Up to Us, Drop by Drop

Well, it’s Monday again. My nerves are somewhat re-wrapped, due to a weekend’s worth of reading Anaïs Nin and just generally being a bump on a log otherwise. I have rarely in my life been this low-energy; normally, while I’m awake I’m working, and that’s that.

But several years of ongoing, relentless crisis will wear on anyone, I think. I keep saying “I am full of the world’s pain”; my empathy is battered daily, even when I don’t doomscroll. It’s at the point where I’m numb, which is a great relief from the tearing pain of loss but interferes with work. Having to press through the layers of emotional scar tissue keeping me sane at this point is…suboptimal.

Consequently I’ve retracted, a bruised anemone. I am, after all, only human, possessed of finite time and energy.

I’m on Volume 6 of Nin’s Diary, and while it’s been an awesome ride, I’m glad there’s only about a volume and a half left. (It was surprisingly hard to get my hot little hands on #7, but I triumphed.) Some of her homophobia is jarring, and the terminology of anti-bigotry has changed out of all recognition since her time as well. Her constant willingness to let others, like Henry Miller, take advantage of her also jolts me. I already didn’t like him (despite reading Henry & June several times since my early 20s and still enjoying it thoroughly) but now my distaste for him (not to mention some others) is at white-hot intensity. Naturally my dislike is a matter of seeing myself revealed; I am somewhat known for being a bit of a doormat if I like someone. For me, it’s a holdover from mu boundaries being repeatedly and regularly violated as a child; I had to learn, painstakingly and in therapy, how to enforce them and how to let toxic, abusive people go.

Thankfully, in my mid-forties, I have learned to take a little more care of myself, and have scrawled many an “ANAÏS HONEY NO” in the margins. Getting to this age as a woman is wonderful; learning to give zero fucks and protect one’s space is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s also why our society prizes malleable teenage girls so much and works so hard to make older women feel invisible and unwanted.

But there’s power in invisibility, my friends. Superpower.

One of the interesting things about reading Nin’s diaries is seeing how little publishing has changed. The things she bemoans in dealing with publishers are the things we’re struggling with now, just with jet fuel poured on the bonfire. Even some of the names are the same. They still treat writers as disposable serfs; I think Nin would have bemoaned several parts of the internet but absolutely loved the explosion of self-publishing made possible by its technological advance.

…I could write a whole article about that, but who has the time?

I was also able to settle and watch a movie or two, including 1956’s Forbidden Planet. Seeing a very young Leslie Nielsen was a trip and a half, and the misogyny in the movie was…not a treat, let’s put it that way. It is fully an heir to Shakespeare in woman-hating, especially as a retelling of The Tempest. On the bright side, it makes me want to rewrite the whole thing and do it right, which is a sign that I’m taking in creative nourishment. Filling the well, drop by drop.

Which is good, because I’m parched.

In any case, I should get my brekkie–so Boxnoggin will consume his; he is a very social eater–and take said Boxnoggin on his walkies so I can run. The rest of the day is for a top to bottom reread of Hell’s Acre; that has moved to first on my docket. I’m in the second season now, and as usual, by this point I have an idea of what the next serial will be but have to get this one sorted beforehand. I had such dreams for this serial, but the pandemic really made working on it into acid-test conditions. It’s sad; I wanted to do so much more.

In any case, there’s my marching orders. Oh, and happy Juneteenth Observed! It’s high time for this holiday to be given attention; it should be even bigger than Fourth of July. (And if you have a problem with me saying that, tough. It’s still true.)

Happy First Weekday, my beloveds; be gentle with yourselves and each other. The rest of the world will not, so it’s up to us.

Gin, Saviour?

Of course it brings forth juniper berries, it’s a juniper bush!

I really do have to watch Life of Brian again sometime soon. (Follow the gourd, the Holy Gourd!) Every time I see a juniper, I have to at least smile. And since I’m turning my attention to Hell’s Acre next, and that’s in an alt-Victorian setting, I’m thinking about gin. A lot.

I could also be thinking about gin because a little intoxication might be nice on my shattered nerves. It’s a bloody joke on the universe’s part that I’ve started breaking out in hives whenever I drink. Of course, edibles are legal in my state, so at least there’s that–a door closes and a window opens, so to speak.

I finished the line edits for The Dead God’s Heart yesterday, sent them off, and spent the rest of the day doing other work here and there, not to mention hopping out for bread and milk. At least some people are still wearing masks; the proportion seems to be ticking up a bit. I will admit I was unprepared to see how many of my fellow humans are selfish gits who won’t cover up their disease-holes to help keep others alive and safe. It is a great shock, and I’m still–still–reeling from it.

But the junipers are fruiting, my peonies are still blooming, the foxglove is still lovely, and I’ve a run today after I walk Boxnoggin, who has found out he somewhat enjoys being the only canine in the house but is still unnerved because to a dog, Even a Good Change is Change, and Any Change is Bad, Bad, Bad. There’s also Tea with Lili to consider today before I can turn to the task of rewrapping my nerves and maybe getting a little rest.

Maybe.

We’re almost to the weekend, my beloveds. I hope it’s pleasant and calm for you, in whatever proportion of both you desire. And now I’ve got to finish absorbing this coffee…

Worlds and Vessels

Woke up with a great silence inside my chest instead of pain. I think it’s emotional exhaustion; I would worry over it, but I can’t scrape up the wherewithal.

Boxnoggin is adjusting to becoming the only canine in the house. He seems to like it more than Bailey ever did. I’m watching carefully, but there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong. Certainly it’s a rather large change and he’s no longer being directed by a bossy Aussie with far more mental horsepower than he could ever dream of–Box is very loving, and sometimes cunning when chasing a squirrel, but otherwise his brain is two wet sticks, occasionally finding each other long enough to rub together and produce a thin curl of smoke. It’s not a bad thing, he certainly doesn’t seem to feel any lack.

It’s just…different. He likes the longer walks, he eats with gusto, he does his best to remind his humans of the more important things in life, like chest-rubs and toy games. He cuddles up to me at night and won’t let me out of bed in the morning without some solid cuddle-time, either. It helps both of us, I think.

I’ve got to get back to work. A skeleton-scene in Hell’s Acre was done yesterday, but it needs something, I’m just not quite sure what. I know what the point of the scene is–the overt antagonist is both fishing for information on the heroine and also looking to rub another character’s nose in some rather ugly personal history, while said other character’s aim is to unsettle and irritate the overt antagonist enough that he doesn’t clue into the fact that the heroine is, in fact, not merely a penniless schoolteacher from Gaul with an uncanny resemblance to a certain long-dead lady. So there are competing agendas here, and the scene needs another whack to get the dialogue settled, the exposition trimmed, and the bloody plot advanced.

Not only that, but a hundred pages of line edits were merrily taken care of. Startlingly, the books undergoing this last pass before CEs are…not terrible? The last time I sent them in to the editor I devoutly hoped never to see them again, but they’re not so bad as all that. In fact, one could say they’re rather…well, they seem good, which is a distinct relief. This is part of the process when bringing a book to publication. It’s a relief on the one hand–feeling that one’s work is stupid, useless, and janky after one’s gone through several editing passes is awful even though I know it always happens, it’s just a phase–but also sad, because it means the book is moving away from being one of my own private worlds, going out to become part of others’. There’s almost a mourning in it, though I know that in the end, when the book is out and I pick it up years later in order to refresh my memory or chase down a particular reference, I will find out that plenty of it remains entirely private and personal. There’s so, so much Readers never see–they only get the part of the iceberg that shows above the waterline. The rest, the vast mass underneath, is all mine, always.

So while I’m numb I can get some work done, though I have to push relatively hard to get through the internal static. Everything takes thrice as long when I’m in this state, because I have to be very careful I don’t just throw up my hands and say, “Fuck it, good enough.” That would be a disservice to Readers, let alone to the work itself. At least while I’m in another world I’m not thinking about the pain and mess in this one. Certainly it echoes, and those other worlds are crucial vessels for transmuting said mess and pain into other things, but I get a break from the suffering. A momentary escape.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Tolkien’s assertion that it’s our duty to escape reality sometimes, and to take others with us. As a writer I’m unable to look away, and I’m also unable to stop transforming the world I see, at least in fiction. Between those two paradoxical poles is the balance any creative has to keep.

Like riding a bike. The knowledge never goes away, echoing in the body, but it’s also a gate to memory. A gate one is shoved ruthlessly through when one climbs aboard, naturally.

In any case the coffee is finished, brekkie needs to be scorched and consumed, and there’s walkies as well as a run to drag myself through. Then I can slither into the work for a while and find some relief. That will be nice.

Let’s hope Tuesday behaves rather as Monday did, for once. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but…here we are.

Onward and inward, I suppose. Excelsior, and all that.

Flood Stage, Numb

Woke up to find out some Reply Guys had found my massive thread1 on watching the Netflix documentary about Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. I really shouldn’t check social media before coffee; my patience for mansplainers, sealions, and red herrings is at an all-time low before caffeine works through my tissues.

Of course, it’s never really high to begin with, so…yeah. I used to respond patiently when I responded at all, but to hell with that. If you’re going to ask me for emotional labor or try to roll a barrel of bad-faith bullshit, you’re going to get ignored OR get the unfiltered response you deserve.

The rain has slacked off a bit, and the river is at flood stage. I think the numbness of grief has passed, and now I’m tetchy. The fact that I have to get back to bloody work doesn’t help. I mean, work is the only thing that’s going to save me, and it’s the only thing making me feel better now…and yet.

And yet.

I have those bloody line edits to get underway–I’m glad I asked for the extra time, good job, Past Lili–and Hell’s Acre needs a great deal of attention, loving or otherwise. The board is set and the pieces are moving there, and today I have to write Rexton (the overt antagonist) visiting the Greatfather of Taurrock. Neither of them are going to be happy with the result of that visit, I think. Of course I could not care less what Rexton feels, but the Greatfather is a tragic case.

Before that, though, there’s walkies and a run to get through, not to mention finishing the damn coffee. On the bright side, my cinnamon tea should arrive today, and depending on when it does I might be able to have a cuppa and see if I like it. And I spent most of yesterday doing housework and reading Way of the House Husband. It’s rare that I like an anime as much as I like a manga, or vice versa, but in this case I find both utterly charming. I can’t wait for Volume 8.

Oh, and Friday’s Tea with Lili is up on YouTube; it’s about hating your heroes and the duty to escape. I’m getting a flood of questions about the Valentine series lately, so I might answer some of those in the next tea. We’ll see.

…I suppose I should bloody well get on with it. The line edits won’t do themselves, more’s the pity, and I need to work ahead on the serial a bit in order to be comfortable. I would like to do a bit more in the Space Werewolves story, but at this point it’s procrastination instead of actual work and I’ve got to Be Responsible. (Bother.) Which means I shall bring this to a close, bolt the last remaining swallow of coffee, and get some bread in the toaster since running on an empty stomach isn’t allowed any more.

As it gets older, the body takes its vengeance. Poor thing, it’s had enough of my hijinks.

Happy Monday, everyone. May we all get through intact. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for…

Green Fire

Tender? Yes. Weak? No.

The rhododendrons suffered badly under the heat dome last year. (Thanks, corporate-fueled climate change!) I was afraid we’d lost fully half of them. They straggled through the winter, and the only reason I didn’t take them out was because suppleness still lurked in their limbs instead of the dry-bone feeling of dead wood. That, and my stupid, persistent kindness, the willingness to see if things will get better, to whisper “do what you must, I’ll help all I can” to maybe-dead plants.

Now, in a wet spring, fresh growth covers them. On my low days, I wonder why they’ve bothered. And there have been a lot of low days lately, what with All This.

It also makes me wonder if it hurts a phoenix to burn. Renewal is at the end of the fire, certainly, but it never comes without cost. Does the fragile, sticky, delicate new growth ache as it bursts free? Does the phoenix feel a sweet pain, cold air hitting wet wings as a butterfly struggles out of necessary confinement? Will I endure long enough that this agony becomes simply something that was instead of it hurts, it hurts now, it hurts so much?

I don’t know, and the rhododendrons aren’t saying. I touch their trunks, feel the living weight of their branches, examine the raw, downy leaves. For a bare moment the pain lessens a fraction, and I take a deep breath. Sometimes, simply enduring is the only courage possible–or necessary.

Gods grant me strength to sing through this fire, and to cover the scars with green when it’s over.

Wise Fools, Everywhere, All at Once

I meant to get a chunk of the line edits done up yesterday, but the world had other plans. I ended up driving down to Molalla to get Bailey’s cremains.

It was a lovely drive, traffic was easy both ways and there were beautiful fluffy clouds in an achingly blue sky. Miss B got to return home in the front seat–always a great ambition of hers, she never liked to be in the back. It was entirely too much distance between her and her beloved human, even though said human insisted it was far safer for her royal self.

I suppose it was the last thing I was waiting for. Now she’s home, in a box of pressed mulberry fiber. Which is nice enough, and I’ll find a sturdier (all-weather) urn in a little bit. Once I can look at the container without bursting into tears.

Yeah. Did a lot of crying yesterday, and was useless for any kind of work. Ended up going to bed early and watching Everything Everywhere All at Once, which Skyla recommended. She said it was like the end of Hyperbole and a Half’s “Depression Part 2, which at once explains everything about the movie, gives nothing away, and also told me it was perhaps what I needed.

I ended up sobbing so hard my chest hurt. I thought I was having some kind of cardiac arrest. But Boxnoggin was supremely unworried, he just wanted to snuggle and lick my tear-wet cheeks. I figured that if I were really having a heart attack, he would be a little more perturbed. As it was, he seemed to consider what I was doing weird but necessary, so I just…went with it. That’s the difference between Five Years Ago Me and Present Me, I suppose.

It is a really good movie, and if you’ve seen it you’ll understand the humor of me snort-laughing through my tears and saying to my dog, “Oh, shit, *Boxnoggin’s Real Name*. I’m Waymond.”

Ever been crying so hard your ribs ache, laughing at the same time, caught between sorrow and absurdity, a rope between two black holes? Yeah. Like that.

Anyway, I turned off the light once the movie was done and commended my soul(s) to the gods, just in case it was some sort of cardiac thing. It was somewhat anticlimactic to wake this morning to a heavy marine layer, Smashing Pumpkins’s 1979 playing in my head for some reason, my heart continuing its weary work, and Boxnoggin grinning at me, demanding belly rubs.

See, he seemed to be saying, like the wise fool he is, I told you it was fine, you just needed a good cry.

So he gets a long-ish ramble today, and I swear I’m going to start those line edits. The last week and a half has been bloody endless, it’s felt like a year, and I am tormented with the sense that I’m months behind as well as the deep aching hole of missing my shadow. At least she’s home, where I can touch her, I can hold the box when I need another good cry now. It hurts, certainly. It hurts a lot.

But that pain is a measure of the love, and I would not trade that for anything. And she didn’t go alone–that would’ve been ever so much worse. Nothing loved is ever truly lost, thank goodness.

The coffee needs finishing. The ramble needs doing. I have to pull my own weary corpse through a run as well, and then, by the gods, I will open these line edits and go back into The Dead God’s Heart. And when I need to I’ll retreat to my bedroom, hold the box, and cry some more.

Be gentle with yourselves today, my beloveds. Everything is hard right now, but maybe…well, maybe it’s not all hopeless bullshit.

Maybe.

Songs, Handholds

The week continues. I woke up with Janet Jackson’s Nasty in my head, playing at jet-takeoff levels. It is indeed what the kids call these days a sick groove. I’d forgotten Paula Abdul was in that video, so I probably should listen to Straight Up and Rush, Rush this morning too. Not to mention some Pointer Sisters. Sometimes that’s how the day goes, using songs like handholds, working my way up the cliff face.

It’s very bright this morning; the sun rising in a clear blue sky but still trapped behind the cedars. A tenuous, fragile peace fills me; it could be simple emotional exhaustion. I think I’ve gone numb, to a certain degree. The hurt is still there, a slice from sharp rocks under ice-cold water, I just can’t feel the damage.

I did manage to get the line edits open yesterday, at least. It’s not bad, I’m just resisting reading the books again because they deal with grief and I have all I can handle sitting in my chest at the moment, a granite egg holding something horrific. Most of yesterday I was sunk in the space werewolves thing, occasionally stopping to yell “OH MY GOD JUST KISS” at the characters.

Not sure if this story will do what I want. They rarely do. I just wanted some fluff, but the characters are talking and both of them have goals and backstories hardly conducive to what I intended. I talk a lot about the balance between absolute control of and absolute submission to the work, but sometimes one just wants the bike to go in the direction one’s steering, goddammit.

On the bright side(?), there was a Jerry sighting yesterday during dinner. The poor fellow really is hapless, and I feel bad for laughing. Whatever was wrong with him, I suspect it happened before he interacted with Boxnoggin, and I’m glad his fellow corvids (especially Carl and Sandra) pitch in to help him out. And–not gonna lie–I feel somewhat of a kinship with him. God knows I bumble through life trying desperately not to crash into any trees, literal or figurative.

Yesterday there was a small earthquake in the area. Don’t worry, it was only 2.8 on the Richter, and I’ve long ago made my peace with living on the Ring of Fire. (And now I’m humming Johnny Cash.) I was at my desk, and my first thought was that the wood had achieved sentience and given a shiver. Then my heart exploded with joy because I thought it was Bailey was in the footwell, as was her wont sometimes, and she’d turned over or settled with a huff, shaking the entire piece of furniture. Then I checked, remembering afresh that she’s gone, and wondered if it was her ghost, or if I was telekinetic, or if I had finally gone ’round the bend and was hallucinating.

I’ve been told I’m crazy, or too imaginative, all my life. (Despite my intuition being right 98% of the time, I might add.) Funny, ennit, how we can be trained to disbelieve our own perceptions?

Yeah. Hilarious.

The coffee is almost done, so I should shuffle out to the kitchen for some toast. Today Boxnoggin gets a long walk, and he’ll enjoy that muchly. He’s taken to prancing when he leaves the house in harness, and clearly considers himself my protector even more than he used to. Getting it through his canine head that I’m the one in charge takes plenty of patient redirection, but at least when I’m doing that I’m not glancing to my other side to check on the empty spot that should be holding Miss B.

I hope the peace lasts. And I hope I can get these damn characters to kiss sometime soon. If they won’t, well…there are worse things, I suppose, and at least I’m being distracted.

See you around.