Balance is bullsh!t

Daily writing prompt
How do you balance work and home life?

It’s funny that this came up as a prompt the other day. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to accomplish my goals both professionally and personally, and as much as we all laud the concept of balance I’m starting to think it’s a joke.

When I think about balancing, I picture someone on a tightrope. Arms extended, eyes locked on the horizon, physically committed to a ludicrous, massively dangerous task for other people’s entertainment.

I did just write a novel about a tightrope walker, so yes it’s a strong echo in my mind but that also means I know what the metaphor means. And I don’t know if it should be a goal.

For one thing, it’s fucking impossible. You can do well, giving yourself more or less equally to all your wants and responsibilities. And maybe that’s a neurotypical thing, to be able to plot your life carefully then follow it through, but that’s not in my wheelhouse, to employ boardroom language. I can’t actualize that paradigm.

I’m losing interest in the idea of balance. It’s really difficult to relax while balancing. Balance is a state of tension, of holding in place. It requires hyperawareness of the body and the ability to ignore everything around you. If you find a place of stillness, you cannot move from it or you will collapse. That sounds–that is–exhausting.

That sounds like capitalism: find one thing and do it till you die, never quitting or questioning, while faithfully replicating your DNA to provide capital with more human resources and supporting the rentier system of the 1% that holds the rest of us hostage by giving them back in the form of household spending and debt all the money they loaned you as wages.

The ideal work/life balance is No Work, All Life. I don’t mean, let’s all be unemployed.* I mean, why is work not life? Why are jobs so shit? Why have we bought into this massive system of pitting our economic needs against our human rights? Who the fuck wants to be an actuary? I would expect a single digit percent of actuaries chose that career because of some deep inner calling. For everyone else it was because they weren’t pretty or clever or rich enough to get to do what they want with their lives, and so they put on a suit and sit in traffic and eat a packed lunch and try not to jump out the office window. If that’s your life why even be alive? So you can give your children the very same future?

TL:DR Modernity is delusional. Baked into the core of our culture is the idea that *this world as it is right now* is the best we can do. That Starbucks and Exxon Mobil are natural and inevitable, that the only improvement possible is making the whole world like America. Delusion, delusion, delusion.

Fuck the work/life balance. It’s a joke, it’s a yoke, it’s a rationalization for letting capital skim the cream of labor’s efforts. For our collective good we need to seek a way of life where our work is worth living for.

An ideal work life balance? The least work possible at a job that won’t cost me my life.

*We can talk about health care and education as necessary jobs as long as you want to discuss why we underpay and understaff both these professions.

Just Eat the Cookie

A chocolate chip cookie with one bite missing sits on a white tabletop scattered with cookie crumbs. Although maybe those aren't chocolate chips but raisins. This is why I have trust issues.

I’ve always thought of myself as unable to resist temptation.  As being too desperate for dopamine to not eat the cookie, not buy the gift.  I always eat the cookie. But I don’t always buy the gift.  

And I realized my problem isn’t with reward systems, it’s with gamifying food.  

Consumer capitalism has a terrible relationship with food.  It’s used as lure, camouflage, dumping ground, flag to wave, and whip to beat ourselves with.  It’s a popular brand of mayonnaise declaring over a 90s grunge pastiche soundtrack that it “will not tone it down.”  It’s a food that has never once in its existence contained fat declaring in block letters on the label that it’s “fat-free.”  It’s thinking almond milk is virtuous without considering the operations of the almond farming industry (not pretty, if you ask a bee in California.)  

Dieticians and specialists in early childhood will both tell you that using food to reward or punish children makes food a battleground and plants in them the seeds of lifelong eating disorders. So why would I do that to myself? If I eat a cookie, it’s not because I have “allowed” myself a “reward” of a “bad” food that I would ordinarily resist.  It’s because I wanted a cookie, and I happened to have some.  I might treat myself to a more expensive meal for a special occasion, but I don’t like tying food to performance benchmarks.  I’m not a seal, bopping a ball with my nose to get a fish. I’m a person with an oven and a working knowledge of baked goods, and sometimes having a cookie is the only thing that makes me want to do my job. Let snacks be snacks, I say.

Gifts, though…I resisted building a Lego set for almost a week until I’d hit a word count goal.  The unopened box sat on my desk for days, taunting me a little, but more inviting me to reach my goal.

I now have this nice reminder on my desk that I can get what I want if I stick to it.  That cookie, or cake, or 700 calorie whipped cream and coffee thing? Long gone.

But don’t let me stop or shame you.  Everyone is wired differently. I don’t want to attach moral significance to snacks.  Excuse me, I’m going to go eat a cookie. 


I stock up on dopamine* in the mornings by dancing, sometimes singing to my favorite songs.  These range from So Whatcha Want by The Beastie Boys to the opening of the 2013 Tony Awards as sung by Neil Patrick Harris (thanks, internet, for all your flaws, for bringing me this ode to excess.)

Being a stage performer, particularly in musical theatre where you might have to be singing, dancing, and acting all at the same time, is tremendously hard work.  It is physically demanding, often debilitating.  Lots of musicians bring the same energy to the concert stage, not just in rock but across the board (it’s Britney, bitch.) 

It’s not just the dopamine I’m chasing but the calorie burn.  So I’m not ashamed to say I had to bail out about two minutes into the Talking Heads’ performance of the song Life During Wartime in the seminal concert film Stop Making Sense. 

IDK what David Byrne was eating those days (looks like nothing) but he never stops moving and neither do the rest of the band.  If you don’t regularly exercise, you’d never keep up, because they are beasts.  MF, they are playing their instruments while running in place and has Gen Z seen this shit yet?  This is a TikTok challenge waiting to happen, amirite?

So I thought, what a great candidate for a stupid goal. To be able to do David Byrne’s bit in Life During Wartime.

Get delusional, isn’t that what the kids say?  This is a theme for me right now, after a post I made about impossible goals to a lively group of professional writers blew up, getting a few hundred comments from writers at every stage of their career.   Why not carry this energy into everything I do?

I need delusional goals.  Ordinary ones don’t seem to motivate me.  So why not try something ridiculous?  Absurd and not wholly useful except that it spurs me to be more active.  A chance to score a symbolic victory over my human tendencies—taking the easy way out, hoarding calories in case of famine, anxiety about my appearance and social rank.

We have so little time on earth, and there’s so much that we might do that we’ll never have the time to even read about in someone else’s words.  We’re dying the minute we’re born and I think if more people understood that we might as individuals and as a civilization use our time better.

I’m old enough to feel this in my bones.  They say youth is wasted on the young because it’s only the accumulation of years that make you understand time at the cellular level.  There is no solution to death.  I don’t know that I’d choose eternal life even if it was offered.  All we have is today, this hour, this second, this heartbeat, this blink of the cosmic eye, our every breath one more pearl strung on a thread that grows shorter and shorter.

Do it now.  The thing you always wanted.  Do it now because there is only now.  Only this moment, this breath.  This.

Photo by Alex Turcu on Unsplash

Disorderly Conduct

scrabble letters arranged on a plain white surface to spell the words "life will not wait"

I told WordPress to notify me twice a week that it was time to post something.  I began immediately to resent this, and have ignored several notifications.  This is me all over. It doesn’t matter if an event is in a calendar, on a chart, in my phone, in an email.  As soon as I’m told to do something I’m not already happily doing, my RSD and defiance disorder go on high alert and I start deliberately, some might say belligerently, ignoring the notifications.

Which is why I have yet to discover an author business planning system that sticks.  No matter how carefully I craft my quarterly plan, my weekly schedule, I just don’t do the dang work.  I’m so good at ignoring important things that I started asking myself if I have Asperger’s.  I so often refuse to do what’s best, even when it’s obviously what’s needed and would be really easy to do, though I genuinely do like myself, in a compassionate, c’mere you dumb-ass kinda way.

I think and think and think and in truth I probably just spend too much time alone.  I can overthink anything, which can be good when you’re doing big vision work, and much less helpful when you’re trying to pick a task and stick with it until you can call it done. 

Because I have so many things to do, it’s a struggle to prioritize.  Everything feels like a priority, and I don’t want to spend all my time planning, but I’m not achieving much with the time I have so maybe what I really need is to get the heck over myself, sit down and do the work *I know* needs to get done, and let the rest fall into place.

The place where I get all of it right is just over the horizon. I have a flat tire and I’m fucking hungry, but if I can get this wheel back on, I can start rolling again and get to where I want to be.

Do you use a planner? Google calendar or similar? What works for you?

The New Kid

Schools I have attended:

Nursery school

Montessori preschool

Komoka PS

Montessori grade school

East Elementary

St Nicholas Catholic (lies, lies, I’m not even baptised)

St Matthews Anglican (more lies, mom?  ok…)

Riverside PS

Oakridge HS

some defunct Niagara District school for the arts for a single semester that felt like an episode of Degrassi Junior High, complete with cliques, fake IDs, sororities, achingly cool transfer students, and dating a boy who was testing if he was gay (spoiler: he was)

Oakridge HS again

flunked out

Beal HS

dropped out again

That one summer school English credit I needed to finally graduate

The funny thing is…I went to my high school graduation (Oakridge #2.)  I don’t know if the system is it’s the same now, but grad was held before exams.  So it was totally possible to go to the ceremony, get your fake diploma on stage, then go to the prom (if that was your thing,) and then fail.

The funny thing is…of all my classes, I hated English the most.  Taking six weeks to read a book?  Uggggghhhhh.  “Academic” level classes were even more plodding.  As a child I was such a reader I devised a way to read while getting dressed for school that involved holding the book open with my toes.  In high school, my highest mark in English was a 72.

In a perfect world* this should have been when someone asked if I had ADHD.  But this was (oh god I’m old) 30 years ago, when it was still called ADD, and all it meant was a boy who couldn’t sit still. 

I was merely inattentive, a dreamer, not applying myself.  Unable to focus on the tasks at hand because the tasks were cripplingly dull.  So I just didn’t do them, or did them lazily at the last minute, then shrugged when the teacher asked why. 

Oh, the shrug.  The blankness.  The weaponized indifference of a clever teen with a revolutionary’s heart.  The number of times I met my mother’s concern, her anger even, with a shrug.

Dissociation’s a hell of a drug.

Like this post: I started with the list of schools but I don’t remember what I wanted to say.  Maybe nothing, other than remind myself that my path has never been smooth.  There are no straight lines in my landscape, only curves and slopes and tunnels, backways and side-ways and unexpected turns.  I’d like to end on an optimistic note, but maybe the hope is simply in knowing this, knowing that I can’t get there from here without going this way and that and a few other places.  In this game, the side-quests are mandatory.

*Assuming your perfect world includes compulsory education.  Mine includes dragons.  What, you said perfect, didn’t you?

An incidental cruelty

Hi, welcome to adult-diagnosed ADHD for women, where today you’ll learn that:

While scientific evidence is still emerging about how changing hormones can impact ADHD Janine feels the link was undeniable. Oestrogen helps to modulate the release of dopamine in the brain. When Janine’s level of oestrogen began to drop as she entered perimenopause, the ADHD symptoms she had been able to manage became much harder to deal with.

ADHD can have a significant impact on people’s lives — even when you’re an adult – ABC News

I was today years old when I learned that. You might not have been masking intentionally. Your ovaries were doing it for you. As their function declines, so does your dopamine supply. An incidental cruelty. Aging isn’t a punishment, it simply is, but that doesn’t make it easier.

Might explain why I recently got back into Drum & Bass. I’m rather a connoisseur of dopamine stimulation (within the boundaries of my enduring motion sickness and terror of deep water) and there’s something about playing a belting dj mix as I rocket around my empty kitchen at 5 am that helps the rest of my day run smoothly. I’ve already invoked some chaos, gleefully triggered some joy. It’s a smooth run from there.

The post nobody read

[edit] Look, I don’t mean for this to sound like a complaint, a “I did a cool thing and no one noticed, boo hoo” entitled little sulk.  I’m just baffled.  I haven’t had *crickets* in ages, maybe never.  So let’s stir the pot.  Will someone go back and read this? 

Interestingly the post had a lot of meaning for me.  The next day, I tossed together a stream of consciousness poem and posted it right away, and boom, views.  And you would not believe how common that is across the creator-sphere: the thing you pour your soul into gets barely a glance, and the piece of fluff you made for a laugh goes viral. Which is really justification for making as much art as you can.  Who knows what will get noticed?

The Post FKA: “The Ides of March? Never Met Him. What’s He Like?’

Three years ago, I self-published my first short story.

Two years ago, I had fourteen titles on sale, was writing a few novels, and felt like I was figuring things out.

Last year, I went over the edge.

Any old edge will do. How about this one? (photo by Alan Tang on Unsplash)

Up till then it had felt like I was doing everything right.  I don’t think I knew how depressed I was, which is something my mother said in reference to the same time in her life.

Taking medication was me making a sensible choice for a goddamn change. A grown up, self-disciplined decision to rein in my worrisome habits of thought and behaviour and become (what the hell was I thinking?) a productive member of society.

The results were predictably bad. You may recall that I am manifestly incapable of doing anything directly. Plans adjust themselves, reality reorganizes, and my intentions never end up aiming at my goals. I must approach all challenges and opportunities sideways: improvise, adjust, create new ways in the midst of living them. This is a very durable feature of my personality, and it affects everything I do, including taking medication to regulate my brain function. I’m sorry, but my brain function is a bratty queer with a glitter gun and the first six rows of the audience *will* *get* *wet.* Trying to rein this in leads to wildly unregulated emergent behaviour, and it was bad.

While high on legal speed, I did not buckle down and focus on my writing, which I was suddenly unable to do. Nor did I get really organized and plan my next year, down to the hour.  No, in between the bouts of tremors and sobbing into the carpet, I decided to start another blog, devoted not to writing but to (honestly, what the hell was I thinking?) historical menswear.

I swear it made sense at the time.  A distraction from the stress of a publishing career and encouragement to do more sewing, and if I was lucky, a back door into being known for anything at all, which somehow optimism and fairy dust would turn into a book career. It became one more task looming over me, one more chore to neglect. I needed to write books, not faff on about cravats on a blog no one would read without me promoting it like crazy.

I took the medication for a week. I quit when they wanted me to up the dosage.  Once I recovered from my inadvertent meth bender, I wrote a novella in which a doctor gets punched. I’ve done plenty of drugs under my own recognizance, and if I’d paid a schemy 22-year old in a nightclub bathroom for a pill that did to me, I’d hunt the little shit down and get my money back.

The blog lasted six months.

edit: This blog? This blog I do nothing to promote, that doesn’t sell my books, that does nothing for anyone? It’s coming up on two years. 152 posts. See? It’s just like I said. Sideways or not at all.

Slay all day? In this economy??

You’re not going to believe this, but I learned a lot about writing from reading this article about, er, recording and mixing pop songs. But what does an interview with one of Beyoncé’s sound engineers have to do with writing a book about kissing?

I write genre fiction, the pop music of the literary world.  And before you sneer at that, consider that romance novels make up 40% of the entire global book market.  Your literary stream of consciousness debut novel is a free-rider on our sales (you’re welcome.)

Pop music has to get its point across in three minutes.  Less, ideally, because if the first fifteen, twenty seconds don’t slap, no one is going to want to hear the rest.  And by slap I don’t mean bombast.  I mean that the opening has to suggest a big payoff is coming.  A fat beat, a mad drop, some crazy vocal run that make your hair raise.  The money shot, if you will.  The Big Fight at the end of the action film or the last kiss at the end of the romance (where we always promise a happy ending.)

But again, what does that have to do with writing books?  It’s all about Stuart White’s commitment to the first take as being the truest. Understand that this first take he’s talking about isn’t a demo.  When Queen Bey walks into that sound booth, it’s already planned what’s going to happen when she starts to sing. Hours of thought and setup, years of training and experience, all come into play in creating a perfect moment, where singer and song unite at an instinctive level, the way they ideally do onstage.  Everything after this first take is fine-tuning.

Similarly, by the time I write my ‘first draft’ of a book, I’m ready to deliver a great performance.  Even though I call it a ‘zero’ draft (gives me permission to let it be bad) I go into writing a book with a full synopsis, and all the scenes I’ve collected since thinking of it all nicely laid out in order. With chapter headings. Ready to write.  What’s missing at that stage is the feelings.  And those can be planned for but not plotted.  That’s what I deliver when writing a chapter from my notes, the emotions of the scene, which register in my body* while I’m writing. I don’t want to stop and figure out which character is sitting on which side of the bed in the middle of getting them into the bed.  If all those bothersome details are plotted, everything else just flows.

Your results may vary, but this is my system and it’s what my high-diffusion scatter ADHD seems to like: wild ideas, usefully structured, with a flowchart of operations and a minimum of attractive nuisances i.e. side-quests my characters don’t need to go on.

What my dang brain hates is editing. The rewrite, the do-over, the second take.  A rerun of the same creative form that strives, and often fails, to improve on the first instinctive attempt. And for my busy little enterprise, a massive time and/or money sinkhole.  

I despise writing words that I’ll have to delete, and that’s what happens when I write without a plan.  Being very (problematically) imaginative, I can take a story in any of a dozen directions if left unsupervised.  My plan is therefore my supervisor, and they’re a hard-nosed bitch who I hate to disappoint. Speaking of, they’re looking meaningfully at me over the imaginary cubicle wall.  Time to clock in.

*This is why I hardly ever watch tv or movies and am very selective in my reading.  By the end of the day I’ve had So Many Feels that I don’t want to have any more, and certainly not most of the feelings that ‘broadcast entertainment’ wants you to feel: jealousy, confusion, revulsion, futile anger at the establishment (I have that to spare, you want some?)  When my day is done, I want real people.  Or sleep.   

Planning Systems: a non-systems approach

It’s taken me until this many years old to understand my brain enough to keep it focused on things it needs to do.  In this time I’ve gone through countless planner systems, from hand-held Filofax style books in the 90s to Google Calendar to several writer-specific planner systems I’ve trialed in the last few years.

Setting up any such system (let’s not dance around it) fucking sucks.  I’ve abandoned enough of them to have some perspective.

What falls apart for me is the transition from Planned to Achieved. Which is a fancy way to say that just because I put an event in my planner doesn’t mean I am going to follow through.  I have shunted certain tasks down the line for months.  Years, even.  There’s no accountability if I don’t do a thing, other than I screw up my own plans.  I can pass a buck indefinitely.  This is a very dysfunctional situation, and I hope I’ve figured out how to amend it.

I have two planners now.  Both of them paper.  Emails?  Notifications? I can ignore those for  months.  So it’s got to be paper.  One book is for planning.  The other book is for WRITING DOWN WHAT I ACTUALLY DID.  Caps for my own need, because I am the kind of smart that needs this level of reinforcement.

The thing with having only one planner is that every time I don’t complete a vital task, I need to shove it down the line.  For those who don’t have my particular form of high-twitch ADHD and are therefore good at //doing what they set out to do// lemme just say that this is not a sustainable system.  I spend more time rearranging my schedule than I would spend just doing the dang work. 

But like I said, I’m the dumb kind of smart.  It’s taken me until now to figure this out. 

Now I have two planners.  One that records what I intend to do, and the other that records what I actually achieve.  To-do lists aren’t enough for me.  I need to keep track of my Didn’t Do’s, so I can make sure they become Done.

Who the heck am I?  I mean this week…

I can overthink anything.  You name it, I can lose myself down a rabbit hole of reverie that will touch on any and every topic my pick-n-mix brain can associate with it.

So when it comes to who I am as an author, you better believe I have come at this hot mess of an identity crisis from every angle under the sun.  Total anonymity.  Full disclosure.  Pen names that had nothing to do with my real name, and one that is an amalgam of names by which I’ve been known all my life. This is before I start thinking about gender, both mine and my characters.

Everything feels up for grabs, as if I am remaking the world if only in a very narrow way.  But what set me off?  Why think about any of this?

I was interested in joining a book promotion with a group of other authors.   LGBTI+ books were siloed off in their own category, regardless of genre.  Most of the authors in the category were cis-presenting white women writing thinly veiled fanfic of Buffy (everyone’s a dude and they all bang) and/or Brokeback Mountain (everyone’s a cowboy and two of them bang.)  If that’s your trot, as Chuck Tingle says, let’s trot,

I usually go a different way.  Because I’m a pernicious troublemaker who has never found a foothold in the mainstream.  But what does this mean for my career?  If I write about diversely queer characters, am I doomed to scrabble at the margins, never gaining a fan-base, never writing a book that other people truly want to read? Can I really survive the long hours, months, years to build a following?  Other people are making it work, though they started sooner, have a head start so to speak.  My genre is certainly niche, but it exists and the reader base is committed and growing. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

So why didn’t I join the promo?

Because I hadn’t done all this thinking yet.  I hadn’t come to terms with the ever more obvious truth that I really only want to write about queer love. Y’all straights got plenty to read.  I want to tell a different story.  Love is love, however, even if you’re the straightest arrow ever drawn, and being bi (though maybe I should start saying ‘pan’ as gender is a social construct and doesn’t really exist) I’m fine with heterosexual unions.  I just don’t much care to read or write about them.

Perhaps the most valuable thought that came up is the difficulty of straddling certain genre divides.  It’s one thing to write a historical paranormal shifter omegaverse time travel story and quite another to put both a straight and a gay romance arc into that story.  There’s an ick factor around romance a.k.a. kissing that cannot be denied or even overcome.  Many people find out they’re a certain orientation by a bit of exposure to what it turns out they don’t like.  When that first kiss makes your skin crawl but not in a good way and you realize you can’t kiss that sort of person ever again.  

I don’t need people putting my books down because of that mood.  Just because my edges are blurry as heck doesn’t mean I can assume the same about readers.  In fact, the longer I work in self-publishing the more I understand that I am not my target market.  For starters, there’s only one of me, and my tastes are unpredictable.  I need total strangers to see, want, then read my books.  Then to want to read all the others (in their niche genre interest, that is, which ought to be obvious from a glance at my books’ covers or I’m doing genre fiction wrong.)

The big promo has started and I’ve missed my chance for the year.  Such is life, and I can only wish that I’d been thinking clearer that month and been able to come to these conclusions while I could still get involved.  We do what we can, and in December 2022 that turned out to be almost nothing while I recovered from you-know-what.  Brain fog is real, yo, and it’s a sonofabitch.