A Prince’s Crumb


The Little Prince (I should just call him “The Prince” now, he’s taller than me, though not even close to my Machiavellian status, ha ha) is barreling ahead in his Baking & Desserts class. Each week he has a choice of three recipes, and this past week he chose… bread.

“But, Mom,” he said, leaning in my office door, “I want it to be like yours. Will you help me?”

There were no fluttering eyelashes, but I felt the need to clutch at my heart just the same.

So now he knows about autolyse and has kneaded a giant hunk of dough; he’s heated the oven just right for proofing and used a bench scraper, how to rescue a dough too wet or too dry, and he baked a lovely, lovely loaf we had with dinner and then for breakfast the next day.

He’s very proud of himself, and my poor heart is so full it aches. I mean, just look at that lovely crumb! The well-shaped loaf! The beautiful crack in the top crust! The irregular holes!1

It tasted pretty spiffy, too.

I hope you had a similar victory this past week, dearly beloveds; I hope someone let you know just how important you are and how much they treasure something you do–something you might not think much of, but they think is just the bee’s knees and the cat’s pyjamas.

I am swinging between hope and despair, as I have been all year. But it’s nice to take a breath, and a bite of something with love baked into its very molecules.

I wish you a peaceful weekend, dear ones.

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.

Celebratory Tiramisu

So last weekend, when the news came that the election was no longer in doubt, I double-masked, grabbed hand sanitizer, staggered out, and brought home a celebratory tiramisu.

The tiny local bakery (always my first choice) was jammed with (masked) customers so I didn’t even get out of the car; there was nothing in one supermarket bakery, so back into the car it was. I lucked out in the third, and carried my prize home.

We put a tea light on it, and the Little Prince–as our newest registered voter–got to make a wish for democracy and blew the candle out.

It’s been a week, hasn’t it. The nightmare is not over, but the chances of a coup are slowly–sloooooowly!–receding. We’re not out of the woods yet, but as Churchill intoned sententiously, it may very well be the end of the beginning.

I’m tired, and still a little ill. I know you’re tired too, my beloveds. I have grown to dislike hope over the last five-six years, since it hurts so much when that hope is ripped away by fascism. Still, like a cockroach, hope survives in hidden cracks, and I have been feeling it these past few days.

At that third supermarket bakery, the lady behind the case nodded when I asked if everyone else was celebrating Pennsylvania declaring for the forces of good, too. “Oh yeah,” she said, quietly, the corners of her eyes crinkling with a broad smile behind her mask. “Everyone’s tired, but so happy about it. Want ten percent off?”

Bless you, Bakery Case Lady. Bless you, bless you deeply.

So. Last Saturday the kids and I gorged on tiramisu and hope at once. After a long time in dark hopelessness, we are hungry for the good.

Here’s to hoping, then. (Even I can’t eradicate that cockroach.) Here’s to hoping, and to kindness, and to working together; here’s to a ringing defeat of fascism and its fellow travelers. Here’s to the end of the beginning.

There’s a lot of work ahead of us, I know. And it’s a Friday the 13th in 2020. May Freyja grant us light and strength for the road ahead.

Oh, and cake, too.

Glass Apple, Silence, Flames

The glass apples along my office windowsill are all dusted, because I take them down and play with them sometimes while a story hides in my brain-folds. A lot of people don’t understand how physical a job writing really is–after all, you’re just sitting there, right? Just typing.

But everything you write lodges in your body. Not just that, though–characters speak while you’re in the shower, while you’re exercising, while you’re driving and thinking of something else. Getting up and moving to work out a plot problem or block out a scene becomes a habit.

The kids–and my writing partner–know that when I stop in a middle of a sentence and stare into the distance, sometimes it’s because a story has decided now is the time to express a few home truths, or make a connection. “I can see the story going on behind your eyes,” is what my writing partner says.

The kids, having grown up with me, are used to me checking out mid-sentence to work on a particular plot problem, solving or marking it, then coming back and finishing my sentence as if no time has passed. Oddly, for me, no time has. Sometimes I’m vaguely aware I’ve stopped to solve a story problem, but mostly I return to ordinary consciousness like flicking a light switch and continue with what I was saying.

Story-time exists on some other plane, I suppose. Of course the check-outs never occur while I’m operating heavy machinery, so to speak. One must feel safe before one can stop in the middle of a sentence, knowing that one’s interlocutor will give you space and time to finish.

My writing partner does it too, you know. Often, especially when we’re at lunch or dinner together, one of us will stop talking and gaze into the distance, our version of the thousand-yard stare. The other will wait, quietly, until they come back. It’s a good thing, to be able to trust someone with the quiet like that. Everyone is the star of their own movie, of course, but it’s rare and wonderful to find someone who doesn’t mind being the type of star who lets their best friend finish a chain of thought in peace, and doesn’t make them pay for the momentary inattention later.

The kids have their own moments of wanting to finish thoughts in peace, and I’ve seen them giving each other that space and gift. It seems good training, even if other people will probably take advantage of it. But at least they have the skill, and can deploy it when needed.

…I was going to write about other things today, but I’m curled in a tight little armored ball. I am very close to finishing a zero of The Bloody Throne–messy and full of bracketed notes, but still, the whole corpse will be out and on the table, ready for resting before revision begins. I can’t imagine what it will feel like to be done with this book. The entire series has had a difficult birth; I haven’t had this sort of emotional trouble with a book since Afterwar. Of course it’s not the same type of trouble, or in the same degree, and the problems that plagued Afterwar‘s publication process aren’t plaguing this series. Still, being orphaned midway, added to pandemic and fascist coup, means it’s been extraordinarily difficult to persevere through the end of an epic fantasy.

I mean, how dare I write about court intrigue and pretty dresses and love triangles when the world is burning? How dare I write a love song while everything is in flames?

I have no choice. I have to sing, even through the fire. I’ll go mad if I don’t, but it doesn’t stop the feeling that somehow, in some way, I’m failing because I’m Not Helping Enough.

So. Today is for chipping away at the book, accelerating through the crisis I saw from the very first sentence, writing what I’ve been working towards for years. I knew how the entire thing was going to play out from the beginning, and maybe that’s part of the problem. In a book, justice is a possibility.

I’m beginning to feel like outside the pages I write, it never is. Hope, mercy, redemption… in a book, these things are possible.

Outside? Well.

I suppose we’ll see.

Percy Rolls For Me

We’ll return to the tale of Boxnoggin, Travis, and the Venerable on Monday. For right now, meet Percy, my liver-shaped D&D mascot.

My current D&D character (I’m playing online with a few friends; we’re using Roll20 and Discord to handle communications and other minutiae) is a baby high elf cleric with an… interesting… upbringing. Somehow, she’s gotten in the habit of collecting organs from those NPCs silly enough to choose combat over discussion with our group1, so her best in-game friend (the rogue with several false identities who just had to steal from the banshee during that one session, don’t ask, we survived, it’s good enough) sent her this beautiful plush liver from IHeartGuts.

His name is Percy, and during our next D&D sessions he’s going to roll for me. Maybe he’ll have better luck with the strength checks than I do. I can hope, right? (Of course, who needs strength when your charisma’s insanely high?)

The world is on fire, but I’m looking forward to having some fun with my group tonight. I hope you have something pleasant to take refuge in as well, dear Reader. If anything can save us, it’s human connections–and it doesn’t get much more human than playing games.

Have a lovely weekend.

Boxnoggin Regnant

This goofy, adorable fuzzbucket was up every two hours last night, his nervous stomach probably reacting to all the noise and excitement from the Mike’s Deck Affair. (For the curious, Part I is here; Part II here.) All the crashing and banging might have upset his tender, shrinking tummy.

I was a little cranky myself by the end of it. Fortunately about 5am things seemed to settle somewhat and I was able to get some decent sleep, but I woke up from a dream that crossed Midsommar with the Jason Bourne movies.

…look, don’t ask, I certainly don’t know. Getting up and going about my day was the only reasonable option after that.

Anyway, Boxnoggin seems to be feeling much better now that the sun’s up, as evinced by his prancing and appetite. The pale knitted item he’s on in this particular pic is a shawl the Princess knitted for herself, which the dog apparently considers the love of his life or at least someone he’d really like to seriously date. Bless my child, for she simply shrugged and said “He’s getting more use out of it than I am, let him have it.”

Since she spent quite a while knitting the damn thing, it’s a sign and signal of the love she bears this particular furry toddler. He more than returns the favor every time she comes home from work; he is beside himself with glee and treats her arrival as a reunion longed for with the fiery yearning of a thousand suns.

And doesn’t he look handsome? Almost regal, I daresay, if you didn’t know that right before this picture he was involved in licking tender reproductive parts of his anatomy. He flopped back down on “his” shawl and looked at me like “…whut?”, and I started laughing so hard I had to snap this very picture to brighten the Princess’s day at work.

We don’t deserve dogs, man. We just don’t. But I’m so glad they love us anyway.

From Earworm to Mad Science

I woke up with R. B. Greaves’s Take a Letter, Maria playing inside my head. If it means anything, I’m in the dark about precisely what. The Princess would have helped me analyse it along with my dreams, but she says she’s never heard the song. Which I know is inaccurate, since I listen to it in the car whenever it comes on for whatever reason–the lure of familiarity, I suppose. This probably just means I need to listen to it a couple times today to get the song out of my head.

Go figure.

It’s a nice cloudy Monday. I have a new keyboard and took a few days almost-off social media. We call Twitter “hellsite” and it’s beginning to sound less like a tongue-in cheek observation than plain unadorned truth, or even understatement. Still, it has its uses, and I spend most of my time on my Mastodon instance anyway.

The dogs are quiet, for once. They’re probably still exhausted from yesterday, since they had to supervise housecleaning, window washing, and the making of bruschetta. The Princess has a recipe for mimicking the Trader Joe’s tomatoes-garlic-basil-oil-vinegar spread, which is our very favorite over tangy sourdough and fresh mozzarella. (The secret? Citric acid! You can find it in the canning aisle of the supermarket, or King Arthur Flour has some I personally prefer.) I’ve been experimenting with chana masala and cocoanut curries, and she’s been on a real Italian appetizers kick.

In short, there’s been some good eating around here lately. Since we’re mostly still quarantined (for when we’re not, there are plenty of masks, since my writing partner’s way of coping with the first boomerang of the pandemic was to get out her sewing machine) it’s pretty much taking the place of all socializing or field trips.

The Prince (sadly, I cannot call him the Little Prince anymore, both my children are taller than me) has been on a homebrew science kick. I let him take apart my old, battered keyboard to find out how it’s constructed and how it works, and he was thrilled with the idea of repurposing bits of it for “experiments.” I don’t ask questions, I just order the supplies and enthuse over what he tells me of the results.

I feel sort of like a mad scientist’s corporate backer, but I’m sure there are worse fates.

Living in historical times is exhausting, physically and mentally. I want to retract like a salted slug. I know not seeing the disaster is a privilege, I know the disaster is continuing whether I look at it or not, I know if I don’t find some way of settling back into work we’ll be in even worse shape in a few months. Plus, there’s a part of me that sniffs you wrote a whole fucking book about this and they didn’t listen, let them sit in it. I know it’s not fair of me to think it; there were other people far smarter and more famous sounding the alarm who were ignored as well.

I just can’t help myself.

So now it’s finishing coffee, taking the dogs on their ritual ramble, getting a run in, and keeping social media shut off for the day while I go back to work. I don’t want to look at the schedule and see how far behind I am; I just want to put my head down and lose myself in a world where anthropomorphized gods are visiting parties, or a court where the politicking continues while the state’s ship goes down (it occurs to me my main difficulty with the last Hostage book is probably that it feels so familiar), or the Robin Hood IN SPACE story where everything is heating up for the final half of the final season. At least with the new keyboard I’m not in a state of high irritation while typing; I hadn’t realized how much the missing stair behavior of the old one was affecting me.

I have a bunch of Cowboy Junkies and Cocteau Twins queued up, though I’ve listened to Take a Letter, Maria about five times so far today, attempting to scratch whatever earworm itch is in my head. We’ll see if it works. What the Muse wants, the Muse gets, although I’m not sure she’s the one in charge of the sound system this morning. It seems suspiciously like there’s gremlins lurking in my cranial folds.

It wouldn’t be the first time. Might as well just let them play.

Happy Monday, my beloveds. I hope your weekend was calm, and I hope for a sudden volte-face in the state of the world. The latter might not be very likely, but at least I can hope. Dum spiro, spero, and all that.