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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Gearing Up and Winding Down

My life has been crazy busy for the last several months, and though things are beginning to wind down, the psychological and emotional hangover is just beginning. I’m tired. Really, really tired. I spend my (still limited) free time reading books. So some things haven’t changed.

This past week most of the acquisitions came from subscriptions of various kinds – the latest issue of Pulphouse, two books from Deep Vellum and one from Restless Books. I did go out of my way to pick up J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming Superman, as it has been on my list for a few months, and is now at the top of my to-read stack.

In reading news I am a little over 100 pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I seriously love this book! It is amazing, and I wonder what the hell reviewers were talking about when they compared it to Game of Thrones, because other than belonging to approximately the same broad genre, they are absolutely nothing alike. It’s like saying that fans of Lonesome Dove will really like Blood Meridian.

I am also re-reading True North by Jim Harrison. I recently loaned my copy of Dalva to a friend and realized that I had not read any of Harrison’s fiction in at least a couple of years. His work still holds up, and I wish I had a fraction of the talent he brings to the page.

Two weeks until NaNoWriMo!