older (26 vs 32), but I’m 50 pounds heavier.

I think if people can be called to certain kinds of sports/activity, I’m called to running. I love getting lost (literally or metaphorically) miles in, and unlike cycling, I need very little equipment or any flat pavement to do so. It also has neurological benefits, which have been a great help for my struggles with depression.

If I’m going to continue running, I have to manage my weight, or it’s going to get harder as I get older. There’s no way around it, and I really wish there were, because losing weight is painful. But if I’m going to fulfill all these obligations in my life, I need to be healthy, and the best way to do so is with an activity you enjoy.

And just to reiterate: this, along with sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and signs of pre-diabetes, are why I’m losing weight. I spent a lot of time last year coming to accept my body and found some peace with it. I want to keep it — and by that, I mean myself — healthy.

And Now, Back To Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

As some might have noticed, I made my Twitter profile private. This is part of a more general withdraw from Twitter as a whole. There are a few reasons for this: 1) I’m sick of spam bots following me and DM-ing me when I follow back, 2) my timeline is reduced to people shouting at each other, and 3) misinformation seems to spread more readily on Twitter alongside the true stuff, which I’ve fallen victim to on occasion.

Since my many (haha!) readers may want to know how my life is going, I’m going to start a weekly update schedule on general life events and observations. I’ll still post occasional essays/rambling screeds on different topics, but the weekly updates will be labelled differently.

In a way, it’s a return to how I blogged when I was on LiveJournal years ago. Of course, my LJ was private, so everything posted here will have to pass the “would I tweet about this?” test.

That said, how’s my life going?
Continue reading And Now, Back To Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Some Thoughts on Jesus (or, Samsara Revisited)

Not long after I posted about “The Moral Arc of the Universe,” I realized how nihilistic I sounded. There have also been much better explorations of that quote than my own musings. I’ve decided to revisit that quote.

Trump, beyond his personal failings, represents the union of two awful movements: post-modern “truthiness” and 21st-century fascism, aka the “alt-right.” These aren’t merely typical, spectrum-graphed American political positions, but existential threats to a secular, multi-cultural society. “Truthiness,” the warping of truth in the pursuit of entertainment, breaks a belief in objectivity. Fascism punishes the other, either conforming everyone to the same mold or casting them out, metaphorically or literally. Trump, an entertainer, distorts the truth for political power, and allies himself with far-right movements that are reviving xenophobia in the 21st century.

I’ve struggled with how to respond. Buddhism failed me in this, as I can’t extend my compassion to all beings without being overwhelmed with their suffering. Nor can I bury my head in the sand, as tempting as that has been. I also can’t throw my life into becoming “the resistance,” like so many activist friends, as people depend on me for support.

Then I remembered I believe in God.

Yes, despite being a student of Buddhism, I never stopped being a Theist (Process Theology helped a lot with that conundrum). I’ve always been a believer in Buddhist ethics, but its metaphysics never sat well with me. That’s why I look back on my Samsara post with disdain, because if it’s true then I have no moral counter-argument to Trump’s methods. I have to believe in objective truth, and I have to believe in the inherent worth of everyone, especially our differences.

The following may come as a shock to some readers.

Remember when I read CS Lewis and couldn’t stand him? Well, that’s still true, but reading other Christian writers gave me some better perspective. Progressive Christians, the kind that embraces Jesus’s admonition against stoning in judgment, are up in arms over Trump’s co-opting of the evangelicals to further these agendas.

I’ve always had a strange, heretical relationship with Christianity — it’s why I became a UU in the first place! — and it’s an odd feeling embracing it now. Yet I follow Jesus on Twitter. I consider the Beatitudes more than just a fancy sermon, but a call to action. I don’t consider the historical Jesus of Nazareth to have been divine (no more than the rest of us!), and my God is, erm, unitarian.

But what if I believed that the story of Jesus could be a transformative force, that it has power despite not being historically true (like all other good myths)? That if God had appeared in human form, that God might act and speak like Jesus does? I’ve never had a problem reconciling science and religion before — I mean, it’s not like I believed the stories about the miracles Buddha performed — so why should the divide between the historical Jesus, a revolutionary Palestinian Jew speaking out against Rome, and Jesus Christ, the divine made flesh, be a sticking point?

I can’t believe I’m typing these words, but am I a Christian?

That might be too far — again, I’m a heretic in most churches! — but Christians believe in an objective truth (or Truth), and they believe in every person’s inherent worth as a child of God. These are the counter-arguments to Trump’s truthiness and fascism. And if the loosest definition of a Christian is “someone who follows Christ,” then that’s true of me.

“The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed. I write this post a day before MLK day. If God exists as the Christians describe, that can be literally true, not just as a metaphor. The world may exist in Samsara now, but it won’t always. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and it’s big enough for heretics and cowards like myself if we work hard enough.

Inposter Syndrome: A Case Study

How many times have I put aside/sorta quit/tried to walk away from writing? I could list practically every other blog I’ve posted here. It was almost six months ago that I wrote “Writing Shouldn’t Hurt”, about how awful the grind had become.

(As it turns out, the short break I took has helped a lot. I recharged my batteries, finished the draft of Altars and Acolytes, and I’m now halfway through a new short story, my first in several years. I also found some success, which I’ll be happy to tell you about when an official announcement is made.)

Two years ago I posted a retrospective on my time at Viable Paradise. VP for short, it’s a one-week, intensive writing workshop taught by industry professionals. I hadn’t articulated it at the time, but I was suffering from some severe imposter syndrome. Several writers in my cohort had gone on to publish novels, others broke into the short story market, and I … hadn’t sold anything. (For money, I should add. Giving away stories isn’t worth your time.) I continued to write, request critique, revise, submit … and didn’t make any noticeable headway.

There are a few measures of success for writers. One, simply put, is words written. It’s the one you have the most control over, but also the least noticeable. However, your writing improves incrementally over every page written, so even if the world beyond your beta readers doesn’t see your work, you can still tell you’ve made progress.

A second measure is your overall rejection count. Stephen King famously hung his rejections from a rail spike. Some successful writers I know use this metric. If they aren’t getting rejections, they aren’t making progress. You have a bit less control over this — you can finish your stories, but there also have to be markets to send them to.

A third metric is market sales. How many stories of yours found homes? Are your novels repped by an agency? You have the least control over this: there’s the words you’ve written, plus the preferences of the editorial staff, shifting publishing trends, and the economy as a whole.

When I wrote that retrospective in 2014, I was too quick to judge my own success against others using that third metric: sales. Rejections to sales for an author just breaking out are 100-to-1, maybe an order of magnitude more than that. Oh, and because social media only presents our best selves, we never hear about the thirty rejections a pro author received before a sale, just that they sold their book and yours is on rejection #45.

When your friends are successful, it’s easy to forget just how hard breaking in truly is.

Even now, the hedonic treadmill rolls on. My one sale isn’t enough anymore, not to be a real writer. Real writers have their own anthologies, and three-book contracts, and book tours. Heaven forbid I ever go on a book tour and think, “well, real writers do lectures…”

The times I’ve wanted to quit writing, it’s usually been because I was feeling like a failure, and I felt like a failure because I was using the wrong metric for success. Words written should be the only metric that matters. Some authors, like Brandon Sanderson, publicly track their writing progress, but many are fairly secretive about their process. Writing, after all, is usually a private affair.

Imposter syndrome has also kept me from pursuing further writing workshops and critique groups. I skipped the Viable Paradise reunion earlier this year; although I was short on vacation days, the bigger reason was my reluctance to compare my progress with the rest of my cohort. I didn’t want to look like a fluke, that the VP staff had wasted a spot on me.

That’s changing. I registered for Paradise Lost, a weekend-long workshop meant as a refresher for established pros and graduates of other workshops. It helps that I have something ready for critique by then, whereas a year ago everything was either too old or half-finished.

If I care about my writing, I have to treat myself like a real writer. And the first step is measuring progress in a way that makes sense.


The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. – Theodore Parker, by way of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m not sure I believe this anymore. It’s a common refrain among my fellow UUs after the events of this year, a reminder that, like love, justice takes time and justice takes work. But I don’t know if there is any inherent moral arc of the universe. God is inscrutable, possessing something beyond our conception of consciousness and morality, so how can we know if our conception of justice fits?

The Just World hypothesis is, after all, a fallacy. It’s one I’ve fallen prey to so many times before. Things will work out if you put in the effort. No one can get away with so much without some sort of retribution. What goes around, comes around.

It doesn’t, at least not in puny human timescales.

In Buddhist metaphysics, we inhabit the world of samsara, the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction and pain. Without heroic and skillful effort, that cycle rolls on and on.

Justice isn’t God’s responsibility, but ours. It’s a mortal endeavor. Justice takes time, and justice takes work. The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice because we bend it ourselves.

I gained faith this year, but lost much of my optimism. Optimism is no longer an outlook I can rely on, but a deliberate practice, a stone wall built against the oncoming tides of samsara.

Earlier this evening, I wrote a letter on a holiday card to a friend. A member of my graduating class, I’ve recently become reacquainted with this person, and I realized how much it meant to me. That, and a few other small, personal achievements, are what I want to remember this year for. I hope I’ll judge 2017 on the merits of what little I can do to bend that arc towards justice.

NaNoWriMo 2016: A Post-Mortem

Final count: 17,746 words. I may not have “won” NaNoWriMo this year, but in a larger sense, I accomplished exactly what I wanted.

My draft of Altars and Acolytes, aka Oh, How I Wish Stories Wrote Themselves, is done. Still needs work, but the story’s coherent, it follows an outline, and successive edits won’t be nearly the slog that this draft was. I wrote maybe 13K to get to the end. My plan of throwing out everything and writing the third act from scratch actually worked.

The 4K I wrote following that has been split up a few ways. I’ve written 2K for a short story entitled “Juicers,” which is about bicycle generators. (No, really.) I’ve thrown in a blog post or two into that count, as well as a poem.

Given the, shall we say, calamitous events of this month, it’s a small miracle that anyone wrote anything at all. Yet writing reminded me that I still have value, that my voice deserves to be heard, and that making art can be a way forward.

Now, hopefully next year I can start something new for a change. Ad astra per aspira.