Celebrate, Stepping Stone

The weekend was an endurance contest, and I think I won. Barely, but any victory is worth celebrating, no matter how small.

Now it’s a cloudy morning, and I have the Gipsy Kings strumming in my head. Usually that means I’ll be dancing all day, but serious movement will have to wait until I’ve absorbed some caffeine and walked the dogs.

They’re saying we’ll get up to 80F later this week. Summertime, and the living is sweaty. I like winter better; you can always put another layer on or burrow under covers, but taking off your own skin once the prickles of heat rash starts is an entirely different prospect. It reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem where the kid even takes his muscles off, sitting there as a skeleton, and is still hot.

Today is the very last Haggard Feathers post. I’m really upset at having to let that experiment go. I feel like I’ve let readers down by not being completely bulletproof and able to swallow gallons of the current agony without choking, but maybe at some point I’ll be able to go back to it.

Just… not for a long while.

On the bright side, I go back to work today. There are line edits (thankfully light) on Finder’s Watcher, which will probably be published as Finder. Of course you guys will be the first to know; I’m looking forward to the cover reveal, not to mention preorder information. And there’s a particularly knotty scene in The Bloody Throne I’ve been thinking of for three days, as well as a scene in HOOD‘s Season Three–Yung Gamweil and Vili Rouje in a cave, talking about whatever crosses their minds–that needs finishing.

I’m not working as quickly as I used to before the pandemic hit, but maybe scoping in a bit and cutting off some experiments (though it pains me to do so) will give me enough energy to get back onto the track for other things.

It’s worth a shot, at least.

Be gentle with yourselves today, dear Reader. I know I say that a lot, but it bears repeating. The world attempts to flog us enough, we don’t have to cooperate or add to it. I’m terrible at taking my own advice, too. So telling you helps remind me.

And with that, I’m off and flying low. Every victory celebrated, but also a stepping stone.

Over and out.

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.

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.

Triage Endurance

I’m enjoying the morning Latin lessons more than I thought I would. Something about wrestling with lingua Latina before caffeine soaks in makes my brain feel sharper. Of course, the rest of me feels slow (stultae, even) before the caffeine soaks in, and I make far more errors than I like.

Latin for breakfast, French for lunch, Turkish before bed so sleep can hopefully help me retain verbs and grammar. I was doing German after dinner and Turkish before bed, but that was Too Much. I’d still like to study German some day, maybe when I’ve brushed up my French enough to read some Voltaire in the original.

Goals. I have them. Loads of them. Whether they’re achievable or not is an open question.

Instead of German, though, I think I want to go back to piano after dinner. I never thought I’d miss wrestling with Bach post cena, but here we are.

Mostly I’m trying to keep my brain busy so I don’t brood on current world events. I’m doing literally everything I can–social distancing, wearing a mask if I absolutely have to go to the store, washing hands, reaching out to friends, caring for my neighbors. It just doesn’t feel like enough, and I’m hitting empathy exhaustion on a daily basis.

I’d rather that than not caring at all, but still. If I tire myself out with work and study, the anxiety dreams are a little less fraught. At least there’s a delicate balance being held and I can sleep.

How are you doing out there, dear Reader? I meant to tell you the story of Big Barda, Boxnoggin, and the Birdfeeder, but Squirrelterror tales take a little more work than one might think. Maybe next week, because there’s more than one part. Knocking over the heavy iron pole and breaking a glass hummingbird feeder was only the beginning, and Barda’s got quite a mouth. Poor Boxnoggin literally could not believe some of the stuff she yelled at him.

Anyway… I do have something to say today. I was talking with a friend about the looming, constant empathy exhaustion yesterday, spurred by this Vice article, and she commented on the advice often given.

Exercise. Eat well. Sleep. Well, for one thing, the distribution chains are creaking under the load, fresh produce and “healthy” foods are more expensive than junk–by corporate design, I might add. And if you start nattering on about “bulk buying” and “just make your meals ahead of time” I swear I will start tossing things and screaming, because that takes energy too and a lot of people live in food deserts even before the distribution systems took the first giant hit of lockdown. Not to mention some of us don’t have the equipment to exercise in postage-stamp living spaces, and if your only time to get some sweat-effort in is the evening and you’re female, going out to walk or jog when men who might have mayhem on their minds and nowhere else to congregate can be hazardous to your health.

And sleep? Don’t even get me started.

I know the science says this is what helps, but it’s just not feasible for a lot of people. I agreed that while veggies and exercise might be the best, they can also be out of reach for the non-privileged, and a bit of wine and pizza on the couch might be all one can achieve.

And you know, that’s okay.

If you, dear Reader, need permission to do things science says might not be helpful but you know are helpful for you and within your means, consider said permission given. We’re in an endurance round of triage, and whatever gets you through is A-OK.

For me it’s it’s legal weed on Fridays before D&D with a group of close friends, and setting aside Sunday to eat whatever the fuck I want in whatever quantity I desire. (Last Sunday was the Great Molasses Cake experiment, and I think I put away half a two-layer cake just by my lonesome.) It’s also mumbling Latin in the mornings and watching weird YouTube fanvids because I don’t have the energy or brain-cycles for binging new shows. (Although I did make it through The Umbrella Academy recently, which is less misogynist on the screen than in its original format–not by much, but I’ll take what I can get.)

Whatever it takes to get you through this in one piece and of reasonable sanity is A-OK. Feel free to tell me about your coping mechanisms below–you might even find a couple fellow Readers saying “hey, that’s a good one, I’m gonna try it.”

I’ve finished absorbing some coffee and my head is full of Latin phrases, if not declensions. (Mostly involving a drunk parrot, thanks, Duolingo!) Time to take the dogs for a walk and let the night’s dreams settle into their proper places under the floorboards of consciousness. Yesterday was difficult, today promises to be only slightly less so.

It’s okay. We’ll get through it together.

Over and out.

From Sugar Belle to Toki

Jozzie & Sugar Belle

I’m barely settled with coffee; I finally dropped off the edge of the earth into a deep sleep last night. I’ve been toss-turning restlessly for days, and was beginning to think I’d have to go back on anxiety meds.

It’s amazing what sleep will do for you. I feel damn near rested.

Anyway, I have good news! Every Wednesday during this quarantine I’m going to pick an item in my Gumroad store for pay-what-you-want. This week it’s Jozzie & Sugar Belle–just click here and pay what you want–including nada, zip, zilch, zero if you’re short on cash. Then you can download .epub or .mobi, and read about a hungover kangaroo shifter missing a Very Personal Bit, a snarky witch of the Virginia Belles, and the end of the world in Hollywood.

Well, sort of the end. As Sugar (and Jill Kismet, sometimes) points out, we’re dancing on a knife blade all the damn time.

Now, please note that I might not have a different work for pay-as-you-want each week. I’m frazzled and overwhelmed too, just like everyone else. But I’m doing my best, and if I can bring a smile or a catharsis to a reader or two in these troubled times, I’d like to.

I’ve swung wildly between “there might be hope” and “smoke ’em if you got ’em, we’re goin’ down” all week, sometimes with only a microsecond between the extremes. Which is bloody exhausting, and wears one’s nerves down to ribbons.

There is, however, an odd comfort in my anxiety actually being commensurate to the emergency. Nobody–not even my internal critic–is telling me calm down, it’ll be fine, you’re overreacting. Even the people whose judgment I rely on to keep me between the rails agree that running around screaming and waving one’s arms is a perfectly reasonable response to a bloody pandemic, thank you.

The thing I’ve drawn most strength from this week is a character from Princess Mononoke. There’s this scene where Irontown has been demolished, the great forge has gone out, a group of forge-girls and other workers have barely escaped. Kuroku, one of the forge-girl’s husbands and a particular variety of comic relief, is freaking the fuck out.

And his wife, the forge-girl Toki, snaps, “We’re still alive, Kuroku. We’ll manage somehow.”

The kids and I have watched Mononoke so much it’s quoted almost as much as Monty Python, The Princess Bride, or the Mummy movies at the dinner table. We all agree Toki (voiced by Jada Pinkett-Smith in the English language version) is a Whole Entire Mood, and every once in a while when someone in the house is dealing with what seems like a world-ending difficulty, one of us will say we’re still alive, Kuroku.

The line is all the more stunning because Toki is a former brothel worker, a woman who works the great forge of Irontown, a sharp-tongued unofficial leader. Lady Iboshi is Irontown’s brain and determination, but Toki is its guts. You get the idea Toki’s world has ended before, and she knows that even when you’re standing in the ashes, even when your body and mind have been violated, even when there is nothing left…

…you’re still alive, and you’ll manage somehow. Sometimes it’s from sheer stubborn spite (my favorite fuel) or anger, sometimes it’s from deep painful love, sometimes it’s just because there’s no other option or one is simply in the habit of enduring.

It’s the most poignant, true, and take-no-prisoners comment on the nature of hope I’ve ever run across, and it’s a single line that is almost, almost a throwaway except for the weight Miyazaki and Pinkett-Smith give it.

I get chills every time I hear it. (Along with Lady Iboshi’s calm “I’m going to show you how to kill a god,” and Kuroku’s wondering, “I didn’t know the Forest Spirit made the flowers grow.” Or a woman muttering to Iboshi’s guard, “Even if you were a woman you’d still be useless.”)

I suspect in the coming weeks I’m going to be muttering “we’re still alive, Kuroku, we’ll manage somehow” a lot.

Funny, isn’t it, how a fictional character can give a real person strength, how a story can provide comfort. We are creatures in search of meaning, which means we are creatures in search of stories. I didn’t know, when I began writing (at the tender age of Second Grade, my gods) that I was signing up to become an architect of the soul.

Maybe not a very good one, maybe not a very effective one, but after glimpsing the great cathedrals of creation at the core of every volcanic star and every human being (because what else do you think making a story is, if not building in the heart of a star?) I know I wouldn’t want to ever do anything else.

We’re still alive–you reading this, and me. We are still breathing. We are still here.

We’ll manage somehow.

One Now, The Next

I wish you a very bright, kind morning, my dears. It’s sunny here, the dogs need taking out, and I woke up earwormed by an absolutely new band.

Well, Imagine Dragons aren’t new, but being earwormed by them is.

I spent my breakfast (or at least, the broth and coffee I can manage this morning, the stress nausea is very bad) with my daily Latin lesson, and I think I’m almost ready to get back to Pliny. I want to finish the damn encyclopedia by the time I’m fifty; it’s a bucket-list thing. I suspect it would go much more quickly if I just read the translation, but that’s not the point, I want the practice reading it in Latin.

Maybe I should finish Caesar first. He’s generally held to be a good introduction; his Latin is relatively simple and direct. Pliny is a recondite ass sometimes.

ANYWAY. I’m gearing up for the release of HOOD‘s Season Two next week; Season Three is now well underway. I’m already feeling the release-day nerves, added to a scrambling sensation because current events have put a dent in my work schedule liek woah, as we used to say on LJ.

It’s not a surprise that this month’s Haggard Feathers subject is self-care for writers. Also, last week’s and this week’s posts are unlocked for everyone, not just paid subscribers. Today’s post, dropping at 11am PST, will be about physical self-care.

I’m still looking at my Gumroad store to figure out what to offer for free or “pay what you want.” We’re going to be here a while, and when the first wave of cool stuff for free passes we’re going to need a second/third wave. I could say I planned it that way, but the truth is, I’m overwhelmed.

Interesting times to live in, I guess. Someone wished upon the Monkey’s Paw, or maybe the planets have aligned. (I’ve taken this quarantine as a chance to study some astrology; maybe I should do a post about that?)

I’m glad of the dogs during this. They have no damn idea about quarantine, virus, or paychecks. The kids are a little less sanguine, but what held true in their childhood is also holding true now–as long as I keep my cool, they can keep theirs. The pressure to keep calm and collected so people who depend on me don’t lose their shit actually helps keep me together–a fact which surprises nobody who’s ever read one of my books, I suppose.

…I meant to talk about the effects of social distancing and how close the virus is getting–we’re down to one degree of separation from an actual death–for posterity and all. But I just can’t. My diary is already full of it; I had to change the ink cartridge in my pen mid-sentence last night while scribbling. It’s only going to get worse, and while I am braced, nobody can ever be fully emotionally prepared for something like this.

I’ve spent most of my life vibrating with anxiety and the aftereffects of trauma. This creeping, constant fear feels like home. It’s like all the work done to get to a healthy emotional state and manage the anxiety is useless now, and was only a brief respite before we got back to the regular program. I know this is extraordinary, I know the disaster is fitting into the trauma footprint left on me by childhood and other similar catastrophes, I know the queer feeling of relaxation comes from this all feeling very, very familiar indeed.

Knowing doesn’t make it easier to deal with. Even my well-hidden but usually irrepressible optimism is MIA on this one. I’m trembling on the edge of “fuck it, nothing matters anyway.”

But the dogs need walking. Boxnoggin is sensing I’m almost finished with the morning’s work, and is performing a play bow in the middle of the office while I type this. Next will come him nudging my knee, hopefully, his large mild brown eyes wide with questioning and glee. Come on, he’ll say, focus on the NOW, and what is NOW is walkies for dogs.

It’s only Tuesday, and it feels like this week has lasted forever. I’m going from one “now” to the next like clinging to handholds on a traverse, hoping like hell my fingers are chalked enough. It seems the only way to survive this.

I’m curious, of course, and if this is the way through, we might be able to do it together. So, my dear Reader, if your eyes have traveled this far… what is your now like, and what’s the next now you’re grasping?