On the Sidelines of the Pride Parade

Yesterday morning I went to the 37th Annual Seattle Pride Parade. Having never been to a pride parade before, I wasn’t sure what to expect… well, I had an idea, of course, but I was curious as to how close to reality it would be. So I took my camera and headed downtown in the direction of the rainbows.

After the first hour, I almost left. Not ’cause I was offended, mind you. Well, okay, I was offended, but it was because almost every single group in the parade was just a bunch of people in matching corporate T-shirts walking down the road, surrounding a car or mascot festooned with the corporate logo and handing out literature or coupons or goodies.

So while I’d like to acknowledge BECU, Esurance, Group Health, Microsoft, Verizon, Expedia, Macy’s, Fuze, Amazon, Orbitz, Alaska Air, Starbucks, Best Buy, Chipotle, Cupcake Royale, various radio stations and car dealerships, and anybody else I missed for their support of a good cause, I do have to ask: did y’all have to be frontloaded at the start of the parade? If it weren’t for the lesbian bikers who led the way, I’d have thought I missed the Pride Parade and stumbled onto the Corporate Advertising Parade.

I realize that parades need to paid for, and it’s great that so many corporations are willing to attach their names and their logos and their money to a cause once considered taboo. Equality is becoming mainstream, and that’s great! It’s just that I felt like I was exposed to enough advertising to make up for several months of not watching TV. I mean, holy Oscar Mayer® ham sandwich with Wonderbread® and Hellman’s Mayonnaise®, Batman©.

But I’m glad I stuck around, because the next two and a half hours more than made up for the first. It had its share of drag queens and raunchiness (which matched my expectations), but it also had chorus groups, and community and activist organizations, and dance troops, and sports teams, and drum bands, and even, to my surprise, churches. Despite the fact that I’m not religious, I grew up mostly as a Lutheran, and was proud of the number of Lutheran churches marching in the parade. So Central Lutheran Church, Immanuel Lutheran Church, and Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, among several others, I give you guys props. It’d be nice if y’all could get your more conservative compatriots on board, too.

The parade lasted for a solid three hours, and by the time it was done I was ready to leave– not because the parade was bad, far from it. But after several hours on my feet, I really just wanted to sit down somewhere, rest my legs, and get something to eat. Judging from how the crowds began to thin well before the end of the parade, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. And I felt kind of bad for the groups at the end of the parade. While there was still plenty of crowd left, I couldn’t help but feel like those groups got shafted a bit. Maybe if the number of corporate marchers had been cut by, say, 50%, the parade would have been a more reasonable length? I hate to armchair quarterback. I’m just sayin’.

I also had a bit of an epiphany while watching the parade. Now, I’m not gay, and I don’t plan to get gay-married or civil-unionized at any point in the future. I support marriage equality and gay rights because it’s the right thing to do; because gay people in love deserve all of the same rights and legal protections and official support networks that straight people in love do. Gay people deserve to be accepted and loved for who they are, just like everybody else. And therein lies the root of my epiphany. I’m not just supporting gay rights for the sake of gay people; I’m supporting them for the sake of everybody. Because gender orientation aside, gay rights is ultimately the cause of allowing people to live their lives however they want, as long as they aren’t hurting anybody. And if I have some political creed at the root of my being, that is it. People deserve to live their lives the way they see fit, and gay marriage is an important step in letting that happen.

From my point of view, gay marriage is just one aspect of a wider change in society. It used to be that people let their identities and their lives be dictated to them by custom, by societal pressures, by religion. But more and more, I see people determining their identities and their lives for themselves, living life the way they want, determining their values not because it’s what they grew up with or it’s what society has pressured them into, but because it’s what they want and what they believe and who they are.

Whether you’re gay or straight or somewhere in between, that’s something you should be able to support. And if you’ve found your way in life, if you’ve found that niche that makes you happy, if you’re accepted for who you are and you accept others for who they are, then regardless of your gender or your religion or your sexual orientation, you absolutely deserve to be proud.

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Writing Advice, and a Little Bit of Hero Worship

This evening, I joined about 2,000 fellow geeks at Town Hall in Seattle to see Neil Gaiman do a reading and be interviewed by Maria Headley. I’ve been attending a lot of author signings recently, but this one was particularly special, because if there’s any author working today whom I actually idolize, it’s Neil Gaiman. (I wouldn’t just dress up as any author for Halloween, after all.) On top of that, he’s not just an excellent writer, he’s also a great public speaker and oral storyteller. For many authors, skill with the written word does not go hand-in-hand with public speaking (I suspect I’m one of them), but Neil Gaiman is superb in both arenas, and if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, I definitely recommend it.

Over the course of the ensuing discussion and Q&A session, he gave several tidbits of advice for writers, but one in particular stood out for me. Paraphrased, it was basically this:

There will always be better writers out there than you. But, there is no one else who can tell your stories. So the sooner you stop trying to tell other people’s stories, and start telling your own, the better off you’ll be.

And he’s right. New writers, myself included, do start out by trying (often unconsciously) to emulate our favorite authors. But with enough practice, you eventually find your own voice, and that’s when you really start writing stories that are truly your own. It’s good to remember, because as a new writer, it’s easy to read stuff by great authors (like Gaiman) and think, Oh, geez, he’s such a better writer than I am! I’ll never be able to write the kind of awesome stuff what he does! I’m doomed to failure! And it’s true. You’ll never be able to write like Neil Gaiman. But if you’re true to your own voice, if you write your own stories, and bring to them your own unique set of experiences and passions, then Neil Gaiman won’t be able to write like you, either. The thought made me smile– it’s not about being better, or best. It’s about being you.

So with that in mind, I took my newly acquired signed copies of Neverwhere and American Gods (pre-signed, because an author signing with 2,000 people would just be painful), and headed home to write.

Rumor has it Neil may be back in town in November with his wife, Amanda Palmer, for something involving both reading and music. If so, I’ll definitely be there.

Riding Painted

(WARNING: Most of the links contain nudity. Painted nudity, but nonetheless- consider yourself warned.)

Yesterday I rode in the Fremont Solstice Parade with the Painted Cyclists. The cyclists aren’t officially part of the parade, but every year, they ride the route before it starts, wearing nothing (or close to nothing) except bodypaint. Sometimes the paint looks like an actual costume: there was a group this year where each person was painted like a character from The Wizard of Oz, including Dorothy, Glinda, the Tin Man, and the Wicked Witch of the West. There’s also a group called the Keystone Kops, who each year paint themselves up with bright blue police uniforms and then help with traffic and crowd control. But sometimes it’s just a solid color, or a pattern, or whatever random creativity people want to express.

I joined a group with a couple people I knew, whose chosen theme was “bunnies.” It wasn’t my first choice for a theme, but I still said yes. After all, it’s not every day you get a chance to ride your bike past tens of thousands of cheering people wearing nothing but bodypaint and underwear (and I was definitely in the minority as far as the underwear).

I did the ride for a few reasons. First, there was a “challenge” aspect that appealed to me, particularly because I’ve been shy for most of my life. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, Do one thing every day that scares you. And even though she probably wasn’t talking about cycling in the buff, the general spirit still applies.

A second reason was simply that bodypainting is awesome. When I was in Austria last year, the World Bodypainting Festival was going on at the same time, so I went for a day and was blown away by some of the costumes and designs that people had done. It was sort of a combination of art and special-effects makeup, and the results were pretty cool. So I wanted to see what people would come up with during the painting party.

And third, it was a fun way to strike against American prudishness in regards to nudity. Does anyone else find it ridiculous that it’s more okay to show people being killed on TV and in the movies, or play video games with graphic depictions of blood and guts, than it is to show a naked boob? The whole idea that non-sexual nakedness (and there definitely is such a thing) will somehow “corrupt the children” is, I think, absurd. Lots of kids lined the parade route, and I’m reasonably sure that most of them will grow up to be fully functional human beings despite having glimpsed various male and female parts that the society has decided are gross and icky. At the painting party, where literally hundreds of naked men and women were walking around, there wasn’t the least bit of awkwardness or sexual tension– it was just about creativity, and art, and doing something cool. It was such a comfortable environment that I would have changed my original plan and gone naked myself, except that I hadn’t shaved certain regions (most people had), and well, let’s just say bodypaint and body hair don’t mix very well.

Despite the parade being a celebration of the Summer Solstice, there was no Sun in sight that day. The weather was classic Seattle– 55 degrees and drizzly. But still, hundreds of people showed up, me among them. Afterward, as we stood outside with our bikes and waited to get underway, I couldn’t help but think how, in the camping and backpacking world, this is textbook hypothermia weather. Warm enough that you don’t think it’s a danger, but still plenty chilly, and the wetness seeps away any warmth that you manage to build up that much faster. (And, surprisingly, paint is not a good insulator.)

We drew plenty of stares as we made our way along the city streets about a mile and a half toward the start of the parade, but the energy of the crowd was awesome, and we cheered and waved at everyone, and got plenty of car honks and cheers in return. The parade route itself was even better, and we looped back several times along the route, staying in front of the parade, in general celebrating summer and pretending that the weather was not actually chilly and rainy. Good times.

I’m glad I did it, but next year I’ll probably be on the sidelines with my camera. For a guy who does photography as a hobby, it irks me that I didn’t get a single picture of the cyclists or the parade. Next year I’ll most likely be on the other end of the camera, unless someone comes up with a really good theme, and I get tempted to paint myself up again.

Speaking of cameras, because I know you wanted a picture, here’s me at the painting party. So much for the trend of no embarrassing pictures of me on the Internet… (Man, I hope that never makes the Google Image Search results for my name.)

And here’s a video of the all the cyclists going by. There are some really great and creative costumes in there– most far more so than mine. I’m tempted to say “watch the video and find me yourself,” but fine… I’m just before the 2:30 mark.

And lastly more pics from yesterday, the vast majority not of me, just because.

The Clarion West Write-a-Thon

Update: The Write-a-thon has started! Click the “Write-a-thon” tab at the top of the page to see my day-to-day progress.

A few days ago I signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. For those unfamiliar with Clarion West, it’s an intensive six-week workshop during which participants basically eat, live, and breathe writing. During those six weeks, they attend classes taught by well-known professional authors of science fiction and fantasy: in the past, instructors have included Greg Bear, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Cory Doctorow, and China Mieville, among many others.

I won’t be attending the actual workshop. Not this year, anyway (hopefully I’ll be able to attend sometime in the next few years). Instead I’m doing the Write a Thon, which anyone can sign up for, and during which participants set a writing goal and sort of “shadow” the workshop during the six weeks in which in takes place.

This year, Clarion West (and hence the Write-a-Thon) takes place from June 19-July 29. During those six weeks, my goal is to write 1,000 words a day toward the first draft of my novel. Hopefully this will enough for me to actually finish the first draft– if I finish before the six weeks is up, I will consider that a success. Or if I don’t finish, but still manage to add 40,000 words to the novel, that’ll be a success, too.

I have a secondary goal as well, which is to finish the short story that I’ve been poking at for a few weeks and submit it to the Writers of the Future contest by the end of June. That means my writing plate is going to be really full until the end of the month, although things will get easier in July. 1,000 words a day is the pace I set during May, when I was attempting a personal NaNoWriMo, so this is pretty much going to be six weeks of the same thing. If you’re interested in showing your support, and also supporting Clarion West (which is one of a few workshops that helps develop serious talent in the genre), go to my Clarion West Writer’s Page and make a donation via the PayPal link. If you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan, then the money’s definitely going to a good cause.

I’ll post to the blog with regular updates on how things are going. And hopefully by the end of it, I’ll have the finished first draft of a novel to show for it.

Reflections On the Occasion of a Birthday, or Why I Write

My 30th birthday was two days ago. It ‘s a little unreal; I feel more like a twenty year old than a thirty year old, although since I don’t have much experience yet with what being thirty feels like, I guess that’s a little silly to say. But you usually figure, someone who’s 30, they’re confident and comfortable with who they are, they’re well into their chosen career, maybe they even have a marriage, a house, children. I guess for a long time that was my picture of adulthood. And by the time you’re 30, well– regardless of achievements, it’s tough to dodge being placed in that “adult” category.

Looking back on my twenties, it feels like a large chunk of it was spent trying to obtain those things: a solid job, a house, a stable life. But in retrospect, it wasn’t the right thing to do– or maybe I just did it wrong. Through school and college, I mostly just surfed along, and was able to succeed without putting much thought into things. It’s like I was on a conveyor belt, cruising my way toward graduation or finals or the end of the year, and simply knocking down the obstacles as they came up. After I graduated, I guess I expected life to keep being like that.

For a while, it was. Holding down a regular job is the same sort of “conveyor belt” model: as time proceeds, you complete assignments as they come along, and sort of coast your way through a series of days, which turn into weeks, and into months, and into years. It’s possible to live your whole life that way. A lot of people do, and many of them are happy.

But other things don’t fall so easily into the “Conveyor Belt” model of life. Relationships, for example. I suppose once you’re in one, it feels a bit like a conveyor belt, but the process of meeting someone, of starting a relationship, of falling in love, is in my experience one of the least predictable things ever. Maybe it works differently for some people– in fact, I know it does. Some people I’ve met are able to move from relationship to relationship with hardly a missed step. For me, it’s never worked that way, but that’s a story for a different blog post. Probably a different blog.

When I moved to Seattle, I very deliberately stepped off the conveyor belt of the job. Admittedly, I do still have a job, but it’s part time, I set my own hours, and being a writer shares equal or greater priority with it. And writing, especially before you’re getting paid for it, isn’t a conveyor belt at all. It’s a trail, and a poorly marked one at that. There’s nothing and no one pulling you along. You have to move your own feet, and you better bring a machete, ’cause you’ll be doing a lot of bushwhacking.

If I don’t write, no one will fire me. No one will pull me into a performance meeting and yell at me. I won’t let down my co-workers. The only punishment for not writing is that I don’t get to be a writer… and since this is not an acceptable outcome, I keep doing it.

I tried not being a writer. I tried it for six years. Then, when I grew more and more restless, less and less content, I tried other things. I looked into graduate school. I tried just writing as a hobby. None of it worked. And one day, thinking about this, and all the things I could do with my life, I came to a realization that while I could probably be successful at a lot of things, they would never feel right, because none of those other things were writing.

It took me most of my twenties to realize this. Maybe if I had been more honest with myself, or been more courageous, or not spent a few years’ worth of free time playing WoW, I would have reached that realization sooner. But that’s water (and time) under the bridge; it’s gone, and it’s not coming back. So here I stand, at the start of my fourth decade. I know for sure what I want to do, and it’s goddamn terrifying.

In a way, wanting to be a professional writer is the ultimate conceit. You have to believe that you’re good enough to do it, and that one day you will succeed, even in the face of poor critiques, piles of rejection letters, and plenty of stories of other people’s failures that tell you otherwise. You ignore that nagging voice in your head which tells you that you suck and you’ll never be good enough and you should just quit now. Even when you know for a fact that the story you just wrote is bad, you still have to hold on to that nugget, that belief that you can and you will succeed at this, or all will be lost.

If you let that belief go, if you get discouraged, you’ll stop writing, and then here’s the thing: nothing will happen. You won’t fail out of school. Your boss won’t give you a bad review or fire you. If you’re not making money, the decision won’t cost you anything financially, and heck, you’ll find yourself with a ton of extra free time. But you won’t be writing, and that part of your soul is always going to hurt, and eventually, it will drive you crazy. It’s happened once to me already. I don’t want to waste time letting it happen again.

So here I am. Thirty years old. I’m staring down a long road paved with rejection letters, of years of unpaid practice and work, hoping for a break, hoping that maybe at some point I’ll write something good enough, which when combined with a dose of luck, means I’ll be able to make a living at this thing. And then I’ll do it again. And again. And with each bit of success it will hopefully get easier, but until then, it’s a long, long slog. And all the time, that voice in my head will whisper, You should have a career and a house and a family and be settling down by now, not living in a tiny apartment working a part-time job and putting tons of work into some crazy whim with only marginal hope of success.

Maintaining that level of determination, in the face of a pile of self-doubt and rejection, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done; the thought of doing it for years and years to come is scary as hell. But if the alternative is not being a writer, then I’ll do it.

The next decade is going to be interesting.

MyNoWriMo Wrap-up

Back at the beginning of May, I decided to embark on MyNoWriMo, my own personal version of NaNoWriMo. My goal was to hit 150,000 words, or finish the first draft of my eighteen-months-in-progress novel, whichever came first. Well, as it turns out, I didn’t make it to either goal. Here are my final stats:

Starting Word Count: 91,484
Final Word Count: 122,118
Words Written: 30,634

Overall, I found it a lot harder to sustain 2,000-word-a-day momentum than I was expecting. Since my main goal was word count, I didn’t want to spend a great deal of time banging my head against individual scenes, planning and plotting and re-writing them. And even though this was probably a good attitude to have, it did mean I always pushed forward through rough points in the plot, rather than backing up for a moment and trying to find a better path. Maybe that’s the right mindset for the first draft; maybe it isn’t. I think I probably need more practice (as in, several more novels) before I figure out what works best for me.

At 122,118 words (411 double-spaced pages in Microsoft Word), the plot has developed a lot of threads, and I’m at the point where I have to figure out how to tie them all off– or, rather, that I have to guide the characters into figuring out how to tie them all off. So whereas in the first half of the novel (most of which was written in NaNoWriMo 2009) I was able to breeze my way along, the scenes now take a fair amount of planning, and have specific outcomes that I need to reach. If I don’t reach the specific outcome, I either need to re-write the scene, or figure out a new path that will still let me tie everything (or almost everything) off in the end. It’s actually a lot harder than I anticipated. (Funny how that works.) But if I can do it, I think it’ll set me up well for the revision, as well as for writing an even better second novel (which will probably not be a sequel to the first; I need a break from this world).

Despite having failed with my stated goal for MyNoWriMo, I actually succeeded with my larger goal, which was to get moving on the novel again. My even-larger-than-that goal– to finish the first draft of the novel by WorldCon in August– now looks much more feasible than it did at the beginning of the month. If I can continue to write 1,000 words a day on the novel, I’m almost positive that the draft will, indeed, be done by the start of WorldCon on August 17.

But there’s a slight hiccup in the plan: I have to shift my focus away from the novel for the next two weeks in order to write a short story that I can submit for the Q3 Writers of the Future contest at the end of June. I have a general idea of what the story will be; I just need to plan it out and write it, and do so within about 12 days so that I can submit it to my writers’ group in time to for them to critique it and me to revise it. I’m not sure how much progress on the novel I’ll be able to make during that time period; if I can’t, then I’ll have to pick it back up as soon as I finish the short story.

No time for slacking or Writer’s Block over the next few months. There’s stories to be told.