Comparing Yourself To Others (A Beginners’ Guide)

I get a whole lot of advice that says not to compare myself to others.

In general, the advice also includes some kind of admonition that the only person you should compare yourself to is you. And something that’s meant to be consoling, but which could almost certainly be said for anything from an infant’s first crayon scratches to Shakespeare. You are where you are.

I don’t believe a word of it.

What I do believe is that if you are going to compare yourself to others, it should be in a very specific way. I don’t, for instance think “I want to write like Shakespeare” is a healthy goal. It’s too big, too general… it’s something that eliminates your own style in the process. Wanting to be someone else isn’t achievable. But if you break it into specific elements you admire, some of it might be. “I should use the word thou more.” well, that’s achievable. (I’m not sure it’s advisable, but you can achieve it, if you want.)

I’m not being humble, here: It’s not where I am that tells me the heights that are out there. Or what’ necessary to succeed. Or where I could improve. Or how far I have to go. It’s looking at others.

And then, you sort out the things that are pure, dumb luck–the lightning strikes–from the things that are hard work. The things you’re willing to work for from the things you’re not. What can you have? What do you want badly enough?

I used to go out and shoot a few baskets, now and then. Now, let’s be honest. I was not good. And–I’m five foot zero and a half–so I’m never gonna be good. Not in any global comparison, anyway. If I’m comparing to Michael Jordan, that’s an impossible, lightning strike goal. He’s taller than me, prettier than me, and has better legs than me. But if I compare to Mike Miller down the street–you know, the guy who spends time with his kids, and gets some exercise, and has fun–well, I could do that. I’d be happier doing that.

And I dance. I can rattle off lists of the greats in this that and the other form, and shiver with awe for all of them. But on a personal level, I connect more with Ray Bolger than with Baryshnikov, and long-term… I want the social connections and longevity and fun of Frankie Manning more than then the elegance of Maria Tallchief.

I lucked out a lot more, when it comes to writing. More of the stroke of luck talent than I have for other pursuits. I’m probably capable of walking out on a professional court at some point. Some of that is lightning strike stuff, and some of it is hard work. I am where I am… but this is where I want to go. Not just one professional writer, but the collective, group of them. Professional-level writing all the way. The get up at three in the morning on a weekend and write crowd. The going places crowd.

What catches my eye when I read this book or that book, and am I willing to do the work to get there?

Cutting Manuscripts In Public

I spent yesterday playing slice and dice with the next overgrown sasquatch-chapter of the manuscript I’ve been revising. 40 pages going in, and probably right around thirty by the time I decided it would just be easier to rewrite the whole thing. There are just too many pieces, people! I think I’d collected every single unanchored question in the entire book, and thrown it into the interrogation scene. And some of them aren’t very interrogation-y questions. And there’s this really random character (who I love) in the middle of it, telling them how to work a bathtub.

Well, he’s a retired college professor. They’re just going to do things like that, from time to time, and you can’t stop them.

I’m caught somewhere between But I don’t want to cut the retired college professor!!! And So… uhm… why is there a college professor in the first place?

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I did most of the cuts at a table filled with chatty co-workers, so I’d be able to cut with one hand and gossip with the other. You know… keeps your mind off the cutting, so (hopefully) you don’t notice that you’re about to remove the last good bathtub explanation scene.

I wound up talking about how to sell a short story. Where to find addresses to send it to. And maybe the truth is that there are plenty of writers floating around my small town, and that they just don’t know how to take the next step.

Maybe they just need to be wrangled into the library for a writers’ group, and maybe… if I were more social, more organize-y they’d already be there.

Revising While Reading

I just printed out the next chapter for my revision.

It is forty pages long, and in at least three different viewpoints. And the actual purpose of the scene didn’t come to me until well and truly after it was written. (They? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just one scene when I started.)

I’m going to read through it–pen in hand–and decide whether it’s worth revising  any of it, or if I should just sit down and re-write it.

Did I mention I’m reading American Gods while I do this? Because, well, when you’re playing search-and-destroy with your own shortcomings, stupidities, and holy-shit-where’s-the-rest-of-this-es, you should definitely be doing so in the shadow of giants.

Well, you can’t help but compare.

My book is down in every category, including penis descriptions. ONE to kinda lost track along the way.

What I should be doing is something like this: The day he was scheduled for execution was gray and overcast, and also his penis was in an indecisive state of half-rigidity. OR The birds were singing before he woke on Tuesday, and not being content with an exuberant erection, his penis had also decided to wear a festive hat.

Yes, I’ve really lost track. And yes, I really am comparing.

This may actually be why I stopped reading American Gods the last time: Tendency to compare my pile of gray Legos to someone else’s fully constructed death star.

I’ll be finished reading in a couple of days, and then I can go back to objectively nitpicking.

The Past Tastes Better

The Past Tastes Better

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, my job is nothing. Forty or fifty years, or in rare cases, seventy, but never much more. A quick nip in time, back to some church dinner or Bar Mitzvah to pick up gramma’s secret recipe—whatever it happened to be—and back to collect the check. Big checks, and bigger tips. Tipping assuages the guilt of asking someone to risk being atomized—and plenty of time to study.

MIT doesn’t let just anyone play with their toys, after all.

Not that they know.

If anybody asks, I’m a waiter.

I’d been a waiter for over a year before I got the other kind of request.

The woman looked at me for a long time before she said anything. Something not quite right about her clothes, as if she were trying to hid who she was, and where she came from. Her baggy t-shirt advertised a decade-old Golden Gophers victory, and her khakhi pants had a bargain-basement droop.

“I would like to buy two tacos,” she said. She enunciated each word, practiced, and vaguely reminiscent of the old Mid-Atlantic accent. I still didn’t know where she was from, but not Minnesota.

“Go away.” I turned another page in my nondescript magazine and smiled at a comic strip that wasn’t funny. “Can’t you see we’re closed?”

She stood firm. “Please? They’re for my pet parakeet. He’s dying.”

That was the code. I leaned over the counter to see if anyone was watching. “Oh. All right. Come around back.”

I waited until I heard a knock, and jerked the door open. “You know what I do?”

She nodded. “And?”

“I need you to go to twenty-seven forty-two.”

For just a second, I thought the numbers were coordinates. Then, I choked. “That’s in the future,” I said. “It’s–”

“Nearly six hundred years from now.” She watched my face, my arms, maybe even my legs. “You do … do that, don’t you?”

“Time travel.” I nodded.

“How much?”

“Every couple of weeks.” I really thought that was what she meant, and I really thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever said in my life.

“How much money?” She asked.

“I can’t do it. The future–”

“The distant future,” she corrected me.

“It’s tricky. I can’t know where I’ll be in the future.”

“You’ll be dead.”

“Excuse me?”

“Six hundred years from now, you’ll be dead. It’s not like you’re going to run into your future self and ignite the atmosphere,” she said. “Just stay out of cemeteries, and you’ll be fine.”

I considered, as I always did, when that kind of an offer came up. A quick peek at the future news could pay off. “It’s complicated.”

“You believe it, don’t you?”

I sighed. Explaining the science to her wasn’t worth it, and she wouldn’t agree with me, regardless. Until you’ve seen it, you’ll never understand how vast and timeless a single grain of sand can be. “There isn’t enough money in the world to make me go to the future,” I said. “Too many variables.”

“The Grandfather Paradox?”

No, she didn’t understand what she was saying, but there it was. My out. I made my next nod an apology. “So, you understand,” I said.

She smiled back at me. “Of course, I do.” She shifted her weight, and got up. I was relieved. She wasn’t going to be a problem. “I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she said.

I shrugged it off. I didn’t need the job. I didn’t need any job. That made it easier to say no. “If you think of anything else you need,” I said. “If it’s within our parameters…”

“Oh, I’ll call you.” A wistful sigh, and I still felt guilty for saying no. She was out the door, and headed back to wherever she came from before I could say anything else.

I followed her into the rain, just to make sure she got back to her car alright. Nobody ever looks for a borrowed quantum distortion generator in a rough neighborhood, but I was uneasy about letting her walk alone. “Hey. Let me walk you to your car.”

She walked a little faster. “I don’t have a car.”

“You live near here? I’ll walk you home. It’s dark.”

She didn’t respond, and she didn’t look at me again. She got to the dead end of the road, and just stood there, with the wind and rain soaking her through.

“You mean, you’re homeless?” People did camp in that park. I hadn’t guessed. I hadn’t even offered her a sandwich. “What could you possibly want in twenty-seven forty-two? I mean–”

“Nothing.” She paced without looking at me. “I don’t want anything. I got what I came for.”

I debated how her mind was. Not good, if she was standing in that neighborhood, in the rain at night. But she got the pass code somewhere, and I tried again. “I’ll call some one. Want a sandwich? I’ll try not to burn the peanut butter.”

“It’s recursive,” she said.

Maybe she wasn’t talking to me. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Lets go somewhere warm.”

“It’s not a paradox. It’s recursive.” She was talking to me, and she wasn’t, and maybe she didn’t remember I was even there. She chewed her lower lip, and thought hard. “The whole thing. Time travel. The whole species. Maybe even the whole planet. It’s recursive.”

I gave her a stern smile. “You never told me what you wanted,” I said.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. I got what I came for.” She took something out of her pocket, and looked at it for just a second. “You get there, eventually.”

“I get where?”

She pressed a button, and disappeared into the blue crackle of distorted time.

Be sure you visit the other blogs on the hop for more short fiction.

You are Here—>The Past Tastes Better by Karen Lynn

Revealing Space by Barbara Lund

The Rose Tender by Raven O’Fiernan

The Last Sleeping Beauty by Tamara Ruth

Freeman byElizabeth McCleary

Hell’s Play by Juneta Key

The Token by Eli Winfield

Moshe by Chris Makowski

To The Moon And Beyond, by Fanni Sütő

Surprise, by Katharinia Gerlach

In A Picture by Erica Damon

Equipment for The Hobby I Don’t Need

I’m at that maybe I will, maybe I won’t phase of new hobby development. Do I need a podcast, or don’t I? It’s a thought that flutters in and out of my head, and sometimes involves Youtube video. Okay… well, I happen to have a nifty idea for a puppet that can be built out of a **ahem** personal massager. It wouldn’t work without pictures. And yes, I’m aware that it’s probably not quite in keeping with my brand.

A couple of my friends are in the same place, (podcast place. It’s amazing how wholesome my friends are.) and I think–in a lot of ways–it’s just a matter of who takes the jump first.

The last time I played with audio equipment, it was a truly antiquated system for academic presentations, and let’s be honest… I learned how to use it, not how to talk about it. So, I want information about the thingy, or the thingy, or the other thingy that plugs into the thingy, I’m pretty much at square one.

Okay, Google: Podcasting for Idiot Children, please.

I’m kinda tech-y, so the immediate response to all things Googled is: I have no idea what that is, but I want one.

There are money issues with that, of course. I won’t be hauling a whole recording studio off a UPS truck, any time soon. My budget would be enough money that I feel like I’ve committed, but not so much money that I have to eat any Ramen.

I’m dividing the wish list up into the must haves and the nice to haves.

USB vs Analog vs both, and the terror of deciding. Which pieces of this thing are the spend money pieces and which are the ones you can get cheap and run? What are the pieces that might survive an upgrade? And… just what is an upgrade, anyway? Naturally, everyone has their own opinion, and their own opinion is the only one that’s worth having. (And they’re probably affiliates, so they have expensive opinions.)

It’s not complicated. I don’t have any doubts that I can run the equipment, when it gets down to it. (Some qualms about  whether anybody wants to hear my voice.)  But making that initial choice…

Anybody else trying to do Podcasting on a Budget? What equipment are you using?

The Things That Matter

So, Doctor Who is regenerating, again, and this time, he’s regenerating into a woman. (She’s regenerating from a man? Something.) For those of us who were paying attention, it isn’t a surprise. (I’ve only seen the replacement playing the mother of a murdered child, and damn, I hope it doesn’t get that gloomy.)(Also, I was kinda rooting for Tilda Swinton. Ignore me.)

A lot of strong feelings about who plays a mostly asexual, 900 year old time-traveling alien in a children’s show. And, honestly, I’m not sure how much of it comes from people who actually watch the show, and how much is from outsiders. The Doctor could pretty much be played by a sentient mitten without changing the show.

So, the question is: Which parts of a particular character cannot be changed without changing the central core of the story?

It’s a tough question, because the answer changes from character to character, and most of the time, nobody cares enough to ask.

You couldn’t, for instance, change the character of Elizabeth Bennett into a man because the whole book is about women not having security because they were not able to own property. If she’s a man, she just inherits the farm. Problem solved. You also couldn’t turn her into a 20th century typist. Because, once again, she inherits the farm, and problem solved.

Why does Bridget Jones come across as being so much more vapid than the original? Because she doesn’t have any problems that couldn’t be solved by her pulling her own damn shit together. **cough** Twentieth Century Typist **cough**

You probably could turn Elizabeth Bennett into a Lesbian, though. Lack of legal standing=lack of stability=lack of ability to wind up with the person she really loves. Oh, yeah. There’s a problem.

And my own characters…

It’s a little on the patchy side. You could change this gender, maybe. But not that one. Careers are more solid, in general. She has to be a monarch. A fishmonger just wouldn’t be the same story. He has to be a former soldier, although it’s anybody’s guess what he’s been doing after the war. They have to be from opposite sides of the war, and they have to come from completely different cultures.

It’s probably going to help to separate out the MUSTS from the “just felt like its.”

So, what traits do your characters absolutely need? Which could be changed?

Sometimes, You Just Break The Lock

The news story that’s hitting me hard this morning is from San Antonio Texas where eight people were found dead in the back of a tractor trailer. Since it’s been 104 here, and I live in a place that’s generally considered cooler than San Antonio, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the cause of death was probably hyperthermia.

And for those of you who don’t have my vast and encyclopedic medical knowledge, yup… that’s just a fancy word for “human trafficking.”

So, the police were called after someone inside the trailer asked a passerby for a glass of water.

Could you please do a wellness check on this trailer, which is parked in front of my big box store?

The passerby comes back with the glass of water.

Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight. Can you imagine? Standing there in the hundred degree heat, in front of an 18 wheeler filled with dying people, and holding one Styrofoam cup?

And then, you wait for the police.

I’m not saying the passerby did anything wrong. It’s not the kind of situation you prepare for, and it’s hard to process something like that, in the moment.

The thing is… if someone’s asking you for water from inside a truck, you already know damn good and well that things are not okay.

So, you turn around, walk into the store, and get a bolt cutter. (big box stores sell that kind of thing) You break the locks, and let people out of the truck.

You break the glass on the car.

The whatever it is that is getting hotter by the minute.

That’s not legal advice. It’s moral advice.

And let’s be honest… did you think the guy who has a trailer full of human beings is actually going to stick around to sue you over a lock? No. He’ll be busy telling the cops he has no idea who owns the trailer, and how did that get there? Assuming he doesn’t run fast enough.

The extra five minutes for the cops to get there?

That’s a lot of degrees.

When every second counts… just ask yourself whose bolt cutter is closest.

Unlearning What They Done Learned Me in School

One of my (many) leftover hangups from grade school is a terror of red ink. Something about those pencils they used to give us. A shuffle of papers later, and you’re grading somebody else’s work and hoping against hope that you don’t have to flunk anyone, and that you didn’t do anything too humiliating, yourself.

So, I don’t edit in red ink. I’ve actually heard that teachers have taken up correcting papers in non-red colors, because it’s less traumatic. (No, sweetie. They’re not traumatized by red ink, itself. They’re traumatized by you.)

I also write in pencil or colored ink or… ya’know… my own blood… because I’ve been trained to take those things a lot less seriously than blue or black ink. Blue or black ink is the domain of very, very carefully re-copying your work so that it will be perfect when you turn it in.

I spent so much time doing this (because I never got to perfect) that one day in Junior High someone told me to make copies, and I sat down and copied the paper–by hand–five or six times so everyone could have a copy.

The response was horror. I meant… make copies in the office. On the Copying Machine.

That thought certainly never occurred to me.

To this day, I pick up a pen, and that same old perfectionism kicks in. Hello, inner editor.

The list goes on. Yellow or pink legal pads. Something with color to it. Blue. Green. Whatever. Never proper loose leaf paper. Still has to be college ruled, though, because the wide ruled reminds me of remedial classes, and makes me doubt myself. (No, really. It’s very simple. The less space between the lines on your paper, the smarter you are. That’s the rule, and it’s in my head.)

Lets just call them “quirks.”

What about you? Any school-based peccadilloes?

Pet Ownership and Other Crafts

Recently, I took up cat grooming as a hobby. The long-haired cat I inherited from my sister was starting to get that dirty hippie look, and besides the expense of taking the animal to a professional groomer, the local groomer is a little heavy-handed with the sedatives. He came home with the strung out on bennies look, and then progressed to the had a stroke look, and finally the oh, I don’t think that eye was quite that weepy before look.

We are not going back.

Still, something has to be done–at least for hygienic reasons–so I got myself a pair of clippers and hoped for the best.

You can take time with your own pet, and I did.

One cat. Four days.

I’m not doing the legs or tendon-y bits. Those are above my skill grade.

But very slowly and carefully, and with lots and lots of breaks and encouragement in between… I hit my cleanliness goal, and my cat with a haircut goal.

And not only is the animal still on speaking terms with me, he hears the clippers and comes running.

I’m grateful for his enthusiasm.

(Yes. He has been bribed. I don’t see your point.)

And From The List of Things That Are None Of My Business…

I subscribe to the Ex-Boyfriends R Us newsletter. It’s one of the unforeseen pitfalls of dating people you or people you know actually have things in common with. You might be able to get rid of them, but you can never liberate yourselves from the shared-interest newsletters.  From now on, it’s dates from the union of actuarial scientists, sewage reclamation specialists, and embalmers for me.

So, I was sitting at the table, minding my own business and eating a sandwich today. Flipping through a copy of Ex-Boyfriends R Us. (Actually, the newsletter for a charitable group we’re both involved with.) And yup.

Somebody gave him a full page.

With pictures.

Why would anyone do that?!!

Because he’s raising money for the poor starving orphans with sufficient zeal to merit it.

Oh, well, there is that.

Well. All right. Fine. I already knew he was a better person than I am.

Did I mention I’m writing a book?

The thing is… I was pretty happy with the idea that he was happy. Well, you know. That feeling of relief when you see that someone you care about is being taken care of.

He is not being taken care of. He looks miserable. And I’m not crazy about the health-aspect there. (**Fantasizes about thyroid testing and blood sugar.**)

It’s like finding out your dog didn’t really go to live on a farm, and he’s not chasing rabbits.

I should mind my own business. And in the long run, I probably am going to mind my own business.

But I still thought there’d be rabbits.