Returning From Sabbatical


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It has been almost exactly six months since my last post. I would love to tell you that I set this blog aside–barely started, though it was–in order to minimize distractions, dig in, and finally finish a novel-length story with a solid beginning, middle, and ending. I would LOVE to tell you that.

But yeah . . . no.

The truth is, I gave in to pessimism and a crippling fear of failure. I had one bad writing day after another, and then my day-job got hectic, and then holidays hit, and by the time the new year rolled around, I was a glorious bum determined to live out the rest of my days on the beach of Fuck-It-Anyway.

Not one of my more positive character moments.

For the record, I am awesome at meeting expectations set for me by external sources. You know, the type where others would be let down if I were to screw up, like at work or in my marriage. I’m also awesome at the types of goals that have guaranteed and definitive pay-offs, like a diploma at the end of a college degree plan.

Writing and blogging is–right now at least–purely for me. I’m the only one reading it, unless I decide to ask for a second opinion, so no one is left hanging and wondering what happens next. And the pay-off is a self-published book. Maybe. If I think it’s good enough. Which probably won’t sell any copies anyway.

This is basically the worst possible set of circumstances for me personally to feel motivated to accomplish anything. Especially when you add in the fact that writing is not an objectively-scored accomplishment. Just because I write ten pages one day does not mean I will necessarily feel good about it. They could have been terrible pages. They could be fairly decent pages, but I can’t be a fair enough judge to see it. I could feel great about them going to bed that night, then wake up the next morning, read them over, and decide they aren’t even good enough to be used as lining in my cats’ litter box.

It sucks! It’s discouraging as all hell. And my brain is messed up enough about it that when I voice these concerns to Bunny and he–wonderful man that he is–tells me he absolutely believes I can do it, I get even more depressed because then I feel like he’s counting on me and I’ve already failed him.

If that sounds crazy to you . . . well, duh. It is absolutely 100% crazy.

Now that we’ve established my mental state over the past six months, you may understand why I’ve decided to back off from my commitment to weekly posts. I don’t want to go completely AWOL again, but since no one is reading it (yet . . . ?), no one can be disappointed by a bit of flakiness on my part when it comes to a schedule. It’s one small pressure lifted off of my shoulders, which are already pretty bowed under my own internal pressure to learn how to be a decent-ish writer.

And while I have been completely MIA from here, I have still been writing on my own. I added about a dozen new pages to ALBB (then got stuck). I also started 2 other new stories (then got stuck). And finally, I re-outlined one story completely (then–you guessed it–got stuck). So, yeah. I did, you know, stuff.

*Sigh.*

My biggest problem right now is just finishing something. Anything, really. Which led to a challenge being issued by Bunny. He told me to just write a one-page story. One that had a beginning and an end. At first, I scoffed. As was made clear in my last post, brevity is not my strong suit. But that is kind of what made it a perfect exercise. So I tried it.

I started with the singular goal to finish it the same evening I started it. And to kick things off, I picked a theme.  Opening oneself (to vulnerability, to emotion, to opportunity, to failure). I’m not sure how well I stuck to this theme, but it certainly seemed appropriate at the time. Also, fair warning, I suck at puns. Like, so much.

 

In the modular office panel world that was US Bank’s Data Transactions department, Riley Seifert was a nobody. Rather than begin her morning around the kitchenette’s Keurig machine, trading small talk about weekend plans or the latest episode of Game of Zombies, she preferred going straight to her cube with her insulated green mug that read, I’d make a Zelda pun, but I don’t want to try and force it. Rather than chat with her fellow data monkeys across from her, she plugged her ears with her earbuds and focused on her queue of ticket requests. At lunch time, which everyone else seemed to treat as a fire drill, she remained at her desk, nibbling her peanut butter and jelly sandwich while reading on her phone.

Riley was a nobody, and that was how she preferred it. Because nobodies who completed their work on time and without drama didn’t get fired. Nobodies who kept conversation to a minimum couldn’t accidentally offend or be offended. Nobodies may not enjoy the most laughs or ride the highest successes, but they also didn’t suffer the risk of tears or failures. Nobodies were safe.

And Riley liked feeling safe.

So, one shouldn’t be surprised to learn that when she came to work one Monday and—moments after setting down her green Zelda mug—was accosted by a total stranger in shiny shoes and a tie, she felt rather put out.

Okay, accosted might be a bit strong. But the dude was wearing cologne. In her cube. Didn’t he know how rude it was to impose one’s scent onto another’s personal space?

“Hi! Good morning,” he accosted, holding out his spicy-musky-woodsy hand. “I’m Travis. I started a couple weeks ago. I’m the new VP over auditing?”

Was he asking her if that was his job title? Riley wondered if she could beg off from the rest of the conversation if she told him she had a task with an urgent deadline for an SVP. The black and cold screen of her computer might lead him to question her telemetry skills though. And she still hadn’t developed the knack of bringing up the ticketing system with her mental powers alone.

Left without another option, she accepted the handshake. “Um, hi. If you have a data request, you’ll need to create a ticket—”

“Oh! No. I’m not here about a request. At least not a ticket request.” His smile was big and she supposed a pile of boulders hurled at her by a trebuchet would have likely been the less pleasant option. Still. What the hell was he doing here? He was tall and talkative and taking up her space and . . . was that seriously a buster sword tie clip?

Alright, basic laws of fairness demanded she forgive him at least one of his faults for having an admittedly cool accessory. So she’d let the height thing pass.

“Actually I was wondering if you’d like to have lunch together today.”

“Why?”

The extra second of silence that followed her question brought realization. And a hot flush to her cheeks. Damn it. This is why we don’t talk to people.

Before she could try to shovel a layer of polite normalcy over her blunt demand, though, Travis regrouped. “Well, everyone I’ve talked to says you’re the SQL whisperer around here, and I’m trying to learn some basics.”

Who the fuck was calling her that? Was it Jamal? Or maybe Wayne. Just because none of the developers knew the language well enough to run a single deployment without throwing half a dozen basic errors did not make her a SQL whisperer. If anything, that made her a developer whisperer. Which was not a title she wanted. She didn’t want any title.

“And I noticed you always ate lunch at your desk. I usually do, too. And today I brought an extra Oatmeal Crème cookie. I thought we could eat together while we talk about it.”

Was it creepy that he knew she loved Oatmeal Crème cookies? Or just awesome that he was offering one to her? She was leaning towards the latter. And decided to forgive him the whole talking thing, since it led to cookification.

Still . . . “I’m not sure how much you can learn during a single lunch. I mean, unless you’re already pretty familiar with relational databases and some other object-oriented languages. But if you know that, you probably already know the basics, so . . .” So, he was kind of setting her up for failure, either by fruitlessly repeating what he already knew or by not providing nearly enough.

Travis did not seem overly concerned with the looming blade of doom she felt hovering over her neck. He shrugged. “I’ve got nothing, so maybe we stretch it into a few lunches, if needed. I know it’s your time, so I can make it fair, if you want. If it ends up being too frustrating, how about I buy you dinner? And if not, and I successfully absorb a little of your vast knowledge, I’ll cook you dinner as a thank you.” Big smile.

Riley stared at him, unblinking.

Oh. This was . . . he was . . . her?

Dinners and flirting and dating were not in her wheelhouse. Riley was a nobody by design. Nobodies didn’t do those things, because those things required emoting and risking and most likely breaking up. Statistically speaking.

Still, she couldn’t deny a certain feeling of flattery. Enough so that she forgave him for talking to her. She was a girl after all. What girl didn’t like to be liked? Even if this man probably didn’t know enough about her to determine if he did like her.

Though he had caught the cookie thing.

Flattery did not a decision make, though. “I’m not sure that’s—”

“I’m not going to try and force this, but I do have an original SNES at my house and Link to the Past.”

Did he just . . . ? “Did you just ask me out with a Zelda pun?”

Eyes that were a very nice shade of blue dropped to the travel mug on her desk before raising once again to meet hers with crinkles around the edges. “Maybe. Did it work?”

This time, she smiled back. “Only if you bring Sephibroth to lunch.”

This time, he was the one who blushed, but it didn’t stop him from proudly straightening his tie clip. “Deal. See you at noon, Riley.”

An hour later, she could still smell his cologne lingering in her cube. She decided it was kind of nice smelling in a spicy-musky-woodsy kind of way, and didn’t warrant any further forgiveness on her part.

This ended up being a super positive exercise for me (whether it could be judged as good writing or not is besides the point). It was not easy, and it did end up being a page and a half rather than just a single page, but I finished it. I set a goal and I accomplished it. At the time, that was exactly what I needed. And even reading it over now makes me feel proud and like this whole endeavor isn’t doomed to horrendous and agonizing failure.

So now I just need about a hundred more wins just like it and maybe I’ll have myself a book!

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