Becoming Zen in a World in Upheaval

23 Feb

After two weeks of exaltation, heartbreak, struggle, pain and triumph, the Olympics come to a close today. Russia emerged victorious — though Canada got double gold in the only sport that seems to matter to them. Sport has been buried in metaphor.

In nearby Ukraine, the central square of Kiev rests in an uneasy peace as the dead are buried and the wounded are treated in nearby hospitals. Civil war still lurks as the country wavers between East and West.

Syria continues to boil; the G20 argues over restraint and recovery; the rich continue to blame the poor for their problems (WTF?).

Meanwhile, in more important developments, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) snaps and snarls over petitions submitted about things that apparently never happened and flame wars burn through the Interwebs over who makes more money: self-published authors or ones who go the traditional publishing route.

Really?

With respect to the former, I have no dog in the hunt (or any other clichéd relationship to the organization either) but I do know some members, most of whom seem inclined to agree with what Jim Kelly had to say about it on Facebook. I’m not sure how to link to that so I’ll take the liberty of copying it at the end of this blog.

As for the issue of money — the vast majority of people who get published, whatever the format, make very little money. Anyone who makes a lot is an outlier. I have looked at Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings and I did read the critiques of its contents. Having spent most of my career as a policy analyst, trying to figure out what can be concluded from incomplete data, I tend to agree that the methodology sucks and most of the conclusions can’t legitimately be made. Ultimately only one group of people can really say how much money writers are making and that’s the IRS (the CRA, in Canada) and even they probably would have difficulty sorting out exactly what the source of that income is: self-publishing, traditional publishing, teaching or other related work.

Anecdotally, it is almost certain that some people are making a lot of money from self-publishing (Howey himself, for example) and lots are making boatloads from traditional publishing (let’s pick James Patterson). Some do well from both streams (you do the research). Each and every one of them are outliers — part of the 1% or 10% who do well in the entertainment industry. Studies done by Statistics Canada (back when we still had a long form census) consistently showed that artists (including writers) had higher than average educational levels, worked more hours per week and had some of the lowest incomes in the country — even when you counted in all the really successful ones.

It’s a bit like arguing which is the best route to the major leagues in baseball — college or minor league ball. The fact is, whichever route you choose, the chances are, you won’t make it.

And if your only measure of success is how much money you make — you’re probably in for a miserable life no matter how it turns out. Though, if you do make a lot of money, your suffering may be ameliorated.

For the last fourteen months, I’ve been buried in the publishing business. I’ve worked hard (over-worked, according to my wife) and spent pretty much every waking hour strategizing how to do this job as best I could, how to make this business succeed. I will undoubtedly continue to pour my efforts (and money) into that task.

But…

In the process of planning for the future, of promoting my brand, of proselytizing for the value and potential of small presses, of working, working, working, I forgot one of my basic life rules.

Enjoy the day.

This past week, I’ve written every day. For thirty minutes, an hour, three. I’ve almost finished a story — my first new work in nearly a year. It feels good. The writing is a symbol of something bigger, is part of something bigger. I’m enjoying the day.

A friend of mine who is in his seventies and has faced a number of health problems over the last half decade, told me last summer that he had stopped thinking about the future, or, at least, the far future. Each Sunday as he fills his pill box with the week’s medication, he asks himself, what am I going to do this week that will make me happy? If he finds there is nothing on his list — he deletes things he doesn’t really want to do and adds things that will achieve his primary goal. As for the past, it is dead and gone — try not to dwell on the things that hurt; focus on the memories that give you pleasure.

I’ve decided that it isn’t a bad way to live your life.

Of course, there are always unpleasant tasks to be done (I need to clean the kitchen later today) and duties to be fulfilled (my year-end bookkeeping looms) and one needs to be responsible about all that.

But if there is no joy in the entire week — what is the point of living it? Life ticks on and, whether you are twenty or eighty, there are only so many weeks in front of you. You need to work — work in itself can be a joy — but you need also to be.

Peace out, man!

Jim Kelly’s comments:

“Maybe there has been too much written about the current SFWA wildfires. Every time you think it is sputtering out, a new conflagration starts to rage. I have kept silent in public in part because I have served on the committee looking into how the Bulletin might be improved which makes my opinion suspect in some quarters, and in part because I have writing to do. But even as the various sub-issues have been debated (to death), the real issue has come increasingly clear. A generational change is going on. And here is what I have to say about that: Although some members of my generation are resisting change, I do not stand with them. And there are lots of 50-60-70somethings who feel the same way. Others have pointed out the irony of writers who spent careers imagining the future complaining about the future we actually got. There are problems to address in our world in general and in our genre in particular, but there are many of my generation who believe that SFWA’s policy of inclusivity is not one of them. 

One of the best of our traditions is that established writers welcome new and aspiring writers to our genre. Amazing writers who I read as a teenager helped me find my place in science fiction when I started submitting. I honor what they did for me by doing for others when I can. Where is the profit for tomorrow’s science fiction and fantasy by excluding new writers or driving them off by endorsing hurtful speech in our official publications? 

I feel sad when I read on the internets of writers who plan to leave SFWA because of the current controversies. But then I read of many more writers who are announcing that they are planning to rejoin or join for the first time to show solidarity with those who seek to bring our organization into the Twenty-first Century. Maybe this latter group isn’t getting the attention that the former is getting, but to them I (and many, many of my friends of a Certain Age) say, “Welcome!” and “Welcome back!” 

We need you.”

News of the Week:

One less nook for e-books

Turning movies into books?

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