SquirrelThings Five, Redux

vinicon So there I was, at the back door, clutching the famous Sekrit Weapon and–

What? The Sekrit Weapon? Oh. It’s a golf club. They’re pretty good for home defense. I found this out during the Great Corn-Pops War. It’s far more maneuverable than the Shovel of Serious Business, and the bent part at the bottom is good for poking and lifting things you don’t want to touch. (Like roadkill. Or a sombrero left in one’s front yard. DON’T ASK.) I have learned my lesson: I will not willingly go near a squirrel unarmed. Even one that might be dead.

Miss B was curious, of course. If I was going outside, she wanted in on it too. However, I have also learned my lesson concerning her and squirrels-that-may-be-dead. So she had to stay inside, and the heat was such that I don’t think she minded much. Odd Trundles, of course, was still dozing in my office. The noise of SquirrelThings Five doing whatever it was they were doing had abated somewhat, and I think it functioned somewhat as white noise for him.

I checked a few times to make sure I was wearing shoes. I shook the Sekrit Weapon, assuring myself of its free play and that no part of it was going to come off. I crossed myself, muttered a prayer, told Miss B to sit her fuzzy ass down, and stepped outside.

From the deck I could see the Five–wait. The Four, for one of their number was still lying on his back at the foot of the pine, splayed out a little indecently, were still at their game. I couldn’t quite tell who was who, because the mating attempts seemed to have stopped, and now they were just chasing each other and losing bits of fur.

THING 1: YOU BASTARD!
THING 3: CHARGE! CHARGE!
THING 4: POOOOOOOOOOP!
THING 2: *singing* I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THE RAAAAAILROOOOOAD–

“This is a bad idea,” I muttered, and checked my shoes again. Still there. I swung the Sekrit Weapon a little, and edged down the deck stairs. From the landing, I could see the, um, victim, still splayed out. The poor fellow had landed on a rock, and was somewhat draped over it. Did squirrels get paralyzed? A paraplegic squirrel, perhaps? I was considering how to rig up a squirrelcart so a semi-paralyzed squirrel could get around–look, my brain, she runs away with me sometimes, especially under stress.

It’s why I write books.

ANYWAY. I could almost hear the wheels of the imaginary squirrelcart as I slid cautiously down the last set of stairs. This put me pretty close to the ring of rocks around the base of the fir, and I crouched at the foot of the stairs, just to take everything in.

Look, you take cover wherever you can in a situation like this. I’m just sayin’.

THING 2: *singing* AAAAAAALL THE LIVELONG DAAAAAAAY!
THING 4: SOOOOOOOPER POOOOOOOOP!
THING 3: YOU GONNA DIE! YOU GONNA DIE!
THING 1: ACK! JESUS! HELP! MEDIC!

The, uh, fur-fall seemed to have slacked off. They were still scratching and screaming above, and bits of bark were pattering down in random bursts. The squirrel on the ground just lay there.

I unfolded and crept closer, the Sekrit Weapon held before me, low and ready. (You can almost hear the Carmen Sandiego music, can’t you. I mean the music from the old PC game, when you ALMOST managed to catch her…Christ, I’m old.)

Now, I would like to mention that the concrete walkway there is tilted. The fir’s roots have lifted some parts of it, dropped others, and after a few years of living here I no longer trip on the seams. (Much.) That’s somewhat important. I had to step half off said walkway to extend the Sekrit Weapon and–gently, gently–prod the supine squirrel.

Honestly, I thought he was dead, and I was already thinking about where to bury the fallen warrior. (The rose garden’s getting a bit full.) Shovels were in the shed, I could prep a grave and take him there on one of said shovels–maybe by the mustard-and-ketchup bush. I didn’t know this little fellow, so the graveside service was going to have to be brief–

Well.

He wasn’t dead.

I repeat, he was not dead. He was just resting.

The Thing, whatever number he was, exploded into motion. He grabbed the end of the golf club, perhaps thinking it one of the combatants stills screeching and scrabbling above. Or he thought it was a branch. In any case, my combat reflexes are still quick, because I whipped said Sekrit Weapon up, hard.

And yet.

And yet the squirrel did not fly, for once.

No, the little bastard let go.

I ask you, my friends and Constant Readers, have you ever almost hit yourself in the face with a squirrel-wrangling golf club? I don’t recommend it.

I went over backward, and the Unnumbered Thing (let’s call him Five, we might as well) howled his fury at resurrection. (Sort of like a naked Hugh Jackman.)

He was indeed just resting. Or stunned, or something. He didn’t head for the fir but for the back fence, a little gray streak still howling like a scruffy, clawed berserker.

Remember the tilted concrete walkway? The one I’d stepped off? Well, my asscheek met it. Hard. And yes, I say asscheek singular, because of the tilt. My teeth clicked together, I tasted blood, and that pratfall was the only reason the Sekrit Weapon didn’t take said teeth out.

Friendly fire, my darling friends, isn’t.

“SONOFABITCH!” I yelled, and other things. The golf club flew behind me and landed neatly on the deck with a clatter, missing windows, potted plants, and patio furniture as well as my teeth. Miss B began to bark, but she did not throw herself at the door, for once.

Small mercies.

The end result of this was a breathless, hot silence in the backyard. I looked up, my eyes watering from the pain, and saw four small squirrels hanging off the fir and looking at me, their beady little gazes glowing with something suspiciously like awe. Five, of course, made it to the back fence and vanished into the cedars, the little bastard. I haven’t seen him since, nor have there been any more fur-flying battles in my fir.

I’m not sure I could survive another one.

And that, my friends, is how a squirrel gave me a bruise on my ass and a headache that lasted for days. The only lesson I can draw from this teachable moment is to never, ever, EVER assume a squirrel is dead.

They are, only and ever, just fucking taking a breather before the main event.

A Long Weekend

sixstringsamuraiicon It’s Friday again. I would have a Friday photo for you, but things are a little topsy-turvy here right at the moment. I am having to carry a fifty-pound dog down the stairs for loo breaks. It’s a grand workout, and this is the dog with sense enough to stay still during the entire operation, but still.

What happened? Well, yesterday I had to answer the door.

Perhaps I should explain.

Neither dog can be trusted when I have to do so, but Odd Trundles can’t make it down the inside stairs. (This gives the cats someplace to go to escape his exuberance. If he ever finds out they’re perfectly navigable there will be FURRY HELL TO PAY OMG.) So the thing to do has become to put both dogs in my bedroom, which smells like me (and like them, let’s be honest, because that T-shirt that says “Sleeps With Dogs”? That’s me.) and does not hold anything that can harm them.

Unfortunately, Miss B was Very Excited at the prospect of SOMEONE AT THE DOOR. She dealt with this excitement by throwing herself at the bedroom door.

What I think happened next was that Odd, who had been napping on my bed (look, just don’t ask) got excited by all Miss B’s excitement, and made a beeline at whatever she was trying to get at. He relies on her to tell him what to do almost every minute of the day, including when to breathe and where to pee.

SO. I think Miss B landed on Odd. As a cushion, he leaves a little to be desired. He’s built like a brick shithouse, really, and not much can damage him, but brick shithouses are not pillows.

I closed the front door and heard a yelp. It activated the Mother Circuit in my head–you know, the one that flips when you realize your child has been Too Quiet For Too Long, or when you hear an “I’m hurt” noise, which is totally different than “I’m having a meltdown over not riding in the grocery cart” or “I am too tired for this shit” or even “MOM HE’S BREATHING ON ME!” noises. I all but teleported up the stairs, and the first Wrong Thing I encountered was Odd Trundles on the other side of my bedroom door, wiggling and pleased with himself but very baffled, since he is rarely allowed to be the first to greet me.

Miss B was holding one of her back paws up, and looking at me with a similar baffled expression. Then she put it down, picked it back up, and hopped three-legged towards me.

“Oh, fuck,” I said.

As far as I can tell nothing is broken. She is putting some weight on the leg and the bones are all in the right place; the entire leg moves as a whole with no floppiness and she has regular range of motion in all the joints. Her paw is a bit swollen but she lets me palpate each toe, so I think there’s nothing broken in there, she just landed wrong and sprained something. If she’s still limping tomorrow, it will be time for a vet visit I probably won’t be able to afford right now.

But today, I am carrying her up and down the stairs out back when she needs to pee. There will be no running for her, for the foreseeable future. Which is just going to be all sorts of fun if she can’t work off her nerves. And Odd Trundles, trying to be helpful, is chewing up the coir mat at the entrance of my office, because he has no clue what to do when Miss B isn’t bossing him, and this is the best he can come up with.

I said it yesterday, and I’ll say it again.

It’s gonna be a loooooong weekend.

Can’t Will Myself Better

Eeyore Ugh. Another one of those “everything is horrid and nothing helps” days. I know things are coming, they’ll be here soon, things will get better, la la la. It’s just hard to wait when you feel like everything around you is on fire and falling into a sea of relatively mild (for a chestburster) acid.

Of course, I could also have a teensy little lack of proportion due to two nights of uneven, restless, tossing sleep. The 3am Whatifs have been having a field day–or a series of field nights, so to speak–inside my skull.

Everything has always turned out all right before, I shouldn’t worry so much, there are plans in place.

Still.

Much of the problem is simply that I’ve been trying to dial back the anxiety meds. This is not helping, because whatever genetic disposition I had toward anxiety was triggered over and over again in the first thirty-odd years of my life and has become, as far as my body is concerned, the status quo. Generous soakings of adrenaline, cortisol, and the attendant chemicals are what my body and brain consider normal despite their bad effects on said body and brain. I can know, intellectually, that nothing is wrong and my body is simply doing something weird, but the physical sensations of terror are so strong it takes a lot of mental energy to keep reminding myself, over and over, that it’s FINE REALLY JUST CALM THE FUCK DOWN.

It irks me that I need medication in order to not have daily panic attacks. It upsets me that I can’t just will myself better, that I can’t just turn my reserves of stubbornness to the problem and force my body and brain to be closer to “normal.” Most other problems in my life have been solved by small (or not so small) and consistent applications of said stubbornness (for example, my career in publishing, ha ha) but this one…this one cannot be. It troubles me.

I’m off for my morning run now–another way to cope with and burn off all those damn stress chemicals. I’ve done a bunch of work already this morning, maybe, if I run hard enough, I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

Maybe.

Oh! Patreon folks, this month’s offerings are up! I hope you enjoy them. There will probably NOT be a reading this month, there’s just not enough interest and I am still struggling to catch up from Frau L’s visit and…several other things.

Okay. I really am heading out the door now. Maybe sweat will solve some of this. It will, at least, make Miss B stop nudging me with her nose whenever I shift in my chair. She can sense my worries, and they worry her, poor thing.

Over and out.

Troublesome Story

stabbity The genie story is being…troublesome. I finally figured out the problem, which was that it wanted me to go back and braid in the villain POVs it had merrily tossed by the wayside earlier. This led to me stamping about the house snarling, “You could have told me so,” at the Muse, who just laughed and selected another bonbon from a pretty pink-wrapped paper heart.

Some days, I think she does things just to spite me. Other days, I know she does.

Crappy writing days happen, and this week’s been a string of them. They come in different shapes and sizes.

There’s the “everyone will hate this, it’s full of holes, you’re not a real writer” days. There’s the days when you have to drag words kicking and screaming from your cerebellum, chip them free of old leaden rock. There’s the “cat videos are so much better than this” days, and the “Jesus fucking Christ what have I got myself into, we’re all going to starve because I think I can write” days. There’s the days you have to fight so hard to preserve your writing time from the internet, from friends who think “well, she works at home, of course she has time” or from the stupid machinery of living–you know, the stuff that forces you to do Other Things like shop for groceries or take the rubbish out.

After a long run of bad writing days, one can question one’s commitment a tad. This is when habit and discipline save you. Even two hundred measly words and a bucket of frustration is more than one had yesterday. (The frustration’s great fuel for running. Silver lining, I guess.) This is why I tell people who come to me for writing advice that it’s crucial to write every day, even if only for ten minutes. Set your smartphone or tiny kitchen timer. Carve out that space, and use it. It will save you when the bad writing days (inevitably) come along.

Sooner or later a good day will hit. You just have to be ready for it, and it’s a lot easier to be ready when you’re in the habit of showing up.

So I’m stubbornly going back to it. I thought I’d finish the genie story this week, but I guess it wasn’t in the cards. Today is for revising and knitting in more of the villain. Gutting it out, one day at a time, waiting for the magic. Sometimes it only happens in dribs and drabs, but those accretions add up. And finally, at last, you’ll have a whole zero draft on your hands.

That’s worth a little frustration.

On the Censor, and Finishing the Damn Book

ghandi01 Gather close, my chickadees. After a long while of not dispensing writing advice (really, most of what I wanted to say is here) I’ve had a question–or a set of related questions–reach critical mass, and will take a shot at answering them at one go.

These are things I have heard recently:

“I don’t think my work is complex enough, and that stops me from writing.”

“I don’t have a theme, and that stops me from writing.”

“My plot’s been done before! And that stops me from writing.”

“I get to the halfway point and then I can’t think of anything else to say, and that stops me from writing.”

“I’m not sure about the quality, and that stops me from writing.”

You get the idea. These are all related to a particularly insidious attempt on the part of what Julia Cameron calls “the Censor”. That’s the asshole inside your head who prefers you to keep everything safe, so there’s no chance of rejection, because rejection fucking well hurts and nobody likes that sort of pain.[1] To do that, the Censor attacks you right in the self-worth–or the perceived worth of your writing/painting/basketweaving/other art. It’s a song of “this isn’t good enough, so why even try?”

Normally I would advise kicking the Censor right where it hurts and taking a chainsaw to it, but: One, it’s an invisible psychological contract; two, it exists for a reason, even if it’s misfiring; and three, I’ve been working on my anger issues lately. So chainsaws are not allowed, for at least the rest of this week.

The Censor exists to keep you from getting hurt, in some twisted fashion. In normal functioning mode, it’s the same mechanism that might stop you from handing your beer to a friend and saying “Hey, Earl, watch this!” before you land in the hospital if you’re lucky and the morgue if you’re not. The trouble is, the Censor can so easily go haywire, and decide the best way to keep you safe is to cripple you before you try anything new or risky at all. Besides, our Censor has a couple of insidious little buddies–Anxiety and Misplaced Economy of Energy. (The latter is the sort of laziness people mistake for efficiency.) Together, they fight…well, you, and your art. (They can fuck up your life in other areas, but that’s–say it with me–another blog post.)

All that being said, the Censor has a point. Unfinished drafts are ugly creatures. This leads us to the solution, and the best way to roll the Censor in broken glass and set it on fire.[2]

Finish it.

Set your kitchen timer, set your wordcount, keep digging into what comes next for as long as it takes. But finish it.

Finish the damn book.

Complexity? Theme? Well, you won’t be able to get away from either of them. Themes will pop up in your work because you’re a human being interested in certain things, and those things will show up in any art you do. You can’t get away from it. But in order to find those themes and layer in complexity of character, plot, or the dinner-party menus your characters are discussing, you need a whole word-corpse on the table. You need to be able to see the arc of the story before you can correct it and trim here, pad there, and paint over that to make it purdy.

Sure, every plot’s been done before. But it hasn’t been done by you, and even if you do revisit a plot time and again (hello, Anne Rice? Charles Dickens? Even yours truly?) each time you do so you are at a different point in your life, and have a different constellation of words and thoughts to bring to bear on the matter. Plot matters, yes. But the point is how you perform the plot, and if you like turning out a certain batch of notes there’s nothing that says you can’t figure out how many variations to play on that theme. Finish the damn book, then start refining.

I’ve talked before about the long slow slough of despond that hits between a third to two-thirds of the way through a book. This is why writing is an endurance test. This is not about sprinting, or about how fast you can vomit up a chunk of text that may or may not be a book. This is about the discipline to sit down regularly (I recommend every day, we’ve already been over that) and keep at it until you’re done. You all know how action movies go, so consider this as the buildup to the big battle near the end. That feeling of having nothing else to say halfway through? That’s the Censor and Misplaced Economy of Energy getting together and desperately pulling out the stops to keep you from their Villainous Fortress of Solitude. Getting you to back down is the Censor’s endgame; that way you can stay in the “comfortable” tar-pit of “well, I just couldn’t finish it.”

That tar-pit is familiar. It’s safe, even if it burns and slows you down. The Censor is trying to tell you that it hurts, burns, and outright batters you less than having other people judge your work and possibly reject it. I’m here to tell you the two pains are about the same, so you might as well go for the one that has a prize attached. There’s no reason to pick the tar-pit over the scorpion-pit of getting reviews. (Especially online reviews.) Or the gladiatorial blood-pit of querying. It’s going to hurt either way, but at least with reviews, queries, and the like, you have a finished book to salve the pain. You have an achievement nobody else can take away–you finished the goddamn thing, which is more than most people who call themselves “writers” have. Once you have finished that marathon, that achievement is all yours. It’s sweet and it’s a goddamn sight better than the tar-pit.

That leaves the ever-popular, ever-famous “I’m not sure about the quality,” which is one of the Censor’s most insidious asshole moves.

Look. 99.9999999% of unfinished drafts are fucking horrible. 99.999% of zero drafts are fucking terrible too, in different ways. Most first drafts aren’t all that great either, but they’re a damn sight better than unfinished ones because you’ve had a go at shaping, trimming, and beautifying the whole corpse instead of just looking at a pile of rotting body parts and throwing up your hands before retreating to the castle cellar to moan at Igor about how hard it all is. It’s work to stitch your monster together, hard work to throw the switch during a lightning storm and attend all those dials and contacts and get the horrifying creature breathing. In the end, though, when it sits up and screams, it is proof of creation itself. All you have to do is apply some makeup and teach it to dance.

Even if your finished book does not see publication, even if it’s the most horrific steaming pile of word-shit that exited the runny bowels of a diseased mind, it is still an achievement. It is a whole book. It means you went the distance, stayed the course, and didn’t let the goddamn Censor keep you in the tar-pit. You get the marathon T-shirt and the knowledge that you can do it–you can make that monster, you can make it breathe, and you can even teach it a waltz. Nobody–not fellow writers, not your parents, not reviewers–can take away the fact that you did what you set out to do, goddammit.

It can help to know the Censor only has a limited bag of tricks, and tends to use the same ones on everyone. (Much like GamerGaters and MRAs all seem to work off the same toxic little playbook.) Fellow wordsmiths, what other insidious little tricks does the Censor use on you?

[1] Even masochists have their limits.
[2] Chainsaws aren’t allowed, but I’m a creative sort.

Inefficiency Bothers Me

sixstringsamuraiicon You don’t change the location of a potluck two hours before the damn thing starts, especially on a work day. Apparently, though, one of the American teachers involved in the exchange program thought that was an appropriate thing to do. This is the same teacher that’s consistently twenty minutes late to every event, and whose indifferent organizing meant that at least three times several of the students were unable to contact their host parents when pickup times changed. *eyeroll* The inefficiency bothers me.

As I’m sure you can tell.

Most of all, though, I’m embarrassed by her. We’re supposed to be putting our best foot forward for the exchange program.

ANYWAY. All of this meant that instead of being able to attend two events for two different sets of kids, I could attend neither because I was busy driving everyone to where they needed to be. In any case, it’s over now, and I am hoping I don’t ever have to deal with this particular teacher ever again.

Revisions on She Wolf and Cub proceed apace. I’m doing a pass for formatting and basic things, since all my italics seem to have been stripped out. (You know how much I love my italics.) When that’s done, I’ll make another pass for details. The setting is so very clear in my head, but that needs to hit the page as well. If there ever was a book where I need to luxuriate in the background, it’s this one. The stacks of towering stone, the endlessness of the sand, the silver and indigo of the dunes at night, they all need to be brought forward.

So that’s my day. After, of course, I get out the door for my long run to sweat out the irritation from yesterday. I can even taste it, thin metal at the very back of my tongue. I never thought, when I started running, that it would be a mood regulator. Just one more benefit, I suppose, along with tiring out Miss B and working plot tangles loose.

Over and out.

Dead Steam Soldier

Last night was taco night. I sautéed the dry grains for Spanish rice, put them in the steamer with the diced tomatoes and chilis (and carrots, any tomato-based sauce is better for the addition of a few shreds of carrot) and plugged the damn thing in.

A terrific blue POP! and the fridge died.

It’s on the same breaker as the outlet for the toasters and the rice steamer. I unplugged everything and sighed. The Princess’s eyebrows went up.

Fortunately, a quick flip of the breaker fixed the outlets, but then I looked more closely at our faithful, steamy servant.

dead soldier

Copper wire heading into the steamer’s body, nice and exposed. A little soot and burnt plastic, too, just to make things fun. Fortunately, I could plop some enameled cast iron on the stove and cook the rice that way, but I have become spoiled and am having longing thoughts of slipping out today to fetch a lovely Zojirushi or something similar. For a bonus, I can take this dead soldier apart and see how he’s made. (Yes, yes, only one Frankensteamer joke per person, please.)

The Princess expected me to be more irritated, but I was just glad the whole wall of outlets hadn’t been fried. In the grand scheme of things, one dead rice cooker is only a minor annoyance. Now, if it would have caught on fire, like the sweet potato in the microwave–which the children are STILL teasing me about–that would be something.

I’m just happy the incident didn’t involve a squirrel.