feelings and mental health, photography

what words work when the world is on fire

I don’t know the answer to that question, honestly.

I’m an American living as a permanent resident in Canada; I feel a bit like a goldfish in a cracked aquarium looking through the glass at another aquarium as it hemorrhages water.

I’ve got four separate blog posts drafts in my drafts folder about some incredible audio drama podcasts I have been following, and getting myself into the correct headspace to finish any of them is proving to be a real trial when every day I check the news and encounter another grim portent about COVID-19. I’m doing everything that a person can conceivably do to help flatten the curve: I’m working remotely, I’m washing my hands constantly, I think I’ve left my apartment twice since last Wednesday and then only to walk around the block for some fresh air. I spend a lot of time with my cats, and my husband, mourning the loss of a sense of normalcy while finding gratitude for the ugly truths about our society that this crisis has forced even the obscenely wealthy to confront. It’s been an emotional roller coaster, and it’s only been one week.

At the moment my key takeaway from this experience is that individualism and our society’s near-sighted fixation on individual wealth accumulation (“my money,” “my success,” “my net worth,” “my choice to choose my insurance,” “my company”) over the health and well-being of the collective is directly responsible for how unprepared we are to manage the spread of this pandemic. I knew it when the Federal Reserve hurled $500 billion into the markets and the Canadian stock market collapse made headlines, all while public health ministers and experts beg for more hospital beds, more ventilators.

It is all just so much. So much to take in, so much to process, so much to wrap my head around daily that I have been forced to limit my news intake, my engagement with social media discussions around COVID-19, to a couple times a day. The limits help; so does grounding myself in hugs from my spouse, in fussing over the cats, in doing what I can to check in with the people I love to make sure they have what they need, in meeting those needs where I can and showing empathy when I can’t.

This all leaves me with so little strength and energy for creativity. But writing my way through trauma has always been my best means of coping with the long-lasting consequences of that pain, and I need it now more than ever before to help process this overwhelming sensory and psychological experience. And I would like to help others do the same.

So, if you want to, if you feel able to: please share with me some piece of writing, of art, of some kind of creative work, that you feel most proud of. It can be a story, a poem, a knitted shawl, a photograph of your cat, of your breakfast–I don’t care what form it takes so long as the making of it made your imagination sparkle a little bit, and the finished product brought you some joy.

Here, I’ll go first: photographs of my cat’s toes.

Take care of yourselves, friends.

quick picks, recommendations

recommendation: robin husen’s “half-men of the night marie”

Listen at PseudoPod 691: Half-Men of the Night Marie, February 28, 2020. Audio recording by Escape Artists Inc. licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Three half-men in a lifeboat drifted on the methane sea.  Her ship’s name, Night Marie, was written on the stern like a tombstone.  The ship, along with the rest of her crew, had sunk thirty hours before sunset. Sparks, the ship’s half-boy, crouched in the bows, his ears still ringing with the sound of screams, though the sea had long since swallowed them up.  Hobb, the mate, lit the lanterns.  Beyond their circle of light, the darkness was total, as though they sat inside a bubble in a well of ink.

“Well,” Hobb said, at length. “We shouldn’t have thrown old Creeping Jack overboard, that’s what I say.”

There are people in this haunting nautical nightmare who should have been thrown overboard, of course, but their presence is inferred rather than overt. The company, and the company men, who built the bodies the half-men wear and designed them to be disposable. Consumable.

But of course they’re absent until it doesn’t matter anymore, because their presence would shatter our suspension of belief. Why would they be present to witness the brutal consequences of their mindless pursuit of profit?

Yesterday’s poem from Dim But Bright Poetry seems apt, somehow.

Doesn’t matter the material composition of the skull, or whether the skin was yours through birth or artificial construction, or whether the thoughts course through circuits or synapses. Some things are yours, and are not capital, no matter what a shareholder says.

Scrap metal lived in the belly of the company ship. Sparks lay strewn about and shuddered by engines.  He felt like a star in the dark.

I trust you’ll burn them all to ashes one day, Sparks. That’s what stars do.

site updates

various and sundry housekeeping

Some updates to the site:

  • rearranged some of the navigation on the home page because it was driving me bonkers, but more importantly:
  • top-level navigation pages for horror and weird fiction podcast recommendations (“the radio”), including links to specific stories! In time the drop-down menu will be expanded to include audio drama and some other stuff that feeds the brain goblins lurking in my brain swamp

if you feel so inclined you may also check out my Ko-fi page, where I am hoping to make my words work for me enough to afford a better camera for stalking unsuspecting urban wildlife.

it is a sunny and yet bitterly cold day here in Toronto, but it is also Friday, and that is worth a bit of celebration.

quick picks, recommendations

quick pick: “hello, ello,” by seanan mcguire, _huntsvillain_, by john o’brien

Truthfully I don’t have the time or the bandwidth to write in-depth commentary on all the stuff that has snagged my interest, and I’ve got this sneaking suspicion that my tiny cohort of readers also don’t have the time or bandwidth to devote to one blogger’s commentary. But I want to write about stuff I like! And the stuff I like is pretty cool.

Hence, new category: quick picks.


“Hello, Hello,” by Seanan McGuire

What is it?
A podcast version of the short story “Hello, Hello,” originally published in Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft.
What’s it about?
Language, communication, parenthood–and birds. A computational linguist is befuddled by the speech, appearance, and uncanny behaviour of an unknown woman’s avatar on the neural network system she uses to communicate with her sister, Tasha.
What’s so good about it?
Beautiful authorial voice and exploration of both animal and human behaviour.
Where can I find it? Lightspeed Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine.


Huntsvillain, by John O’Brien

What is it?
An extremely well-researched and outrageously funny history blog about the state of Alabama.
What’s it about?
In the author’s own words, “short bursts of hilarity from Alabama’s otherwise miserable history.”
What’s so good about it?
In addition to being written by a very good friend, Huntsvillain is an honest and unapologetic look at the history of my home town and home state. It will gift you with more knowledge than you ever realized you wanted about what marriage and divorce looked like during the 1800s, and a scholarly examination of just what lead John B. Haynes to rip apart a local silversmith’s cabin, log by log, with his bare hands.
Where can I find it? Right here–> Huntsvillain


Office friends to hold me accountable. maybe.

writing

can’t believe I just wrote a poem about records management

In the doldrums of mid-morning and beneath fluorescent lamplight
I have my monitors for company and my task list for accountability.

Here is the work my skill set chose for me--to speak truth to power
Through calculated risk factors, regulations and best practices,
Records schedules, classification schemes that valuate a virtue,
That we are--or ought to be--transparently, precisely what we purport ourselves to be,
And where we fall short, see our path towards compliance
(Which is, to me, just another word for integrity).

See it all here,
Reviewed, proof-read, documented with secondary sources
Prepared to be presented, read, categorized and ignored;
Watch power lay the foundation for my future failure
And, in the same breath, thank me for my continued service.

Idealism in this profession has a short shelf life in spirit
If not shored up early by stubbornness and grit.

constructive deconstruction, feelings and mental health

“what do you do with the mad that you feel?”

/arrives 2 years late with Starbucks and The Big Questions, how’s everybody been, etc.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately–mostly because I’ve been mad a lot*, about one thing or another, and have felt 1) completely unable to change my circumstances, and 2) guilty about feeling mad in the first place. Which is ludicrous because feeling anger is a natural thing, particularly when there is lots happening in the world to be angry about, but even stating the obvious doesn’t make the guilt go away.

Someone cleverer than me could come up with a proper way to segue into discussing Mr Rogers here, but that clever person isn’t me.

If you haven’t seen what is by now a viral video of Fred Rogers (yes, the Fred Rogers) defending the value of PBS on the US Senate floor, you can find a decent quality version of the footage here on YouTube. But even removed from the context of defending the role of public television in the United States, the video has a lot to say about emotional and mental health, and the importance of talking to children about their feelings from a young age.

Here’s the first quote from his testimony before the committee that gets right to the point:

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?

Like… what a wise and good and simple thing to ask a child. (Or an adult.) To make this extremely personal for a moment, I cannot help but wonder what my adolescence, teenage years, and early adulthood would have looked like, had an informed adult had the patience and foresight to walk me through the layers of meaning in these questions. Because there’s a drastic difference between asking a child to explain the feelings that precede their behaviour, versus only addressing the behaviour. What a difference it would have made in the life of child!me to be armed with tools for solving the dual problems of “why am I feeling this way?” and “what should I do about it?”

It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:

I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.

Fred Rogers, May 1 1969

Acknowledgement of the anger, empowerment to choose how to respond to that anger, and taking ownership and responsibility for the choices we make in how to express that anger–that’s a pretty powerful message for anyone to take in at any age. I’m not ashamed to admit that, after 3 decades of navigating the emotions of both myself and others largely through the power of intuition, I’m just now learning how to accept the existence and experience of anger in myself and in others, rather than viewing the feeling as something inherently shameful or dangerous.

…and I suppose this emotional milestone felt significant enough to interrupt (end?) my hiatus on this blog. Hi, everyone–hopefully I’ll be seeing a bit more of you in the near future.


* all of my feelings about various things are being managed, please don’t worry. …but you have to admit that the world is an upsetting place at the moment, and having Feelings about it is kind of to be expected. because y i k e s.

the creative process

absence and guilt: get up and go

I’ve convinced myself I’m somehow accountable to my readers for the time I spent not working on this blog, or my projects, over the last several months. I’m well aware of my tendency to project my own negative opinions about myself and my work ethic onto the feelings of others, which is an irrational tendency that 1) hamstrings my productivity, and 2) turns me into a really unpleasant person to be around. So, having at least gotten the impulse out there in the open and called it for what it is, I’ll try to own it and keep it from derailing my future plans for this blog.

Time to get back on track and post the good stuff:

IMG_0359
…you mean you don’t come here for pictures of my cat? (March, 2017)

What I’ve Accomplished

Time to take note of this stuff in bullet point form:

  • I participated in NaNoWriMo ’16! While I didn’t win, I did manage to contribute 18,097 new words to an ongoing space opera draft I have been toying with off and on since October of 2013 (affectionately dubbed New Persepolis). By the end of November, I was sitting at a wordcount total of 33,940 words, and the process it took to get to that point taught me so much about the characters I was playing with, and the world(s) that they inhabited. I don’t know if I will finish that particular incarnation of the story, but the world and characters themselves are so dear to me that I know I’ll come back to it at some stage, if only for my own edification.
  • After NaNoWriMo, I longform outlined the first half (or, potentially the first third) of an urban fantasy novel, heavily utilizing Scrivener’s notecard functionality to make moving parts from chapter to chapter much easier. This urban fantasy novel is one I touched on briefly in September of last year, but since then it has taken on considerably more breadth and scope. This outlining process is one I used when planning New Persepolis, and it’s helped me get the barest bones version of my idea down into a document, instead of turning the thoughts over and over in my head without generating any words. The story itself, still without a working title, is cumbersome with many moving parts; when it has frustrated me, I have instead turned my attention to fic.
  • Courtesy of Audible.Com, I’ve managed to listen to eight more books since November of last year. Maybe a small thing to feel pleased or proud of, but my work schedule and other obligations make finding time to read so difficult now that I really value my time spent on the subway and bus listening to my books in the mornings and evenings now.

What’s Happening Now?

Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s what.

Here’s the synopsis for my story-thus-far:

An inter-dimensional time traveler on the run from the god who is infatuated with him. A newly minted and certified archivist stepping into the shoes of his predecessor, who discovers that fulfilling his life’s dream is not all it’s cracked up to be. The unlikely convergence of these two lives could change not just their worlds, but all worlds that have ever been, and ever will be.

This is a story about love, consent, obedience–and God. Possibly even your God.

Are you interested? I hope you’re interested. Because I’m pretty dang stoked to start this piece of purely self-indulgent fantastical fiction.

To prepare, I’m sticking with prep that I know works (for me): an outline and some character vignettes. Whether I choose to share some of those here in the future or not is TBD, but I will keep you all posted.

In the meantime–time to make sure the radio still works on this thing. It’s been collecting dust.


The Radio:

  • Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1), by Diana Wynne Jones. Narrated by Jenny Sterlin.

    This one has been on my list since I first watched the iconic Hayao Miyazaki film/anime adaptation of the novel back in 200-somethingsomething, and the story absolutely captured my imagination. I will say that the movie is a pretty stark departure from the source material, but it is easy to see shades of Miyazaki’s Howl and Sophie in the characters that inspired them. I suspect that folks who love the Studio Ghibli version of these characters may be a bit disappointed, but I’ve personally enjoyed getting into Sophie Hatter’s head.

daily living, photography

a strange and bittersweet time.

I am an American living abroad in Canada. My absence over the past few weeks has been due in no small part to emotional stress brought on by many life changes: turning thirty, the recent general election back home, and of course preparation for NaNoWriMo, which is well underway now.

Did I mention that, in the midst of all this, my partner and I signed a lease on a lovely midtown Toronto apartment together? That happened, too. And, of course, the demands of my challenging day job continue to occupy me.

uoft_autumn_2016
The view down the street where I work. Autumn is lovely in Ontario. (November, 2016.)

So that’s my life at the moment:  the very good, the very bad, and the very beautiful. And a daily wordcount deadline. This NaNoWriMo, I’m so far sitting at 10,094 words. Not too shabby, if I don’t say so myself.

And as always, there’s good stuff on the radio.


Listening to:

  • Golden Fool: Book 2 of the Tawny Man trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Narrated by James Langton.
  • “Russian Folklore: I Pity the Fool,” Ep 49 of the Myths and Legends Podcast.