Status Report Post-Launch

Q: How are you doing since your son has left for college?

A: I made my way onto a High Score chart at the SilverBall Museum in Delray Beach, Florida, today. Woot! *PINBALL, ya’ll!*

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Not sure why pinball scores are gendered, but that’s a discussion for another time. I’m “Female” high score.

They have good fries there, too. Bonus: there’s a Pokestop there, so I made it to Level 18 in Pokémon Go. And I drew one of their light fixtures in my sketchbook. This all suggests I’m doing pretty well, thanks for asking!

However, a closer look will reveal that yes, I was awake at 3 a.m. and approving final edits for a short story for magazine publication. (Yes, I did spend about ten minutes debating with myself about the inclusion of a comma or the word “and,” or refusing to accept the addition of either because I meant a particular word to be an adverb, rather than a verb!) And now it’s 6:03 a.m. and I’m checking Hugo winners (Congratulations, folks! N.K. Jemisin, cracking me up! Maybe next time, Chuck Tingle!) and reading about convention drama and then dashing off a quick blog post. The hour discloses: SOMEBODY is not sleeping. Sherlock concludes: perhaps all is not at its most serene here.

I believe in greeting and making space for the Big Feelings. There are a lot of those here. I have many folks in my circle experiencing the same sorts of things. We all know that there are no shortcuts to accepting this new stage in our lives. So … yeah.

Meanwhile: I have exciting books to read, art to view, pinballs to flip, a hand to hold, dogs to walk, cats to serve. Life is pretty good.

 

Holding Patterns

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Photo by Denise Thompson

We’re in a period of transition here. The Young Person of the house is heading out to university on Friday, and the nature of the place is shifting.

Our home has been both a school for Atticus, and a place of creative work for me. Along the way, we’ve hosted educational and creative gatherings, fostered injured and orphaned wildlife, and trained for competitive pinball. Nerf battles, Star Wars marathons, harp and guitar and bass and voice … these are the sounds of our home.

Prior to moving to our home, the longest I’d lived anywhere in my life was around two years. We’ve lived in this house for more than sixteen years. I know how to be here. I have ways of being in the space. But the place is about to get much emptier. Much quieter.

I’m moving through my days, even before Atticus leaves, and finding myself tripping over the old patterns that just aren’t working any more. It’s tough to know what to hold on to. What to let go.

I’m considering an off-site studio space. Someplace that won’t echo with absence.

I’m looking for a space to help shape my days.

Meanwhile, I am sleepless. Which is why I’m writing a blog post at 4 a.m. (Hi! Are you awake, too?) The cats are very happy at my early rising. The dog, not so much.

My thoughts circle like planes waiting to land. I have stories to write, stories to paint, energy that needs direction. I’m just not able to ground them yet.

I understand from my friends that I’m not alone in my slightly-befuddled condition. There are many of us parents and care-givers finding new ways to be as our young people make their own transitions. Here we are, in our holding patterns. Luck to us all, good flights, safe landings.

 

 

 

Into the City

 

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It’s more than a city. In many ways, it’s The City, at least in this time and place. It’s spun up in so many stories that it’s difficult to know where the legend ends, and the mundane world begins. That’s a thin barrier between. And certain things have been leading me to think that perhaps there is no barrier at all, there, between what is, and what people have seen or said to be true about the place.

 

I had so many impressions of The City before I got there. It was in the O. Henry , the All-of-a-Kind Family, countless books I read as a child; it was the magical world of Auntie Mame, and so many old movies that the black, white, gray, and sepia of the concrete seem inevitable; the explosion of neon signage from a bodega is startling as a tiger.

 

Except for Times Square, home of color and lights and people, the 24-hour parade of glare and sweat, slow walkers and fast talkers. The streets are choked with people, oversized buses, construction equipment, yellow cabs, and the black SUVs and towncars that are the upscale statement of those who want to be noticed not taking a yellow cab. This is the New York of TV and movies, the morning and late night shows. Loud and intense and glaring and purposeful and explosive as a pinball machine with the glass off.

 

You may have noticed the conspicuous absence of story and tea last week: I was learning to navigate New York City with my teen son, Atticus. I did some research, prowling about MOMA and the American Museum of Natural History. We took a ferry to see the Lady in the Harbor. I fell obsessively in love with an old train station, too. Fascination is wonderful food for an artist.

We were also experiencing tales of a different sort: we saw a flurry of shows in the theater district. HAMILTON on Broadway! Astonishing thing.  It exceeded our expectations. Yes, even despite the hype. Really a remarkable piece of work, with important things to say about our country and government and those folks involved in the founding.  Things about pride, and determination, and love, and loss. Things about being human.

Our New York minute: we saw Neil Gaiman walking past; he was attending the same Hamilton performance. We refrained from saying hi, because we didn’t want to get the man mobbed. He’s got a BABY at home … if he’s getting a creative night out, good for him! It’s okay, life is big, and @neilhimself will get another chance to meet us sometime.

A friend laughingly commented on my “brush with fame.” My husband said, “Not really, Nancy gets to see Atticus nearly every day!” This is true. Although not for long, as he prepares to leave for college and his own adventures. The City was our last grand exploration together before he departs. And my life will be changing, hugely, also. So we took in The City, as much as we could. And it’s possible, perhaps inevitable, that standing on that threshold together defined our experience of New York.

 

Obligatory “what else we did,” to remind myself as much as anything:

We saw four other plays, each a living breathing piece of art. They resonated with us for different reasons; we saw our lives on the stage. Theater is a magic mirror that way.

 

We visited the East Side with friends and experienced a nosh fest and incredible banana pudding. We practiced transport via subway and train: relatively simple if you’ve done it even once, weirdly complex if the system is new to you. Wandered through graveyards, churches, memorials. Looked at the trees and fountains and memories where the World Trade Center buildings used to stand.

We had fantastic crepes, and really good pizza. We walked until my tendons felt like iron bars. Explored the world of the Stage Door, and met Interesting People from places near and far. New York City has a plethora of bookstores, and art supplies can be found where you least expect them. So I suppose it’s no surprise to find theater and art and music and books in evidence throughout the city, as part of the everyday lives of people participating in the experience. Powerful stuff, and had this blog post not already run so long, I’d be talking about the importance of cross-pollination in creative work. Maybe we’ll do that next time.

 

Suffice it to say that I’m back: worn, as you’d expect from seeing a legend in the flesh. Disillusioned and re-enchanted. Full of renewed purpose. Creativity crackling from the ends of my fingertips.  And I have a very different sense now of this city that makes up so much of the landscape of American art and letters and film and drama. The City. It feels real. It feels, in some small part, mine. And I suppose mine is now yet another story of The City. It’s built of them, after all.

 

 

That Telling Voice

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From my 2015 bedside sketchbook. Not a Pokémon, but I did catch this fox. Easier to make these little scribbley notes if your tools are handy!

Tired today. I was up too late last night.

I had a perfectly reasonable-for-me bedtime chosen, and the cats and dog and family even cooperated. But as my head hit the pillow, I heard that voice.

Do you write? Or draw? Or do anything creative? If so, then you know that voice. Or, if not the specific voice, then something from its family.

That voice that tells you Something Important that you needed to know about your story, or describes that line or stroke of color you need for that visual art, or hums out that accompaniment you’ve been looking for in the bass line. THAT voice.

In my case, last night I was visited by a character (notably NOT from the book I’m currently revising, which I suspect is a very good thing, because it’s nearly done and I couldn’t handle that kind of major upheaval in it) giving me the details of her death. I had known that she was going to die. I had thought it would be sudden, and offstage. Between stories, even. I had never intended to show her passing, just her companion showing up living the aftermath, later.

I should have known better. Best laid plans of mice and writers, and all that.

This character and her partner were both meant to be very secondary persons in a large story arc I’m working on, and they showed up and demanded their own story — actually, their own STRING of stories — be told. This woman’s very strong-willed. So I have a history with her. I should have expected her to show up, but I didn’t, and this is why I had to scramble out of bed and out into the living room so I could let her dictate the means of her passing, and her instructions for after. I am a reasonable touch-typist, so I didn’t even put my glasses back on. Just fired up the laptop and wrote what she told me, saved the document, and went back to bed when she finally said I could.

Three lessons here:

1) make sure you’ve got something to write (or draw or make musical notation or whatever your flavor) with at all times, because the real characters inhabiting your world will stop by unannounced. Don’t trust yourself to remember it in the morning, because there’s no promise this person will show up and repeat themselves.

2) be kind to the writers and other creative people in your life. You don’t know who’s been riding them. In the non-demonic-but-still-a-kind-of-possession way.

3) creative people, keep your friendships with other creative people. Because they’re the ones who go, “Uh-huh, uh-huh!” and nod in agreement when you start talking about fictional people showing up and telling you things. Instead of trying to have you locked up. And that’s a priceless thing.

Be ready for that Voice!

 

1966: Star Trek, and Yours Truly

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 Birthdays are a great time to reflect. Here,  The cats and I are reflecting on the wisdom  of getting a dog. 

Popping in to say HI on a milestone birthday. I was born on Henry David Thoreau’s birthday, the same year Star Trek had its debut. I am happy to count them both as influences. This past year has been full of personal change, and the next promises to follow suit.

I’m ready to start the next half century. Big plans. I’ll clue you in on a later day. For now, I wish you candles and wonder and abundance and, for us all, tranquility as needed.

Supercon and Supercool Humans

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The self-proclaimed Tower of Geek from WordFire Press. Watch for this edifice, coming to a con near you! Say hi to authors. Discover cool books. See epic hats.

This has been a jam-packed week! Friday last, I gathered up the son, his various cosplay elements, a couple of fabulous hats, braved the infamous I-95, and headed to Florida Supercon. Saturday was sold out, a first for this event; congratulations to the organizers and volunteers for running a successful show!

Lots of great artists and some fun costumes in evidence. I got to chat with actor Emilio Delgado (Luis from Sesame Street) and we sang a bit of impromptu music from the “Lovers of 5” segment. I’d only seen that bit once, but the catchy tune, costuming, and staging stuck with me through the years. Emilio laughed and said it was one of his favorite bits. You can find the video online by searching “Sesame Street Give Me Five”: worth your time for the costuming and epic sideburns alone! That show had some great music. I think that segment, music and costuming alike, was likely a play on “Float On” by The Floaters. But I actually prefer the Sesame Street version. (Does it seem strange that a song about loving the number 5 would be performed by 4 guys?)

I love going to a convention that’s not primarily a literary event and seeking out the writers. At Supercon, I met some from indie and traditional publishing (sometimes both in the same person)! WordFire Press scored a great location in front of a set of entrance doors and erected their Tower of Geek; see photo above. Egged on by Todd McCaffrey, I entered a silent battle of hats with the gent above, which I will freely admit to losing. He had panache, and better accessories. And was unaware of our battle, until I told him he’d won. He won with panache too. A great hat and confidence go hand-in-hand.

Blew my budget on books and art (a refrain you will grow accustomed to around here) and you’ll be hearing about them in the weeks to come. Right now I’m in the throes of editing, though, so not much reading time. (I’m hoping to enlist a couple of younger readers to my cause today. I will use tea as a bribe, and with any luck I will get them to guest post here! Wish me luck!)

Also loved: attending a writing panel with Miami playwright and groovy human Andie Arthur (of Lost Girls Theatre fame) and her very generous friend, Kent Wilson, who so kindly distributed my extra ticket to the event to a forlorn-looking random stranger standing alone outside. (Kent went so I didn’t have to go through bag check again. And because he is an awesome human.) Kent missed part of the panel, but gave some huge delight to a guy who’d driven the length of two counties (on I-95) only to find there were no tickets available … Our co-conspirator walked up to him and transformed his day! There’s so much grim in the world. I love having been able to be a small part in this moment of kindness, and so appreciate Andie and Kent for helping it happen. You can find out more about Andie on her website. Or watch for her all over the South Florida theater scene.

In honor of Andie and Kent and the book-in-30-days panel we attended together, I’ll share with you a podcast I’ve discovered. (I wish I could remember who told me about this one. I want to think it’s Terri Windling, but I’m not sure.) In any case, I made the road trip north to Ocala (and back!) over the last three days for family stuff; wee dog Max and I while driving listened to several episodes of new-to-me podcast The Creative Penn by Joanna Penn. Just in time for Camp Nanowrimo, so of interest to some writers. But her opening thoughts on Brexit were calming to me, and very timely for reasons I won’t go into here, and I’d like to thank her for them. Whether you’re a new or established writer, indie or traditional, or a reader looking for more insight into the process, Joanna will have something in her backlist of podcasts that will be of use to you. Highly recommended.

How To Write 50,000 Words In A Month With Grant Faulkner

 

Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday

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Max is skeptical of my experiments with water-soluble crayons over Pentel Pocket Brush pen in my sketchbook. But sometimes you just gotta scribble.

Maybe this will have to become a thing. Sometimes I’m so project-driven (today it’s a cosplay thing, and then working on the sequel to Albatross) that I don’t give myself time to sit down and just lose myself in a good book. Committing to posting something I’m reading on a Tuesday could be just the nudge I need to make sure I’m not neglecting this bit of self-care. Committing to a related sketch makes sure I’m playing in my sketchbook, too.

I attended a seminar last night on publishing for LGBTQ+ and allies. It was informative and I met some cool writers and their friends. It’s revitalizing to have “authorial energy” being shared in person. Online connections are important and so special, but I really miss that in-person connection. Note to self: look for a writing group locally. It was also a refreshing break from some of the bigotry and hate I’ve been seeing online: folks working together, sharing their craft, without judging. Diversity and inclusiveness in action.

Today’s reading: I recently finished cult favorite Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Not your typical fantasy novel … definitely more swords than sorcery. Flavors of Dumas for a modern sensibility. Kushner joined with partner Delia Sherman to return to the world of Riverside with  The Fall of the Kings . I’m not too far into the novel, but it seems there is at least a discussion of magic. Most of the characters don’t believe it’s real (yet), but I-the-reader withold judgement. As with the earlier novels in the series, there’s elevated language, a complex plot that one suspects is about to become more complicated, and intriguing characters in a well-painted habitat. I will probably stay up long after my tea is gone tonight, caught in this world, happy for the chance to revisit some of the characters I so enjoyed in the previous books. And Kushner’s matter-of-fact inclusiveness is a pure delight in the previous books, so I’m hoping to find more of that in this collaborative work.

Need more Riverside? Kushner is spearheading a new set of serial stories also set in Riverside’s world, a prequel to Swordspoint. Does the name “Tremontaine” mean anything to you? If not, go read Swordspoint. Otherwise, you can find out more at Ellen Kushner’s website.

I hope your Tuesday finds you with a warm mug and a good book.

Of Cats and Colored Pencils

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I don’t like to talk much about having systemic lupus. Illness is tedious enough living through; talking about it is boring. And if I’m well enough to write, I’d much prefer writing about something else! I’ve got some friends, though, new to dealing with serious health issues. I’ve got a couple of decades experience here, though, so when they ask me for coping mechanisms, I may have something useful to share.

Sometimes my chronic illness keeps me from writing. Or reading. Or, you know, walking. Or moving much at all. Cats and colored pencils are handy for those times when I’m achy and my brain doesn’t want to hold words. Unlike paint, they don’t wreak havoc if you lose energy unexpectedly. A colored pencil might drop and break, but it’s rare for them to damage your surroundings. A cat is likely to curl up companionably and take a nap, a furry heating pad that fends off feelings of isolation.

And for someone with memory issues, unlike writing a novel, stopping in the middle of a colored pencil piece won’t leave you scrambling to remember where you were going with it. In times when I’m physically fragile, I tend to be emotionally fragile, too. Carefully setting myself up to succeed is important. For some reason, my self-esteem is more likely to be tangled up with my writing outcome than my visual art outcome; your own sensitive areas may be different. I suspect that may be part of the reason for the surge in popularity of coloring books for adults: a creative outlet in which the ego is not so involved.

A cat and colored pencils, some kibble and a pencil sharpener handy, and those long challenging hours may turn into quiet creative time. Having a buddy and a simple occupation to engage the hand and mind can go a long way to staving off the mental funk that a chronic illness can carry with it.

And sometimes, you even end up with something you like. I don’t know that I’d have had the patience and commitment of time to make things like the above piece if I weren’t forced to stillness. Years after her passing, this colored pencil portrait of our cat summons warm memories of her, and our hours together with couch, pencil, blanket, pillow, peace.

 

Tuesday: Tea and a Tale

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Studio Assistant Judy Bear is a fan of chai, too.

It’s Tuesday and the hours have been dotted with spitting rainstorms, and I’ve spent the day organizing files and little pieces of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the course of living. Not my favorite task, but I’ve done it! As my reward and escape, I’m bundling up with a cat, a blanket, a book, and a lovely serving of chai tea. The tea was delivered with courtesy by my newly-driving-solo teen son, and it was both memorable and delicious.

The book was found courtesy of a suggestion on Goodread’s Vaginal Book Club forum (yes, it’s a thing). I’m reading Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Shoutout to that great Thomas Canty cover I remember from years ago still showing up on the digital version. I spotted a comment in an online discussion (I don’t remember the site, just my indignant harrumph in response) that claimed that this style is dated and should be replaced, but I find the Belle Epoch-influenced delicacy of Canty’s covers delightful. I remember that Alponse Mucha fell out of fashion, too, but tastes swing around, and I fully expect the future to justify my admiration for Canty’s distinct style. (Ask to see my Canty card collection; I’ve got the whole set!)

Bertie MacAvoy was commenting on the gender of a writer’s narrative voice on facebook earlier today, so I returned to the book with an ear out for the authorial voice. Perhaps I’m tired, or just too engrossed in the story to pay proper attention, but I’m hearing this narrative voice in the neutral “in my head” narrator, rather than a specific male or female timbre. I point to this as a sign of a most competent writer; when the narrator manages to disappear in the story, something’s going very right.

Summary in brief: it’s a good book, and worked well with the tea, and the cat, and the rain.

There’s plenty of fighting (did the “swordspoint” in the title tip you off?) with the fencing scenes written with interest, and brevity, both of which are important in a good battle. Engaging portrayal of a city, from the slums  to the halls of the wealthy, with sharp clear descriptions that catch and hold the mind without overwhelming. Some lovely descriptions, evocative, throughout, but not in a way that would bog down the story. The unnamed City is built up into a living, breathing place over the course of the book.

There’s political intrigue, romance, theater, and a bit of fashion. Primarily, though, this book is driven by its characters.

Deft characterization, built up through interactions and conversations between individuals as much as descriptions and direct actions, so very well balanced that way. Some homoerotic scenes, applied with discretion and most of the action implied rather than graphically described. Refreshingly casual approach to non-binary preferences.

Interesting use of power dynamics here, with sex acts, or sexual violence, threaded through as reward and threat, and the difference in the manifesting of power in this way by men versus women, against men and against women. (There’s probably a solid research paper in here, but it won’t be written by me. At least not without an additional vat of tea.)

I quite liked the two main characters, and would enjoy reading more of their adventures and interactions. A third major character in whom quite a bit of time is invested is removed from the action rather sooner than I might have expected, and I wonder if he’s going to appear in a follow-up novel. Even if this early departure wasn’t intentional as a teaser, though, he IS cited near the end; I can accept this as closing the circle, even if I’d have liked a bit more of him.

I’d love to tell you more except the tea has stopped working and I’m likely to fall asleep at the computer, which would be pleasant for none of us, but most especially the cat. So I’ll tell you goodnight, and happy reading!