Procrastinatin’ With the Ol’ JRRT

I slid into a deep hole of procrastination last night, ending up livetweeting bits of The Silmarillion. Well, more like shitposting, because oh dear gods there is some funny shit in there. Plus, I have the three-volume box set History of Middle-Earth because why the hell not, and there was even a Saruman-Sons of Feanor-Galadriel-Prince song joke included!1 Not to mention Gandalf and Galadriel’s Discord chat logs (“Saruman’s still talking” “Well wtf do you expect he’s SARUMAN”), Idril Celebrindal’s dick jokes (nothing the Eldar love more than a good dick joke, and in Gondolin they had to make do), Elrond’s constipation (did he have to poop one last time before deciding to join the Eldar, or did it just… fossilize in there?), Feanor’s sons pirating a T-shirt design… look, what I’m saying is there was a lot.

The Reply Guys and Mansplainers found the threads last night, which I knew would happen eventually. What’s even funnier is some of the ManFans have found them, and consequently when I checked my email this morn–lying in bed, for great is my power, I have an iPad–some of the ManFans had, with a great deal of effort and labor, taken themselves to my website, to the very contact form itself, and proceeded to correct some typos and also inform me I have, in my monstrous might, ruined Tolkien forever.

I think they mean I got my ovaries too near the material. How dare a girl make Tolkien dick jokes?

You know who would have loved a good dick joke? Strider. Also, Turgon, and I’ll bet Feanor had a filthy mouth. Glorfindel and Ecthelion both slew Balrogs with the power of trash-talking2, and even Finrod Felagund dropped bars on Sauron and you can’t tell me some of it wasn’t volleys of diss.

But among the Eldar, the greatest teller of dick jokes was Galadriel, who could crack Luthien up across a crowded elven hall just by looking at her and thinking them.

…you get the idea.

You can’t hear it, but you can imagine me laughing in bed, both dogs cuddled up close and blinking, as I scan the missives of furious men who don’t want girl cooties on their Tolkien. Sucks to be you, boys–ol’ JRRT, even though he was a massive misogynist who betrayed every female character he ever set his pen to, was very explicit in his letters that he wanted other people to play in his legendarium. It was what the whole effort was for–I mean, primarily there was his joy in making the thing, but he also wanted others to play in the sandbox. Like Morgoth’s rage-boner for Luthien, it’s canon, baby.3

The thing with opening your sandbox is sometimes the cats visit it.4

Anyway, I am drunk with power this morning, having apparently achieved with little effort and a great deal of mirth the total destruction of a whole and veritable fantasy literature cottage industry. Clearly I do not know my own strength, nor the power of my laughter. Lo, I am a veritable Tulkas, motherfuckers.5

It’s all very well but I have space opera to write, and the John Wick meets American Gods book. Then maybe I can turn my attention to Team MonsterFucker Goes to Gondolin, full of highfalutin’ deeds and dick jokes so subtle they are like elfsheen upon the hair of Morwen of the house of Beor.

My coffee has cooled and the dogs are very sure my laughter means we’re about to go rambling, so I’d best not disappoint them. It’s good to laugh again, since the slow-motion disaster of pandemic and coup is giving a little breathing space. Maybe that’s why I’m rereading Tolkien, hoping that some good comes out of this despair.

And maybe I just think dick jokes are hilarious, and like Galadriel says, “you gotta take your humor where you find it because who knows when a Balrog will come along, RIGHT GLORFINDEL?”6

*fades into distance, laughing*

Some Victories, Not All

The dogs are quite upset that I won’t go anywhere without finishing my coffee. I try to tell them it’s for the best, that dragging me anywhere uncaffeinated is a Very Bad Idea, but since they’ve never known1 the glory of tea or a latte they are unwilling to be convinced.

Yesterday was… not very productive. I should have known that two days of normal work would require a day of threadbare wandering the house, muttering to myself and being utterly unable to settle or produce anything like real text. I did roll around in a couple trunk novels and change a hair color in the portal fantasy–what on earth did we ever do without Ctrl-F, I ask you–and savaged myself internally for being so apparently lazy I can’t produce at my usual rate during a pandemic and attempted fascist coup.

I’ll take “Things you say to yourself that you would never dream of saying to a friend” for $400, Alex.2

I do know what we did without Ctrl-F; I wrote two novellas on a manual typewriter when I was a very young sprout. Both are resting safely in a landfill somewhere; I couldn’t go back to retrieve them like a gecko running back to eat a tail they left in a predator’s claws, even if I wanted to. Still, both burn in me, and sometimes I think of them and my old diaries, safe amid tons of rubbish.

When you have to throw away things that matter to you to survive, their ghosts can still comfort you. The important thing was that my adult caregivers–I don’t really want to call them parents–couldn’t grab and befoul them. Some victories, even though Pyrrhic, are still worth celebrating.

Not all. Just some.

Anyway, I’m vertical, if not technically awake, and sucking on some lovely espresso-ground caffeine sent by a dear friend. The dogs are patrolling up and down the hall, ready to nudge me for where the leashes hang near the sliding glass door to the deck upon the very instant I seem ready to take them for walkies. Yesterday held no thunderstorms–for which said dogs are grateful, even if I am slightly disappointed–despite the unsettled rain-sun-rain bands moving through. That’s probably the cause of the throbbing headache I barely even noticed all day, being occupied with kicking myself for being unable to work.

I even went so far as to think “it’s raining, I don’t deserve to be in this house because I’m not working, I should go out and stand in the rain and be miserable.” I know it doesn’t make sense, but apparently control over making myself feel bad is the only control I feel like I have left with the world spinning so violently.

Fortunately I did not go stand in the rain. For one thing, the dogs would insist on accompanying me, and I didn’t want them cold or wet. For another, I realized it was a ridiculous thought, though it recurred at jet-takeoff volume inside my head all throughout the day. Instead, I made myself hot chocolate, texted friends, snuggled the dogs, attempted to read, touched shelves of books, and tried to watch Richard Armitage smoldering in a cravat.

Finally, I settled in bed last night with old war documentaries. I don’t know why they’re so soothing–probably the fact that the situations in them are long done with, nothing I can affect either way, and the narrator’s voice stays at a steady droning pitch throughout, maybe. It does mean my dreams are mostly in sepia with weird flashes of hypersaturated color instead of all-color, which gave me a bit of startlement when I surfaced this morning. I thought holy shit, have I lost dreaming in color too?

I have absorbed a bare minimum of caffeine now, so am probably safe to leave the house for dog-walking and the running of the Boxnoggin. Said Boxnoggin is prancing up and down the hall, attempting to drag me forth by sheer force of will; Miss B has settled on my feet as I type, on the principle that the instant I move she will be alerted and ready to supervise and heeeeerd me.

Suppose I’d best get going, then. This is the downside of priding oneself on sheer endurance; one can’t even mope in the rain like a silly romantic poet.

Be gentle with yourselves today, dear Reader. I know it’s rough, but it’s survival, and that is a victory. A non-Pyrrhic one, even.

Over and out.

Week of Small Mercies

The Princess works at a grocer’s; the store requires all customers and staff to mask up or I would be asking her to quit. There’s no denying her paycheck contributes mightily to the household; she pushed very hard to take over a couple monthly bills–it makes her feel Grown Up, which she is; is also is much cheaper than having her own place by an order of magnitude. Like, ridiculously cheaper.

Those considerations are weighty, true. But when I swung by to pick her up from work yesterday, the place was jammed. Looming lockdown has everyone scrambling, and I have been tentatively broaching, “You know, we can cut some financial corners and make it okay if you quit and stay home.”

She’s having none of it yet; I can’t force her. But dear gods, how I worry.

Masks, temperature checks, and attempts to keep distancing are all de rigueur at the store for employees; there were one or two customers who grumbled about masking but swift action from a couple managers put paid to that. So far we’ve been lucky and I’m not sure if the bug we had months ago was actually the plague, or if my recent illness was a recurrence instead of me just working myself into the ground because stress. It would be nice to have testing capability or a federal government run by actual noncriminal adults, but we make do with a governor (who just won re-election, thank goodness) who is following the science and staying the course in the face of resistance from jackass racist death-worshippers.

Small mercies.

I can’t imagine how parents with toddlers, or with school-age kids too young to be left at home while they’re forced to work, are handling this. I can’t imagine how healthcare workers are coping. The guilt of survival, of having it easier, is immense.

Last weekend I felt some hope. This week seems determined to crush it out of me; I’m checking Is This A Coup? almost daily. I can’t tell if the weight in my lungs is leftover from illness or just plain stress.

At least I’m able to work at about half productivity, which means two projects at once instead of four. So we won’t starve just yet, and we’re extraordinarily lucky that my work is home-based.

Even smaller mercies, I suppose.

Also, since a few of you have asked: No, I am no longer on Instagram. I was going through the settings and found out the platform had been “liking” posts for me.

I never “like” or “heart” or whatever posts on any social media; it’s an anxiety thing. If I like or heart or star or whatever one thing, I start spiraling down a hole worrying that someone else will see it and be hurt because I didn’t see or like their thing, and my feeds move so quickly it’s just an invitation to despair. So I know damn well I didn’t do it, and that only leaves chicanery on Instagram’s part. This chicanery probably cost someone ad money, and I will not be party to this bullshit. So, no Insta for me, though I am still kind of squatting on my name there so no impersonators (long story, I would have thought the world was fed up with merely one of me) can do their bullshit. It’s sad, because I enjoyed doing picture posts, but the Friday photos here will have to suffice; I’m looking into Pixelfed as an alternative.

No mercy in that, small or otherwise. I’m just noting so you guys know what’s going on.

And now, having nattered on and on about nothing very interesting in particular, I shall finish the coffee I almost splattered down the hall on my way to the office this morning and prepare to take the dogs on their daily rambles. Boxnoggin is particularly interested in the prospect of another run today; I think he’s beginning to crave them. Necessary evils can be fun sometimes, I’m sure.

It’s only Tuesday. Time has become as elastic as it was during my sleep-deprived phase of new motherhood, though I haven’t mistaken diaper rash cream for toothpaste yet.

Tiny mercies, indeed.

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.

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.

Keep Chipping Ice

I decanted a lot of sauerkraut yesterday; today I put a fresh batch in the crock. The world might be mad, but fermentation remains the same. The microbes do not GAF, as my kids might say.

The clouds have moved in. We’re looking at rain for the weekend, which of course pleases me to no end, since I have to finish this damn zero and it’s dragging. I feel like I’m waiting for the ice on a Russian river to break up, with that immense creaking and cracking you can’t forget once you’ve heard it. Soon everything will break and the torrent will carry me down to the sea of having finished another gat-damn book.

In other news, the portal fantasy I wrote at white heat during my lockdown nervous breakdown seems to be an actual book and not just a collection of disjointed mutterings. At least, so my beta readers and agent say, and since I can’t see the forest for the trees right now I’m going to have to take their word for it.

That is, after all, why one has beta readers and partly why one has an agent. You can’t see the book clearly when it’s less than an inch from your nose; you need a second (or third, or fourth) pair of eyes on the thing, yelling the description so you can guess. Trust is essential, and so is the commitment to be gentle and truthful at once. If not for my beta readers loving the portal fantasy, I would have kept it on my hard drive and not allowed it to go to my agent, which she says would be a great loss.

The dogs seem to sense I have finished my coffee and are lobbying hard for a walk. Despite the hour I can hear a leaf blower going somewhere in the neighborhood; it is gloomy outside and that is the way I like it. A new book is trying to push its way through the noise in my head, but I’ve enough to do without adding it to the pile; it will have to stay just a series of disconnected images and dialogue inside my head.

Fortunately, the half-formed stories are a refuge from both actual work and the raging torrent of bad news that is current events. I can crawl into the stories when I need some respite. I don’t know how people without that safety do it.

So it’s time to chaperone the fuzzy quadrupeds, haul my reluctant carcass on a run–the new shoes are doing all right, though I could wish for a bit more cushioning–and a whole day spent in a city under siege. Maybe I’ll begin to hear the distant song of cracking ice, maybe not.

Sooner or later, though, if I just keep chipping, something will happen. I have to believe that, or I might as well give up entirely.