Today, Comic Relief

There was some clearing last night, and I was ecstatic at the prospect of maybe, just maybe, being able to run this morning. Alas, I woke up to more dense smoke and the air quality advisory extends until noon. Pretty sure we’ll get to noon and said advisory will shift to “lol u thought we were done? nope.”

I have coffee, so my mood will almost certainly improve… but not soon. At least the caffeine will make me a little less cranky. And tomorrow there’s rain in the forecast, which will be a boon and a blessing–if it actually happens, of course, meteorology being what it is. Weather is a highly complex system, and the tiniest invisible thing can throw a forecast wide of the mark.

I’m pretty sure my role today is “comic relief”, and that’s best performed with an edge under one’s humor–well hidden, like a straight razor tucked in a pile of folded silk. The important thing is that edge must never, under any circumstances, punch down–you must always employ it at least laterally (at your own privilege) or ideally upwards (at those more privileged).

The dogs are unhappy with only a block’s worth of walkies each day instead of a proper ramble. I start coughing as soon as I step outside–another reason why I’ll probably climb onto the treadmill even though I’m absolutely aching to pound some pavement–and it can’t be good for their lungs either. But they don’t understand things like air quality, climate change, or elections. To them, I am the sole goddess of the world, and though my ways are strange they do not question, merely complain.

Loudly, in some cases.

In any case, I’ve drained my coffee cup, and yesterday’s work in The Bloody Throne was late but satisfying. I’m at the point where planned scenes can be thrown merrily out the window because the final shape of the book is now visible, and all that’s necessary is to fill in the blocks left over. The book isn’t quite ready to break free and gallop for the finish, but it’s only a matter of time.

I’m ready. I wish I was back at my pre-lockdown productivity rate, but I’m having difficulty switching between projects for the first time in my life. Something in my innards has broken, and I’m not quite sure how to keep us all fed (not to mention the lights on) if I can’t work at least at 75% of my norm. At least I can sit cross-legged while writing now, and that is making my back ever so much happier.

So today I walk the dogs, climb begrudgingly on the treadmill, and find some humor amid the pile of wreckage. The last bit will save me, I suspect; if I can laugh, I’m some version of all right. My sense of humor tends to be pretty mordant and bleak anyway; today, however, there’s going to have to be some slapstick amid the smoke.

We’re on the downhill slide, almost done with the week; soon we’ll stagger past Friday and be able to celebrate another small victory.

I can’t wait.

Small Signs

After a morning spent chasing the sound of squirrels on the roof and attempting to break down the sliding glass door because one of the little fuzzy bastards was on the deck, the dogs demanded walkies. I was forced to comply, with the hope that said walkies would wear them the fuck out and halt the sonic assault, not to mention the bowling-me-over thing.

There are small signs the smoke is thinning–things have shadows now, the sky is dingy white instead of nicotine yellow, and (amazingly!) I saw the sun behind a shifting veil of smoke and vapor. Not to mention the birds are screaming in every tree they can find, and the squirrels are out in force looking for snacks. It’s warmer, too–the eerie chill of the past few days is breaking in bits and pieces.

Back home now. The walkies were too short, just barely scratching the canine itches for movement, but it was getting hard to breathe. The deep drilling pain in my lungs is matched by the eye-watering, my nose filling up, and even my ears aching. I’m so ready for this to be over.

Today is for avocado toast (I have one ripe avocado left and plenty of good sourdough) and an epic battle scene, not to mention a villain-motivation scene. If I can just get those two done I can call it a day. I suspect it’ll be easier now that the smoke is thinking somewhat, though not nearly quick enough to suit.

At least Boxnoggin hasn’t attempted to fling himself through the sliding glass door more than once this morning. Small mercies. The light is strengthening outside my window; I never thought I’d miss blue sky. I’m generally more comfortable with the grey of a rainy Pacific Northwest winter, but I find myself longing for a clear day. Being able to run will do me no end of good; the smoke has worked its way into the garage so even the treadmill is off. I haven’t quite collapsed in a breathless puddle yet, but my lungs are telling me it’s close.

And now, breakfast. Tuesday is looking to be as quiet as can be expected. Maybe I can even curl up for a nap sometime this afternoon. Frankly the prospect of crawling back into bed is the only thing getting me through today, and I suspect I’m not the only one.

Onward to a morass of blood, swords, cavalry, and trumpeted charges–no, in the book, not out here in meatspace, although the way things are going I wouldn’t be surprised. 2020’s looking to fill everyone’s bingo card.

See you around.

Art, Transmute, Possibility

I have often thought–and remarked–that the creative process is one of transmuting. An original alchemy, absorbing the pain (or joy) of being alive and transforming it into a piece that not only mitigates the burden of experience but also invites others inside as well.

You are what you consume, what you transform, in creative terms as well as physical or emotional. Which is a maxim of greater or lesser degree–one’s body turns everything to energy, heat, and shit no matter the nutritive “value” of what’s consumed, and one’s emotions have deep internal as well as external wellsprings.

…I’m even qualifying my metaphors today. Let me try again.

I have to confess I have often prided myself on the amount of punishment I can take and turn into art. But even my ability to transmute pain is being severely taxed right now. The constant retraumatization is fucking awful–and I’m in a relatively privileged position so far. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those who don’t share my immunity, and the added load of guilt for being relatively safe while others suffer is crushing.

I have no great shining theme or call to hope today. All I’m after is the ability to get through until I can retreat to bed and escape the burden of consciousness for a few hours, probably assisted by some antihistamines since alcohol gives me hives anymore.

The next stage after hives is anaphylactic shock, but even that isn’t proving the deterrent it could be.

I thought once I’d finished with the recent mini-breakdown it would be easier to get back to work; I thought it was a gauntlet I had to run through and I could skid past the finish line, bloody and battered but still whole. But the hits just keep coming, and even retracting into my shell doesn’t work the way it used to.

One of the few things stopping me from plunging over the railing into the abyss is the fact that I have three paying projects unfinished. People are depending on me, so I have to buckle down and at least turn them in. Then there are the kids, and the dogs. All these considerations are getting thinner and thinner as I stare at the catastrophe unfolding, and that worries me.

It worries me a lot.

Like I said, I have no ringing call to hope today. All I have is brute endurance, which I happen to be kind of good at but which does have its limits. This morass was completely avoidable, but nobody cared enough to listen to the people shouting caution while the ship headed for the rocks.

Be gentle with yourselves today, dear Reader. We might get through this. I don’t see how, but I admit the possibility–which is another function of art. To be able to admit possibilities one doesn’t believe in is a form of alchemy all its own. It’s not quite a superpower, but every time I sit down to write, it lingers behind every word.

The possibility is slim, fragile, and ghostly, but it will have to be enough.

Monday, Not Usual Speed

Well, the weekend was full of good food, I’ll grant it that. The dogs got a whole pile of corn chips apiece, and they were absolutely beside themselves with joy. It almost made up for the artillery barrages. Even though a majority of voters went for the fireworks ordinance, some douchebags just had to ruin it for everyone else. It wasn’t as bad as it’s been some years, for which I’m grateful, but I’m still vexed.

Hopefully it’s the last gasp of selfish knobs in this particular direction. I find myself hoping for the “last gasp” in many directions lately. I spent some serious time on the couch yesterday and finished reading Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India; it’s been some while since I’ve had the mental and emotional bandwidth to read history. (Pandemic and fascist coup will do that to one.) Whatever hope I have lately–and it’s not a lot, mind you–comes from history’s quiet insistence that the crowds in the streets will bring some manner of reckoning to those who seem unassailable.

Of course the book has its lacunae; James is a firm believer in the Raj’s “civilizing mission” (such as it was) so it’s interesting to substitute certain terms from the language of empire into the language of decolonization. Next up on the reading list is Meyer & Brysac’s Tournament of Shadows, and I’m sure I’ll have to substitute a few terms in there, too.

What I did not do this past weekend was work, or do much more than glance at social media. The world is merrily burning itself down whether I look or not, and I was at the end of my ability to cope. Certainly I’m still going to have to be careful; it will take very little to send me spinning into despair again. The lack of sleep from random fireworks at odd hours, making the dogs attempt to smother me in order to gain safety from my closeness, isn’t helping. But I’m sticking grimly to my scheduled runs, hoping to tire myself out enough to collapse and get some good rest when the douchebags stop lighting off cannon.

If I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to work, I should at least utilize it. I might even turn this bloody epic fantasy in on time–although that is a wildly optimistic thought. It will take a lot of tea, I’m sure. Fortunately, I have boxes and boxes standing ready, though only a few bags of my favorite chai masala. I’ve plenty of British Breakfast and a not-inconsiderable amount of Earl Grey, which should drag me through quite handily.

I won’t be quite at usual speed today; having to sleep with both dogs practically atop me sort of put paid to any real rest. But I can run, and that will both give me enough energy to get through the day and wear me out so I won’t bloody care if there’s stray crackles and booms to make the canines nest on me tonight. At least they sleep when they’re nestled as close to Mum as possible. It’s calming to know that I possess some power, however fitful, to soothe their fears.

Onward and upward, nolite te bastardes carborundorum, and all that. I would wish for peace, but that hardly seems likely; instead, I wish for strength.

Or just sheer stubbornness–always a favorite in these parts.

A Tired Boxnoggin

This is the face of a dog who is Very Tired because someone keeps letting off fireworks at midnight in our neighborhood. You can feel the “for fuck’s sake” energy coming off the image, can’t you? I certainly can. All our quadrupeds need a lot of pets and soothing lately.

Tomorrow is the Fourth, and I’m not looking forward to the malignant nationalism, the rampant drunk driving, or the asshats setting off illegal artillery. I am looking forward to eating a whole lot of tasty things with the kids and reading some history, drinking tea, and putting out our big ol’ flag prominently featuring the entire planet instead of the abstract colors of a single nation.

Nobody will notice, but I’ll feel better.

Thankfully we have some anti-anxiety medication for the quadrupeds of our household, which they’ll start on around noon tomorrow since we know from experience that’s when the scattered booms generally begin. At least we have better living through chemistry to help our poor pets.

I wish you a quiet, happy Fourth, my friends, full of good food. And I’m going to try to be hopeful that something will change in the near future and I’ll have a country I can be proud of.

Dum spiro, spero, and all that. Hope is an agony, but I suppose I have to engage in it. The alternative’s frankly too terrifying to contemplate.

Over and out.

Midnight Sonic Assault

Some jackasses decided to break the law and set off fireworks late last night, which meant we were all jolted and the dogs spent a long time huddled against me, trembling furiously, before any of us could return to sleep. I don’t know if it’s a case of white supremacists attempting to place an entire neighborhood under siege (as has been happening in a lot of places where protests are ongoing) or it’s asshats who think their “fweedoms” include blowing shit up at midnight simply because voters supported the ordinance telling them not to. And good luck getting the police to persuade the asshats into behaving responsibly or arrest a few entitled bigots; I’m sure they’re too busy downtown trying to menace whatever protestors our community can produce.

I’m sure it will only get worse from here, since the Fourth is coming up. I am extremely nervous about what that might mean. Fireworks have been illegal in our city for a while now, though outlying rural areas cherish the “fweedom” to let loose the artillery and fill the emergency rooms with burns, amputations, and assorted other injuries every year.

I have never liked fireworks, personally. They always remind me of the sonic assaults my childhood abusers used during rageaholic sessions. You’d also think anyone who has a pet would take a look at the shuddering, the drooling, and the hiding most animals do when the fireworks start and think gee, maybe this isn’t a good idea, but apparently, selfishness and sadism reliably wins out for most people.

And it is sadism. If you have pets and you let off artillery for an abstract “celebration,” you are taking a direct hand in traumatizing your animals, betraying the implicit contract to protect and care for them. It’s that simple.

I’m sure people will scream “but what about fweeeeeedom! and patriotism!” and additionally moan that I’m a killjoy and have no right to accuse them of being sadists, that they love their Fido and Kitty and it really doesn’t upset their animals that much. I shall have no ruth for such bullshit, because my dogs were pressed against me shaking in fear for at least an hour and a half after the last boom reverberated through our otherwise quiet neighborhood while I lay internally raging against the selfishness of fuckwits and wishing I could explain to my poor furry companions.

I’m sick of it. I’m so sick of selfishness and fuckwittery. Some days it seems like there’s nothing else on this damn planet, at least as far as a certain species of bipedal primates is concerned.

I’m also worried about what the booms and crackles might cover. An entire army division could move in and announce martial law while racist asshats and their fuckwitted racist friends are busy blowing shit up for “fweedom” and we’d never know until too late. Don’t tell me it’s an outlandish notion, for God’s sake, just look at the news–outlandish shit is happening night and day.

“But it’s tradition!” some people will moan. So was bull-baiting and cockfights. “Tradition” is not a reason to keep doing fuckwitted, stupid, racist, sadistic, or abusive shit. It’s also not a defense.

…you can tell I’m feeling the lack of sleep. I’m annoyed, and even coffee isn’t soothing the urge to let my claws slip free. Maybe getting a run in will help, maybe not. I can probably let a little of it out on the heavy bag, and see if there’s a combat scene or two I can write today.

Time to take the dogs for a walk. And if there’s spent fireworks scattered in the street before particular houses, at least I’ll know which of my neighbors is a fuckwit. One always has one’s suspicions, of course, but confirmation is confirmation, to coin a phrase.

Christ, I wish people would just stop being fuckwits. But apparently asshattery will always be with us, lo unto the pearly gates. It’s enough to make even an optimist think there’s no redemption for our silly little species. Today I’m almost halfway there already, and if I have to go pick up milk I’m sure I’ll see something that will push me the rest of the distance.

Over and out.

Round and Round We Go

The Princess found out earlier this week that her favorite streamer–the one she’s been watching ever since she and her bestie were playing JRPGs in middle school–preys on underage girls. She’s watching the stories come out in realtime, and struggling with the games she loved because she watched this fellow play them. “Baby’s first internet rumble,” I remarked during brekkie this morning.

She made a face like she used to when she was nine and had just discovered sarcasm. “So what’s going on in your part of the internet?”

I was forced to admit, “Pretty much the same thing.” There’s another of the periodic reckonings in SFF authordom, where the stories about predatory douchebags have circulated for years and then, once they reach a certain mass or a victim decides to risk going public, a lot of other men show their asses and how little they value half of humanity by going to bat for said douchebags. Or, worse, attempting a finger-wagging “I’m an ALLY! I would NEVER do that!” and being called on behaving just as badly, for just as long.

“They all work off the same playbook,” I told her. “And this happens cyclically. Over and over.” Because it does. The dustups happen with depressing frequency, and they’re rarely a surprise–the whisper networks are pretty robust. At least mine are, for which I’m grateful.

The only new-ish thing is that I seem to have moved out of the victim pool and into the “useful for cover if I can just mislead her enough” pool. Part of that is the fact that I’m older and not seen as sexually available or attractive, part of it is that I have some tiny perceived power in the vast heterogenous ecosystem of publishing. I’m sure a wide lateral network of female peers who tend to warn me early and thoroughly is part of it, and makes me a less attractive target for cultivation, lovebombing, or negging.

I’m lucky.

Because I’m regarded as old, fat, and unattractive, not only do I escape some of the creepers but I also miss out on a lot of opportunities, since the biggest plums douchebags are empowered to hand out once they’ve reached a certain amount of success (lower difficulty settings, let’s not forget) tend to be reserved for the victims they want something from instead of the hags they cultivate for cover.

I stopped going to conventions partly because I couldn’t afford travel and childcare costs, which is one way society punishes women who dare to have actual careers. But mostly, I was tired of being creeped on, harassed, assaulted in elevators, cornered after panels, pinched, groped, negged by male small-press publishers, followed into parking garages, followed to my hotel room, propositioned in the dealer’s room, and the instances of having to defuse a (possibly inebriated) man who insisted I should drink from the glass he brought me so hard I suspected–no, I knew–it was adulterated somehow.

Instances. Plural. And there’s still the online stalkers/harassers, who I’m sure will mistake this post for blood in the water, but at least I can block their sock puppets over and over.

The first few times I saw these fandom or SFF publishing reckonings, I was naive enough to think maybe they would change something. But they happen with such regularity, and the douchebag harassing rape-y behavior reported each damn time never really changes. It’s never a reckoning, it’s more like the periodic release of tension so the system can continue as usual.

On my pessimistic days, I’m pretty sure racism and misogyny have humanity by the throat and won’t ever be pried free. On my optimistic ones, I’m pretty sure humanity will find a solution–once we’ve tried literally every other damn possibility twice or thrice. The simplest solution, of course, is stop being a fucking douchebag, but that seems beyond the power of a significant chunk of white males, or even males in general.

I’m sure someone will bleat “both sides!” and “women can be abusive too!” in the comments, but I don’t fucking care. I’ll start caring when we reach gender parity; until then, the problem is overwhelmingly on one side and that side needs to clean its fucking house, come get its people, and adult up.

“So it looks like X has finally been outed,” a friend said yesterday, mentioning a douchebag who had been shitty to one of our mutual friends many, many moons ago. “At this point the only man I like is Y, unless you’ve heard something about him?”

I’m sure the heaviness of my sigh reached through both our phones. “…well, yes. Y does A, B, and C. I have two reports from two separate women.”

“GODDAMMIT,” was the reply. “So that’s why he’s such an ‘ally’.”

Which is another blog post entirely, isn’t it.

Over and over it happens. Round and round we go. Where does it stop? I certainly don’t know, unless it’s when society changes to the point that the fear of being outed and consequent disapprobation reaches a certain level. But then the douchebags will probably just find another way to be creepy and shitty.

“They don’t really know how NOT to be creepy,” a male friend, someone I rather like and hope is trustworthy, said yesterday.

“They know,” I had to say. “They just don’t care. I’ll tell you how I know: because they manage to refrain from being creepy around people not in their victim pool.” If they can weigh the consequences and refrain in some situations, it absolutely means they know better, and have deemed it an acceptable risk in other situations.

I understand some men not wanting to think their fellow men just… don’t care. I understand they don’t want to think about what it might say about them personally, as men. Just as I don’t want to think my fellow white women can be racist-ass Karens or TERFs because I want to believe I’m personally better than that, I understand men don’t want to think they have the capacity to be a misogynist predator.

We all have to face uncomfortable things about ourselves, and doubly uncomfortable things about whatever privilege we possess. The solution is simple: Just don’t be a douchebag.

Just fucking refrain.

Individually we might manage it. Collectively? I’m pessimistic today, so the best I can say is “we’re doomed.” Tomorrow I might feel differently.

But I’m not betting on it. I have no grand ending for this post, I have no solution other than don’t be a fucking douchebag and don’t cover for douchebags. I don’t even have the strength to be optimistic today. The merry-go-round has just swirled too many times, and I’m queasy on a spiritual level.

If there was anything else I was fit to earn my living as, I’d probably leave publishing. I would keep writing, of course, just not for public consumption. If even I am tempted to burn it all down and walk, think of how many great books we’re missing out on because a douchebag has hounded other women out. Because those women were exhausted and brutalized–emotionally or physically–into leaving. If these men could just fucking stop being douchebags, think of all the great stuff we could have in games, movies, books, you name it.

We could have a better world. But some douchenozzles just don’t want it. And they happen to be placed in positions of power.

It’s almost like that’s what the system is designed to do overall, isn’t it.

Isn’t it just.