My First Time Off in Six Months

That’s right, oh my коты and котята: starting tomorrow I have two weeks off from work. This is my first real break since the Christmas holidays of 2019. I did have a couple of days off for ConFusion 2020 but that really wasn’t down time, as such. This will be two weeks of going to bed late, waking up late, drinking yummy drinks, spending quality time with my partner, and loads of reading and writing.

Of the left is the latest issue from The Boston Review, “The Right to be Elected”. On the right is issue 5 of DreamForge, the subscription to which I had accidentally let slip, so this is a sort of catch-up issue.

This past week, for the first time since late March, I was back on my regular morning schedule, which involves me getting up at cat-thirty in the morning to feed the Ricochet Kitten, then staying up and doing stuff instead of getting back into bed. I have made some headway on the story, but not enough as I am having difficulty getting a feel for my main character. I might just skip to chapter 2 and then fill in chapter 1 when I have built up some momentum. I have good ideas for the main plot and the shape of the story, but I haven’t yet developed the voice. That will come with practice, undoubtedly, and of course, as Hemingway put it, the first draft of anything is shit. Then again he also said that the hard part about writing a novel is finishing it, and I admit that between those two quotes I find it difficult to be encouraged.

This time of year I always feel a sort of restlessness, as we are just past the longest day of the year and already the days grow shorter though I did not have the opportunity to enjoy the slow walk to the solstice. Such are the tribulations of working second and third shift. The year is half-over and I have sat on the porch with my coffee, listening to the birds and bathed in the scent of blooming milkweed, exactly five times. I have not truly resented anything else about the state of the COVID world, but I resent this. My mornings are few and precious, and so many of them have been taken away from me. True, I have at least three more months where I will be able to sit on the porch in comfort, but goddammit, leave my simple joys alone!

My only goal for the next to week is to get down the first 10,000 words of the book. Once I have that, if past NaNoWriMo experience is any indicator, I should be good to go to the last page of the book.

Or maybe I’ll just sleep for a couple of weeks. I kind of need that too.

It Has Re-Begun

As the quote goes, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. The project from hell has returned for one more round. This time I will be on first shift, Monday through Friday, so I have my life back, if not my sanity. More important, I have my mornings back, when I can relax and have ample quiet time to read and write, plus or minus the attentions of one small orange cat.

On the left of the above photo is the new issue of the ever-superb Rain Taxi. In the middle is the anthology Where the Veil is Thin, a Kickstarter reward from a campaign run by Outland Entertainment. On the right is the anthology Hath No Fury, which is an add-on reward for that Kickstarter.

In reading news I just finished Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike. It was great! A wonderfully-written satire which would fit comfortably on a shelf with the Discworld novels or Terry Pratchett or the Myth Adventures by Robert Lynn Asprin. Between this and the previous read, The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang, I am completely sold on the quality and readability of the finalists and winners of the Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off. I just grabbed the e-book of the 2017 winner, Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes. I expect it will be every bit as good as the previous reads.

I still plan to start the real work of my own book this week, though with recent events, both work and otherwise, I am completely burned out and brain-dead, so I doubt I will make much progress. I have two weeks off after this week, so that should get me somewhat back on track though times being what they are, any such predictions are necessarily fragile.

 

It Is Done

At long last, after ten weeks of second and third shift work, fifty hours a week, the project from hell is done. I got out of bed around noon today after shutting down my workstation at 11:00 last night. I don’t remember the last time I was this tired, or burned out, or otherwise completely done with the world. Early February 2013 maybe, or mid-May 2009. Something like that. The difference here is that, other than the crazy work hours, it was not a negative or traumatic experience; simply a lot of work across a lot of hours at a time of day when I am usually asleep.

In the last ten weeks I have lost around 10 pounds, most of that muscle mass as far as I can tell, from the complete disruption of my workout schedule as well as the lack of sleep, which is now well into the territory where if it were being inflicted upon me by a government agency it would count as cruel and unusual punishment. Since it is instead being inflicted upon me by capitalism it is considered being a good employee and contributing member of the team.

The part of my life I have missed most, and which I most look forward to, is waking up before the dawn, after a good night of sleep, and practicing tai chi on the front porch, then relaxing with a cup or two of coffee and reading and writing as the world wakes up around me. Three hours of quiet time before work is the bare minimum to keep my head on straight, and I have not had that since there was still snow on the ground.

So here we are in the last full week of spring, as the days are just about as long as they will get before the night starts creeping in again, and now I get to start enjoying the warm weather.

Being well-rested and healthy will also certainly be of benefit to my relationship in any number of ways, not the least of which will be that when Z proposes that we do anything at all, I will feel something other than depressed and tired at the idea of having one more goddamn thing to think about. I look forward to looking forward to things again.

Only one shipment of books this week, from Zombies Need Brains LLC, a small indie publisher which runs an annual Kickstarter where they fund and call for submissions for a trio of anthologies of varying themes. This is the second of their Kickstarters I have funded. I submitted a story to the previous round of books, and though it was not accepted for publication they sent an encouraging rejection letter. So I will try again, if and as as I have time to write.

Speaking of writing, I have a steadily growing pile of handwritten notes for the book I plan to write this summer. The plot is coming together, as well as a couple of the primary characters – protagonist and antagonist. I like the feel of it – secondary-ish world fantasy, post apocalyptic; though with enough history in the world, everywhere and everything is post- some apocalypse or other. Or mid-, or even pre-apocalypse. Kind of like right now here in the real world.

In reading I am partway through Derek Künsken‘s book The Quantum Magician, and really liking it so far! I met Künsken at ConFusion a few years back, and his book has been gathering dust on my shelves until last week. Like the other small press and self-published books I have read this year, it is really good! I look forward to snagging the sequel sometime later this year.

Now off to get caught up with the world, which seems to have moved on without me over these past two and a half months.

Split

Oh, what a week it has been, with the fallout of the protest and following riot here in Grand Rapids. Note that those were two separate events with (mostly) two separate sets of people, with two entirely different agendas.

So it is appropriate that my birthday gift to myself arrived on my birthday – Schizo-Culture, a boxed set containing a facsimile of the journal Semiotext(e), volume III No. 2 from 1978 (The Book), and the papers from the Schizo-Culture conference on madness and prisons (The Event) sponsored by Semiotext(e), November 13-16, 1975, at Columbia University. I would have loved to attend, but I was six years old.

The list of writers, readers and panelists herein is breathtaking – Michel Foucault, William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, John Giorno, John Cage, The Ramones, and over three dozen others.

This kind of reading – decidedly leftist, decidedly intellectual, decidedly radical – puts my head in a good space for making sense of the utterly chaotic state of the world. In the past three months the COVID-19 lockdowns have increased the interpersonal and societal pressures to the point that the protests in response to the deliberate murder of George Floyd by police officers have spread around the world and show no sighs of diminishing or abating. Indeed they seem to be growing, if the news from Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. are any indication.

And I say it is far past time that the police and the police state were held to account for the increasingly right-wing, fascist state of this country, of which Donald Trump is both a symptom and an accelerant.

Given recent events and my own recent readings in capitalism – carceral and otherwise – and similar, these are timely books, and I expect many more such will come my way over the coming months.

My reading over the past week has been decidedly escapist. I am about two thirds of the way through Mike Shel‘s Aching God, a self-published fantasy novel about which I had doubts at the start, but how has me thoroughly hooked.

For writing, I am mostly journaling though when I can get my head in that space I continue to accumulate notes for the book I hope to write this summer. In fact for my birthday yesterday I wrote the first sentence, just because it seemed the thing to do.

This assumes that there will be a world left in which to publish a book when it is finished. We can but hope.

51

As of today, I am no longer 50. I am now “in my fifties”. These things tend to sneak up on a person. This post is a reflection on the past year, a sort of “what I did when I was 50” instead of “what I did before I was 50”.

My fiftieth year started on June 5, 2019, with a surprise party at Riverside Park coordinated by my girlfriend. Over a dozen of my closest friends showed up, and there was much cake and beer and whisky. It was wonderful.

A few weeks later, in July, Z and I flew to San Francisco for a week of food, walking, food, exploration, food, City Lights Bookstore and food. It was glorious! We stayed in the Warwick San Francisco, where we stayed in 2018 as well, and walked everywhere we could, and when we couldn’t walk, we caught one of the ubiquitous ride shares which account for approximately 10% of San Francisco traffic.

In late July, Z moved in with me, which was a first for us both. Fortunately neither of us have a lot of stuff, and I have a lot of storage space in my house. Once she settled in we enjoyed a couple of peaceful weeks before she returned to teaching. After almost a year of living together, everything is still going great! Even with the enforced close proximity due to the CoronaVirus lockdown, we still welcome and treasure each others’ company.

In September, the members of Caffeinated Press decided after five years to close down the company, and in late October we released our last publication, the twelfth issue of The 3288 Review.

In November I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the seventh year in a row, and hit 55,000 words with over a week to spare. I have the bones of a good novel, and individual chapters can easily be turned into standalone short stories. So I have a pile to work from for the foreseeable future. One of the few good things about having a terrible neighbor is that I always have something to write about.

In December, Z and I drove to the Upper Peninsula to visit her family, and came home with a small orange kitten we named Poe. She is absolutely the love of our life, cute and affectionate and playful and cuddly and with an impressive vocabulary. After almost twenty years without a cat in my life, I suddenly wonder if I could ever go back to a life without one.

At the beginning of 2020 I decided to make a concerted effort to get something published. Every morning, after morning workouts, I sat for at least an hour and wrote, or edited, or submitted work to the many magazines on the list I had compiled over the past several months. This lasted until approximately the end of March, when the world became suddenly chaotic.

In January 2020 I attended the annual ConFusion science fiction convention, where I volunteered for setup, spoke on a couple of panels, saw many old friends and made many new friends, and generally had a fantastic time. ConFusion is one of my favorite events of the year, and I am more than a little worried about how it will survive the current state of the world.

In March, the statewide CoronaVirus lockdown began. I started working from home and have been since then. The downtown office may reopen later this year, but I likely won’t see the inside of it until at least September. That same month the downtown Grand Rapids YWCA, where we hold our kung fu and tai chi classes, closed for the duration of the quarantine period. We moved to online Zoom classes and those seem to be going as well as can be expected though of course nothing is as good as in-person classes.

In April, for the first time in twenty years, someone published some of my unsolicited writing. Portage Magazine graciously included two of my poems in their 2020 issue, and I have been floating on air ever since.

Also in April I began a project at work which had me working some insane hours – 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, Tuesday through Friday, for a 48 hour work week. After a month of this the project was extended, and we moved to second shift, 2:00 pm to midnight, Tuesday through Saturday, for a 50-hour week. This is projected to go on for two more weeks, which means I will return to something like a normal schedule right around the first official day of summer. Without going into too much detail, though the work is important, the schedule sucks and I want my life back.

To add to the chaos, not long after I started the crazy hours, Z and I were practicing and she sprained her ankle quite badly. She is recovering nicely, fortunately, and hopes to be back to full function by Autumn.

This past weekend Z and I spent a few hours in downtown Grand Rapids, helping to clean up after an absolutely chaotic night of riots and vandalism when a group of agitators moved in after the Black Lives Matter march and protest rally. Nationalist hate groups had been planning this disruption, and whoever the final actors were, they made a mess of the city.

So there, in a nutshell, was my fiftieth year. It started wonderfully, and became gradually more chaotic as the world became gradually more chaotic. I would wish for my 51st year a return to normalcy, but there is no telling what normalcy will look like after the past four months. It certainly won’t look like it did at this time last year.

For the first day of my 51st year I have spent my spare moments loving my girlfriend and our cat, and donating to the various businesses, groups, and artists who have been hurt by the quarantine and the riots. I will likely continue this as long as there is a need, and I have funds available to do so. I have a good life, and the best thing I can do with it is offer my support to the world.

Maybe I’ll Build a Fort With My Books

Briefly – Top left is the latest issue of Jacobin magazine, the contents of which are more and more necessary every day as Trump-instigated and Trump-led fascism comes to increasingly dominate the national discourse. Next to it is Indigo by Ellen Bass, from a Kickstarter run by the extraordinary Copper Canyon Press. Third is the newest issues of Poetry magazine, which includes a poem by local poet and professor Todd Kaneko. And on the right is The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang, which I finished reading a little over a week ago. I ordered a copy of the paperback when I was about a third of the way through the e-book, as I wanted a physical copy should I ever attend a signing. It is just that good!

In writing news I am still gathering notes, research ans musings for the book I hope to begin when my hellish project at work ends in three weeks. In reading news I am a couple of chapters into Mike Shel’s self-published novel Aching God, which was a finalist for the 2018 SPFBO awards.

Some crazy shit went down here in Grand Rapids over the past couple of days, and seems set to continue for some time yet. The national guard has arrived and in addition to the quarantine/lockdown we are also under a 7 pm to 5 am curfew until Wednesday. I will create a separate post about everything so as to not mix and dilute narratives with my day-to-day life.