Humans, in general, really don't like unpredictability, hence the existence of astrology, the tarot, and weather.com. But the business of writing is about as capricious as any business can get, and what's really funny about this is that the people who seem attracted to it—or who manage to thrive in it—are often control freaks of the highest order. Fortunately, there are crutches like Amazon.com for those of us who can't bear to not make ourselves crazy by watching the all-but-meaningless ranking numbers go up and down and up and down. I used to (only half-jokingly) call Amazon my self-worth-o-meter.
Ah, used to. But finally, after a few years as an official author, I've learned to ask myself two questions about any ostensibly "work-related" activity (e.g., staring at the Amazon rank) I'm engaged in: 1) Will anything about this help me write a fabulous book by my deadline? (I figure this is my first responsibility to all my readers, my professional associates, and myself); and 2) Do I genuinely think it will help my publisher sell my books? And if I can't answer "Yes" to those questions without doing some acrobatic rationalization, then odds are it's a time-wasting activity and I'm allowed to give it up. And boy, has my life gotten more balanced and more peaceful as a result.
Because the key to sanity and peace (assuming sanity and peace are our goals here) in this business is finding a way to get comfortable with uncertainty, delays, and ambiguity, and we all have our ways of accomplishing that. We can read our horoscopes or tea leaves or light candles and say spells. Or you can become more and more of a Taoist, work on core inner strength, assume that everything is happening as it should, and try to stay very focused in the NOW by not borrowing trouble from tomorrow or from yesterday, by not asking "what if?" in a worried sort of way. I've gotten so much better at this sort of thing over time, and as I've traditionally been an Olympic class worrier—I mean, gold medal standard—I'm proud of this.
Anyway, for weeks now, I've been walking around, feeling very cheerful, quite productive yet quite serene. Quite in the NOW, in other words. It's been lovely.
And then out of the blue, my website and email completely crashed. For hours and hours and hours and HOURS.
O.K, deep breaths, Julie. You're serene. You're serene. Very, very, very serene.
And then it came back up. (Whew. Thank God. Serenity is taxing.)
And then it crashed again for a few hours. (Deep breaths, Julie. You're SERENE. Very, very, very serene. This means you.)
And then it came back up. (Mighty exhale.)
Then it crashed AGAIN. (Deep breaths. You're SERENE, dammit!)
In short, my site was up, down, up, down, up, down for great unpredictable chunks of time. On many days. Over a span of several weeks. And during these times, I couldn't update my website, and I couldn't get to my email or send it, and no one could enter my contest.
Oh. My. God.
I maintained my inner serenity, however. That is, if inner serenity sounds like this: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!! (<--one long mental scream.)
Anyway, so I have to laugh at myself. Apparently my permanent address isn't "Now, California, United States, the Universe." LOL. Apparently, I only have a time-share in the "now." Clearly I have a downright umbilical relationship with my email, and apparently I backslide rather easily into what ifs: What if Steven Spielberg's assistant happened to read THE RUNAWAY DUKE on a plane and now Steven Spielberg wants to direct the movie (with Clive Owen as Connor) and he told me all this in an email that never reached me? What if handsome-but-troubled Mayor Gavin Newsom has decided he's had enough of blond chippies and has decided to send me a hopeful bit of fan mail that he was up all night carefully, vulnerably crafting?** What if some lovely reader sent me a mail about how much she loved my books because they cheered her up and helped her through a difficult time and it would have given my week a glow to read it? What if another reader sent me a note telling me she would have enjoyed Beauty and the Spy much, much more if I'd made Susannah's eyes a completely different color? (I get emails of both varieties, you see, and I love them all, because I love it when people really invest in a story—even when they're critical.) And what about all that Viagra spam I'm missing???
Then I worried about my professional contacts, like editors and my agent—have they sent email to me that I never received, and do they now they think I'm completely ignoring them as a result?? I've spent many good years of my life trying to make sure that no one ever thinks I'm a flake. I really don't want to start that process over.
Apparently, I get email, therefore I am. A humbling realization.
The funny thing, too: "tech support" at my web host provider was no help at all. It was rather like being in an absurdist film. I called them about six times throughout this ordeal (which I'm not entirely certain is over, so stay tuned), and after one such call, I received an email (at an alternate, functioning email address) telling me my site was up and my problem was permanently resolved. What was hilarious about this was that as I was reading the email, my site had been down for three hours, and remained down for another hour or so.
So I called "tech support" (I keep putting that in quotes, as these folks aren't really technicians and are none too supportive) again, and they told me they really had no information about why my site was down again (the previous reason was "server consolidation.") Could they connect me to an actual technician, the person who oversees the server my site and email live on, I asked?? No, was the answer. Could they tell me anything about why my site had been acting like this for weeks? No. When could I expect the problem to be resolved? No one knew.
And then there was silence.
I had to admire it, in a way. I'd been utterly, effectively stonewalled.
In my last phone call to "tech support," when I was finally in a peculiar state of what I'll call seething hilarity, I asked one poor guy, in all seriousness, "So your job is basically to listen to me rant and then to blow me off as best you can?" He kind of laughed and said, "yeah." And then I said, "Let me ask you this: If you were me, and you'd made five or six calls to tech support, with no results, what would you do?" "Switch providers," he said fervently. I'm thinking these poor people are tired of angry customers.
Anyway, I finally made threats to tell my entire mailing list (which is pretty darn sizeable now) about how much the web service provider sucks, and I tracked down the email address of their Board Chairman, and then I finally got a call from an actual tech guy telling me my site was up and the problem was fixed.
Three hours later, it was down again for another four hours or so. LOL.
But it was up yesterday. It's up today. And so it goes. We shall see.
So here's what I wonder: Would my problem have been resolved at the same speed, in the precisely same way, had I not made any phone calls, or ranted, or threatened, or worried? Could I have resolved all of this in an entirely angst-free fashion, if I had just let things proceed as they were going to proceed? Possibly. But how do you know when to intervene, and when do you let things be?
In short, my lesson here is that my "inner peace" was conditional, which means it wasn't really inner peace after all. Clearly I'm still a sort of Taoist work in progress. Which amuses me, and suits me, actually. I don't mind being my own ongoing project. :)
In conclusion, here's a little parable you may have heard before, but it bears reading every now and then:
There was once a poor farmer who could afford to own just one horse. He took very good care of it, but one night it broke through a weak fence and ran away. The farmer's neighbors offered sympathy when they learned what had happened. "What bad luck!" they exclaimed. The farmer replied, "Maybe. Maybe not."
A week later, the farmer's horse returned, bringing with it three wild horses, and the farmer and his son managed to corral all of them. "What great luck!" his neighbors enthused. "Maybe," the farmer replied. "Maybe not."
The farmer's son set to work taming the wild horses, but while attempting to ride one of them, he was thrown to the ground and his leg was badly broken. "What terrible luck!" the neighbors said this time. The farmer replied, "Maybe. Maybe not."
The next day, soldiers visited the farmer's village to draft all the local young men into the army of a warlord. Because of his broken leg, the farmer's son was the only young man not taken. The neighbors descended upon the farmer again. "What wonderful luck!" they exclaimed. "Maybe," the farmer said. "Maybe not."
Hee! You get the picture. But I do want to be that farmer in earnest one day.
So what about you guys? Are you a worrier by nature, or have you always been a mellow type? Are you less a worrier now than you were when you were younger, or more so, and how di did that happen? Do you leap into the fray with guns blazing when there's an issue, or do you take a sort of wait-and-see approach? Got any good tech stories or other service stories you wish to share?? :)
** to which I'd reply that I'd be happy to entertain his suit after he's had three or four good years of therapy.