why taxes make me angry

Dealing with taxes always makes me angry.

Not so much because I am a dragon who may be about to part with money. I am fine with that. I like paying for my part of public goods. No, what makes me angry is that it’s super-complicated, and that all the robots that will help me deal with this complexity are maintained by companies that spend part of their profits on lobbying to keep the tax code as complicated as possible, so that they can continue to have a source of income.

It also does not help that there are multiple companies competing in this arena. Some with names that trigger my scam detector. All linked to from the IRS’ pages. Oh great, I get to make an extra choice on top of all the other decisions I am about to make – which tax software purveyor do I trust? Oh, to be able to just go to the official IRS site, authorize it to connect to various accounts, and be pretty much done with the process right then and there.

But no. We need to have “choice”. Just like we need to have “choice” in our health insurance options. Fuck lobbyists, and fuck every business whose sole raison d’etre is to get in the middle of an important part of the basic functions of living in a large society and find a way to siphon off as much money as possible.

And then I’m angry about politics and Citizens United and psychopaths who justify being acting in the interests of hateful corporations by wanking off to Ayn Rand and I just wanna flip a table and scream and rage and my taxes still haven’t been dealt with.

fills out form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, and puts it in the mail

…I’ll deal with this later. Like, as much later as I possibly can.

The Rose Mob

 

So yesterday I did something I’d been needing to do for a long, long time: I finalized the designs for Lexy’s droogs in Five Glasses of Absinthe. I can now start drawing panels they appear in.

This is, in fact, a drawing from the comic; they were drawn small, and then blurred, but I liked these drawings too much to leave them at that. So I tweaked them a tiny bit, scaled them up, and did some quick text.

Their names are (currently, L-R) Pulchello, Mouse, and Alea. Pulchello’s gender is “bishi”. If you were wondering. We briefly imagined a spin-off in which they, along with their leader Lexy, roam around the Skylands in a van, solving mysteries. Sort of a queer, diverse reboot of Scooby Doo for the Millenials. But I’m pretty sure the guy animating Mystery Skulls videos is a lot further along the road of that show pitch.

I kinda want this on a t-shirt.

cohabitation

Last night, I was snacking on a handful of trail mix in the kitchen. One piece missed my mouth and ended up on the floor. Call it slovenliness, call it winter depression, whatever you like; I left it there.

Later on when I came into the kitchen to start some dinner, there was a crowd of ants around it. I was tired, and still pretty low on energy in general, so I just sighed and did what I was in there to do without stepping on them or cleaning it up. I would’ve had to figure out how to get rid of them, preferably with a minimum amount of killing ants or getting bitten, and it just felt like work. I’d deal with it in the morning, I figured.

When I got up this morning, the bit of trail mix was gone, and so were the ants. Hooray for peaceful resolution of my conflicts.

I should still probably finally take out the trash that’s been accumulating for a few weeks, though.

grief: an evolving process

Over breakfast, I read the first chapter of a book about what it’s like to be a person who works on dictionaries. “This is interesting,” I thought to myself, and bought the whole book. And then I had the sad thought that if she was still alive, this was totally a book I’d have recommended to my mother – I grew up in a house full of books, with one ever-growing section dedicated to books about the odd corners of the English language.

I shrugged, and sent her email anyway. It felt like the right thing to do, even as I was caught by a brief wave of utter misery and loss. I haven’t felt that for a while but it’s still there.

She showed up in my dreams last night, too. She was driving. We were on a highway through the middle of nothingness, going up and down its hills and overpasses, and navigating snow and slush with an aplomb I find rather absurd in a woman who lived almost her whole life in New Orleans. There wasn’t much conversation that I remember. Just the drive.

How To Write Gooder

A while back someone on Tumblr asked me how to get better at writing. This is what I replied.

It’s been sitting in a text editor window ever since. I decided to post it here before closing it and consigning it to the aether forever.

—-

Read.

Read great stuff. Read garbage. Read stuff everyone says is garbage even though they sell a ton. Read stuff everyone says is great that you think is garbage. Read stuff everyone says is garbage that you think is great. Read your favorite genre. Read other genres. Read that tedious shit they put in the New Yorker where nothing ever happens except for some white people not quite getting a divorce. Read stuff you think is great now that you’ll think is garbage in ten or twenty years.

And don’t just read it. Think about it. Ask yourself why the stuff you think is great is great, why the garbage is garbage, what appeals in the terrible best-sellers, what appeals in the great best-sellers. Develop a sense of what makes writing, plotting, characterization, and storytelling good or bad. Then apply that sense to your own writing. If a piece doesn’t pass that test then fix it until it does, if you think there’s something worth salvaging in it. If you don’t know how to fix it then ask how one or another of your favorite authors would fix it.

Read that book you loved ten years ago and read every few years and still love. But don’t just read it. Get a paper copy of it and start *dissecting* it – take notes in the margins. This bit supports this major theme of the story. That bit is an awesome grammar trick you didn’t notice until the third time you read it. This bit is just fucking amazing writing. This bit touched something important in your budding pre-teen sexuality. This bit contradicts that other bit (intentionally?). Here’s a major turning point in the story; here’s a major turning point in this particular character’s story. Flense the story’s skin and muscle off its bones, think about how one supports the other and how badly it would work without some part.

(Doing that is why the last third of Rita is shaped the way it is – I picked up *Use Of Weapons* to re-read as a way of saying goodbye to Iain when he died far too early; I started asking myself how and why he twisted the timeline into knots in that story, and what he had to do to make it work, then applied that to my own story.)

There’s lots of books on How To Structure A Story. Some are shit. Some are great. Read some of them. Personally my current favorite is the one Film Crit Hulk wrote a while back. Be warned: if you’re reading screenwriting manuals, do not try to fit your seven-act story into the Procrustean bed of a three-act screenplay. Let your story be the shape it needs to be. (But keep in mind Vonnegut’s dictum to respect the reader by starting the story as close to the end as possible; you have to *earn* the reader’s attention if you want to tell the six hundred years of Madeupistan history leading up to the point you want to make.)

Do not get lost in “worldbuilding” and “backstory”. Do not skip it, either. Stories and characters grow out of them. But it doesn’t all need to be on the page. I’ve seen the metaphor of an iceberg: maybe 10% of the shit you come up with for a novel ends up on the page. The rest? Save it for the RPG worldbook.

Getting lost in TVTropes is part of your job. It’s a great resource of common building blocks of stories. But you can’t just mindlessly put tropes together; think about which ones work, which ones you should bend, which ones you should avoid entirely, in service to the *theme* of your story and the *characters*.

Having a theme helps a lot too. Whenever you’re stuck for the next thing to aim the narrative at, you can ask how you can bring the theme(s) back to the fore.

The hardest part: figuring out how people act. I mean fuck I’m an involuted freak who spent twenty years of her life hiding from any and all social interaction and learning how to draw and program. The best background is nothing without characters, full of dreams and goals and successes and failures and foibles. Give them things they want, put obstacles in their way, and then story occurs.

Some people will divide writers into “planners” and “pantsers”: one makes elaborate plans of how the whole plot will unfold before they write a single paragraph, the other just starts writing shit and just goes where instinct takes them. Personally I tend to go back and forth; it’s worth noting that both Stephen King and George R R Martin describe themselves as firmly in the “pantsers” camp, and they’ve sold a fuckton more books than I’m ever likely to. Pantsers tend to be about dropping a bunch of characters into a situation, and seeing how they work their way out; this can involve going down a lot of dead alleys as the characters try things that don’t work out.

Personally, Rita started very pants-y: here’s this robot lady infiltrating a building, why? An assasination, apparently. She’s talking to someone, who? Carol. What’s their relationship? I had some vague ideas for visual tricks I wanted to pull with the multiple-story trick but no real clue of the story; it didn’t really start to come together until a random obstacle I dropped in to stop a Relationship Conversation from going on forever opened his mouth and said he was Rita’s psycho ex, and shattered her reality for her. Then I knew a lot more of how it was going to end; once I knew that, I could say “okay, I’m here, and I want to get here – what’s a midway point?” Then repeat: what’s about midway from the latest page to that midway point? To there? Eventually I get down to having a handful of sentences describing what needs to happen in the current chapter, then to what needs to happen in the next page or two, and then I just start plopping words and doodles onto the page in Illustrator. Absinthe’s been similar, albiet much slower. Parallax is super-planned – we’ve turned to TVTropes, we’ve got a list of Common Star Trek Episode Types we made, we’ve spent a whole year kicking back and forth a framework for a multi-season TV show.

It’s okay for first drafts to be terrible. Now you have something to fix, and that’s a lot easier than having the story burst forth fully-formed like Athena from Zeus’ brow.

If you find someone who you collaborate well with, hold onto that for dear life. I would not be half the writer I am without Nick there to help me. We broke up during Absinthe, then got back together during Rita, and now we’re collaborating both on Parallax and Absinthe. Having another pair of brain hemispheres to toss ideas back and forth is wonderful; they’ll bring in a similar-but-different set of references, loves, inspiration, and knowledge.

But mostly: read a lot; turn off your internal censors and write some absolutely terrible stuff. Then either fix it, or write some more terrible stuff until you have something worth fixing.

Also: go ask someone who knows more about writing than me, 99% of my longform writing output is volleying crazy smut fantasy paragraphs back and forth over a furry muck until someone came, fell asleep, or had to go to work the next morning. honestly I’m not sure they’ll have that much more to say, I mean King’s “On Writing” is basically him saying “read a ton, good and bad, and write a lot while applying the critical eye learnt from your wide reading to your own stuff” plus an assortment of anecdotes from his much longer writing career, just do it again and again until people are willing to pay you for it or you give up.

Pillow Pile again.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a thought in my head: it's time to stop sleeping in the pillow pile.

Last night I found myself missing it terribly. Stretching out on a flat surface feels weird now. There's nothing against my back. It's colder in my bedroom than on the living room. And a lot less generally cozy – I've put a little more effort into decorating the living room over time and it shows.

I guess I can remedy some of this. Pillows to snuggle against when there's not a lover in my bed. But it feels like such an uphill battle when I could just go back to the living room most nights.

The bed's advantages: it's more suited to having another person sleep next to me, the padding doesn't get pushed out of the center and result in hips resting uncomfortably on the floor (I mean I can turn the Comfy Sack over and refluff it to fix this every few days but I'm lazy), and I feel more likely to actually get up and leave the room and maybe exercise or something, because there's not the constant temptation of “hey the video games are RIGHT THERE” when I wake up.

But damn do I miss the Dragon Hibernaculum right now.

Goals 2017

A post on Hacker News about “aligning your daily to-dos with your long term goals” made me decide to sit down and ask myself what my long term goals are right now. This is what I came up with.

I need to think about Drowning City more. There are some large questions about it being asked here. Absinthe and Parallax have pretty concrete things to do, but there’s something ambiguous I have to grope for in that story before I can push forwards on it. Or maybe I just need to stop putting it off and make myself draw panels in my chapter 1 roughs for a week to get some progress.

Enchant is the dance studio I’ve been going to for the past couple of years. I took a break this winter with the intent of finding Something Else to keep fit with and have just been slouching.

There should maybe be some political action goals but uggggghhh

I’ve got a trip coming up next month that may be partially on a friend’s couch or may not. I need to try planning for the latter in case the former falls through.

I guess the overall long term goal is “keep doing this art thing, get back to where it almost pays the bills like it did when you were cranking out Rita”.

it a me

From a photo taken the other night around ECCC.

Slight edit the next day: removed the ten pounds added by the camera, added the lipstick that had vanished by that late in the evening. Left my big-ass nose because hey I’m a fortysomething French/Italian mix, I got a nose.