2014: The Good, The Bad, and The Crazy

Back at the start of 2014, I had just quit my I.T. job a few weeks prior, with the goal of making enough money by the end of the year that I wouldn’t need to go back to I.T. I had several ideas I wanted to pursue, from photography to writing to hypnotherapy, and entertained high hopes of working on them all. In retrospect, it was a bit naive– I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that starting a new business of any sort takes a hell of a lot of work, and that splitting your attention across multiple ventures in this regard is kind of a good way to ensure that none of them get off the ground.

This year has basically turned into a year of photography for me– which is different than I expected (I had hoped it was going to be a year of writing), but I don’t regret it. I’ve enjoyed my photography, and I feel like I’m close to being able to do it professionally– in fact, I am doing it professionally, just not often enough that it makes for a viable career yet.

Setting career aspirations aside, I’ve accomplished a lot of things that I’m proud of in their own right. I finished my Journeys in Seattle project over at my photoblog, successfully doing a new photo expedition in the Seattle area every week of 2014. I got involved with Go To Games, and went with them to several conventions both inside and out of Seattle.

And of course, I went to Nepal for a month, and got to visit Hong Kong and Seoul, as well. That was something that hadn’t been on my radar on January 1st; the opportunity arose mid-year and I decided to take advantage of it. I’m really happy that came along; it’s the sort of experience that can to benefit you for the rest of your life, in real but often intangible ways.

In the writing world, I managed to get a new novel written, and am most of the way through the second draft. I want to continue working on that, but I’ve found that writing needs to be something I pursue for fun, not for a career– at least, not now. The fact is, I don’t have any idea which of my various writing projects might translate to commercial success (if any), and so for now I need to pursue my writing without worrying about that– otherwise it’s almost paralyzing, as I wonder how I can most effectively use my time, from a monetary perspective. Should I focus on Project A, or project B? Will drafting project C pan out? The fact is, I don’t know, and don’t have enough information to even make a guess. I need to be able to work on project A or B or C as my creative muse sees fit, and then once I’ve finished a couple projects, then I can see and learn how they pan out from a moneymaking perspective. But needing them to make money is a bad idea, and isn’t beneficial from a creative perspective– I had thought it might be, in terms of being a good motivator, but that hasn’t panned out.

Career consideration aside, though, 2014’s been a good year for me, personally. I find myself in a long-term relationship– which is certainly something I didn’t see coming when I was planning my “break year” eighteen months ago, but is nevertheless a welcome surprise. In addition to going to Nepal, I got to take a backpacking trip to Canada, vacationed on the Oregon coast with my Dad, and went on quite a few hiking and camping trips to places I’d never been before. My depression flared up occasionally, but never cripplingly so, and I feel like I’ve generally gotten better at handling it when it does. Granted, working for myself meant that I could devote energy to myself and take breaks when I needed to… which is a luxury I may not have in the future.

I’ll post another blog in the coming days with my goals for 2015– posting more on this blog (as opposed to my photoblog over at Journeys in Color) will be one of my goals, particularly as it relates to current events and social justice issues.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year! And best wishes to you and yours in the coming year.

My 2014 Attack Plan

This is the fifth New Year’s post I’ve had the opportunity to write on this blog– hard to believe my little writing experiment has been going this long. From a writing perspective, 2013 has been a fairly good year: I had three stories published, and wrote half a novel during the Clarion West Write-a-thon. On the flip side, I didn’t actually finish the novel… but more on that later.

Of course, looking back on 2013 in the future, I won’t be counting stories published or places seen or anything else. 2013 will be indelibly etched in my mind as the year Mom passed away. And even though it’s been ten months since then, and a lot of good things have happened this year, it’s impossible for me to really say 2013 was a good year, in a larger sense. Losing a family member isn’t like most pain, in that it doesn’t fade away with time. It’s just one of those things that you learn to live with, because you have to. So while other successes and triumphs and failures and losses will fade with time, that will not.

But that said, I did lay some groundwork in 2013 for things that I very much hope will result in many positive experiences and memories in 2014. In mid-November, I quit my well-paying I.T. job, with the intention of focusing on a few creative and business-related ideas that I’ve long pursued in some form or another. I’ll be writing, of course; I’m also planning start a hypnotherapy practice and I also want to work on monetizing my photography. My goal is that by the end of the year, I’ll make enough money from a variety of sources that I won’t need to return to the world of I.T.

If not, then I hope I’ll at least have a couple novels, some epic photographs, fond memories, and a fantastic year to show for it.

From mid-November until now, I’ve largely been on vacation, enjoying some time off and travelling to see friends and family on the East Coast. But it’s January 2014 now; this is where the rubber hits the road. I have a long to-do list, which I won’t post in its entirety here, but suffice it to say I have two new websites for my photography and hypnotherapy businesses that I’d like to get up and fully running by mid-January. I also want to get into the rhythm of writing– actually writing, not just social media content or blog posts– for at least two hours a day, and work to increase that as I settle into a routine.

It’s always been tempting for me to try to clear the rest of the to-do list first so that I can focus better when I sit down to write, but the problem with that approach is, there’s always something else on the to-do list. So writing is my top priority this year; even if I don’t make a cent, I’ll consider this year a success if I have a publishable story or two by the end of it.

I have other weekly and monthly goals as well. I plan to have at least least one interesting “photo expedition” every week– whether it be exploring Seattle or some part of its surrounding environs, going to a big event like a convention, or doing a pre-arranged photoshoot. And I want to keep going to the gym and doing full workouts at least twice a week (preferably three).

There’s a personal goal I want to strive for as well. In my New Year’s post for 2013, my second resolution was to find a talk therapist and work on my depression, which is something that I’ve been struggling with for a long time. I did find a talk therapist and worked with him for a few months, but we never really clicked. That’s okay, though. I feel like I did pretty well in my struggle against depression this year; I switched from taking Sertraline to taking a combination of Escitalopram and Bupropion (aka Lexapro and Wellbutrin), and overall feel pretty good about where I am. My confidence has generally improved, and I feel more in control of myself and my goals.

Yet I still feel quite a bit of anxiety when it comes to interacting with others. This manifests most strongly in how I interact with romantic interests, but to some level affects my interactions with family and friends as well. Looking back, I can even see how I’ve unconsciously sabotaged relationships in the past, because I was confronted with a new and different set of anxieties with which I was not familiar.

In essence, it comes down to this: I know how to be depressed and alone; it’s something I’ve spent years doing, and even though it’s not healthy, on some level of my subconscious it’s nevertheless home. It’s a natural state of being; a comfortable blanket I can wrap around myself, because even though I’m depressed, at least I’m used to it. I think on some level all our minds seek out homeostasis, that comfortable mental and emotional status quo with which we’re most familiar. When something threatens that (even if it’s a positive change), it can take a strong conscious effort to embrace the change and not recoil in fear.

I feel like I’ve learned to embrace a more positive state of being on a personal level. I have the confidence to confront and dealt with the things that come my way, and to set difficult challenges for myself (as evidenced by my career plan this year). in 2014, I want to work on extending that to how I interact with others– to have confidence in my ability not just to confront unknown challenges for myself, but to confront unknown challenges with others as well.

When confronting personal challenges, it’s easy to shove anxieties to the back of my mind and successfully deal with whatever comes my way, but when confronting interpersonal challenges my subconscious mind seems to actively work on creating new anxieties, and it’s much harder to just push things to the back of my mind so I can deal with what’s in front of me.

So in 2014, I want to work on not being so anxious when new people get close, to work on improving my ability to trust, and not to defensively wall myself off. Because that defensive recoiling doesn’t just protect me against negative things, it sabotages positive things. (And it’s not a particularly great way to deal with the negatives either.) It even hurt my relationship with my Mom in the year before she passed. I need to trust myself enough in how I deal with others that I no longer feel a need to withdraw into that safe, comfortable shell of loneliness. Or, at least, to gain better control of that need.

So I’ve got plenty to keep me busy in 2014. Working for myself is going to be a huge exercise in self-discipline: to actually buckle down and motivate myself on all these goals, and to accomplish everything I want to get done. In a year, I don’t want to look back with regret and feel like 2014 was wasted; I want to look back and be proud of what I was able to accomplish.

Wish me luck. And here’s wishing for a wonderful 2014 for you and yours.

Fear and Hoping in 2013

One year ago today, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room as Mom underwent surgery to remove a tumor from her brain. And while 2013 looks like it will start off on a better foot than 2012, it’s also the first time in a while where I look on the coming twelve months and am scared. Not happy, or depressed, or hopeful, or disappointed, or angry– all emotions I’ve felt in the past– but scared. Because even though the surgery was successful, and there’s been no sign of recurrence in her brain, Mom’s cancer is still at the front of our minds. The tumors in her lungs have resisted chemo so far, and she’s having radiation treatment for tumors under her skin. It’s been a rough year– full of good things, yes, but also full of scary things, and 2013 looks to be more of the same.

So with that in mind, My New Year’s Resolution Number One: Be as supportive as I can be for my family, make frequent trips back to North Carolina, and stay engaged. I have to tendency to distance myself from emotionally volatile situations. It’s a natural defensive reflex for me, but it’s caused problems in the past year, and needs to change.

I suppose that’s a heftier resolution than most people put forward, which tend to be along the lines of “lose five pounds” or “redecorate the bathroom.” But that’s the kind of year 2013 is going to be for us.

As for as myself– my own feelings and goals– I actually feel pretty good about where I am. I’ve sought treatment for some longstanding depression, and started taking Sertraline. It’s helped a lot. And to be honest, I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to general improvement in my life– enjoying work, pursuing hobbies, getting published– and how much can be attributed to the medication. Probably it’s both. The medication has helped me appreciate what I’ve accomplished, and moreover it’s prevented the sort of long-term, multi-day and sometimes even multi-week depressive episodes I used to fall into, where my whole soul just seemed to hurt, where everything felt like a weight, and I felt so overwhelmed I didn’t want to move. I still do have depressive episodes occasionally, but they’re usually sparked by something specific, and when I do have episodes, they last hours, not days.

There’s been another change, too, that’s harder to explain. As I’ve crawled up from the pits of depression– whether through my own efforts, the medication, or both– I feel, well, more like I’m somebody. I don’t mean metaphorically, I mean in actuality, like there’s a core part of my being which was missing before. This is mostly manifested in how I interact with other people. Previously, when I hung out with people, I often felt like a mirror– like I had to “reflect” the mood and the energy level and even the temperament of the people I was with. I think everybody does this to some degree, but now I feel like I’m not just reflecting. Like I have a better grip on who I am, I’m more confident and comfortable in my own skin, and rather than just trying to act like a fully functional human being I actually am a fully functional human being.

To be honest, I think part of that was reaching an acceptance that everyone else is just as messed up as I am, that everyone has their own anxieties and neuroses and weaknesses, and that even if someone acts supremely awesome and confident it’s often (maybe even usually) just a facade behind the same flawed humanity. That there are things I actually am good at, and I’m not just faking it, and my accomplishments are actually pretty darn cool. I mean, I suppose that’s odd, isn’t it? But it’s one thing to know it rationally, and another to actually feel it in your gut.

So, New Year’s Resolution Number Two: find a new talk therapist (I tried one and didn’t mesh well with him), keep taking Sertraline, and for the love of pete do not fall back into the pit. It’s only now, looking back on it, that I’m starting to feel like I know what I escaped. When I was in the midst of it, I didn’t even realize it– or at least, I didn’t realize exactly how bad it was.

So some New Year’s advice to you: if you think you might be depressed, or if you feel depressed a lot of the time, seek help. It’s not normal. And you may feel like you’re doing okay, like you can struggle through it on your own, but getting help can be the difference between climbing up a mountain with a backpack full of bricks and climbing up a mountain with no backpack at all. Sure, the first way is possible, but the second way’s gonna be a lot more enjoyable, and you’re probably going to find yourself able to climb far more mountains than you used to.

I could keep going on this, but I’m getting ready to head out for New Year’s. Maybe I’ll expound more in future blog posts. This was typed up in a bit of a rush, so I can’t even guarantee that it will make complete sense. But to sum it up, if I could have a wish for 2013, it would be that I stay on the same track I’m currently on, and that Mom gets shifted to a better track than what she’s on. And of course, I’d also wish for a wonderful 2013 for you and yours.

Thanks for reading.

With Love,

Andrew S. Williams

Happy New Year, Take 2

After spending a week in North Carolina over New Year’s, and getting Mom settled and recovering from surgery at home, I’ve returned to Seattle and am settling back into routine… sort of. My work schedule is in flux as it moves from day shift to swing shift to night shift over the next few weeks, and my personal life has been an interesting mix of hectic and terrifying. But I’ve also managed to make time to write, and my writing goals for the next year are beginning to take shape.

In the short term, I really want to submit a story to the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest, which is specifically geared toward optimistic, near-future science fiction. I feel like my space-based science fiction short stories have, in general, been some of my strongest writing to date, so any excuse to write another space-based sci-fi story is a good one! The deadline is the end of the month, and I only have a few vague plot ideas, but no worries. I’m taking a page from the book of Calvin:

I’m also taking a class on novel revision at Bellevue College, in which I finally buckle down to the work on writing a second draft of my fantasy novel, In a Land of Wind and Sky. It’s not an easy task; the novel is 175,000 words and 600 pages. The read-through, in which I build a detailed outline and annotate what I do and don’t like, is probably going to take a solid twenty or more hours or work (I’m about 350 pages through, after spending four long evenings at Bauhaus Coffee last week). But the class is already giving me some good ideas, and helping me focus on the task. No doubt about it, though, it’s going to be a lot of work. And I’m not sure how much time it’s going to leave for me other things, like, say, writing a new sci-fi short story.

As far as long-term goals for the rest of the year, I want to completely finish the second draft of In a Land of Wind and Sky, as well as write a second draft of Ghostrunners (the urban fantasy I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year). I also hope to write a third novel, either for NaNoWriMo or sooner. And, amidst it all, I want to write at least one new short story every quarter.

There’s other cool stuff coming, too. In March, I’ll be going to the Rainforest Writers Village, in which I get to spend five days hanging out with cool writerly folks amidst the rainforests of the Olympic Mountains, and hopefully getting a lot of writing done in an awesome setting. And in April, Norwescon rolls around again. A good chunk of my travel budget this year will probably go toward trips back to North Carolina, so I’ll just have to see how things go as far as attending non-local cons, like WorldCon in Chicago, or Dragon*Con, or World Fantasy in Toronto. Hopefully I’ll be able to attend at least one of those. We shall see.

Between family, writing, work, and personal life, 2012 is shaping up to be a more challenging year than 2011… though possibly a more fulfilling one.

It’s gonna be an adventure.

Happy New Year. Fuck Cancer.

I wrote a long blog entry that I was planning to post for New Year’s. It was a fairly comprehensive look back on 2011. In it, evaluated my goals from last January, reviewed my submission stats, and took a look forward to next year.

Then, on the evening of Wednesday the 29th, my mom called. She had suffered a seizure and was in the hospital. Preliminary tests had found a lesion on her brain, and the doctors suspected it was metastasized breast cancer.

By Thursday afternoon they had confirmed the lesion was a tumor. They found cancerous growths in her lungs, too.

Thursday night, I caught a redeye flight from Seattle to Raleigh.

Friday my brother flew down from New York, and my uncle drove down from Virginia. In her hospital room, Mom had a long stream of well-wishers from her work, her church, and her neighborhood.

Saturday she had brain surgery, and the tumor was successfully removed.

I write this on Sunday, New Year’s Day, with a pen and a pad of paper, sitting in the ICU. A few feet away, the strongest person I know has been laid low by a few tiny clots of cancer cells and the prospect of another excruciating round of chemotherapy. And that long blog entry I wrote about 2012 seems rather trivial. What comes will come; hug someone you love, because in the end, that’s what matters. Of all the problems and obstacles you can run into on the road of life, rejection letters don’t even count as pebbles.

But I may still post that blog entry at some point. Because in cancer, there’s another reminder: strive for your goals now. Don’t put things off. If you have your health, take advantage of it. And just don’t say you’ll do things “one day.” Because that “one day” may instead be the day that you wake up with a healthy, normal life, and end the day in the hospital with a brain tumor. Cancer doesn’t give warning. It just happens.

It looks like Mom will get past this. But that’s what we thought back in 2009 when she first beat breast cancer. There’s no way of knowing for sure. All we can do is trust in modern medicine… and god, if that’s your thing. Although, for the record, if there is an all-powerful God out there who’s in charge of the world, then cancer is a really, really, really shitty thing to let happen. I don’t think you can appreciate how truly, awfully shitty it is until you see it up close in all its painful reality, until you see someone you love get struck down with it multiple times, or watch someone, like my grandmother, die a slow and agonizing death as it eats away at her. Seriously, fuck cancer.

Admittedly, it could be worse. The tumor was small and discrete, and easily removed, and there have been no side effects from the surgery. Mom has a wonderful network of friends and family who are supporting her, and will help her get through this. The family’s been brought closer. But looking for a bright side in this is a bit like the old joke: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

I hope you and yours have a happy 2012 and beyond. We may too, yet. But from where I’m sitting, I mainly just want to get past the next few days. Then we’ll see about the rest of 2012.

Happy New Year!

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” -Charles Kettering

Happy New Year, everyone! I usually don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but I figure New Year’s is as good a time as any to set some goals. Most are goals I already have, but I’ve found that if I can clearly articulate what I want to accomplish, it’s often easier to follow through. (Hence the quote.) A lot of people are scornful about New Year’s Resolutions– I used to be one of them– but really, they’re just a tool, and how effective they are depends entirely on how you use them. So I don’t make resolutions simply for the sake of having resolutions, but I do use them to articulate goals and reflect on long-term plans.

First, though, a quick look back on 2010. Last year was without a doubt one of the craziest years I’ve ever lived through. If you told me on January 1 that I would end the year living in a tiny apartment in Seattle, I probably would have laughed at you. But it’s been a good year, mostly.

Ways 2010 Was Awesome:

-Moving to Seattle, and thus breaking out of a years-long career and personal rut
-Three words: Cross-country road trip
-Summer trip to Europe
-Started writing more regularly
Lots of sci-fi conventions
-Managed to network at said conventions, to the point where I’m on a first-name basis with several published authors and editors
Several great backpacking trips

Ways 2010 Was Not So Awesome:

-Unexpected deaths in my own and friends’ families
-Saying good-bye to everyone in Raleigh (yes, one event can make both lists)
-Failing to sell my house in North Carolina
-Not finishing my novel
-One word: politics

So there you have 2010 in a nutshell. All in all, I call it a very good year. Heck, the first bullet point in the “awesome” list alone would have made it a good year. But now on to this year.

Goals for 2011:

-Finish the first draft of aforementioned novel
-Write at least one short story every quarter
-Submit those stories to Writers of the Future, and magazines if/when they don’t win
-Get out and date. I’m tired of being single.
-Finish online classes and become a certified hypnotherapist (I should really do a blog entry on this)
-Attend the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno in August
-Also attend Dragon*Con in Atlanta in September
-Keep doing photography, both studio and outdoors
-Go on some West Coast backpacking trips

There’s another category of things I’d like to do, but these are not 100% in my control, so I don’t feel right making them goals. But if I pursue the goals above, I’ll hopefully increase the odds of them happening. Let’s call them hopes:

-Get a story published
-Be able to leave Software Development behind as a career
-And on a more personal note: Fall in love

So there you have it: my own goals and hopes for 2011.

Happy New Year, folks. May 2011 be everything you hope for.

Happy New Year and Decade

Happy New Year, everyone!

There are a lot of unwritten stories to be told in the upcoming year and decade, both on paper in real life. I always find it exciting to reflect on the future, to realize that from here, our lives really are unwritten stories, and we can take them anywhere we choose. That’s not to say it’s easy; consciously changing your own destiny often requires a supreme act of willpower. But I do believe that it’s possible.

The title of this blog is “Off the Written Path”, and this is part of what I mean by it. It’s up to each of us to write the story of our lives; the past may already be written, but the future is not. Where you take it from here is up to you.

A new decade is upon us. May you write many interesting stories, and here’s wishing you plenty of happy endings.