A Cabin in the Woods

I’m going to just come out and say it: this is one of those posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while but for some reason or other kept putting off. Back in summer 2015 my father and I were on our way to Long Island to help move my brother into his new apartment, and halfway through the trip he posed a question: Why do some writers isolate themselves for long stretches of time to write a novel? He brought up the movie “Funny Farm” with Chevy Chase as an example, and since I’ve never seen what I’m sure is a fine film, he told me it’s a about a writer who moves away from the big city to focus on his writing.

At first, I had no answer for him, because I had not yet had the luxury to hunker down and only write a novel and do nothing else. At that point I’d always been writing on something while working a day job or going to school or just living my life. But things have been different lately. Specifically in the wake of the events I outlined in the post “Let Her Rest,” I have become consumed with writing my first standalone novel, and the past few months I have been quite isolated indeed.


(It’s not SO bad that I’ve started hallucinating, but it’s enough for me to think twice whenever I see twins in the course of my day to day.)

So what’s the answer to my father’s question now that I’ve had the questionable “fortune” of being able to focus all my energy on completing a novel? The simple answer is this: unplugging for a brief period allows one to focus on the work and avoid distraction.

But that’s not good enough, because wouldn’t all workers like to do their job without the phone ringing in their ear or arguments breaking out among their coworkers? Why do writers have this monopoly on locking themselves in a room and other hard-working folks don’t? To answer those questions, it’s helpful to shine a light on my novel-writing process, honed over the course of 9 years to try and provide the most satisfying answer possible.


(Take it from Satisfied Seal: You’re in for a rare treat.)

First and foremost, it’s important to establish what writing a novel is NOT: it’s not like writing an essay for school, it’s not like writing a long letter or email to a relative who lives in another state or country, and it’s especially not like writing these blog posts.

Surprised? Don’t be. My blog posts are typically drafted and written up over the course of a few days after (and this is important) I’ve spent significant time thinking of what the subject will be. And after the post has been conceived, drafted, and edited, I then add the captioned photos, a process that simply drinks time. Yes the blog is entering its third year, but even now it takes hours to find the appropriate photo, caption it, and then repeat that process until there’s a pic beneath every two paragraphs. And honestly? It’s the main reason I’m trying to keep this and future blog posts short because more words = more photos which = more time.


(You think greatness like this just FELL from the sky back in January 2015!? Get real.)

 But a blog post is child’s play compared to writing a book. Seriously. If writing a well-crafted, engaging novel starring multi-faceted characters is like building a house that real human beings could live in, then writing a blog post is like frosting the gingerbread house your damn kids dumped in your lap because they got “tired.” TIRED? I wasn’t the one who wanted to pull you off tree-trimming duty. That was YOU.

My point is that writing a novel is far more work than lay people think it is. By a wide margin. Like, they really don’t get it, you guys. And included in that “they” is myself. Really! I often underestimate the volume of work and alone time that writing a book demands, and part of that reason loops back to my process. In my mind writing a book has two phases: the Rough Draft and the Smooth Draft, and there’s a hard line between them.


(Weird reference for a post about book writing, but sure.)

 So here’s the syllabus for rough drafts: 500 word minimum / 1,000 word maximum per day.

I use word count requirements and not page requirements, because even though colleges go by how many pages an essay should be when they assign it, none (and I do mean NONE) of publishing goes by page length. They go by words. Here’s why: a standard page is considered to be 250 words, but I have found that my pages average 300 words—a notable margin. Instances like this mean a 75,000 word novel can be 300 pages or 250 pages depending on the writing style. And that’s before formatting to appeal to whatever market the publisher’s targeting!

All right. So if that’s the output, how much time is necessary? For this phase it’s 2 to 4 hours. Now before you go “Phew, that’s not so bad!” there is a caveat exclusive to the rough draft process, and it’s a real stinker. When you begin a rough draft, you are entering a Wonderland of Ideas, and those ideas are fragile, stubborn, and elusive, so tread lightly. And tread respectfully.


(In other words, the OPPOSITE mentality of the people behind this soulless yawn fest.)

Respect. If you walk into a rough draft thinking you can sit down at the keyboard when you’re tired or stressed out or in any other state of mind where you’re not fully present, then great ideas will elude you. Even if you fish one out, your mental grip will not be strong enough to hold it. What I’ve done whenever I’ve had a full schedule is to try very hard to get seven hours of sleep, leave enough time for writing, and go to a place where I will not be interrupted.

This is the problem with lay people advising writers to sneak a quick thirty minutes of writing on a bus ride or during their one hour lunch break. That method may work for emailing co-workers, but writing a novel is the art of disengaging from reality and pulling ideas from the abyss and repackaging them as nuanced text. Text that can make the reader forget where they are. Text that can make them laugh, cry or just keep turning pages because they have to know what happens next.

In short, the process of writing a rough draft amounts to turning nothing into something, so the writer needs to “get into the zone,” something that can’t be switched on and off at will. Does this merit a Cabin the Woods? I think so. But it’s not all about “getting in the zone”, because here comes the smooth draft…


(There’s a lot of truth behind this GE commercial. Watch it here.)

Writing a book is a marathon and not a sprint. Period. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up the pace and write every day. I mentioned that the whole 2-4 hrs per day for the rough draft was seven days a week, right? I DIDN’T? Oh. Well it is. With my current project, I completed the rough draft in four months, and took two weeks off to recharge my brain and think about how I was going to tackle the smooth draft.

Remember how I said in the beginning that lay people underestimate the amount of work writing a book takes and how I was one of them? Well, I made that mistake before writing the rough draft and I repeated it before starting the smooth draft, which I’m knee deep in now. Why? Because I foolishly assumed that my large word doc (rough draft) needs nothing more than a little gussying up here and there. With the characters and basic plot established, I assumed the smooth draft would be cake. But it hasn’t been.


(More like the sweatshop conditions poor DNCE has to put up with whenever they’re booked to play a beach. Is there no decency any more?)

Here’s my syllabus for smooth drafts: 1,000 word minimum / 1,500 word maximum per day.

Talk about optimistic. I started the smooth draft on November 18 and so far my high score is 1300. I haven’t gotten close to 1500. But that’s okay, because it’s still only 2-4 hrs a day, right? Guess again. This time it’s 4-5 hours a day, but that’s only because I want to reach those numbers. And I’d say 90% of the time I meet the minimum within the 4-5 hours.

And then there are the times I don’t. See, the problem stems from a key difference between the rough and smooth drafts. In the rough draft I’m essentially creating a highly detailed outline where the word count is incidental, so for phase two I don’t so much have a list of instructions as I have an unapologetically messy SWAMP of text so awful and ugly that only its father could love it. Or in this case read it. In the smooth draft, the sentences not only need to be pretty and the writing easy to digest, but unlike the rough draft everything has to make SENSE. And for that, I start off every day re-reading the 1,000 plus words I typed the day prior and massage out any kinks I overlooked. This takes 60-90 minutes. Consistently.


(Thanks, Joe. This cluster of adverbs in my lower back has been killing me. But, um…why is your shirt off?)

Speaking of word counts, I think I’ve spilled enough into this post to let you go. But before I do, I can think of no better way of ending a post detailing the method I honed over nine years than by sharing the very first lesson I learned: When you read a book, watch a movie, or listen to a record, you are consuming a finished product.

No matter how much footage we have of the Beatles working all day to make music or that movie stereotype of a writer holed up in a log cabin, I think people look at a piece of media they’ve finished in a hour (music album) or a week (novel) and think it didn’t take that much longer to create it. Simply not true. While I can only speak of writing a novel, the process I outline above is just what happens when I’m seated. What about the brainstorming done beforehand? What about compiling necessary research? What about getting into the correct mental state in order to concentrate for an extended period? That’s a lot of heavy lifting, people!


(A relevant quote I found on my third reading of Haruki Murakami’s excellent memoir.)

So we loop back to my original question. Given how much work a writer has to do all by their lonesome (before editing, book tour, etc.) is a little isolation asking too much?

I’ll leave the answer up to you.

Have a great Christmas weekend and a Happy New Year. I’ll see you again for January’s post, but until then make sure to SUBSCRIBE if you haven’t already, leave a COMMENT if you have any input to share, and if you know anyone who might find this advice helpful, feel free to SHARE this post.

Thanks for reading,

J. F. Seegitz

P.S. This was a very zoomed-out, superficial view of my writing process, so if you have any in-depth questions, or didn’t understand something, please comment below.

Posted in Self-Development, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Donald Trump Won the 2016 Presidential Election

Even though the 2016 presidential election concluded only a week ago with Donald J. Trump as the winner, I feel this post is late. I came to terms with the baffling results within 48 hours of the decision, and have moved on. But because it was such an important election with an outcome that stirred up so many emotions within me as well as millions of Americans, I feel it necessary to share some insights I’ve gained post-election.

I’ll start by saying that I was stunned, and still am a little bit. Mostly due to all the negative attention the media threw on Trump and the outrage among women after the Billy Bush tape leak. And the anger all non-whites shared from Trump’s ongoing racist remarks, it seemed like he really didn’t have a chance with minority groups, women on both sides, and liberals. With all that at his back, how could he possibly win?


(Not the whole reason, but you’re getting warmer.)

I made the same mistake everyone else did in assuming the above. Because I overlooked two very important factors in an election: one, the kind of people who show up to the polls on Election Day are typically baby boomers and seniors (not millennials, aged 18-35), and two: Hell hath no fury like a white man scorned.

Because that’s exactly what happened: Trump tapped into the hatred and fear of White Middle-Class, Middle-American Males and rode their anguish like a wave all the way to the Oval Office as the most unqualified candidate in American history. And for me, that was my biggest problem with Trump’s victory. I knew it was bad when I saw people writing off so much of the hateful rhetoric spewing from his mouth, often employing a variation on this phrase: “I know he says some crazy stuff, but you gotta admit he’s got some good ideas / he’s right on that issue.”


(“And he’s not peddling climate change like the last guy. Better return those shears.”)

The hate he was able to summon and subsequently command disturbed me, but what astounded me was that Trump’s complete and utter lack of experience was one of his biggest advantages.

His opponent, Hillary Clinton, has been in politics for thirty years and because she is a flesh and blood human being she is fallible. I’m not defending her nor am I saying she is perfect. She has made mistakes: like voting FOR the war in Iraq, her involvement with Ben Ghazi, and of course, the unspeakable act of using a private Email server.


(“Don’t forget your free taco bowl on the way out, ladies. Courtesy of Trump Tower.”)

Compare this to Trump’s political screw-ups: zero. His companies may have filed for bankruptcy six times, he may be in a constant state of suing someone or being sued, he may have bragged about sexual assault, condemned women who want abortions, and he may have ignited the flames of racism by calling Mexicans rapists and promising to build a wall, but politically speaking?

He is squeaky clean. And that’s why he was able to frame Hillary as a corrupt politician: because compared to a BLANK SLATE like Donald Trump, any politician looks corrupt, incompetent, and out to get you. The hallmark of the Republican Party is a distrust of big government, and boy did Donald Trump push that button, over and over again.


(“I’ve got the best temperament. Until I see shiny buttons. Then I have a slightly less-than-perfect temperament.”)

But Hillary Clinton is to blame also, because quite frankly, she was a weak candidate. Not compared to Trump, absolutely not. But compared to baseball. Compared to the Walking Dead and whatever is on Netflix tonight. On paper, she was far more qualified for presidency than her opponent, but the American people found her to be boring at best, and a corrupt government drone at worst.

And that’s a problem, because here’s the inconvenient truth: real politics, like doing your taxes, is utterly lacking in razzle dazzle and showmanship. It’s drawn out, dry, and only hardcore nerds actually enjoy it.


(“Today we defeated the Demogorgon. Tomorrow? International trade tariffs!!!”)

Until Mr. Realty Show Star Donald J. Trump came along, that is. The media swarmed on him like the last lifeboat off the Titanic, and covered him at every opportunity to get views, clicks, likes, and ad revenue. I don’t even want to know how fat journalists and late night comedians got off this never-ending election because of the controversies Trump stirred up, but I guarantee their ratings have never been higher.

And the best part was after creating Trump by giving him billions of dollars’ worth of free publicity, they sat back, utterly stunned that he cinched the election.

Why? What did they think was going to happen when they blasted his smug face and tiny hands onto every screen all over the world? Once you pitch a trailer for a new reality show and it gets a positive response from the focus group, of course the producers will run it. Unfortunately, this time it was the American people, and this reality show can’t be switched off for at least 4 years.


(So let’s hope that Naked and Afraid stays a reality show and not the replacement for our national motto, E pluribus unum.)

Finally, I’ll weigh in on the Electoral College and why I agree it needs to be fixed. When I was in Berkeley this past summer, I met a student who’s from Florida, and when I saw her on social media holding her absentee ballot I realized something: her vote is five times more valuable than mine, a New York resident.

And the reason is obvious: it’s a given that states like New York and California will vote blue and states like Texas will vote red, but swing states like Florida and Ohio have the power to tilt the election in their favor depending on the mood of the people. In other words, if I stay home and don’t vote, New York will still be blue, but when my Floridian friend mails in her absentee ballot, you better believe that little envelope packs a punch.


(“Hello, 911? Someone just dropped straight fire into the mailbox on Allston Way.”)

To recap, I feel that Donald Trump will be our 45th president because Trump was able to rally the Middle-Class, make politics into a reality show, and turn his biggest weakness (no political experience) into his biggest strength. It’s important to note that this is simply the conclusion that I reached as a moderate consumer of news media, and I’m sure that many readers will have a more comprehensive understanding, so feel free to add a COMMENT below if you agree or disagree. And as always be sure to SUBSCRIBE so you don’t miss any future posts, and SHARE the post if you felt it to be informative.

Thanks for reading,

J. F. Seegitz

P.S. The protests need to stop. If you’re a democrat, please honor our democracy and accept that you lost. If you’re a republican, please stop acting so self-righteous by making fun of them. Did you people just up and FORGET the Tea Party?

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

State of the Blog 2016

Is it October 18th already? Is today really this blog’s two year anniversary? Well then, that can only mean it’s time for the annual state of the blog address, where I recount the past year and talk about my plans for the future.

Blog-based plans, of course.


(No, I’m not planning to monetize the blog, but this pic almost had you for a sec, huh?)

To start, let’s ditch the faux formality of last year’s State of the Blog if for no other reason than to fall in line with the let-it-all-hang-out / I’m-a-normal-person-like-you tone that my country’s current election seems to have embraced with open arms.

So. The big focus this year was my plan to relocate from New York to California and going through the archives of the past year I can see that my posting schedule was quite spotty. In fact, there were a few months without a single post, due to the fact that behind the scenes, I had a lot going on.


(“Can’t talk. Drafting. But be a doll and pass the ketchup. Thanks.”)

First and foremost I was working really hard with my editor on getting the book I was working on for years in shape for submission. And second was that I was working to set aside money for my move. Those two forces rubbing against one another pushed the posting of this blog a few notches down on my priority list, and while that’s no excuse, it is the truth of what happened.

But looking back over some of the posts it was probably better that I wasn’t posting that much, because my brain and nervous system was being crushed by all the pressure I was putting myself under. Sure, my second year of posting brought us excellent pieces like 5 Things I Learned Driving Across America (Again) and the revealing Can Goblin. Others went to a very real, very dark place. Notably the posts The Best of Times, the Worst of Times, and to a lesser extent, Nobody Likes Rejection. The tone of said posts may cause you to wonder—why? Why go through all this trouble of doing risky stuff like moving to another state? Why care so much about what happens with your fiction writing? In other words, why have you been compelled to take these risks and stick your neck out?

(Nothing against exposed necks, of course.)

Lately I asked myself the same, and came up with the reason, so I’ll spell it out as easily as I can. In summer 2014 I graduated from college, thus ending my formal education. For the next two years, ending in summer 2016, through travel, inner exploration, and assorted risk-taking, I had come to the end of my informal education. Now of course, informal education never truly ends. Many experiences await me in the future, but I’m done taking such extreme measures in search of a great “I-don’t-know-what.” In other words, I’m over being reckless.

Thus, making this the perfect time for the blog to enter its third year, because its creator no longer has his head (and the rest of his body) all over the place. As of this posting I’m writing a standalone novel, the same one introduced in Let Her Rest, and from the pace at which it’s going alone now, I’m looking to submit to some professionals I know in February. I bring this up not to brag or anything like that, but to establish that for me, in order continue writing novels and also keep up with this blog, I have decided to establish a trend where I blog once a month, consistently.


(So from now on, each month will get its very own post, special and unique, like the signs of the zodiac. Make sense?)

Content-wise, I no longer have crazy travels to talk about, such as teaching English in Korea or waking up in Berkeley in a cold sweat. This is good, though. It will allow me to focus a little less on myself, and a little more on stuff that readers would like. Naturally I’m just as experimental as ever, but I’m thinking of more topical stuff and how it relates to my life. I mean, the post Red Rising: My Frustration Abounds has been seeing a lot of traffic lately, so maybe I’ll do another book review? Speaking of books, I want to finally get around to my talked-about-but-never executed post, “A Cabin in the Woods” where I shed light on the writing process for all you lay people.

Should be fun.

But then the pendulum swings in the other direction, and I think about if it’s worth it to blog for another year, and the year after that. For the sake of being open and honest, I’m going to confess that if I can’t get any traction with my writing in the form of a book deal or at the very least representation, we’re looking at a 50/50 chance of me ending this blog on this exact date in 2017.


(Kind of like this film, minus the part where a demon commits sexual assault.)

In other words, the blog would shutter its windows after a three year run. That may sound unfortunate at first, but if it really were to end in a years’ time it would instill a sense of urgency to talk about other topics I’ve been thinking about posting but never got around to because something else came up. Like my thoughts on religion or politics.

Maybe. It’s all up in the air at this point.

Taking it one day at a time,

J. F. Seegitz

P.S. Be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email if you haven’t already and leave a COMMENT below if you’ve got any ideas for the blog in the coming year. Or if you just feel like saying hello. It’s up to you.

Posted in Announcements | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fill Up My Cup (With Lessons)

I can see the light up ahead. The gloom of last week’s post is shrinking behind us, giving way to the Promised Land of this week’s post of valuable lessons sure to brighten your day. The cream skimmed off the top of my experience this past summer, if you will.

When it was clear I had to leave Berkeley as a result of circumstance, I remember being in the park around the corner from my sublet house and asking myself, “I know everything happens for a reason, so what was the reason for my being here?” And that kicked up my brain to take stock of what I’d learned and how I’d changed after the mental and emotional grind I touched on in The Best of Times, The Worst of Times. Now, the short answer is that if I hadn’t come out West, I wouldn’t have stopped clutching the idea of writing a book series and try a standalone, as I spoke about in Let Her Rest.

I’m serious. If I learned nothing else or if I even became dumber as a result of being in Berkeley, the fact that I learned that lesson would have made it completely worth it. But I learned extra stuff too. And maybe you can benefit! MAYBE!!!

So here, organized in somewhat of a timeline, are a few things I learned during the summer:

Family and Friends Are More Important Than You Think

Sure this is a bit cheesy, and I’m totally not putting it first to butter you up for the more semi-offensive stuff below, but it’s true. When I first set out on the road, I hit some bumps, and oftentimes didn’t know what to do or who to turn to.

And as much as I was dancing on the edge, I was lucky enough to not only stay with a relative after giving up the room in South San Francisco I reserved, but oftentimes when I didn’t know what to do or was feeling down, I would call or text friends and family, and they would cheer me up. But more importantly, they reminded me that I wasn’t alone.


(One big happy.)

College is Essentially Adolescence Part 2

Living with and meeting mostly college students this summer really opened my eyes to their mentality. See, even though I went away to college in Pennsylvania for a year immediately after high school, I took a few years off to work, and came back to get my diploma when I was in my mid-twenties, so I never really had that uninterrupted flow of first day of high school all the way to college diploma.

And what I saw reminded me a lot of high school. Like high schoolers, the majority (not all!) of the undergrads I met came across as living very much in the now: partying and their friends were extremely important, stuff like a job and their student loans were an abstraction they’d handle later, and they had this air about them that because they’re at a top school, life will handle itself.


(From the bottom of my heart, I wish all college grads well.)

I Really Do Live for my Work

During the summer I would write my thoughts down in a word doc whenever I was wrestling with my feelings, and I noticed something in early June. I spent the first two weeks or so I was running around, settling in to my new room, and also trying to get the lay of the land.

For whatever reason I wasn’t working on the sequel to the book I had on submission, and fell into these periods of desolation and hopelessness. But as soon as I would work on it (and especially when I placed it aside to work on a new standalone) my life suddenly had purpose and real meaning. I learned that if I were to ever stop working or striving towards some sort of goal, there wouldn’t be much reason for me to get out of bed, would there?


(“Today’s writing can wait until 10.”)

There’s More to Life than Being Happy All the Time

In this age of social media, everybody’s posting pictures of themselves having a great time on vacation, laughing it up at parties, or just hugging a close friend who shares their smile, in an effort to perpetuate how awesome their life is. Don’t buy into this ideal.

The truth is that if you’re happy all the time there’s a strong chance you’re either playing it safe / not challenging yourself / or not living up to your potential. Emotions like sadness and anger are a key part of the human experience, but no one is posting pictures of them screaming at their friends or a picture of them crying their eyes out and snot dripping from their nose. People only share one side of their personality (the happy side) and ignore the whole other spectrum, creating a false image of their life, broadcasting one that’s better than it actually is, and for a while I thought that if mine wasn’t like that, something was wrong with me. But after having some tough times this summer, I realize there was nothing wrong; I was just experiencing life like a normal person.

(What he said.)

Tread Carefully When Comparing New Yorkers to Californians

Being the curious and inquisitive type I am, I couldn’t help but compare the Californians I was meeting to the New Yorkers I had grown up around. The stereotype is that New Yorkers are more direct and will tell you to your face if they don’t like you, while Californians will be more passive. Personally I feel that New Yorkers mouth off because they have a shorter fuse, and Californians are more in touch with what’s important in life (ie Not everything is about chasing wealth and status) so they’ve got a higher threshold for what bothers them.

However, my opinion of Californians is that they’re operating at a lower frequency. This does not mean they’re dumb or that they’re asleep; it simply means that by comparison New Yorkers are hyperkinetic: when they speak they get their whole body in on the action, often waving their hands and stomping their feet, depending on how they feel, and they also want to perpetuate themselves as being very busy busy busy, often leading to “work for the sake of work” which research has shown, time and time again, decreases productivity as a result.

I told a New York friend who moved to SF about the whole “lower frequency” thing and he thought I had really hit the nail on the head. But the lifelong Californian I told it to?

Let’s just say I’m not expecting her and her brother to accept my Facebook friend request anytime soon.


(“Geez Louise why did you have to go and say that, ya goofball?”)

Untold Treasures Lie on the Other Side of Fear

I had a lot of fear back in April when I was getting ready to head to California. There was a voice in my head that said, “Don’t go! PLEASE don’t go!” But I knew that I was getting older, and if I didn’t take the plunge I’d probably never get around to it. So I moved past that fear only for more to show up, encountering situations that, in the past, I would have avoided because I was scared or they were new, because so often we humans have a fear of the unknown.

But what I discovered was that whenever I gritted my teeth and pushed through the uncomfortable or scary phase the pay-off dwarfed the feelings of fear at about ten to one! Simply put, and without going into examples, doing stuff that scares you is a key way to grow and develop as a person, even if the experience differs from what you expected.


(Because faceless, wooden dolls chillin’ on park benches don’t lie.)

Don’t Get Paranoid About Stuff, Especially Your Age

This is more of a minor one. I’m in my late twenties and was rooming with guys about to start their senior year, mostly. I kinda sorta felt weird sometimes that I was in my late twenties and they were in their early twenties, because I worried they might treat me different in some way, but it really wasn’t much of an issue.

Virtually no one I’ve met in my life has guessed I’m older than I am, partly because I have all my hair and I look young. Most people guess my age at 25 and I always get carded when I go out. But not always. One night I went into the city with a couple of the guys and we ran into this group of girls from Maine or somewhere, and with none of us asking them to guess, they looked at me and guessed I was 23.


But in the end it really didn’t matter. Of course, I never went around advertising my age, because who knows? There are some jealous and insecure people in this world and what if I were at a party and some dude got all paranoid and told the host to get rid of me because he suffers from ageism?

“Huh? That guy’s almost thirty?” he’d say. “QUIT STANDING THERE AND GET HIM AWAY FROM THE WHITE WOMEN!”


(I wisely let my inner old man out only when I’m around people my own age. Otherwise I keep him away from the college kids.)

True Love Exists in 2016 After All


(It just happens to look like this, though.)

Subletters are not so much people as they are Ghosts

Ain’t it the truth, though? Subletters are a peculiar species of human, because they’re here today and gone before you know it. What’s funny is that about a month or so into being a subletter I noticed that a lot of people who were either friends of the housemates or would be moving in themselves grouped the subletters together and made an unconscious choice about how they were going to treat us.

And that treatment ranged from “They’re people like you and me, so let’s be friends!” to the other side of the spectrum where certain people wouldn’t even look us in the eye or talk to us because, “What’s the point? These ghosts don’t go to my school and I’ll never see them again, so who cares?”


(“Then again, if we had any female subletters, I might be inclined to chat them up.”)

Don’t Worry Too Much About Your College Student, Mom and Dad

Did I mention that my room had a large window that faced the street? Well, it did, so in addition to having a front row seat to all the traffic outside, I often became a part of conversations I had no interest in. One time I was in bed in the late afternoon and a mother and daughter were having an argument. At one point the mom screeched, “I’M TRYING TO PROTECT YOU FROM MEN!”

Okay. PAUSE.

Parents, you do not need to worry about your college student. I’m serious. If you took a break from smothering them, you’d see that they are adults who don’t require rules established and enforced from a remote location. Other than some money to help with their rent and food, they’re at the point where they can figure out stuff like dating and wiping their butt on their own.

I met a lot of college students during my summer in Berkeley; if not a solid hundred then very many dozens, and let me tell you, they are FINE. No once did a fight break out or did someone die or get seriously injured. Then again, it could just be that a lot of smart, wordly kids go to Berkeley.


(And while we’re on the subject, how come parents warn their daughters about men but not their sons about women? I’M JUST SAYIN’!)

The Good Stuff is Quiet but the Bad Stuff is LOUD

Oh my God, are we done yet? For the past three weeks I’ve been working on my novel AND these California posts, every day. Do we really need an eleventh lesson? Isn’t ten a nice, even number for this ENDLESS blog post?

No, you say, because this one is super important? FINE, I’ll do it, but I’ll keep it short. At the end of the sublet, I was aware that I had grown a lot. You might even say I “leveled up.” But I noticed that it wasn’t this elevated, euphoric state where I’m walking down the streets and glowing. In fact it was the opposite: my brain was QUIET.

See, depression and insecurity and doubt and all the rest of that negative stuff is like a sort of gunk clogging your brain, and when you make peace with yourself and your inner demons, you don’t so much experience a high as just an ABSENCE of that gunk. Make sense? No? Well, I’m spent so I’ll leave you to think about it.

Ugh. Jesus Christ, can I go now?


(“You may rest, little lamb.”)

That’s all for today, and quite frankly the rest of this month. I’ll see you in October for this year’s state of the blog post, which has excellent timing, as I can discuss the direction I’d like to take the blog in; I’m pretty much done with risky adventures in other countries and states, so stay tuned for a different type of content.

I’m off to have a cocktail and soak my head, but what you can do is SUBSCRIBE to the blog so you don’t miss a post, COMMENT if any of these lessons were useful, and last but not least, SHARE it to spread the word.

See you in October,

J. F. Seegitz

P.S. This is the third and final post commenting on my summer in Berkeley. Click here for part 1 and click here for part 2.

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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

I’m going to start this post off by admitting that the blog format is highly inadequate to cover everything I experienced during my two and a half month sublet in Berkeley, California. In fact, my previous post How a Destination Becomes a Waypoint started as the post you’re reading now but the introduction got so big that I had to separate it into its own special animal.

Point being that if I really wanted to go into deep detail and get really intimate over what I went through this summer a long blog post won’t cut it. So after wrestling with myself over how best to handle it, I’ve decided to stick to the basics of what happened and give my opinion, which basically amounts to it being the Best of Times and the Worst of Times.


(Condensing lots of information can be quite messy, so bear with me.)

On the surface I spent the summer in a three story house whose owners decided a while ago that short of sending a cleaning service to the property twice a month they were going to do little else to earn the five figure rent they reap monthly. Not that I blame them, of course. The Bay Area is going through a housing crisis and UC Berkeley, in its infinite greed desire to educate as many minds as possible, admitted another ten THOUSAND new students this semester without a second thought as to where they’d live.

And with such a demand for housing there’s almost no incentive for property owners to splash a fresh coat of paint on the walls or make sure their buildings are up to code, unless they’re in really bad shape. But even that might not matter because at the end of the day their clientele is college students, and there’s this tacit understanding in our culture that yes, even if you had a comfortable home life with every need catered to, you will be roughing it in college to some extent if you’re not living with mom and dad.

(I’m not lying about the 10,000 students as UCB boasts about the figure on their twitter account.)

And there was me: lone subletter from the East Coast who stumbled onto a shared room through a combination of luck and timing. I remember my first day as a blur of 1) people running in and out of the house  2) trying to figure out what I’d be sleeping on 3) what I’d be eating 4) what I’d be doing with my stuff,  and 5) how does parking works here.

But little did I suspect that those concerns would soon fade away, only to be replaced with the heaviest questions I’ve encountered so far. Where do I want to live long term? What direction is my writing career headed in? What do I really want and most importantly, what’s life all about? It’s funny looking back on it now, because I realize that of the twelve or so people living in the house that summer, I was the only one in that headspace, save for one other guy, but I think he’s just the analytical type no matter what.


(This will be the post’s only inside joke. Promise.)

For the first week I could not sleep at night. I touched on this a bit in the post Atmospheric Reentry and while the premise of the post (your brain goes through a stressful period as it adjusts to a new environment) holds true, I see now that the pain that lingered was due to me going through a transitional phase—or more accurately a spiritual journey. Or awakening. Use whatever lofty term helps you best.

Because for the month of June I tried to spend as little time in the Berkeley house as possible. I would do things like explore the neighborhood and also head into San Francisco to think. A common thing I did was head to Ocean Beach (primarily because of the free parking) and be there from the afternoon until the sun went down and contemplate where I was and where I was going. It was painful. And it was tough.


(The old man from the film Into the Wild said this? Huh. Guess his character takes on a whole new meaning now.)

Sure, I socialized with the subletters and some of the long-term house residents a bit, but I needed June to myself. I needed to use the distance California provided from my old life to get some perspective, and when July rolled around, I was ready to roll around myself, opening up a bit and making myself available.

I did a 180 degree turn and tried to say “yes” to anything that came up. Nothing crazy or illegal of course, but if people wanted to hang out or if they needed a ride somewhere, I said yes for the sake of spending time with these new people and to have new experiences. But the benefit that I really got was a break from worrying about how a literary agent I was in talks with was going to respond to the book I was pitching him. In the interest of staying on topic I won’t go into the details or the result, but rather the nasty effect it had on my mental state.

(Sure this photo is on point but…isn’t this supposed to be a humorous blog?)

I cared so much about what he thought and I had so much invested in his judgment that I felt I had no future if his response was negative. I put an unsustainable amount of pressure on myself to the point where I snapped and decided that enough was enough and changed tack:  after years of stubbornly wanting to writing a series I switched to writing standalones, inspiring the post Let Her Rest. In that post I talked about what a tremendous shift in thinking it was and I’ll gladly say it again: it was a revelation, and for me, totally changed the game.

This is why my thoughts on the Berkeley sublet really can be boiled down to the phrase: “It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times” because on the one hand I had the anguish and pressure of torturing myself over this agent but on the other hand the pain resulted in tremendous growth, something I don’t believe I would have achieved if I hadn’t extracted myself from everything else going on back home.


(We all need a break from the muck and the mire, don’t we?)

I started work on the standalone on July 15, and creatively speaking, I’ve been flying high ever since. The future looked bright, but at the same time, I still have to live in the real world, and there was plenty of July left. Now while this was going on I was looking into getting a day job, and again, for the sake of brevity, I won’t detail this grind, but in short I experienced delays because of paperwork, and when I finally did get to check the job out, I realized that while it was okay, it just wasn’t something I could see myself doing for an extended period of time.

This may not have been such a big deal if I didn’t badly need to start searching for a new place, which I started at the end of July, as I had to be out mid-August. And here’s where the post comes full-circle: remember that housing crisis I touched on? Well it turns out that it’s quite easy to get a sublet for the summer but getting a longer term situation is a full contact sport, something I was about to learn the hard way when I went about my search.

trump in sewer

(“Hey kid. Is it true you’re a white male interested in housing? Step into my office.”)

To my surprise it really didn’t matter if I had good credit and money in the bank; what really mattered was how well you were able to stand out from the dozens of other people also looking to get a room somewhere in the Bay Area. You had to be someone that the other roommates found really cool and interesting and cultured and travelled and blah blah blah. At least in theory, because I couldn’t get anyone to respond to my requests and when I googled the reason it came back with an unexpected and difficult answer.

I’m not hip enough.

Push came to shove during that time and I had to decide what I wanted to do. Should I go all out to get a new place? Was I interested in another year here? Or did I really get everything I needed in two months? My nervous system was shot after all the running around and other decisions I’d had to make, but this big one remained, and I didn’t take it lightly.


(On the bright side, a certain iPhone game didn’t interest me, so I made my decision without distraction.)

I gave it a lot of thought. I took everything that had happened, what was going on now, and what the next year of my life would have looked like depending on what choice I made. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, and I knew it wouldn’t be popular, but I decided to return to New York.

It was a tough decision to make, again, but as the last two weeks in chilly Berkeley, California drifted by I knew it was the wisest choice available. For the first time in months I had peace in my heart. I spent my last days taking stock of how far I’d come mentally and emotionally (I don’t want to use the word “spiritually” because I’m not a religious man) as well as doing any sightseeing in Berkeley, San Francisco, Sausalito, or in Half Moon Bay that I hadn’t gotten to.

(Not to mention my near-death experience trying to get this pic. UCB if you’re reading this, PLEASE make a clear path to the iconic swing on Big C! #CALproblems)

It’s funny because I honestly did not head to the Bay Area looking for anything, but I did find something: a new level of thinking, broader horizons, and the strength to deal with uncertainty and / or circumstances outside of my control. But I don’t want to get to deep into what I learned on this post, because that will be the subject of my next (and hopefully more lighthearted) post Fill Up My Cup (With Lessons) where I list some of the more important things I learned that I likely wouldn’t have been able to if I didn’t take the jump and move to the other side of the country.

In the meantime be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email so you don’t miss any future posts; if you think anyone could value from the information be sure to SHARE it online; and if you have anything relevant to say, be sure to leave a COMMENT below.

See you next week,

J. F. Seegitz 

P.S. I don’t say this often enough, but I really appreciate everyone that takes the time to read my posts, and as a result I try very hard not to complain. But in the interest of full disclosure this post totally SUCKED EGGS to write, and more than once I considered scrapping it out of frustration. But I promised I was going to talk about how I felt during that period and this was my best effort at zooming out and shedding some light on what happened this summer.

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