Seven Weeks In

No new books arrived this week, so here is a post about my life under quarantine.

It’s been approximately seven weeks  since Governor Whitmer issued the first of her executive orders to begin the Great Coronavirus Lockdown of 2020. And, it scarcely needs to be said, things are strange.

Two weeks after the lockdown began, my girlfriend sprained her ankle while we were working out. She has been in an air cast for the whole month so far, and due to her limited mobility all of the household chores have fallen in my lap. This wouldn’t be a problem, except I am in the second week of a new project at work which has me working third shift four days a week, 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. This project is projected to run to the end of May, by which time I suspect I will have regressed to being able to communicate only by grunts, gestures, and tactical odors.

I haven’t worked third shift since I was 22, and that nearly killed me. Of course that was assembly line work in a factory, and this is computer work sitting in my home office. But I am 50 now, and sleep, always in somewhat short supply, is suddenly an exceedingly rare commodity.

The Grand Rapids YWCA, where I teach and practice kung fu and tai chi, has been closed down since mid-March. Our senior instructor Rick has put together Zoom classes which are surprisingly well-attended, which is encouraging. I have not been able to attend these classes since (of course!) they take place during my new work hours. I do what I can to practice on my own, and my girlfriend is slowly adding the various exercises to her daily practice as she heals, but so much of class is person-to-person training that I can feel myself growing slower and weaker by the day.

I can feel myself…aging.

Another casualty of the stay-at-home order is our kitten Poe, who is tired of having humans around all the time, and is deeply confused by having at least one mobile and interactive person around 24 hours a day. Usually she has the nights to herself, but now she can come in and knock over plants in my office into the wee hours of the morning. Our preferred method of discipline is a spray bottle, so Poe spends a not insignificant portion of the day being slightly damp.

I expect that when the extended stay-at-home order expires in three weeks Poe will undergo similar confusion and trauma, except in reverse. She is already showing signs of separation anxiety when we close the bedroom door in order to save our toes from random attacks in the middle of the night. Once Z and I head back to remote work our poor Poe Kitten will be bouncing off the walls. So, a lot like now, but will different subtext. And no audience.

Z and I are cooking a lot more, which is wonderful since Z is a virtuoso and she is keeping us very well-fed. I pitch in when and were I can, mostly breakfast and various snacks. Z is using this as an opportunity to practice her recipes and I have been the eager tester and grateful recipient of the results of her work.

Surprisingly, I have more time to read since so many of the events and responsibilities which take me out of the house are currently on hold. And though the influx of new books has slowed to a trickle I am placing regular orders with our remarkable local independent bookstore Books and Mortar, the owners and employees of which are doing a stellar job of keeping West Michigan supplied with reading material in these uncertain times.

So here we are. Two more weeks of lockdown and five more weeks of third-shift insanity. Z is healing and growing stronger by the day as Poe and I slowly go feral.

The world will look much different in June than it did in March.

Publication Announcement: Portage Magazine

I am overjoyed to announce that Portage Magazine has just published two of my poems in their 2020 issue. You can read “Afternoon Traffic” and “Percussion” on their website, as well as the rest of the excellent collection published by this gem of a journal.

These are the first poems I have had published since 1999. This is also the first unsolicited work which I have had published since 1999, when I placed in the 1999 Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition and was subsequently published in that year’s issue of Voices.

I became aware of Portage Magazine when I was looking for possible venues for submission. There are of course thousands of outlets for poetry but that doesn’t mean a specific outlet is right for a specific poem. Since I am a Midwesterner, and therefore a Midwestern writer, I tried to use certain keywords to filter the lists from Poets & Writers, Duotrope, and other lists, but that still left several hundred possibilities. So I abandoned all of that and simply looked through the author bios of the 12 issues of The 3288 Review which Caffeinated Press published over the past five years, and wrote down the venues which had also published the poets which we had published. That left a much more manageable list, and Portage Magazine was right there in the middle of it all. And they do a very good job of publishing and promoting their authors.

Thank you for reading!

Municipal Existentialism and Ricochet Kittens

[I meant to post this yesterday, but kitten.]

The lockdown and associated overabundance of attention are beginning to wear on Poe who, in response, is beginning to wear on the humans here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey.

Fortunately for the non-felid cohort here, the books continue to accumulate. On the left is Stan’s Kitchen, a limited edition collection of short works from Kim Stanley Robinson, published by NESFA Press and distributed by Subterranean Press. I was lucky to get one of the very last ones, as after the run sold out (which, as far as I can tell, took about four hours) a few more were added and I was lucky enough to see the notice as soon as it was posted. Thus a new book!

On the right is N.K. Jemisin’s new novel The City We Became, which is about the souls or anthropomorphic personifications of the great cities of the world. I’m about 120 pages in, and this book is magnificent!

On a related note, I feel a sense of, I don’t know, call it kismet, or deja vu, or something of the kind, because during National Novel Writing Month in November 2017 I wrote the first draft of a novel I called Vicarious City, which was about the anthropomorphic personification, the genius loci, of Grand Rapids. And given when The City We Became was released, it is likely that Jemisin was writing her book when I was writing mine. I guess there was a particular energy in the air at the time.

I love coincidences like this!

My story was inspired by a few things – issue 51 of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic (“A Tale of Two Cities”) , Bruce Sterling’s novel Zeitgeist, Benedict Anderson’s book Imagined Communities, the character Map from the Hellblazer comic, the spirit from Paul Bowles’ short story “The Circular Valley” and the various genii loci from Roger Zelazny and Megan Lindholm’s novel Donnerjack. And in a larger and more subtle sense, this idea as presented by Alan Watts:

Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.

Maybe my novel will see the light of day in some form, but in the meantime I am delighted to read Jemisin’s book. She has a presence, and an aesthetic, and a sense of empathy and justice which makes her work compelling and readable in the highest degree.

In other reading news, I finished Ferret Steinmetz’s wonderful The Sol Majestic, and it makes me want to spend the day wandering a food-centric city in his company, talking about cuisines and words and the synchronicities which can be found therein.

I will likely have another post sometime this week, regarding some writing news, but for now, time to prep for work.

Books to Ride Out the Lockdown

It’s not that I am unused to spending days at a time inside without seeing another human being. It’s just that I am used to doing it on my own terms. In any other year I would be out stomping the trails at all of the parks within a hundred miles of my house. This year? Not so much.

I finally have my schedule settled in so that I have more concentrated reading time, which is good because the books, they just keep coming in.

On the left is the latest edition of Pulphouse. In the middle is a gorgeous illustrated novel from Deep Vellum Publishing, Above Us the Milky Way by Fowzia Karimi. On the right is the new book from Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology, which is a companion volume to his magisterial Capital in the Twenty-First Century. At over 1,100 pages it will take a few days to read, I think.

I am finally back in my reading groove. In the past week I have finished William Gibson’s Neuromancer (a re-read), David Walton’s The Genius Plague, Rita Indiana’s Tentacle, China Mieville’s The Last Days of New Paris, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Alchemist. It was a binge, and it was wonderful! I have since started The Sol Majestic by Ferret Steinmetz, and am browsing at random Jim Harrison’s collected nonfiction Just Before Dark.

My writing in the past month and more has fallen completely by the wayside though I have jotted down a few ideas for poems.

I feel pressure to pack the spare moments with simple pleasures. Starting tomorrow, and likely to extend through the end of My, I will be on a project in which I will be working four twelve hour days a week, 6 pm to 6 am. I haven’t worked third shift since I was 21, and that nearly killed my, though it was only for about six weeks as well. Then again, that was in a factory for minimum wage, and this will be sitting in my home office for substantially better pay.

Such is the exciting life of a developer.

 

What I Read in March 2020

I had such high hopes for March. As it turns out, existential dread and uncertainty are not conducive to good reading habits. Much easier to watch and re-watch and re-binge the myriad television shows on the various streaming services. There was one high point though – I have re-immersed myself in the writing of Roger Zelazny, who was one of the first writers whose work made me also want to be a writer. I think Zelazny and Douglas Adams (of course!) were the biggest influences on lighting in me the creative urge which, though it is not as consistent as I would like, has never gone away.

Hopefully April will provide a little more stability, or at least consistency (predictability?) around which to rebuild my reading schedule. If not, look for more short lists, and perhaps a list of those lists, in order to track them.

  1. “Fair Game” – Dick, Philip K. (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol. 3)
  2. “The Hanging Stranger” – Dick, Philip K. (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol. 3)
  3. “The Venus Effect” – Hill, Joseph Allen (The Long List Anthology, vol. 3)
  4. “Rain” – Shalamov, Varlam (Kolyma Stories)
  5. “By Design” – Sestanovich, Clare (The Paris Review #232)
  6. “This Mortal Mountain” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  7. “Auntie Han’s Modern Life” – Tam, Enoch (That We May Live)
  8. “Zombie Capitalism” – Buckell, Tobias (Vice)
  9. “The Man Who Loved Faioli” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  10. “Angel, Dark Angel” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  11. “The Hounds of Sorrow” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  12. “The Window Washer” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  13. “The Eve of Rumoko” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 4)

Poetry at the End of Days

Ugh. That was a week. The project I have been on for the past month crashed and burned, and I had the delightful and familiar experience of being thrown under the bus. Such is the life of a developer. The project manager was a good sort – smart, driven, creative, good ideas, but really bad with organization and communication. Thus the current view from under the bus.

A nice collection of reading material arrived this week, a combination of subscriptions, an online order, and a delivery from our superb local bookstore Books and Mortar.

On the left is the new issue of Poetry. Next to it is autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist by Monica Teresa Ortiz. On the top right is Kristin Chang’s collection Past Lives, Future Bodies.

Bottom row left is Palestine+100, a companion volume to Iraq+100, which I picked up a year or so ago. These are collections which imagine what the respective countries will be like 100 years from the catastrophic events which befell them, in the case of this book, the nakba in 1948. Lower middle is Barn 8 by Deb Olun Unferth, and bottom right is Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy. These last two are the latest from my subscription to And Other Stories.

My girlfriend and I have adjusted to the new reality of both of us being home all the time and not being able to get out and walk around due to her recently-sprained ankle. We both have personal projects to keep us occupied, and house and kitten do take a lot of maintenance to keep them livable.

Speaking of kitten, Poe has been with us for just over three months. I think we will hit the 100 day mark on Friday, which will probably warrant its own blog post. Poe is a treasure, and her presence in the house is a wonderful stress reliever, even when she wants to be fed and entertained at 5:00 a.m. At this moment she is laying in my lap cleaning herself, sprawled across my left arm and partially tucked under my laptop. She is just too cute for words.

This past week I only read random bits of things, nothing meaningful enough to blog about. Likewise with the writing. The combination of existential uncertainty, coupled with the significant disruption to the daily routine, has diminished my ability to focus on what needs to be done. Even editing old work takes more mental energy than I currently have available.

But spring is here and the days are longer, warmer and brighter, and though the amount of time I have available hasn’t really changed, deep down in my bones I feel more energized.

The Marchest March that Ever Marched

Well that was a hell of a month. Not much read, not much acquired.

On the left is the new issue of Dreamforge, which tends to the hopeful and uplifting, which is much needed here in the Nth week of the quarantine. On the right is The Ides of Octember, A Pictorial Bibliography of Roger Zelazny. I picked this one up as a companion to the six-volume Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny. In the middle are the rewards from Dyrk Ashton‘s Kickstarter to release a hardcover version of his wonderful book Paternus: Rise of Gods. Dyrk is one of the first people I met once once I became a regular attendee at ConFusion. He is an excellent writer and a wonderful human being. He opened my eyes to the vast world of self publishing, which I admit I had not paid much attention to. The opportunities there are boundless.

In reading, not much has happened lately. I am still working my way through Rita Indiana’s wonderful Tentacle. I also pulled Thomas Piketty‘s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Sheldon Wolin‘s Democracy Incorporated off the shelf and am about a chapter into each. In particular I can only handle a little of the Wolin at a time, as I find myself beset by fits of rage about once a page.

As for writing, I haven’t accomplished much since the early parts of March. Too many distraction and an increasing number of vicissitudes have kept that part of my brain too occupied and distracted to put anything meaningful on paper. In any event, once we come out the other side of the other side of the COVID-19 season, I expect the world, publishing and otherwise, will look much different than it did a month ago.