Visual Rest

Over the weekend I (finally) read How to Win Friends and Influence People–it had been referred to thrice by three separate people within a week, which is usually a sign I should at least glance at something. I was somewhat pleased to find out most of it’s stuff I already do as a matter of course.

I was forcibly struck, however, by how much of the book presumes a parity of privilege between the two involved in friendly communication. Some of the principles can be altered slightly for dealing with people possessing far more privilege than oneself, it’s true. But the book, when taken as a sole guide to human interaction, woefully underprepares one for dealing with malignant narcissists and rampant, toxic bigots.

Of course one should never take any one book as one’s sole guide to human interaction; humans are impossibly complex. But if one’s going to read Carnegie’s opus I think it should be paired with Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear and a great deal of Captain Awkward. Not quite like pairing wine and cheese, more like pairing calcium with vitamin D.

It’s a lovely grey morning full of rain. The flames of deciduous trees shedding their summer robes are dying down; we’re entering the time of monochrome. Or at least, as close to monochrome as firs and pines through a screen of mist can be. I know I’ll be ready for some splashes of color by the time the plum blossoms are ready to emerge, but for right now I could use some visual rest.

I have been rather sharp with people lately, though. Carnegie’s book is a nice reminder to be kind, when I am certain my interlocutor is not toxic. Toxic requires different strategies.

Yesterday evening neither dog would rest until both of them were crammed into the single chair I had settled in. Of course they couldn’t take the loveseat where the Princess was knitting or the couch where the Prince was frowning at his phone, occasionally muttering when a particular boss in a phone game did something rude. Of course not; the dogs simply had to stuff themselves into the smallest occupied space in a pile. The Princess caught a picture, and my expression is a variety of rueful amusement I probably haven’t worn since she and the Prince were toddlers. Then I went to bed, and of course both dogs had to pile atop me there, too.

It was nice and warm, but dreadfully difficult to breathe.

In any case, there’s walkies and a run to accomplish today, both in the rain. Which Boxnoggin will not like, but this is where we live, so deal with it we must. Fortunately his harness is a jacket and keeps the worst of the wet off; he will still high-step and shake his dainty paws every once in a while. He is a very catlike dog.

Tomorrow is a release day; I am already feeling the nerves. So I’m going to go and get what work I can done before I am too beside myself to even attempt to string sentences together, with as much tea as I can brew.

Burning world or not, tea must be made and the words, like spice, must flow.

Some Victories, Not All

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

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

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

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

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

Not all. Just some.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over and out.

Week of Small Mercies

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

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

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

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

Small mercies.

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

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

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

Even smaller mercies, I suppose.

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny mercies, indeed.

The Person They Think Me

It’s not even noon on a Monday (though it will be well past when you read this, dear Reader) and already I’m absolutely ready to stab everything in my path. Part of it’s hormonal, part of it’s exhaustion, part of it’s the state of the world, part of–oh, let’s just say there’s a lot of factors.

This morning’s walk was in fine penetrating drizzle; both dogs were damp within minutes. Miss B is sanguine; her coat is all-weather and as long as she gets her exercise she’s fine with just about anything. Boxnoggin has stopped dramatically throwing himself to the (wet) ground when he’s asked to go outside in the rain. It was a tactic with diminishing returns even when he started employing it, but that didn’t stop his stubborn doggy self, oh no.

After walkies, it was time for a run, still in that same drizzle strengthening to actual rain. (We need many more words for types of rain here in the Pacific Northwest. Many, many more.) Boxnoggin was too excited to obey much for the first couple kilometers, but then he settled with an almost-audible thump and began paying attention.

I did try taking him running with B just after he came to us, but stopped when the vet and I realized he was far too young. It’s always a crapshoot figuring out how old dogs are at a certain point, and he is both pure black and also a high-energy boxer-terrier mix. So at the shelter, people would look at him and say “oh, a black pit bull” and pass him over. He’d been returned numerous times in his young life, and I suspected he thought he’d be returned to the shelter this time too, so he was emotionally shut down and do I blame him? Not a whit.

Now, however, he’s been with us longer than all those other places combined. I joke that only the sweet release of death will free him from our care, but he doesn’t seem to mind. It’s been difficult–he had a lot of energy to work off, a lot of bad habits to kindly, gently coax into better paths, and add to that a puppy’s tendency to get mouthy and the fact that I couldn’t really take him running until both the vet and I were certain he was old enough it wouldn’t damage his joints and you have a recipe for a lot of eye-rolling and “Dog, you make the worst decisions…”

They even said at the shelter that he was “shy.” If there’s one thing this dog is not… I mean, he is almost pathologically gregarious, no matter if most of his social reflexes with other dogs (not to mention humans) tend to take the form of a very loud “PLAY WITH ME PLAY WITH ME PLAY WITH MEEEEEEEEE” until I have to drag him away. It will get better as he settles into both running and adulthood, but he’s so high-energy and needy he ends up driving to distraction even those who want to be friendly.

In short, Boxnoggin requires a lot of patience, very firm boundaries, and occasionally being carried by the handle on his harness as if he’s a valise because he does not make good decisions.

He’s also one of the most loving dogs I’ve ever met. Miss B longs to be under my skin all day; Boxnoggin won’t rest until he’s burrowed into your bones. I wake up with his nose in my armpit more often than not, since Miss B has taken to hopping off the bed in the middle of the night in order to sleep on the cool tile floor of the master loo. And as soon as he suspects I’m fumbling towards consciousness, Boxnoggin gets extremely excited at the prospect of sharing another day with his pack, and can’t contain wriggles or sneezes.

A large dog sneezing into one’s armpit is a strange way to start the day, I must say.

There’s no way to be truly angry at the world when I can cuddle a dog, really. We don’t deserve them; they’ve been with us almost from the beginning, and even at their worst, well, they’re better than the best of us can hope to be.

Gods grant me the strength and patience to be even close to the person Boxnoggin and Miss B clearly think me, especially amid all this.

So I wish this for you today, dear Reader–the comfort of dry socks, a measure of peace even mid-Monday, the luck to accept the unrestrained, joyful love of a canine companion. (Or a feline, equine, or what-have-you one.) I don’t know if humanity is worth saving the world for, but dogs?

Yes, they’re worth the effort. May I never forget it.

Now it’s past noon and time for lunch. Maybe some fiery chicken curry will relieve me of the urge to stab everything in sight. I’m sure last night’s leftover bacon will be greeted with much enthusiasm by the aforementioned canine quotient of Casa Saintcrow.

Over and out.

Nadir, Recovery

Yesterday was the nadir as far as physical recovery; I spent most of it in bed. The release of tension, knowing that I don’t have to walk into the sea just yet, is almost as painful as illness itself. I’m still shaky and raspy, still coughing every once in a while, and there’s still so much work to be done.

At least now I can work without obsessively refreshing the election websites, staring through a screen of fever and physical misery, expecting the worst. I know this is the most dangerous time, that the malignant narcissist and criminal cabal squatting in the halls of power are well into the discard phase1, I know that they’re going to break everything and smear ordure everywhere, I know that even in the best case scenario this gives us a mere four years of breathing room I should use for emigration.

For the moment, though, I’m crying with relief at some moments, laughing with mad relieved glee at others, and generally feeling as one might when one is let out of unjust incarceration or realizes, for the first time, that an abusive “family” member isn’t coming back and one is free. The only thing I can compare it to is when the realization I never had to go back to my childhood home, not ever again, truly sank in on more than an intellectual level.

So. I have coffee. The dogs need walking, and since I have to ease back into running (just when I got my mileage back up to a respectable place, dammit) it’s time for Boxnoggin to learn how to keep in his ‘sector’ while jogging with Mum. It shouldn’t take too long, because it uses the same instincts pack hunting does, but I’m so used to running with Miss B instead we’ll have to go very slowly. It wouldn’t be fair to be frustrated with poor young untrained Boxnoggin because he doesn’t have the years of trust and work B and I developed on near-daily runs.

So today will be a good day for me to deliberately be gentle with myself, and with others as far as I can. The adrenaline crash from the last five-six years of constant retraumatization is not done yet. I have some work on HOOD planned today, a little revision on Moon’s Knight, and scheduling/looking at revised wordcount goals for The Black God’s Heart.

Before the election: Chop words, carry words. After the election: Chop words, carry words. But maybe at a slightly reduced pace for a short while. Everything inside me feels breakable, slightly too-stretched, frangible, friable.

Don’t think it’s over, because it’s not. Don’t think everything is fixed, because it isn’t. Don’t think it’s hopeless either, because even with massive voter suppression and the attempt to sabotage the Census, the USPS, and literally everything else, we still sent a ringing defeat to Papaya Pol Pot. We’re all tired, goodness knows.

So take a deep breath, dearies. Get those shoulders down. Hydrate, get a snack if you haven’t in the last few hours, and remember that while it’s not over, we did something great and should celebrate it. We’re not going to erase four years of fascism overnight. We won’t erase it with four years of a “centrist” caving in to regressives’ violent demands, either, but at least said “centrist” has a sense of shame and can be pressured by public outcry.

The big thing is that we’ve all been traumatized, violently, over and over again for multiple years. The release of tension isn’t going to start with relief, it’ll start with the feelings we were too deeply in survival mode to acknowledge, swamping us wholesale. Just… be ready for that, okay? You’re not crazy, you’re Feeling A Lot that you weren’t safe enough and didn’t have energy to feel before. Extend to yourself the same grace you would to a beloved friend–after all, who else do you spend 24/7 with? That’s right–your own damn self, and your own body. Be kind to both of them, beloveds.

And with that, I’m going to go see if I can’t follow some of my own advice (for once). I’m braced for the next disaster, of course, but I’m also going to use this peace to the fullest.

Boxnoggin’s nose it at my knee, and his big soulful brown eyes are weapons of mass cuteness. Time to walk, and then haul us both through a short, easy learning experience of a run.

See you in a bit.

Not the Plague

Five days or so of intermittent fever (my body likes to cook itself at the slightest provocation), coughing (fortunately that’s going down now), body aches (somewhat of a misnomer, I feel I’ve been beaten with a truncheon), postnasal drip (though fortunately I can still smell when the decongestants work).

Pretty sure it’s not the plague, as my digestion (for what little I feel like eating) is ticking right along and like I said, I can still smell. But still, it’s unpleasant. I think my body is in revolt against the bullshit it’s been asked to endure the last four years, let alone the last few months.

I’ve spent a lot of time sleeping since I fell ill. Normally I absolutely cannot sleep during my “daytime”, even if it’s in the middle of the night. (Long story.) It’s hard to let down my guard enough to nap, sleeping requires barring the door and starting a long slide of preparatory maneuvers impelled by habit.

It’s not that I can’t relax. It’s that I need to feel safe to sleep, or simply be so exhausted I don’t care. I haven’t felt safe since waking up in 2016 and realizing what I’d written had come to lurching, terrifying life.

Anyway I have all the subscription stuff prepped for this week. I had about two usable hours of energy yesterday, so I spent it getting that all done up. HOOD needs the end of its third season finished in zero form, Moon’s Knight needs a polish, and The Black God’s Heart is my NaNo novel.

I should set that last up.

I just wish I knew whether there was a chance at us saving ourselves despite gerrymandering and voter suppression (there are no “red states”, just voter suppression states) or if I should walk into the sea now.

I have coffee that I can taste in bursts, though. The dogs are both eager for a walk, though it will be in the rain. Jacqueline du PrĂ©’s cello is coming softly through speakers; the hardest thing will probably be tying my shoes with Boxnoggin’s “help.” He longs to be useful, and doubly longs to be under a dextrous, gentle pair of human hands. It’s his favorite location, even better if he can chew on something.

So I wait to see if the sea gets me. My nerves are shot and my body’s breaking down under the strain. But at least I’m largely sure it’s not the plague.

Yet.

With that silver lining, my friends, I shall leave you. It’s time for a round of decongestants and the aforementioned shoe-tying. Stay strong, drink water, don’t be racist or fascist.

It’s amazing how many people can’t manage the last two, even with all their simplicity. If I was ever optimistic about humanity, rest assured I labor under no such misconception anymore.

That hurts more than the rest of it, but I’m too tired–and ill–to care.

Revisions and Frost

I thought my coffee was taking too long this morning. It was, because I had failed to turn the stove burner on.

Also, I just had to get up and walk out into the kitchen to make sure I’d turned it off, and I am dead cold sober, for God’s sake. Probably going to have to check more than once today, too.

I spent yesterday eyeball deep in revisions on Damage, which isn’t a bad little story. At least, I have enough distance to see if for the trees now, even if I’m reading it as a relic. There’s not a mask or social distancing to be found in the entire thing. Of course, it’s a love song to a particular Matthias Schoenaerts movie, so it was a pleasant respite from the state of the world.

Another day should see the revision done; then there’s two more to get off the plate and the finish for HOOD to write, not to mention The Black God’s Heart. But for the moment, Chopin is playing and I have my coffee.

There was frost last night. The dogs are attempting to sleep under me, which isn’t a change, but it’s better than summer when they try it and shed heat everywhere. Waking up with Boxnoggin’s nose in my ear is disconcerting, but no more so than seeing a toddler loom by the bedside in the middle of the night.

There are Post-its festooning my entire desktop. Quotes, lists, reminders; it’s almost time for a harvest. The trouble is there’s so little energy to address the reminders, because keeping my head above water is taking the lion’s share. I’m tired, dispirited, and long to walk into the sea.

But the dogs need their walk, and the kids need the house. There’s no choice but to continue. I have often been in the position where no surrender or retreat is possible; I don’t like it. I’m sure nobody does, no matter the concomitant relaxation–after all, if one has no choice, one finds oneself doing difficult things as a matter of course.

I’m also watching videos about Civil and Napoleonic War battles while thinking a lot about the Silmarillion and the Fall of Gondolin. I’m not quite sure what that will give rise to, but it’s what the Muse wants and as long as she’s demanding food, it means she hasn’t abandoned me yet.

At least there’s that small mercy.

So we brace ourselves for Tuesday, my beloveds. One more day should see me through Damage, and then it’s HOOD and going through The Bloody Throne to look for bracket notes. Heaven knows there’s a lot of those, and I’m going to be cursing my past self with a vengeance each time I trip over another one.

If I’m working, I’m not weeping. Another small mercy, I suppose, the only kind granted these days.

Stay strong. Survival is victory. You’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but I have to.

If I repeat it enough, I might even believe it myself. And I need that today.