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.

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.

From Cold Blood to Hope

Monday again? I would demand a recount, but I know it’s useless. One can’t argue with time. Well, I suppose one could, but being incarnated in flesh makes it a losing proposition, and I already have enough of those.

I spent a quiet, rainy weekend cleaning the house, taking walks with Boxnoggin, and generally just trying to adjust. And writing space werewolves, for some reason.

Intellectually I know I’m distracting myself from grief. It might be a mistake to use the werewolves to do it, since when the pain fades I might not be able to open up the story’s file again without being reminded of the hurt. On the other hand, pouring the agony of missing my shadow, the fuzzy little queen of my heart–because that’s what she was–into a meant-to-be-fluffy story is far from the worst way to handle something like this. At least it’s a manner of creation, and if the story distracts me, it might distract a Reader or two from the current trashfire in the news or even a more personal tragedy. Who knows?

It’s the little things that hurt most. Cleaning off her brushes–she was a long-haired pooch with a lovely undercoat–for the last time. Getting two bedtime treats out of the bag, and having to return one because there’s only a single dog waiting for the usual nighttime snack. Tucking my feet under my chair at the table, since she liked to lie right in front, both for closeness and for the occasional scrap. I’m unable to move the pillows on the couch because she never liked them on “her” end, and would toss fat decorative things onto the floor with a sideways glance if we dared to rest any there. Getting down two dog bowls in the morning, and having to put one back while my throat closes up and my eyes prickle.

I do want to thank you–all of you–for your kind words and condolences. Thankfully, not a single person has said, “but it’s just a dog.” They are never just dogs, or cats, or fish, or birds. To have a pet is to share the most intimate moments of one’s life with another creature, to be responsible for them in all ways, to have a companion in every sense. We share our hearts, our homes, and the deepest bits of ourselves, and when they’re gone it hurts dreadfully.

And that’s all I want to say about that right now.


I finished reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood this weekend. I thought I’d read it before, but apparently I haven’t–at least, not since I started keeping a reading log. (I actually keep two, one in Airtable and one in my book cataloguing software, since the latter doesn’t list ebooks.) It’s a fascinating time capsule, and also interesting to see how he took the conventions of true-detective magazines and married them to a few journalistic ones, plus a literary device or two, creating standards for an essentially new genre. I’ve read a lot of true crime, and it’s fascinating to see one of the seminal works. Capote also took the chance to write about aspects of the crime that, while sensational, are also important–both Smith and Hickcock showed signs of sociopathy; Capote almost instinctively zeroed in on them–while he pushed the boundaries of “acceptable” language at the time.

I can see why Capote was famous, and can also see how he could have been bloody insufferable. I wonder about the effect Harper Lee had on his work, and indeed if she wrote some things for him, content to shy away from the spotlight but still keep producing work. I freely admit that last bit could just be projection on my part; I can’t imagine not writing once one has gotten into the habit.

With that finished, I turned back to Anaïs Nin’s diaries. I might as well finish the stack, and there’s a great deal in there that speaks to my current situation, both on a meta and a micro-level. She felt it was her job to love, to bring life back into the world, to resurrect what was murdered. She certainly lived in the right timeframe for it, and her unquestioning faith that such things are possible both pains me and fills me with longing. I wish I could believe half as hard as she did.


All that aside, though, it’s the drop-dead date for starting the line edits on The Dead God’s Heart. Long-time Readers will recognize the story–I’ve talked about the two books as “American Gods meets John Wick“, and subscribers have seen bits and pieces of them. They’ll be out next year, I think? When I have preorder links, believe me, I’ll let you guys know.

Work goes on, even through heartbreak. My first quad-shot of the day is almost absorbed, then it will be time for toast and maybe a few paragraphs of Nin before walkies. Boxnoggin likes the longer rambles, and we’re slowly working up to a different route, about twice the distance Bailey could comfortably handle near the end. He’s a sensitive fellow, and I don’t want to overwork him. So it’s slight changes, one by one, with a lot of rests in-between. Then I run my own tired corpse, putting together the day’s work inside my head while I do so. I might be able to sneak away a bit, perhaps after dinner, and work on space werewolves.

That’s the thing I’m looking forward to most, other than bedtime. Crawling back into bed and never coming out is a seductive thought, but as always there’s work to be done. No rest for the weary or the wicked, and today I’m both.

May our Monday be as pleasant as possible, my beloveds. Even though it’s, well, a Monday, we can view it as a fresh start to some extent. And there’s a bit of hope in that. Not much–I do not have the capacity for much at the moment–but a little.

Which will have to suffice, and gods grant it’s enough.

Over and out.

Office of Reminders

Quiet, warm, and grey, morning has swallowed us again. The birds have had the dawn chorus and are still going strong, though without the…exuberance, let’s say, of their sunrise ruckus. The grapevine is about to bloom, I think, though the dahlias still haven’t made an appearance. I think the squirrels dug up and ate them, probably furious that the Yankee Squirrel Deathride 5000 is full of sunflower seeds but impervious to their tricks.

Boxnoggin needed a lot of cuddles this morning; frankly, so did I. He isn’t looking wildly around for Bailey like she did for Max after poor Odd passed on. This is a huge change and a member of the pack is gone. He’s uninterested in brekkie and relatively low-energy–at least, considering his usual self. I think he’s desperately uncertain whether this change means a corresponding difference in his rights and responsibilities, since he was relentlessly bossed and reminded of such every second of the day by Her Majesty. So he needs a lot of structure, and a lot of encouragement. His grief is more bafflement than anything. I think he forgets she’s gone near hourly.

So do I. It’s hard when I glance down before rising from any chair to make sure I won’t step on her. I tuck my feet under my kitchen chair because she habitually settled before it, and going down the hall without her padding behind me is unnerving. Last night I woke up a few times, almost frantic because I could only hear one set of canine snores.

You know what else is weird? For the first time in decades, I’m visiting the loo alone–and when I open the door, there is no reproachful stare and audible huff of displeasure. Bailey didn’t even like that small separation; she was a true Velcro dog. It’s also so strange to use her name here. While living, my pets have noms d’internets; it’s just safer for everyone that way. But now, I suppose it doesn’t matter.

I have to try for some work today. The schedule doesn’t stop for grief, and if I don’t write we don’t eat. There are still plenty of living beings depending on me. The kids have taken it hard–she was their first dog, and taught them a lot–and our dinner last night was full of stories. Remember that time she got Max in trouble with the ham? Remember how she used to sit right there? Oh, man, I just checked under the table for her…remember how she herded squirrels? Remember that time at the dog park where she herded six dogs out into the field?

Remember, remember, remember. It’s what we have left.

So I drink my coffee in an office full of reminders. Boxnoggin divides his time between keeping watch out the front window and coming to check on me, sometimes just for a moment, sometimes needing a belly rub and to be reassured that he’s a good boy. Since we don’t have an elderly companion walkies can be longer this morning; as soon as I move away from the desk and breakfast-ward he’ll be comforted by the sameness of routine and excited at the prospect of a ramble.

Thank you all for your kind words, and especially for the donations to the Humane Society in Bailey’s memory. I can’t respond personally to each as I’d like–for one thing, the sobbing would soon become endemic–but please know I read each and every one, and I am comforted a bit by your kindness. I know everyone thinks their dog is exceptional, and that every dog is exceptional, but Bailey really was the best. Thank you, very much.

It’s a terrible thing, that the world can go on when someone we love is gone. I know it’s how it should be, I know it’s for the best. And yet that’s no comfort. Not yet, not now, perhaps not ever.

So I’ll finish my coffee and try for some breakfast. Then Boxnoggin and I will ramble, and I’ll tell him what a good boy he is. I’ll try to work today, and to tell my kids and friends that I love them. I’ll do my chores, cry when I have to, and sink my grief into stories, trying to find some meaning in All This. That’s the job, that’s the work, and it continues.

Over and out.

Adieu, Miss B

Snug and sound, on her penultimate day.

Her name was Bailey; Miss B was her nom d’internet. I came down the hall at the shelter, looked into her cage, and the instant our gazes met we belonged to each other. Can we go home now, she asked, and I said, through the lump in my throat, “Oh, God, darling, yes, I’ll handle it.”

The first night she was home, she was woozy from the spaying anesthetic, and I carried her outside for bathroom breaks. There were accidents all night, and she would give me a soulful look as if to apologize, while I hastened to assure her that it was just fine, laundry was easy, she just had to rest and get better.

She loved running with me, and herding. She loved snuggles, and being rubbed right above the base of her tail. She adored peanut butter, and hated visiting the vet. She was smart, and fierce, and fast, and loyal. She was the very best. She herded squirrels and cats, outfoxed Neo!Squirrel more than once, longed to make closer acquaintance of Phred the Coyote, bossed her humans and cats and packmates into good behavior, slept on my bed every night, and was my familiar, in every sense of the word.

She greeted Odd Trundles, mothered him, and missed him so badly when he passed on that we had to take her to the shelter so she could choose a companion–Boxnoggin won that contest, and she supervised him relentlessly.

He did not mind.

Dogs get old, naturally, and her body started to break down. She could no longer run with me, but that was all right because there were walkies. But age is relentless, and wore away at her. I knew when May began that we didn’t have much time left. Each week I thought, “well, at least this isn’t the week I lose her.” But last Sunday came, and her body was failing, and she was in pain. She told me she was ready–in a few days.

I didn’t quite understand why she was so insistent about that part, but I think she was waiting for the rain to stop. It never bothered her much–she was an all-weather dog–but her joints ached a bit in the damp. And so today, the first gloriously sunny warm day of real spring, Bailey got up early and insisted on walkies. She sniffed everything thoroughly, and marked at the bottom of the hill and at the top. She waited patiently for the appointed time, greeted the traveling vet like a queen bestowing favor on a visiting ambassador, and laid down in my lap.

And then she left us. She left…me.

She went into the clear rational light of What Comes Next on our deck while the birds sang, surrounded by her people, with Boxnoggin keeping guard. She had her way to the very end, and her very last taste of the world was her favorite bacon grease on her favorite type of biscuit. I told her what a good girl she was, how much I loved her, that I hoped after a rest she’d want to come back because I would miss her so, so much. I told her to carry my love to Odd Trundles–Max–and I told her that I didn’t deserve her but I loved her, loved her, love her so much, love her still.

The children grieve, of course–she was the first dog they ever really knew. Boxnoggin knows she is gone; he nosed her body gently and said his goodbyes.

I am undone.

I keep looking around for my shadow, my faithful companion, my Constant Girl. I keep listening for her footsteps in the hall. She was my girl, and she’s gone. The pain is the price of having her for those glorious, too-short years, and I pay it gladly because I was the human she chose. She had every reason to distrust humanity, but she chose and trusted me. There was nothing she would not have done for me, and vice versa.

If you enjoyed her stories and wish to honor her, please give your furry companions some extra love. Be gentle with yourselves, and remember to bask in the sun a bit, eat something nice, and take a nap. If you like, you can donate to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, who rescued her and let me take my beautiful girl home. (They also saved Boxnoggin and the Mad Tortie; they’re good folk.)

I know it was for the best. I know she was hurting, and it was time. It would have been selfish of me to ask her to stay longer, though I wanted to, oh how I wanted to. I know, I know, I know it all, but the knowledge brings little comfort.

She was the best, and now she is gone, and I am undone. I am blessed to have had her as long as I did, and I hope to see her again someday.

Sooner or later, gods grant. Her memory–like the rest of her–was, is, and will be a blessing.

From Roof to Dementia

So I’ve been fighting with the mortgage company, which decided to insert itself into the claims process–remember that freak snowstorm that damaged the roof, the deck, and our fences? Well, the insurance company won’t pay out what’s required (they are not good neighbors, let’s leave it at that) but they did pay out enough to defray the cost of a new roof, so that’s what we’re doing.

The fences and deck, well, they’ll have to wait their turn. We could already have the roof repaired if not for the sodding mortgage company. It’s taken six phone calls–four of which “customer service” or the phone tree hung up on–over the last two days to politely but firmly insist they get their asses together. I’ve been dealing with bureaucratic phone trees and judo-ing institutions ever since I knew phones existed, so this is simply annoying, but the very last bit threatens to fill me with actual anger.

The check they insisted they had to endorse as well? They’re attempting to send it back first-class. No tracking number, no insurance, nothing. Not only does this company try to nickel, dime, and squeeze “service fees” and everything else out of those unfortunate enough to have their mortgages acquired (without our consent, I might add), I have the sneaking suspicion they’re going to try to “lose” the insurance payout check. It’s as if they want to delay repairs until properties becomes uninhabitable, likely so they can scoop up said properties on the cheap and resell them at a huge profit.

I am THISCLOSE to publicly naming and shaming this institution. I don’t have much, if any, social media clout, but by the gods sometimes I’m tempted to use what little I have to teach nasty bullies and scammers the error of their ways.

Anyway. The news at large has also been dreadful, I have been unable to work with all the rest of this going on, and May is also historically a terrible month for me. I’m almost at the point of considering all this absurd and breaking down into screechy laughter, which will be terrifying for anyone in the vicinity but will also mean I’m focusing on the absurdity of suffering life under these conditions instead of the pain I’m witnessing daily.

On the other hand, I’ve gulped and put that damn werelion book up for preorder. Come June 1 it will be taken down from the serial platform, and my plan is to get the bloody thing out in September, though I’ve given myself all of October as well. It’s always better to be able to release a preorder early than to ask for more time to complete it; a padded schedule is just good practice. The book might be terrible, but it’s not unfinished, a few serial readers and beta readers have told me it was just what they needed, and I have to believe that even amid All This the world needs a few stories to just forget about the rest of the nonsense with.

I tell others “trust the work”, and I suppose it’s only fair life arranges things so I’m forced to do so as well. (What? You mean I have to take my own advice? Who came up with that rule?)

At least I’m beginning to see the funny side. Not of the news cycle–there is nothing funny about the cavalcade of horrors we’re forced to endure under late-stage capitalism and its attendant racism and misogyny. But my own particular fight with windmills does have its hilarious bits. My stubbornness has been engaged, and if you’ve hung around here for any length of time at all, you know that’s a recipe for mordant wit and sarcastic disaster.

So today is a toss-up between writing the space-werewolf-pro-wrestler erotica, or finishing formatting a certain other book. I have to believe that telling even my weird little stories has some value, that providing a few hours’ worth of relief for my readers can somehow ameliorate the pain. I have to believe it, otherwise…well, let’s not talk about otherwise.

But dear gods, it’s difficult.

At least this is not the week I lose Miss B. The time is fast approaching, but I have a few more days to spend with her. That’s a bright spot even if her doggie dementia is rapidly getting worse. She gets anxious if she “loses” me in the house, though she does accept Boxnoggin as somewhat of a substitute when I have to go for a run or a quick shopping trip. Fortunately, she doesn’t get violent at all, just confuzzled and attempting-to-herd, and Boxnoggin doesn’t mind her bossing him about. He treats it like play, and wears her out until they collapse in a puppy-heap.

When she chose him as a companion, she chose very well indeed.

So that’s the state of the Lili this Thursday, my beloveds. I hope your day is much more peaceful; barring that, I hope you can see the absurd side. It’s better than screaming, I guess. (If it’s not…well, don’t tell me.)

Over and out.