Villains and Dream-Reading

I took almost the entire holiday weekend off (save some mischief-managing, of which not a word shall pass my lips until the entire affair is finished) and read a lot of Tolkien. Like, a lot–the Fall of Gondolin which his son put together, and the Silmarillion once more. I also splurged, since there was a release day, and more book Middle-Earth is coming to my house.

I don’t know why the Fall of Gondolin fascinates me so much. Probably it’s the tragedy, and the figure of Maeglin. The son of the Dark Elf had a hard go of it, and honestly without him there wouldn’t be much of a story. Like how without Morgoth everything would be hunky dory and we’d hang around singing to Iluvatar all ding-dang day, which might be nice, but… and without the Silmarils there wouldn’t be the entire Wars of Beleriand and all that jazz. The villain is a prime motivating force in many a story, and thankless work it is, too.

You remember those old Disney specials where the Magic Mirror would talk about how cool the villains were and how without them there’d be nothing? Or maybe it was only one special, but it occurred at different points on television and I was always fascinated.

I don’t necessarily want to write it from Maeglin’s point of view, much less Morgoth’s, though the idea that Eru was like, “I’ve got this plan,” and Morgoth was all, “It requires me to be a bastard, though, doesn’t it,” makes me want to laugh like the “get help” gag between Hemsworth’s Thor and Hiddleston’s Loki. It presupposes a plan and a just, if not a kind, universe; in that, Tolkien wrought more religion than he knew.

Of course there’s the whole psyche-violated-by-WWI thing, and the idea that Morgoth just didn’t want to go with the program and Eru was a jerk about it, or that Morgoth was the Arda equivalent of an authoritarian fuckwit, which yea even unto the gates of heaven shall be with us like the poor are said to be. Who knows?

Anyway, there’s the third season of HOOD to finish and The Black God’s Heart to make good wordcount o, because I wasn’t allowed to work for the past couple days, at risk of being tied up to a chair in the living room while the children glowered at me if I even attempted anything that looked like work. I gather I was getting a little too stare-eyed and intense, and they were a bit worried.

I do wonder, though–do you, dear Reader, read in your dreams? One of my friends sent this article recently, and I’ve been thinking about the books that have come from dream-images as well as the plot problems my subconscious has thrown into my sleeping hours in order to get resolved in interesting ways. I dream in hypersaturated color and have read more than a few books in dreams, though I can’t work a cell phone in them for the life of me. Not a few of my anxiety dreams have centered on trying to make a dream-phone behave, but the circuitry always seems wonky.

I think the last book I read in a dream was a version of Nancy Price’s Sleeping With the Enemy where the protagonist Sara drove race cars. I remember one passage that Price couldn’t possibly have written with two minor characters late in the book, and sometimes when rereading (it’s one of my go-to reads, revisited about yearly) I’m surprised to find it not in there, and I miss the descriptions of cars flying on the track with the wheel safe in a woman’s gloved hands that I read only once in said dream.

So, I’m curious. Do you read in your dreams? And now I’m off to finish my coffee and take the dogs for their ramble; Boxnoggin is eager to run since we took a few days off. He needs work, and so do I.

Back to it, then. Back into the fray, or into the dream. Not sure I can tell them apart at this particular moment, but that’s for the coffee soaking in to fix. All I have to do is let it work.

Over and out.

The Person They Think Me

It’s not even noon on a Monday (though it will be well past when you read this, dear Reader) and already I’m absolutely ready to stab everything in my path. Part of it’s hormonal, part of it’s exhaustion, part of it’s the state of the world, part of–oh, let’s just say there’s a lot of factors.

This morning’s walk was in fine penetrating drizzle; both dogs were damp within minutes. Miss B is sanguine; her coat is all-weather and as long as she gets her exercise she’s fine with just about anything. Boxnoggin has stopped dramatically throwing himself to the (wet) ground when he’s asked to go outside in the rain. It was a tactic with diminishing returns even when he started employing it, but that didn’t stop his stubborn doggy self, oh no.

After walkies, it was time for a run, still in that same drizzle strengthening to actual rain. (We need many more words for types of rain here in the Pacific Northwest. Many, many more.) Boxnoggin was too excited to obey much for the first couple kilometers, but then he settled with an almost-audible thump and began paying attention.

I did try taking him running with B just after he came to us, but stopped when the vet and I realized he was far too young. It’s always a crapshoot figuring out how old dogs are at a certain point, and he is both pure black and also a high-energy boxer-terrier mix. So at the shelter, people would look at him and say “oh, a black pit bull” and pass him over. He’d been returned numerous times in his young life, and I suspected he thought he’d be returned to the shelter this time too, so he was emotionally shut down and do I blame him? Not a whit.

Now, however, he’s been with us longer than all those other places combined. I joke that only the sweet release of death will free him from our care, but he doesn’t seem to mind. It’s been difficult–he had a lot of energy to work off, a lot of bad habits to kindly, gently coax into better paths, and add to that a puppy’s tendency to get mouthy and the fact that I couldn’t really take him running until both the vet and I were certain he was old enough it wouldn’t damage his joints and you have a recipe for a lot of eye-rolling and “Dog, you make the worst decisions…”

They even said at the shelter that he was “shy.” If there’s one thing this dog is not… I mean, he is almost pathologically gregarious, no matter if most of his social reflexes with other dogs (not to mention humans) tend to take the form of a very loud “PLAY WITH ME PLAY WITH ME PLAY WITH MEEEEEEEEE” until I have to drag him away. It will get better as he settles into both running and adulthood, but he’s so high-energy and needy he ends up driving to distraction even those who want to be friendly.

In short, Boxnoggin requires a lot of patience, very firm boundaries, and occasionally being carried by the handle on his harness as if he’s a valise because he does not make good decisions.

He’s also one of the most loving dogs I’ve ever met. Miss B longs to be under my skin all day; Boxnoggin won’t rest until he’s burrowed into your bones. I wake up with his nose in my armpit more often than not, since Miss B has taken to hopping off the bed in the middle of the night in order to sleep on the cool tile floor of the master loo. And as soon as he suspects I’m fumbling towards consciousness, Boxnoggin gets extremely excited at the prospect of sharing another day with his pack, and can’t contain wriggles or sneezes.

A large dog sneezing into one’s armpit is a strange way to start the day, I must say.

There’s no way to be truly angry at the world when I can cuddle a dog, really. We don’t deserve them; they’ve been with us almost from the beginning, and even at their worst, well, they’re better than the best of us can hope to be.

Gods grant me the strength and patience to be even close to the person Boxnoggin and Miss B clearly think me, especially amid all this.

So I wish this for you today, dear Reader–the comfort of dry socks, a measure of peace even mid-Monday, the luck to accept the unrestrained, joyful love of a canine companion. (Or a feline, equine, or what-have-you one.) I don’t know if humanity is worth saving the world for, but dogs?

Yes, they’re worth the effort. May I never forget it.

Now it’s past noon and time for lunch. Maybe some fiery chicken curry will relieve me of the urge to stab everything in sight. I’m sure last night’s leftover bacon will be greeted with much enthusiasm by the aforementioned canine quotient of Casa Saintcrow.

Over and out.

Perfect Enough

That brief window of time when your coffee (or tea!) is just perfectly cool enough to drink, and just perfectly warm enough to still be fresh and to slide all the way down your esophagus spreading good cheer, hit your stomach, and radiate in thin lines of oh thank you caffeine.

Waking up to find a dog who missed you while sleeping, who is so happy to see you she wriggles with glee while shoving her nose in your armpit, and then the other dog is on your other side doing the same thing, demanding to be petted and told “who is the best, the very best, why it’s you!” because it’s a brand-new day and they’re excited to share it with their favorite human.

Slipping downstairs to turn the heat on for the day and being greeted by a mad tortoiseshell cat, who demands affection and babying (literally being picked up, cradled on her back, and spoken to in a specific singsong whisper) before you are allowed to retreat towards your coffee.

A brush of rain on the roof, soft drops presaging later downpour, but you’ll be able to come home, peel off your running togs, take a warm shower, and slip into dry clothes.

(Especially socks. Dry socks are a boon and a blessing.)

A line of cedars moving their arms thoughtfully, like a class of dancers listening to the teacher and fixing movements in short-term memory.

Making your own bed, with your own flannel sheets. The bed nobody who made you feel bad was ever allowed to sleep in, the bed you bought with your own money, the bed you put together with your own hands, the bed that has everything you like and nothing you don’t.

Getting your running headphones plugged in for recharge on the first try.

Glass apples ranked along a windowsill, some holding memories and others just beautiful, and nobody knows the difference except you.

The quiet of a house where your children are still sleeping. Knowing they are safe, knowing that for the moment they have no worries, no cares.

For a few minutes, everything is all right.

And now to finish the coffee, and to hope that you–whoever, wherever you are–have some peace today too.

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.