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I’m One Year Closer to 30, and the Fear of Failure

The tradition here at Comparative Geeks is to write whatever we want on our birthdays, and today is mine! When David first mentioned this tradition to me, I felt instantly overwhelmed with what I wanted to write about. Did  I want to discuss my reaction to the news of the Xena reboot and its part in continuing the trend of bisexual erasure in our culture? Did I want to talk about how I’ve been reliving a huge part of my adolescence by revisiting my favorite Final Fantasy games? I figured I can cover those later, they’re not necessarily birthday-worthy material.

Instead I realized that the way I treat this blog, personally, is an outlet for my need to write. It’s been a way for me to give myself a weekly deadline and force myself to sit down and write at least something, even if it’s just an analysis of the last thing I binge watched on Netflix. I’ve been taking the last five months, almost six, off of working so that I can focus on writing. So that I can give my stories an actual chance to turn into something. Writing for Comparative Geeks has been an awesome way for me to make sure that once a week, I’m at least writing one thing, which should hopefully keep me fresh, which should hopefully lead to writing more.

Over time, though, it’s become the only thing I’m writing each week. I had a breakthrough a month or so ago in the writer’s block I was suffering from, and I thought that would mean more work on the story I was pursuing. But the breakthrough just led to crippling doubt and anxiety. And more writer’s block. Which leads to less writing, even here.

This essentially sums up my weekend so far:

Which is funny, because I’m currently feeling like I’m continuing the existential crisis I started to go through last year when I turned 25 (or as I kept saying to myself, 1/4 of a century). I thought I’d already had a quarter life crisis, when I completely changed my life plan right as I was graduating college and gave up on my plan of moving to Hollywood to be a director. I realized too late that wasn’t what I really wanted.

Last year, though, was even more challenging than anything I’d been through, and made me realize the awful fact that we spend our lives trying to avoid: we’re only temporary. In the face of parental health issues and beginning my very adult life with my husband in a new state, I found myself faced with my mortality in a very real way. A way that challenged how I was living my life and treating my health, a way that challenged what I was doing with my time, and a way that challenged what my overall goals were for my life.

This year more than ever, I’m finally taking my age seriously. I’m taking my health seriously, and no longer living the bartender lifestyle of subsisting off of coffee, booze, and fries. I want to start taking my time more seriously, too, but that’s actually harder than focusing on health. It’s taken me a while to figure out why, but I’ve realized I’m paralyzed by fear.

Fear of wasting my time, wasting my life, fear of failing…but also fear of succeeding. Honestly, I can’t decide which is more terrifying. Finishing a book and either having it rejected or flop, or finishing a book and having it be a success. Because after success, you’re expected to keep writing. What if your next book isn’t a success? Or, what if it is and then you have to write a third? A fourth? My fear of failure is almost paralleled with my fear of success. Once your writing is out there, it feels like a very personal part of you is being shared and dissected by the public. I figured out that thrilling and terrifying reality when I started sharing my writing more publicly, both here and at Lacuna Loft. When I saw that one of my posts was quoted by a stranger on Twitter, I was elated. And oddly that elation lent itself to the fear. It’s the oddest feeling, which I cannot describe fully.

I guess this birthday I’m wondering if it’s worth it. Maybe I’m like too many other Millenials who are questioning whether or not our life should be defined by our work. I’d much rather spend time with my loved ones, enjoying all of the things I like to do than slave away at a job. Because life is short and I’d rather do my best to enjoy every minute of it. Maybe a part of me is concerned that I’ll lose that time if I succeed at writing. Or maybe I’m just overthinking everything (that happens, a lot). My goal this year is to finish a draft of a novel. I suppose if I can achieve that goal, what I do with that novel after is up to me.

For today, though, I think I’ll just ignore my self doubt and appreciate all the birthday love. And mimosas. Because life is always better fueled by mimosas.

On Hugos, Puppies, and Remember that blog post I wrote…

If asked, I’ll tend to answer that one of the more important things to me is the idea of science fiction, fantasy, and the related speculative fictions being taken seriously. I think I expressed that best so far in my Realistic vs. Romantic Literature post.

I bring this up because one of the things that I feel like ought to matter for these sorts of literature to be taken seriously would be for their awards, at least, to be solid. For at least the fandom, the people who do care and who do take it seriously, to keep it together.

Which is why I have been so disappointed in the controversy over the Hugo awards. Because I want to see the Hugos taken seriously. Because I often turn to the Hugos to figure out what I should read – and I imagine others do as well. I’ve even thought of recommending the Hugo award winners as a complete set that should be held at the library. I want this to be a list of titles that matter.

For a full rundown on the controversy, I would recommend this Wired article. I read that, and it was pretty darn good. Covered a lot of the history of it, a number of good interviews on both sides. However, one of the saddest things to me was the extent to which even Wired was down on Science Fiction. Calling it a “maligned literary sub-genre” and talking about how the mainstream media barely touched it. Well, I’ll let you read it.

Wired Quote 1 part 1 Wired Quote 1 part 2

To even talk about it that way, for it to be the representation of the genre… sigh.

Meanwhile, Puppygate (ugh, can we stop calling everything -gate?), to a great extent, reminds me of the gaming gate we mentioned recently – and I think the videos we linked there apply really well here too. Even to the point of there being a more mild group that’s being used, and an extreme and strategic group using them. Which worked out kind of like this:

Wired Quote 2

I think it’s pretty awesome how many people turned out, and how many awards were actually not awarded. That there were people who declined their nominations. Because new ideas matter. Because representation matters. And because quality matters. And spiking a ballot – in any direction – doesn’t help with those things. It’s science fiction – a diversity of ideas is kind of the point.

Or, to close out with one more Wired quote:

Wired Quote 3

That would be Martin, George R.R. Who held a losers after party, because he’s that awesome.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Summer of Sandman: Favorite Stories

Sandman covers by Dave McKean. Collage discovered at The Book Wars

Sandman covers by Dave McKean. Collage discovered at The Book Wars

The Thursday 13 is a meme that Part Time Monster does often. I enjoy writing them but don’t have the time to do them every week. When I agreed to blog about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series here back in February, I decided to sit down and write a few of these.

Here are my 13 favorite Sandman stories. I’ve also got a Thursday 13 coming on my favorite places from the series, and you can read my 13 favorite characters here. The numbers are original issue numbers, and they are ranked in order of publication.

1. “The Sound of Her Wings” – (8) Features the first appearance of Death in the series. A single-episode story that occurs as a sort of epilogue to Dream’s imprisonment, escape, and re-establishment of his realm. This is first story where we see the Endless interacting with one another as emotional beings.

Dream and Death, feeding pigeons. Image via Comicvine.com.

2. “Collectors” – (14) Features the first appearance of The Corinthian. It’s an episode of The Doll’s House that occurs at a serial killer convention. It’s fabulous.

3. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – (19) The real story of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Explains why that play and The Tempest are so different from the rest of Shakespeare’s work. Won the World Fantasy Award for short fiction in 1991 and touched off a controversy. There’s a possibly-apocryphal story that the room fell silent when the award was announced. Then Harlan Ellison laughed like a maniac.

4. Season of Mists – (21 to 28) Lucifer empties Hell, abdicates his throne, and gives Dream the key to dispose of as he will. Asgard, envoys from the ancient Japanese and Egyptian pantheons, emissaries from the courts of Faerie, Order, and Chaos, and a host of others show up on Dream’s doorstep. Diplomatic hi-jinks ensue.

Lady Johanna in “Thermidor.” Tell me you don’t want to read these stories. Just tell me. Image via goodreads.com

5. “Thermidor” – (29) Dream sends Lady Johanna Constantine to revolutionary Paris on a secret mission which I can’t explain, because spoilers. She interacts with many historical figures, including Thomas Paine, and accomplishes her mission. She is also instrumental in ending the careers of Robespierre and Saint-Just.

6. “Three Septembers and a January” — (31) Explains how the career of His Majesty Joshua Abraham Norton, the one and only Emporer of the United States, came about.

7. Brief Lives – (41-49) Delirium decides to go looking for her brother Destruction, most-loved of all the Endless, who abdicated his realm sometime in the late 16th or early 17th Century and declared he was no longer a member of the family. After Desire and Despair refuse to help her, she visits Dream. He’s at a moment in his life where he needs a diversion. He accompanies Delirium, and gets more than he bargained for.

8. “A Tale of Two Cities” — (51) A Lovecraftian story from World’s End in which a man wanders out of a real city and into the dream of a city. He eventually finds his way back to the waking world, but is done with cities forever when he returns and ends up retiring to the outskirts of a small hamlet off the coast of Scotland. Because if you can wander into the dream of a city, that means the cities are sleeping. And where will we be if the cities ever wake?

9. “Cluracan’s Tale” — (52) Also a stand-alone story from World’s End, as are the next two. Cluracan is a hard-drinking, omnisexual courtier of the Faerie Queen. She sends him hither-and-yon across the planes as her diplomatic envoy. The Internet will tell you that the word “Cluracan” is associated with “Leprechaun.” This is a simple tale of adventure and prophecy that shows you exactly what happens to corrupt officials who mistreat envoys of the Seelie Court.

10. “The Golden Boy” — (54) Tale set in an alternate United States in which first generation youth voters change the constitution to allow the election of a young president. They elect Prez Rickard, and he becomes a Messiah figure with a tiny bit of help from Dream and Death.

Prez celebrates his election to the Presidency. Isn’t he beautiful in a stereotypical way? Image via comicvine.com

11. “Cerements” — (55) A story set in The Necropolis Litharge which explains how Litharge functions. Also, it’s quite a spooky tale, and Litharge is important to the plot.

12. The Kindly Ones — (57-69) Dream .v The Furies. That’s really all can say about it without going massive on the spoilers. Possibly a subversion of tragedy. If so, Gaiman is making a point about justice. Or maybe about Justice.

13. “Exiles” — (74) The penultimate issue of the original run. Occurs in the Soft Places. It involves an exiled Chinese civil servant, a kitten, Dream, and a centuries-lost Roman cavalry unit.

Want to join us for #SummeroOfSandman? Here’s how: Write a blog post about Sandman between now and Aug. 1. Long or short, any format. Share your link with us on a Sandman thread here or on Twitter using the hashtag #SummerOfSandman. It’s that easy.

Summer of Sandman: Favorite Characters

Gaiman’s Sandman series has some of my favorite comic book characters. Even those who appear briefly in the comics tend to be memorable—sometimes, actually, they are the most memorable.

What we arrive at in the Sandman series is almost a character study of Dream of the Endless, but it’s as much told through the other characters as by Dream himself, perhaps even more so. We see how dreams themselves, and their embodiment in the Sandman, reflect and refract the world around us, how they change things.

And from the beginning there is a sense of interconnection. The first few comics in the series have large jumps in time and in place, but there is the underlying thread of what being without dreams–without Dream, who is imprisoned–is doing to humanity and what Dream’s isolation is doing to him.

Many characters, in particular each of the Endless, have their own fonts for speech bubbles, and this adds an approximation of a tone of voice to them–something particularly indicative of the emphasis on characters in the series. It is the characters who are at the forefront of the comics. And so, here are some of my favorites:

Sandman covers by Dave McKean. Collage discovered at The Book Wars

Sandman covers by Dave McKean. Collage discovered at The Book Wars

1. Sandman, of course.
Sandman has many names–Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros . . . And he is many things. By turns loving, brash, quick-tempered, melancholic, and intelligent, Dream is a complicated hero of a complicated story. We see the character change dramatically over the course of the comic series, and it’s both beautiful and tragic.

2. Delirium.
Another of the Endless, Delirium is a later incarnation of her earlier self, Delight; she is the youngest of the Endless. Much of what Delirium says seems like nonsense at first—stream-of-consciousness at best, completely losing threads of conversations at worst. But there is a wisdom in her, for all that. If we listen, she has much to tell us.

3. Death.
Death is the second eldest of the Endless—only Destiny is older. She is the antithesis of traditional Western embodiment of death, and a welcome change. She’s so kind! She’s funny and a little bit dark, but mostly Death is nurturing and long-suffering, here with us until the last thing dies and she locks away the universe, her job done.

4. Destruction.
Ok, so I’m trying very hard not to fill my list with the Endless, but they’re great characters! Destruction is one of the Endless, but he abandoned his post and his realm sometime around the seventeenth century. When we do see him, he’s taken up painting and has a talking dog named Barnabas, and he seems quite happy. Destruction gives us a very, very different picture of being Endless.

5. Mad Hettie.
Mad Hettie is one of a few characters who, though mortal, are incredibly long-lived. She was born in the early 1740s, thus she would’ve been 247 during the events of Preludes and Nocturnes. She survived by hiding her heart from Death, and she’s quite a clever old tramp.

6. Hob Gadling.
Hob is another of the extremely long-lived mortals. He and Dream meet once each year in a tavern for drinks. Hob doesn’t die—because Hob just doesn’t. He simply decided not to, and Death spares him at the request of Dream, whose annual meetings with Hob become the stuff of legend.

6. Matthew.
Matthew is Dream’s raven, chosen after he dies in his sleep and decides to stay with Dream. Matthew is sometimes crude and often incredibly irreverent, but he has an under-lying streak of loyalty to Dream so strong that he would’ve died for him.

7. William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare is—well–Shakespeare. He appears in a few of the Sandman comics, most notably the acclaimed “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shakespeare made a deal with Dream: inspiration in exchange for two plays. We see what that costs him–and what it pays him.

8. Johanna Constantine.
Johanna is a mortal, and an incredible one. It is she who steals Orpheus’s head from its resting place for Dream—and ends the French Reign of Terror in the process. She goes looking for the Devil and the Wandering Jew, who are said to meet in a tavern once a year, and finds Dream and Hob Gadling there. Probably related to John Constantine, but either way, she’s fantastic.

9. Thessaly.
Thessaly is the last of a long line of witches. She is cold and proud, and very very old—older than her Grecian name belies. Thessaly and Dream had an affair that happened off-page and ended very badly, apparently. Thessaly always seems in control of her situation and is an incredibly powerful character.

10. Rose Walker.
Rose is a mortal woman, the granddaughter of Unity Kincaid, one of a group of characters who fell asleep for the duration of Dream’s captivity. Rose is a dream vortex, and she’s also revealed to be the grandchild of Desire, who was trying to trick Dream into killing a family member.

11. Gilbert.
Gilbert is a portly fellow who is actually a place. He’s Fiddler’s Green, a dreamland that wanders out of the Dreaming in the absence of Dream. He helps Rose Walker during her quest to find her brother. He’s a lot like G.K. Chesteron, and that works to his advantage.

12. Lucifer.
He’s just…Grand. He also looks like David Bowie, and that’s rather fantastic. Lucifer is an enigmatic character, and when he abandons Hell, all bets are off. I haven’t yet read the comic spin-offs with his character, but they’re on my list.

13. Barnabas.
I’m ending this list with the talking dog, yes. Barnabas is Destruction’s companion, but he becomes Delirium’s protector and companion. He is sarcastic, perceptive, and loyal.

Summer of Sandman: Favorite Characters

The Thursday 13 is a meme Part Time Monster does often. I enjoy writing them but don’t have the time to do them every week. When I agreed back in February to blog about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series here , I decided to sit down and write a three of these for it. Here are my 13 favorite Sandman characters. I also have lists for my favorite Sandman stories and places.

I’m excluding the the Endless from this list because there are so many good secondary characters to choose from, and I’m writing a short series on the Endless this month, anyway. If you aren’t familiar the series, here’s a quick, spoiler-lite synopsis from The Book Wars that discusses its significance and has the added charm of being a Banned Books Week post.

My 13 favorite characters.

1. Hob Gadling – A 13th Century mercenary who Dream and Death overhear telling his friends that the trick to living forever is “just don’t die.” This amuses Dream so much, Death agrees not to touch Hob until he wants to die. Hob lives into the 20th Century and becomes one of Dream’s few friends.

2. Lady Johanna Constantine – Ancestor of John. Trained in espionage, a skilled cross-dresser, and like John, she hunts infernal beings. Dream sends her on a personal mission to Revolutionary France and by the time she’s done, no more Reign of Terror.

3. Rose Walker – Central character in The Doll’s House. She first appears as a teenager, later as a twenty-something. She is so important to the plot, and so entangled with the Endless, I can’t say much about her without spoiling everything. She’s one of the most real characters in the story to me. She’s also utterly cool.

4. Wanda – A transgender woman who hails from a small midwestern town but lives in New York. She’s well-fleshed out and the story she’s a part of is extremely honest about how society was treating transgender people in the late 80’s. See this post from Hannah Givens for more on Wanda.

Gilbert, via Comicvine.com

5. Gilbert, aka Fiddler’s Green – A dream who takes human form and wanders into the waking world while Dream is imprisoned during the early 20th Century. His human form is a kind, portly older dude with somewhat Victorian manners. Friends with Rose Walker. I’ll discuss Gilbert’s Fiddler’s Green aspect when I do my list of places.

6. Mad Hettie – A homeless alcoholic Londoner who has supernatural longevity. She’s around from at least the late 17th Century into the 20th. She recognizes the Endless and other immortals when she sees them. She notes at one point that Dream always speaks to her and gives her strange coins.

7. Barnabas the Talking Dog – Companion of Destruction, later of Delirium. He’s a bit of a smartass, and quite capable of looking after himself. It’s unclear whether he is a creation of Destruction, a real dog who has somehow become super-intelligent, or a reincarnated human (as Dream’s Ravens are).

8. Thessaly – A witch from ancient Greece who has a deal with the Hecate for supernatural longevity. She looks like a librarian, but she is utterly ruthless, and is likely more powerful than some of the lesser immortals in the series.

9. Matthew the Raven – Dream always has one raven. It’s Eve’s raven (yes, the Biblical Eve), but also Dream’s. Dream’s ravens are humans reincarnated as dream-ravens. When they tire of being Ravens, he allows them to move on to other things.

10. Lucien the Librarian – Keeper of the Library of Dream, which contains every book that was never written. He’s tall and butlerish. After Dream returns from his imprisonment, Lucien is also Dream’s chief lieutenant. He reminds me of Alfred from Batman.

The Corninthian, via Comicvine.com

11. The Corinthian – A nightmare created by Dream to be “the dark reflection of humanity.” He has white-blonde hair and most of the time, dresses in sleeveless t-shirts, jeans, and sunglasses. His eye sockets are mouths lined with fangs. He’s a cold-blooded killer and he will eat your eyes.

12. Nuala the Elf – A gift to Dream from the Queen of Faerie. She serves him well, and when she is recalled to Faerie, she doesn’t really want to go. She’s one of the more sympathetic of the fantastcal/immortal characters in the story.

13. Eblis O’Shaughnessy – A golem created and given life by five of the endless near the end of the series. His name is so odd because it is bestowed upon him by Delirium. He’s an extremely minor character, but he’s just too cool to not make the list.

Want to join us for #SummerOfSandman? Here’s how: Write a blog post about Sandman between now and Aug. 1. Long or short, any format. Share your link with us on a Sandman thread here at CompGeeks or on Twitter using the hashtag #SummerOfSandman. It’s that easy.