Summer Done Gone

This is a photo of Poe sunning herself in a west-facing window, atop a pile of curtains which coincidentally are the same color she is. Maybe she thinks I can’t see her. That would explain why she attacked my hand when I reached down to scritch her.

We had our first truly cold nights this week, with lows in the upper 30s, Fahrenheit. We have managed to not yet turn on the furnace, but those days are coming to an end. Fortunately the rest of the month looks to be bright and sunny during the days which means my big old house will store enough heat to last us through the longer nights.

No new books arrived this week, which is happening more regularly as I regulate my book-buying habits, what with a global pandemic and employment uncertainty bringing to the forefront of my attention the necessity of frugal behavior.

In reading news I finished Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow which left me feeling rage, sadness, depression, despair, and a sullen bitterness about the entrenched sadism which is one of the keystones of the American psyche. TNJC, along with Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism, and the first few essays from Captivating Technology, have me further convinced that complete prison abolition is the only equitable response to the overwhelmingly racist (by deliberate intent and design) carceral state which is one of the central, defining characteristic of American society here in the post-Civil War USA.

Anyway.

To cool my brain, I am reading Dyrk Ashton‘s magnificent Paternus: War of Gods, which brings to a close the Paternus trilogy which Ashton began with Paternus: Rise of Gods. I am a little over a third of the way through, an I am getting to the point where I may need to take half a day from work in order to get through the rest of the book, because I seriously don’t want to put it down. Ashton’s work is just that good!

On a related note, Dyrk has a Kickstarter running right now to print the second book of the series, Paternus: Wrath of Gods, in hardcover. In addition to being excellent reads, the artwork for the books is gorgeous and the books as physical artifacts are well worth owning.

In writing news, I ended the week just shy of 25,000 words in my work in progress. I have the current scene all sketched out and the first few hundred words written, but I hit a minor bout of writer’s block which, rather than trying to muscle through, I sat back and let it run its course and accepted that it might leave me a little shy of my goal for the month of 40,000. Better a blown deadline than burning myself out doing something I love. I can always make up the word count, and the schedule and deadline are mostly arbitrary, beyond that I would like to complete the first draft before November 1.

If you are curious, here are some of the things I am researching as I write my book:

labyrinths, memory palaces, traditional martial arts training techniques, phytoremediation, river ecologies, genetic engineering, mantras, mudras, mysticism, resonant frequencies, resource depletion, peak minerals, repressed memory, symbiosis, salvage, biomaterials, ceramics

With a little luck, when strung together by a narrative framework, it will make a good story.

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.

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.

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?