Civic Duty, Done

Sunday we had snow, though it didn’t stick, and the temperature plunged after dark. Which meant yesterday I was driving before dawn, on black ice and through freezing fog, downtown to the courthouse.

Yes, my friends, jury duty again.

This makes the fourth time, though only the third in this county. I know there are thousands of eligible people who haven’t even been called once, but they keep interrupting my working time with this nonsense. Not that I mind doing my civic duty–I went in the first two times with good grace, somewhat proud to participate even though I’m the last person prosecution or defense wants on a jury.

It’s not that I can’t be impartial. It’s just that my family history (law enforcement kin), added to my viewing/reading habits (I do read and watch a lot of true crime) and career (writer with a distinct interest in gruesome forensic pathology, not to mention I once thought I’d study to be a paralegal) makes me a bad bet for either side’s purposes. I never get past voir dire, and probably never will–they want the quiet folk who can be swayed by various courtroom strategies.

Anyway, yesterday was no exception and I was sent home after the jury was finally empaneled. A whole working day lost, momentum frittered away because I’d had to plan for perhaps a week’s worth of disruption. I couldn’t even get back to revisions because all my bandwidth had been eaten up, so I was reduced to staring at a documentary until I could heave my poor corpse to bed. And there were very few masks to be seen–less than ten percent of all the people called for duty, and one lone mask among the courtroom staff) which means if I get sick, I know exactly where it happened. Plus, the trial itself was a criminal one, and just plain heartbreaking to hear even the basic dimension of.

Hyperempathy is great for my work, but a distinct drawback otherwise. Hearing the charges made me wince.

On the other hand, it was great material. Watching how people reacted, how they sorted themselves according to social expectations, watching the attorneys perform, and practicing my powers of observation are all wonderful for the work. For example, the prosecutor was left-handed, wearing a tailored three-piece and glossy wingtips–and also a pair of blue-and-green striped socks that had to be “lucky”. The defense attorney was married, loved their spouse very much, and did not like their client but was giving their all. The cross-section of the jury was fascinating, and watching from a corner of the room while people grouped themselves and cooperated was alternately comforting and terrifying.

I suppose I’ve watched too many history documentaries to be entirely comfortable when I see people patiently trooping along in a line while an “authority” exhorts them. And locating the impulse in myself to be polite, play along, follow the crowd was sobering indeed. The writer in me was furiously taking notes; it’s a machine that never turns off. Everything goes into the hopper to be churned by the writing brain.

You’d think they would want me far away from court for that reason alone.

I am thinking about going back to paralegal studies, though. Growing up I was “supposed” to be a doctor to fulfill one of my childhood abuser’s frustrated desires, but was always magnanimously told being a lawyer was “acceptable” too. I have no desire to argue in a courtroom or deal with people all day long, which is why I hole up in my office and deal with imaginary people for the bulk of my time. Still, the studying is interesting, the architecture of the law is fascinating, the skills needed are right up my alley, and it might be a day job if I ever get too tired of publishing. It would mean going back to an office, which as an introvert I’d absolutely hate…but still, it’s always nice to have plans and options.

The urge will most likely pass by the time I get my morning run out of the way. Boxnoggin was unhappy at the break in routine and very upset that someone else had to take him for walkies yesterday. He calmed down once it was clear dinner was going to arrive on time, and today is displaying only a lingering uncertainty, which will fade once he’s in his harness and it’s clear the world is continuing upon its accepted course.

I’d best get moving towards the toaster now. Losing a day and momentum is bad enough, I’m going to have to restart revisions and shift my week’s schedule around again. Small price to pay, but my nose is suspiciously stuffy and my entire body aches. It could just be the stress, and a run will purge those chemicals, fill me with endorphins, and set me right in a trice. That’s the hope, at least.

Time to get to it.

Slog, Vicarious Grace

Hauling myself out of bed today feels like a mistake, but the revisions must be done. I’m tired of going through moderation queues, yet the alternative is missing the reasonable comments from perfectly nice people. Being overwhelmed by work is uncomfortable, but vastly preferable to having none at all.

In short, there’s just no winning today. At least the house is quiet and the coffee is good. Once the caffeine sinks in I’ll feel loads better, and once the rains start again I’ll be all right. Everyone gets tired; the trick is to keep breathing and swimming for shore even when the agony hits.

I suppose my current doldrums are also a function of enduring three years of pandemic with no end in sight, not to mention screaming myself hoarse about the rise of fascist dickwads and being ignored on both counts. I suppose I would have to be much more worried if I didn’t feel like the low end of the pool under these conditions, but knowing that intellectually and finding any comfort in the knowledge are two very separate things.

At least there’s always the stories. Cold North is chugging along, and once I get this revision done I’ll be able to work on the serial, revise the second Sons of Ymre, and get the second Black Land’s Bane book seriously underway. The last will be late, but I’ve hit every deadline through the pandemic so far and I think after three goddamn years of this bullshit–plus the fact that I literally couldn’t start the second book until the first had been revised at least once–grants me a bit of grace. I loathe being behind, I dread and positively hate missing any kind of deadline, and yet if I was hearing this from another writer in my position I’d be telling them to take a deep breath and try to focus on what’s been accomplished even through enduring historical events and Interesting Times.

It’s just all so exhausting, and I woke up this morning even more tired than when I’d gone to bed. I’m pretty sure it’s just a wave, that the feelings and exhaustion will pass over and through me. When it’s gone I’ll turn the inner eye to see its path, and all that.

It would help if I could run. I’m stuck on easy, very slow 2km stumble-staggers while the wounded ankle is slowly strengthened and brought back to full function. The lack of endorphins from a good bruising session of hauling my corpse along at what passes for high speed probably feeds into the sense of despair. At least the multiple-mile rambles with Boxnoggin help somewhat, even if they are only at hobbling pace. By the end of walkies he’s in a grand mood, and so tired he’s well-behaved for the rest of the day.

Silver linings, and all that. Tuesday is looking like an uphill slog all the way, my beloveds. If you’re feeling the same, try to remember we’re (still) enduring a great deal, there has been no respite, and it’s perfectly reasonable, not to mention sane, to be a bit tired amidst All This.

Just keep holding the line. Some days, that’s all we can aim for. I suppose I’d best get started; the coffee is cooling and a certain square-headed canine has just pranced down the hall, anticipating that soon I’ll make a move toward toast. At least he’s having a grand time, and I can feel a bit of vicarious joy.

It’ll have to be enough.

Blank Day

Woke up to snow–winter’s last gasp, and will probably be gone by tomorrow–and normally that would be exciting. Normally I’d be thrilled, and watching the dogs cavort in a frosty wonderland would make me smile. I might even try some sort of tokking and tikking, or Insta reeling, in honour of the weather.

But not today. The news was horrid last night and just keeps on getting worse and worse today.

There’s no sense to be made of it except the fact that bullies suffering no pushback will continue to escalate. Large or small, a bully just…keeps going, until they’re met with actual consequences for their actions. Caving doesn’t work. Attempting to “understand” and console the bullies doesn’t work–and I say that as someone who firmly believes understanding brings compassion.

Compassion should never be mistaken for weakness. Yet bullies consistently do just that, and the cost mounts to a terrible level before humanity mounts an immune response to the infection. The idea that the sickness might be endemic torments me.

From the local to the national to the international level, we’ve put up with bullies, coddled and propitiated them, for far too long. They’re great at divide-and-conquer, of course–bullies use the method because it works. Yet their playbook is thin. Domestic abusers, bigots, and dictators all work off the same timeworn strategies, weaponizing the empathy and distraction of the rest of us. It’s an effective set of tactics because it strikes right at the heart of the cooperation that is humanity’s biggest feature and advantage. It works partly because we have a deep need to get along, and partly because sociopaths and malignant narcissists do not feel the shame the rest of us do. Rather, they are rewarded for their brutality, turned into highly paid CEOs and lauded as “strong rulers.” Then they terrorize the rest of us, even though we outnumber them by several orders of magnitude.

You’d think we would have learned by now. You’d think history would have taught us.

My heart hurts, and so does the rest of me. I can’t look away, and while I know I need to focus on telling stories so others can find some hope or relief, I just…I can’t. I don’t know what to do today.

The dogs are, of course, unconcerned. They are simply, wildly ecstatic at the fact of snow, even Boxnoggin, who downright loathes being cold. We’re all safe at the Chez, but for how much longer? And how much more of this can I watch before I break?

I don’t know.

I just don’t know.

Reacquired Energy

I get to run today, which will be a gift. There’s all sorts of swirling through my interior spaces, and physical motion will calm it down. I think I’m on the verge of submerging to finish a book or two, which will be a relief. I have the itch to actually type “finis” at the end of something again.

Of course, it could be that I just recently have reacquired the energy and focus to juggle my usual three-projects-at-once. Hell’s Acre is gathering steam, though I’m pretty sure now the entire thing will be a whole 200k chunk instead of broken into two smaller seasons as was the original plan. Plus there’s the second Sons of Ymre, gaining speed right before the first one releases. I think it’ll only be a two-book series, despite my editor’s protestations. (She wants more, especially a Robert romance. You’ll meet him in Erik.) The third project is just-for-me, sooper-sekrit, and delights me right down to the hollows of my soul.

So it’s rather busy around here, and since I actually left the house on Tuesday to take care of things I’ve been meaning to get done (and haven’t been able to) for three years of pandemic, I have a bit of energy freed up from that. I’m at the stage of actively resenting anything pulling me away from writing now. I just want to be left alone to chortle over my keyboard, fueled only by caffeine and my indomitable will.

I had an appointment yesterday so there was no Tea with Lili. I might do a catch-up today if I have time, and if I have a cuppa around the proper hour. Goodness knows I have enough subject matter.

The chainsaws earlier in the week gave way to stump-grinding yesterday. Miss B was so irate she drowned out said stump-grinder, but thankfully the entire ruckus was short-lived. She is becoming rather cranky in her senescence, but heaven knows she’s earned it. She was also furious at being bathed on Tuesday, while Boxnoggin hid under my desk hoping he wasn’t next. Spoiler: He wasn’t, his skin is rather delicate and cannot handle more than a bath every other month.

Which just made Miss B even more irritable, though she was mollified by a treat. Especially since Boxnoggin, who presented himself in a mad scramble, did not get an after-bath treat. He had to sit, shake hands, lie down, and roll over to earn his, and then Miss B got a second treat for watching the whole thing because of course she demands parity of her particular sort.

The dogs absolutely have my number, and I don’t mind.

I am however out of patience with rather a lot of things, including some current “discourse.” Climbing into a hole made of work and the production of my sweary little demotivational graphics seems ever so enticing.

At the moment, the coffee is almost done, I solved today’s Wordle at the last moment (I thought it was impossible for me to hate the New York Times more, but never, I guess, underestimate one’s powers in that regard), and the dogs are waiting eagerly for toast-crust and walkies.

No wonder the beasts rarely eat their breakfasts. They’re too busy chewing on bits of mine. Alas and alack, I am a fool for sad canine stares–though this isn’t a bad thing, I think. Rather seems a mark of character, instead.

All right, Thursday. We’re not going to hurt each other, are we?

Puzzled By Cruelty

Yesterday was all about line edits; Sons of Ymre #1 is inching that much closer to publication. (Yes, as soon as there’s preorder information, I will absolutely let my beloved Readers know.) I was up what passes for relatively late last night–the dogs went to bed without me, and are bright-eyed and fresh this morning while I drag.

I am a night owl by temperament, but years of having to get the kids ready for and delivered to school have left a mark. Now that’s over, the dogs are still on a schedule and creatures of habit who view All Change as Very Very Bad do not take kindly to schedules shifting. Left to my druthers I’d be up around 1pm, work until 3-4am, and fall into bed around 4-5am, depending.

Alas, it is not possible, and my body’s protests must be listened to though they change not a whit of what must be. Ah well.

The news from Texas yesterday put a dent in me, as well. I know a certain proportion of people just plain enjoy cruelty; it is a fact of existence on this planet, like gravity or nitrogen. Still, it’s puzzling. Why spend all your time being a racist, misogynist asshat when there’s a literal infinity of other things to fill one’s earthly time with? These people could go touch grass, learn how to unicycle, write songs, watch some movies, or even just take a goddamn walk.

Instead, they apparently want to be nasty little fascist dipshits. Why spend that kind of effort? It’s absolutely and literally easier to just…not, to simply be kind or at the very least leave other people alone.

I suppose that’s part of why I write. Not deepest, most overarching reason–I am, quite frankly, unable to stop, and have been ever since second grade–but an important one nonetheless. The addiction of some people to cruelty has baffled me literally all my life, starting with childhood caregivers who hurt me apparently just for funsies. It made no sense to Child Me and makes even less to Adult Me. (For whatever value of “adult”, I suppose.)

I wish I knew why. Attempting to understand might be the writer’s curse or just a function of empathy, I haven’t decided. Yes, I’ve written villains; I’ve even written characters who enjoy cruelty for its own sake–Perry in the Kismet series, for example, or a few of the antagonists in Afterwar, not to mention Summer in Gallow & Ragged.

Now that I think about it, “comfortable with cruelty” is a hallmark of many of my villains or antagonists. Yet those characters, foul as they are, cannot hold a candle to the petty, nasty, apparently endless brutality and mendaciousness of real-life authoritarians. Even Perry, and he was dead set on killing the entire world if it got him what he wanted from Jill.

Fiction has to make sense on some level. Real life, alas, does not.

I wish I understood. It’s long been my fervent belief that understanding breeds compassion, and while I’m fully aware sociopaths and narcissists view compassion as weakness it’s still integral to me, I will keep it that way, and it doesn’t mean I’m unprepared to enforce my boundaries. I can even view the understanding as a way of anticipating the behavior of those who like cruelty for its own sake, so I can protect me and mine from their depredations.

I suppose the only hope is to keep writing. There’s finicky little changes to go over in Ymre now that the bulk of the line edits are done, I just approved a shiny hardback for Moon’s Knight, and today is subscription day. The next major project is revisions on The Black God’s Heart diptych, but there’s a fellow writer’s book to beta read and an article to copyedit for another friend in the queue, so those will be loaded to the cannon first.

Not to mention walkies with a pair of excited, bratty, furry toddlers and a run to get in. The latter, at least, will help me concentrate and get through the rest of the day. I will mull over the mystery of why some people are cruel goddamn dipshits during both, I’m sure, and arrive at no answer other than, “They like it, and the best we can do is protect ourselves from them.”

It is not a satisfying explanation, but at least it grants some succor. It will, as I often say, have to be enough.

Over and out.

Habit’s Wake

I suppose one could describe my current state as “in a mood.” The business of publishing is fit to drive one to distraction, and a particular neighbor is running a pressure washer for hours at a time while the noise goes right across my nerves, dragging spikes and sandpaper.1

It could be that I need a win, however small. It could also be that I’ve hit the limit, so to speak, in many a way. Living with extreme empathy, while great for pouring myself into a character’s skin and figuring out their motivations, is a distinct drawback under current conditions. The number of people who seem to have precisely none while I got a quadruple measure is heartbreaking.

I seem to have reached the limit of even my quadruple measure, to be honest. It pains me to feel that perhaps the bigots who were screaming “fuck your feelings”, refusing to mask up and take the pandemic seriously, are in effect reaping what they have sown. If it weren’t for the collateral damage–the innocent caught in their plague-bearing fire–I might even think it a wee bit justified.

We could have been done with this by now. A few weeks of paying everyone to stay home, vaccinating, and masking afterward could have fixed it. But no, some greedy corporations had to have their serfs kept sick and terrified, and some racists just had to have their fix of propaganda-laden cruelty.

I need a rest in the worst way, but if I take one work piles up and all I do is circle the house aimlessly, wishing I was working so at least I could peek into another world since this one is proving so unsatisfactory. And publishing, festina lente as it is, with the ones at the bottom producing everything the entire edifice depends on–the writers, in case there was any doubt–treated as embarrassing afterthoughts to be abused instead of the jewel of the whole system, well. It’s enough to drive one to distraction.

There’s coffee to swill, and walking the dogs to be done. The minutiae of daily life goes on. Maybe a run will help me feel better. Copyedits have landed, and at least accomplishing those will push a book (and a series) another step towards the finish line. But oh, I’m so tired; I just rolled out of bed under protest and I am already exhausted.

If not for habit dragging me along in its wake, I might decide to simply crawl in a hole and close it up after me. The thought holds a definite attraction.

What’s getting you through the day today, my beloveds? I hope it’s something pleasant. In any case, any way of getting through the day is acceptable. The important thing is to reach the evening somewhat intact.

Suppose I’d best get started. See you around.

Damp Sledgehammer Monday

Rain! Marvelous, glorious rain all yesterday. I do have to dump out the basins and catchers under the seedling pots, and even though today is already quite busy I should get some of said seedlings in the ground to take advantage of all the nice skywater.

It’s almost enough to make me tranquil. Except revisions have landed, there’s a million chores I didn’t get to yesterday, and school administrators are doubling down on their bullshit instead of simply doing the necessary thing and moving on.

The fact that I just knew they were going to continue with the bullshit when they were called on it makes it even more irritating.

Anyway, there’s the rain to listen to, the dogs to walk, a run in lovely warm summer damp to accomplish, and revisions on the third and final Hostage to Empire book to begin. If I get those final edits out the door this week I might be able to knock off the Sons of Ymre edits next week and be ahead of the game–except for I also need to be producing on Hell’s Acre that entire time. I’m ahead, of course, but not as comfortably as I like to be in a serial. At least the combat scene isn’t giving me trouble.

A scene that takes a writer weeks to craft might be read in a few moments, and sometimes people think it detracts from the value of the writer’s labor. Far from, my friends, far from.

What I really want to be doing is lunging for the end of Cold North. Sol the elementalist and her merry band of companions are in a bad fix indeed; though I know how they get out I am not entirely sure a few of them will make it alive. I suspect, of course, and I’m pulling for them…and yet. It’s hard on a writer’s nerves, not knowing which of the characters will meet a bad fate in the text.

I mean, there are intimations, and occasionally I absolutely know when a character is doomed, but most of the time it’s a surprise even to me. An uncomfortable one, to say the least.

Miss B is very ready for walkies, and is nudging at my knee. Time to get out the door and embarked upon a Monday which has started very Monday indeed and looks fair to continue.

It’s enough to make me grab the goggles and reach for a sledgehammer. I’m ready to tango.