Just let a human friend look through my illustrated daily journal. Her eyebrows rise. I wonder if she likes the art, or admires my word count. Her: “There’s a LOT of naps in here.”
This tiny creature is an Atala butterfly. Once thought to be extinct, due to habitat loss and other human-induced causes, these shimmering bits of wonder have returned to South Florida through a collaborative effort and years of patience. We’d heard this success story, and my son and I wanted to be part of it. Atticus was, I think, mostly fascinated by the plants at first. Cycads, the slow-growing sole food source of the Atala caterpillar, coexisted with the dinosaurs. We were both enthused by the idea of a dinosaur garden. I set out to find plants. Atticus painstakingly chose prehistoric creatures from his collection.
A kindly stranger, met online, mailed to me a geneous number of coontie pups. These were the single-frond offspring of the many coontie in his Gainesville yard, and were meant for my son’s kindergarten class garden. We planted most of them there, but he sent so many that there were a few left over. We tucked those few into our little yard’s native landscaping. With care, three of the baby plants grew. They do grow slowly, though. Very slowly. We settled in to wait. We bided our time, for a while, by staging elaborate dino dioramas. And learning about butterflies.
I’d travelled several towns over to a garden center that was rumored to have an Atala population. I THOUGHT I spotted one, but it was hard to be sure…they’re so small, and move so fast. And I’d never seen one before, so I couldn’t be sure.
About three years after planting the coontie, I saw the first Atala in the yard. The next year, there were two. The following year, none. A couple of years later, three or four. Gradually, especially after we replaced our ficus hedge with native plants, the butterflies became regular inhabitants. The plastic dinosaurs dotting the garden were eventually retired, and my son left the garden to his mother. But he enjoyed our annual watch over the metamorphosis: egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult.
This year, wow! This year saw a week when at least twenty butterflies PER DAY were emerging. We have, in my opinion, an established colony. It’s delightful to walk through the yard and see the Atala so close, so abundantly thriving. We’ve invited small children over to share the wonder, and it IS a wonder. Let me clarify the timeframe, though: it’s my son’s second year of college.
The butterflies aren’t the only ones who’ve gone through changes.
So it hits home. Creating a habitat for butterflies: how very like raising a child. How very like writing a book. Collaboration, with an intent toward a goal that’s not guaranteed, and an outcome nobody can really predict. But in the end, wonder: a book. A new adult. A great cloud of shimmering butterflies.
You watch them, then you release them into the world with a wish and all the good energy you can muster. Then…you watch, and hope the world embraces them.
SHIMMER, sequel to ALBATROSS, is at the printer. Atticus is away at school, making theater magic. And South Florida has a great throng of black and scarlet and dazzling blue butterflies. Keep your eyes open for all of them!
Self-portrait with Keyboard and Fandoms (Note Turlough Carolan memorial stone harp necklace … because Harp Fandom is a Thing.)
Life can be complicated. Some parts are Not Fun.
Celebrate the parts that bring you joy! Here are a few of mine.
Hard news tonight. I found myself last Friday on the receiving end of an auto which was busily demonstrating Newtonian physics in action, with associated rattled brain and body. Reading is hard just now. Writing is harder. Accordingly, I’ve been largely absent from social media this past week. So I didn’t know. Until Bertie MacAvoy messaged me. Details have been following. And I’m wrestling with my accident-addled brain to make sense of it, to find words. Because words are what brought Michael Harper to my page, and are what our strange friendship was built from.
Writing is such a weird art form. It’s so solitary, crafting a story. But it’s such an intimately cooperative art, too, because the story never lives without a reader. The story is uniquely THEIRS, their understanding of it shaped by their own experiences and thoughts and ways of being. A writer envisions and shares a world and its people and places. But the reader is the one who actually LIVES in that world, for a time, shaping the experience of the book by their own essence.
When someone passes, we lose their presence in this world. Also gone, though: their experiences in the fictional arts, the worlds they shaped in their own images. Nobody will ever again read my stories in the form that Michael Harper read them. Whatever his waking walking life was, Michael knew how to read and be present in a book. I so appreciate his bringing his energy to my stories. My head is splitting from the effort of writing this, but I know that of all things, words were what was between the two of us. So I can’t help but share a few in his memory.
Rest, in peace, and I wish you joy amid the stardust, Michael Harper.
Happy to receive a message from Bertie MacAvoy in the wee hours today. She got the SHIMMER version with Developmental Editing revisions that I sent to her last night. Yay!
She hasn’t opened it yet. I’m not quite in the clear. But probably okay.
Awnna Evans, our Wordfire Press editor, was such an invested and thorough reader! She sent us very useful editing notes. Bertie did the heavy lifting on these revisions, while I was enveloped in Big Life Things. I did my turn at editing thankfully, falling back into the story as a small respite from the outer world. And perhaps as a way of processing, understanding, and finding ways to deal with the larger situations surrounding life right now.
We’re so very careful at this stage, nearing completion, passing the “Master Document” back and forth. Versions are SO IMPORTANT. The book shifts, changes form under our hands. And words matter to us. So very much. Word choices are examined, talked about, chosen or discarded: little things that a reader will likely never notice, but which carry nuance to subtly influence a scene. If you’re not a writer, and wonder how this works, here’s an example: in the sentence above, I originally wrote “choices are looked at.” But “examined” is so much more accurate to the actual process. And then I wonder if I should drop the passive voice, and say “we examine word choices” instead. But I want the sentence emphasis to be on WORD CHOICE, not on the writers. So I leave it in the passive form.
And this is in a blog post. Without Bertie’s opinion to counter. So you can imagine how complex editing an entire BOOK is.
(Not everybody edits like this. Robert Heinlein would be rolling his eyes. Fortunately, I don’t require his good opinion. And he’s in no position to voice an opinion on Shimmer anyway.)
Love and care go into these changes. It’s quite upsetting to discover that your work has been done on an old version, and has to be re-done! Neither Bertie nor I have so much time and energy at hand that we care to waste it. So we are very careful with our versions.
We are nearing the final version of Shimmer. Line edits yet to do. I’m so ready to release this book!
*Note to aspiring writers: this fine-tuning is coming during the pre-publication editing process, at the behest of the editor. If you edit your document like this, to publication standard, on your own before submitting it? You may never actually finish your book. Beware falling into the trap of perpetually re-writing before getting outside input. Those fresh eyes are important, as much for telling you when to stop as for anything else. Kevin J. Anderson over at WordFire Press has some useful thoughts on this.
Last week’s sojourn to be with my brother and sister as they finish up this part of the universal experience was beautiful and devastating and, clearly, as much as my body can handle right now. And the whole thing is Just. Too. Much. I’m sick now, in body and heart, and I cannot return to them as I so very much wish to.
Bless Bertie MacAvoy today, who has flung a double handful of electrons at me today in the shape of her latest round of Shimmer edits. I get to look at them, think about them, fall into the story and see where it needs to be transitioned.
Exactly what I need at exactly this moment.
Sometimes ducking into another world for a while gives you the break that you need to be able to cope in this one, don’t you think? Even if you’re the one making that other world. Blessings on the artists, the creators, the musicians, the poets, the weavers, and all, who give us respite from our many cares.
2016 was a year of Big Transitions for yours truly. There were a number of Hard Things to deal with in 2016. But there were a good many wonderful ones, too, and I’m going to feed energy into those amazing things, rather than dwelling on things I can’t change at this moment.
My home-educated son graduated high school. My daily profession of the past dozen years is complete. Maybe it’s better seen as an epic quest, rather than a job? I’ve been trying to prepare myself for his leaving home since . . . oh, let me see. His birth? But I’ve been actively lining up Next Steps for a solid couple of years. I knew it would be difficult. Not only was I having my kid go to college, a culturally normal step, but I was being professionally displaced. And my peer group was abruptly changing: the folks with kids still in school were still going to be caught up in that world that I was about to leave. Those with similarly launching kids were moving in their own unique directions. I knew I couldn’t wait until the last minute. So I started taking classes, submitting stories, working on projects.
Despite my plans, the changes when Atticus left school felt abrupt.
My relationship with my son, somewhat strained as both of us figured out the shape of our lives in our new roles, was restored by road trips we took together. We discovered and explored new-to-us places and experiences. It seemed a fitting cap to our years of educating together, and strengthened both of us before his departure.
He went away to school and, to my joy (and really, I wasn’t surprised) flourished on his own, despite the predictions of certain folks from his babyhood who tried to convince me that holding him so much would make it impossible for him to ever leave home. And we now know the answer to that eternal question thrown at homeschoolers, “What about the socialization?” The answer is, “Well? What about it?” And my husband and I have been able to spend more time together, recognizing that this is an important part of learning to live without our son’s daily presence.
And I launched into being a full-time creative professional. Years of prompting by friends and acquaintance, years of study, and I took the jump. #YesThisIsMyDayJob The structure I’ve imposed for myself has kept me from floundering around in the empty space of my days. I’m so very thankful for the opportunity.
I’ve had the continued rare and wonderful opportunity to work with Bertie MacAvoy on a pair of books. Kevin J. Anderson and WordFire Press have agreed to take Albatross and Shimmer. The books are in good hands and will be available this year. They feel so important to me, now more than ever. Bertie talks about this on her blog.
Some people can work on multiple writing projects at once. I’m having a hard time working that way. Maybe it’s my memory issues. I just don’t seem to be able to hold all the threads of the story in my head at once if I’m wrangling another novel at the same time. The editing process is slow, though. I needed a really immersive project, to take my mind off missing my son.
I had not been accepting any art commissions for a while, and frankly was feeling too bleak for them. So I made the art book I needed for myself, and published it, and sent it out into the world. And it’s being very well received. There’s something so special about watching people’s reactions to the Naughty Fairies! The laugh, the sharp nod of recognition: these are gratifying things. And I’m told that the book is important. That’s not for me to judge. But people are telling me that they’re find it helpful, or cathartic, or a release. I am grateful for the chance to make something that matters to people.
My art colleagues have pressed me into opening an Etsy shop. I’m slow at it posting new things there, but they’ll be coming. And maybe I’ll be making a big painting soon, too.
The real focus, though, to me, is the writing: Albatross and Shimmer and my simmering-on-the-back-burner fantasy novel series. It’s hard to explain the sense I have of these books, pulsing around in my veins. I feel an urgency to get Albatross and Shimmer out into the world. 2017 is offering the chance for that. And I feel the other books itching under my skin. I sometimes worry that I should be doing more for them at this moment. But then a connection will click over, and I’ll gasp and think “Oh, yes, OF COURSE,” so I know that my subconscious is working on the parts my conscious brain is stuck on. So I’m making notes and holding myself open to that story.
I’m ready for this year. Much like launching my son: maybe the reality will be harder than I imagined. But we learn and go forward. Because this is what we do.
As a writer and artist, symbols are my daily companions. Symbols are powerful. New Year’s Eve is a special sort of time, when even those who may not look for symbols do so almost unconsciously. A new year is a new beginning. Whether we will it or not, at this place on the calendar change IS upon us. And so the power of the New Year’s resolution: we pause to reflect, to think ahead, to assess. What has been. What is to be. What shape we hope the coming year to take. Resolutions are wishes that we make upon ourselves. Whether we keep them or no. There is power here at the cusp of the year. So I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing, even more so than usual, and looking for a special symbol. A word can be a symbol. Words are my tools. I’m reaching for one of those.
Once upon a time (March 1850, actually) the sailing barque Ptarmigan was renamed HMS Resolute. Its refitting included extra-strong timbers and a polar bear figurehead. (Note to self: what happened to this figurehead?) This ship was one of those sent out as a relief vessel to find and succor the lost Franklin Expedition. Or at the very least, to discover what had happened to these men.
The Resolute was eventually trapped in ice. After a long winter, the ship was prepared as best as the crew were able, and then abandoned in her icy bed. Two years later, the ship was discovered, adrift, by an American captain. The Resolute was purchased by the US Congress, restored, and returned to England as a gift of goodwill. (It was also hoped by some that it would be used to search again for Franklin and his men, but this never happened … too much evidence existed that the men had perished.)
The Resolute served as part of the Royal Navy in local waters until being retired and broken up in 1879. Fans of Nic Cage (one of whom is resident in my house) know well what happened next to some of this wood: Queen Victoria had at least three desks made from the remains. One she gave as a gift to U. S. President Hayes, “as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the RESOLUTE a gesture of international solidarity.”
This desk has been used by most of the U.S. presidents since, either in the Oval Office or a different study.
Symbols are powerful. This desk is, note above, a recognition of the courtesy and loving kindness of the United States. As a country, as a people, as individuals: we are flawed. But we can, and have, manifested courtesy and kindness.
Rather than making resolutions this year, I am adopting a word: RESOLUTE.
Oxford Dictionaries definition for RESOLUTE: admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.
HMS Resolute did not succeed in its primary mission. But along the way, its crew rescued and provided shelter for another ship’s crew who had been stranded and on short rations for over a year. Abandoned itself, the Resolute remained upright and largely intact until it worked free, and then was recovered, claimed, and cared for. It made its way home, where it continued to serve; after its useful lifetime it remains still as testament to cooperation and kindness. There is much that is dark in our history as a nation, but this too is our legacy: generosity, outreach, compassion.
Each of us are facing any number of challenges this year. I don’t know yours, but I can see some of what lies ahead for us as a nation. And I most definitely see some of what awaits me personally in 2017. Some of it is going to be amazing. Some of it is going to be excruciatingly painful, because life has its path and its pattern and some things are unchangeable. There are opportunities here: to crack under the pressure, or to withstand, and continue. To become more.
I will celebrate the warmth in the world. I will celebrate, not because of conflicts, but in spite of them. I am purposeful, determined, and unwavering. I will do what is in my power and, when I can do no more, I will still stand. And I will stand FOR something.
I am resolute.
A conspiracy of happy turns of events!
Mumblety-mumblety years ago, I attended a dinner meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers with a guy I was dating. They served a dinner featuring lots of the newly trendy cracked pepper, which allowed me to discover my allergy to pepper. And also, sadly, made me have to step into the hallway and miss a good portion of the fascinating presentation on this thing they were seeking support for: a space station. To be built by, just imagine, international cooperation. I wished frantically for Gene Roddenberry to be sitting next to me so I could elbow him sharply. I made do with nudging my companion.
The hope of the thing! The audacity!
But we couldn’t be sure it would be built. The number of things which could go wrong, while not infinite, sure seemed like it. And Congress, unsurprisingly, was dragging its feet over funding the proposed U.S. portion. But still … that the thing could be imagined? Seriously considered among the scientific community, and at least discussed by world governments? Breathtaking.
Years later, I still have that guy sitting next to me for convenient nudging. (Reader, I married him.) And I still have the glossy 8 X 10 artwork NASA distributed to us: the artist’s conception of the structure, hanging against the blackness of space.
I am very fortunate to walk my wee dog almost daily with an amazing neighbor. She texted me yesterday to alert me to the International Space Station due to pass overhead close enough to see with the unassisted human eye. (The humor in this is that she did so at 6:45 a.m. The thing was due at 6:48. I was also fortunate in that I had, this time, closed my window curtains securely and so did not scandalize the neighborhood in my desperate flinging about of clothes and my sleep-draggled self.)
Good fortune indeed: the sky was clear enough in the necessary stretch so that we could see the ISS pass. Obliging clouds … we miss a great many astronomical events due to the South Florida weather.
And there it was. A marvel. A wonder. The product of so very many hours of human energy, ingenuity, labor, experiment, resources. And perhaps more astonishingly, cooperation of large groups of organized people. Good fortune smiling upon the enterprise? Or was it the power of belief? The commitment of so many to making an idealistic concept come into physical existence. How many times did that scientist stand in front of a small crowd, with his impassioned speech and his glossy prints? And he was one tiny fragment of the whole. How many more people dedicated their energy, the precious hours of their lives, into this dream? And look what they did. Humans. Tiny creatures on this speck of a planet, reaching out with our minds and our hands and saying yes.
Michelle and I craned our necks, saw the rising sun glinting off the solar arrays. We watched it until it faded into the clouds.
The sighting colored our walk with talk of technology, of the future, of things which were once wonders that are now every-day and taken for granted. Wouldn’t it be great if world cooperation to solving difficult problems were one of them?
I want to wave the International Space Station in front of people. People who have decided to care about things and processes that separate us from each other. “Look! Look what we can accomplish together!”
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.