From Coffee to Flinger

I’ve switched back to the Moka pot for morning coffee; the Chemex, while pleasant, wasn’t doing enough. I suppose if I had two and poured the results of first brewing through the filter in the second it might, which would be a fun experiment but not one I’m going to try right now.

Of course, with all the caffeine I’ve ingested in my lifetime, my adrenal glands are probably the size of pinpricks. Yesterday I found out the tea I thought was herbal actually had green tea leaves in it, which explains why I was almost vibrating in place with an aching head after a couple cups.

Caffeine is a funny thing. I cut my coffee and black tea with heavy cream, but with green tea or herbal that won’t work. Consequently, there’s no buffer when I drink green tea, and I come down with giant flaming headaches most of the time I ingest it.

It’s a quiet, rainy morning. Miss B will like her morning walkies–she is an all-weather dog–but Boxnoggin is going to complain and high-step the entire way, shaking his wet paws mournfully and giving me reproachful looks. You’d think a dog born in Texas would be fine with our much more temperate weather, but all he does is complain it’s not hot enough, what’s with all this moss?

The stress nausea in the mornings is going down to a low grumble instead of a rollercoaster plunge every few moments. I might be adapting to the continuous stress, or all the housecleaning I’ve been doing lately has worked off any residual feeling and left me drained. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I’ll just be glad to eat breakfast.

I keep telling myself none of this is normal, it’s absolutely reasonable to feel beside oneself, and that the reaction shows I’m in fact conscious and firing on all cylinders. It feels like I’ve been in training for this catastrophe my entire life. Maybe if the disaster ever rumbles into the distance I’ll find myself standing bruised and shaken by the tracks, able to return to some kind of normal functioning.

Maybe.

In the meantime, we’re having a little fun Chez Saintcrow. The Princess, bless her dear heart and quirky sense of humor, invested in a little thing that’s supposed to bring us hours of joy. Curious? So was I when the package arrived.

Look upon this work, ye mighty rodents, and DESPAIR.

That, my friends, is what’s known as a Yankee Flipper. It is battery-powered, a game-changer in our ongoing war (well, not quite a war, more like a fond wish or two) against the damn tree-rats in the habit of plundering our bird feeders. The birds have already found it, and their weight doesn’t trigger any motion–but when a squirrel tries to hop on and help themselves, the bottom part is supposed to spin like the dickens. (I’m sure you’ve all seen the gifs.)

I had my office window open almost all weekend, hoping to hear the thing go off. I am a little worried that it might fling one of the fuzzy little thieves against the house or the tree, which would mean I’d have to take the entire thing down. I don’t want to hurt the fluffy-tailed fauna, I just want them to let the birds have their meals in peace.

I know they’ve been trying to suss out what the hell, because every time Boxnoggin goes out his presence drives a scout–occasionally even Barda!Squirl, Wild Explorer of the Backyard–up the massive fir you can see the entire contraption hanging from. Should there be a dazed or flung squirrel, Boxnoggin stands ready. I don’t think he wants to schnorgle them like Trundles always did, though.

Even Miss B is nonplussed by this turn of events. She’ll eye the hanging feeder for a few moments, then look at me with her eyebrows up. She’s not moving as quickly as she used to these days, having become an elderly statesdog; I’m sure, though, she’ll temporarily rediscover her youth and springiness if there’s a chance to herd Boxnoggin and a tree-rat.

…honestly, I can’t wait. I’ll keep you all updated on the SquirrelFlinger as events warrant. So far it’s been one of the few good things about quarantine.

And now both dogs need their walk in the rain. Wish me luck, dear Reader. I have this feeling I’m going to need it.

A Rose is a Rose

It was quite a shock to take the dogs through the rose garden and find this fine lady, opened up early and enjoying our mild, warmish spring. I get so wrapped up in what’s happening online or politically or with publishing, I forget that there’s a whole world just outside the side gate.

Forgive the blurring–I was trying to take the picture with two eager dogs strapped to my waist. They wanted their walkies and were not inclined to pause so I could fiddle with the shiny little pocket-brick that holds so much of their human’s attention, like the glowing box on said human’s desk.

Anyway, I never expected the roses to survive. They’re finicky creatures, greedy for attention. But they seem to be doing quite well in the side yard, maybe because all the squirrels I’ve buried there are ghost-cavorting enough to please them.

I wish you a pleasant weekend, dear Reader, full of nice things and relaxation. My own will be spent doing some library maintenance–I meant to put it off until Saturday, but the past couple evenings my resistance broke down because I was already cleaning and organizing, why not just continue and keep the momentum? I’ll probably take a whack at cleaning the rest of my office and getting the printer set up, too.

I’d like to think that eventually I would have done this anyway without *waves hands* all this, but that’s probably untrue. Or maybe I’m just finding silver linings on very, very heavy clouds. Who knows?

In any case, we’re all clinging by teeth and toenails. It helps, in however small a fashion, to know someone’s clinging right next to us.

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.

Thorns

For some reason, these bushes and Summer from Gallow & Ragged are inextricably tangled in my head. It might be because Summer’s truename is linked to thorns; she was a handmaiden who loved them, once.

These fellows mean business. Just look at them; I wouldn’t want to fall into their clutches. They’re a defense; these shrubs are common around apartment buildings and homes in this area. Sometimes important things need guarding. I won’t deny I’m feeling a little tender lately, and could use a hedge or two.

Have a good weekend, everyone. Be gentle with yourselves each other. But also, don’t hesitate to use a wall of thorns if you need to protect yourself. We’re all feeling rather bruised right now.

Progress, Perfection, Rope

I’m deep in copyedits for The Poison Prince. Normally I’d be almost done with them by now, but current world events are slowing me down. I’m a bit upset; I didn’t think everything was affecting me this much. I thought I was doing rather well keeping my balance, but it appears I was borrowing trouble.

I’m trying not to feel too bad about it–these are extraordinary, historical times, and there will be a few bumps on the road of rising to the occasion. Aiming for the person I want to be is sometimes difficult–like this morning, when I arose from my bed in a deeply cranky, stab-everything mood.

Coffee is helping. For a stimulant, it certainly soothes the inner rage-monster. I had decided this year was one for serious inner work anyway, it’s just my luck that I set myself that goal doing a fascist takeover and worldwide pandemic.

I never do things the easy way.

I’ve been watching some trash TV lately, and one of the things I’ve been thinking about is being a better person. Plenty of my stories revolve around people making choices under high-stress conditions–Jill Kismet springs to mind, natch.

In an episode I watched yesterday, a character made a comment about fighting an enemy with no honor, and being ready for that. Which led me down a series of interesting mental paths.

Just fighting isn’t the important thing, though there comes a time when one must absolutely make a stand. The older I get, the more I think the important bit is how one fights. Just because an enemy is ruthless, honorless, and fascistic doesn’t absolve one of the burden of behaving well, especially while fighting.

Part of the problem is that human beings can talk themselves into “end justifies the means” with such great ease. It’s a waterslide to hell instead of a primrose path. People know when they’re doing wrong–when they’re being bigoted douchewads, for example. The ones who behave badly simply don’t care. It’s easy to think that if you’re facing people who just don’t care you should borrow from their playbook. Fight fire with fire, right?

Except fire isn’t the best way to fight itself. Water, chemical foam, starving it of oxygen, removing fuel–we have options. We understand the nature of fire, and when we are honest with ourselves about the temptation to use it we’re all safer.

How we fight, especially how we fight fascist dickwads and malignant corporate douchebags, is the important thing. And further, that it’s incumbent upon each person to fight without becoming a dickwad douchebag oneself.

One of the hallmarks of Jill Kismet’s character is that she knows when she’s damned. She’s ruthlessly honest with herself about her motivations, her capabilities, her temptations. I was trying to express, in whatever fumbling fashion, that we all, deep down, know. We cannot be damned by some all-seeing Bronze Age sky fairy. The only one who can send you down the primrose waterslide is you.

The slope is steep and greasy, and hauling yourself back up is difficult. It is not, however, impossible, and it’s well worth the effort, the pain, the risk. (Dum spiro, spero, and all that.) I’m not talking atonement or redemption, though both concepts can overlap and feed into what I am actually talking about–which is the choice, moment to moment, to be a better person.

Even when you’re faced with those who don’t give a shit.

I believe there is deep, unavoidable, endless power in the work to become a better person. Even if we never get there, even if the climb is impossibly steep, it isn’t really the destination that matters. One never gets to the top and gets a prize, one never is finished and arrives at a state of static perfection. What we’re after is progress, is the effort itself.

I like the Equalizer movies with Denzel Washington, partly because of one crucial scene (nobody else might think it’s crucial, but it’s an invisible narrative “hook” that makes the whole story hang correctly) where Robert is coaching a fellow employee who wants to make security guard. “Progress, not perfection,” Washington says, and the way he calmly delivers the line has stuck with me since I watched it.

The point isn’t reaching some mythical state of flawlessness. The point is to keep trying, over and over again, hand over hand up the knotted, endless rope of life.

Even if, especially if the universe is set up so the douchebags win, it matters how we fight. I am reminded of Terry Pratchett’s Death explaining how children must be started out on the little lies–Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the like–so they can believe the big ones like justice and mercy. If there is no atom of justice or mercy in the cosmos, it is even more imperative we behave as if there is and hold ourselves to its standard.

Obedience out of simple fear is poisonous. Being a better person even when you know there’s no reward or punishment is a cure. There is nobody grading this exam, but that just makes it all the more important to take it the right way. I believe this with every fiber in me.

…I started out meaning to moan about copyedits, but I ended up explicating a core part of my personal philosophy. Maybe it’s the coffee.

What we do is important, but how we do it is even more important. There’s no one right way, but we know plenty of the wrong ways; sooner or later, we find inklings of our own individual right ways. Inside each of us is an abyss, thread-thin but infinitely deep. From it comes our worst impulses and also the means to turn them to our advantage, as well as the small, still, whistling voice that tells us how to avoid damnation.

May we all find the strength to listen, and to pull ourselves up the slope.