Reminder to Future Me

Every once in a while I post stuff that is more or less a reminder to future me. This is one of those posts. From “Why You Should Do Your Work First, Others’ Second“:

If you don’t build big-picture meaningful work right into your daily calendar, it will always get crowded out by the small stuff.

Best-selling author and researcher Tom Rath reinforces this point by saying, “What you will be most proud of a decade from now will not be anything that was a result of you simply responding.” He recommends to, “Manage your communications, online and offline, instead of letting them run your life. If you don’t, you will inadvertently spend a majority of your time responding to other people’s needs instead of creating anything that lasts.”

Tolerance Can Extend in All Directions

This is what public shaming does: I’m genuinely trepidatious about commenting on this topic, lest I incur the wrath of social media.

But first, let’s celebrate the #distractinglysexy hashtag. Because no matter where it came from, it speaks to real perceptions and it is awesome.

I found the hashtag before I heard about the Tim Hunt debacle. “Hmm,” I thought, “that’s too bad. It must have been uncomfortable to be one of the women in that audience.” Then I was taking photos this weekend at a client’s STEM function, and they were looking at old class photos of graduates. In the first class, in 1969, there were no women. In the second class, there was one woman, who happened to be attending. I overheard her laughingly remark, “Everyone always asks me why women in (my field) are so stubborn. Well, you have to be stubborn, to be a woman in this field!”

But that wasn’t the kicker. One of the old fellows, looking at the time in the mid-eighties where the class photos began to segue from a male-dominated field to a female-dominated field (yes! in the sciences! bonus points if you can guess which field it is), made a remark that could have come out of Tim Hunt’s mouth: “Must have been distracting to have all those women in the lab,” he said. “Yes,” his companion agreed. “Some of them are real lookers!”

I tell you this not so that you can have MOAR OUTRAGE. To me, it was a genuine indication of how pervasive these ideas are within a certain generation. And Zoe Williams has a fantastic article in the Guardian which you should read, and I am going to quote thusly:

The issue is particularly piquant in the wake of the Nobel laureate Professor Sir Tim Hunt (I give him his full title to indicate my elaborate respect for his plentiful science), who lost his jobs following what has come to be described as a feminist witch-hunt. To a conference in Seoul, he explained the problem with women – you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry. By the end of the week, he had lost his posts at University College London, the European Research Council and the Royal Society. “I am finished,” he said, in an interview with the Observer. “I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but … I have become toxic.” This looks like the best possible case against making a fuss: the price he paid was out of all proportion to the remarks he made, which were jocular and minor. He was tried by Twitter and convicted by his employers, unable until it was too late to make a case in his own defence.

We first need to separate the individual women who mocked Hunt with the hashtag “#distractinglysexy” from the institutions that fired him. Most of the social media response was, itself, pretty jocular. While plenty of people said that Hunt distilled the working environment in science, and the reason women can’t thrive in it, it didn’t follow that those people were calling for him to be sacked.

I keep seeing this trend of pillorying people for small-minded remarks, when their actions speak loudly of them being an otherwise generally good human being, and it’s wrong.

1. Words are easy disproportionally to prove. A man said some stuff he shouldn’t have said in front of a bunch of women. Yep. It was bad. Let’s put this in perspective, though – what about a man who pinches a woman’s bum or “accidentally” brushes against her breasts? Whether in a crowded room or in private, although this is a much more egregious action, it’s also much harder to provide a record of what happened. In a very real way, people who have given verbal proof that they hold outdated or sexist views (even when defended by co-workers and family members) are treated just as badly – or worse – than those who actually cross that line.

2. People are a product of their environment. And a product of their own determination. It’s both. You start with a huge dose of being a product of your environment, taking for granted the values and ideas handed to you by your parents and your teachers – in which actions and situations often speak louder than words – and bit by bit, as you grow and educate yourself and form opinions and learn from experience, you figure out which of those values and ideas are wrong for you and should be discarded. You form your own person, and it’s a life long process. Some people ossify into crusty old Get-Off-My-Lawn buggers well before their time. Some people, god bless ’em, stay curious and motivated all throughout their journey until they die at a ripe old age.

But bias is subtle and pervasive, and you can’t discard values if you don’t even realize you have them. Or, even more subtly, you can completely agree with a statement that says, “Women are equal to men,” and yet, when someone mentions a judge or a scientist, automatically picture a male person in that role.

Here’s my example of this. I grew up in a farming community. For anyone who didn’t grow up on a farm, the women are an integral part. There are not that many farm women who don’t how to start a tractor, or who haven’t taken a turn on the combine or driving the truck during harvest. But when I was growing up, men were farmers, and women were the farmer’s wives. I saw a picture when I was in grade 12 that was captioned something like, “(Woman’s name), a farmer, stands next to her crop.” MIND = BLOWN. I’m pretty sure this was a photography book celebrating women in all aspects of industry, from space travel to firefighting to scientific research to trucking, and it was the farmer that got me. Just from that one little syntax, I could see one of the pervasive ways that the outdated language of sexism had a legacy in our community – a leftover from a time, not that long ago, when women didn’t drive tractors.

Here’s another example of someone being a product of their time, this one not so subtle, and one of the most shocking things I’ve recently read:

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 9.49.53 AM

It’s a section of Virginia Woolf’s diary from 1915, discussed in Virginia Woolf in Context, by Bryony Randall & Jane Goldman. She didn’t grow up, as I did, in a time that recognized the personhood of disabled and mentally handicapped people. You can read the book it’s excerpted from if you want the greater picture of what the views of Victorian England were – her thoughts were not considered radical, but thankfully, we’ve moved on since then. 

What is my point? Just this: a reminder that tolerance and understanding can extend in all directions. That whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had. That you can be tolerant of a person’s mistakes while not being tolerant of a sexist situation or comment.

Let him or her among us who has never made an off-colour joke or tasteless comment throw the first tweet.

Some bits about writing

labyrinth-worm_0018-web

Sketchbook worm.

So a while back, I wrote a guest post at DeadlyEverAfter about what I read when I’m writing. One of the things I mentioned is that I keep a writing binder of printouts from the internet with particularly good advice (because I like killing trees, apparently, but actually I just lose things when they’re digitally bookmarked). It’s like a reference book of starter prompts for when I get stuck –  I actually hate that word, “prompts” – it sounds like seventh-grade English class, so let’s just say they’re a way to either jump-start or test the potency of the conversation I’m trying to have with myself (and readers) when I’m writing.

This week’s assorted curios includes stuff from Maggie Stiefvater’s blog (I’ve been stalking her How I Write posts), and some random things that popped up in my twitter feed.

First Drafts (any draft, really)

One of the things that I’m always harping on with drafts is that they need to be specific. Make it a book that can’t take place anywhere else, make so that it couldn’t happen to any other people, make it so that the plot couldn’t be told by anyone else.

From Rough to Final: A Dissection of Revision – Maggie Stiefvater

Kill Your Darlings… Or Not

Faulkner was the first to advise writer to kill their darlings, which basically boils down to: if you love a bit of your writing too much to be reasonable and logical about it, you should cut it. That you should never sacrifice the good of the whole because of blind affection for a single bit. (I do not agree with this advice, by the way. I think if you love a part of your writing beyond reason, you should delete the rest of it and write the rest to match the loved bit).

Do Not Love Your Characters More or Less Than Your Readers – Maggie Steifvater

Setting/Worldbuilding

Is worldbuilding something the reader or viewer ought to notice, because the writer makes a point of showing it off? If anything, I’d argue it’s closer to being the other way around — oftentimes, the more you notice the scaffolding, the less skillful the worldbuilding is. And the best worldbuilding frequently escapes your notice, unless you’re paying a lot of attention.

Does the Phantom Menace have better Worldbuilding than A New Hope?

The Tiny Tragedy

For me the toughest part is dealing with the gulf between the perfect thing in my head and the flawed thing that ends up on the page. It’s a tiny tragedy every time you set something down. And sometimes the tragedy doesn’t feel that tiny. And so it becomes easier to not write, and just spend my days pacing, snacking, and watching my dog watch me.

Interview with picture book author Mac Barnett
(this whole interview is very thoughtful and a good read)

Research

I actually DO use electronic bookmarks for “research” articles, rather than printing them out, because then I really would be killing too many trees. At any rate, this article is just hella fascinating. It really speaks to how the people in charge, those with an agenda, can manipulate perceptions of history as moving in a straight line to support their claims. When, in fact, the complete opposite is true:

‘We Apologize of the Inconvenients’ is in a Book!

Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century

The piece I did for Neil Gaiman’s Calendar of Tales has been included in a book! Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century: Essays on the Novels, Children’s Stories, Online Writings, Comics and Other Works, edited by Tara Prescott, reviewed here by the Guardian.

You can see the original illustration in full color here.

Short Story Roundup

A confession, if I may. Not that long ago, I would have said I did not “do” short stories. Hated reading them. Was incapable of writing them. And then karma conspires to change your mind.

Which is a great thing, because man, I was missing out. And I *still* hate short stories – of a certain type. The depressing-Hemingway-you-had-to-read-in-high-school type. (Nothing against you if that’s your bag. But I have a moratorium on depressing stories right now.)

Here are some short stories that have made my Awesome list for 2015 so far:

HOW TO BECOME A ROBOT IN 12 EASY STEPS by A. Merc Rustad
http://www.scigentasy.com/how-to-become-a-robot/

TALISMANS by Jessica Bloczynski
http://deadlyeverafter.com/2015/03/10/march-madness-flash-fiction-talismans-by-jessica-bloczynski/

(A CONVERSATION) by the Elusive Mark
http://deadlyeverafter.com/2015/03/28/march-madness-flash-fiction-a-conversation-by-medicmsh/

Those last two came from the March Madness flash fiction collection on the Undead Duo blog (theme = “madness”). I also made a contribution which you can read here:

SCAVENGERS by Christi Frey
http://deadlyeverafter.com/2015/03/31/march-madness-flash-fiction-scavengers-by-christi-frey/

Flat characters

Quote

“I think that novels tend to fail not when the characters are not vivid or ‘deep’ enough, but when the novel in question has failed to teach us how to adapt to its conventions, has failed to manage a specific hunger for its own characters, its own reality level. In such cases, our appetite is quickly disappointed, and surges wildly in excess of what we are provided, and we tend to blame the author, unfairly, for not giving us enough – the characters, we complain, are not alive or round or free enough.”

– James Wood, A Life of Their Own 

It’s a Freelance Life For Me

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen several tweets about an evil deadline I had last week. Long story short, as part of my day job, twice a year I put together a small magazine for a niche industry non-profit group. And by “put together”, I mean I write stories, edit stories from contributors, source photos for the articles, chase advertisers, oversee the design, and get the files ready to go to press. I have a wonderful small team that I work with, but most of the cat herding falls on my shoulders.

The nature of these kinds of magazine deadlines means everything tends to come in at the last minute. And since I have a little guy now, I can’t pull all-nighters like I used to. So when I heard a super-talented designer and production artist I used to work in corporate with had turned freelancer, I jumped at the chance to bring her on board.

Talking to her over the past couple of weeks reminded me of some of the struggles I had when I started freelancing. You have to go through an adjustment period if you’re used to getting a regular deposit in the bank every two weeks. I can’t speak for her, but I know lots of people (myself included) budgeted every last bit of that twice-monthly paycheque. Maybe some of it got put aside into savings, if things were going well. But generally, you paid your bills, and the rest got spent.

That kind of mindset doesn’t work very well when you’re freelancing, or running a business.

I haven’t had a full-time, regular paycheque job in over eight years, and I’m not going to say none of those years haven’t been bumpy. I did well enough in the beginning, mostly because I was able to keep my expenses to a minimum and live cheaply. But a couple of years ago, I ran into problems. I had to pick up a part-time job for a while (which, totally worth it as I gained new skills and contacts), and also managed to rack up a couple of credit cards worth of debt. Why? Basic life things. I had to replace a paid-for car, which meant adding a monthly car payment. Our rent was going up, to the point where it made more sense to buy a house than to continue renting. Husband changed jobs and was on training wages for several months. Just when things seemed to be under control again, hey, guess what! We had a baby!

All of that is kind of beside the point. The life things were contributing factors, but they weren’t the cause. The real cause was that I had to start treating my whole life like a business – ie, all of my finances, not just the freelance (“money in”) aspect. This is what I learned:

1. Financial independence is really important for artists. It’s hard to do the things you want to do without it. Ergo, getting financially sound is going to positively affect my art.

2. Attitude is everything.

3. Don’t be afraid to mix it up – diversity is the freelancer’s version of ‘safety in numbers.’

Number one may seem kind of self-explanatory, but I think it’s also easy for people to dismiss. And I can’t really discuss it without tying it in to number two.

I’m not dumb, but I’ll be the first to admit my brain doesn’t work with numbers all that easily. I understand concepts but I’ll screw up the basic addition. (I’ve always suspected I was mildly ‘numbers dyslexic’ and the internet has confirmed that this is a real thing. Yay internet diagnosis!) So one of the first things, the most important thing, was to get into the mindset that nobody else was going to manage my money for me. I needed to make a budget, track my expenses, get rid of the debt, and make the numbers work. ME.

It’s probably been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done in my life. Even if things went to shit again, I now have a plan. I have ways of making NEW plans as needed. I have numbers that back up my assumptions. The credit card debt is almost paid off. There’s money in the emergency fund account. I have an operating budget for the first time in my life!

In practical terms, yes, there were a few things we got rid of. We cut our cable in favor of Netflix. When the hubby hit a deer and wrote off my (again newly paid-off) car, I took the cash I had on hand plus insurance and bought a used car with no loan attached. We quit eating out in favor of cooking at home. I upped my hourly rate to cover the new babysitting & daycare expenses.

But really, a year and a half in, I can’t really tell you that I made any huge sacrifices or changes. The only thing I can look back for certain and say that changed, is that I started paying attention. I started tracking where the money went. I started deciding, ahead of time, if that was the best place for it to go. That one little shift meant every money decision I made from then onwards could be assessed to see if it was working toward my goals.

If you’re curious, here are a few of the sites that have really helped me wrap my head around this personal finance thing:

I started with Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s TV shows – Princess and Til Debt Do Us Part (you can watch them online, at least in Canada – not sure about the US). As simplistic as it might sound to the money experts out there, the part where they address a huge range of real family budgets (and how to fix them) was really fascinating. The attitude adjustments (or not) on Princess were telling as well – the ones who were able to adapt were the ones who were able to get their life back under control.

More than just getting out of debt, though, I started to realize that there are a lot of people for whom financial independence is a reality. Honestly, I don’t care if it’s a pie-in-the-sky goal – once I realized what it was, I knew it was something I wanted to work towards. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach that kind of financial independence, but being a freelancer, I already have the benefit of a lot of the FI lifestyle, so any further steps along the path are only going to help future me out. I get so damn excited about this stuff, I just love to share it:

Mr. Money Mustache – in case you enjoy a few f-bombs in your financial independence reading.

Anna Newell (And Then We Saved) – well written, friendly and approachable. Start here if you’re intimidated by numbers accompanied by dollar signs.

And as for number 3, part of the charm of being a freelancer is that you get to decide what kind of work you want to do. So while I just finished a big print project, I’ve got websites and video editing to start on next. I’m putting together a display for a local tradeshow so I can hopefully get some more photo shoots booked this summer. And I have this writing thing going as a side project. I love the variety, and diversity is a great help to the bottom line. It’s the same as being an indie author with multiple books out. The more income streams you have, the more chances you have to see what sticks, see what you love doing (maybe not what you expect it to be), and see where the two can meet.

Why am I sharing this? Honestly, this isn’t the post I set out to write. I was planning to blather on about how to find out what kind of work you want to do, why you should work with people who respect your contributions, being confident about charging enough for your work, that kind of stuff. (Eh… future post, maybe.) I guess mostly I’m sharing because I read a lot of other authors’ blogs – both self- and trad-pubbed – and all of them, especially the self-published authors, emphasize that if you’re going to succeed, you have to treat it like a business. It’s true, and this is my attempt at a small contribution toward that mindset.

On my upcoming schedule this week: press checks. Gotta love the smell of ink in the morning.

P.S. – In case you needed an earworm today, here’s an awesome Annie parody video made by a bunch of freelance actors in New York:

2015: Some changes around here

The experiment is over… The project has begun.

There’s going to be a few changes around here in the months to come. It’s not earth-shattering news by any means, but I wanted to make it official: I’m changing my pen name from Christian Frey to Christi Frey. Here’s why.

When I started writing fiction, I, like many others, decided to devise an alter-ego. There were a few reasons behind this. Firstly, I wanted to have six degrees of online separation between serious-work-me and me-the-artiste. Why? Because I’m a freelancer who already does print design, web design, video/photography, and non-fiction writing. I didn’t want to throw MOAR TALENTZ into the mix, confuse the hell out of paying clients, and dilute my “working” brand with floofy speculative fiction stuff. Secondly, I wanted to avoid well-meaning pats on the head from family and others I interact with in meat-space. Because, just because.

So I had this urge to experiment with a genderly-ambiguous online name. It was originally a typing error – I was going to go with Christina and I mis-typed it as Christian when I signed up for the domain name. Well, hell, I thought – why not. It’s easier to be taken seriously as a writer if you have a male-sounding name, isn’t it?

I tried it out for a while – I signed up for twitter as @ChristianFreyCA – but then I started meeting people. And I like my twitter friends very much, and I felt that I wasn’t being honest with them.

I’m not a guy. I’m not transgender. I’m kind of a tom boy, but I’m so far from butch it’s not even funny. I’m just a girl who likes her jeans and her boots, loves being outdoors and active, and has a physical urge to pummel anyone who tries to treat me like a delicate flower.

Having said that, though, I do definitely have some gender issues, and they mainly stem from stifling what I’d say is a fairly fierce competitive drive when I was younger. I grew up in a small farming community, and there were a lot of things that girls and women just didn’t do. And I can’t really say it was because people were prejudiced; they weren’t, not in the stereotypical “back-woods hick” kind of way you might be imagining. It was just the times. Girls there do a lot of the things now that they didn’t do when I was young, like play on hockey teams or be altar servers for Catholic mass. And we didn’t have the internet back then to show us any alternative role models – our high school got its first internet-connected computer when I was in Grade 11. (Yep, just one – because we were on dial-up, and out in the boonies, which meant browsing the internet was a long-distance call. Which was not cheap in those days.)

At some point, I decided that if the options available for girls were “house wife, farm wife, mother, grocery store clerk, teacher, nurse, or bank teller,” then there was no way in hell I was going to get roped into being a girl.

IT'S A TRAP

I’ve pretty much gone forth and lived that way ever since. I’ve simply ignored attempts to put me in the “females” box – or any other boxes, thank you very much. There’s this part of my brain that’s one-quarter psychopath, and that is the part that says “Why the fuck would you care what anyone else thinks? Go forth and do as you please.” In large part, this has served me well, though I had to learn to adjust it a bit when I got married. (Luckily, the husband has a very functional sense of humor.)

I remember a conversation I had with an ex-boyfriend where we were discussing future vehicles – I was terribly disappointed to find out his dream vehicle was a sports car.

“Really?” I said. “A car? Well I guess I’ll have to buy my own truck then.” (Because trucks are needed for hauling horses in trailers, obviously.) “I’ll be the guy,” I said, tongue-in-cheek, “and you can buy the car and be the girl.”

He gave me a sour look. “Well someone has to be,” he said.

I took a weird sense of pride in that comment.

But that was then, and this is now. And no matter how much you may rightly argue that there’s still a lot of change yet to be had, it’s very different than it used to be even ten years ago. The internet feminist movement, the fantastic women authors whose blogs I follow, who challenge my preconceived notions on a daily basis – J.C. Lillis, Kameron Hurley, The Undead Duo, The Bloggess, Lindsay Buroker, Rachel Aaron, and an honorable mention to Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds – they aren’t afraid of putting their girly pants on and going forth to kick butt. So why should I be?

This is all a work in progress. There are a lot of labels I’m still not comfortable claiming – but that has as much to do with my loathing of labels as anything else, and that’s a post for another day.

Today, I’ll proudly wear the label: GRRRRRL.

Are we going back to that place?

Are we going back to that place?

If you want to do the work, that’s where we need to go.

C–– called it an intolerance for difference. An antipathy to change. But I can’t write about what happened.

Why not? 

Because of the other people involved. Because whatever they did, it’s not their fault. They didn’t know any better.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Yes, but I can’t do that for anyone else. I can only try to understand myself. It might be useful to try to use allegory, to use fiction.

I also want to leave a message.

To whom?

To anyone else going through the same thing.

What message?

That it gets better. It’s not just gay kids that need to hear that.

So now that you’ve set the agenda, can you let it go? 

The story has to tell itself.

The truth? 

Exactly.