Revisions and Frost

I thought my coffee was taking too long this morning. It was, because I had failed to turn the stove burner on.

Also, I just had to get up and walk out into the kitchen to make sure I’d turned it off, and I am dead cold sober, for God’s sake. Probably going to have to check more than once today, too.

I spent yesterday eyeball deep in revisions on Damage, which isn’t a bad little story. At least, I have enough distance to see if for the trees now, even if I’m reading it as a relic. There’s not a mask or social distancing to be found in the entire thing. Of course, it’s a love song to a particular Matthias Schoenaerts movie, so it was a pleasant respite from the state of the world.

Another day should see the revision done; then there’s two more to get off the plate and the finish for HOOD to write, not to mention The Black God’s Heart. But for the moment, Chopin is playing and I have my coffee.

There was frost last night. The dogs are attempting to sleep under me, which isn’t a change, but it’s better than summer when they try it and shed heat everywhere. Waking up with Boxnoggin’s nose in my ear is disconcerting, but no more so than seeing a toddler loom by the bedside in the middle of the night.

There are Post-its festooning my entire desktop. Quotes, lists, reminders; it’s almost time for a harvest. The trouble is there’s so little energy to address the reminders, because keeping my head above water is taking the lion’s share. I’m tired, dispirited, and long to walk into the sea.

But the dogs need their walk, and the kids need the house. There’s no choice but to continue. I have often been in the position where no surrender or retreat is possible; I don’t like it. I’m sure nobody does, no matter the concomitant relaxation–after all, if one has no choice, one finds oneself doing difficult things as a matter of course.

I’m also watching videos about Civil and Napoleonic War battles while thinking a lot about the Silmarillion and the Fall of Gondolin. I’m not quite sure what that will give rise to, but it’s what the Muse wants and as long as she’s demanding food, it means she hasn’t abandoned me yet.

At least there’s that small mercy.

So we brace ourselves for Tuesday, my beloveds. One more day should see me through Damage, and then it’s HOOD and going through The Bloody Throne to look for bracket notes. Heaven knows there’s a lot of those, and I’m going to be cursing my past self with a vengeance each time I trip over another one.

If I’m working, I’m not weeping. Another small mercy, I suppose, the only kind granted these days.

Stay strong. Survival is victory. You’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but I have to.

If I repeat it enough, I might even believe it myself. And I need that today.

New Friends

This past week was rough, wasn’t it? But I (and the Princess) got to fill out our ballots recently (they were accepted and counted, I checked) and there were lunchtime doughnuts that day. The doughnuts came with spoopy little decorations that also double as rings, and I have been wearing them off and on.

They are the bestest of friends and my new office coworkers, and they wish you a very happy weekend. We hope you get to take some time off, or at least get to do at least a few things you enjoy.

Life is a terrible slog if there isn’t at least one thing you like each day. It doesn’t have to be a big something, but it does have to be something you actually like–not that you think you should like, or that someone else likes.

Anyway, I’m having a very nice cup of coffee, which is something I like very much, so that’s sorted for the day. I wish you something equally nice or better, my beloveds.

Climbing, Secret Fire

It’s the first chilly morning of autumn. Those who live outside our tiny temperate zone might scoff, but an overnight low of 39F is indeed chilly for us, just like anything over 75F makes us complain of sweating to death.

We are pale, caffeine-swilling mushrooms here in the forest, and we like it that way.

I woke up under flannel sheets with the dogs atop the covers but plastered to me nonetheless, and there was a thin scrim of condensation along the bottom of my bedroom window. With all three of us breathing and shedding heat, and the bedroom door firmly closed because I like my privacy and the cat likes roaming upstairs at night, winter means there’s a bit of moisture there. One more sign that my favorite season is approaching.

I love winter. I love the rains, I love the quietness of sleeping earth gathering its strength. I love the resting, and I especially like that the rains mean not too many people are out on the sidewalks while I run. It’s perhaps selfish, and I don’t wish any ill on the summertime walkers. I just get annoyed, which is indubitably more about my arrogance than about the people just going about their business.

One of the things about hitting my forties is just letting my feelings be in some cases, without trying to wrench them into a more acceptable shape. There’s a great deal of power in simply accepting what one is feeling, as long as one doesn’t use it as any excuse to act badly. After half a lifetime of being trained to negate, suppress, or flat-out ignore my feelings, it’s luxurious to think I actually have a right to them. It also frees up a lot of energy to examine my behavior and hopefully make it as nontoxic as possible.

I mean, I’m going to fuck up. Despite my best efforts, I’m human. Still, I have the absolute right to feel whatever I want, while being responsible for what I do with said feelings.

Processing said feelings through fiction or running isn’t a bad strategy.

Anyway, I feel like I’m climbing out of a pit. Hand over hand, fingers slipping on a rough rope, blood greasing my palms–but still, I’m climbing. I’ve had this particular feeling most of my life, so it’s no surprise. I am trying to make my peace with the fact that I will probably never reach the top, never step out into the clear light of day. If my life is the climb, so be it.

Plenty of my stories are about endurance. At least in fiction, an ending brings some sort of closure, of balance. A situation achieves re-equilibrium, in some way, and that’s where the end naturally occurs.1 In life, however, I am beginning to suspect there is nothing but the climb, and afterwards is either grateful blackness (which could be considered an ending in its own right, of course) or another, steeper, bloodier, more exhausting climb.

Do souls get tired? On my bleaker days, I know they do.

I don’t know what the rope is attached to. I hope there’s something up there holding the line, somehow. For right now, it’s enough that the rope exists, and if my hands are bleeding and the rest of me is weary, at least I have hands–and at least I am aware of the rest of me, if that makes sense. Maybe the climb is enough, but sometimes, oh, sometimes it hurts.

Miss B is sprawled under my desk, across my feet, and Boxnoggin is a-sploot near the door, waiting patiently for walkies. I got to hug both of my children this morning, my social circles are full of cool people, the garden is abed for the winter, I got the outside faucets covered before the first really chilly night. I will run today, and I can work. (Yes, even recovery is work. Or so I’m telling myself.)

And so, hand over hand, we climb. What’s keeping you on the rope today, my friends? What secret fire, what hidden kindness is fueling you? If it will strengthen, do feel free to share.

Informal Hope

The French lesson this morning was très unsatisfactory. For one thing, it was ground into me all through four years of French and Spanish in high school that the informal address is absolutely not to be used on strangers, but apparently all sorts of modern language-learning programs force one to use the informal as a matter of course.

This burns my biscuits, as my grandmother might have said. Americans are already gauche, selfish, and rude enough when they sally past their own borders; there’s no need to make it worse.

Anyway, I’m itching to get back to work today. I’m only allowed a half-day, since I will beyond question hurt myself if left to my own devices. A coughing fit this morning scared me into wondering if I’ve the plague–sure would be nice to have actual tests and a functioning federal government, wouldn’t it.

There’s another season of Unsolved Mysteries to absorb, so that will eat up some of the day. And maybe I can go to bed early. Really I just want to be working while I’m conscious, or sleeping; I don’t want to mess about with things like eating or washing or interacting. I just want to crawl into my stories and pull the wormhole shut behind me.

I’m tired on a much deeper level than the physical, and there’s still November to get through. While talking with a friend last night I realized I don’t even want to hope, because it hurts so badly when hope is ripped away and stamped on. I knew there were cruel, awful people in the world–I was raised by some of them–but I had no idea there were so many, or that others were on the fence and would be emboldened by open fascism.

It’s somewhat of a shock to look at my earlier self and think that the lady was indeed a sweet optimistic summer child. It strikes right at the root of who I thought I was; I thought well, I’ve survived hell more than once, not much else can disturb me.

I hate being wrong about things like that.

But there’s still coffee, and I still have to walk the dogs. And once I’ve walked them, I’m already in my running clothes so I might as well run, and once I do that I might as well have lunch. I’ve set up my life to force myself into at least the minimum of daily self-care. It’s just little things, like setting out my running clothes before I go to bed and keeping a calorie counter so I have to eat or get a notification–and gods help me, I hate phone notifications and will do almost anything to avoid them.

If I am very, very good and get the self-care done, I will be allowed to crawl into a story and forget, for a few hours, the crushing burden of living in a world populated by far many more cruel people than even I ever believed possible. And if I am superlative I may even reward myself with some of the alien romance, or the occult detective story I am absolutely not playing hooky with, no ma’am, perish the thought.

Maybe I’ll even pause in front of the beehive and whisper a thank you to the tiny dancing creatures. At least they–and the dogs–aren’t cruel.

What’s giving you joy today, my beloveds? Or if not joy, what’s giving you the strength to carry on? Drop it in the comments; strength is bolstered when it’s shared, and I could do with a little reinforcement. I think we all could.

Out of Season

Sunday chores mean my desk is somewhat better organized–not too organized, since a little bit of mess allows room for creativity to sneak in. Or maybe too-neat just stresses me out of any kind of proper work mindframe. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

The weather is turning, so there’s some sniffles and sneezes in the house. Every time one of us reaches for the tissues I tense up, wondering if it’s the plague, if it’s the moment I have to start making awful decisions.

Fortunately, it seems to be nothing more than the usual postnasal drip that happens along every time our damp autumn wanders in and settles down to. But still, my nerves twitch all sideways when I hear a sneeze. We’re still enduring lockdown and masking up whenever forced to leave the house, except for during outside exercise. When the rains start there will be nobody on the sidewalk to infect, either; I won’t have to hop out into the road when a middle-aged white man decides he’s going to take up the entire bloody walk with his waddling self.

The zero draft of The Bloody Throne, full of holes and bracket notes, is set aside to marinate–generally one of the hardest times to endure during project, since it’s still smarting and itching like a fresh scab. I have revisions on Damage and Moon’s Knight to distract myself with and get out the door, as well as continuing work on HOOD‘s Season Three and The Black God’s Heart. I forced myself to only write on things that do not resemble work over the weekend, which means there’s 8k of text I’ll probably never use–a mismatched pair of occult detectives who talk like an old BBC serial is great fun, but I don’t think it’s publishable, you know? Still, it was therapeutic, and bits of it might be used elsewhere, who knows?

The coffee tastes particularly fine this morning. I long for caffeine to soak in and finally give me a spark or two. Taking three days off should be enough to recover from an epic fantasy, right? I should be right as rain now.

Except I have the sneaking suspicion I’m not, and it’ll hit me in the middle of revisions. Normally it takes three times as long as one thinks to truly recover form the end of a project; unfortunately, nothing about the time is normal. It’s all out of whack, if not completely out of joint.

At least there’s no time to be lonely when I can sink into characters. Not that I ever feel lonely anyway; there’s generally so much to do and see and think about. I did have Midsommar flower-crown dreams, so maybe it’s time for me to poke at that one story with the wolves, the snow, and the flowers out of season. That sounds a lovely way to procrastinate, doesn’t it?

But no, the bloody revisions need attention. Whatever I’m going to procrastinate with will have to creep around the edges, stealing precious bits of sweet forbidden time.

Maybe another book will hash my wrists on its way out of my head. In any case, sunrise has strengthened behind the cedars, and the dogs are longing for me to finish my damn coffee and get to the real work, which is taking their fuzzy asses on a ramble. My human concerns are all very well, but they have actual business to conduct, or so they keep reminding me.

I’d best be off, then. We survived another weekend; I want to hide in my closet until after the election but I have to work. And my ballot needs to be dropped in a box instead of mailed; I’m taking no chances this year. So that will mean a short drive this morning too.

May we vanquish our Monday, dearly beloveds. I’m not anywhere near ready, but that’s why we have coffee, isn’t it.

Over and out.

Smoke Angel

This cherub hangs out in a local park; I took this shot the day before the smoke really rolled in. That evening there was only a faint tinge of burning and the wind was warm and nasty, tossing tree branches and kicking discarded paper along paved walks.

For some reason, this little wingéd one caught my eye particularly, mostly because the light was so strange. It wasn’t the directionless, somehow wrong glow of the days that followed, but an odd saturated yellow ambiance. And you can see how dry the grass was; there was a tightening at my nape every time the tinge of smoke intensified.

The animal in me knew something awful was coming, and wanted to run.

This morning, of course, it’s chilly and crisp, and preliminary rains have removed all burning. I should go back and visit the cherub; winter will probably bring moss in its crevices.

But for the moment it remains frozen in this photo for me, an eerie snapshot. I think I’m instinctively avoiding that patch of park for a while, until the too-tight strings inside me relax a fraction. Sometimes one doesn’t need to go back and poke at the scar, even when it’s healed.

Have a lovely weekend, my dears. Be gentle with yourselves.

Glass Apple, Silence, Flames

The glass apples along my office windowsill are all dusted, because I take them down and play with them sometimes while a story hides in my brain-folds. A lot of people don’t understand how physical a job writing really is–after all, you’re just sitting there, right? Just typing.

But everything you write lodges in your body. Not just that, though–characters speak while you’re in the shower, while you’re exercising, while you’re driving and thinking of something else. Getting up and moving to work out a plot problem or block out a scene becomes a habit.

The kids–and my writing partner–know that when I stop in a middle of a sentence and stare into the distance, sometimes it’s because a story has decided now is the time to express a few home truths, or make a connection. “I can see the story going on behind your eyes,” is what my writing partner says.

The kids, having grown up with me, are used to me checking out mid-sentence to work on a particular plot problem, solving or marking it, then coming back and finishing my sentence as if no time has passed. Oddly, for me, no time has. Sometimes I’m vaguely aware I’ve stopped to solve a story problem, but mostly I return to ordinary consciousness like flicking a light switch and continue with what I was saying.

Story-time exists on some other plane, I suppose. Of course the check-outs never occur while I’m operating heavy machinery, so to speak. One must feel safe before one can stop in the middle of a sentence, knowing that one’s interlocutor will give you space and time to finish.

My writing partner does it too, you know. Often, especially when we’re at lunch or dinner together, one of us will stop talking and gaze into the distance, our version of the thousand-yard stare. The other will wait, quietly, until they come back. It’s a good thing, to be able to trust someone with the quiet like that. Everyone is the star of their own movie, of course, but it’s rare and wonderful to find someone who doesn’t mind being the type of star who lets their best friend finish a chain of thought in peace, and doesn’t make them pay for the momentary inattention later.

The kids have their own moments of wanting to finish thoughts in peace, and I’ve seen them giving each other that space and gift. It seems good training, even if other people will probably take advantage of it. But at least they have the skill, and can deploy it when needed.

…I was going to write about other things today, but I’m curled in a tight little armored ball. I am very close to finishing a zero of The Bloody Throne–messy and full of bracketed notes, but still, the whole corpse will be out and on the table, ready for resting before revision begins. I can’t imagine what it will feel like to be done with this book. The entire series has had a difficult birth; I haven’t had this sort of emotional trouble with a book since Afterwar. Of course it’s not the same type of trouble, or in the same degree, and the problems that plagued Afterwar‘s publication process aren’t plaguing this series. Still, being orphaned midway, added to pandemic and fascist coup, means it’s been extraordinarily difficult to persevere through the end of an epic fantasy.

I mean, how dare I write about court intrigue and pretty dresses and love triangles when the world is burning? How dare I write a love song while everything is in flames?

I have no choice. I have to sing, even through the fire. I’ll go mad if I don’t, but it doesn’t stop the feeling that somehow, in some way, I’m failing because I’m Not Helping Enough.

So. Today is for chipping away at the book, accelerating through the crisis I saw from the very first sentence, writing what I’ve been working towards for years. I knew how the entire thing was going to play out from the beginning, and maybe that’s part of the problem. In a book, justice is a possibility.

I’m beginning to feel like outside the pages I write, it never is. Hope, mercy, redemption… in a book, these things are possible.

Outside? Well.

I suppose we’ll see.