This past weekend, the Princess graduated from high school. (Good Lord, I feel old.) Yes, I cried. That seems the only appropriate response when you’ve successfully managed to get a tiny dependent being through the eighteen years of childhood and early adolescence. The ceremony to mark such a thing, while boring, is still important because it’s a ritual, drawing a nice bright line between the phase of “public school” and the entry into young adulthood. I rarely have the patience for communal rituals, but I recognize their import.
My baby, growing up. *sniffles a bit*
She’s handling the transition better than I am. You get into the habit of feeding, caring, listening for their breathing, constantly blocking traffic for them, guiding, watching, loving them so hard your very bones ache when they’re in any kind of pain. It leaves an imprint. Learning to let go, bit by bit, as they grow, is hard. You wake up one day, and they’re doing things like BEING ALL GROWN-UP. And the feelings get so big they leak out of your nose and eyes and mouth.
The other thing I did this weekend was run a writing workshop for teens. It was interesting. I have often thought of running online writing workshops, and it was fun to do sort of a dry run and see what kinds of questions people ask, how a workshop is structured, and how to keep an audience interested. I think it went rather well.
Still, all the emotion, and the public speaking, left me drained down to a bare shadow of myself. I suspect I’ll need another day or so to recover, then it’s on to Cormorant Run revisions. I planned to start them at the beginning of the month, but the zombie apocalypse story grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I think I was using the zombies to decompress, or just plain to escape.
…yeah, my wiring is weird. But then, if you’re reading this, you quite probably knew that already. I’m retreating, also, because the news is so terrible, and I am old enough to realize it’s very likely nothing will be done. People simply love their fear and their hatred too much to change; it terrifies me that my children will be going into such a world.
So I’m off to refill my creative well, and to go back into a world I built a while ago. If there’s hope, it lies in creating. Or at least, so I tell myself. It’s all I have to fight the fear.
So apparently yesterday’s bees (look, they won’t sting me, but it is a bit concerning to pull my tank top away from my breasts and have a bee fly out, really) were carrying a night of vivid dreams for me. Which, great, I must have signed up for this sort of shit before I was born and I’ll put up with it, but really, YOU COULD HAVE JUST SENT A CROW, FOR GOD’S SAKE. (Aaaaaand this just landed in my inbox from my writing partner, who delights in doing such things.)
Anyway. Ahem. Hi. Welcome back, dear Readers. In the past couple weeks I’ve finished revising two all-new books and sent them off. While I chew on my fingers waiting to hear back (no, that’s not a typo, we’re down to actual flesh) I get to try and force myself to take a breath before going in to restructure, rebuild, revise, and just generally make CORMORANT RUN better. I wrote the zero and first drafts at such a white heat I’m surprised my hair didn’t catch on fire, and it’s a good thing I have my favorite editor around to tell me where the story in my head needs a little more clarification on the page.
Editing doesn’t have to be adversarial.
The trouble is, my internal engines are unstable and going at such high speed I stand a very real risk of pulling some mental muscles by going back into the fray before I’ve healed up. At the same time, I am aching–aching–to get some more work out the door, because the financial hit from having to shelve the Book That Shall Not Be Named because fuckwits kept stealing has been…severe. I’m not quite at the point of no return yet, but I’m definitely in Anxiety Land.
I keep telling myself that things have been truly bleak before and this is not that. I practice self-care, I am taking the long view and choosing not to do short-term flailing that will injure my ability to keep producing. At least, producing for public consumption. I’ll always write, it’s just publishing that seems to be the strangle-point. Then again, after being in this game for over a decade now, I should know that it’s cyclical.
Why do I speak about this publicly? Because a lot of people don’t. Because there are few things “new” and aspiring writers need to know more than what makes a sustainable career. Because being honest about it helps demystify the process of making a living as a creative. Also, because I want people to know and understand the consequences of thievery, and to shame those who still indulge in it. Also also, because I don’t have time for bullshit, and openness discourages yon fragrant bovine droppings liek woah.
Yes. Well. Now I have to distract myself so I don’t go blazing into the next round of revisions just yet and hurt myself.
So my reward for putting in a new villain scene in a finished zero draft yesterday was…3k words falling out of my head on the Redneck Zombie Apocalypse With Librarian story. I am seriously considering finishing that for the Selkie, mostly because it makes me giggle and I like having fun. (Such as it is.)
This morning, for various reasons, I landed on listening to Marvin Gaye. (This may have had something to do with it.)
I can feel the odd focus of less sleep and more high emotion tickling under my skin. I used to use it for book fuel, but now it just makes me feel unsettled and tired. Learning to lower my tolerance for that fuel–because though it’s high-octane, it’s also stressful as fuck–was one of the best gifts therapy ever gave me. It’s tempting to go back, because it’s reliable and familiar. I suppose this is the acid test of learning healthier ways of dealing with the world; the pinch comes when you feel the pull to go back to that bad old racetrack and fill up on that bad juice.
So there are things I’m doing today to interrupt the cycle. A hard run. Some chair-dancing to good music. Some stand-up dancing, too. (How can you be so old, and still not get it?) Plenty of fuzz therapy. Writing something fun for the hell of it. Narrating the guinea pig’s joy at fresh-plucked greens. (Today his accent is less Berlin and more Paris.) Leftover pesto pasta for lunch.
I get mail. Recently it was a scolding message sent to me through Patreon. This particular patron was only interested in Steelflower 2, and since that book is dead on the vine they wanted to cancel their pledge. Fair enough, except I can’t alter a patron’s pledges. That’s kind of the whole point of Patreon, but a second and a half spent with Google turned up some helpful information. (WHO KNEW?)
ANYWAY, the “scolding” bit was that I was “punishing” my readers for the “actions of one asshole.” I think I should post my entire reply here.
I received your message and wrote you one in return yesterday. Since it seems that didn’t go through, let’s try again!
I do not have the ability to alter my patrons’ pledges in any way, shape, or form. A quick Google, however, found this:
One of the things I remember from your message yesterday was that you felt I was “punishing” readers for the actions of one person. I do not see it quite that way. In face, I would contend that, having suffered the loss of a significant amount of paid working time to write the 70K words I did get done on the sequel, and then feeling utterly violated when that one person (yes, I know who it was) uploaded Patreon bits to a torrent site, is a punishment far greater than any my readers may suffer. The subsequent financial “hit” and the fact that I cannot even open up the Steelflower 2 file on my word processor without feeling violently ill definitely qualify as punishments. It seems to me that however much readers may miss the exploits of Kaia and her crew, I miss them more. They are parts of me that have been completely, well, violated. I keep using that word because it is the one that applies.
Fortunately, readers who pledged through Patreon saw considerable chunks of that book, and they were the only people in the world (other than the e-pirates) who saw them. Even my agent didn’t get to read those.
Thank you very much for your communication. I hope this clarifies my stance on the entire sad matter.
There is yet another twist to the Steelflower story–Samhain Publishing, the press that was kind enough to take a chance on the first book, had contracted for the second. Unfortunately, they are in they process of shutting their doors and have released me from the Steelflower 2 contract. So I am back where I was before I thought I could write the last two books of Kaia’s series–no publisher, and people taking time out of their busy lives to yell at me over things I have no control over. Only this time, there’s a significant financial hit from the loss of paid working time and BONUS e-piracy!
In short, I am right about here:
It will take a while for the rights to the first Kaia book to revert to me. When they do, I am having longing thoughts of just letting the book go quietly out of print. At least then, when people yell at me over the whole thing, I can just tip the e-mails into the “Entitled Prats” bin in my inbox and let them vanish forever into the screaming electronic wastes.
The rain seems a little dispirited today. Maybe it’s tired of February too. (This is where I say “I could never get the hang of Februarys” again.) Or it could just be me blinking and asking myself, huh, what’s that smell? Must be morning again.
Today is for a short run, much wordcount, and maybe a transcription job if I can squeeze one in. Cormorant Run is burning a hole in me, the genie story isn’t far behind. We’re heading for the long slow slog on the former, and some fun double-dealing and shootouts on the latter. At least, fun for me to write. Not very fun for the characters involved. Perhaps they’ll get the brunt of my Monday.
Not that I dislike this Monday. Not at all. I’m just…floating slightly outside of my myself, and getting ready to dive into a long week. At least the little distance helps me ignore the spatters and bruises from moving so fast.
Related: I’m off for a run. Here’s hoping for no bruises from that particular speed, but miss B has a gleam in her eye and a spring in her step that makes me fear a little.
Running, this morning. A poem hits right between the eyes, and as I sweat I put the lines together, shake them, see the edges. Look at how they fit.
Think about the absences. People I couldn’t save, who didn’t want to be saved. The times I had to walk away, the times I’ve shouted down a dark well hoping to help, pouring love and energy into black holes.
Run harder. The poem comes back on little cat feet.
Turn it over, shake it again. The edges come together, seamless.
Memories. Mistakes. Nothing to be done about it now, did the best I could then, made amends where I could. If it could have been fixed it would have been. All the things your friends tell you when you begin to let them in again after curling around your hurt. Their patience, repeating it until sometimes you hear it in your head because it’s sunk in, finally.
Run harder. Yes, the poem’s there. It shimmers. Not perfect, an irregular pearl, but still all mine. Grit and nacre.
It takes so much for me to give up on someone, and even when I do, I still hope. I can’t break myself of the habit. You can’t man the perimeter against the little chink in your own heart, the space where you just want people you care–or cared–for to be happy.
Glance down at B. She’s enjoying the pace, but she’s not the young dog she once was. She’ll run until her heart gives out for me, but I never ask it. For her, I slow, even though I want to run until I drop, until I pass out, until the world turns over.
I have sentinels in front of that crack in my heart. Friends. It’s a good thing to have people who give a damn, it’s a good thing when caring isn’t a one-way street with all the giving at my end. Most days I am completely baffled by it, but on the good days I know I matter as a human being to a couple people. The good days are getting more frequent. Healing is difficult, but it can be done.
Workout over. Poem still in head, a reassuring glow. B glad to stop, though she’d run more if I asked. We walk, she basks as I tell her she’s a good girl. She noses a couple lamp-posts on the way home, reading the day’s news. Still an aching in my chest, but it’s just the scar tissue.
I can live with it.
Home. B on her bed in my office, Odd Trundles still napping on my bed–he woke briefly when we returned, greeting us before he went back to his ever-important late-morning nap. My hair is wet from the shower and I’m in the clothes I wore yesterday, the poem allowed to drift free into the world. Tea steeping, other words crowding my brain.
I feel around the scars, probing, taking stock.
They’re strong. Supple. They will hold for one more precious day.
This morning, the Princess brought me coffee in bed. “I was just up,” she said when I thanked her, “and I thought, how can I do something nice for Mum?”
She sat at the breakfast table with me, just because she wanted to talk. Right now she’s into Steven Universe. “You’d like it,” she says, and tells me about an episode where Pearl wants to show Steven that physical strength isn’t everything, that there’s a different strength in the people who do daily scut work to keep households and nations active. I agree that it sounds nice, and as I finish my porridge, we talk about being a reasonably awesome human being.
How, do you ask, can someone be reasonably awesome? Here follows a short list.
* Admit your fucking privilege. I’ve benefited from many forms of privilege in my life, and suffered a few forms of discrimination as well. Discrimination against me in one area (I’m female on the internet) does not give me leeway to be an asshole over my privilege in another (my skin tone means I’m less likely to be shot wearing a hoodie on my morning run). It doesn’t hurt to admit that, especially when listening to other peoples’ experiences.
* Admit your fuckups. Want to know one thing I never, ever heard from parental figures while I was growing up?
“I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
Many are the assholes who think admitting they were mistaken or just plain wrong somehow robs them of something. I say those five words daily, and have ever since I became a mother. It can range from “you know, I was wrong when I put you in time-out for that, I should have been more patient,” to “Remember when I explained Celsius and Fahrenheit to you? I had the conversion wrong, sorry,” or “You guys tasked me with putting together email for the site and I did it wrong. I’m fixing it now.” Getting in the habit of acknowledging your mistakes makes you a better human being. You fix it (or do your best to) and move on.
* Consider shutting up sometimes. In the immortal words of Elon James, when you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, you could just say nothing. I think Mark Twain observed it’s better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt, sometimes. If a rancid bit of asshattery is about to escape your mouth, or you know you’re already irritated and frustrated, take the opportunity to just keep your lips buttoned for a few minutes and think about keeping it zipped until you have something reasonable to say.
* But not when someone is an asshat in your presence. From the jock father who was letting his sons roughhouse in the baking aisle (right next to glass containers of every kind of oil known to cooking) who said “Don’t yell at my kids!” when I told said spawn to cut it out (“Parent them and I won’t have to,” I snapped in return) to the woman calling another woman in a hijab nasty names in the produce aisle (“Just shut up, she’s not making YOU wear a scarf,” I said, hefting an apple and visibly considering bouncing it off her fool skull), I try not to let people get away unscathed from asshattery. Of course, this is a rule best applied with a little forethought. But if you see something, say something. Even something as simple as “I’m sorry that person is being an asshole,” can change the entire situation. Especially if you have a bit of privilege, you can often perform a bit of interpersonal judo to even things out. And yes, in volatile situations you might get yelled at. Most people will do just about anything to avoid being perceived as the asshole in any particular situation, and calling them on it is a powerful tool evoking powerful responses.
* Stay done. Remember the SquirrelTerror plagiarism incident? Something I said then has stuck with me since: when I say I’m done, it doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven or forgotten, or have accepted anything at all. It simply means I am not wasting any more energy on that asshole. If someone isn’t arguing in good faith, if someone is an inveterate racist and they don’t want to be anything else, if someone is toxic and doesn’t give a fuck for other people, fine, they can do all that somewhere else. I don’t have to lend myself to it, and I do not have to keep throwing good effort after bad. Staying done means just that: don’t respond afterward. Refusing to deal with someone is a powerful tool, too.
* Share the limelight. Success for other people means more success for me, too, and nowhere is that more true (and more ignored) than in publishing. I do not lose anything by drawing attention to something awesome someone else is doing. Rather, I benefit from more awesome in the world. Find ways to spread the word about cool stuff instead of banging your own gong all the time. It’s far more satisfying.
* Take a notebook with you. Remember that scene in Hot Fuzz where Simon Pegg is simply making notes in his little journal? Nothing calms a situation down–or makes people behave–like you writing down everything they say. You don’t even have to be expecting trouble; I take a notebook to every meeting, and at the beginning write down the date and time. Just in case. Also, when you hear a particularly good bit of dialogue you want to write down for a story, nothing beats having pen and paper to hand.
* Don’t just be quiet. Think. Listening is an active state. Pay attention, whether it’s a dog whining to tell you it’s time for a bathroom break to the LGBT activist on Twitter detailing insidious behavior you’ve never thought about before. Sometimes, it’s not enough just to shut the fuck up, you have to exercise the meat between your ears as well.
* Be kind. Even the most reasonable person has certain days where their Wheaties have been pissed in. Even the nicest kid has a hormone rush or a meltdown every now and again. Even the most socially conscious blogger has a rough morning. I’m not saying to excuse intolerant fuckwaddery here. I am saying, you can be a kind person and still not allow fuckwaddery in your presence.
* Listen to reason. Friends are good. Invest in your friends, once they have earned your trust. And when a friend you trust says, “You are being an asshole,” listen. (Do you know how many times the Selkie has saved me from being an asshole? A WHOLE LOT.) There is nothing so precious as the person who loves you and will call you on your bullshit. Don’t ever minimize, overlook, or ignore that.
* Admit your own fuckwaddery. You know, this is really another way of saying “admit your fuckups,” but what the hell, I think it bears repeating. I’ve been too harsh on people. I’ve been dismissive. I’ve been critical, unpleasant, high-handed, and sometimes even just plain selfish. Admitting it is the first step to apologizing and making amends where one can. Where one cannot, admission is the first step to regret, and all the above leads to the whole point: doing better next time.
One of the highest bits of praise in my particular lexicon is “X is a reasonable human being.” It can mean they’re kind, or truthful, or that they admit when they’ve made a mistake, or they’re willing to listen to reason. Often, it means the person has shown they are all of the above, and more. So when I say, “be reasonably awesome,” you now understand what that means.
I know this isn’t an exhaustive list. (And really, this is like the Pirate Code.) So, my darling chickadees, it’s your turn. Fill up the comments with more Guidelines For Being Reasonably Awesome. Given what day it is, I think it’s a fine idea.