Monday, November 15, 2010

Me and Machines

Ok, let’s try this, then. It’s been a rough day for me and machines. It seems like everything is doing its level best to get in my way and prevent me from doing what’s important to me. I probably shouldn’t say that; next the car will die. On the freeway. On the overpass where it narrows to one lane.

It started this morning when I went to log into so I could get that chore out of the way before I went over to Vinnie’s so I could work on the shrines and boxes project. Computer was running its little security check so it was slow. Ok, I get that. And 750words won’t load on the version of explorer we’re running; it has to be Firefox. Ok, I can manage that, too. So I open a window . . . tick, tick, tick . . . open a window . . . tick, tick, tick . . . ah. Firefox is running, yay. Uhm. Two windows are open and sucking up resources. Fine. Go to 750words, close one window . . . tick tick tick . . . 750words opens, and promptly shuts down again as I go to log in.

Grr. Fine. Just fine. I'll do it later. Hop in the shower, wash up, head out. Get to Vinnie's, get set up on the patio. Ahhhhh. Coffee and paper mache and a belt sander to work on the boxes I started yesterday which are dry and coming along nicely. Having fun.

Vinnie needs to make a quickie store run, will I be okay? Sure, no problem, what can go wrong go wrong go wrong.

Yeah, like that.

So I'm sanding away, finish one box and pick up the next. Right there in the groove. Then I get a skitch too close to the belt . . . and the damned thing sucks up a chunk of jacket. I smell the motor overheating, get my finger off the dead man's switch. Stand there thinking "fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck."A minute later, I have run my diagnostics and determined that I'm ok. No skin caught, no shirt caught. No bleeding nowhere. Ok. Now what?

First things first. I reach over and unplug the sander so nothing else bad can happen.

Stand there attached to the machine for a minute, then look down. The zipper isn't among the part that's been sucked in, so I unzip my jacket and step out of it for a better look. I've got folds of jacket sucked up into the belt, so if I could just wiggle a little bit loose, I'd have enough slack to get the rest out.

Now, it's not like this is a jacket inherited from my great-uncle Ernie that cannot be replaced, but I am rather fond of it. It's the grey fleece jacket upon which everything depends, William Carlos Williams style. I've had the thing for something like fifteen years now, and it's important to me. In part because I don't have anything else old and grungy enough to replace it with once it gets eaten/worn out. It's my slop around mixed media go to the gym jacket.

So I pull and yank, and nothing. No slack at all.

I turn the sander over and over looking for some way to remove the drive in order to get just a skosh of wiggle room, but nothing.

So I go to work on the stuff that doesn't need sanding--I make sleeves for the shrines, and then I'm stuck because one of the things Vinnie went to get was tissue paper for the paper mache. Fine. Just fine.

I go in to knit for a while. I am going to finish Yggdrasil on time if it kills me. Just like I'm going to finish this damned novel on time. (50,000 words, I will WRITE YOU!!!)

Vinnie gets home, and I ‘splain what happened, reassure her that I'm fine, just a little chilly and concerned about her sander. Bless her heart, she's more worried about me and my jacket ("your good jacket, not even your work shirt") than she is about the sander.

(This, of course has kicked in a running joke about "can I use your blender/laptop/chasing hammer, as long as I don't get my clothes caught in it?")

We dismantle the sander, taking off the engine cover to expose the motor, and then as we're trying to get the drive belt off, I notice that my jacket fabric is moving . . . so here I am, grabbing and pulling on the jacket, Vinnie is cranking on the nut and pulling on the sander. Between the two of us, we get the sander to let go. Finally.

So of course, my jacket is filthy. (But untorn. Yay!!!) Fortunately, Vinnie is doing laundry, so I'm able to toss the jacket into the wash with the next load. Keep this in mind; it becomes important again later.

Ok. I get a bunch done that does not require sanding, and I'm very pleased with how the shrines are moving along again (finally. Finally!!!) (I may actually finish them in this lifetime.) (Oh, and the sander still worked even after we re-mantled it. Bonus round!!!) I get all washed up, everything is clean, and I spend some time knitting.

Then Vinnie has to make another run to the store because the anchovies have vanished. Oh, great! I can get my words in while she's gone, and I won't have to worry about doing them before bed tonight!

So I go to log on to her laptop, and while it's booting I grab my jacket so I won't forget it. No internet. Noneya. Fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck. Fine. Just fine. I'll use the word-cruncher (and curse the tiny keyboard, where nothing is where it belongs to be) and at least get things going. Vinnie gets back shortly after things get going good, and re-hooks the cable in the bedroom that the dogs have ripped out, and then she goes out to the garage to get the laundry . . .
And comes in turning grey before my eyes.

"Spike? Uhm . . . your jacket's not in the dryer . . ."

"Oh. Yah, I went and grabbed it so I wouldn't forget it."

Vinnie sags against the doorpost with relief. "I was trying to figure out how to explain that the dryer ate it."

Yup. Is has done been a day for me and machines.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Eating an Elephant

My friend Mischief is eating an elephant, and all I can do is stand by with napkins and hot sauce.

I just recently polished off one last bowl of elephant stew, thin and bitter. I was moving things around in the freezer, pondering what nourishes me, what was worth keeping and what I would discard, when someone made a comment. When I turned back to what I was doing, I had a Tupperware bowl dated from July 2009 in my hand.

So I warmed it up and ate it, every salty drop of broth. The meat is all gone, the vegetables reduced to mushy bits at the bottom of the bowl and lingering ghosts in the watery fluid.

There are books out there about eating elephants, ranging from the classic cookbook about the seven stages of steaks, roasts, chops, burgers, sausages, stews, and organ meats. There are professionals who will advise you to start at the tail, or at the trunk. There are others who will give you pills if you take "too long" to eat your elephant, or if you're eating too fast and might choke.

We all eat an elephant at least once in our lives. Any time we give our hearts, we buy a future in an elephant. And that call option will come due; no way to sell that back. But elephants come in different sizes, and you can't predict what the market will have on any given day.

Grandpa becoming old and tired one day may produce a sweet pink cherubic elephant that yields a roast, a couple of sandwiches, and some tetrazzini. A beloved pet crossing the Rainbow Bridge may create meals for months. No one can tell you what size your elephant is, or how long you should be there at the table.

I want to tell Mischief to ignore the quacking of the duck-billed platitudes. They mean well, they've eaten elephants before. I want to tell her that it's okay to leave the table to go have pizza and birthday cake with her friends. I want to tell her that chosing to do so does not mean she's giving up the project. That she doesn't need to listen to those who tell her she should march herself back into the kitchen and keep chewing on the rubbery bristly grey hide. That she doesn't have to ladle mignonette and salt onto the meat and sit there until she's totally done with the whole thing in one marathon sitting.

But that's just as much quackery as the rest of them--it's nothing more than my understanding of eating an elephant. Mischief has to eat her elephant on her own--I can't do it for her.

So I offer her napkins to wipe her face with, garlic wing sauce to make it taste a little better, and I replace her fork when she drops it or throws it in frustration. I do what I can to support her in this endeavor as she sits at the table.

Eating one bite at a time. Chewing, swallowing.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

One Last Day Together (In Memoriam)

We had a long time together, Rodentia and I. Nineteen years.

But everyone everywhere eventually ends.

The night before, Rodentia was agitated, going from corner to corner throughout the house peering intently into the space between. Gareth said he saw a young tuxedo Jellicle cat outside looking in with big yellow eyes. Sounds like Jamara, I thought, the first cat who owned me.

Jamara was a cat of between spaces, always looking for just the right spot--in the middle of a doorway, in transitional spaces between the house and the out--the garage, the attic. Jamara would be happy as a psychopomp, escorting the living to the land of the dead. Leading her afterlife in the Between.

Jamara had come for Rodentia, and Rodentia was ready to follow.

Rodentia joined me for breakfast on that last day together. We were in the kitchen, and she got stuck on the other side of the water bowl. She wanted some moist cat food, could see and smell it, but could not piece together the way around the obstacle.

It seemed selfish to put her down. Whose suffering was I really ending this way? It seemed selfish to demand that she continue on a journey of drudgery--she was having trouble lying down. She would circle and circle, doddering and hunched.

I told her I wished she'd tell me what she wanted after I hung up with the vet's office. I asked her to tell me if she was ready to go, but tethered to a heart that just. Would. Not. Stop. Or, if on the other paw, she wanted every last scrap of good day that was left to her, even if she had to dig through a dungheap for them.

So, for the first time in weeks, she came out of hiding to sleep in line of sight, just as she used to do as a young adult.

When she turned her face to the wall, the way cats do when completely overwhelmed, I knew.

She slept the day away drowsing and nodding at my feet. She got up and drank copiously, but never left to use the litter box. It was clear what I was cutting short was not a matter of years, but of days, if that. And what I was cutting short was not long and lazy warm afternoons, but effortful existence--a burden on her narrow cat shoulders.

When I boxed her up to go to the vet, she complained about being lifted, but never said a word or tried to get out once inside. Usually I'm hearing threats to call an attorney before I've thrown the car in reverse. Not now.

The vet said that really, there was nothing to do for her--she was old, and what looked to be wrong was either kidneys, or thyroid, or both. While there are treatments, the question would be whether the few months we could buy her would be worth the discomfort. Whether we'd just be prolonging the inevitable, with the cost in pain.

We brought her home wrapped in a towel. I washed her feet and shaved the mats off her belly. Gareth walked in while I was handling her. His family does not handle physical death well1, and I come from a long line of country wimminfolk who would set the deceased's hair, clean and dress the body for the funeral at home. I've touched all my relatives goodbye at the viewing since I became old enough not to give a damn what anyone thought.

I said, "I bet this is creeping you out." I had a basin full of warm water, Rodentia laid out on two clean towels, and a washcloth I was using to soak the clumped litter from around her pads.

"No," he said, tears in his eyes, "I think that's really beautiful. You're so tender with her."

I buried her under the largest pine tree for a monument, her favorite three toys with her. A knitted catnip mouse between her forepaws, a catnip pillow my mother made her grandcat under her head, and a jingle ball by her ear. Very Egyptian.

One year ago today, I spent one last day with Rodentia. One last day to encompass nineteen years.

Sleep you sound, little cat.

1. At Gareth's grandfather's memorial service (just a photo and some memories) I was treated to three-four earfuls about the utter and unspeakable barbarity of a viewing with the corpse present in the closed casket. Never mind an open casket viewing.

But see, how do you know they're really dead until you can feel that they're cold, can touch their hard cheek, and really get that there's no one in there? Ho wcan you grieve an image, a suit of empty clothes until you can perceive on a gut level that the entity you knew is gone, and this shell is all that's left?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

En Open Letter to My Gnomon1

Vy hyu run avay from me? Ve so close to finish vat ve schtart, und den hyu stop talkink to me for mont’s. Hyu esk me to help hyu out vit’ some odder monsters–und Hy heppy to help!–but dat’s all Hy ever hear from hyu lately; es vhen hyu need help dreggink sumvun out from behind de door. Ve so close to done Hy ken feel it in my hends–ten, feefteen peges, mebbe. Und den hyu runs avay, hides on de Internet or in a book. Hides in hyu knittink. Und den hyu blames me for de leck of peges, says Hy don’ talk to hyu nummore.

Sveet, Hy tells hyu, mebbe hyu don’ listen nummore.

Hy onderstend hyu needed to breathe efter February-Merch und de big project ve ondertook. Vas huge! Hyu hesn’t written like dot . . .vell, never, really. Over a hundred t’ousand vords in eight-ten weeks. Ve didn’ write like dot in college. Heh–dot may be MORE dan we wrote in all four years of college es a Creative Writink major end an honors student.

But Hy esk hyu–how long hes it been since hyu set down and wrote like hyu hair vas on fire? Vere hyu saw de arc of de story right dere end snetched it out of de air like a peedgeon on de vink, to volf eet down right dere–no fire, no salt, schtill varm und bloody?

Hev hyu missed dot? Chure hyu hev. Hev hyu missed seeink me here in de chair, boots on hyu desk. Yah. Yah hyu hev–ken see it in hyu eyes. Hyu heart remembers vat dis ride vas, how hyu tried to make hyu hends keep up vit vat hyu saw end heard. Ho hyu gev up and settled for block kepital notes so hyu could go back and fill it all in. Vat heppen?

Hyu know vat heppen. Hyu lost hyu vay in, schtarted dot dem Don Music t’ink again vere it hed to be perfect, hed to be right. Hyu refused to try taking the beck doors in–or if de doors don’ vork, try a vindow! Chust write vat hyu hear und see und vorry about sounding like a fever dream later. Dot’s vat Chanuary es for–a re-write and edit of vat hyu accomplished de previous year. (Hy gev hyu a schedule, sveethott. All hyu hes to do is follow de directions.)

Hyu found hyu vay beck a couple times right here, didn’ hyu? Don’ lie to me–Hy ken read hyu mind, hyu know. Don’ try to tell me it’s gone end hyu ken’t get dere from here. Alla dot–alla dot is chust excuses for not doink. Veak lies, akin to “Hy try.” Sveethott–dere is no such t’ink es tryink. Hyu do. Hyu may not get vat hyu vant from de doink–hyu may fail!–but den hyu pick hyuself up and do some more.

Dis right here–dis right here is 484 vords. In vat–five, ten minutes? Ef hyu put fingers to de keyboard, vords come out. Ef hyu pick up de schtory end write–chust like hyu did vit me here–hyu get de missink peges and be ready to edit come de new year.

Don’ let de odder monschters vin.


1. Uf course hyu all er edyooketed pipple vit impeccable teste und know dot a "gnomon" es de tink on a sundial vat cests de schadow. But, dere are sctill dose who do not hev Google es a friend, end so ve hev endnotes.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Rock, Meet Hard Place

Today tastes like sand and loam, with a topping of caliche and a sprinkle of gravel.

When I was a kid, the worst worst worst punishment was when my folks turned to me and asked what form of punishment would be appropriate for this infraction. Can't you just spank me instead???

In college, the worst worst worst assignment was when the prof asked for a biiiiig semester summation of what we had learned--but you choose the format. Doesn't have to be a paper, could be a haiku. Or a dance. Or a meal. Whatever. Urk! Give me a forty-page paper with footnotes on every page and a six-page bibiography in the back, up to and including citations in freaky formats for graffiti under bridges and voices from UFO's because I forgot to wear my tinfoil beanie.

Now, the worst worst worst thing is when my boss screws up and acts . . . in a fashion that is not workplace friendly, and asks me "How can I, the BossMan1, fix it? How can I demonstrate that I'm not all that bad, but just have the impuls control of a toddler?"

I promised some time ago to be a better employee by telling BossMan when he'd shot himself in the foot. He was actually able to admit vulnerability to an underling, and that's a hard thing. He has indeed pulled that trigger into his tarsals YET AGAIN, and having a hippy-dippy chat might actually help him out. Or at least give him one more insight.

Then again, it's a hippy-dippy west coast fEEEEEEEElings talk with a guy who was raised in the East and has serious troubles with even the Little Chicago mindset that is Arizona, never mind the right out of Haight that will be this chat. He's very literal, and has trouble relating to me except in my most professional persona. I don't think he even sees my Whim of Iron, although he appreciates the results.

Do I even want to have that conversation? About how easy cheezy answers don't really address the root cause--about how anyone over six years old with half a brain can tell when they're being bribed to forgive one more time?

Or do I just want to tell him an easy cheezy lemon squeezy answer--lunch! Or money! Or lunch money!--and take my bribe and know that I can be bought for 30 pieces of silver?

Bugger. Bugger bugger bugger. Let's lay this out.

On the one hand: It's 30 pieces of silver more than I have right now. And isn't this an extension of the deal you make when you work for someone else? "I will rent you my brain and energy and everything that makes me unique and special; everything that I have and am. In return for pieces of my life and mind, you will give me money so I can live and eat while I support your agenda."

So when someone acts badly and harshes your groove, then offers to apologize in a meaningful way, should you accept that apology? How many times can he hit you if he always brings flowers and pays for the bills afterwards?2

On the other hand: Just writing the last paragraph makes me feel dirty. (TMI momentTM: I had to pause and answer nature's call before I could even write that last line. Body aligning with mind?) I want to take a shower and vomit; to purge filth inside and out. I want to be dead honest with BossMan and talk about trust and metal fatigue in relationships--about how you can only bend them back and forth so many times before they become brittle and break. And no amount of "I'm sorry" will put together a broken object again.

But BossMan won't get it. He is not a man of subtlety; he does not speak metaphor. He is very much a literalist and gets distracted by simile. He cannot follow a parable without getting caught up in detail. I don't believe he would be able to follow me, so we couldn't communicate at all. Like teaching a pig to sing.

And it's a pity, because this particular pig has a pretty good voice. He knows some good songs--filthy rolling in the muck songs, but still funny and appreciable. If only he could carry a tune.

On the gripping hand: Hell, I can't even find my gripping hand right now.

1. Now I'm even changing my nicknames for people in the eternal quest for anonymity. Sad, Spike, very sad that your paranoia has come this far. On the other hand, "Dooced" is a verb for a reason . . .

2. And no, I am NOT saying BossMan is physically or even verbally abusive. Abrasive and patronizing, yes. Condescending and egotistic, yes. Abusive . . . no, doesn't really rise to that level. I now have some empathy for Anita Hill, and understand better how she could continue to work for Justice Thomas for all those years. It's a good job, with good pay, particular benefits that don't come just anywhere, and the potential to open some doors later.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Because Nobody Reads These Anyway . . .

Totenberg, would you please invite the little monster over there–no, over there–no, over THERE–gosh he’s a nebulous one!–to come over here for tea and biscuits? Thank you.

Tea? Cream? Sugar? Biscuit? What’s on your mind, Little Foggy Sadness?

You’re feeling . . . left behind. Abandoned. Okay, I can work with that. Tell me more.

You’re upset because we’ve got that first anniversary of suck coming up. I get that. Tell me more.

And because Mischief is playing the girly game of “If I wait long enough and play hard to get, you’ll forgive me when I finally come back to you.” You’re containing some frustration and feelings of being used, I see. And at the same time, you hate to see the relationship end.

Okay. So lemme ask you this–what do you value about Mischief?

She’s lively and full of fun things to go and do. She’s always got a party in her pockets. She’s always willing to chip in and lend a hand. She’s generous with her time and information. She’s very connected.

Okay. And why do you feel used?

Recently, she only calls to pick my brain–about terminology, about her new relationship with Latest Boy. When we make plans, something always comes up that cuts our time short–family emergencies, out of energy, out of dough. She used to be prompt about getting back to me, and now it feels like she’s ignoring my email and phone call. I refuse to play the girl game of “If I call you enough, you’ll call back to get me off your case.” I also don’t want to spend my life lurking Facebook and my webmail hoping for a response.

The ball is in her court–I left her a message, and called her cell so she knows I tried to contact her. Besides, she was the one who said we’d touch base last night to go over scheduling–and then *poof* nada.

She whines about being perceived as a flake–bitches about how Lynchpin poisons the well of all her relationships so she has to go elsewhere to get out of her sphere of influence–and then, of course, by her own behavior, demonstrates that she’s not trustworthy. That you have to take her “Yes” as a “Maybe.”

All right. I can understand the suckdom of being in limbo. But do you see that it’s her choice to pick the relationship back up–or not; and it’s your choice to let her–or not. It’s been what, ten years? More??? Babyface was a big kid/preteen when we became chummy, and now she’s 20 and will be 21 next summer. That’s a long time for us–you know we’re guy-like in our relationships. We do fun stuff together and bond over shared experiences–camping, dinner, conventions–and when the activity draws to a close or distance intervenes, well, we wave buh-bye and walk on. Xerhino is the ONLY person from our teen years that we’re still in any form of contact with–and that’s pretty limited. We read each other’s blogs, support each other’s art, comment when something moves us–but we don’t swap long essays via e-mail or even chatter on Twitter/Facebook.

We don’t tend to keep people for long. We pick them up like shiny smooth rocks, carry them in our pockets for a while, and then let them go. Maybe it’s time to let Mischief go.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Still Working

Plucking on his lute, the seven foot monster I was pleased to call my muse sang softly, "De north wind doth blow, und ve schall hev schnow, und vat vill sveet robin do den, poor t'ink? He'll sit in a bern, und kip himself varm, und hide his head under his vink, poor t'ink." He fell to noodling with the instrument, trying out variations on the chord structure with various trills and arpeggios hung on the basic melody. I sighed, and cleared my throat.

He glanced up, humming a counterpoint, then went back to his music.

"I'm so glad one of us is creating," I grumbled. "I've been stuck for days, and all I get when I try to talk to you is nursery rhymes and fragments." I threw a pen at him. "What's the damn deal? We were pumping out the words, you and me, not so very long ago. I wanted to get fifty thousand words in thirty days, and we did that–hell, we did it in twenty-five days. Now I want to finish the book. I want to take the remaining arcs where I've told the story in hurried block capitals and flesh them out to show the story. I want to show Totenberg's plan, and Brescher's scheme, and Nyssa caught up in the middle of plots she doesn't understand. The poor girl barely knows herself, and the trip with the husband who marries her only to make his family shut up about his proclivities helps her to crystallize what she wants and where she belongs. I have notes–damn good notes, and a chronology, and the smarts to get it put together. So why won't you talk to me?"

"Em talking to hyu now," he said mildly, putting the lute down across his lap. His boots were up on the desk, as they always were when we sat in my office together.

"Sure. You'll talk to me now, when it doesn't really matter." I gestured at the broad old mission door that served as the desk, held up by two polished ironwood stumps. The gate of iron inset near the top was a handy place to drop the electrical cords for the monitor and printer. I had salvaged the door from a church that had been long abandoned and deconsecrated, and was being torn down to erect a new building–probably a Wal-Mart, I had thought at the time, grimacing. We had been on our way to Greer, had taken an unexpected detour through very rural Arizona due to traffic delays, and it had been an enormous piece of luck that brought us through that town on that day. We had wrestled that door into the back of the Explorer somehow, and I had ridden for hours with the fifty-quart cooler on my lap in order to get everything to fit. It hadn't mattered. I had bought the ironwood with an exchange of labor–a woodworker's wife fell in love with one of my shawls–an Estonian triangle of my own design–and I'd convinced her husband to finish these stumps out for me in exchange. Very southwestern and Spanish and queerly organic, this desk. I couldn't imagine writing at anything else.

"Hy talk to hyu now; Hy talk to hyu before–Hy talk to hyu all de time," he said. "Writers write, yah? Vat hyu t'ink hyu doink right now, dis very minute? Hyu writink. Hyu write about hyu desk–vich don' exist except in hyu mind–und hyu write about me sittink here playink de lute–und hyu write about vat hyu say to me und Hy say to hyu." He held up his broad hands, the size of shovel blades, claws tipping the fingers. (All the better to grab your attention with, my dear.) "Hyu writink, dollink. Vas de problem?"

"I'm not making any progress on the story I want to finish," I told him. "Every time I pick up the drive and plug it in, suddenly you go quiet. When I look at the places I've left off, I can't see where to pry at the corners or how to join the bits. And it feels like you go away and ignore me when I ask for your help. What can I do to help you help me through this dry spot?"

"Is chust a dry schpot, heverybuddy get dem–"

"I know that. I know that worrying about the dry spot isn't the solution. I know I can write–as you say, I'm writing now. My job is to write, and I do just fine there. I'm just wondering, since the flow of words on the big story has dried up–I mean, this little chat is more fiction than I've written in days–I'm just wondering if there's a problem between us."

He was silent for a long moment, then he picked up the lute again. "Am efraid," he said.

"Afraid? Of what?"

"Efraid uf disappointink hyu. Efraid dis von' be vhat hyu vant. Efraid it von' be . . . enough zumhow."

I stared at him. "We've been published before," I reminded him. "In real paper books and everything. They gave us money for our work–real money! This is the pinnacle of what a writer strives for–and I already know that it's still chop wood, haul water. How is this any different?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. Efraid dat hyu'll be sad und depressed vhen dis done–nummore Nyssa. Nummore story. All gone."

"Sure, that story; that project–all gone. But just like the eternal knitting, finishing one project allows me to start another. You know that. So work with me a little here. Let's finish this project–just the rough draft, so I can save it to a CD and it will be safe. We can discuss taking time off–and then docket the time on the calendar so I won't abandon it. Let's set aside the fear of doing it wrong, of being disappointed with the way it comes out, and just focus on the fun it is to tell the story. Let's get back to that heady schedule we were on for those twenty-five days, where the story unfolds under my fingers on the keyboard. Remember that?"

He nodded. "Vas like flyink," he said. "Op into de clouds, de vorld tumblink avay under hyu feet, only able to see bits und pieces but knowink dere vas a place for heveryddink dat vas heppenink."

"Is there anything I can do that will help you be less afraid? Remember how badly I hurt when the last computer took a dump and ate the two books I was working on? How I grieved for all the lost worlds and words? Could my sorrow and disappointment when we finish this book–and by that I mean when the rough is fully fleshed and I have the task of editing and picking and choosing the bits that make the story fly and those that hold it back–could that truly be any worse than when we found out that everything was word salad except for a writing exercise?" He shook his head.

"Okay, would it help if I save these conversations and bind them into a little book for your shrine? Would it help you to feel like I was promising that my work will remain special to me; important to me, regardless of who it's for? That I am making this for the world at large in a spiritual sense–that it doesn't matter if a specific book ever sees the light of day in more than a seriously limited edition. That I am simply following the precepts of the Nag Thomas and bringing forth that which will save me."

"But Nyssa–hyu von' be sad dot it's all over when hyu flesh out de rough; vhen hyu edit de rough und it's all over. Hyu kill her off at de end uf de book, in de epilogue. Hyu know hyu say es de only logical end, Totenberg wreppink her in his old greatcoat against de cold, buryink her in de town de Hundkin laid vaste to zo long ago vit an orange tree to mark her grave. But dot means no zequel, no comink beck."

"That's true–no more Nyssa. But Nyssa isn't the focus of the story, it's the Hounds I wanted to talk about. About what it would be to live at the intersection of strength and vulnerability; about honor and servitude and what happens when the one you serve becomes corrupt. And I wanted a raunchy slightly dark erotic story with some high adventure in it while I was at it. And I think I'm getting there.

"And see, I don't want to talk about Nyssa getting old and unlovely–about her waist thickening and her boobs sagging, about the cellulite forming on her ass. Totenberg loves her still, as much as ever he did, but I don't see Nyssa having adventures with the Hounds cum Wolfpack. Or being the female Achilles's heel that has to be rescued at the climax of every book–once is plenty, thanks!

"So that's why she dies at the end of the book, and that's why it doesn't really matter. Totenberg is in his prime when he meets Nyssa–he's a couple hundred years old, say late twenties equivalent. Old enough to have some experience and understand what he wants and young enough to have the energy and certitude of confidence to go get it. So Nyssa lives her whole life and dies when he's . . . what, in his early thirties? If that? In Oranges With Nyssa, I see him as being in his late forties equivalent–still vital and strong, but slower, more likely to think things through before he acts. He's not planning to come back in ten years and see what became of this Nyssa, or spirit her away on his airship. He's just enjoying the summer day with this kid who shares a name with his lost beloved, eating fruit under the tree and telling appropriate stories of love and loss. There's a lot to tell about Totenberg, and he's the character I really care about.

"For example, there's his life before becoming a Hound, the Change, his life before Nyssa–he's had other pets, Katarina and some unnamed ones. How did he get there? When did he decide to keep pets instead of one night stands (like the other Hounds, who will take whatever's offered). What was it like under Zerstorer? What about the wars that killed off so many Hounds before the dust settled? You could end this book with the decision to go get some fruit from the supply wagon, and the circuit back through camp when he hears someone crying.

"And then there's the time after Nyssa. What does he do then? Does he choose another pet? Is one chosen for him? What happens that kills Sascha? Why does Dmitri drift away from his friend after Sascha is no longer there? You see, we have more books about the Hounds if we want to write them. We can write short stories about Totenberg, we can write about his universe and flesh out his world more–or we can keep it in dialogue and exposition–kind of like this."

He smiled wryly. "Is dis de point vhere hyu laugh–mwah ha ha ha hah!–and threaten to crush me schlowly und elaborately? Hyu've certainly been monologink."

"Don't be silly–I would need a laboratory with the full five syllables, some henchmen, and some sort of death ray." He pointed silently at the computer monitor. "Okay, so I have the death ray." I put a hand on his shoulder. "Rather than crush you, I'd much rather work with you. I've had so much fun over the last few weeks–I think what I'm afraid of is that this will end, and I'll go back into that horrible depressing place where the only hurdles worth clearing are the ones set too high for any mortal to get over. Help me get through this project. It's important to me. I want to be done with this draft–all the arcs written out and the capital spaces removed–by November 1 so I can spend NaNoWriMo working on the story of Little Dinch and the Wild Wild West. I think we can get fifty thousand out of the burro, burro, burro."

"Hyu've written nearly six pages in the pest hour, dollink. Hy tink hyu could put zum of dat into de novel und get zumvere real fest, Hy do."

"I know. But I need some help. A place to start."

"Vell, how about tomorrow hyu schtart with Nyssa in de house vit her husband? Efter de veddink, efter the move-in, efter de discovery he ain't interested–ve ken cover dot later. Mebbe ve schtart vit de discovery uf de ‘fertitity statues' und Nyssa realizink dey might hev odder uses. Or Nyssa talkink to her doctor, de vun who prescribe de violet vand for hysteria?"

"I could do that . . . okay. As I promised, I'm going to save this as a chapter of our dialogues so I can commemorate these for you to preside over. Saving–now."

And I turned off the computer and went to bed, confident that in the morning I would fire up the flash drive and get going on the story that was frustrating me so badly.

And I did.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Shadow Work (Accccckkkk)

Today tastes like the perfect peppermint mocha--that amazing alchemy of espresso, steamed half and half, peppermint schnapps, chocolate, and whipped cream. With a side of fried plantains, garlic, and crayons.

It would be easy to start out with an apology for not being here lately, but I'm sure you've read your fill of those already, so I won't waste eyeball space with another one. There's plenty I need to fill in before the rest of this post will make sense, so if you feel the need--sorry. Done.

Work on the book proceeds apace. We are coming up on 100,000 words--probably crack that barrier by the end of the week/weekend. Yes, I've slowed down some. Right now the Evil Plan is to complete the first edit by Halloween so I can do NaNoWriMo this year and replace the story I was telling about Rodentia that I lost in the Great Computer Cataclysm of Whatever Year That Was (and Finally Learned the Value of BACKING SHIT UP).

The knitting continueth, as always. I was able to hit a personal goal and have a shawl ready for EasterBirthday this year (being born in early April means an interesting convocation sometimes. As Li'l Brah says--Hallelujiah, the KNITTER is RISEN!) Pictures later, maybe. I'll have to look at the Pile of Finished Objects cross-reference it with the blog, and see where I left off.

Hokay, where to start this thing? If I start at the beginning, we'll be here all night with you scrolling down and down and down and wondering if Spike ever shuts up. If I cut to the chase, then you'll be sitting there totally lost and mourning the waste of bandwidth.

There is a genius woman by the name of Havi Brooks. If you haven't yet met her, click on the link and read her blog. Amazing. She's done me more good than an equivalent period in therapy. If I'd spent that long on the couch, which I probably wouldn't because sheesh, at $90 for a fifty-minute hour . . . and three years . . . that's a lot of moolah.

I joke that one day I'll go to the bead store and get some sterling beads (a W, H, a D, and a ?) and some Savarowski crystals and make a bracelet that reads "WWHD?" What Would Havi Do?

The thing that's got me going is the shadow work (ok, eeeeewwww, Jungian shrinkology. Deal, buttercup.) that she's been modeling on her blog for a while and now has a learning packet for. She thinks of it as "talking to your monsters."

See, all the talk about "embracing your monsters" just adds more should to the pile of bullshould. Monsters are . . . monstrous. Big and hairy with fangs and claws, or cold and slimy and tentacular, or wearing facepaint and handing out glowing skull balloons (wanna FLOAT?). And they're that way for a reason.

And then there's the other school which talks about crushing your monsters, conquoring them, vanquishing them, smashing them into itty bitty bits and then jumping up and down on the pieces and peeing on the dust. And that's not good either, because these monsters are just a part of you. That's cutting off a part of yourself and making it not be anymore. Which is where your shadow came from, after all, when you split off the parts of you that you decided were not acceptable and shoved them out into the dark away from the light of your attention . . . and set monsters to keep you out of there.

That's why monsters are scary, and you just want them to go away. They're there to keep you safe, from taking risks, from feeling pain when what you want and what you can get from where you stand are separated by the learning curve.

Problem is, of course, all the stuff you need in order to grow and become complete once more? That's out there in the dark, waiting for you to get past the monster and retrieve it.

So what do you do? You sit down and talk with your monsters. You find out what shape they are. You find out why they think they're doing the best job they can to keep you safe by doing what they do. You tell them what you need in order to take those steps into the dark to get the treasure there, and discuss how they can help you get there. And you renegotiate their job terms so they can do a good job (everyone needs to be proud of the work they do, even monsters) and you can work on integration with your shadow, the bright and the dark.

I've already thrown up a couple of conversations with my muse--who's shifted a lot since we started the book. He's less grabby, less likely to put a fist in my hair and haul me bodily to the appropriate forum. In return, I listen to him better, and am rewarded by having more flow, more ease in my work. Less of the tormented artist bit; less blood on the keyboard.

And yes, there's more to follow. Watch this space for details.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Knitalongs 2010--The Ravelympics Post

Today tastes like ice and coffee, wet wool and fabric softener, fingernails and gold medals.

I loves me a time-bound knitalong (KAL), as all y'all know, where the participants select a project and then click away in an attempt to beat the clock. I'm the world's worst participant in a KAL where we're all making the same thing--I don't think I've ever managed to start at the start or finish near the finish--but give me a deadline and I'm golden.

So when Ravelry annonced the Ravelympics (winter 2010) I was so there. A chance to join a team and win some pixels? Count me in.

So I signed on for Team MmarioKknits (Mmario is an internet famous designer of amusing lace shawls--come join the beta-knitting fun at MmarioKknits) and planned my project--a double-down triangle in a variegated purple with the sober appellation of Li'l Bunny Foo-Foo. Yes, as in hare today, goon tomorrow.

17 days to knit a lace shawl, starting with the lighting of the Olympic torch and ending at midnight the day of closing ceremonies. Made it, with time to spare:

And, by virtue of completion before the deadline, won the following:

Next up, a personal challenge to knit a shawl for Lent. (Why yes, I know we're two weeks through the season. When has common sense ever stopped me? Have I told you about the lace stockings I plan to knit for the World Cup? I tell ya, Christmas knitting projects may be a piece of cake after this year of intensive training.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

50,017 You Can't See Plus 55 You Can

Is it just me, or do I hear "Fanfare for the Common Man" ringing out already?

Must be me; it's another 14 hours and 45 minutes to the lighting of the torch.

55,017 by my processor's count--in 25 days. And a lot of filling in to do before we have the first glorious imperfect draft. < goosebumps >

Here's 55 for the hell of it--not an excerpt, just a bitty bit.

I was working on a story, beads of blood forming on my forehead. My muse slouched in, dropped into a chair. He gestured with the apple in his hand. "Vat's wrong?"

"I've picked all the low-hanging fruit."

He took out his boot knife, cut off a slice. "Eventually, sveethott," he said, "Ees all low-hengink fruit."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mixed Favors From Sesame Street

Today tastes like Swiss archetypes, like bright shadows, like plaster dust and unused rooms.

I've always subscribed to the "tortured artist" theory of creation. Probably got that from when I was a wee impressionable tadlet watching Sesame Street. There was a sketch where Kermit the Frog was doing his frog in the street interviewing schtick with a pianist who was attempting to work out the lyrics to "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The melody was fine, but he was having trouble finding a rhyme for "snow."

Remember that? Here, I'll help you:

So yeah, of course my takeaway was NOT the helpful bit about "if it ain't working, change it" but the whole wallowing in frustration because if you aren't frustrated then you're not really creating.

Therefore, if you're not frustrated, then you need to add some . . . hurdles!!! Because it's all about the getting bent out of shape and wacking your head on the keyboard. Hence, this has been my M.O. for many many many trips around the sun.

Of course, this didn't ever stop me from envying those who were able to create effortlessly. I would moan about how it looked so easy for so-and-so, and how I wished I could make that happen so gracefully, and cry about how hard it was for me and how the olny reward was that my product was pretty darn spiffing.

But seriously, when you've convinced yourself you need to bind yourself up in knots worthy of a yogini who's into japanese bondage before you can even put pen to paper (I must have an idea--no, an IDEA--in order to start, and it must be a WORLD-SHAKING IDEA, with complexity and subtlety and originality. And then I'll need chocolate, and a foot massage and a purring cat and some orange tea--and oh, look. It's bedtime already. At least I'll be ready to start in the morning.) then, no, it's not so surprising that your output is very very small.

Enter Christopher (Saint) Batty and NaNoWriMo. For years I've sat on the sidelines, wishing I could play--but copuldn't because after all, I'm creatively hobbled, right? Need to be able to work the whole thing from the top down, (even when I get stuck, even when I can't find my way into the hotel in the first place, never mind track down the Hospitality Suite where the story is waiting for me) can't skip forward to the bits I can see and hear as vividly as real life around me, can't do anything to make it easy because IF YOU'RE NOT BLEEDING ON IT, IT ISN'T A PROJECT. Ahem.

And o, was that ever fodder for the green-eyed monster. I lost two novels when a computer died and my files all turned to word salad. Gareth suggested I re-create them from what I could remember, and I turned him down because I had birthed every word of those pages (200+ and 400+) through my eyeballs (not even my forehead! Take that, Jove!!!) and there was no way I was going through all that again. That did not stop me from sitting in my sub-volcanic lair hating everyone during the month of November. Just so you know, in case you felt a scorching wave of rage and envy go boiling past you the week before Thanksgiving some year. That wasn't your mother-in-law.

So I got a wild hair this January (Abundance!) and decided I would write a 50,000 word story in 30 days. Of course I was going to fail miserably--I'm a delicate wittle fwower what can mebbe put out 50K words in three years, yah? But wotthehell, at last I'd have given it a running whack and I'd be able to retire any dream of writing anything bigger than a blog post and be done with it. (BONG, as she smacks her head on the keyboard.)

I pulled out my pristine copy of No Plot, No Problem, St. Batty's seminal work on writing a short novel in one month. I'd bought it, leafed through it, laughed hysterically, and put it away. Hey, wait. Lookee here. 50,000 words in 30 days is 1,667 words per day. That's not so much . . . that's like three-four pages a day. Hmmm . . .

But EVERY DAY? For a WHOLE MONTH? That's a lot of chocolate and foot massages. < clutches chest, staggers about the room wringing handkerchief, gasps for smelling salts, collapses upon the fainting couch with hair arranged just so >

So I'm now 25 days in, with 2 days' output left.


The whole rough is drafted all the way to the end. I have plenty of broad arcs that need to be filled in, and in the process of filling, I'm finding other bits that need a bit more specificity than "and then a miracle occurs."

Carl Jung believed that we were all created as happy heathy fully integrated beings who then learned to disown parts and pieces of ourselves as we grew up--and then spent the rest of our adult lives searching for those parts and pieces, yearning for integration.

Some parts were too dark and ugly to have running free; our shadows. Other parts were too intense, focused like sunlight through a lens; our bright shadows. This past fortnight plus nine has been an exercise in reclaiming a bright shadow.

I only thought I was showing up for the work before. For three weeks and four days, I have sat down at the keyboard with nothing else in mind than getting my 1,667 words for the day out--and hopefully, not cheating by writing "I can't do this" 417 times.

This changes everything.

This changes nothing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nano WHAT Mo M.O.

“Huy need talking to?” He propped his boots up on my desk, quirked a furry eyebrow at me. A lolling, goggle-eyed, comic monster with a funny accent. A killing machine with claws and fangs. Who played the lute, and was tender of pets.

“I have no idea what’s going on,” I told him. “None. I can’t see your world right now; it’s like a door has been slammed shut.”

“Ho! Dat’s because hyu hung op again. Hyu hung op on control. Relax! Lemme tell hyu vat heppen next.” He plinked several desultory notes on the old beetle-backed lute with its tarnished brass fretwork. “Effen now, hyu tryink to find vat heppen vit me here. Tryink to mek story heppen. Hyu chust need to let characters schpeak in dere own voices, and plot vill heppen on its own.”

“Zo.” He dropped his feet back to the floor, walked around behind me, and set my fingers gently on the keyboard. “Tevnty-two days left. Siddown and tell schtory.”