Manifesting the Ghost

They hide behind corners, slipping away as you turn your head and stare at the spot where you could have sworn something was. They crawl through the roof spaces, making soft scuffles as they dance over the insulation and under the wiring. They flit about at night above your head, just out of reach, disappearing in the morning light only to reappear in the next evening.

They are always there, always snapping at your brain, whispering as loudly as they can, vying with each other for a few seconds of your attention. You can entertain them or ignore them, it doesn’t matter, they will persist, for there is nowhere else for them to be, nothing else for them to do.

Then you pick one. You sneak up on it while it shies away, corner it. Sometimes you are scared of what you see, what you feel. It’s a blasphemy, a curse. It’s hideous. It’s ugly. It’s downright sinful. Other times you find a curious, almost enlightening sense of wonder. There’s something different about this one. You hold onto it, teasing it, ignoring the others that hiss jealously. This one, you think, wanted to be caught because it’s special.

You don’t know why it is special, it just is, and you know it. You couldn’t pick it up and show it to anyone and ask them, because as soon as you did so, it would melt away in your hands and you’d be left with nothing but shadows. How many have gotten away like this? How many are so swift as to erase themselves altogether, never to be seen again.

They can come back, though. Not often, but they do return. Like an old friend, you feel emboldened to dispense with the usual superficial nonsense and let it do the same. It envelopes you, moves through you, becomes you. It shares secrets and steals yours. Such familiarity is dangerous, dangerous yet necessary. Once you have it in your power, or the other way around, you can bring it into this world.

There’s the necessary groundwork. Rituals, incantations, sacrifices – oh, so many sacrifices! You do it in the dark, in quiet nooks where no one disturbs you, late at night, cheered on and jeered at by the others. You emerge, each morning, with bloodshot eyes and raspy voice, stumbling and weak. Yet you persist, because you have a purpose and you must finish it. Even if it all turns to dust, you must finish it.

But why? Why go through the pain? To what end? To the end of so many human pursuits – to create. To make something where there was nothing. To share with others a discovery, a riddle, a joke. To do, to be, and let it, too, do and be. For to ignore it would be akin to murder, only that which never lived can never truly die. By symmetry, perhaps that which has died may yet live?

And once you have brought it forth, you are responsible for its welfare, for it did not ask to be in this world, that was all you and you must be prepared for everything it will do, everything it will be. So your destinies are entwined from that point onward. Don’t be scared, it’s yours to command, within reason. That is the reward for the price you pay.

My US? No thanks.

A quick update on the whole ‘getting things from Amazon US into Australia because I can’t buy my own book to check if it’s actually properly configured’ thing.

I don’t remember just how much of the story I’ve gotten through, but from my hazy memory, the last point I was at was somewhere around making the purchase.

As a recap, KDP allows the author to purchase ‘author copies’ of their books – they aren’t for resale, but you can purchase them to make sure the end product is as you’d like. That’s kind of cool because, unlike Lulu, KDP doesn’t force you to buy it at retail. Instead it offers the author copy at cost price, which is an incentive to do the last, final check.

Anyways, I had issues where I couldn’t get the items from Amazon Australia because of something to do with the GST, so I purchased from Amazon US, and had the items shipped to MyUS, which is a US forwarding service based in Florida with all dem gators (And a I wish you all the best, Florida, for the impending storm!).

Well I waited. And waited. Then I got an email a few days later from Amazon saying that my payment was declined. Strange, but it’s not the first time. I tried a different card and waited and waited, then got another email saying the payment was declined. Weird. What’s going on? So I tried using PayPal but, nope, PayPal and Amazon don’t like each other, what with the whole online market rivalry thing between eBay and Amazon.

I also got another email from Amazon warning me that if I didn’t finalise the order, it would be dismissed from my cart and I’d have to start it all again. Bum.

SO I added another card and crossed my toes and fingers and nostrils (very tough job, that) and waited, and presto! It worked! My stuff was despatched. Alrighty, now that should be it, right?

Nup. The package eventually arrived at MyUS, and I got an email, but when I went to look for it, it wasn’t there. I had a number, it had tracking, but it wasn’t coming up in the list. More than this, the automatic payment (from PayPal) was apparently declined. Say what? Yup, once again, payment was declined. What was the payment, anyway? SOMEWHERE IN THE ORDER OF $100!

Are you serious? Really? How can it cost $100 to send 4kg from the US to AUS? Mumble, bloody grumble. Seriously, ok, fine, I’ve dipped my toes in the water, I may as well jump in and get eaten by the sharks. I tried again with PayPal, no dice. I tried once more, using a different card, still nothing.

I used their chat widget and spoke to some guy, ready to just say ‘keep the damn package, this is all just too hard.’ Well, I must save Ivan, the service guy, helped me out there, and he tried to do the payment and, again, no deal, because apparently PayPal had already sent the payment. Say what? Yup. Paypal had already made the payment.

So he escalated it to the developers or something and told me to wait a day. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Another day, another email, and it looks like payment has been taken, and MyUS has shipped on the order. Wait. Waiiiit. They’ve taken the payment twice. So now I’m nearly $200 in the hole and sick of the whole thing.

In the end, it took a week to get the payment refunded, about a day before the goods actually arrived. They arrived? Yes, yes they did. After an exhausting excursion into the world of logistics, I’m now a bit wiser and my wallet is a lot lighter.

I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

The deadline to get Portsmouth Avenue Ghost up on pre-release was the 21st of November. I hit that deadline. Great. Yay me. Well, I didn’t hit it as much as I flopped messily against it, exhausted, frustrated and strung-out. With everything else that’s going on, the point of hitting the ‘upload’ button on Smashwords felt like an afterthought.

Who made that deadline, anyway? What’s the point of it? Why bother putting myself through the wringer just to hit some arbitrary date scrawled on a whiteboard? Doesn’t that turn writing into a chore?

Let me answer those one by one: I made the deadline. I made a date for the first draft. Then, when I reached that, I made a date for the second, then the third and also for the cover.  Finally I made the deadline for the pre-release.

The point is that by making dates and tracking my progress, I force my focus onto getting that task done. I then prioritise writing over, say, playing video games or watching television. The priority game also comes into play when I’ve got other creative tasks on the menu, like making You Tube videos or drawing or painting or crafting.

Sounds good, right? Keeping myself on track, avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination and distraction. It’s more than that, though. There’s this thing called Reality.

Most decisions are beyond me. It’s often not a matter of ‘I can do this, or I can do that’, rather it’s ‘I must do this and must do that’. See the difference?

The real question is why do I threaten my health and sanity just to reach some uninteresting date imposed by no one other than myself? It’s quite simple, really. I have commitments. I have to work, no questions. I have to take care of my family, no questions. I have to deal with emergencies and chores and errands and last-minute things. There’s no choice about that.

If I want anything of my own to be accomplished, then I have to afford it a status of ‘has to be done’, otherwise it can’t compete against the rest.

And, yes, it does turn writing into a chore. If I was writing for myself or for a friend, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’m writing for a bunch of people I’ve never even met. I’m putting my name to a book that can be read by some guy on the other side of the world and he expects that what he gets passes a basic standard, and, more than that, expects it to be entertaining or informative. He won’t be as forgiving as a friend or relative. My credibility is directly linked to his enjoyment of it.

You’re damn right it’s a chore. It’s bloody hard work!

Imagine you’re making a batch of home-brew beer. There’s the cleaning and the sterilising, and the washing and the cooking, checking up on it, then the bottling and capping and storing it all under the house and checking again at intervals. It’s hard work, for sure, and one could easily pop down to the store and buy a slab, but that’s not the point, is it?

Deep down we want to create something. We want to put ourselves into what we do, express ourselves creatively, make something from nothing. That’s being human. Not all creative endeavours benefit others, of course, but those that do must be taken seriously.

A sketch on a napkin or a ditty in one’s head remain just as they are until they get turned into something ‘real’, in that they get taken seriously. The ditty gets engineered into a song. The sketch gets worked into a painting. Time and effort, lots of both, must be spent making something from nothing, creating things that never existed before we applied what God gifted us. Otherwise those little bursts of creativity stay on that scrunched up napkin and eventually get forgotten about.

Believe me, it’s all too easy to pretend that it doesn’t matter. You can think, “Ah, I’ll miss it by a day. Big deal.” It is a big deal. I’ve missed many deadlines and, each time, I kidded myself that there was nothing more that could have been done.

Bollocks.

Each time there was something I could have done. Without exception, every time I looked back, with honest eyes, and understood that I had left things too late, wasted time at the beginning of my project, spent too much effort doing trivial tasks. I could have done more and I could have done it better. Criticising myself retrospectively (another useful tool) means that, now, I reach my deadlines.

Deadlines are a front-line weapon against Entropy. They are an essential tool to make stuff real. Use them honestly and they’ll keep you honest.