3 Things Helping My Mental Health Right Now

This the Hubris newsletter for 21 February 2021. Today I want to talk about 3 things helping my mental health right now. 

February in Central Finland is great because it’s still winter, but the light has come back. It’s the coldest part of the year, but everything is blanketed in snow and you’re surrounded by breathtakingly gorgeous landscapes. And you can see them! The sun is rising when I get up, it stays light until after 5pm.

This, obviously, has done wonders for my seasonal affective disorder. I’m not (as) tired all the time. My mood is better, American fascists notwithstanding. Through no act of intention, in this past week I also stumbled upon three things that have brightened my outlook. This is going to be random and nerdy, so buckle up!

The Eltingville Club

Between 1994 and 2010, Evan Dorkin sporadically put out comics about the Eltingville Comic Book, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Roleplaying Club. The stories follow four guys from high school through adulthood as they indulge in their geeky hobbies. While I’ve long been a fan of Dorkin’s Milk and Cheese series, I had somehow never heard of the Eltingville Club.

Oh. My. God.

These stories sum up my experiences in geekdom. In the real world, I was a comic book retailer for several years and attended a lot of science fiction conventions. Online, I was heavily involved in the tabletop roleplaying scene for a long time. I turned my back on fandom in all of its forms precisely because of guys like these. They have this ability to take something fun and lighthearted and turn it into misery. By insisting that the things they claim to care about be taken as seriously as a heart attack, they suck all the joy out of it. Mostly, they just bitch and whine about the perceived flaws in the media the profess to love.

How does that improve my mental health? Reading this anthology was cathartic. It made me feel seen, that I wasn’t alone in these experiences. What it did, in a roundabout way, was remind me that these people can be laughed at, and ultimately ignored. You don’t need to do anything to them, other than ensure they’re kept at a safe distance from decent people, because they are ultimately self-destructive. The media they worship can still be fun, if you don’t allow them to get their hands on it.

You can buy the complete collection of The Eltinville Club on Amazon.

Hanging with Doctor Z

The conceit of Hanging with Doctor Z is that Zaius, the orangutan antagonist of the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film, is real. Rather than being a character portrayed by Maurice Evens (who, incidentally, was also Samantha’s father on Bewitched), he was an actor and all-around entertainer in the late 60s and early 70s. It’s a play on the ubiquitous D-list celebrities of the era, who never seemed to do anything on their own but were staples on variety shows, game shows, and The Love Boat.

Clips on the YouTube channel have Doctor Z reminiscing about hot tub parties at the Playboy mansion, weaving tales involving the Rat Pack, and name-dropping celebrities left and right. There’s also a talk show, the eponymous “Hanging with Doctor Z”, where he interviews people via an old tube television screen a la Space Ghost Coast to Coast. In the first episode, Steven Weber drops an anecdote about seeing Martin Landau in a Ralph’s supermarket, where he was buying a necktie.

I have no idea who this show is for. Certainly not Generation Z, who probably won’t get most of the references. Having grown up in the era this is satirizing, I appreciate both the jokes and the nostalgia factor. It also calls back to the 1980s, when early David Letterman was surreal, and niche things like the endearing train wreck that was the Joe Franklin show. The only conclusion I can draw is that this show was made specifically for me, and maybe a handful of other people my age, who are weird enough to appreciate it for what it is. It’s another instance of feeling seen, and that’s helping my mental health.

You can find Hanging with Doctor Z on YouTube.

A Burner Account on Twitter

Because I am an immigrant and a business owner, I watch what I say in public spaces. As divisive as things are there is no opinion, no matter how innocuous, that someone won’t attack you for. It’s frustrating to watch other people get away with posting egregious, anti-social shit when I’d get roasted for saying something mildly critical about a movie or TV show. You can circle back to The Eltingville Club for more on that.

A friend and I share asides on Twitter via direct messages. Insights and opinions that aren’t exactly controversial, but wouldn’t land well among the stunted adolescents that dominate the platform. He jokingly suggested setting up a burner account so he could anonymously post some of the things I’ve said, because he though there was truth that needed to be told. I said hell, I could do that myself. So I did.

I am not trolling, and I am not being mean, but it has been wonderful to just speak my mind. Yell at me, I don’t care, you’re not going to brigade my business. Block me to your heart’s content, it’s water off a duck’s back. I’m not trying to change the world. But it is a relief when you’ve literally spent years trying not to scream THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES at the top of your lungs.

3 Things Helping My Mental Health Right Now

This newsletter is evolving, obviously. I hope you enjoy it but, nothing personal, I don’t care. While I want to be entertaining, and helpful, and occasionally insightful, ultimately I do this for myself. Next week is an issue devoted to my personal bullet journal hacks. Then for the month of March I’ve got a four-part series on understanding your own values and applying them to your life. Stay tuned.

Hubris: 14 February 2021

Hubris: 14 February 2021 edition. Bullet journaling tips, how business makes me happy, and a celebration of the sun’s return. 

In This Issue

This Year’s Bullet Journaling Rhythm

What I love about the bullet journal method is that you can continually adapt it to meet the needs of the moment. As my needs change, I can alter the daily layout, the types of spread I use, and the sort of information I’m capturing. My current daily format looks like this:

  • Writing/Projects: The one project I need to work on today. Most days this is getting a minimum 6 pages written. Other days there are specific section that need to be complete. If there are bits of future projects that I need to work on, that goes here as well.
  • Marketing/Web: Anything having to do with the blog and social media. I’ve moved this to a marketing function to change my mindset. All of this is about selling more books, folks. At least, that’s how I’m trying to steer things.
  • Accounting/Admin: Any business tasks that aren’t related to writing and marketing. Most of this is bookkeeping. The rest is strategic planning for the next quarter and the coming year.
  • Research: This category is for anything that needs to be looked up. Books that need to be read, articles I want to mine for ideas, stuff that needs to be found on the internet. I do it in a scheduled block so I don’t wander into a book or end up mindlessly surfing the web.
  • Household: Things that need to be done around the house. I’m currently decluttering one small zone per day, from a dedicated spread. This also includes normal cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and so on.
  • Reading: The book I’m currently reading for pleasure. I make myself write this down daily, and cross it off when I’ve read at least a few pages, to make sure I do it. For the most part I have swapped out internet surfing for reading.
  • Media: I’ve started scheduling media consumption. It makes me be discerning about the movies and TV shows I want to watch, and the podcasts I want to listen to. Running those things as background noise while I’m working is a distraction. The goal is to consume less/better content.
  • Journaling: A reminder to update the existing logs/spreads. Update the white board and calendar. Add new spreads for upcoming projects as needed.

Not all of these categories have to be touched every day. My routine is to run down the list to make sure I’m not forgetting something. I tend to get so caught up in writing that I let little things slip past me.

So I don’t overwhelm myself, I’m considering using a 1-3-5 method when scheduling daily tasks. No more than 1 big thing, 3 medium things, 5 small things. That also helps me to set priorities. Most days, writing the the big thing. I can slough off anything else until I get my daily page count done. Then I know the medium things are more important than the small things.

I’ve been considering making spreads for each of these categories, to capture tasks as I think of them. Every writing project has its own spread, as does each website. Research gets written down as a project task, so it doesn’t need its own thing. I’m trying to find a good way to organize reading and media consumption into spreads that will serve my needs. Lists of titles to check off don’t help me in any way.

Anyway, this will undoubtedly continue to evolve.

Business is My Happy Place

Lately I’ve been having more fun (yes, fun!) with the business side of my job than with the creative side. For a start, the metrics for business are a lot easier to fathom. Am I making money? Then I’m doing my job correctly. Did I make more money this accounting period than I did in the last accounting period? Then I’m doing my job well. There are objective measures that show I know what I’m doing, and that’s a confidence booster.

My closest friends, including people in my industry, know the problems that I have with this publishing niche. The metrics for success are closer to those of social media or show business. How large is your fan following? What do your reviews look like? Who’s giving you those reviews? What awards have you been nominated for, and how many have you won?

I don’t care about any of that. It’s superficial and meaningless. I want to get my work into the hands of people that will appreciate it. That needs to generate enough income to live on comfortably. Period. Chasing clout doesn’t necessarily result in increased sales, and has a high cost in terms of time and money. It’s not profitable. The whole industry is built on a terrible business model.

The other thing that frustrates me — and I know this will offend some people, but here goes — is that the field feels creatively bankrupt. I’m not saying that there aren’t creative people out there producing interesting, high-quality books. It’s more akin to how YouTubers, TikTok creators, and other social media influences have had to alter their content to suit the algorithm.

The Long Dark is Over

There was an essay I wanted to write earlier this week about February in Central Finland. I didn’t have time in my schedule, and in a couple of weeks it won’t be relevant. In short, I love this time of year because the sun is finally back. Everything is covered with snow and frost, and when the sunlight hits the world looks like it’s covered in glitter. I wish I could think of a better word to describe it than “magical”, but my schedule doesn’t allow my time to wax poetical or consult a thesaurus.

The downside of February here is that it’s cold. Ridiculously cold. That alone doesn’t bother me. I’ve come to embrace the Nordic saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. That’s my issue. You can’t just put on your shoes, grab your coat, and head out the door. Not if you want to avoid frostbite.

I wear an ankle brace, a wrist brace, and an elbow brace. If I’m doing any walking, or plan on carrying groceries, I need these. They go on first. Next are the thermal tights. Yes, tights. Form-fitting pants and a matching long-sleeved shirt designed to hold in body heat. They need to go over the braces, and situated so they don’t ride up or twist. Then regular clothes. By this point, you’re starting to sweat. Then two pairs of socks, and boots. Either a sweater and then a coat, or a superhot coat, depending. Because covid, two masks. A sock hat, stretchy and close-fitting, and a normal hat over that. Two pairs of gloves. Sunglasses, because damn it’s bright. Sling on the backpack, and now that you’re soaked in sweat you can go out.

Repeat the process when you get home.

If I had my choice, I’d never leave the house between Yule and the March equinox.

Hubris: 14 February 2021

 

Music, Memory, and Productivity

When I’m writing, I generally prefer silence. At least, I say that I do. In my mind having music on a background noise is the exception to the rule, but I have a lot of exceptions. The neighbors are being loud. I need a mood elevator. Something need to focus my attention back to the here-and-now. The thing is, I can’t just listen to anything. My playlists have to be carefully curated. It comes down to the intersection of music, memory, and productivity.

My go-to work music is one of two things: jazz or classical. Nothing with lyrics. I’ve got a selection of instrumental jazz, mostly from the 50s and 60s. The mood is mellow and just slighlty upbeat, nothing too loud or jumpy. It’s coffee shop stuff, or early evening NPR from my younger days. It’s a general association with writing in cafes.

Similarly, the classical is up-tempo but not bombastic, leaning more toward light and airy solos and small ensembles than full-blow orchestral pieces. Old bookstore stuff, or afternoon NPR when I was in college. There are a few associations, but not many. It takes me back to sitting in my apartment, banging out term papers and short stories.

For no reason I can remember, last week I started listening to 80’s alternative. Elvis Costello. Blondie. Tears for Fears. Bands that I’ve never been particularly invested in. Yeah, some Talking Heads, The Clash, and such slip in there, but it’s mostly bands that would make the youth say “Who?”. Heaven 17, The Fixx, Wall of Voodoo. This mix has been working for me, but the why of it didn’t click until a few minutes prior to sitting down to write this.

Music, Memory, and Productivity

In the 1980s, I was in art school and university. I closed out the decade living in center city Philadelphia, surrounded by creative people. Even though I wouldn’t have put the 80s alternative playlist together myself, and I’m not really into most of those bands, it struck a nerve. That was the time when I was most enthusiastic about being a professional creative. It was the time period when the prospect of doing what I do now was exciting.

I was a much needed epiphany.

No matter how much I love my job, it’s still a job. I’m not creating art for art’s sake, I need to get the bills paid. What I’m doing now, in my 50s, is the sort of thing I should have been doing in my 20s and 30s. Unfortunately, I got sucked into the corporate world and lost my way. Part of me things that I should be further along in this career than I am. Another part of my thinks I should have outgrown all of this.

What I keep forgetting about is the part where this is fun. If a playlist can take me back to a time when I had too much enthusiasm, I’ll take it. Those days weren’t better; they were hard in different ways, the world will still screwed up, and a lot of people were awful. But I had a much better attitude about things then. I need to get some of that back.

Hubris: 7 February 2021

This is Hubris: 7 February 2021 edition, the newsletter where I have the audacity to think I’ve written something worth reading.

I don’t feel as if I’ve gotten any work done this past week. Katie’s show ended on Friday, so I helped her tear that down. She’s been having issues with her website, so I put in a decent amount of time until we figure that out. My own business site continues to be overhauled, and I’m finally happy with the design. Because it was the first week of the month, I had accounting and immigration stuff to deal with.

All of which is necessary stuff, but I really just want to write. I long to lock myself in a room somewhere and not come out until this current manuscript is finished. What I’d give for an assistant that just came in periodically with hot coffee and fresh sandswiches.

Decluttering 101

Last Sunday, I broke the apartment down into manageable zones. Each individual cabinet in the kitchen is its own zone, because they are deep and have several shelves. My nightstand is a zone. For many people a bedroom closet might constitute multiple zones — shelves, floor, hanging bar — but mine is a built-in Ikea fixture the size of an American hot water heater, and doesn’t hold much.

On my monthly task list for February I listed each zone, grouped by room. I’m setting aside an hour each day to declutter one zone. Anything I haven’t worn, rarely use, and don’t foresee needing is going into an appropriate pile. Give away. Sell, Recycle. Trash. When a zone is completed, I get the satisfaction of checking it off. Every time I leave the house, I will take something out and transport it to the proper destination.

My goal is to be down to bare essentials again by the end of the month.

Building Up My Creative Infrastructure

Some people would argue that I’m not all that creative. I wouldn’t argue against them. In all honestly, I approach creative work like a project manager. I need to know what I’m trying to accomplish, how I’m going to do it, and the resources that I’ll need. It’s not some magical thing, where I await my muse and then go wherever my impulses take me. The things I make are created with planning and intention.

A famous creator in my niche once got annoyed that I refer to my books as products. It bothered me until I learned that I make more money at this than he does. He’s far wealthier than I am, but he makes a living doing other things. The illusion is that he’s gotten rich doing this. I need to pay the rent doing creative work, so I’ve always had to put profitability ahead of my artistic whims.

Anyway, I spent most of January working out some kinks in my production process. I built new templates, wrote a style guide for my own reference, and documented standard operating procedures (SOP). These will allow me to work faster and more consistently. They will improve the quality of my work. It ought to help increase sales.

The better my creative infrastructure, the more I can focus on creativity. When I don’t have to worry about making rent, I can relax and enjoy myself. The work gets better. I know that a lot of creatives don’t get it. They don’t have to. I’m happy with what I’m doing, and the ay I’m doing it.

Less Blogging, More REading

And speaking of processes, having reading time on my daily to-do list is paying off. I read two novels this past week. Making research its own thing has also helped; anything work-related doesn’t count.

A lot of reclaimed reading time is time I would have spent blogging. I feel like I’m getting more value from picking up a novel than banging out a daily post. Neither of them is earning me money. Reading allows me to relax, and it recharges my creative batteries.

Hubris: 7 February 2021

Hubris: 31 January 2021

This is Hubris: 31 January 2021 edition, the newsletter where I have the audacity to think I’ve written something worth reading.

Hubris: 31 January 2021

Someone said something incredibly powerful to me the other day. They said that my anxiety stems from trying to think my way out of problems. I’m not being present in the moment, seeing the actions available to me now. Instead, I’m looking at all of the possibilities and permutations, and trying to formulate a plan to deal with each and every one of them.

It is the most true statement anyone has ever spoken about me.

Decluttering, Again

This week I started going through the apartment and gathering up things we never use. Of course, I run everything that’s common property past Katie first. I’m not touching any of her things. Mostly I’m ditching a lot of kitchen stuff we’ve inherited. There are a lot of dishes and cookware we don’t use. I’ve cleared my closet of clothes I never wear.

Next I need to go through office supplies. Pens I don’t use. Notebooks with information I don’t need to keep. Things that are useful, but have not been and will never be useful for me. Fortunately, there are places where this can be donated. It’s easier to get rid of things when you know they won’t just go to waste.

At some point we’re going to move. Whether it’s to a slightly larger apartment here in town, to another country, or back to the United States, I don’t know. Nor do I know when. With so many things outside of my control, I need to focus on what’s in my control. And that’s the fact that even though I don’t own much, I still own too much stuff.

Shifting Toward Essays

Saying one wants to be an essayist in 2021 is a lot like saying you intend to become a blacksmith. There’s not a lot of call for it, so the few big gigs are filled by the best of the best. People look at you as if you’re crazy when you say it’s something you want to do.

When I revamped the site, I said I was cutting the blog back to this weekly newsletter and periodic essays. It’s the essays that I most enjoy writing. I am keenly aware of how mediocre I am in this field, but I want to be good at it. This year, I’m going to put effort into it.

Against all odds and sage advice I figured out a way to make a modest living in my current publishing niche. A small and specialized field where people constantly complain that it’s impossible to earn enough to live on. Surely I can find a way to make this work.

Negotiating with Myself

Last week I talked about my daily bullet journal categories. Write, read, research, web, journal, clean. For each category I pick from 1 to 3 tasks for the day, depending on how big those tasks are. What I didn’t get into was the reason I do this. It’s about negotiation and failing forward.

Say I’m supposed to be laying down word count for the work-in-progress, and my mind starts to wander. Which happens to everyone, but I have cognitive function issues, so I’m going to assume it’s a little bit worse for me. If I can’t focus, or I just need to do something else for a little bit, I can switch over to something else in the list.

This serves two purposes. One, it keeps me from mindlessly surfing the internet. I’m not seeking distraction on YouTube or getting sucked into something on Netflix. Two, I’m giving myself permission to do something else. As long as it’s on my list, I don’t beat myself up about it. I’m not writing, but I’m reading a book, or cleaning out a drawer, or outlining next week’s newsletter. It’s still productive.

I’ve found that when I give myself the leeway to do something else, in this controlled fashion, it’s easier to get everything done in a day. I know which tasks take priority (writing; it’s always writing) and I always get back to it. Not putting pressure on myself to have to focus allows me to relax so that I can concentrate and get back to my core work.

In Case You Missed It

Hubris: 31 January 2021 Edition