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My 2014 in a Word: Overwhelmed

It’s New Years Eve, a sort of a spiritual day for me, so I will briefly reflect on my 2014 in a public manner. Let’s get some Real Talk on.

Not counting the hundreds of books I’ve touched as part of my day job, I’ve put out/been involved in/helped put out a bunch of stuff this past year: Achtung! Cthulhu Fate editionBackstory Cards[1], Eclipse Phase Fate conversion playtestFateful Concepts: Character AspectsGoody White’s Book of Folk Magic[1], Iron Edda: War of Metal and BoneMythender in GolarionShowdownthe second volume of the Fate Codex, and 113 blog posts (counting this one). I’m not sure if I’m missing any—it’s been a long year.

Reading that, it doesn’t feel like that’s a lot, in part because I have so much stuff I’ve not put out this year: freelance work for upcoming games like Unknown Armies 3rd edition, A World of Dew, and The Dracula Dossier; other elements of Backstory Cards and larger games like the Emerging Threats Unit; and small works like the next Fateful Concepts (which is awaiting feedback on a couple expanded articles), setting chapbooks, and microgames.

It should feel like a lot, because that’s on top of a harrowing convention season, the massive productivity hit that happens in winter for me… and, oh yeah, getting married. Weddings are insane worker-placement, resource-allocation games, but with stakes far heavier than “rule all of Waterdeep” or “becoming the God of Farming.” My wife and I freelanced to pay for the wedding ourselves, to where I was working around 70 hours a week right up into two days prior. In fact, to buy the last significant expenditure for the wedding, I needed a freelance check to come in two days before the wedding so that I could make a CostCo run.

I pushed myself too hard limits this year, and while there was good to come of it, ultimately I feel drained. I titled this post with the word “overwhelmed,” which feels curious because I look at the tangible accomplishments and wonder why I felt overwhelmed with stress from “just” that. Intellectually, I know that the four words of “Achtung! Cthulhu Fate edition” represent four months of evening and weekend work in this year alone. Many a morning before work has been occupied with Backstory Cards business. It’s easy to minimize a person’s effort by turning it into a bullet point, especially when you do that to yourself. And that makes me wonder if a component of feeling overwhelmed is minimizing your work made after the fact.

Maybe it is in general. Maybe it’s merely how I feel about it this past year.

This wasn’t the year I wanted for myself, when it comes to creative output. I had ambition to do more of my own things, to complete my own projects. But far too frequently, I’ve been exhausted by the time I can get brain cycles for those projects. Thus I’ve done the past of least resistance: start writing notes about something new, and chase down that New Project Energy. This isn’t a good thing to do in the long run, but it was what kept me from creatively stalling and then falling into depression about it.

You’d think that I would use my blog as that outlet, but I have a wall in my mind between what is blog-able and what isn’t. I’ve told others in that past that blogging can be a form of creative exorcism; I should take my own advice more often in that regard.

It was the year I wanted for myself personally. I married an amazing woman, had a kickass wedding (and some kickass coins to go with it), and a mind-blowing honeymoon. And we were able to do that without getting into crazy debt—due in no small part to the love in our hobby community, to fans who wanted to help us, and to our allies in life. I got to “speak truth to Internet,” make my ridiculous fashion choices an integral part of another’s wedding proposal, and officiate a marriage for the first time.

Also, my car didn’t break down on the side of the road in a nonrepairable state, which makes this year better than 2013 in that regard. That said, my car is a constant source of anxiety, and something that will keep me eyeing freelance work as a way to generate car repair money. Whenever I get into my car for any lengthy drive, I wonder if today is the day that the car stops working. Even now, with the car repairs I’ve had done making it run smoother, I constantly feel dread and a lack of control, in no small part because of my last car. Cars are tools of fate, and fate likes to fuck with people.[2]

Which leads me back to the theme of being overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed because money is always tight, which leads me to taking freelance jobs, which leads me to having little time for my own work. After all, working for myself is working for a potential paycheck in the future. We call such situations “on speculation” (or “on spec”), and while I’m willing to work for myself in that way, that doesn’t have a monetary payoff that’s defined in amount of schedule. (Not that every company will keep to schedules or even honor amounts, but let’s assume moderately good faith.)

If you count the money I’ve made from freelancing and self-publishing with my day job salary, I make a little over half of what I was making in 2010 as a government tech worker. I now intimately understand the sentiment behind “don’t quit your day job.” It, at least for me, isn’t simply about the monetary difference, but about the stress and feeling overwhelmed that comes with earning less money in this particular chase-every-job, work-from-home manner.

Though I’m overwhelmed, I don’t have regrets. I wouldn’t be with my wife today if I hadn’t made these life choices. In fact, it’s doubtful I’d still be alive if I hadn’t made these changes. Some of the most crazy and weird opportunities have happened because of this life and path I walk down.

For 2015, I want to make myself less overwhelmed. However, I don’t think that’s really possible, because feeling overwhelmed is more binary than it is a dial, at least in the moment of feeling it. So instead I want to develop techniques of dealing with being overwhelmed in healthy, non-escapist ways. I’ve started by buying a new office chair, so that I’ll at least hurt less when I’m working at my desktop. I’m going to try Pomodoro again, to help when I’m distraction-prone. I also fell out of task/to-do management this winter, and I need to get back into that—my life felt more management when I was on top of that, even when the task list was immensely long.

I suppose this is a good place to end things for the year. I owe a huge thank-you to my Patreon backers. Thanks to you all, I was able to put $1350 toward wedding, honeymoon, car, and other things. I won’t lie: that is a life-changing amount of money. The picture you see above? You had a hand in that. I owe thanks to my business partners, for putting up with me and for giving me kick-ass opportunities. To Leonard Balsera, the Simon to my Garfunkel. To my family, both old and new, for helping us when we needed help the most. To all of my peoples out there, spreading the love of games and trying to make the world a little bit of a better, more open, more accepting, less hatefilled place. And, of course, to my wife Lillian for innumerable little ways that she keeps me afloat.

I may be overwhelmed, but because of a thousand tiny acts and a few large ones, I’m not utterly crushed under this weight. And that means I’m succeeding. I’ll take that to heart. I am overwhelmed with stress, but also overwhelmed with positive impact from amazing people.

May your 2015 treat you with fear and respect. May it apologize to you when it wrongs you. And should it start to let you down, pee on it—that’ll show dominance.

Take care, my humans.

– Ryan

(1400 words at 1am? I apparently had some stuff I wanted to get off my chest.)

Photo: from my wedding

[1] Well, partially fulfilled. Enough to put on this list.

[2] I didn’t have my own car until I was 34. This innate feeling is why. For all its faults, I miss being able to take BART around town and otherwise rent cars by the hour if I needed one for an errand.

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6 Responses to My 2014 in a Word: Overwhelmed

  1. Zooroos says:

    Thanks for sharing your reflections, Ryan. I’m a sort of struggling writer myself (I think), and I’m just very very recently started to seriously write for a living (sorta) and, more importantly, started to have faith in my own skills.

    The most hurtful thing you can do to yourself is self-censor your dreams before they ever have the chance of becoming a reality. A writer who doesn’t write? Well, the only way that could possibly change is by actually writing, coming out of Plato’s cave one word at a time.

    That’s the hard-won lesson this year gave me, and at 34 years old is a long overdue one.

    Cheers for a brighter future!

  2. Ryan Macklin says:

    Other numbers, for those interested: I made $960 in DriveThruRPG sales, between Fateful Concepts: Character Aspects and Mythender print sales. I sold maybe as many as fifteen copies of Mythender out of my bag or through retailers at conventions, which might be around $150 after print cost. Around $600 gross in sales on the Play Everything poster (with my cut of that being around $200). And a little more than $7000 from freelancing. That puts me at making a bit over $9,000 from freelancing, self-publishing, and my Patreon (before I start counting in writeoffs and considering taxes). Backstory Cards also paid for a replacement Mac Mini, so I should count another $2000 in the total.

    So I’ve been doing this for seven years, and this is the first year I’ve broken five digits in my freelancing and publishing while doing it as a side job. I figure that number is good context for the feeling of being overwhelmed and what I consider success.

    – Ryan

  3. Demian Luper says:

    I feel you on missing BART. I used to live in Oakland near Lake Merritt and it was so easy just to walk down to BART and be able to go to SF, Berkeley, etc. Now that I’m in Marin County car reliance is a pain in the neck.

    Another great and inspiring post. Keep on keeping on and keep on kicking ass.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Thank you for saying so. :)

      I did love living the Lake Merritt area, between the restaurants, transit, casual carpool, and CityCarShare. There’s a bus line that runs near my place into downtown Seattle, so I’m not as transit-isolated as Marin, but the bus is also wildly impractical for getting to my job. :/

      – Ryan

  4. Jeff Tidball says:

    I’d like to offer a veteran’s reality check with regard to, “[I]t doesn’t feel like [that list of output is] a lot.” On top of a day job, it’s a lot.

    So if it sets you more at peace with your overwhelm, you’re also allowed to feel like you got a lot done.

    Because you did!

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      You’re right. I know that a bunch of what I feel is, well, feeling, and it gets me wrapped up in a depression spiral. I have to remind myself that the amount of work I’m getting done is the amount I currently can get done with any quality. I’m measuring what I wished I had accomplished against what I did, which is always a fool’s game.

      I will continue to push on. I’m devising objectives for the new year, but the trick is to not use that as a depression cudgel against myself. We shall see what comes of 2015, but I intend to keep pushing forward, to keep earning the cape.

      – Ryan