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.

The Long Tail of August

No new books arrived at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week, so here is a photo of Poe, sunning herself on the porch in the early morning of August 12.

Now that I am on a normal work schedule for the first time since late March, I have fully re-immersed myself in my morning routine, which looks something like this:

  • get out of bed when Poe wants food and attention, but in any event no earlier than 5:00 and no later than 5:30
  • feed the ricochet kitten
  • meditate, chi kung exercises, stretch, calisthenics, tai chi practice,etc
  • play with Poe
  • write until approximately 8:15
  • eat breakfast
  • if my partner is still in bed, go up and cuddle until around 8:45
  • log in for work at 9:00

If I stay focused, this gives me a solid 90 – 120 minutes of writing time, five days a week. I can’t say I necessarily spend all of my dedicated writing time actually writing, though I do try to stay focused. The current state of the world makes for a very fragmented and short attention span.

I finished this week with approximately 8,300 words written in my book. I had hoped to hit 10,000 total yesterday, but let myself get caught up in the shitshow of the world as represented in social media. It was like the opposite of writing – not only did I not write, the experience prevented me from writing after I had put my phone down. What I really wanted to do was walk around the block or neighborhood or city for a few weeks, but it was just too hot.

A comment on a post on Instagram turned me on to a series of videos which Brandon Sanderson has posted to YouTube – his 2020 Creative Writing lectures at Brigham Young University. These lectures are a gold mine! Sanderson is a brilliant writer with many years of experience, and his advice and lessons are spot-on. The advice has been a big help, and one lecture in particular, where Sanderson brought in guest speaker Mary Robinette Kowal to talk about short stories, has some of the best advice for writers I have found anywhere. Now I want to go back through all of my short story rough drafts and re-write them all with reference to these videos. It would certainly be worth the time.

Now the weather has turned and last night was the first comfortably night for sleeping in many days. So even though I only got about four hours of sleep (though given the realities of this year I should be celebrating the fact that I got four hours of sleep), I woke up refreshed and energized for excellent outdoor classes in tai chi and kung fu.

In reading, I finished one more of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms book, The Ghost King, and can now put all of that behind me for the next few months and focus on nonfiction, poetry, and genre fiction books which feature characters not named Drizzt. I am still working my way through Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and as night-time reading I recently started Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is lush and beautiful and heartbreaking and disturbing and I am only two chapters in so far. For interstitial reading I pulled from the shelf San Francisco Beat: Talking to the Poets, a collection of interviews with beat poets edited by David Meltzer. As I said to my partner, the interviews make me want to go back to San Francisco, but to go back to San Francisco circa 1968, if such a thing were ever possible. I suspect that if I do return to San Francisco, it will be closer to 2022 than 1968.

If we still live in a world where such travel is possible.

 

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.

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.

Liminal Kittens and the Decades of April

As far as months go, April 2020 wasn’t the absolute worst ever, but it was right up there. My third-shift project and the COVID-19 disruption of the world has left me in a mental and psychological space where the days are undifferentiated and blur together into an indefinite now and the hours disappear in a blink but the weeks last forever. Z continues to improve from her sprained ankle and with the warmer weather we are able to spend more time outside which, even if we almost never leave the property, is a huge improvement over being stuck in the house all day.

I’m still in something of a lull in book acquisitions, but the page of new reading material never fully stops. On the left is Tobias Buckell’s novella The Executioness, published by Subterranean Press. I picked it up after I read its companion volume, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Alchemist (also from Subterranean Press) and realized that I was missing half of the story.

On the right is a new anthology of short stories from Atthis Arts, Community of Magic Pens. This is from a Kickstarter campaign run by E.D.E. Bell, who I know through volunteering at ConFusion. She and her team have turned out quite an impressive collection of anthologies, and are doing a great service to the writing and reading communities.

A few days ago Z and I picked up a harness and leash for Poe. She took to it immediately and seems to love being outside, though she is quickly overwhelmed by all of the sensory input and so can’t stay outside for more than about twenty minutes at a time. Her favorite activity seems to be chasing all of the flies which the warmer weather has awakened.

Perhaps May will be a kinder month than April, though with the lockdown in Michigan extending through the end of the month, and the emasculated manbabies continued protesting of the quarantine, I suspect things will get worse before they get better. Stay safe, stay distanced, and if you see a heavily armed white man complaining that a woman told him to stay in his room, offer him sympathy for his toxic daddy issues but don’t approach. They are easily frightened and tend to lash out if cornered.

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.

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.

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.

Quarantined, Pls. Send Books!

Here at the end of the first week of our quarantine, two books made it over the wall, across the moat, and through the door of Library of Winkelman Abbey.

On the left is the new issue of the Boston Review, and the first of my newly-acquired subscription. They publish some seriously good stuff, and I am looking forward to digging in to this issue. On the right is the latest from Two Lines Press/The Center for the Art of Translation, Lake Like a Mirror, by Ho Sok Fong, which is only the second book from Malaysia in my collection.

I’ve been collecting works in translation for a while now. According to LibraryThing I have 197 books in translation, from 60 countries. The plurality, of course, come from Russia. At some point I may do a post about them, but for now, they serve to help alleviate the slowly growing feeling of isolation and cabin fever.

Poe feels it too. This afternoon my partner and I went for a walk around the neighborhood just to give the cat some alone time. I think she appreciated it.