Writer’s Workshop – Being in a Gas Station While It’s Getting Robbed

This post was written on Monday the 15th, the day after my February “break” post.

A lot of things happened today.

By way of update: I was woken up by the guy upstairs playing his music. But when I went on an investigation (fully contemplating gross sabotage of their front door), I discovered that not only was the music actually coming from downstairs, the people blasting it were an old couple. Which I discovered because they cranked it so loud that I heard it through my noise-cancelling headphones (which work, but aren’t literal magic capable of perfectly muting 80 decibels), so I just had to go down there, knock, ask nicely for whoever to turn it down, and pray for the best. Thankfully, they turned down the music enough where I barely hear it without the headphones, and don’t hear it at all with the headphones.

With that out of the way, I was also in a gas station earlier, when it was getting robbed.

And, this totally was not what I intended to write about.

But how the fuck could I not?

Because, on one hand, I’m still processing. And, on the other hand, in the most mercenary-writer way, it’s at least a useful experience.

I will say immediately that I’m pretty sure the other people involved were fine. I was literally the only person not behind a counter, and the people the robber was threatening were behind a protective barrier, but they still immediately gave him money (meaning the chances of him shooting them were extremely low–if you don’t know, people committing robberies in real life usually don’t want to shoot anyone and make their rap sheet worse). Anyway, this was also not a small mom and pop gas station, so the only loser today was the gas station chain (and, whatever–get fucked American corporation).

That said . . .

The confusion hit first. Something like the Uncanny Valley. I was hearing an amalgam of a million movie quotes, but spoken aloud–sincerely.

My brain took a moment to catch up, so it’s impossible to remember what he said, but it was something like, “Alright! I am not fucking around! Let’s go!The words of a caricature, stepping out of the fourth wall to remind me that, yes, these things happen.

I looked and saw a man poised against the gas station’s counter, his hands on it, arranged to conceal what could only be a gun (there was no way clerks behind a wall wound freak out for a knife). And as I turned back, I realized a few of things:

  1. I didn’t wear my glasses today. Half-awake and in the heat of preparing to confront a noisy neighbor, I stumbled out of my apartment without putting them on. Because of course I did.
  2. A lifetime of action movies trained me to expect Arnold Schwarzenegger, Spider-Man, or whoever to show up and stop this. As a writer hearing dialogue and auto-assigning the next step in the action, I know I thought of this for a moment, but only in relation to whatever process reigned it in–the part of my brain that sounded the This Is Not A Fucking Movie alarm.
  3. I was the only person standing on the store floor. There were people behind the gas station’s counter–women who were screaming and a guy who kept shouting something–and one guy behind its mini Dunkin Donuts counter (who disappeared into the back immediately to–I assume–call the police) but I was the only person on the floor itself.
  4. And I was standing at the ATM, which still had my card, and was slowly dispensing my rent.

All it would take was for this man to look to his left, see me at the ATM, and he could’ve walked up and demanded what I was taking out. Because I, a person who has experienced guns before, knew that they are the ultimate means of control. If someone points a gun at you and tells you to do something, you do it–unless you have real life training that gives you other options (which almost no one does).

In that scenario, I would either give him the money, or he’d shoot me for it.

But . . . he was too busy shouting for the clerks to “Get the other one! The other one!” which I guess meant “the other register.”

I stood there, frozen, staring at the ATM screen as it processed the withdrawal, contemplating if I should just leave, aware that the clerks would be fine because this was a chain (they had nothing to lose, were already giving the robber the money, and thus, he was extremely unlikely to shoot them). Honestly never for a single second did I think I should help (all of the boyhood fantasies I’ve had about confronting a robber and / or talking them down were lost immediately in the sea of adulthood–the cold, hard realization that “there is no wall protecting me, so on the off-chance that he really is trigger happy, he can just fucking shoot me whenever”).

A thousand breathless thoughts before the ATM flicked to “Your transaction is approved!” and the male clerk behind the gas station counter shouted, “That’s it! We’re closed, man!” And then, in an oddly casual way, like either he was tired of shouting or he and the other clerks had retreated far enough–into a room behind the counter–that they knew they were fine, “We’re closed, man. Nah, we’re closed.” I still don’t know what that means.

But the ATM whirred and finally finished dispensing.

And then, I did not even look back, certain that if I did, I’d be spotted.

I just took the money–folding it into my wallet in one quick motion which, in retrospect, was probably the dumbest thing I could’ve done (guaranteeing that if he saw me, “Give me the money!” would’ve turned into “Give me the wallet!”).

But, if he did see, he deemed the risk of trying to rob a dude who was already walking out of the store–a man who maybe didn’t see him?–not worth it.

The only reason I didn’t run is because, when I came out, there was another guy standing near the door who had to be a look out, and I didn’t want to draw attention. For the same reason (I honestly did not remember the Dunkin worker at the time), I didn’t call the cops, assuming that keeping an eye out for snitches was part of guy #2’s job. I just crossed the street immediately, looked back (which was another stupid mistake because, without my glasses, the station and guy #2 were just a massive blur from that distance [so all looking back did was almost get me caught]) and then kept walking.

I’ve been checking the news since to see if I could find details about the robbery. I even made the mistake of downloading Citizen App again–which, if you’re unfamiliar, is an app that shows incidents, like stabbings and fires, in a region (which means it’s massively depressing for New York)–but I’ve found nothing. [Edit: Even checking back now, on Sunday afternoon, I found nothing about my robbery.]

Which cranks the hopelessness meter to ‘Ultra Max,’ even though I didn’t lose anything, and–to my knowledge–no one else did either.

In part, it’s because I could not give a single detail about this robber–the ATM was far enough away from the counter that I, a blind man without his glasses, couldn’t have made out the dude’s face even if he looked back at me and I stared, neither of which happened. The glance I took was on the dude’s hands and posture, so I’m not even secure in the observation that he had a dark jacket on.

So, basically, I would be less-than-no-help in this situation, which makes me feel so oddly stupid.

And that’s probably the major takeaway here, writing-wise; I’ve been robbed at gunpoint before–when I was much, much younger–and that came with its own, way more acute sense of hopelessness, but even just being a bystander, realizing that there was genuinely nothing helpful that I could do in the moment (that legitimately I would only make the situation worse) fucking sucks. But that feeling goes beyond the moment; having been involved in police investigations before–working security and the aforementioned time I was mugged–I can’t help imagining the look on an officer’s face when I tell him, “No, I didn’t have my glasses, but maybe he had a dark jacket on?” I can almost hear him sighing, “Waste of my fucking time.” Like, thanks. I fucking hate it. I hate that sleepily deciding not to go back for my glasses impacted the day that strongly. And I hate that, even if I had gone back for them, I would only be able to provide a detail or two to the NYPD, an institution that, after 2020, demonstrably doesn’t give a fuck about me or any of the minorities working that gas station–an institution that would only be motivated to catch that robber if it turned out he wasn’t white.

Okay. I’m just moving on from that. I’m frustrated, guys. My bad. Focusing now–we’re focusing.

Another writing takeaway: in the moment, information is crystal clear but processing at such a hectic rate that you easily forget things. Like, all data is streamlined for your survival (i.e. “I’m at the ATM,” “he has a gun,” “no one else is on this side of the counters with him but me,” etc.), but that means some data is shoved right the fuck out of your brain to make space; I saw that dude working the Dunkin Donuts counter, looked at his face and acknowledged he was not the dude who was normally there, and then noted that he disappeared during the incident, but by the time I was outside (10 seconds later) I completely forgot he’d been there at all when I was considering calling the cops. That weird survival instinct to, I guess, override non-threatening information is totally new to me. Like, if it wasn’t pertinent to me getting the fuck out of that gas station, it did not exist.

And, last thing, having that event just absorbed by the general horror of life–finding that it was not bad enough to make headlines–is also kind of terrible.

Because worse things happened in the Bronx [that day].

At least it’s a soft confirmation that no one in that gas station got shot.

The little things, I guess.

~~~

Phew.

I genuinely don’t get how my life has become this batshit. Like, everything is a bad mess lately. I don’t want to go into detail, but yeah, the rest of the week was bad too.

But I’m just tired of focusing on all of that. I really want to get back to posting happy, fun stuff. I also want to redesign the website (I made a new logo for it and everything, and I’m excited to settle into a new, more fun vibe).

So, today, I’m gonna go order a veggie burger with coffee and get to work making things better for myself–in whatever ways I can.

Thanks for listening, and hopefully my account of this experience can be useful to your writing.

If you’re new here, thanks for passing by. I post every Sunday, so if you’re keen to hear more–about my life or my writing progress–feel free to stop by next Sunday.

Until then, take care, breathe deep, and maybe just lie down for a minute. Like, just breathe slowly and let a nap happen if you can. Cause we all deserve it.

My Valentine’s Day Gift to Myself: A Break

Last week, I predicted that I would either be bummed but chill or happy but stressed.

Oh, my sweet Summer child.

Somehow, I didn’t account for the possibility that I’d be bummed and stressed, but here we are!

To make a long story short, that freelancing gig is taking forever, and the dude who lives directly above me has started blasting the same bodega-top-40 playlist (by which I mean the set of songs that are currently playing in bodegas) for at least five hours every. Single. Day. And, to be clear, as a Puerto Rican man, I have nothing against reggaetón, bachata, etc. But when it’s muffled by a ceiling, primarily what you get are percussions. And the percussions are extremely formulaic for each type of Latin music.

Which means that it sounds like the same five songs are on loop for (again, at best) five hours every day. On Friday, the loop was playing from 4pm to 2am.

Now, I would like to clarify first that I am not exaggerating.

But, on top of that, I think I’ve just become especially susceptible to noise. Whether it’s because I’m just a quiet dude who doesn’t like loud noises because of his past, or because I’m just physically wired to dislike noise, I dunno. I am not a “cover my ears when trains pull into a station” person. But I am, 100%, a “please stop blasting your music–it’s 12am on a Thursday and I’m trying to write” person.

Who is stuck in a room during COVID where he has no lease and literally can’t go upstairs to confront a dickhead who does. At best, I’ll be told to fuck off, and, at worst, I’ll have a knife put in my body (I live in a legitimately terrible neighborhood).

What I’m saying here is, I managed to get some light graphic design work done at the beginning of the week, but then started getting headaches and ultimately switched to zero-fucks mode, tanking the rest of the week playing Slay the Spire.

Yesterday, I splurged on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, and today–for the first time in a week–the dickhead upstairs didn’t play music at all, so there is hope for next week.

But, for me, today’s vibe is still “what-the fuck-ever.”

Which means I needed a break from the blog too.

I will be back next week, of course, and, hopefully, I’ll be able to develop the topic I have into a weird post.

Until then, take care. And if you live somewhere safe and quiet, just take a minute today to sit down with a coffee or tea at a window, and enjoy the underrated freedom of inviolable thought.

Let’s Talk About – My Writer Quirks

So, if there’s one thing my writing group has exposed to me by accident, it’s my collection of what I think of as “Writer Quirks”: illogical standards / habits that dictate how and what I write.

I mean, I knew they were there, but some of them have been discovered by my writing group, so I’m thinking about them more this weekend.

And, since I woke up to some serious snowfall, I thought ‘why not just take a chill snow day and talk about my Quirks–the things that make me the weird writer I am?’

Yeah. Yeah, that could be fun and chill, so let’s do it.

Number 1 – I love writing in inclement weather.

There’s something about rain in particular that gets the creative juices flowing for me.

And, to be totally honest . . . I think it’s because of Jurassic Park.

Please don’t tease me, but one of the first stories I wrote was about me and my cousins trapped in my old apartment with my cats, who’d become Velociraptor-sized for some mysterious reason.

I was, like, 10 and had just seen Jurassic Park, so cut me some slack.

Anyway, yes, that movie was massively influential for me, so whenever it rains (like it did in the T-Rex scene), the urge to write hits really hard.

And, even if it isn’t raining, I can find an ambient rain sounds video on YouTube, put on headphones, and just go.

Number 2 – I love mustache-twirling villains.

Despite evidence to the contrary on this site, I do love villains. But not the misunderstood, “morally ascendant” ones.

No, I love obviously evil mustache-twirlers.

Like, the more ‘comically evil visual cues’ they toss out at first glance, the better. Is that villain in a black leather coat? Great. Is that villain in a black leather trench coat with shades on, and eyes that are burning so fucking red you can see them through the shades? Fucking glorious.

Paramount among them (obviously) is Albert Wesker as he appeared in Resident Evil 5, where he takes “obviously evil” to the ultra max.

Like, “Guys . . . I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but . . . I think this guy is evil?”

Making him look like a stern, Aryan man was not enough; he had to be a stern, Aryan Terminator in (what looks like) head-to-toe snake skin.

It’s just so over-the-top. I love it.

Number 3 – I love writing outside
(but I hate writing at coffee shops).

I know–I should hand in my Writer Card right now.

But, seriously, I must have missed the window where it was comfortable to write in a coffee shop.

Because, every time I try, the “You can only sit for 30 minutes while eating” sign blares at me. Or the overhead music does. Or there’s a group in the corner, laughing and talking loudly about whatever. Or there are the people around me, working on/looking at who-knows-what on their computers (porn being a very real option from the Starbucks stories I’ve heard). And, real talk, that mystery of “What are they working on/looking at?” emboldens people to just stare at your computer screen while you write; seriously, the last time I wrote at a Starbucks, the woman sitting next to me went zero-fucks and openly started reading what I was writing.

Yeah. Thanks–I’m good.

However, I do like writing pretty much anywhere else outdoors–the more secluded, the better.

And this all came from my first NaNoWriMo, where I discovery-wrote Memory in different spots all over New York. The first post in that series, (which I called 30 Days of NaNoWriMo) starts at home (which was not the plan), but what followed was a fun, 30-day romp where I searched for places I could viably write, ending with the Cloisters. And I think that romp ruined me forever. I can (and still do) write from home, but I will almost always write more enthusiastically outside.

Unless it’s at a coffee shop.

Number 4 – I was heavily inspired by
Samus Aran from Metroid.

I’ve probably talked about this on here before, but a major influence for my strong female protagonists was Samus Aran. In particular, the above diagram from the Super Metroid Nintendo Player’s Guide.

My Samus is and always will be 6’3” and 200 lbs.

That said, Samus is only one side of the “Strong Female Character” spectrum; on the other side is Mabel Pines, who I’ve wanted to write an entire post about for a while. For now, suffice it to say that I love Samus for being a strong woman who’s massive, imposing, and badass . . . and I also love Mabel Pines for being a strong woman who’s nerdy, boy-thirsty, and hilarious.

Samus was an awesome gateway for me and I will always love her, but it’s important to say that she is not the end-all example of what a strong woman is.

Number 5 – FFVI made me want to write Fantasy.
FFVII guaranteed I’d never write anything else.

I was massively inspired by Jurassic Park, but my desire to write awesome stuff was forever turned from “no-frills American action movie” to “Fantasy” when I played Final Fantasy VI for the first time.

The Magitek Armor (made weird and fluid by the art of Yoshitaka Amano), the presence of fae-like Espers (who were not simple analogues of traditional deities), the variety of characters (who reach into pretty much every extreme a crew can have [from a spunky kid to a weary old man]), and the 11th hour twist that the villain succeeds in destroying the world (and you have to fight through the aftermath) made me irrevocably invested in Fantasy’s potential to be unique.

But I didn’t really understand Fantasy’s range until I played Final Fantasy VII.

I don’t want to rant about that game, so I’ll just say that it was the first time I experienced a Fantasy story set in a modern city.

And, as a kid growing up in the Bronx, the idea that a Fantasy story could be based in a modern city–that the slums under a giant city could be the starting point for an adventure with otherworldly monsters and magic–blew my goddamn mind.

I wouldn’t trade the bizarre potential and impossible range of Fantasy for the world.

Number 6 – I have a special designation for music
I want to write stories for–“righteous.”

Last thing–I take crazy amounts of inspiration from music, which I think a lot of us do.

However, I often find songs I want to write for. And, at some point, I started thinking of those songs as “righteous.”

I don’t know how this “righteous song” thing started, but most of the time, those songs will never fit into any of my WIP’s. For example, “Spectre” by Radiohead is the intro theme for a story I am not writing. What is that story? No idea, but I want to write something that fits “Spectre” so badly, and I don’t know why. It just triggers a part of my brain and evokes emotions that I really want to make into a story. I used imagine it as the theme for Aixa the Hexcaster, but it doesn’t fit Aixa’s tone either, so it will forever float as the intro theme for . . . something in my brain.

Once in a blue moon though, the visceral muse of certain songs does inspire entire stories; “Time’s Scar,” from the intro to Chrono Cross, is directly responsible for The Hand and the Tempest, the big project I’m working on after Memory. I heard that song in high school and created an entire story from it. Well, I was in high school, so really, I imagined a CG intro for a story, and then, 15 years later, made that CG intro into a workable plot, but still, if a = b, and b = c, then something-something-math.

~~~

Okay. it is now the late afternoon, so I’m going to clean up what I have and post this. I hope everyone is doing well, and if you liked this post, I’ll be posting again next Sunday . . . or Monday, depending on how insane next week is. I’m potentially landing a freelancing contract, so I will either be bummed but relaxed next week, or happy but wild-eyed and hyperventilating from the effort of making a design project perfect.

Either way, stay safe, enjoy the rest of your day, and eat your oatmeal.

. . .

I started eating oatmeal again recently and found that my old man taste buds think it’s delicious, so I’m on that kick now . . . Anyway, bye!

I’m Living for My Writing Group Right Now

I’ve always been wary of writing groups.

But not because of other people; it’s a me thing.

I am hyper-aware that I’m not the most amazing writer in the world, so I am a very intense self-editor (and have been for a while). It’s a habit I’ve mentioned on here before–my tendency to edit my work directly into the ground. To take it from ‘bonsai’ to ‘twig’ to (somehow) ‘Chia Pet.’ And I’m aware that’s not the perfect metaphor (my editing always yields net positives, but sometimes those positives are additions with new grammatical errors) but it absolutely nails the vibe.

Anyway, that need to edit comes in when I read other people’s work, and that’s why I try to stay away from collaborations these days. I have upset people with edits that were too intense. Also, a few times, someone has said, “Read this and give me thoughts,” and I’ve heard, “Read this and correct my grammar!”

Not . . . the best look.

So if you asked me in 2019 if I’d ever join a writing group, I would’ve said, “No. For their sake.”

But then, of course 2020 happened.

By September 2020, I was wildly strung out. Already 6 months deep in the lockdown hole, freshly unemployed, routinely losing sleep to my then-roommate’s obnoxiously loud kids while the election loomed in the distance, I was perpetually tired. Of just fucking everything.

So trust me when I say that the moment a longtime friend of mine invited me to join a writing group with him and his buddy from high school, I was like, “YESWHEN”.

Was a part of me still worried about being a needlessly intense critic of my friends’ work?

Yes.

Did I learn to curb that reflex out of pure, immediate necessity?

Abso-fucking-lutely.

And . . . I almost feel like I have to thank 2020, because if I hadn’t been backed into a corner, forced to accept an invitation I might not have . . . I would have missed one of the best experiences in the entirety of my time as a writer.

A Writing Group with Close Friends
Is So Positive It Feels Wrong

Like, you know when you try a new fat free ice cream and it tastes better than real ice cream, so you check the ingredients and it’s like, “Molasses, Soy Lecithin, and Kitten Souls,” and you’re like, “Ah. Right. Of course”?

My writing group feels like that, only without the Kitten Souls part. It is so good it just has to be wrong somehow. But 4 months deep, it still . . . isn’t?

I meet with my friends once a week over Zoom so we can discuss progress on our work, and–most importantly for me–take criticism. Each week, one of us gets in the hot seat and sends work for review, while the others make progress on their own work for their next session.

And, somehow, despite everything being set up for this to go poorly, it just hasn’t.

My friend, his buddy, and I are just naturally careful about our criticisms while also (thankfully) being totally candid with them.

In a recent session, one of them suggested that I significantly change the intro for Memory because it was a little cliché. And, mind you, this is an intro that is relatively new; I’d hammered it out in the middle of 2020 when I started the outline for my rewrite, so hearing that it needed another change threw me a little bit.

But the approach to that suggestion wasn’t invasive or hostile in any way; this was a point made by a friend of mine who wanted to challenge me to write a better prologue. So, instead of clamming up, I sat down and reflected. Not just on the fact that I usually struggle with intros, but on the merits of the suggested change. If it had been suggested to me a few years prior, I might have waved it aside and tried to rewrite the prologue in some other way.

But, in 2020, I took an afternoon to review themes, plotlines, and character beats and realized . . . Yeah. That additional tweak to the prologue would just . . . work. Really well.

And, just like when I found Brandon Sanderson’s “Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy Classes” on YouTube, the realization that I could just have help really took me by surprise. A healthy writing group is something I didn’t realize I needed, but also something I stubbornly thought was impossible. Growing up in America makes me keep blinking like, “Wait. I’m supposed to pay for this somewhere, right?” Like one of my friends is going to copy and paste an invoice for $700 to the Zoom chat. Seriously, this is supposed to be, like, $80 an hour, or I’m supposed to go to a convention or win a contest to get this kind of constructive criticism.

But, no. I can just have this–all of us can.

My writing group is just real. None of us pull punches; from the very first session, they’ve been totally honest about the parts of my WIP they didn’t like, which is its own miracle. But on top of that, none of us are taking ownership of each other’s work, expecting the others to implement whatever changes we suggest. None of us think we’re better than the others. And none of us reject every single criticism we get, refusing to entertain change and growth.

It is . . . so healthy.

And extremely exciting. I drastically improved Memory over the Summer, and now I have two friends taking a close look at my outline and helping me improve it even more, and just holy shit.

Having a Writing Group with Your Close Writer Friends
Is the Best Thing Ever and Every Writer Should Do It

I can’t recommend joining a random writer’s group, because it is still impossible for me to believe that experience wouldn’t be problematic.

But if you have close friends who are writers working in the same genre . . .

DO IT!

As long as all of you understand how to be chill about it–how not to tear down each other’s work or demand that they start writing in your style. Read their works-in-progress, make suggestions that improve them, express your feelings about them in a way that isn’t needlessly harsh. Strike that balance of being open to changing your stories, but secure in the knowledge that if you don’t think a suggestion yields improvements, you don’t have to implement it.

And, okay, I kind of went on a rant there, but I didn’t write all of this just to gush. What I’m trying to say is writing sucks. It’s extremely rough and, in my experience, there are a ton of people waiting to take advantage of you. We are professionals who spend years working on singular pieces of art that we send to publishers and contests, hoping to get paid for a fraction of the time we put in. I know that you know, but just in case you haven’t thought about it in a while, writing is an insane, extremely unforgiving profession.

We deserve every bit of help we can get.

~~~

Thank you for passing by. Can you believe it’s only the second week of 2021? As an American, I . . . am . . . already reeling this year.

But whatever. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are. If you enjoyed this post, please drop me a like or consider following The House of Error via the button on the left side of the screen (on PC) or the top right (on mobile).

Either way, take care, and if you come within petting range of an adorable, friendly cat or dog this week, please give them a pat for me.

Writer’s Workshop – A House on Gravel (& Some Much-Needed Venting)

The house looked like it was falling apart. A squat, thin rectangle of wood slowly dipping toward the gravel, but never quite making it. Not because it refused to go down, but because giving in would be too much work for it. “Ugh. I’m just gonna stay just like this,” it might sigh, and I, slow blinking as I looked at it, would nod and say, “I get it.”

“It looks terrible on the outside, but inside it’s really nice,” my friend said. He wasn’t wrong; the room he wanted to rent to me was particularly nice–larger than any of the rooms in my current apartment, especially after I came out of my room on December 21st to find the superintendent splitting the living room into two more bedrooms. Apparently, my old roommates, having moved on to a house, went full-on “money-hungry assholes”; they’re cramming as many people as possible into this tiny apartment. Because of course.

Which is why I was in Connecticut in the first place. I was really, really hoping to make a quick move to avoid whatever eight additional people my old roommates were going to wedge into their old apartment.

But then, there was the house perpetually tipping. And their bathroom with literal shit caked on the toilet. And the town itself, where we grabbed dinner and I was warned to quiet down because I was making fun of flat earthers and apparently there was a 90% chance one of the old white people watching me at that restaurant was a flat earther.

I was so hopeful that it would work out. And if I was a different person, it definitely would’ve.

But, as I am now, I couldn’t help looking at that tired house and nodding.

“Better to just stay like this.”

#

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Writer’s Workshop,” and this is one I needed to do.

Because I really needed to vent.

After my last post, shit fell apart pretty quickly. The super was here almost the entire time, using power tools and leaving piles of empty Coors Light cans fucking everywhere.

I’ve still stayed productive, and it’s probably for the best that I didn’t have a totally chill, calm holiday because I would’ve become complacent. As is, I’m actively going out, trying to find somewhere else to live while hoping that, in the meantime, my new roommates won’t be loud monsters.

So far so good–I met one of those roommates, who came in while I was eating dinner last night. An old black man who was wearing a mask and–thankfully–was not down to shake hands or stop and chat. The nightmare for me is the party dude who comes cartwheeling in without a mask and asks what I’m cooking, so an old man saying hi and going to his room to tend to his own business is exactly the kind of roommate I want.

Fingers crossed for the rest of them.

And fingers crossed about any of the jobs I’ve been applying to. This week, I delve into the bizarre realm of freelance work, temporarily sidelined by packing up when I hoped I was moving to Connecticut. With any luck, I’ll have a good enough first week to feel secure leaning into it.

Because the dream is not having to strap in. I don’t want to be here a few more months.

But if the first few weeks of the Year of Endings are any indication, this is going to be a non-stop struggle.

Because of course.

~~~

Thanks for passing by. I’m definitely going back to the usual content next week, but I just got back from CT yesterday and needed to vent.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to gush about my writing group next week, because I’ve wanted to talk about them for a while–how two close friends have kept me going for months now and how they’re helping me make Memory awesome–so expect that next Sunday.

Until then, thank you for passing by, and I hope you have a Happy National Spaghetti Day! And no, I’m not making that up. The 4th is also National Trivia Day, but not on this fucking blog. Get yer spaghet, erbody!

An Actual Christmas Miracle

I do not know where to start explaining how weird the last two weeks have been.

I guess I’ll start chronologically. Two weeks ago, I talked about how I was going to get into graphic design. That, like most things, is going to take significantly longer than I thought; I’m still building a portfolio and setting up accounts on different sites, but those efforts got hit pretty quickly by real life bullshit.

I usually don’t give details on this kind of stuff, but I had a really bad panic attack in public last week. And—this is not a joke—it was actually because of my roommate’s daughter being on her cell phone. And let me just explain what that even means.

I’ve never talked about it on here, but a major deterrent to my creative efforts in the past few months has been my roommate’s daughter talking on her phone. And, because that probably sounds like an exaggeration, just imagine the following:

  1. Imagine the most annoying person you’ve ever heard on a phone. Unreasonably loud, even when speaking. Maybe yelling their friends’ names and actually cackling when they laugh. If you’re imagining a comedian doing an intentionally over-the-top impersonation of someone drunkenly shout-laughing, I promise that you’re in the ball park.
  2. Imagine that this person . . . is your roommate’s/landlord’s daughter.
  3. Imagine that, a few months into the pandemic, she decides that, in the apartment you share with her and her family, the best place for her to take her online courses is on the couch that is seven feet across from your bedroom door.
  4. Imagine that your roommate’s/landlord’s daughter just tells her teacher something’s wrong with her camera, mutes herself on Zoom, and then calls her friends, laughing over her school lessons. Maybe she puts on music, but whatever she does, she’s always yelling. Sometimes, she’s yelling for her mom to get her food, even though the kitchen is 10 feet away from her couch. Sometimes, she’s yelling for her brother, who’s at the far end of the apartment, to come answer the front door, which is right next to her couch. Usually though, she’s yelling because her friends just said something so funny it requires another insane cackle, just like the one from two minutes ago.
  5. And, finally (and this is the most important part), imagine that this happens Monday through Friday, from (on average) 9am to 5pm.

TL;DR: Imagine having to listen to the most annoying person you’ve ever heard on the phone for (again, on average) eight fucking hours, five days a week.

For months, I just tried to shrug it off. But when someone is screaming so loudly that I could hear her through (I shit you not) earplugs and headphones, with music/videos at max volume through those headphones, it’s just torture. Like, no matter how cool you think you’d be with it, it’s actually a torture technique they used at Guantanamo.

I asked this girl, very early on, to please keep her volume down.

The next week, she was back on that couch.

I was worried about talking to her mom because, with COVID, I was already expecting the dreaded, “You have to move out.” Not because I loved being in this apartment, but because I’d lost my job and the only place I could go was back with my mom, who has always had issues with her lungs. So, rather than complaining to my landlord (who was always present and knew it was happening anyway), I just grinned, bared it, and developed a really terrible schedule (where I tried to stay up as late as possible to work while everyone was asleep, and then sleep in as close to 5pm as I could [which never worked because she would usually wake me up bright and early at 9am anyway]).

All of this came to a head last week, when I had that panic attack.

Now, I’m not a person who has panic attacks. I struggle with depression, so I’m used to lying in bed, staring at a window, doing nothing and feeling hopeless. Panic attacks are a very, very different experience.

On that day (and I don’t even remember which day—maybe Wednesday), I was at a supermarket, looking at the wall of budget cereal brands they have here in the Bronx. I’d already been woken up early (after staying up until 4am the previous night working on a logo), so I was exhausted.

And I just looked at that wall of cereal, considered which one to buy, thought, “I’ve had them all and I don’t like any of them, but I have to pick one,” and my brain just shot me forward in time, to when I’d be sitting at my desk, in my room, eating cereal I hated while listening to that girl on her phone . . .

. . . and I just started crying.

Not bawling or sobbing. Not even obvious. The emotion hit me, I took a breath, thought, “Fuck, am I actually about to cry?” and then started hyperventilating while walking around that supermarket, looking for the stuff I was supposed to buy.

Just, overall, real bad time.

I got upstairs, actually cried in my room (yes, while the girl was yelling to her friends in the background), and then, finally acknowledging that I just could not listen to more cackling, I knocked on her mom’s door.

And this is where the miracle part starts, but not the entirety of said miracle.

Turns out her mom also totally hated her being on the phone all the time.

Thank . . . God.

She and her husband were going to talk to her daughter when he got home, and finally . . . my long-standing, surprisingly effective, literal torture was over.

I’m absolutely sure that I created a super villain (because the daughter went into her room and didn’t make noise or come out for the rest of the night, but it is impossible for me to care.

Because when I got back to my room, dead silence. Total and complete.

I went to sleep, woke up, wrote, and worked more on that logo. Basically, I lived. And it was amazing.

The next few days, I was just in recovery mode. Didn’t try to be especially productive, but I did finish a logo for the portfolio and got a good amount of writing done.

Cut to this week . . . which started with what I can only call a family meeting.

My landlord/roommate was there. Her husband, son, and daughter were as well.

I was totally expecting the worst.

And they told me . . . they were moving.

And this part is the miracle part.

Because I have not been kicked out; for whatever reason, they aren’t breaking their lease.

They’re just letting me live here–by myself–for the same amount of rent I’ve been paying. They are going to find a roommate for me . . .

. . . but right now, I live in this apartment by myself.

And just . . . I’ve never mentioned it on this site, but I’ve never lived anywhere by myself, and that’s been a dream of mine for years. My major resolution for this upcoming year was “Get that apartment.”

So this, for me, is a Christmas miracle. Having an apartment all to myself for Christmas is just . . . it’s probably silly, but I can’t express how much it means to me. The freedom alone—the sense that I can go to sleep, shower, wake up, cook, write whenever I want is almost too much.

It is such a crazy blessing.

And a ridiculous boon to everything in life.

Like, if anyone ever tells you that it isn’t any easier to finish working on a project in a quiet apartment, that is an absolute lie. I’ve been blissfully cooking actual food and taking longer than necessary “freedom” visits to the bathroom, but I’ve also legit been pissed imagining how much further along I could’ve been in my writing career if I’d always had a quiet place to work.

But, whatever—I don’t want to get hung up on that.

The point is, I am currently living in a miracle (especially in New York). It is wildly temporary (I’m assuming I have a week before shit goes to hell), but I am just taking it. This Christmas is just mine.

And I’m not just going to use it to make coquito and take longer-than-necessary showers.

I’m going to fucking finish my outline for Memory, start writing that novel, apply for jobs, open my freelance design profile, and get as much done as I possibly can.

I’m going to use it to live the life I want if only for a week or two.

But, most importantly—and this is going to come out of nowhere, but—I’m going to use it to start the year I’ve been dreaming of since forever.

I’ve fantasized about it for a while, and in those fantasies, it’s been the year when I finish Memory, stop living with roommates, stop worrying about work. The year when I stop feeling stuck.

I’ve always thought of it as “The Year of Endings.”

And it begins right now.

~~~

I know this one is a little weird, but I’m actually happy for the first time in a long time, so forgive me.

I am taking next week off because I want to get as much done as I possibly can in this coming week. But I’ll definitely be back in January to kick off my Year of Endings.

I hope all of you have an awesome holiday. Stay safe, text someone you love and tell them you love them, and most importantly, if you didn’t know, Tofurky sausages taste, like, 500% better when you can actually fucking cook them. Fire is awesome, shoutout to my boy Prometheus, I love y’all, and happy holidays!

Had a Long Week / Taking a Break

Hey, everyone.

This’ll be an extremely short one. I just wanted to come on here and say I’m taking a mental health day today. This week wound up being a total mess. Not a mess related to the graphic design aspirations, although that isn’t exactly going smoothly.

I will absolutely be back next week with an actual post and news, but today, I just need to relax and not do anything.

And, in that spirit, I am off to just melt into my bed for a while before I have to reconstitute tomorrow morning.

I hope all of you are doing well. Take care, stay safe, and remember: the vaccine is real and it’s finally coming. At some point soon, we’ll be able to go outside, sit on park benches, take off our masks without worrying, and eat our Gordita Crunchwraps in peace.

Full Disclosure: I’m Trying to Get Into Font Design, but It’s Making Freelance Graphic Design Look Easy, So I’m Doing That Too

A few weeks back, I dropped a hint that I was working on making digital products as a way to earn money while looking for a new job during the pandemic.

But also, in classic-me fashion, when I talked about all of this, I added that I’d be releasing that product “this weekend.”

I’ve since discovered that font design is incredibly rough, and every attempt I’ve made at finishing a font has somehow led to more problems.

Because, look, here’s the thing: I’m a perfectionist. It is incredibly hard for me to release something before I feel like it’s perfect (a reflex that I’m 100% aware has slowed down my writing progress, and thus a reflex I’m trying to tamp down). Even when it comes to writing posts on this site, I usually write them the day before I release them, so I can go over them multiple times to “line edit.” But that always turns into me making content edits for clarity and flow until I hit a deadline and have to click “Publish” (usually with more errors that I then have to fix in post).

What I’m getting at: I’m definitely a perfectionist to a massive fault.

And font design wound up being a pit for me to drown in.

The actual design work of font making? Absolutely no problem. That’s the annoying part of this; I wound up working out a system by which I could turn out a new font, with sketching and glyph design on my computer, in 2-3 days. I have graphic design experience, so, even learning Inkscape so I could put together glyph sets for free = no problem. Not even the idea part was difficult for me:

My first font, Astronav, was designed to be the staple font of a fictional space colony; the stencil over the doors on their starships, leading to “FTL Control,” “Specimen Containment,” “Astronav,” etc.

The programing side of font making, however? Total nightmare. I tried the three programs I could afford (free, free, and $10). The two free ones would not accept the glyphs I made in Inkscape for some reason, and although the third, Birdfont, did accept the glyphs (to the extent that I have Astronav and Astronav Light just sitting there, finished and ready to go), it did not export them correctly. Additional issues, like the way the font displays em dashes and bullets, just make the whole experience an absolute nightmare (because I can’t just try solutions, find one that seems to work, and ship it–I’m the kind of person who needs to understand the problem and know that a solution will work for everyone, always). However, font design is still growing in popularity, so the resources available to spell out the problem with my version of Birdfont on my version of Windows just isn’t there. I’m sure there are solutions; I’m going to keep looking for them, and this definitely isn’t to say Birdfont is a bad program–I love it.

This is just to say, if you’ve been here for a while and you remember me saying I was working on a thing that never happened, this is why.

But look, okay, I’m not here to just vent (although it’s nice).

I’m actually here to do something a bit weird.

Wordmark Practice

Like I said, the designing part was fine. But it was also . . . good practice.

Learning Inkscape and designing fonts made designing wordmark titles for my friends’ works in progress an absolute breeze.

So, that’s what I’m shifting my efforts to for the immediate future: wordmark logos. I timed myself on one this weekend, and it’s taken a cumulative 5 hours to get it close to complete.

But I need more practice.

So, I am asking for your help.

Not monetary help; I still feel weird asking for donations, so I’m not doing that.

However, if you have a WIP that you’d like a wordmark logo for, email me. No charge, one logo per person, with the following understandings:

  1. If you’re not familiar, a wordmark logo is a logo made of text, so basically any title. I do custom glyphs (letters), meaning you won’t have to worry about having font licenses for the title, because I won’t be using a pre-existing font. However, while I can do very light additional graphics, something like the title for Grounded, with the silhouette of a character in the “N,” is just honestly outside of my current skill set.
  2. I would provide you with both a PNG and SVG of the finished logo that you can do absolutely whatever you want with. I’m not expecting payment or for you to use it and shout me out (although if you get published and convince the publisher to use that wordmark, please shout me out, because that would be awesome). But if you’re asking yourself, “Well, what does he want in return?” the answer is . . .
  3. Practice and an item for my portfolio. To be clear, I would use a watermarked version of the logo for my portfolio, which I would post on this site, art display sites like Behance, and freelancing sites like Upwork, so I can start getting freelance graphic design work.
  4. I have no idea how many replies I’ll get, because I have never, ever done a giveaway before (which this technically is I guess?), but I will probably cut off the replies at five, because I don’t think I’ll be able to manage more than five in the next week. But also, once again, only one logo per person for the same reason.

If you’re down, send me an email at l.santiago.author@gmail.com. In your email, please include:

  1. The title of your WIP.
  2. The tone you’re going for with that WIP, overall.
  3. And–only if you feel comfortable sharing it–a brief summary of an important moment in the story (I often take inspiration from story elements when I design their titles).

This is kind of crazy for me because this site has been around for 12 years and I’ve never done something like this, but hey, it’s also exciting. And after 9 months of being stuck in the same room, I’ll take “exciting” any way I can get it.

~~~

Thanks for passing by for what is admittedly a very weird post on this site. If you enjoyed and/or want to find out how this facet of my unemployment goes, please feel free to give me a follow.

But, either way, take care, and have a happy Put On Your Own Shoes Day!

It’s Time to Keep Fighting

I . . .

I don’t even know where to start.

Yesterday, by 10PM, I had a massive headache from crying happy tears.

I didn’t think I’d cry at all at first.

But then . . .

And I just want to clarify that I wasn’t being dramatic there. The sensation that hit when the election was called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris wasn’t relief that they won.

It was relief that there really would be a cure for Coronavirus that we’d have access to for free. 2020 has been bad for everyone, but the heart of my personal canvas of nightmares was, “The cure will be found in another country and Trump will refuse to import it because Regeneron (or whatever big pharma company he was shilling for) had a cure ‘coming soon,’ and we needed to wait for it because ‘it will be so much better!’ (so Regeneron could profiteer off the pandemic).”

And just typing that makes me want to jump to the alternate reality where Trump won so I could join their rebellion.

That was an absolute nightmare scenario for me. The idea that the cure would be available, but a rich person would demand I pay $300 per dose after losing my job because of a pandemic they didn’t bother to control.

But now, I don’t have to worry about that.

I get to just live.

Sure, there are still the other problems on that nightmare canvas.

But what matters is that I feel like I can honestly start working toward fixing those problems. I won’t get close to finishing a novel just to find out that, on his third term, Trump has started rounding up all Hispanic people in ICE camps.

Okay. I don’t want to just dip into the negative again: the point is, the world really sucked two days ago, and I’m glad it’s not as huge a feast for vultures anymore.

But if there’s one thing I want to say here to everyone who reads this, it’s the scope of that title.

It’s Time to Keep Fighting

It would be so easy to check out. A part of me just wants to let the relief wash me away so I never have to think about numbers, maps, or the colors red and blue ever again.

But that is not the world we live in. It never has been. If we’ve learned anything from the past four years, let it be that.

This is a time to be diligent. To remember not only that Republicans adopted a fascist as their leader, but those same Republicans, who gleefully embraced hatred for money, are still out there.

I see people talking about how we need to be kind to Trump supporters.

No.

No, we don’t.

It’s time for them to stop expecting the world to coddle them. Being nice and pampering them is the entire reason they feel comfortable screaming about not wearing masks. They get whatever they want–are born with so much privilege–that they think wearing a fucking mask is oppression. They need to lean to accept change and listen before screaming about what they want.

I’m not saying we need to go out and fight them. I know that many of us will have to try talking them down from the insane beliefs they’ve adopted (and my heart goes out to everyone who has Trumpers in their life–that weird inverse of “the talk” with your parents isn’t going to be fun).

But beyond that, they do not deserve our support or even our attention.

Our attention, from here on out, always has to be on fighting for our rights. We have to stay engaged with politics, encourage others to vote, help out however we can.

Right now, that means that we have to pay attention to the run-offs in Georgia. It sucks–I just want to never pay attention to another election ever again, but we cannot ignore this.

Click here to donate directly to Democrat Reverend Warnock’s campaign.

Click here to donate directly to Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign.

Click here for a Fast Company article listing other ways you can help with the run-offs.

And if you live in Georgia, please consider going full grassroots with friends and family members who aren’t registered, and get them to vote.

~~~

I understand that this post is super weird for this site–I never get political on here.

However, I really needed to say all of this.

Because people have been bitching for years that, “Your vote don’t matter!” and, “They gonna elect who they gonna elect!” but, America, we just proved them wrong.

Take care, stay safe, and, remember that it’s okay to believe.

The Last Weekend of America

I told a friend that I’m going to a liquor store tomorrow.

My exact words were, “it’s the season finale of 2020 on Tuesday, and we’re going to find out if this year was written by George R. R. Martin.” And, yeah, that sums up what I’m feeling right now.

I don’t think I can be 100% present that day. And, mind you, I am the most social drinker on the planet; before my birthday earlier in the month, for which I got a tiny bottle of plum wine, the last time I drank was in March, back when the theme was, “Quarantine! This is real! Ha ha! Why is any of this happening!? Haha HA HA!” Back when the vibe was one of my managers coming into the office and telling me to stop using the word “pandemic” in our customer service emails about the pandemic, and me thinking, Are you fucking kidding me? Really???

I don’t want to go into what I think is going to happen this week, because I don’t want the entertainment I seek out later to reiterate the terrible thoughts I’m having.

But I do want to say how weird it is that we’re living this.

As Fantasy writers, we often set stories around wars. There’s usually some Great War or Old War that shaped the worlds of our protagonists. In fact, one of my works in progress is set in a city directly before a war starts.

And now, I feel like I’m living in that setting, and it’s strange. I feel like something terrible is going to happen in a few days, and it’s not fiction. The most peaceful end result on the 3rd is the one that will ruin my life and countless others.

The end result where America dies.

And, weirdly, even though I’ve been calling this the “post-American” age since November 2016, I still had hope the world would turn around at some point.

And maybe it still will.

But I’ve read a lot of George R. R. Martin, and I’ve lived through all of 2020, so I’m just conditioned to expect the worst.

In terms of writing, all I can suggest is that, if you’re in America today, look around. Sit by a window for a bit and feel the quiet. Experience the setting. Remember it, because you will write it sometime in the future.

And if you’re not a writer, maybe sit by the window anyway and breathe in. Take in the crisp air that might be full of hope just this one last time.

~~~

Apologies for not having more, but I just needed to relax in this home stretch.

This isn’t what I intended to write about this week. And, actually, I was right about to say that I would write about that intended topic next week.

But I have no idea what the world is going to look like next week. So, ya know, no promises.

Thank you for stopping by. And if you haven’t yet, please vote.