Shifting From Third to Second

Poe in her perch

No new reading material this week, so here is a photo of Poe in her element.

In reading news, I just finished Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, and it was magnificent. I now feel compelled to seek out the rest of the books in the series, as well as the rest of her writing in general.

I have also found myself thoroughly sucked into a re-read of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels, which I first read as they were released in the early 1990s through early 2000s. They are fun reads and definitely lighter than my usual fare, and I will probably skim through them much faster than I would through something opened for the first time. I enjoy seeing how much Salvatore’s writing improves as the series progresses. It’s also interesting to see how much the (viewed through the lens of a reader in 2020) cliches and tropes endemic to the genre thirty years ago change over time. I offer kudos to Salvatore for keeping his writing fresh over a long and productive career.

For my own writing, I am gathering notes to begin a novel and/or a series of stories based around a particular idea which can be explored in a wide variety of settings and genres. Or a setting which can be explored through a wide variety of ideas and genres. Like I said – gathering. Not organizing. When I begin my work in earnest I will post more specific comments.

In an effort to stay engaged in the book reader/writer/lover community I have started to regularly post to Instagram (@johnfromGR). I have never really engaged that platform in any meaningful way, though at first glance it seems much less toxic than Facebook and Twitter. Time will tell.

As the COVID-19 lockdown continues here in Michigan I can feel my life fraying at the edges. For the past month I have worked third shift, 12-hour days, four days a week, on a project at work. Starting tomorrow that will move to second shift, 10 hours a day, five days a week. This will last through the second week of June, at which point the project will end and I will rejoin the waking world, in whatever form that may be. As I said before, third shift was a whole lot easier when I was 21.

One of the unexpected benefits of my new schedule is a slow but steady loss of weight. I am not working out anywhere near as much as I usually do so I assume the change is from loss of muscle mass combined with only eating two meals a day, along with some healthy snacks. I don’t know if ongoing sleep deprivation also causes weight loss, but if so, I may have discovered a new diet regimen.

Poe Approves of Friday

Third shift is killing me. Fortunately we have a cuddly razor kitten. My twelve hour shift starts at 18:00. When it ends I won’t have to work again until Tuesday at 18:00. That’s less of a break than it sounds like, as about half of that time will be recovery from this week.

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.

Three Weeks of Poe

As of yesterday we have had Poe, our little Yooper ginger kitten, for three weeks. In that time she has gone from this:

…to this:

Out veterinarian say she is around five months old even though she is about as big as as three-month-old kitten. Or she was when we picked her up. Good diet, comfortable surroundings and lots of loving attention have turned her from a half-feral animal who hid in a bucket in our bathroom the first morning after her arrival, to the de facto ruler of the house, as all cat people will recognize.

I haven’t lived with cats in about fifteen years, and I have not “owned” a cat since the mid-1980s, and those were somewhat tame barn cats never allowed inside the house. So this is both a new experience and one with frequent spikes of nostalgia and deja vu.

She has adjusted well. She took to her litter box the first day and has had no accidents that we have found. She is wonderfully affectionate though still has the primal barn cat reaction to sudden loud noises or unexpected situations like my girlfriend or I changing our clothes. She is also still working on object permanence – a human being laying in a bed is fundamentally and ontologically different from that same human being walking around or sitting on the floor. And a human being sitting anywhere is an invitation to climb into a lap, which can be quite painful when the human in question is sitting on a cafe-height chair and the kitten in question has to climb the final bet because she can’t quite jump high enough to reach the lap in question in one motion.

So this experience has been absolutely wonderful so far, and we plan to keep Poe with us. We might even pick up a companion for her at some point.

Cats, I understand, do tend to accumulate.

My ConFusion 2020 Schedule

ConFusion 2020 will take place from Thursday, January 16 through Sunday, January 19, 2020. I am participating in two panels this year:

Title: Collaborating With Your Publisher On Book Promotion
Day/time: Friday January 17, 5:00 pm
Room: Maintou
Track: Pro
Panelists: Annalee Flower Horne (M), John Winkelman, Yanni Kuznia, Suzanne Church
Description: Most writers don’t know what book promotion is going to look like when they sign that first contract. What will the publisher do? What are they responsible for doing themselves? How do they best collaborate with their publisher on promotion to get the most out of their joint efforts? Is spending part of your advance on promo ever worth it? Do you need to worry about a publisher pulling back on promotion if they see you doing your own? And is it even possible for author promo to turn a book that’s not a lead title into a breakout success, or is that all just down to luck? Our panel of authors and publishing pros discuss the best ways for an author to drive sales of their trad pubbed book.

Title: Great Lakes and Inland Seas In Secondary Worlds
Day/time: Sunday January 19, 12:00 pm
Room: Isle Royale
Track: Literature
Panelists: Anthony W. Eichenlaub (M), Marissa Lingen, Phoebe Barton, John Winkelman
Description: It’s hard to really get a sense of the scale of the American Great Lakes if you’ve never stood on one of their shores. Those of us used to thinking of lakes as more akin to very large ponds are often surprised by the dunes, the waves, the wind, the distant horizon. Writers who know the lakes offer advice on how to incorporate great lakes and inland seas into our fantasy worlds–as a narrative setting, what separates lakes from oceans? What unique or surprising storytelling opportunities do lakes provide?

ConFusion 2019 Schedule

Next week I head across the state to attend ConFusion 2019. This year I will be participating in three panels, all on Saturday, January 19. Here they are:

  • AI for Better or Worse – There’s no doubt that Artificial Intelligence will play some part in our future, but is it good, bad, or both? Panelists will discuss the future of AI, some of its uses, and some of its dangers.
    • Time: Saturday, 19 January, 2019 – 13:00
    • Room: Warren
    • Panelists: Anthony W. Eichenlaub (M), John Winkelman, Derek Kunsken
  • Let’s Talk Season 2: Computer Science! – A lighthearted talk on a hard science topics with smart and funny people. Let’s Talk: Computer Science will chuckle through the collapse of society as we know it. Come hear how silicon makes better decisions than carbon, protons as data, why you don’t need to be Slytherin to study Python, and what we are going to do with the leisure time we will have in 2025.
    • Time: Saturday, January 19, 2019 – 16:00
    • Room: Warren
    • Panelists: Daniel Dugan (M), John Winkelman, Anthony W. Eichenlaub
  • If you liked that, try this! – Our well-read panel will give you personalized book recommendations based on things you’ve read and loved.
    • Time: Saturday, January 19, 2019 – 18:00
    • Room: Dearborn
    • Panelists: Merrie Haskell (M), John Winkelman, Andrea Johnson, Karen Osborne, Sarah Hans

Between now and then I am spending my free moments gathering books I hope to have signed by other attendees, and getting everything around home squared away so I can focus on enjoying the experience. Hopefully one year I will be able to sign books of my own.

Manuscripts and Tattoos

Recently I did a thing which I have planned for a long time, but never quite found the confluence of time, money and motivation to complete: I got a tattoo.

It’s a quote in a cursive Cyrillic typeface, reading “Рукописи не горят” (“Manuscripts don’t burn”) from the book The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. Nick, one of the artists at Mos Eisleys Tattoo Studio, did the inking.

“But John,” I can hear you say, “Why?”

Why, indeed.  Here are my thoughts on the subject, framed as a conversation with an imaginary me, a technique which I steal, with attribution, from one of my favorite writers, John Scalzi:

Why get a tattoo?

Short answer: ‘cause.

Full answer: I’ve been meaning to get a tattoo for a long time, probably a decade. Of the many ideas and impulses, few felt right for more than a few months or a year, which is not a great basis for getting inked.

Earlier this summer my girlfriend Zyra got her first tattoo, a traditional Filipino pattern done in the traditional style by Lane Wilcken, one of the very few practicing traditional artists in the world. Lane and Zyra invited me to participate in the tattoo ceremony, and I help stretch Z’s skin while Lane inked her leg. This experience tipped me over from “might” to “will,” and now I have a tattoo.

Why in Russian?

I was a Russian Studies major in college, and spent a semester studying in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. In that time and since I have read many book by many Russian authors. For a time in the early 1990s, I was nearly fluent. I have in my house dozens of books of Russian literature, poetry, plays, philosophy and artwork. Russia, or at least the literary parts of Russia, have been quite influential in my life for decades.

I don’t remember if I first read The Master and Margarita when I was in college, or after I graduated. I do know that I was not at all ready to be in the real world when I did graduate, so I immediately went to work at a local bookstore. There I had my fill of Russian literature. So it was sometime in the early to mid- 1990s.

In early 1994 my former Russian Studies professor, Christine Rydel, hunted me down and coerced convinced me to rejoin the RST program for a semester in Russia. During that trip I learned a great deal of Russian, drank an ungodly amount of vodka, and visited the studio of artist Andrei Kharshak (Андрей Александрович Харшак, see also), who had created a series of illustrations for an edition of The Master and Margarita published in Russia in 1994. I came home with two prints – one of Golgotha and one a sort of collage which includes a scattering of pages around a stove, echoing the scene where Satan, in the guise of Woland, tells the despondent Master “Manuscripts don’t burn.”

Over the intervening years Russian literature as an influence in my life has waxed and waned. With my (relatively) recent and (apparently) ongoing interest in literature in translation, Russian Lit is now ascendant. And with Russia influencing American politics, and thus the American zeitgeist, getting the tattoo in Russian just felt right.

Why that particular quote?

The quote, in context, appears at the beginning of the tenth line in the above photograph.

“Manuscripts don’t burn,” in the context of the book, carries the connotation that a work of art, once created, lasts forever. The Master’s book is censored by Soviet bureaucrats and he burns the manuscript. Later on, Woland and his entourage produce via sleight of hand the unharmed manuscript, stating “Manuscripts don’t burn.” The physical artifact may be destroyed, the artist may disown and disavow its existence, but for good or bad, a thing created cannot ever be un-created.

I find in this sentiment echoes of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, in these lines:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Once an act is performed, the universe is now one in which the act was performed. Or as Buddhists would put it, only our actions are permanent.

In a larger sense, Bulgakov wrote his book at a time when official government censorship (and censureship) prevented the publication of many works of art and literature. The Master and Margarita, written between 1928 and 1940, wasn’t published in full until 1967, and even then first in France. Yet Bulgakov persisted, and now The Master and Margarita is counted among the most important works of Russian literature.

Aren’t you kind of overthinking this whole tattoo thing?

Well maybe, but it’s a tattoo. It’s kind of permanent.

Permanent?

In the context of my corporeal existence, or at least that of my left arm.

Are you going to get another tattoo?

I think so. This was a great experience. Assuming time, money, health, etc., I will probably get at least one more before the end of the year. I have a few more ideas, and I have thought about them long enough that having more words on my skin will be neither impulsive nor disruptive. At least one will be on more visible skin.

Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for listening!

The Record of My Life

I have just added a “Published Work” page to this blog. You can access it through the main menu. It’s kind of threadbare at the moment, but with a little luck I will have some publications to add by the end of the year.

Most of my published work at present consists of editorials written for The 3288 Review, and around three dozen interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.