Summer Shot

Well, I shut down Haggard Feathers, and I’m waiting for the fact to hit home. It’s always sad when an experiment doesn’t work out. I’m taking some comfort in the fact that it’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just *gestures wildly at world events* all this. Retracting in this area will give me more energy for other work, not to mention keeping the newsletter and giveaways alive.

Summer appears to be firing a shot over our bows. Yesterday it was 80F, today it was 74F by 10am and there’s no sign of the mercury halting its rise. At least it’s cooling off overnight, but with both dogs attempting to sleep on me, rest is at somewhat of a premium and the morning walk was one episode of temper after another on the part of my furry, four-legged charges.

Miss B is simply a cranky old lady, but Boxnoggin is young, springy, and what my grandfather (may the gods rest and keep him) would call “nervous.” People look at Lord van der Sploot and see a big black dog; what they don’t see is that he’s scared half to death by a single leaf falling from a tree, or a droplet of rain. He’s just tuned to a really high pitch, and managing him is a fine line between firmness and mercy.

So the morning walk was a constant stream of “mind your manners”, “you know better, that dog barks every time and literally nothing happens”, and “no, eating bees is not the answer, eating bees is NEVER the answer.”

I don’t think he quite believes me upon that last point, but progress is being made.

One of my tea-tankards has developed a crack, but I never quite liked the glaze on it anyway and might patronize the small pottery place I bought it from for new ones. Silver linings! And I have a soy-almond-vanilla creamer that does good things for black tea, so that’s pleasant too.

Tiny victories, tiny luxuries, are getting me through the end of May. It feels like this year has taken forever, doesn’t it? And yet I have to smile, because both dogs are sacked out taking advantage of cool hardwood and AC–another small luxury. We don’t get awful heat often enough for it to be a large one, but when it hits, I am ever so grateful. The decades spent in places without central heating or cooling have given me a deep appreciation for that technological wonder, I can tell you.

I wish you luxuries and victories today, dear Reader, of whatever size we can manage.

Over and out.

Celebrate, Stepping Stone

The weekend was an endurance contest, and I think I won. Barely, but any victory is worth celebrating, no matter how small.

Now it’s a cloudy morning, and I have the Gipsy Kings strumming in my head. Usually that means I’ll be dancing all day, but serious movement will have to wait until I’ve absorbed some caffeine and walked the dogs.

They’re saying we’ll get up to 80F later this week. Summertime, and the living is sweaty. I like winter better; you can always put another layer on or burrow under covers, but taking off your own skin once the prickles of heat rash starts is an entirely different prospect. It reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem where the kid even takes his muscles off, sitting there as a skeleton, and is still hot.

Today is the very last Haggard Feathers post. I’m really upset at having to let that experiment go. I feel like I’ve let readers down by not being completely bulletproof and able to swallow gallons of the current agony without choking, but maybe at some point I’ll be able to go back to it.

Just… not for a long while.

On the bright side, I go back to work today. There are line edits (thankfully light) on Finder’s Watcher, which will probably be published as Finder. Of course you guys will be the first to know; I’m looking forward to the cover reveal, not to mention preorder information. And there’s a particularly knotty scene in The Bloody Throne I’ve been thinking of for three days, as well as a scene in HOOD‘s Season Three–Yung Gamweil and Vili Rouje in a cave, talking about whatever crosses their minds–that needs finishing.

I’m not working as quickly as I used to before the pandemic hit, but maybe scoping in a bit and cutting off some experiments (though it pains me to do so) will give me enough energy to get back onto the track for other things.

It’s worth a shot, at least.

Be gentle with yourselves today, dear Reader. I know I say that a lot, but it bears repeating. The world attempts to flog us enough, we don’t have to cooperate or add to it. I’m terrible at taking my own advice, too. So telling you helps remind me.

And with that, I’m off and flying low. Every victory celebrated, but also a stepping stone.

Over and out.

Love and Failure

I had to make the painful decision to close down the writing Substack lately, and this morning the notification went out to subscribers. I’m in mourning, I suppose.

I really wanted this experiment to work. It didn’t because pandemic, which nobody could have predicted, and the absolute mess made of pandemic response in the US, which anyone with two brain cells could have predicted when the election was stolen in 2016. It was never a question of if, it was only a question of when a giant disaster would occur, killing swathes of American citizens and enriching the criminal cabal still busily entrenching themselves in power and looting the public treasury.

I love doing writing advice. I love mentoring and helping fellow writers, I love sharing my expertise–such as it is, of course, since each path to publication is unique. And who knows, once all this calms down I might try the experiment again, with better results.

Failure is never comfortable. I keep reminding myself that if not for the pandemic and its associated cognitive load, if not for the terror lurking in my house, under my skin–because I am absolutely terrified my kids will get sick and need hospitalization we can’t afford–I would have energy for all my projects and experiments on the side. I hate the persistent feeling that I’m letting readers down by not being a superhero immune to fear.

Maybe I am a superhero, just not high-powered enough to do all this. I don’t know.

It’s a lovely grey morning outside, misty and perfect. Despite heartbreak and failure, the dogs still need walking, dinner still needs to be planned, and the paying projects still need to be nibbled at. I keep telling myself, like George Burns says, it’s better to be a failure at something one loves than a success at something one hates, but I still wish there wasn’t a bloody pandemic and I had a better chance at being a success at sharing writing advice. I’ll still do the occasional writing post here, but not for a while. Keeping all the other plates spinning is about all I can handle right now.

If you’ve had to shut something you love down because of all this bullshit, my heart goes out to you. It’s uncomfortable as fuck, and it’s all right to mourn. It’s absolutely natural and normal to grieve a project or experiment you had high hopes for. (And if you suspect I’m giving this advice partly because I want to remind myself, you’re absolutely right.) Let yourself feel it, if you can in a safe space; the only way out is through.

So I’m off for dog-walkies. Canine joy is a balm, and will help mend the cracks in my heart. Dogs are too good for us. *sigh*

Over and out.

Adjustment and Loyalty

It’s Tuesday, which means a writing post over at Haggard Feathers for my lovely paid subscribers. (Free subscribers get one a month, paid get one a week.) So far the experiment is going well, but if it doesn’t hit a few targets in the next couple months I’ll be shutting it down. There’s no reason to stay with something that isn’t serving, really.

At least the pandemic has taught me that. To be fair, it’s a lesson I learn every few years. I am ridiculously loyal, well past the point of pain, but I’m learning to be far more selective about what and who I’m loyal to.

When you can’t change something about your own personality, you learn to get sneaky.

In any case, I’m no longer feeling quite so at sea. My office is cleaner than it’s been since we moved into the chez, and all the open space gave me a weird sense of decompression for a few days. Now it’s natural, and the dogs enjoy the acres of floor. Of course they don’t settle on their (expensive microfiber and memory foam) beds–no, that would be too simple. Instead, they wrestle (at high energy and volume) on the bare carpet and end up flinging themselves down back to back and snoring (again at high volume) at various times during the day.

I’m glad they’re happy, even if my ears are ringing.

Now I’m just waiting for the end of shelter-in-place, so I have a chance to take the books purged from the my shelves and move them to where they can find new homes. That alone might be a six-month project once quarantine lifts, but small increments are how I get anything done, apparently, so it’s no great burden. I’m also looking forward to going to the library again, whenever that happens.

The world has changed. So have we. It’s alternately comforting and terrifying to be settled into that change now, and mostly adjusted to the new “normal.” The Princess and I were talking yesterday; I mentioned the last great economic crisis and she cocked her head, looking thoughtful.

“That makes two I can remember in my lifetime,” she said.

“And you’re so young,” I added, at which point she made a face at me.

I’m feeling like we might survive, but I grieve for those who haven’t–and those who won’t. It didn’t have to be like this. I hope we all remember that, every single one of us.

…well, I meant to be more cheerful this morning, but apparently that’s not going to happen. I suppose I should get the dogs out the door for morning walkies. Maybe my mood will improve.

I wish you a pleasant Tuesday, dear Reader, and well-placed loyalties.

Carousel of Spiritual Bends

Woke up in a “burn it all down” mood, and so far coffee isn’t helping as much as I thought it would. Still, I’m vertical and have my cuppa, and I’ve trimmed some energy expenditures from my calendar. It’s going to have to be enough.

Despite really wanting to do a few more organizational purges around the house, it’s probably best for me to stay in a holding pattern for a wee bit. The Princess remarked the other day that getting rid of junk or clutter isn’t just getting rid of things but also feelings and memories. (She’s been watching some Marie Kondo lately.) The decompression in normal times is a day’s worth of discomfort, but in these trying times it’s a bloody carousel of the spiritual bends.

At least I’m back on my reading schedule. Last night I finished the US Army Guerrilla Warfare Handbook, which is an interesting quasi-historical document. The Cold War was a helluva trip, and I was forcibly reminded several times of how much technology’s changed just in the course of my adult lifetime. Some of the implicit assumptions under the dry terminology were pretty startling–not surprising, more confirmation of things I already suspected.

To take the taste out of my mouth, I’ve started on Robert Chambers’s The Tracer of Lost Persons. Chambers also wrote The King in Yellow, which opened up some interesting doors inside my head. There’s a sort of creeping dread in the latter that reminds me of Lovecraft.

One of the more effective things Lovecraft and Chambers do (despite the rampant racism running through their works) is show just enough of the monster for the reader to effectively scare herself. Stephen King remarks near the end of IT that fully seeing the monster decreases the terror; we fear the unknown more than we fear tentacles, giant space-spiders, aliens, or kings in yellow or crimson. The trick and the balance is to show just enough and let the reader’s personalized, active imagination fill in the gaps.

A reader will scare themselves far more effectively than a writer could ever hope for. You just have to give them enough rope. So to speak.

I’ve been consuming said coffee and poking at social media feeds while writing this, and the caffeine-juice has soothed my ire considerably. Today is for walking the dogs, getting a run in, poking at three separate projects preparatory to getting back to serious work next week, and getting out to the store for milk and other necessaries. I wish I didn’t have to do that last bit. People are thinking the worst is over; they won’t find out they’re wrong for another couple weeks.

At least my writing partner made us all cloth masks with insert pockets. Masks, even the expensive ones, are pretty much just snot-catchers. They mean you won’t infect other people as much, and every little bit helps. I don’t know if I could live with myself if I knew I was asymptomatic and infected someone who died of it. I wish we had an actual adult in the White House instead of a criminal cabal centered around a demented malignant narcissist.

But we’ve got what we’ve got, I suppose, and it’s incumbent upon us to take care of each other. Heaven knows the criminals in power won’t. I’ll be picking up supplies at the store for more than one neighbor; if things get bad it’ll be those neighborhood links that save us.

And now my stomach has settled enough for a bit of brekkie, and to start the day. I’m fractionally less stabbity than when I started this post, thank goodness.

But only fractionally. The rest requires food, and working off the stress hormones with sweat and effort.

See you around.

Life, Adversarial

My relationship with life has long been a purely adversarial one. Fighting to survive will do that to you, especially while young. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering about a different way of approaching this whole breathing-and-metabolizing thing.

It’s why I did a nice big purge of the garage and some assorted other things, it’s why I’m so determined to get back into the game after injury put paid to running for a little while. Maybe I’m just rising from the pyre again–living is a constant renewal. Very few know that better than me.

This morning I ran across something that crystallized everything I’ve been working on lately. I could absolutely feel myself taking a different shape inside my skin and the world altering in response. It was a single sentence:

I never lose sight of the fact that just being is fun.

Katharine Hepburn.

What would happen, I wonder, if I treated being–just the mere state of existing–as fun instead of a dangerous leaping from one precarious foothold to the next? I tried this morning while running, and I have to say… it was pleasant, and not just because of the dopamine hit from cardiac exercise.

The prospect is nerve-wracking, since hypervigilance has been a survival tactic since childhood. Yet if living well is the best revenge, how much better will enjoying myself be? My motivation is pure spite, but I’ve got to tell you, spite works wonders.

So I’m starting a little project amid the burning of the world. I’m going to try to treat the bare state of existence as fun.

After all, I survived childhood and adolescence, worked my way through single motherhood and didn’t do too badly, clawed up from the deepest pits of depression, anxiety, and hell. What did I do all that for if not to cement my victory by enjoying myself? After all, I have the kids, I have the dogs, I have you, dear Readers.

That’s pretty much endless wealth.

It’s not going to be easy. Misery, like any habit, is hard to shake; there is a certain comfort in expecting the worst. Maybe I can expect the worst but still be happy in the meantime. I have sometimes worried that if my life was ever in a good place I’d lose fuel for writing, but to my very great relief, that is not so.

In fact, as Bukowski once observed, a human being writes better when well-fed. (He was a misogynist and the original quote contrasted living on candy bars with porterhouse steak and some whiskey, but it’s the spirit that counts. Or so I’m going to believe.) We do all sorts of things better when well-fed and not in constant crippling fear.

You’d think we’d want everyone taken care of, wouldn’t you. Life doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.

It’s going to be difficult. Working against forty years of habit means initial progress will be fitful. I think the risk is worth it. Optimists live longer, but that’s not what I’m after. My game has always been sheer endurance; if I can make endurance more tolerable it won’t be so much changing my habits as adding an extension to one I already have, which is ever so much simpler.

I’m looking forward to finding out if just being can be fun. I’ll report back in a bit–and if you have any data, feel free to share. Joy shared is joy doubled.

I’m excited to learn.

Weekend Victories

It was a long weekend. I took the opportunity to clear a lot of things from the house that were just not working. Translation: I cleaned the garage, rearranged my office and bedroom, and there was a pile of stuff marked “Free” at the end of the driveway. I also did some library maintenance, but most of that will wait for next weekend.

Of course the dogs are beside themselves. Any change is bad to creatures of such routine, so they’re both exhausted and wanted to sleep atop me on two very warm nights since the weather took a turn as it sometimes does in May, bringing us above 80F.

I hadn’t taken the flannel sheets off my bed, so sleep was at a premium. I’m a little cross-eyed today, and covered with interesting bruises from moving furniture.

The kids were thrilled. “You mentioned Marie Kondo the other day,” the Princess said, “so I figured it was about time for a purge.”

“Just glad it’s not the Purge,” the Prince chimed in, and that cracked us all up but good.

The Princess turned her hand to clearing and organizing our kitchen pantry; the Prince was a free-floating particle of helpfulness for when one of us needed an extra pair of hands. Now when I pull into the garage I won’t see a mess.

Also, the kids put together a frame for my heavy bag. It used to hang from the garage ceiling in the old house, which meant the entire place shook when I went to work. I’ve missed those sessions. “I used to think you were fighting monsters in the garage,” one of the kids said, and I agreed that I probably was. Not a lot of technique but a whole lot of punching is my preferred heavy bag strategy; one of these days I’ll take a class or two.

Everything in publishing is delayed gratification; it was healing and comforting to see actual, physical changes taking place right in front of me for a change. I made it through the last wicket of burnout and straight into a laughing fit, the absurdity of the world reasserting itself once more.

Once I start laughing, it’s okay. Or at least, I’m past the point where implosion is a danger.

I can breathe a lot easier in the house now, even if the new corners exposed by missing furniture have to be endlessly investigated by a pair of dogs who will eventually decide the house has always looked like this, will always look like this, and they have no idea why they’re nervous so it must be the other dog’s fault.

I used a lot of trash TV, especially laying in bed at night, to get through the past few weeks. It’s not optimal, but as a temporary measure to keep the weasels in my head busy and give the Muse some quick food to chew on, it wasn’t bad at all. Getting back to reading instead will do my sleep cycles no end of good, I’m sure.

Everyone’s taking shelter-in-place time to do those home projects they’ve been putting off; our neighborhood is full of activity. It’s vaguely comforting that we all had the same idea. The hard thing is stopping so I can get some of my actual work done; I like the tangible results so much it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting it off so I can get that dopamine hit of a task finally done.

It’s back to copyedits now, hopefully with some of my zen restored even if my acuity is suffering from what passes for a minor heat wave and lack of sleep. Here’s hoping you’re holding up too, my friends, and hoping your weekend contained at least a few victories.