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Writer's Block: Fixing the past.

If you could go back and fix your most regrettable decision, what would it be, and what would you do differently? Or: Pirates or Ninjas?

That one's clear. I've had more than one regrettable decision but fixing the earliest regrettable decision would've at least given me a good shot at avoiding the others.

I would have left my grandmother's house at eighteen, packing up my VW Beetle with everything I really wanted to keep and definitely retaining anything resembling art supplies and expensive tools and irreplaceable reference books. (I didn't do too badly on the reference books years later but there were a few). I would have gone out to California and just lived there, hanging out and doing a job if I could get one or selling art or whatever -- and there were jobs when I had an eighteen year old's body energy that I could do, I actually was stable when it came to the residence hotel night manager. Honest enough to take the money and pleasant enough with weirdos to sit up all night working on books and stories for lodging and a small weekly stipend that was more than enough to live on the cheap and even get some toys and art supplies.

I would've avoided a world of hurt if I hadn't lingered for two more years of junior college, even though I had some really good classes in those years. Even though I would have missed those classes, I wouldn't have had two extra years of denial about physical disabilities setting in, two more years of pressure about that. I would instead have probably bumbled into Social Services the first time I threw my back trying to do anything normal people did and started the whole process of getting Social Security.

If I'd gone on to stay for six months and apply to the UC system, they would have routed me somewhere in the UC system whether it was Berkeley or not. I would have had a better shot at the campus medical office figuring out that I had just way too many sick days and they were real. Or even someone noticing the short leg and the limp. There was this thing out at UC campuses at the time among all the other Causes -- that was right about when rights for disabled people were starting to be a Cause and not just something people pretended didn't happen in their family.

What I actually did was to spend two years in junior college and then go up to Minnesota because it was the only college my family would pay for. I should have questioned whether college was a good idea at all. Whether I might not have been a lot happier just getting a library card and a no-brainer day job like "Night Clerk at a Residence Hotel" where I'd sit up all night taking rents and being honest as people came in, but then settle in to just being awake and doing whatever I want as long as I can put it down if someone comes in to pay rent at two in the morning.

It was that kind of hotel.

Lot of artists, lot of gay people (overlapped) lot of old people, (some overlap), lot of disabled people (some overlap). So it was an eclectic collection of serious weirdos and it wasn't monoculture weird -- this was not the Cheap Housing Cute Corner of Castro, these were the bearded gay guys and the odder ones that didn't alway have a haircut. We had everything from an Auschwitz survivor to a straight nineteen year old artist who did weird things with airbrushes, there were several transsexuals and transvestites, there were black guys with dreads before the rest of the country knew there were Rastafarians... it was a wonderful place. Read Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City." Now imagine most of the characters living on the cheap in a $70 a week room in 1979. Where they could have a cat. Which meant a significant 40% of the residents were cats.

Yes. I had a cat there. And if I'd lived there alone it would've been jolly for years because you're talking about one room, minimal housekeeping, a cat for company, a 24-hour artistic ruckus of great neighbors... I think I would have had to have the 20-20 hindsight to specifically go to San Francisco and move into that old hotel on Market Street right off. And if I had that clear of hindsight I might've saved up enough to have something to live on while establishing Residency and Maybe Getting Into Berkeley.

But if I didn't go to college and had just gone there and written books and broke my heart a few times and gone out with more than one weird person instead of latching onto the first weird person who grabbed me and pretended I was in charge, wow, I would have also discovered that whole other underground in San Francisco and the favorable odds for people who like to dress up in leather and pretend to be in charge when they're in bed. That is, nine out of ten people into that thing at any level prefer someone else to pretend to be in charge when they're in bed, and honestly respect and deserve a top who remembers and does everything they really said they wanted when they weren't suspending disbelief on the Scene. I might have had to learn to say cheesy villain lines in bed a bit sooner in life, but this would have improved my love life. I was already Nailed Down, albeit in an open relationship, when I discovered that wide field of opportunity and so my Wild Youth might've been a bit merrier. I might even have had a shot at a sane person if I'd been wild enough there and kept my fondness for older lovers.

Then again, considering the elders of San Francisco, betting on sanity wasn't really a sure thing. But it depends on your definitions of sanity. At least we would've been coming into it from a closer cultural background. In my heart and in my head I was already there through all the wasted years and I wound up cracking several layers of denial with zero support, when that one happenstance, daring to try to get into Berkeley on nothing but halfway good grades and a great desire to do so, is the one thing that might have put me in the path of what support there was and made it possible for me to do everything I'm doing now... in my late twenties or early thirties.

Oh sure, I would've had numerous years as sketching-for-money unpublished flotsam but that would've been all right. And if my love life had gone well without my getting Latched On, a very big IF indeed, then it might not even have been that long. I think back to that hotel and people there were taking it at face value that I was a writer. They had no reason to doubt that, they could see me typing. I was out of the context where being a Science Fiction Writer was Unthinkable -- except in my personal relationship where jealousy came into it. Skipping that relationship might have forced me to face up to putting postage on envelopes much sooner in life in order to retain any self esteem.

Hehehe, in a best case I would've been distracted from Berkeley by selling a novel, which was pretty easy in those days. Now if my writing is weird, it might be weird for being old fashioned, I'm actually sort of IN my times instead of way ahead of them.

So there's the first major regrettable decision of my life, the one from which flowed so many others. In all likelihood I would eventually have drifted to New Orleans anyway, lured by its rich culture and cheap living, but I might have been published before I washed up there and conceivably might have wound up moving in order to buy a house -- the one thing that is impractical in San Francisco unless you're a millionaire. If I got the itch for home ownership my other City of the Heart would have beckoned and success at a normal-paced career would've led me to New Orleans at about the age I went. So there's a best case for "but if you had you wouldn't have been around for kkitten42" -- I would've been, but would've been less financially needy. And probably owned a ludicrously too large ramshackle Esplanade mansion just a stone's throw from the French Quarter and been trying to get in good artistic tenants willing to work on renovating the place.

Heh, I might have gone from working in an Artistic Residence Hotel to owning and operating one in a city that surely needed them.

It's a pleasant fantasy but today I'm living in Lawrence. I have a good life however much trouble came from that dumb decision and it's no longer holding me back. Nothing is. Today is the start of SFFmuse Summer Fun Run, a writing challenge to average a thousand words a day in June and July, and it is also the day to do and post Theme Week art, the theme is Under the Sea, something close to my heart.

I've printed out a coloring page of The Paleozoic Sea and what I really want to do for Theme Week is draw that in some reasonably fast medium that's nonetheless artistic. Maybe paint it in watercolor. I've got a request from nicosian for a Leafy Sea Dragon though, and am tempted to go search my photo references for one since Nico is a good friend who doesn't have any of my art yet. I might do both. It's not that hard for me to do a leafy sea dragon once I've got a reference.

And I've deleted more than a thousand words just from this entry, I will start my summer novel today.
Explore-Oil-Pastels-With-Robert-Sloan.com Articles at eHow.com, ETSY shop, My Bonanzle Booth, deviantART gallery, SFFmuse and look for art by robertsloan2art on eBay. Listed on Art Blogs 4 U
Proud member of the Oil Pastel Society
Interesting art blog: Patrick's Art Blog focused on realism!
New Topical Blog: www.robs-art-supply-reviews.blogspot.com for all the cool art stuff that isn't oil pastels!


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2008 05:56 pm (UTC)
The writing challenge sounds fun! I need to get myself a computer. Maybe I will try to do the challenge on my own though.
Reading your entries and stories about your life is always an inspiration, thanks. I wish I could hook up with half the artistic places and people you have. Oh well, there's still time.
Jun. 1st, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
There's plenty of time as soon as you have a computer -- and it'll get easier as of July when I put up my big hub site. I put off doing it this month because I started chewing through all my Prismacolors and do finally need to get the Big Set. But next month I will be setting up a hub site that links to everything I do online and it'll be easy if you get online to jump in, follow all my links and meet all these cool people I hang with online. The eBay group is fantastically stimulating -- and it's very encouraging about my writing too, I get teased about it in a good way.

SFFmuse can be a good hangout. Hobgoblin.net can be a good hangout. Hanging out makes it easier to motivate myself and get going on these things I want to do, when I'm in a fishing for ideas state and doing creative procrastination -- which is exactly what I'm doing right now as four or five novel ideas collide. One of them is humor and that might merge them all.

Do the challenge! Not everyone checks in daily or even writes daily -- it's coming up with a thousand a day average on everything you write. It doesn't even all have to be one novel, it can be a lot of stories. There's a special award for anyone who does it with flash fiction or poetry. Check in once or twice and you're still participating whenever you can get online -- and cheered as much as if you were posting daily progress. Well not as often, but as enthusiastically.

Do it! Right now if you do it might become something important in another way.

When I was in the shelter, hanging on to doing my writing was a huge way to stay sane through its ups and downs, because I could count on it. Also because any day that I did it, I had something to show for the day even if everything else in life felt like I was taking eight steps back for every grudging step forward.

Part of my procrastination right now is buttered toast and chicken pot pie and good coffee and a clean room, it's having my life going so well that I don't have a burning need to escape it. So telling a good story has to come from some other aspect of telling a good story, more hobbitish, more "sit beside the fire and think" rather than "get me outta here, I've gotta have my mind on something other than this day no one would want to live through."

I'm cool with that and I can feel the rumination going on too. I'm going to knock out the Theme Week art first to give myself time to think, and weigh Terry Sutherland, who has a name, against the Smilodon tamer. I just need to really get a handle on who Terry is, because although he's a writer character, he is so NOT me. For one thing I suspect he's an atheist. Or a more or less materialist agnostic, stuck facing the supernatural world and finding out most of it has no more idea of deity than he does.

It's growing, and maybe if it takes a little more thought at least with that one I can bust the challenge and get through to doing one that is definitively Horror.

I've always told myself I didn't write Horror because I didn't like writing it while my life resembled it. Well, now it doesn't. Now I have a soft bed and a cuddly cat and a loving family, good food, good friends, good life! Why not drag out the spooks?

I normally do sympathetic vampires, but what if the vamps in this book are total jerks? They could be. There's nothing in horror against doing Evil Vampires. And if the point is the harassment, then casual death threats and significant mind games are part of the real horror of it... oh that'd lay up nicely for SK... yeah... it's about dysfunction in many ways... hehehe... Evil Guy Krieg is surfacing since I have clearer ideas of that than of taming a baby smilodon.

Jun. 1st, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC)
hehe you made me smile :) i love watching the creative process trundle along through other people
thank you again for your words of advice. my biggest impediment right now is that I only have one sketchbook and no blank paper. but i suppose i can start scrawling on the walls if i have to :)
Jun. 2nd, 2008 12:45 am (UTC)
Yikes! That's bad. But if you aren't dead flat broke, those spiral bound notebooks I used to pick up for a dime each on sale in the fall are still available year round for less than a dollar -- I mean the cheap ones. Sometimes you find them two for a dollar or something even off season. You can probably scrape up that much and a dollar bag of ballpoints from the Dollar Store. It's worth it. I know things are tight, but that is the sort of thing that is sanity maintenance.

Get two, one for journal-sorting things out, one for fiction, so that you don't jumble them and trip over current IRL conflicts while looking back to see what color some character's eyes are -- that can be distracting. You can do this. It's not out of reach.

One of the good things about writing is that the materials are so dang cheap.

Heck, if you work in an office, make off with a pinch of printer paper -- or a stack of old one-sided printouts. They'll probably give you paper if you ask for those in most places. I've been saving things like the Blick invoices and stuff and handing them off to Sascha to draw on, but if I were doing written notes they're there.

Actually for bulk paper I think you might get a ream of printer paper cheap some places. Check dollar stores.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 01:57 am (UTC)
one of my current roomies works in a drug store type place, so i might ask her to pick me up some paper and pens next time she works. i'm kind of in the middle of nowhere, and with no car getting there is the biggest problem.
Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)
Yikes. That bites. I remember being in that situation -- but if she works in a drugstore, then it should be easy for her to pick them up at work for you. Drugstores do have bag ballpoints and those cheap spiral college ruled notebooks, sometimes they even put the multitopic ones on sale too. But I've found the cheapest skinnies are sometimes more practical!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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