Sunday, November 22, 2015

Proof that I'm a Writer, or, "What Do You Do?"

You're at a party, whether casual or business, which means you're about to meet people. And when two strangers meet, the most common question after the obligatory hand-shake and name-exchange, is:

"What do you do?"

Because for some reason someone decided one day that our jobs are the one thing that defines us. Which seems cruel. What if a person has found themselves stuck in a job they hate? When you ask them, "What do you do?" and they answer, "Bank manager," or, "Human resources," or any job for that matter, you are using that information to form a picture of that person in your mind--and yet, at the same time, that person secretly loathes their job.

That's horrible.

I've always lived on the other end of the spectrum. When I am faced with that odd question, "What do you do?" I can confidently say that I am a private piano instructor, knowing that "musician" and "teacher" are two descriptive titles that I am happy with.

But here's the thing...

I've always had this secret desire to be a writer. 

Why secret? Because, if you say, "What do you do?" and I say, "I'm a writer," then you will most likely follow that up with questions of what I've written and where I've been published and what literary accolades have I collected... and I, like most writers out there, am left feeling inadequate and a failure.

Now, I've read plenty on this topic. While most of the business world sees you as A WRITER only if you have made some form of a living off it, most writers who DO make a living off it disagree. They say, if you write, then declare yourself to be A WRITER, dammit!

And I think that's great. And I do, in my mind, consider myself to be a writer--excuse me, I mean, A WRITER.

But still... that handshake-then-"What-do-you-do?" thing. The rest of the world considers this a load of bullshit, and only respects you as A WRITER if you've made a name for yourself, or, more accurately, if you've made boatloads of money. But if you're still in the process of finding your success, then they look down on you and scoff and see you as one of those creative types that will waste away in squalor for the rest of your life.

But guess what? 

Stephen King, when he published his first novel--CARRIE, ever heard of it?--was living in a trailer with a wife and two kids and not-even-barely scraping by.

J.K. Rowling wrote part of Harry Potter on a napkin... or so the story goes; but it amounts to the same thing--she was dirt poor and desperate right before creating the thing that made her richer than the Queen of England.

The stories go on and on. And I would bet that at one point in their lives, household-name writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and James Patterson all dreaded that moment when they had to shake someone's hand and answer someone's question with, "I'm a writer."

This has always been a niggling insecurity of mine, and so it felt important to write about it on the day I can officially shake all those hands and say:

"I'm a writer--yes, A WRITER, here's where you can buy my stuff!"

My first publication is of my short story, "Shuffle," in the anthology IT'S ABOUT TIME, edited by Sara McBride and published by Lemur Publishing in Los Angeles.

If you haven't heard of NaNoWriMo, it's this crazy seat-of-the-pants challenge for writers all around the world to write an entire novel during the month of November. Last year was the first time I took up the challenge and actually completed it, and in mid-November I attended a writing marathon event in San Francisco. There, I won a raffle with Lemur Publishing's first anthology as the prize, and Sara McBride invited me to submit a story to the next anthology. And the rest, as they say...

IT'S ABOUT TIME is a collection of short stories from writers all across the globe that each tell a different tale about that strange man-made construct, time. And if you would like to read my story, or any of the others, get it here--the best part? You're supporting the Young Writers Program (FOR THE CHILDREN!!!) and getting great fiction at the same time!

I will be posting updates on my writing more often from here on out, but until then, I want you to imagine you're shaking my hand and asking me that horrific question:

"What do you do?"

I write. I create stories, coming-of-age and fantastic, stories that tip a book's pages up like a cup so you can drink them down to the dregs. I am part of that age-old tradition of storytelling that has been an integral part of every culture throughout history. I am... A WRITER!

Don't believe me? Just watch.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Some Fast Motivation (Self-Improvement=Torture, Day 5)

Quick words today! 

If you want something, what do you need to do in order to achieve?

Excuses are easy to make. I know. We make them every day.

So instead, I'm here to make motivation so you can hurdle those excuses. 


And if none of this does it for you, here's a motivational penguin:

While writing my novel, I've stumbled upon an ancient philosopher named Theophrastus Paracelsus who said many wise and inspiring things some 500 years ago. Here's one for today:

Thoughts are free and subject to no rule. On them rests the freedom of man, and they tower above the light of nature...create a new heaven, a new firmament, a new source of energy from which new arts flow.

So let's go out there and create our new firmaments!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Self-Improvement=Torture, Day 3-4: Fugue State

There's this part in the outstanding television drama Breaking Bad where chemistry professor-turned-cancer patient/methamphetamine retailer Walter White (played by the Man, the Myth, the Legend, Bryan Cranston himself) disappears for a few days to start his meth business, and he needs an excuse to tell his family.

What does he do?

He shows up in a grocery store in the next town over, stark naked, and claims he suffered from a "fugue state."

I've never experienced this "fugue state," but I can tell you...

...last night sure felt like I did.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I struggled with sleep, especially in my high school days. I believe my doctor called it an "insulin imbalance" issue. You see, insulin normally works this way: You inject yourself with a specific number of units calculated by your current blood sugar level, what carbohydrates you're about to consume, and what exercise you have recently done; insulin has an onset time, a half life, a peaking time, and its end life (for example, the particular brand of insulin I take for meals takes about 30 minutes to kick in and it works on my blood sugar for about 4 hours), so there's a lot of calculations (*cough* guess work *cough*) involved.

But for some reason, no matter how excellent my blood sugar levels are before I go off to bed, and no matter what type of insulin I take, my blood sugar is always--ALWAYS--high the next morning. And usually, it's REALLY high.

So, naturally, sometimes when I'm trying to counter this phenomenon, I take too much insulin at night, and here comes the fugue state: my blood sugar goes so low that it wakes me up, sending one signal to my brain and one signal only:

I somehow bump my way through a dark house to the fridge, and then  
I begin to eat anything and everything.

We're told that when dealing with low blood sugar, you must eat or drink something with carbs AND THEN WAIT FIFTEEN MINUTES for it to get into your system. But that's. Fucking. Hard. Especially when you're in some kind of trance. I usually don't remember what I ate in these nighttime attacks until the next morning, and even then it's like putting the clues together in a murder mystery.

I swear, one time I actually ate a cold, uncooked hot dog out of the fridge. Which is ridiculous for three reasons.

1) Gross.
2) There aren't any carbohydrates in wiener dogs.
3) I had just eaten a cupcake. Talk about spoiling my dinner.

So anyway, that's what happened last night. That's why I only got about 4 hours of sleep.  
But I'm here, I'll persevere, and I'm gonna make today a success.

What kind of health challenges or sleeping challenges do you face? I'd love to hear about them.

To end, let me just say that NO, this is not what it felt like: (It was more like a witch cursed me to eat forever until I burst.)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Self-Improvement=Torture, Day 2: Adulting Is Hard

Okay, yesterday sucked, and today I feel like seven layers of caked shit (you're welcome for the image), but I'm determined to be productive! Check this out:

Woke up at 6 a.m. -- Why is this an accomplishment? Well, sleep and I have quite the abusive relationship. Not being able to fall asleep at night and then not being able to wake up in the morning was such a struggle 8-10 years ago, courtesy of my diabetes, that it actually prevented me from graduating from high school (and so I tested out my junior year, did a year of community college, and transferred to a university, but that's a different story). So waking up at this hour and actually DOING THINGS is a real struggle for me.

Rented a car -- WHAT?!? I'M OLD ENOUGH TO DO THAT NOW? Weird. But yes. And it's one of those super nice cars where you press a button to start the engine and you speculate on whether the car factories have gone too far and created Artificial Intelligence.

Took car to mechanic -- Okay, so I'm actually in the process of doing this right now... I'm making an appointment with an import shop in Rancho Cordova to repair the transmission in my Jetta, and then I'm having AAA (O! Beautiful AAA!) tow my car to the mechanic so they can let me know if it'll cost just a foot or the whole goddamn leg.

All this before Old Spencer even woke up, usually. Which forces me to believe something, finally...


Also today, before I go to work (during which one of my students will learn the Super Mario Bros. theme!), I will eat healthy things, try writing some of my novel, and go buy glucose test strips.

"Glucose test strips? What are those?" you may ask. Well... check this out.

Glucose test strips = tiny strips the size of (*searches brain for comparison*) a small paperclip, which can be inserted into a glucose meter, which will in turn tell you what your blood sugar levels are if you feed the test strip a drop of your own blood. Doctors tell diabetics you only need to use about 2 of these a day, but if you are unhealthy and don't have your diabetes under control, they tell you to use about 4 to 6 of them. And if you're SICK, use one every 2 hours (so 12 a day).

Here's the catch: these tiny strips cost $1 each.

Let's do the math. I will need about 5 strips a day. $5 a day. Every. Day.

I know it may not sound like much. BUT. That's just to test my blood sugar levels, before I inject myself with insulin. So that's without the cost of syringes (which are cheap) and insulin (which is NOT cheap). And then there's eating the right food.




Sunday, November 1, 2015

Self-Improvement Can Be Torture, Day 1: A Promise

This was me last night.

Okay, I'll admit: the photo was staged (thanks to the wonderful Chloe Faulk!). But sitting here typing this with a hangover, it sure feels real.

Tell me, have you ever found yourself deciding you need a change? Everyone has those moments where they decide they need to work harder at school or that new promotion at work or bringing down that cholesterol. Millions of people make New Year's Resolutions every freaking year, and the running joke is how terrible we are at actually DOING them. We laugh because, well, sadly, if we don't laugh then we'd either have to cry or stop making New Year's Resolutions.

But we won't stop making goals for ourselves, or daydreaming about where our lives could be. Why? 


I, like possibly maybe many of you (I'm not alone, right?), go in a cycle that looks like this:

*wakes up*  

*writes goals*

*7 days later*  
"...and I'm doing really good and I've exercised every day this week, and sure I ate that cupcake but come on, that was a reward for FINALLY DOING IT!"

*the next day*  
"Yes, I'd like a large bacon cheeseburger with curly fries, a chocolate shake, and..."

It's emotionally taxing on you and possibly those around you. I can't imagine what it's like for my wife to watch me go in these circles.

Everyone has their struggle. Mine is Type 1 diabetes. I've had it for over 10 years now. The thing about diabetes that most people don't understand: It isn't just about food. Type 1 is hereditary. I didn't get it because I ate too much sugar. It is nothing like Type 2. Type 1 is very rare--in fact, only about 0.25% of Americans have it, which is a fraction of those with celiac disease. It affects every aspect of my life, and I mean EVERY. It is the leading cause of blindness, neuropathy, etc. blah blah blah

Here's a fun gif to lighten the mood:

Okay, let me cut to the chase: In order to stop myself from starting another cycle of "taking my goals seriously" and "The New and Improved Spencer (Psyche!)" I am using this blog to force myself to take accountability for my actions. I have started TODAY, NOVEMBER 1st 2015, and I will continue this for 90 days, which is the amount of time it takes to instill good habits and witness results (or so I'm told; I've never actually reached that far).


I have cut all bad from my diet--my addiction to fast food--

(Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, I'm lookin' at you)

--and donuts, and Rockstars--


--and ice cream, and gigantic portions. All gone.

Instead, I have written up a meal plan full of delicious egg white omelets, chicken breasts on quinoa, and veggies veggies veggies. Oh, and water, TONS OF WATER (sorry, California...)! I won't bore you with a meal photo 3 times a day, but you will be seeing proof of my new diet, and you will be HOLDING ME TO IT!

Then, I will slowly bring back daily exercise. I have a personal trainer friend who has graciously put together a weekly muscle-group weight training plan, complete with the dreaded cardio.


Oh, this isn't just about eating and exercise! I'm starting there because my health, as I've said, informs literally every single aspect of my life. But then that's where the fun begins.

This is...  

I've written up goals. I won't put them here right now, but for now, I will tell you which areas I intend to improve first.


--I have always wanted to be a professional writer, and I even wrote my first novel last year, but for some reason I also happen to be a huge procrastinator. Not anymore. Starting today, I am setting aside AT LEAST 3 hours every single day to work on my writing. That begins with the novel I am writing for 2015's NaNoWriMo. Oh, also, I am being published this month! More details on that later.

--this includes expanding my business (I'm a private piano teacher!), and other much more boring stuff, but right at this moment this means fixing my car. It broke down (transmission failure) a couple days ago, and well I drive about 8 hours a week for my job, so I kind of need to fix the car ASAP.

--this kind of encompasses a lot. I may write an article on an issue that is important to me, like feminism or marriage equality or prejudices of today in general. I may read a book that has been deemed noteworthy (first off: Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea). Or I may take your suggestions and try a new activity to broaden my horizons (i.e. visit a church, volunteer at a soup kitchen, see nature and watch the sunrise). Anything is welcome, so suggest away!

That's it, for now.
If you've read this whole thing, I promise to make future Self-Improvement blogs shorter. I guess I have a lot to say.

Aaaaaaaaaand I'm off!