Category Archives: Uncategorized

February 2016

In addition to trying this whole blog weekly thing, I’m going to try this thing where I keep you updated on what I’m working on. If nothing else, it ought to give me a headspace where I keep organized and keep things going. And possibly keep me from getting as behind as I did last year. Oops.

The Long Road – Oh my poor baby. This story’s been with me a while, but I think I might finally have figured out how to write it in a way that I’m happy with. So I’m drafting this story based originally in the premise of: if one of the oldest forms of magic is name magic, what do you do when a valuable heir to a faerie empire doesn’t have a name? The young prince grows up completely unaware of his heritage, makes friends, lives a very long life before his father comes looking to bring him back to his purported kingdom. But by this time, he’s not any sort of prince the faery kindom would recognize.

White Lightning – The long put off sequel to Black Ice because I had no idea how hard and complicated writing an entire anthology on my own would be. Hint: Very. I don’t recommend it. I do, however, recommend Black Ice because it’s fun and there are premeditated moose. White Lightning takes place a short time after, dealing with a different set of characters and focus mostly on the fae and how they interact with the world today. This anthology is mostly drafted, I’m just working on edits at this point. Long, long edits.

Will Shakespeare: A Play – A group of college students, still living in the same area after school, find themselves somewhat adrift. To combat this, a few of them decide to write and stage a play to bring them back together and remind themselves that despite the grinding monotony of their day jobs, they are still brilliant at the creative work they used to do and still love. The play, of course, stars Will Shakespeare as an aspiring playwright, and the main authors of it are a young couple named Romeo and Juliet. I blame tumblr for this entirely. And various friends for encouraging me. This isn’t even in drafts yet, so I wouldn’t look too hard for it.

Sandborn – A novel of the Blasted Lands, a world where magic was the ruination of the land and the people in its path, reducing everything to desert with more and more viable land being used up every generation. Unto this wasteland a child is born with the stubbornness of her father and the insight of her mother and the magical ability of both. Not that she knows it until someone comes a-hunting and the only folk standing between her and an unpleasant death are the wandering carnival she just met. In the final stages of edits, and hopefully to be out soon.

The Queen and her Parliament – This was originally supposed to be a novella for paid release. But after January, that doesn’t seem right. The serial numbers have been fairly well filed off, but the origins of this story lie in what should be a very recognizable movie. Your clue: a parliament of barn owls.

The Stars Look Very Different Today

So. David Bowie.

I didn’t believe it for about an hour after my boyfriend told me, half awake and staggering towards the shower, and now all I can think is, this isn’t right, it’s not supposed to be this way. We’re not meant to live in a world without David Bowie (Yes I know we managed perfectly well for many centuries but dammit.) I don’t get how this happened. He’s supposed to be here floating around with that little smile of his, showing us all how to be serene in our differences. We’re … I don’t know. He didn’t die, he just changed incarnations. This one happens to be the first one not on this earth.

I don’t get it. I disbelieve. I spent the first hour of the morning disbelieving and then the second hour a sobbing mess on the couch instead of doing my morning routines. Really, it’s amazing I got dressed and got something for lunch and got out of the house at all, at this point. I’m kind of amused and touched and comforted to see so many people also going wait, David Bowie’s dead? he can’t die. he’s not mortal like the rest of us. Someone on Twitter had a good quote:

And that’s exactly how I feel. I’m not yet used to a world without David Bowie actively in it, and I don’t know if I ever will be. Hell, I’m not yet used to a world without Christopher Lee or Leonard Nimoy actively in it. I was watching Stargate last night and realized how much I missed Don Davis. I’m still not sure how Robin Williams is gone.

There are these people, and they are so influential in so many people’s lives, their presence is so big that they’re everywhere. And then they leave us, and we’re all left staggering. As a global collective, we reel and wonder, where do we look to now? Here was a giant part of our lives, now gone, what do we do? How do we keep moving after we’ve been gutted like that?

Well, but he’s still here, isn’t he. We still have all these hours of video, all this music.  We have the moment we saw him on stage and couldn’t believe anyone would do that, could get away with that. We have the moment we saw him on screen and didn’t entirely believe he was real. We still have Jareth and Nikola Tesla and Thomas Jerome Newton and the walk-off from Zoolander. We still have this.

I’ve been doing a lot of looking back this morning and boggling at just how much of my writing is influenced by him. (And mostly Labyrinth, to be fair, me and at least a third to half of the girls in the English speaking world around that time wanted the Goblin King to come and take them away.) The entire Sorcerer, Sam, the mysterious gentleman of manners and deep, deep issues who was so very bad for you and yet kind in some peculiar way, who touched you in the core of you and made things all right again and who could break you just as easily, that was all Bowie. And I don’t know how to deal with the real-world person being gone, it feels like all that stuff that he inspired in my head should be gone too even if it isn’t. And it isn’t. See above.

I think, from what I know of him (he was not that cruel in the last decades of his life and I don’t think he ever really meant to be although let’s face it, he had issues for a while), that he’d remind me that what’s in my head isn’t gone. That he’d like to remind us, this is still here. How we felt, how we responded, what we made of ourselves. What I built with his words, his music and his image, that’s not gone. And that’s how people live on, isn’t it? They live on because we remember them and carry them with us, so there’s his immortality.

So I’m going to close my eyes, and I’m going to sit down and have a talk with the Bowie in my head who maybe looks more like the Thin White Duke right now, but give it an hour I’m sure that’ll change. What’s the point of having your own head-Bowie if he doesn’t go through whimsical and yet carefully thought out transformations? And we’re going to have a good cry. Tonight I’m going to eat my feelings, they taste like buttercream frosted sugar cookies. And then, when we’ve had our cry and gotten the most of that out, we’re going to pick up and keep on being weird and bizarre and alien, keep on being proud and confident and defiant, keep on being a rebel. Keep on being a hero.

We love you, David. We always will.

The Mule

I had occasion to dig up Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk recently on your elusive creative genius. And I don’t remember where I found this in the first place, I don’t generally subscribe to TED talks as a thing although like any thing they can be useful. I found her talk to be extremely useful to go back and remind myself of from time to time. And so I dug it out again and sent the link to a few friends in case they wanted to watch it, and put it on again myself.

Periodically, usually around Nanowrimo, I see a number of usually forum posts about how writing is hard, how do I (the general and more personal to the poster I, not I, Kitty, in specific) write, how does this work, writing is hard. And my answer in my head whenever I read these is oh my sweet summer child. And then if it’s a general question I try to come up with an answer on paper or screen that at least is concise and hopefully applicable and helpful to their point of view, or at least some alternatives to encourage.

A funny thing about her TED talk: she describes her process in terms of discipline, but also in terms of connection to something other or divine. She calls it a genius. Stephen King calls it, I think, the Basement Muse, which is a term I like and appropriated for mine when I’m not calling him “that asshole.” I’m not terribly polite to my muses, no. My muse is a little more complicated than a single entity. I’ve discussed it elsewhere, I think? My muse is a workshop with looms and clay and things, and each type of project whether it’s worldbuilding or writing the actual text or discovering and shaping a character is a different skill. And in my workshop I have workers, like the Basement Muse, or the Tiny Goddess, or the Anteater of Death, or various other characters who wander in and out of things. And there are times when I’m juggling many projects, and I have too many ideas and I have to close my eyes and start hanging them all up on hooks. I have to look inward and gesture at all of these hooks with all of these projects and “Okay, can you come give me a hand with this? Make sure this stays here, build on this somewhere back there, make sure it doesn’t go away? This, I have no idea what this is, see what you can do with it, though, it looks promising. I’m going to be over here, working on this, I’ll check back with you soon.”

I like this idea that she describes, that many many people have had over years and centuries. Separating the worker from the work is something that happens more often in non-creative enterprises like car assembly or grocery cashiering. Not that grocery cashiering involves as much individuality and interpretation as ballet, or better yet choreography or writing, but still the accountant gets the benefit of being separated from her work in a way that the artist doesn’t, necessarily. She can put away her books and go home, and no one will ask her how the accounting was with the expectation that it was hard, grueling, she had to struggle to do three columns of sums, In the arts, however, people have the strange dichotomy of insisting that artists must be tortured and insisting that writing or drawing or what have you must be easy, and in order to put out good work you must be talented rather than skilled.

She describes herself as a mule. I like that; I’m a mule too, I’m obstinate and I persevere in the strong and sincere belief that writing involves ass in chair, fingers on keyboard. (Or pen on paper, whichever floats your taco.) I try, I’m not always successful but I try to write a certain number of words per day, to only juggle a certain number of projects so I don’t start twenty things and never finish them, to keep track of everything in a spreadsheet so that I know what I’ve been working on and what could use some more focus. It’s less work than it sounds, honestly, and it’s worth it to keep me from starting twenty things and never finishing them.

But there’s also the work. There’s the work, and there’s the work. There’s the labor, and there’s the inexplicable source of the sequence that goes from idea to planning (if you’re a planner) to drafting and the choosing of words, to realizing that doesn’t at all line up with the plan and finding out where it diverges. Taking a brief detour through the boggy middle of this was a stupid idea why did I ever think it would work. To the realization that this could work, to more choosing of words and editing and taking this out and finding time to write this other piece and cram it in sideways, to finished product. It’s a bit like watching a tree grow. You started out with an acorn and an idea, and somehow over time little barely tangible things like water and sunlight and the fertility of the earth combined, and one day you blink and realize you’ve got a fucking sapling in your backyard. Hey, where’d this novel come from? Days and weeks and months and sometimes years of work.

So, okay, fine, I’m a mule. I plod along. I do my thousand, two thousand words a day, I put one word in front of the other if I have to, reminding myself every five minutes that that is how things get written. And if I don’t call the more nebulous part of what I’m doing in any way divine, I will call it ‘other,’ because I have no idea how my brain is able to seize upon a collection of news articles or words or ideas and smash them together and call them a novel idea. I doubt the most knowledgeable neurosurgeon does. It is an Other. Sometimes I’m on good terms with it. Sometimes less so. But it does help to give me a degree of separation to the process to where I can put it down, walk away, and play Diablo for an hour if I have to.

(P.S. The obvious caveat here is, for all that the inspiration or idea process may be other, I am the one choosing to put the words down and put them into the public view. These words and works are ultimately my responsibility, the Basement Muse is not holding a gun to my head. If he were, I would have infinitely more problems. Starting with the fact that a fictional character would be holding a gun to my head.)

Portrait of the Artist At Her Studies

I am so behind on my online physics courses I can’t even tell you guys.

The truth is, I’m not in school. I’m not required to take this for work. If I wanted I could click that button that says “unenroll” and remove that source of stress from my life at any time. (And doesn’t that sound better than drop out? It does, which is why I never phrase it like that in my head.) But no, I’m going to persevere and push through and do more every day and hope I finish by the deadline. Which is May, so I should have plenty of time, right? Of course right.

I’ve told you many things about myself; let me tell to you another: I like to learn. And I hate to fail at it. I’ve never been labeled as Gifted or Talented, or Prodigy, or any of those other labels they like to slap on kids that give them endless amounts of mental anguish in their adult lives, but I seem to have gotten a lot of the neuroses without any of the prestige of the names. I haaaaaaate to fail. I stressed out for hours and days over whether or not to do the Immunology exam, despite the fact that I wasn’t caught up on lessons, despite the fact that like the physics class, I had no dogs within miles of this fight. My self-esteem, to put it clinically and with pretension, was negatively impacted in a pervasive and continuous way by my inability to complete online classes in a timely fashion. But I do it the hell anyway, because I like to learn. I like to study. I like to know new things to me, and for another motivation I feel like it makes me a better writer not just to look up the facts when I need them, but to immerse myself in biology or physics for a little while. To know how that feels, what that sounds like, in order to write better scientists or science fiction.

So, I’m studying. In addition to taking online courses on one site in physics and, of all things, US history (why? I don’t know why, it amuses me), I’m constantly on one site or another practicing my languages. The first part of this is describing these sites, I won’t call it a review because I’m not convinced any of these sites are astoundingly good or mind-shatteringly bad, but describing. Descriptions. Different people learn in different ways, so here’s something of what I do.

Duolingo and Memrise are my go-to sites for languages. Memrise provides me with the quick vocab hit I can’t get when I have to look up a word twice in a sentence while reading a book. At that point of comprehension it’s more frustrating for me to pick up vocabulary by reading than it is to simply memorize, so I do it. It’s also good for taking a timed quiz for maybe 2-5 minutes and getting a small buzz because I scored a 98% accuracy on it. There was an article not long ago about studying languages as a tool to fight off depression, and while I don’t suffer from clinical depression I can tell you, for the situational depression that hits when relatives get diagnosed with various forms of cancer, it works wonders to give me strength to keep going. Duolingo is similar in the quiz department. But it doesn’t just give vocabulary or the short bits of information you can find on flash cards, it has a more holistic approach and is geared towards learning at least the basics of a language. It also has the wonderful advantage that it makes you listen to the language being spoke and translate from that, and translate both into and out of the written language. It’s often more difficult to translate into the new language, and Duolingo applies equal time to all directions. If you have a microphone it will even help you with your speaking, although I question how accurate it necessarily is in that specific area. Still. Short quizzes, small bites of learning, easily consumeable and good for quick dopamine hits.

Living Language is another site I’ve come to adore, I’ll be honest, because I decided I wanted to learn Dothraki. Yes, I am that geek. I had the Languages of Tolkien primer as a teen, I had the Klingon Grammar by Okuda, I am still that geek today now that I’m theoretically old enough to know better. (This is a lie. There is no better.) And I haven’t used this site to complete a language study yet, so I can’t tell you how efficiently or to what level it’s taught me, but I’m finding that so far, it’s useful. It’s very useful for helping me learn Dothraki from scratch, and for other languages that have different alphabets (Hindi and Arabic currently) it’s helping me to start learning those languages while I slowly and painstakingly master writing my ABC’s.

That’s the languages, now for everything else and by everything else I mean I look at the course catalogs and go “what am I interested in today,” there’s EdX. At least right now there’s EdX, there are also Coursera and Khan Academy, which friends of mine are currently going through. EdX pleases me at the moment because the lectures are broken up into bite sized sections, I think the longest lecture I’ve had to sit and watch is 20 minutes, and that’s an outlier. Usually they’re 12-15 minutes. You can pay for a certificate or audit the class, as I do, and depending on the teacher there may be more or fewer periodic questions and quizzes (questions are not graded, quizzes are) to make sure you understand the lesson. I have, at this point, never run into a lesson that didn’t have those. It does not give you the same dopamine hits of “I have succeeded at learning a thing!” in measured and predictable chunks as the language sites, but it is a good, bite-sized way of getting information and learning that you otherwise might have to pay many thousands of dollars for, along with variably adequate housing and Ramen for the next five years. Trust me, I’ve had a college education. These are, if not the full experience of being able to badger your teacher about the prostitution subtext in TS Eliot, a very good in-your-home, in-your-pajamas substitute.

Learning! I love to learn. I think even if I didn’t have a writing hobby I would pick up studying things as a hobby, because why the hell not. Here are some benefits to learning: it keeps your brain active, it keeps you thinking critically, which is a good thing both for staving off various age related dementias and for growing socially and as a person. It makes you more marketable as an employee whether or not you’re actively looking. It gives you a chance for a new passion, or a new interest, which leads to maybe meeting new people, which can lead to a richer life. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Here are some drawbacks to learning, especially on your own. It is on you to be disciplined and keep to your structure, which can be detrimental to your mental health if you are not the type of person who does structure independently very well but have the brain twitch I do of I-am-failing-this-course-and-so-behind therefore-I-must-be-a-terrible-person. It is very, very easy to get frustrated and say “fuckit.” You may learn better by interacting with people, at which point you are dependent on their schedules and modern technology. At least with a class you’re still dependent on their schedule, but by prior arrangement their schedule includes taking time out to sit with you and X number of other students and teach you this. Learning on your own, you can’t ask Memrise or Duolingo a question and have a dialogue with it (although on Duolingo you can have a dialogue with other students, for what that’s worth). Learning on your own takes either an ordered mind, not Sherlock Holmes level of ordered but some discipline and neatness in the thinkmeats, or a mind that can tolerate digressions, failures, and other things which are not clear success.

I love it. The last five, no, seven (eek) years have helped me structure my mind to the point that I can do this. I really think if I had tried to do this seven years ago, it wouldn’t have worked. No, I know it, because I tried learning German and Russian on my own more than seven, about ten years ago, and I failed utterly. Now I’m working on my third and fourth languages independently, and I have every expectation of eventually being able to read Al Jazeera in Arabic standard someday. Maybe within the next three years. It all depends on what you want to accomplish by the learning, how you best learn, how well you know yourself to know either of the first two things.

And me, I’m still so far behind in physics. Crap. 😀

Meet My Character: Deli Counter Edition

So, a while back I did a thing.

(What about that thing you were supposed to be doing? Or that other thing that you promised? What about those things… never mind those things. Ignore those things. Pretend I finished them.)

No, this is a thing with other people, in proper English we call it an anthology. Something like a more light-hearted or at least more optimistic Wild Cards, this anthology follows the Carl Cook, retired-superhero-turned-deli-owner, and the adventures of his customers. Who may or may not be superheroes themselves. You can see the cover art here, and oh god my interview on the podcast is up tomorrow why is life peruse interviews with other writers and participants in the project. You can also read about another character from the anthology over on Eric’s blog, who is incidentally also the person I have to blame for this. The assassins will be over shortly, Sipple.

What is the name of your character? Is he/she a fictional person?

Her name is Rashida, and her online handle-slash-code name is Prime. And yes, she is very much a fictional character, although aspects of her were based on or drawn from aspects of people I know.

When and where is the story set?

In the same place and time, analogous to the present, in the fictional city of New Caliburn.

What should we know about him/her?

To call her not good with people would be both a simplification and an understatement. She understands how people work in the abstract, but has problems applying it to her behavior or seeing it as relevant to her life in any but the most direct ways. This may or may not be a result of her powers, which involve rapid pattern recognition and analysis at the speed of a computer but with the complexity of a human mind. (Yes, I have decided, no, I’m not saying yet, that’s for a future story.) She does, however, have a sense of social responsibility, which is influenced by her mother and is the source of her extracurricular activities.

Also she’s fourteen.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Well, to put it bluntly, she does. She overreaches with her powers and overestimates her ability to see a situation clearly, and then she has to fix her mistake. It’s a growing moment for her; her mother was a superhero and she has a strong sense of needing to follow in her footsteps in some ways, despite the fact that her mother is now retired. But she’s still got a lot of growing up to do, and she hasn’t managed to figure out what that means for her yet.

What is the personal goal of this character?

She would say that her goal is to ensure the safety, well-being, and liberty of the citizens of New Caliburn with a primary focus in her high school and its students. In those exact words, probably. What she’s groping after, though, is the sense of purpose and responsibility that comes with being a superhero, regardless of whether or not it’s right for her as she grows up. Underneath that, she’s looking for somewhere to belong, since her manner of behavior and thought makes her stand out quite a bit. And again, superheroing is one way to do that.

What is the working title of this novel short story and can we read more about it?

The title is Calculated Risk, and you can read more about it in all of those interviews I linked you to up above!

When can we expect the book to be published?

Our publication date is *ulp* November 5th.

The Myth of Adulthood

I said this was going to be the next blog entry. And lo, it is.

I’m not going to link to the AO Scott essay, not because I don’t want it to get hits but because a) I don’t care and b) I’m lazy, and I closed that tab hours ago. But this started because someone else linked to the essay, and I read through it and rolled my eyes out of their sockets, put it back in, muttered imprecations about how this fear that men will stop being Men, leading to the death of maturity (and presumably implying that women are immature and overwrought, which is hilarious because so many of these essays are overwrought) and the downfall of civilization as we know it.

I read, I bitched, I sighed, I rolled my eyes, and then I went on to do other more interesting things. Like trimming my toenails.

But something did stick with me, mostly in the form of Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and C.S. Lewis quotes, which I give to you here, respectively:

Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

So, there you go, in case you were wondering. I thought of this, and then I thought of all of my friends who, in the midst of doing taxes or filing paperwork on a house or a car or some such, or bringing in contractors, or selling a house, or moving, getting a job, dealing with losing a job, filing for unemployment or health insurance. I thought of all of them and how often I hear the rallying cry of “How do I adult?

You don’t. Not really.

I studied history. I studied anthropology. Did you know, and perhaps you did because this information is widely circulated now, that adolescence was a created phase beyond the mere fact of physical and hormonal changes? Ascribing a set term of years to it where you could make mistakes without the consequences an adult would face is a separate concept that has sprung up, and there have been lots of times when a person simply went from childhood to adulthood on their whatever-eth birthday. We still do it, though we pretend we don’t. When you’re 17, you’re expected to do stupid things, drive too fast, eat unhealthy foods, make poor dating decisions (but always good sexual decisions, for some reason) and generally live without fear. When you’re 18, you’re expected to decide on a college or get a job, and choose the career path that your life will take from then on. Presumably involving a house, a partner, and kids. Does anything happen in that year that would make this an easier decision? Not really, no. Not physically, our bodies don’t actually stop maturing till we’re in our early twenties. Certainly not as a result of any experience American or, as far as I know, any other society gives us. We learn how to make good decisions by making bad ones, and that takes a hell of a lot longer than 18 years for some people. For others, it doesn’t even take that long.

So, what is this, the “death of adulthood”? What is adulthood? I submit that it is a myth that we could damn well do without. A lot of people spend a lot of their lives being miserable over what it means to be an adult and whether or not they are complying with some ever-changing set of strictures. Some people tack the word “responsible” in front of it, as though that legitimizes imposing a concept onto others that in many cases eliminates frivolity, whim or impulse, and deprecates emotional satisfaction as being least important of one’s priorities. Personally, I think the world would be just as well off if we focused on responsibility and left off the adult part, but clearly that means I’m immature and childish. Or something.

Adulthood is a myth that needs to die. It puts the emphasis on an arbitrary age, set of obligations, and mode of behavior and thinking and feeling, and I don’t know about you but I don’t much care for the idea of someone else taking it on themselves to police what I think and feel. If we’re meant to All Be Adults Here, what does that even mean? Does it mean responsibility? Why can’t we just say, let’s all be responsible people. Does it mean compassion and listening skills? Then why not say, let’s all listen attentively and with compassion? Children can have responsibility too, we give them pets to teach them about responsibility, we encourage (or some of us at least encourage) them to develop listening skills and to have compassion. Does this mean that when they’re magically 18, suddenly those efforts matter, and they didn’t before? That does a lot of very mature children a great disservice. Is the compassion two girls showed when they gave the Homecoming title and its accompanying social status to their much-mocked friend somehow less because they’re not legal adults? Do we actually care about this?

Legal adulthood is a useful tool, I’m not saying it isn’t, because it gives us a guideline by which we can set laws, regulate behavior for the safety and improvement of society. It also gives young people some sort of structure as they make mistakes and learn about themselves and the world around them, and that’s also good for developing humans. But this notion that you have to stop being a child, or being childlike, when you become An Adult is ridiculously stringent, and held by ridiculously strident people, and it’s damaging. It’s vastly, painfully damaging to people who constantly want to Be An Adult and who, in a crisis, still want to call home and have Mama tell them it’s going to be okay.

Full Disclosure: I totally call home and whine to my Mom. A couple three months ago when I had an electrical fire and the boyfriend was working long hours and I think going away for the weekend, and something horrible had happened in the country, and work was overwhelming, and my dentist had found cavities and scheduled me for fillings, and I called home and whined to my Mom. And then I felt better. Shocking, that.

No one came and arrested me for violating the terms of my adulthood. The house did not burn down. My teeth did not fall out. The world did not end because I called home and sobbed to my mother. But I did feel better.

I had brownies for breakfast the other day, too. Because my boyfriend came home from work and wanted brownies, so I ate brownies with him. Being legally independent, living under your own charge, in your own home, with your own kitchen and with no one responsible for your dietary habits but yourself, that means you get to eat the occasional brownie for breakfast if you want to.

I’m sure people like AO Scott, or even Homer, people like that who lament the death of adulthood (usually inextricably linked with the death of patriarchy and Real Men) would have lamented that brownie. They would be sad that I watch cartoons some mornings, or read Harry Potter, or listen to Sesame Street records now and again. They would lament that I wander around the house without pants Like A Toddler, and that I don’t make my bed (oh lordy that argument), and that I occasionally make baby talk or throw pretend tantrums at my boyfriend. Who does the same to me. Hell, they’re probably in the camp that thinks he and I should long since have gotten married. To this I say “Eh. Too lazy can’t be bothered.” and also “None of your damn business.” But I am unmarried and have no children and sit on the couch in my underwear and t-shirt and eat ice cream and watch cartoons, and therefore I am immature and not really an adult. You know what I also do? Pay taxes. Pay my bills on time. Hire electricians. Show up on time at my job and leave, well, a little late these days. I even cook healthy meals most of the time and keep a clean house, with an equitable division of labor with the boy.  These are actions of responsibility, not adulthood. I purchased medical insurance, have no student loans (!!!), and I suppose I could pay off my credit card debt in a lump sum but I’d much rather grow my savings and pay it off incrementally. I have investments. It doesn’t get much more Arcane and Adult than having investments. Multiple! I did this in order to be prepared for the future, because preparing for the future is sensible. It is not, however, the sole purview of the mysterious creature known as the Adult.

How do I adult? However the fuck I want to. As should you.

Dear LeVar Burton

Dear LeVar Burton,

I had the good fortune of meeting you once, one of several hundred if not thousand people you met at Dragon*Con one year. I shook your hand and purchased a couple of autographs, and told you how much I had enjoyed Reading Rainbow. I think – I hope – that the recent successful fundraiser has shown us all how many of us loved that show and continue to believe in its message.

You were kind enough to offer your Twitter fellowship for one year, and I didn’t want you to come to that without some idea of what you were getting into. So here, for your persual (and obviously the sight of anyone who cares to look at this entry) is a little bit about me.

I was raised in Washington DC by a hard-working sometimes single mother and a sometime stepfather who, though their marriage didn’t work out, was very good to me. He encouraged me to try musical instruments, come see his band play (in clubs which, I must confess, I was probably too young for had I not been with the band), to talk out complex ideas, to be silly on occasion, to try new things. My mother encouraged me to accept my feelings as neither good nor bad but simply my feelings, something which, as I get older and find out how rare this is, I am always grateful for. She encouraged me to learn, to stretch my mind, to have compassion and be curious without judgement. Both of my parents encouraged me to read. So did my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. When my grandmother wanted to bribe me to do something, she bought me a Star Trek book. (Not a word of a lie! I had shelves and shelves of Star Trek fiction, the original series Compendium, episode novelizations, books and books.) No book, or at least no book that I remember, was forbidden. Which is how I ended up reading Stephen King at age… eight? Ten? And if something confused me, I was encouraged to go to an adult in the family and ask. I don’t remember asking too many questions, although my aunt still has questions about why I scratched out all the swear words in my Star Trek V novelization. I don’t know, either.

These days I’m working in the family business, albeit not in DC anymore, and still reading voraciously and omnivorously, often at work between tasks. Since it’s a family business, no one minds if I read while it’s slow, or for five minutes as I catch my breath between running around the store! Thank goodness. I read fiction and non-fiction, fiction according to my tastes and non-fiction… according to my tastes, I guess. I maintain a blog in which I and my friend analyze certain television shows, and some of my reading comes from exploring the source material further. Other times I simply take a notion to explore more about virology, the Apocrypha, Native American history, the history of New York City, plants, what have you. Often I see an article about something in the news and decide to read a book on animal empathy, or Henrietta Lacks and the contributions of her cancer cells to modern medicine. As far as fiction goes, I most often devour various mysteries, urban fantasy and traditional fantasy, science fiction somewhat less but speculative fiction of all types, and the occasional literary novel. I didn’t manage to avoid the dreaded con crud last Dragon*Con, so when I came back and was good for little more than sitting on a couch or a bed I started or continued in, I think, five fantasy series and a literary book. I also participate now and again in Wednesday Reads, which is a custom on my less formal journaling site in which people post the things they’ve read over the week. This week I think my Wednesday Reads post will be extensive…

Non-reading habits include a lot of crafting. I paint miniatures and knit, primarily, and sometimes I spin yarn to knit, but since my family business is a craft store I often pick up something or another that’s out of my usual sphere, either to learn or to play around with. Making friendship bracelets, leather-crafting, weaving, polymer clay sculpting, paper mache, beadwork. Whatever comes to mind that week.

I’m sure there’s a great deal in here that I haven’t touched on. It’s hard to know what to say for an introduction, in this context. I’ve never done it before, and I’m not sure there is any kind of set formula. At any rate, I hope you won’t be bored or hurt by anything you find here or on my Twitter feed, and I hope you find something interesting, something to like, and something new to learn.

Still flying twice as high!

Yours,

Kitty

How Does Your Garden Grow

It’s spring! Actual spring, not fake calendar spring where we get six more weeks of below-freezing temperatures starting at 6pm. Spring means planting season, which means wearing my shoulders out hauling bags of fertilizer and my knees out grubbing in the dirt, And then taking cool showers immediately after because my skin feels too hot and too itchy and I am covered in dirt, even though what I really want to do is plant my face into my nice soft bed. Hay fever. Endless hay fever and balancing a body designed to be more tanned than I am with the dangers of skin cancer. My boyfriend has it easy and straightforward, he goes out for more than fifteen minutes, he puts on sunscreen. I can actually manage for a couple hours without it. Decisions.

And yet I unironically love spring. Plus it’s not that hard for me to roll the ache in the shoulders out, or stretch and exercise the knees. Even if I hate it. I’ll feel better at the end. I promise.

Pretend for a second here that I’m not talking about a garden, because that’s all I’ve been able to think about for the past couple weeks, as I get everything into the ground or into starter pots. Pretend I’m not talking about a garden for this entire post. It applies pretty well to writing, or even to some other areas.

Gardening is not something I learned how to do as a kid, apart from stick seed in ground apply water and sunlight make sure dirt is not sand or rocks, watch things grow. This whole nitrogen phosphorus plant food pH acidic soil basic soil, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve killed quite a few plants from underwatering, overwatering (okay, that wasn’t my fault, last year we got somewhere near twice as much rain as normal), or simply not knowing what to do. But on the other hand, I also managed to grow quite a few things from seed (until I killed half of them), which I didn’t know I could do. It’s a learning curve! Only with a visible, tangible measure of success or failure, which is more than most of my learning curves have.

Another thing I’ve discovered, or I should say rediscovered, is that once you get into the habit of dumping your coffee grounds into certain plants’ pots or beds, watering every morning between the other chores, pulling off dead leaves and things as you water, it gets moved to the backbrain and requires less energy. Less energy to think about, to remember to do (as long as you keep it somewhere in your daily list of things to do, if you need such things; I do), less energy overall. What was once a hugely daunting task is now part of your everyday life. Water the plants, keep them in the sun, let them do their thing. A lot of things and even people thrive if you let them do their thing, the thing that comes natural to them; micromanaging is a waste of time and energy.

I like gardening. I like growing things, I used to wander out into my friend’s pea patches when I stayed at his house and pick and eat them off the vine. Chewing on mint. I picked some daffodils that bloomed early in the season, before the last spiteful breaths of winter, and stuck them in an old bottle I had lying around and it was really nice, I might do that with some other flowers later. Our front lawn is almost overflowing with grape hyacinths. I like gardening, I like pretty things, and I like the visible reward for my effort, whereas writing and learning languages don’t convey that same type of reward. Diversity of reward is important. We get fulfillment in so many different ways.

And there’s an instinctive aspect that appeals to the pagan part of me. When the weather turns, when the last of the truly biting cold is gone, knowing to start things in peat pots on my windowsill. When the sun shines longer and the air is more warm than not, moving things outside. The physical act of clearing weeds helping to mentally prepare for the garden, and for spring and summer beyond that. Like clearing the winter cobwebs from my mind, and after this winter there are a metric shitload of cobwebs (roughly 2.2 imperial shitloads).

So, pretend I’m writing about writing. Or don’t, maybe you like to garden, too. Partly the similarity in approaches comes from the fact that I approach my garden the way that I approach most other long term projects, methodically and with great bull-headedness. Partly because life is not that complicated, not in the overall, and many approaches that work well in one field work well in others. You’ll go through a learning period where you discover, and many times rediscover better ways to do things. You’ll learn how you work when you do, in this case, gardens. And you’ll get better. It’s much more fun to do that with flowers, though.

The Turning of the Wheel

Hello, Blog.

(Hello, Kitty!)

Been a while, hasn’t it? Normally I don’t have this good an excuse. I’ve been knocked off the rails since December, it feels like. I’m going to try to come back over the next few months. Going to Portland will be interestingly discombobulating. In the best way.

My Grandfather died a couple of weeks ago. Almost three weeks now, I think. Time blurs. After a relatively short illness; it seems, rather, as though that after he’d outlived two magnificent ladies he decided that was a good run of things. In retrospect, maybe I should have seen that coming. Maybe I did see that coming. I had the feeling he wouldn’t live to see this spring. I slammed together of a scrapbook of this lovely new-old house he enabled me to buy, so he could at least see it in pictures if not in person. I think it got there in time. Everyone else loved it, anyway.

So, when I was three or so, my mother fled across the country from her soon to be ex-husband, my biological father, for a number of very good reasons that may or may not have to do with why I don’t drink very often at all (one, maybe two drinks, maybe once a month, maybe less than that) and why I have never touched drugs in my life except what my doctor prescribes. Sometimes not even then. Anyway, we moved in with her parents, my grandparents, and lived in the basement apartment of their townhouse for a while, and then in other places around town but never more than a few miles or a couple metro stops from their house. We eventually settled about a mile ish, one metro stop, away. I ended up in the same bedroom that I’d occupied when we briefly stayed at that place the first time, after moving into town. Of all things, I recognized it because I’d been very nastily sick in the black and white tiled bathroom. The things we remember.

Mom tried the marriage thing a second time, but that didn’t work out too well either, and for most of my childhood until my Grandmother died when I was 18, the day before my high school graduation, my grandparents helped raise me. I spent weekends at their place, holidays, walked there after school and was fed macaroni and cheese or leftovers or sandwiches while I watched Sesame Street, Square One, PBS, old BBC comedies. Ballet. Grandma would give me her old mysteries to read, or Grandpa would bring back books from his travels. He was quite an important man at the World Bank, which was all I knew at the time. (I later found out that he was in charge of large swaths of continents, if not entire continents. Apparently his Division at one point was Latin America. Bloody hell, Grandpa.) I don’t remember everything that he did, the Sri Lanka and Pakistan visits were so very long ago, but when I was growing up what I remember most was that he made frequent trips to Moscow. To help out, I knew. Now, looking back on it, I think this must have been during Perestroika, given the time. I didn’t know about that, or about glasnost policy reform. I knew that Grandpa brought back the most beautiful black fur hat that looked very Russian indeed, and was huge and warm. And he brought me back books of folk stories that told me about combs that turned into forests and wolves that talked and hearts kept in boxes. And videos of the Bolshoi Ballet. Matryoshka dolls of Russian leaders. Scarves to wrap around my head at which point my Grandmother called me little babushka. I thought it was the coolest thing. Later, after the Soviet Union broke apart, he went to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and Ukraine, assisting with the fallout and the restructuring. Recently, with what’s happening in the Crimea and Ukraine and with Russia, I keep wondering what he would think about it. What he would say if we sat down to have a discussion about it. He tried to sit down and have a very serious talk with me about economic policy in North Africa once, but I was seven, and very much not interested.

The stuff sticks in my visual memory, and a lot of my emotional memory as well. When you’re little, you don’t think about the things your parents teach you, only what they give you. At least, not the things they teach you like patience, awareness, curiosity. There is one very tangible thing that Grandpa taught me: when I was going off to college and applying for my student loans, he sat down with me and went over every detail of how they worked, what words meant, what my repayment schedule would be, and why these particular loans were better over, say, those other ones the company offered. Not only did he give me this education, the gravity and the intensity with which he did it impressed upon me how important this was to do. Both because these were serious decisions, but also (I was 18, and still very impressionable) that this was something a Serious Adult did, and I wanted very much to be a Serious Adult like Grandpa. I still do, really. A little while ago I was looking over my mortgage paperwork, because my property taxes had gone up (amazing what buying a historically old, previously unlived in house will do for neighborhood values) and things needed to be adjusted accordingly, and I read the whole paper. Both sheets, both sides. And again, and a third time, until I understood each part of it. This was, I think, the day after I got the call. And I smiled, realizing that this was something very important he’d given me, this knowledge and the awareness of how it could be used to make one’s life better. I cried a little, too, as you do. A happy-sad moment.

And something that I only realized recently, I think I must have gotten my global curiosity from my grandfather. It was his job that took him and my grandmother and my mother and aunts and uncle overseas, first to Spain, then to Chile. It was his job that took him all over the world and gave him stories to take back to his tiny granddaughter of ,far-off, very different places. It was his idea, I suspect, to take me and my cousin to London and Copenhagen for a holiday when I was twelve. Originally we were heading to Barcelona, but the Summer Olympics were held there that year and, heh. Wasn’t going to happen. His expertise helped me study and report on the rebuilding of the Japanese economy after World War II for a history class. I even think I still have some of those books. And his curiosity inspired me to look more globally, myself, albeit in a different manner.

The thing I remember, the thing that everyone I’ve talked to remembers about Grandpa, is that he was endlessly curious and unfailingly polite about it. He traveled to other countries and did the jobs he did for the World Bank because he genuinely wanted to help people, but not in the sense of having a rigid idea of what constitutes help, and forcing them to conform to it. Economic stability, food on tables and roofs over heads. I don’t remember him, ever, raising his voice in anger, and I don’t ever remember a time when he told me about some place that he’d come back from with anything less than specific, polite terms. Adult terms, newscaster terms. Textbook, or at least the kinds of textbooks one finds are meant to inform and not indoctrinate. His stories were full of “And there are these people over there, and they do these things because that is what they do, and they tell these stories and believe these things.” “Why?” “Well, because that is what they do and what they believe.” To him, the world was full of differences, and that made it wondrous. He was never afraid to ask a question or to be corrected, He never told me that these people over there were strange, or exotic, I remember that very clearly, or rather the absence of those concepts. Simply, these people live in this place. They call it this name. They call themselves by this name, and they do these things, and tell these stories.

And I grew up amidst all of this. Speaking two languages, then three, then suddenly being able to choose what I studied in college and wanting to study more about these far-off places with people who did different things, believed different things, told different stories. I wanted to learn all the stories and all the ways, just to know what they were. Sometimes to know why, but also just to listen and learn and enjoy the myriad ways people found to live. Until this last year I never gave much thought to where that came from, but all things considered, Grandpa must have been a hugely influential part of that. I decided to be an anthropologist, to be a historian, I wanted to do archaeology, but it was all the same manifestation of a deep-down desire to learn how other people do. And that came from Grandpa flying off for two weeks to places I could barely spell, countries smaller than my tiny seven year old finger finding it on a globe, and coming back with wonderful stories about how things were over there.

I didn’t, obviously, become an anthropologist. If I make any amount of money off of writing or whatever else I damn well intend to keep traveling, to visit other places, see other countries, meet new people. I continue to learn new languages so I can read other stories in their original words, because everyone’s stories are fascinating, and certainly there are more out there than I could hope to read in a lifetime.

Right now I’m just trying to get by. Travel is a long way off, except where it isn’t because I am going to Portland in two weeks. Other countries are even further off, except where I’m still studying a minimum of two languages per day, working on expanding my vocabulary in five or six. Simultaneously. Look, I never claimed to be rational. Finding my feet again in a world with Grandpa not in it anymore, with that part of my family gone from me for the rest of this lifetime, which is a bigger change than I generally like to think about. It’s been shaky. I keep thinking I should be doing better than this, and I keep underestimating the impact he had on my life and how much of a wound his death leaves behind. I keep thinking, Mom and my aunts and uncle are doing fine. Disregarding, of course, that I am fairly sure they think of me and my siblings and cousins as the little ones, in front of whom weakness is not to be shown. So, day by day. I still have the list of projects to get through, which are now three months, almost four, behind. Dime novels, stories. I, too, have stories to tell. And I do mean to tell them. I promise. Till then, day by day.

Sadistic Philosophy

I go “Holy Crap Some People” at least once a day. Some days it’s the “Holy Crap Some People” of disgust and anger and annoyance and down to outright rage, some days it’s sheer boggling at the things humanity or specific humans come up with, some days it’s even less quantifiable than that. Today’s HCSP comes via ThoughtCatalog, a website I don’t actually frequent but this blog entry has been popping up on my various media so often I thought I’d give it a look. Holy Crap. Some people…

(The title is “I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry” and that about sums up the entire contents.)

And I’m sure to some people it’s hilarious that I have this drawing back horrified cat gif reaction, because I am neither married nor do I have kids. Nor do I intend to get married, although the boy and I have been together for 11 years and hopefully will be together for many more, nor do I intend to have children, although I have never emphatically and permanently ruled out that possibility. I like children well enough, there are just Things I Want To Do. And that’s fine. My cousin, who’s around my age, is as far as I know even legally unmarried but has two children with his long-time girlfriend, and that’s fine too. By the time my mother was my age she had one child with another on the way and had been married twice, and that’s fine too. It’s all fine.

But why do I need to say that’s fine? Why is this at all a thing?

I don’t have strong opinions on what women should do because they are women. Sometimes I have strong feelings in a particular moment, then I settle back down into a more even keel of, well, not all women are able to do this/in a situation where this is necessary/feel like doing this, so people should do what they can and want to do. This is, by and large, my default setting, I’m sure it’s come through in other blog entries. I have strong opinions on some things! Democracy. Rape culture. Universal health care. What other people should do because they are $gender or $race or $religion or $FavoriteTVShow is not one of them. Life’s too short. I have two novels to get out of edits, a handful of dime novels to write, entries to blog, leather to craft, sewing to do, a day job to work, my wife to murder, and Guildor to frame for it. I really, really do not have time to worry about what people who are not me or anyone I depend on in large ways or small should or shouldn’t be doing. Amy Glass seems to spend at least a couple hours of one of her days worrying about what other women are doing and how they think of themselves. That’s fine. If she feels that’s important to her, she can spend the rest of her life telling women what a wife is and that they shouldn’t fall in love if they want to be at all successful. That’s her truth, to get back to some of my raised-by-hippies roots for a second.

So, Kitty, why the hell are you writing about it then? Because people read posts like this, and they believe it. They think less of themselves because they have fallen in love, because they have chosen to be a wife and mother and take care of a home rather than go out and get a career, and they believe that one choice is better than another. And that’s one of the things I do have strong opinions about. Your choices are your own, and my choices are my own, and the only choices I will feel bad about are the ones I have made in contradiction to my own inclinations. I have such strong opinions on this that I try to hold myself to it even when someone makes a choice I would strongly disagree with for myself, on things like sexuality or political stance. Choose to live your life and find love or a career or a family and children because you want it. Not because a blogger says falling in love and settling down with a partner is a lesser thing to do. And so should you.

There are bad choices, I’m not saying that there aren’t. You can choose to step into someone’s fist or duck or block, and out of those stepping into the first is definitely the worst. You can choose to spend all your money on boats and horses or you can choose to spend some and put away some for a rainy day, and one of those will definitely make you unhappy if it starts raining later. There are choices that will make sense in the long term and hurt now, and there are choices that feel good in the short term but you know you’ll regret later. And then there are choices that make no difference to you essential health and comfort, that are yours to make, and no one else’s business.

I have a theory that people spend so much time worrying about other people’s choices because either they don’t know what it is they want, or because they have adopted someone else’s idea of what they should want for their own. In either case what they’ve chosen doesn’t fit, so they try to convince themselves that it does, voraciously, viciously, and with every tool they have available. They strike out in an attempt to justify themselves to themselves by making themselves the only acceptable form, and in doing so, reveal their desperation. It’s hard, yes, to figure out what you want in life. You can spend a lot of time making choices that don’t satisfy you, over an over again. But it’s worth while to find something that fulfills you, whether in the arts or in business or in the home or in a crowd or by yourself. Whether your life allows you to do it for a living and fill your days with things you enjoy, or whether you have to slog through days to pay the bills and spend only fragments of leisure time on something that is your choice, that makes you happy. It’s not lesser. It’s not a waste of time to do a thing that makes you happy, and you should not be looked down on it.

But choose for yourself, as much as you can. Don’t choose for others, and don’t allow them to choose for you. I have taken a quote from the Marquis DeSade’s letters on this point, and whatever the legacy of the rest of his writings, I hold true to this one: “My manner of thinking so you say, cannot be approved? Do you suppose I care? A poor fool indeed is he who adopts a manner of thinking for others! My manner of thinking stems straight from my considered reflections; it holds with my existence, with the way I am made. It is not in my power to alter it; and were it, I’d not do so. The manner of thinking you find fault with is my sole consolation in life; it alleviates all my sufferings in prison, it composes all my pleasures in the world outside, it is dearer to me than life itself.”