Soundtrack Monday: Breaking Into Cars

Human Tales

I’ve been feeling the urge to do a few more Soundtrack Mondays, so here we are.

This week’s jam is the Raveonettes, Breaking Into Cars. It made its way onto the BLUE soundtrack, which was for Wayfarer–my Cinderella retelling. That entire series is full of callbacks to Kieslowski’s Trois Coleurs trilogy, and the music for each book followed suit. Certain tones have certain colors to me, and this particular track has a blue wash in my head.

Ellie, the titular Cinderella, spends most of the book being backed into a corner. She’s trying to plan, to do the right thing, to simply endure until she’s a grownup. It’s a mood I know well, and this particular song plays whenever she decides to maybe bend the rules a bit.

Even the most obedient child can be pushed into outright defiance, especially when they realize the game is rigged. It was difficult for me to engage with the fairytale, and with certain aspects of Ellie’s story…but that’s why we write, I suppose. Or at least, it’s one reason.

Welcome to the week, my beloveds. I hope a little music will help us get to the other side.

Masks, Dropped

Terrible heat; we who live in the PNW aren’t geared for this sort of thing. Physically drained, and if I even glance at the news I wonder why one should get out of bed at all. Of course, since I can’t really sleep I might as well get up and at least try to work. The plants need watering, too. Might as well–that’s what I keep repeating these days. Might as fucking well.

I’m working on Volume 7 of Anaïs Nin’s Diary, and rationing the poems in Jay Hulme’s Backwater Sermons. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Nin once the Diary finishes, but also relatively glad that I can turn my attention to other things. My only regret about Hulme is that I can’t go even more slowly; the poems are wonderful antidotes for the awful, killing bleakness I often find myself lost in.

The garden is doing splendidly. Some of the dahlias survived squirrel depredations and have come up, which is a blessing. The new hedge trimmer works like a dream and I’m considering taking it to the grape vine, just to keep the bloody thing under control. But that’s not a decision for today; I am not in the right frame of mind to be trimming tender green. Whacking at old growth requires a bit of bloody-mindedness, but the newer stuff needs care.

Does all that sound like I’m depressed and near-broken? I suppose that’s not far from the truth.

Still, I’m enduring. I want to be the weed these bastards can’t kill. I want to survive without being turned into what we’re fighting. The bitterness stands a very real chance of twisting me, just as it did when I was a child, and I am determined not to give them that victory.

I’ve been watching a lot of a particular YouTube channel that deals with explaining the behavior of narcissists. A certain amount of narcissism is present in a healthy personality, sure, but our culture and society prioritizes and rewards the nasty kind far more than anything reasonable. I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about surviving narcissists, due to my upbringing, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised–there is just so much more information about how to deal with them, validation if one must suffer their depredations, and new research about why they do what they do than ever before. Learning that they rarely if ever change has been consoling; it means I don’t have to hold out hope or leave any part of myself open for their return. And hearing the reiteration that several of my coping mechanisms aren’t uncommon at all has been oddly helpful, too.

Therapy was wonderful for me, and this kind of knowledge being freely available (again, since I have the hardware and internet connection to access it, I do not forget that) is helping me build a bulwark against the current crop of fascist bullies. Because what are they but domestic abusers writ large? They all–fascists, bigots, cult leaders, intimate abusers, bullies–work off the same playbook, a thin stapled-together pamphlet of nasty tricks and brutalization. The different varieties may have a preference for a certain strategy, but they use the gamut, and are all cut out of the same cloth.

We know what these people do. We know who they are, and they have never been so overt and easily recognizable as right now. They’re practically shouting “I’M TOXIC! PROTECT YOURSELF FROM ME!” at the top of their lungs 24/7. The masks have dropped.

How odd, how strangely hilarious is it that wearing a scrap of cloth over one’s face marks one as a decent person who cares about others, and the lack shouts “I’m a huge selfish asshole”? It used to be toxic people wore camouflage to hunt with more ease. In my brighter moments I think that it’s actually a good thing they’ve been so emboldened–we have lifted the rock, and of course the mass of pale, sickening squirming underneath seems like an explosion. It seems endless, it seems too deadly and huge to fight.

But we can see how far the rot extends, now, and that’s the first step in treatment. We can protect ourselves–and each other–with greater ease. There’s no ambiguity, no “well, maybe X doesn’t mean it, maybe they’re just having a bad day.” It’s gone far beyond that; they have literally removed all cover, camouflage, and the pretty lies they used to operate under.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and what we can see we can treat. Or fight.

So I’m going to water the plants, take Boxnoggin on his ramble, do some stretching since I can’t run in this weather and my body is in full-fledged, miserable revolt. I will pull way back on social media to protect myself for a while, and continue the work. I will try to remind myself not to be bitter, that maybe one or two people heeded my warning(s) and that if I reached even one person it was time and effort well spent. Try to remind myself that even my silly little stories have value, and even if I’m too exhausted to come out swinging I can still build a refuge and offer others some solace, some relief.

I thought reaching adulthood meant I could be free of nasty, toxic, abusive bullies. It seems they’re everywhere now, but I have to keep reminding myself that they’re just loud. In reality, we outnumber them, and their selfish, opportunistic fellow travelers as well. Plus the technology of today means validation for the rest of us, not to mention direct proof of outnumbering, can be had daily.

We’re not trapped on the planet with the toxic, bigoted, fascist bullies. They’re trapped here with us, and we outnumber them by more than two to one. They’re loud, vicious, brutal, and don’t care who they hurt. Yet we are the powerful ones.

Gods grant we don’t forget it.

Validation, Knowing Why

This morning the algorithm served up a video about “When the narcissist knows YOU know” and honestly…it was incredibly validating. It explained and articulated some things I’ve wondered about for a long, long while.

It’s no secret that I went no-contact with my childhood abusers many years ago. (And I have never for a moment been sorry, either. It was the best life choice I ever made.) One of them died last year, and though the loss of any human being is sad, I felt (and still feel) nothing but relief and liberation. Being able to live without the constant defensive worry of that particular toxic person taking it into their head to show up and attempt mistreating me is extremely freeing. I wonder what I’ll feel when the other one passes. I have already mourned the relationship I wish I had with either of them–thank you, therapy–so at this point, the whole thing is merely a, “huh, guess I’ll find out when it happens.”

It’s a cool grey morning, though the weather app says we’ll have sunshine and high temperatures this week. The world continues to stagger on under a load of greed and brutality. I have very little hope swilling about in my veins, though sometimes I think it’s always been like this and current technology just means we can see the pale squirming things under the lifted rock.

…no wonder I am so tempted to remain in bed.

But there’s work to be done, the dog to walk, my own silly corpse to run, and various other bits of the business of living to deal with, since I am not released from such yet. Boxnoggin has turned his nose up at breakfast once more today, though he’ll probably consent to eat a bit once I’m at the table with my toast. (Don’t worry, he’s in zero danger of any malnutrition, between dinners and training treats.) He is a very social eater; if the pack isn’t wolfing down chow, he tends to refrain. Since I can’t handle solid food on any blessed morn until the coffee settles, we’re sort of at cross purposes for a couple hours after waking up, but it doesn’t seem to do either of us any harm.

And to be fair, I’m the sucker who drops a toast crust into his bowl most mornings, so he can be forgiven for holding out.

Tuesday promises to be relatively quiet, and I’m actually looking forward to picking at Hell’s Acre some more. Stepping back into what I love about this story is going to be the way through. Funny how I have to relearn that every time the Chihuahua of Real Life starts humping ankles again.

And with that cheerful mental image, I’m off to start the day. If the amount of work I achieve isn’t what I hope for, at least I have indications that there’s emotional processing (and plenty of it) going on under the surface to explain why. Sometimes, all one needs is an explanation. The surge of validation from knowing why is liberating in and of itself.

See you around.

Habit’s Candle

I’m vertical, and coffee has been not just attempted but achieved. All I want is to crawl back into bed, but tossing and turning there will do no good. I’m tormented by news of the outside world, of course, and struggling with the feeling that my stories don’t matter in the face of all this horrific destruction, all this hatred.

I know I started writing because I was unsatisfied with the ending of a Little Golden Book. I think I continued, at least partly, to figure out why my childhood caregivers hated me so much and kept harming me. Sometimes Child-Lili thought if I could just find the right words I could make them understand they were hurting me, and that would naturally make them stop. Later, I realized that they already knew, they had known from the start, and they either didn’t care or actively enjoyed my pain.

Maybe that realization constitutes growing up? But in any case, I kept writing. By then the habit was too strong.

I write because I must; I also write to transmute the pain of daily life into something else, something a little better. All creation is transformation, whether of materials or of grace. How many times will I create only to see it ignored, torn down, cast aside? How much more of this despair, abuse, pain, and hatred do I have to watch? I know my job as a writer, as an artist, is never to look away. Yet I’m only human, and I’m so, so tired.

It could be that it isn’t writing itself which has me exhausted, but publishing through all this–pandemic, fascist coup, rising tide of hateful xenophobia and misogyny, all the pain and horror and death. And really, what use are my stories in this current mess? Great stories might change things, but mine may be, well, other than great.

I used to tell myself that if a story saved even one person from the deep end, if it ameliorated the pain even once for one person, it was more than enough and I could consider it time and effort well spent. I don’t think that’s entirely wrong and I don’t regret a single story, and yet I find myself wondering if I should just…give up, sink, let the water take me. Nothing I do seems to truly matter, especially when I go to the grocer’s and the vast mass of people wander around with naked face-holes, breathing disease, not caring if they kill an elderly person, a child under five who can’t be vaccinated yet, an immunocompromised person. And then I come home and a fresh hell descends with the news cycle.

The selfishness, the uncaring, is just my childhood caregivers repeated over and over again. They get what they want, and don’t give a damn about–or they actively enjoy–the pain they cause. Ever since 2016 I’ve felt trapped in my childhood again, beaten both physically and emotionally with no relief or escape in sight. I thought there was some small hope with a change in administrations, but the people we voted in with such sweat and heartbreak won’t fight on our behalf. Instead, they seem content to cash their lobbyist checks and make performative gestures, like the teachers who reported my bruises and lacerations but in the end did nothing to save me.

I fled, I saved myself. But now it feels like I’m right back in the middle of that, albeit with no physical wounds. Where it hurts can’t be seen, and consequently hurts more.

Intellectually I know this is trauma speaking, retraumatization and revictimization. I know it’s the depression, and that depression lies. I know I have to continue because this world doesn’t have honor enough to simply strike me down–even if the meteor is approaching, there’s no guarantee it will get here before we starve to death so I’m forced to keep going, keep trying. I’m still caught between knowing there are people and creatures who depend on me and the irrational, deep, unavoidable feeling that if I vanished–this moment, today, next week, next year–nobody would notice or care. It’s a hideous place to be in, and the worst thing is, it’s familiar.

I’ve lived here before.

This isn’t a call for help; everyone else has all they can handle just keeping their head above water and no rescue is coming for any of us. This is simply a record, because I realize, after all, that I am incapable of stopping. Even this–even this–is a sharing, so that if others are feeling the same way at least you know you’re not alone. This is my candle in the darkness, guttering but still alight, and I am holding an inadequate shelter against the hideous hateful storm, inviting you to share it for a moment or so. To rest, before you continue your own battle.

I am creating meaning out of this suffering, putting it into words, and setting the work free to find and comfort who it can, in whatever way it can. Even at my lowest, even amid All This, the habit is too strong to break. Turns out I don’t need hope, I simply need to continue.

I hope it carries us both through, my friend. I’m so sorry it’s like this. I wish it were better.

But it isn’t. And it’s all I can do to keep this candle alight, even as I sink.

Phone and Sun

It’s quiet, at least. There are only a few haze-clouds; the sky is that rain-washed blue only found during spring in this part of the world. It’s going to be a bright day. Alack and alas, I suppose, because I love the rain–but everyone else will be thrilled. I don’t know why anyone who likes sunshine lives here, but if we could all live exactly where we pleased and moving wasn’t such a hassle I suppose we’d all be a lot happier.

The week wears on. I’m exhausted, and it’s only Tuesday. I didn’t get a damn bit of actual work done yesterday, but that’s balanced out by the fact that I was on the phone for a significant portion of my waking hours. All sorts of administrivia was put to bed and much of it I don’t have to do again, so at least there’s that.

But gods as my witness, I hate the phone. In email or text I can weigh and calibrate responses at something approaching leisure, and there’s a record of what both sides have said. Even if one takes notes, one is often browbeaten or pressured on the phone, and predators who weaponize other people’s politeness tend to prefer it because of the ease of abuse as well as the inherent “he said, she said” when there’s a later question about what, precisely, was agreed to. Not so in email–it’s right there, written down.

I liked the phone well enough as a teenager. I mean, who doesn’t at that age? And really it was all we had at that point.1 But once email, and later texting, arrived? Hallelujah, bitches, no more suffering through phone calls!

…and yet some people still love it. I’m baffled.

There’s also hypersensitivity to account for. On a phone call, you’re listening to tone of voice, word choice, the spaces between words, even someone’s breathing to gain clues about their mood and what they actually want instead of what they say they want. I’m fully aware my sensitivity to this particular aspect of the problem springs from a childhood spent frantically trying to assess what my caregivers actually wanted so I could escape physical (or other) abuse2, but the principle still holds. In email, all that extraneous stuff to keep track of simply isn’t there. Passive-aggressive (or directly aggressive) bullshit stands out in stark relief and is far easier to parry since text and email are asynchronous.

You can just let things sit until you’re ready to deal with them, and give measured responses.

Some phone-lovers say it’s easier and quicker than writing, and I suppose in some very sharply limited situations it might be. But each time the bloody thing rings, or I have to brace myself to put on a cheery voice and deal with said blasted phone, I die a little inside. And I spent hours on it yesterday.

I’m sure that if I had comments open I’d get an avalanche of them from phone-lovers. Be easy, my friends, you can use it all you want! It’s simply not my cuppa, and is profoundly anxiety-making in the bargain. At least I can cut down on the amount of time I personally spend enduring it, or video calls–which are nerve-wracking and exhausting in a similar way. Modern life is good for something, I guess, and it’s interesting to think about how I dealt with the phone when it was literally the only game in town.

Anyway, the dogs are certain that I should stop clicky-clacking in front of the magic glowing box and turn my human magic to the matter of breakfast. They both want their usual ration of toast-crusts, and that can’t happen if I’m busily typing. Sometimes I wonder what they think I’m doing all day, crouched over the keyboard. Do they simply consign it to the same realm of wonders as the dining room table, that bounteous source of human scraps? Or is it simply one more incomprehensible human magic, like cars? They certainly view it as an integral part of the daily ritual; if I’m not at the keyboard during my morning coffee they’re unnerved, and more than once Miss B has herded me firmly for the office, as if she suspects the time spent here is integral to the later appearance of toast.

She might even be right, in her own inimitable way.

The sun has reached a gap in the cedars along the back fence, and is pouring into my office. The small solar dancing-flower on the windowsill makes soft tick-tock sounds as it waves, enthusiastically greeting a day I feel much less sanguine about. I suppose the light will do me some good during walkies and the morning run, though. Miss B is having a good morning and may want to accompany us around the block, but I’m not sure if I’ll let her since carrying her up half the hill yesterday was hard on both of us. So we’ll see…after toast.

One must perform the ritual, after all. Off I go.

Recognizing Hungers

Finally have the ol’ YouTube channel sorted. I don’t know how long I’m going to keep up Tea with Lili–it does cut into my writing time twice a week–but at least the old teas have a place to live now when they drop off the Twitch stream. I have also been experimenting with Streamlabs, which is much better than Twitch Studio and doesn’t cause my desktop to crash, hallelujah. So maybe I’ll stream some gaming or something too, we’ll see.

My agent tells me I’m witty and personable, so this is a good marketing thing. I am not sure–one of the reasons why I write is the solitude. On the other hand, maybe nobody will watch the damn vids, so there’s at least that. And though writing is a lonely, solitary task, bringing a book to publication requires a lot of cooperation, so the writer’s life is a lot less lonely than one might think. At least, now in the age of the internet it is.

How the world has changed. Reading Anaïs Nin’s diaries and thinking about how long it took a letter to get to its recipient in those days fills me with a strange sensation. On the one hand, I wonder what Henry Miller’s emails to her would have been like; on the other, he probably would have sent unsolicited dick pics and she might’ve blocked him. (Good riddance, too.) It’s fun to think about her and Antonin Artaud’s text messages though. Artaud was apparently an experience–no less than Nin herself, I fancy.

I recognize some of my own hungers in her diaries. I am profoundly uncomfortable with small talk–I want to speak about the real, sooner rather than later, and social pleasantries are akin to being slowly peeled. The household I grew up in was aggressively, violently shallow and superficial; that way, the adults could retain control, and they relentlessly mocked and belittled anything to do with art, culture, deep or real feelings. Maybe it was a mercy, since showing any true emotion or letting the adults know what one thought was a recipe for further abuse, beatings, and just general disaster.

I learned to hide, but I never liked it. Being able to play the game–and play it well–even with narcissists is a useful skill, one I can wish it wasn’t so damn necessary.

Anyway. We need groceries. I did run out and get milk over the weekend, but it’s about time for another trip to get, well, everything else. Not looking forward to it–there were far too many naked faces breathing disease while I made the milk run. Each time I see someone unmasked in a public building I feel disgust, nausea, and great sadness. The utter selfishness is stunning, but then again, what did I expect in ‘Murica? The sense of being chained to a seat on a train merrily heading for a cliff-edge is overwhelming, and no matter how I struggle to free myself and others, I can’t halt so many tons of moving metallic catastrophe.

All I can do is mask up myself, encourage others to do so, and keep writing. It doesn’t feel like enough. It probably never will.

And yet…several of you have sent me suggestions for office chairs I can sit cross-legged in. Thank you! Every time I start feeling too down, someone passes along a kindness and I am reminded there’s good in the world, too. We somehow muddle along, one way or another. I’m trying to focus on that rather than the firehose of bad news. Of course the bad news isn’t like it was during 2016-2020, but the successive retraumatizing doesn’t help. A body-and-soul can only absorb so much.

I suppose I’m in a bit of a mood today. A run should set me right–yesterday’s was lovely, between the rain and my body suddenly deciding to slip back into the groove after injury and bad weather dropped my mileage to a pittance. The road back is always thorny, but also always reaches a point where the body decides oh, okay, I remember this and suddenly things become a great deal easier. I was hoping it would happen soon-ish, and it appears yesterday was the day, thank the gods.

There’s a release next week (the third and final Hostage to Empire book) and I’m already feeling the nerves. Submerging into a cave to ignore them and keep writing is the best possible course, and I should get right on that…

…as soon as I walk the dogs, get a run in, and dodge the murderously selfish unmasked in order to get us supplies for another few weeks. There’s a storm in Hell’s Acre and I need to write a certain character’s arrival before going through and braiding in a formerly written scene, and I positively have to get the monster hunters in Sons of Ymre #2 caught. That last has been hanging fire for at least a week, because there’s something the heroine needs to realize before it happens, but I don’t know what. I’m waiting for her to speak.

Sometimes one has to settle outside a character’s mousehole with a bit of lemon candy and wait. There’s nothing for it, especially early in the book when whatever they say will have knock-on effects all the way down the line.

And with that, I’m off. Happy Tuesday, my beloveds. Stay safe out there.

Something Indeed, Survival

Another mist-drenched morning. The dogs are very calm, probably because all the clouds come down to earth muffle extraneous neighborhood noise. Except, of course, the helicopter that nearly buzzed us last night. It sounded low enough to take off a few roofs. Both kids came out of their rooms, wondering what the hell; the dogs were anxious for a bit, glancing in my direction to see how they should take the event.

Wonder what was up with that. And I’m slightly amused by everyone looking at me to see if they should worry about an Unexpected Event. Of course, that’s part of the essence of motherhood–and there was the time I, as a chaperone, stood up on a bus of fourth-graders beginning to spool themselves up on a field trip and hissed, “When it is time to panic I will let you know.”

Peace was restored, the troublemakers in the back were model citizens for the rest of the ride, and I was much in demand for class trips after that.

So. It’s Thursday. The Marked is on sale, and Sons of Ymre #1 is due for release later this month. Which means my own brand of panic will be in full bloom; release days always put me in a state. So far, February’s been an…interesting month. January seemed to last forever; this particular calendar-division isn’t far behind. I keep saying, “You know, last year…? I think?” and one of the kids will say, “Mum, that was last week.”

I mean, I’ve known all my life time is subjective, but this is ridiculous.

Perhaps some of the slipperiness of the fourth dimension lately comes from a certain form of completely accidental vengeance. The thing about time, and about surviving, is that sooner or later one outlasts a few things. Say, for example, that the Universe serves up a great deal of karma to someone who tormented you mercilessly when you were young and therefore temporarily helpless. (Though when you’re under eighteen and trapped it doesn’t feel temporary. Far from.)

Now, self-satisfied social mores might bleat that one isn’t supposed to feel any satisfaction from such an event, especially if one was born female and ruthlessly battered into being a polite, perfect victim because that serves the interest of entrenched powers. But watching karma (also known as “consequences”) come around the mountain like a freight train to paste a long-ago abuser is…well, it’s something.

It’s something indeed.

So time has lost most of its meaning, I’m enjoying my coffee on a quiet morning, and every once in a while the thought, “Huh, I survived,” drifts through the warp and weft of my concentration. For most of my life I never even compassed that I might. My own survival was invisible, because it did not occur to me that it was possible. And now I’m here.

I suppose I could always be so calm in disasters because I assumed I was already dead and most of my “life” was just marking time waiting for the cosmos to notice and update the paperwork. As a coping mechanism, was it ideal? Hardly. Useful? Very. Effective? In various ways, yes.

And now, in this the third year of pandemic, I look out my office window to see the fog pressing between cedars. I listen to the dogs breathe as they wait, half-napping, for morning walkies. If this is a victory, it’s a quiet one. The plague might still get me, and if it doesn’t the ongoing fascist coup (what, you thought that was over? Ha!) probably will. But I’ve lived long enough to see the muscled arm of cosmic consequence administer a well-deserved bitchslap, and I didn’t have to lift a finger.

At the moment, it’s enough. And my coffee, sipped slowly, tastes very good indeed.