Update, Mid-2022.

This one is for all my readers out there, and also my friends, family, old acquaintances… basically anyone who’s been wondering what happened to me after 2018.  I don’t think there are any among us who haven’t had their lives change substantively in the past few years.  There’s been a metaphorical pandemic to go along with the literal one: a contagious thought-virus that has caused the majority of people I know (and probably a great many I don’t) to reevaluate their lives, their priorities, and maybe even their identities.  When the world changes this fast and this drastically, no one is entirely safe from upheaval.

For me it started at the end of 2016, when I’d already launched myself in a very particular direction.  The entire backdrop of my life did a hard, weird pivot right as I was getting started, and it just kept snowballing.  I’d only barely adjusted to a change of regime in my country when my publishing career dissolved out from under me (mostly by choice, but instigated by things that were definitely not).

Actually, hold up, let me finally talk about that, because there’s no longer any reason to be coy about it.  The whole thing happened in a matter of days.  I’d already struggled to finish my third book, because roundabout the same time my first one was being released to incredible success, the world was changing so direly that everyone I knew was falling apart.  I had finally managed to tame my BPD through years of hard work, but the primary cornerstone of my stability was the assumption that most of the world was more stable and functional than I was.  That I would always have someone to lean on, multiple people who could take shifts picking up my slack when my disability reared its head.

Well, by 2018 I was starting to feel like the most stable person I knew.  Because of my BPD, because of the work I’d had to do just to become someone whose patterns of behavior were acceptable to the majority of people, I had a set of self-control and emotional regulation power tools that most people never needed.  Most folks could make do with a regular old screwdriver or hammer now and then and they were fine.  But then the world changed, and suddenly everyone was having the Huge Debilitating Feels I’d always had over daily minutiae, and they didn’t have the power tools.  So I watched, helplessly, as everyone around me spiraled out of control, as they indiscriminately and publicly vented things I’d long learned to keep to myself or be punished.  They all began behaving as though they had BPD, and with zero consequences.  I was bizarrely envious, and angry, and frustrated… but also scared, because when my disability reared its head again, who was going to be left to steady me?

So back to the collapse of my life as a novelist.  Just as I was starting to realize that my friends and acquaintances weren’t going to get past this “bad spell,” that they were going to stay panicked, stay angry, stay despairing, possibly forever, two things happened almost simultaneously while I was Guest of Honor at Sirens Conference at the end of 2019.  Early on the morning of my keynote speech, one of the convention organizers, Sabrina Chin — a lovely woman, so young, so kind, whom I’d only just had the chance to meet — died in her sleep in the hotel room next to mine.  I was awakened by the anguished cries of the woman who discovered her body, but didn’t find out what that haunting wakeup call was about until some hours later.  What could I do at that point but use my power tools to pull myself together and give a presentation and a keynote speech (edited last-minute to pay proper respects to Sabrina’s passing)?  Somewhere within the next couple of days, while still at the convention (the timeline is honestly a bit foggy to me now), I heard the news that Navah Wolfe, the brilliant, Hugo-winning editor who had nurtured all three of my books into existence, had been laid off, and that I would not be working with her again.

I think I can be forgiven for superstitiously deciding that Sirens 2019 would be my last convention as a novelist.

I had to figure out what I was going to do next.  I thought I’d give myself some time to grieve the future I’d planned, which had been working for many more years with Navah on further Arcadia Project books and/or other IPs once I’d fully recovered from the fallout of writing Arcadia #3 while in a Bad Place.  I toyed around with the idea of just launching a new IP and seeing who wanted to run with it, but it kept not working, not feeling right.  And then a pandemic happened, and suddenly I was schooling my children full time and trying to keep us all alive.  We took COVID seriously.  We quarantined completely for more than a year.  Matt worked entirely from home.  I left the house twice in 18 months, once for dental surgery and once to keep my post office box from closing.  None of us got COVID (still haven’t), so I guess it was worth it, but…

Life got weird, y’all.  I got weird.  To keep myself relatively sane I started a WoW guild for writers and storytellers where we could socialize and make up stories at the same time, and that actually worked out spectacularly.  But somewhere in there, I realized that when I was feeling down or stressed, when I needed an escape, a story to make me feel something other than lost in a bleak wilderness, I no longer reached for a book.  I sat down at my PS5 or my PC and played Mass Effect, Horizon Zero Dawn, Stardew Valley, Dragon Age, Life is Strange, Diablo, Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft, the list goes on and on.  I realized that most of what I’ve learned lately about story, about emotional impact, I’ve learned from games.

So I’ll cut to the chase: that’s what’s next.  The trouble is, unlike writing a novel, making a game isn’t something you can just sit down and do, with zero up front cost and zero help.  (Unless you’re Eric Barone, I guess.  I’m not Eric Barone).  So, my advanced age be damned, I’m in the process of redesigning my life from scratch, so that I can create my own path to where I want to be, which is making amazing games with a team of people I trust.  There is no existing team that would have me at my age, especially not since I’m “out” as having BPD.  So I’m going to have to take it upon myself to learn what I need to learn to start my own team someday.

This is not going to be a thing where there’s big news for you all this year or next.  I’m starting from the ground up, by getting a computer science degree.  That won’t be done until the end of 2025 at the earliest.  I’m also (as I’ve obliquely mentioned), writing a new thing, but I don’t even know that I’m going to try to publish it.  If I ever finish it I’ll have to confer with my agent to see what he thinks, and to find out if there’s a way I can publish what I’ve written without having to work with the imprint that ditched Navah.

Yep, I put that out here in writing.  I’ve had literally years to decide if I care about the consequences, and I’ve decided that I don’t.  I don’t care that I’m publicly burning that bridge.  It’s not business.  It’s personal.  My life isn’t something to maneuver and manipulate and politic.  The only games I like to play are the ones with pixels, so if I have to pretend not to care about whom and what I care about to get ahead, then I’ll just have to stay behind.

I believe in saying what I mean: diplomatically if I can… and if not, I’m genuinely sorry in advance.  I plan, for the rest of my life, to stick by my principles and by the people who stick by me.  It’s going to close a lot of paths to me, but so be it.  That just means I’ll have to cut a new one.

And that’s what I’m doing.  I’m going to make a path.  I’m picking stepping stones that seem to make a sort of sense, that will give me the knowledge I need to make my dreams viable.  My path is probably not going to look like anyone else’s who ever got to where I’m going – the age timeline is definitely wonky as hell.  But I don’t care.  I’m tired of waiting for circumstances to favor me.  It’s time to make my life what I want it to be, because no one else is going to do it for me.

I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.  I might even blog about it.

5 Responses to “Update, Mid-2022.”

  1. Anne, Cranky Cat Lady

    I hope the rest of 2022 is better for you. Wow on the computer science degree!

    • Mishell Baker

      A lot of people are a bit ??? about that decision, so I’m going to do a short follow-up blog about it once this one’s had time to get read by those who care.

  2. Shannon

    Good for you! So many people just go through the motions, it’s hard to stay true to yourself.

  3. dave

    Not sure what to say other than I have enjoyed watching from the periphery all these years. Your 1st book had a profound impact on me and your occasional blog entries have continued that trend. I applaud your journey of self discovery and improvement and I look forward to these glimpses into the process.

    On a side note, I love working with technology and I think you would be very good at it.

    • Mishell Baker

      Thanks! I hope to do another post soon once the process is formally started, and to explain a little bit more about why I chose computer science, so stay tuned!

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