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Turning Down Work is Part of the Job

I turned down an offer of work today. On a cool project I’d love to do, too.

Now, this is unquestionably the right decision for me. I am behind on a lot of projects, and booked out for months and months on Starfinder opportunities and other things. I can’t, responsibly, take on anything else right now. When I had a thin wedge of availability, I filled it with high-priority items I think will pay a lot of career dividends, and even that was as much excitement as smart planning (though it did get my Business managers approval).

But my Freelancer Reflexes remain strong. The idea of someone offering to pay me to make games, and declining, rubs me the wrong way and often sets of waves of near-panic. I mean, if I turn down work, people will stop offering to me, right? And then I’ll have huge gaps in my production, and everyone will forget who I am, and I won’t be able to get any work, and I’ll go broke and starve.

Yes, it’s not rational. But it is part of what drove me for so many years.

But being a GOOD freelancer, even a good creative employee, means giving the people paying you their money’s worth. And that means you can’t take on so much work that you either rush any of it, or end up not being able to complete it on time, or maybe at all.

Those are hard lessons to learn. Most freelancers I know, myself definitely included, make the mistake of agreeing to too much early on, and then re-make that mistake from time to time.

You can’t do everything. You need some down time. More work will come. And, in my experience, telling someone that you’d love to do a project, but right now you are overbooked, never causes them to write you off forever. Frequently, producers appreciate that you know your limits, and make notes to contact you for other projects later on.

So yes sometimes turning down work is part of the job.

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Without These Women, I Do Not Exist

If you have ever enjoyed anything I have ever done, you have some women to thank for it.
My mother, Claire McMurray, who even when she and my father both had full time jobs was the one who drove me to school if I missed the bus, made doctor appointments, did all the shopping, cleaned the house, bandaged injuries, cooked dinner, and somehow still had time and energy to introduce me to major aspects of fandom, be DM for me and my friends when no one else would, and talk to me when she saw I had problems.
My wife, Lj Stephens, without whom I never would have submitted my first game article, never would have gone to the TSR Writer’s Workshop, never would have learned to type, and basically “Never would have.”
Barbar Hambly, Katherine Kurtz, Mercedes Lackey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffery, and to a slightly lesser extent (because I was older) Katherine Kerr, Elizabeth Moon, and Janny Wurts wrote books that KEPT ME ALIVE. Without them, I would have killed myself as a teen.
More recently some amazing women have helped me become a better person, which I appreciate more than I can adequately describe. Kayla Graves and Alison Stoneklifft built two homes-away-from-home that kept me sane. Crystal Frasier and Lissa Guillet have taken me in many times over the past three years when I needed a safe sofa and a hug. Jessica Price and Amanda Hamon Kunz shared an office, and a big part of their lives, with me for more than a year and trusted me enough to let me see how very, very different the world is for them, which helped me grow a lot.
There are many, many more. Hopefully, I’ll find the right place and the right way to thank them all.

New Year. Good Luck.

There are two things I have done every Dec 31st in recent years — a retrospective about the year from my point of view, and a war-report-style description of all the fireworks I am hearing from wherever I am.
This year, I am doing neither.
My voice gets heard. A lot. Way out of proportion with its value, I suspect. And somehow, describing loud celebrations as if they were actual conflict just doesn’t seem funny or clever this year.
Instead, I open up this space for other folks. Comment about your year, if you wish.
But the universal rules of my wall remain. Keep it friendly. No insulting other people’s thoughts, no snarking about anyone who might read this. True public officials are fair game, if relevant to your whole year, but no going after other people on this thread, through either aggression of passive-aggression.
I hope you all have a better 2017 than 2016. Some of you, I hope have a MUCH better year, even while I fear it won’t be so.

Seventeen Genders and Counting

I am often faced with a combination question and accusation (an accuestion) — “Why do you have to shove all this modern gender and orientation stuff into a fantasy RPG? Why not just stick with things from before the modern era!? Just, you know, for realism.”
First, representation matters. As a creator, I WANT to be inclusive, both so marginalized people have the same kind of rpg escape option that saved my life when, as a fat cis white male, I needed to get away from reality, AND, because as a greedy pragmatic capitalist, I want to expand into what I see as an under-served market.
Second, as long as we have bloodragers, orcs, fireballs, talking swords, dragons, and magic tattoos, I am unimpressed with any claim that realism is a concern.
Third, if I just mentioned alyha, bakla, bissu, calabai, calalai, dilbaa, fa’afafine, guevedoche, hwame, lhamana, nadleehi, ninauposkitzipxpe, quariwarmi, sago, or sekrata, most readers would have no idea what (ancient, pre-modern, real-world) concept of gender I was discussing, AND I’d be risking using the terms incorrectly and offending modern individuals who have those gender identities.
Much easier to stick to modern terms for these ancient ideas found on every continent.
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Fandom’s Acceptance Problem

I think fandom has an acceptance problem.
I know, sounds weird.
At least when and where I was growing up in fandom, it was the place I felt accepted. I was fat, precocious, a thinker and dreamer rather than a doer and builder.
I was also a self-important little shit.
But fandom accepted me, at least insofar as it accepted anyone. My weird preferences, my social awkwardness. I meant no harm, though I sometimes did and said harmful things.
And I found my flavor of geek, and we hung out, and became friends, and grew up.
But for decades, when I saw someone saying or acting in appropriately, if they weren’t causing immediate harm, I was inclined to leave them alone. After all, they were clearly outcasts too. Awkward. And surely they meant no harm.
A wildfire means no harm. You still need to takes steps to prevent it from ravaging town.
So, I think too many of us ignored the problems of the misogynist few for too long. We allowed ourselves to be drawn in by people who liked military fiction, but were also racist, or transphobic. We overlooked their flaws at moments when we shouldn’t, and now they are a cancer growing among us.
I got used to accepting people in fandom, because where else did they have to go? And I never considered that accepting them meant condoning them. And it does.
I hate confrontation, but I’m not afraid of it anymore.
I dislike personal interaction with anyone but close friends, but I’ve gotten used to it.
And there are things I can’t just mutely accept anymore. Especially now that I have seen what that acceptance leads to.

Depression Kills

More than one person I know is dealing with the suicide of a friend sometime over the past two weeks.
I didn’t know any of the lost personally. My sadness is second-hand (for my friends and colleagues who are hurting and have suffered loss) and third-hand (I truly do weep for all the lost).
In many cases the suicides were a surprise.
That’s one of the problems with deep, serious, persistent depression.
Life teaches those of us that suffer that we can’t keep talking about it. That if the answer you give to “How are you doing?” is constantly “I’m depressed and thinking of killing myself” you
-A: Get stuck in a lot of extremely painful conversations that don’t help anything
-B: Drive away the very social contact you might need to survive life.
I’m almost always in pain, both physical and mental. Thankfully, many days I am only in a little pain. Sadly, some days I am in a lot of pain.
But I can’t talk about my pain all the time. I don’t have the energy, for one thing.
I don’t want to scare off friendly acquaintances who might someday become friends, for another.
And trust me, constantly being barraged with how crappy a depressed person is feeling will drive some people away. Including people who don’t think it will. Which means my life experience is that when you try to pop in and let me know you AREN’T one of those people, I can’t believe you.
I can’t afford to.
And, I’m sorry to say, 9 times out of 10 if I do confess how bad things are to someone, they make it worse. For example, being told to cheer up, or it’s not so bad, or “hey here’s a thing you can do to improve the situation you are mentioning right now” don’t help.
They are damaging. They are worse than not talking about it. They make a depressed person feel stupid for not being able to fix it, or piss them off that they can’t explain why the problem IS a huge problem.
I do have family and friends I can talk to about the worst feelings, thank goodness. But that trust took years, and a few terrifying risks. It can’t be duplicated quickly.
A good therapist helps, too. And that can be arranged for pretty fast, if I think I need it.
Most of the time “I’m fine” or “Not too bad” are the only answers I *can* give to people who ask how I’m doing. Anything else is a risk and an expenditure of energy I may not be able to afford.
That does, of course, suck for people who want to help. I know that. I’m sorry.
From my own experience, there are only a few things you can do.
If someone is depressed, try to invite them to things. Even if they don’t go to anything you invite them to. As long as they seem happy to be invited, keep inviting. Their depression has them in a prison. Sometimes they get a day pass, and sometimes they don’t. But if they do, it’s helpful to know they COULD go be with people. That they are welcome.
If they do reach out to you listen. Be understanding. They are telling you about the things ruining their lives. Don’t try to make those things sound small, or easily overcome. “That’s rough. I sympathize.” is much, much, much better than “Hey, it’ll all be okay.”
And try to remember, we often can’t ask for help. Literally can not. We are incapable. And you can’t force help on us. But you can let us know, by actions more than just saying so, that you are willing to listen, and willing to be present.
That’s all I have on the topic.
For those of you suffering, please try to find someone who will listen to you. I promise, it can help.
For those of you have have recently suffered loss, my sympathies. It wasn’t your fault. I hope you all have people you can turn to as well, because this kind of pain can be viral.
And well-wishes to you all.