…Until You’re Older

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts about writing advice the authors wished they’d gotten. Generally, it’s about the realities related to writing: that it can take a lot longer to get established than you think, that grammar is important, that having a writing schedule is important, etc.

Thing is, how many of us would really have listened to that advice and employed it?

We all have our own biases and when we’re very young, we all think we’re exceptional. It won’t take that long for me. I won’t have to work as hard as others because I’m naturally talented. While we can recognize good advice a lot of the time, getting ourselves to take it is generally another, ahem, story.

When I was a teen, I questioned my mother about decisions she had made in her life and why she had made them. One of her favourite answers to me was, “there are just some things you won’t understand until you’re older.” Naturally, she was talking about life experiences, but this advice applies equally well to any artistic endeavour. It’s not until you’ve tried and failed a few times at putting a story together, gotten experience in creating your own process, that any good advice you’ve received about writing can be taken to heart.

Seeing yourself in the less than idealized way of your youth is probably a rite of passage. But it’s where a lot of artists give up on their art. And if you’re writing for fame and fortune, it’s probably just as well you do give up at this point, since you are very unlikely, statistically, to hit the Stephen King or J.K. Rowling jackpot.

But for others, this point is the perfect time to reflect on the writing advice you’ve been given and start applying it seriously. For me, the advice, write for yourself, publish for others has become significant. Because I’ve stopped thinking ahead to how publishable my draft might be, I’ve regained my ability to enjoy the process of writing – to give myself over to writing what pleases me, what feels right and good to me – and to come away from the day’s writing session feeling content instead of conflicted is something I never could have anticipated would mean so much.

If I were asked for writing advice, it would be to learn to accept that you will screw up; that you will get lost in the twisty mazes, despair, feel overwhelmed, doubt both your ability and your sanity. But if you love the work, don’t give up. Slowly the chaos will re-form into a sort of order and you will see more than you have before and know what to do with what you see. Because there are just some things you will understand better when you are older in the craft.

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Shared World Exercise from #SciFiChat 25 Jan 2019

We had 2 hours of fun building a world for an anthology with the working title “Crab Max”.

Here’s the run-down as summarized by @DavidRozansky:

In CrabMax, a mutant coral has evolved that thrives on pollution that the Landlubbers are now trying to curtail. The Coral is intelligent hivemind that telepathically controls sea creatures and Lundlubbers in/near the water, through control of mesmerization fantasies.

The Sky Belters have taken to the aether of outer space, to escape the polluted world. They mine the asteroids in their steam-driven sky ships, and use the Earth as a dumping ground and to steal oxygen and water, exasperating Landlubber efforts to clean their world up.

For Coral Hivemind to thrive, it must force Landlubbers to pollute , building up a toxic atmosphere (for the Landlubbers). The Coral is winning the war, as it has the science of atomic energy and information technology on its side. Landlubbers live in age of steam.

The Sky Belters dumping pollution on the planet helps the Coral, but the Belters are also stealing vast amounts of water, which is of course bad for the Coral and the Landlubbers. It’s 3-way conflict

Interesting characters in this shared world idea: Land-ambulating octupi and squid who act as minions and spies for the Coral. Captain Nemo type traitors under Coral mind control. The Belters have gene-engineered roaming pterosaurs.

And the Coral Hivemind has gene-engineered a wide variety of sharks and cephalopods and other creepy terrors of the deep. The Landlubbers have been breeding dolphins in return, but that’s a paltry effort against the underwater terror, and worthless against Belters.

Pertinent to the stories of CrabMax are “star-crossed lovers” whose affections may or may not be the result of Coral mind control. Yes, there’s room for inter-species “Shape of Water” type love affairs. Oh the horror, the horror.

If you feel like participating by writing something using this world, go right ahead. Then drop the link by at #SciFiChat. We’d love to see what you come up with.

Jason dinAlt Goes Interdimensional

Sword of the Bright Lady (WORLD OF PRIME Book 1) by M.C. Planck

The character of Christopher Sinclair, mechanical engineer from Arizona, dropped into a world where magic works and rank is the most important aspect of society, is fascinating. He’s blunt, often clueless, and yet very intelligent and a determined personality. He reminds me of Jason dinAlt, if Jason didn’t know anything about subterfuge or manipulation. And Christopher’s current world is every bit as dangerous as any of Jason’s Deathworlds, though people and politics are more the drivers than the monsters are.


In a world where people can be brought back to life when nothing of them is left but their heads, and the gods are real, Christopher uses his engineering knowledge to level the playing field for himself – actions that affect larger and larger groups of people as he focuses on finding a way back to his wife, Maggie. He’s no kid; he’s forty and not used to the active life of someone who frequently finds himself embroiled in battles or duels. The idea of killing another human being – even if they DO have the possibility of being brought back – makes him ill, but he has his black belt in kendo, and he didn’t find his soulmate until his late 30s, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get back to her, including signing on as the priest of a god he never guessed existed.


It’s absorbing to learn, as he does, what this world is all about, and to shake your head over his cluelessness when it comes to people and politics. For him, rationality and logic are nearly everything, and it’s fascinating to see how he accomplishes what he sets out to do when he’s at such a disadvantage.


The first ebook was a bargain (as #1 books in a series can be), but subsequent books sell at nearly $10. When I started the book I scoffed at the idea that I might be willing to pay so much for each of the successive ebooks in the series (#3 is the latest). But as soon as I finished the last sentence, I was plunking down my money for book #2.

Ruminations at Year’s End

Snow gauge
Copper Snow Gauge at gardners.com

I had an odd thought yesterday while I was out walking my dog. I’d put on my winter standby coat – a lined wool Winnie the Pooh letterman’s jacket I bought from the Disney Store when I was in NYC in 2001, standing with co-workers on line in Times Square in below-freezing temperatures, hoping to get tickets to The Lion King.

All of a sudden, I realized that I had owned this jacket for 17 years. I had worn it every winter since 2001 and lost six friends and a husband, a house, and two jobs in that time. What a strange thing to think, I said aloud. And yet, like most of my seeming non sequiturs, it has a context.

This year, I had Christmas dinner with a family friend and another guest was a recent widow. This was her first Christmas without her husband of more than 40 years and she was dealing with it better than I think I had. She had still baked Christmas cookies, gone to a cookie decorating party, celebrated the season. I had not celebrated for years. In fact, this 11th year since my husband’s death was the first time I took any real pleasure in Christmas and the first I made more than a half-hearted effort towards enjoying it.

My husband died on December 6th, so that first Christmas was a complete mess. I bothered with no decorations, no Christmas dinner, no gifts, no cards.

This year, my hand-stamped cards were completed in November, addressed, postage affixed, and mailed the first week of December. The effort reminded me of how much time I had spent 20 years ago on finding just the right cards, carefully calligraphing the addresses, writing a humorous holiday letter, and getting everything out on time – an endeavour that my husband’s relatives said only pointed up the fact that their guy had truly become a married man because cards for any reason had never been seen before with his return address on them.

An article I read today spoke to how many widows and widowers had to find new traditions for the holidays. For me, contemplating an old tradition, like Christmas cards, or something new like a watching a different holiday movie, meant using a pain gauge. Did the idea of doing this thing cause me pain and if so, how much?

For quite a few years, my husband’s death alone was the pain gauge. But as other people disappeared from my life for one reason or another, the pain gauge also became about memories and relationships other than having been a wife. Losing friends I had known even longer than I had known my husband became part of the equation.

When I was very young and fascinated with life, I heard that old people sometimes welcomed the idea of dying and I found that mystifying. At 66, I don’t feel old and yet I find I understand that thinking much better. It’s hard to lose those with whom you were close – with whom you shared a particular set of moments in time, events, other people. It’s the same as losing a part of your life – a piece of your soul and history entwined forever is ripped away and it leaves a mark that can’t be erased. When it happens a lot in the space of a few years, it can be overwhelming. The pain gauge pegs in the red and all you can think about is getting away from the pain; part of you shuts down.

This year has been a mixed one for me. I’ve had a couple of blessings and some challenges that have pegged that pain gauge more than a few times. But I also enjoyed Christmas this year and that brightens me in a way I didn’t expect.

For the first time in the 11 years since my husband died, I didn’t mark this December 6th with tears and a sense of loss. I acknowledged the day, but the pain gauge needle didn’t move much. And that’s probably a change I still don’t realize the immensity of. I probably won’t understand it for a few more years as I approach future Christmases.

I expect that in those future holiday times, I will once again pull out my Winnie The Pooh letterman’s jacket against the cold weather. Probably when I do, I will be reminded of those who have left this life since I have owned it. I hope when I recall them, it will be with wistful fondness and the pain gauge will register that feeling appropriately.

What Hurts

 

Anxiety out of control

Reassurance is try and miss

Taxi cruises up and

it has the light off

Face of a friend who doesn’t hear you

when you call out in a crowd

Visit to a museum gallery while they announce

they’re closing in 15 minutes.

 

Read. Type. Look at Pinterest

Midsection squeezing itself like a lemon

while you pin a picture of a cute dog

No workout pictures because you already have

tight abs, yes, they are really so tight

you almost can’t breathe

 

There’s a hollow feeling in the middle

Can’t be hunger

Food would make you vomit

You eat anyway but you don’t

taste anything

which is okay because

you don’t want to

The realization of that presses down

on you and you do stop breathing

for a bit

 

You want to live and enjoy

living but you can’t remember

how you did it or when

No sand castles

Just holes in the beach

You dig up the sand with your little shovel and

the tide fills them in and makes them

soupy

 

You start again a distance away repeating

it’ll be okay like saying it will

make a difference this time

it’ll be okay.

Looks

Picture of liquor store

I thought I now understood what writers mean when they say the air was ‘close;’ that you wore it like a face mask, like scuba gear.It clung to me as I walked around the liquor store trying to figure out what to buy. I had just come in because I couldn’t stand the sun anymore. I couldn’t stand it catching on shiny stuff in the sidewalk cement and making me blink or trying to turn my scalp into an itching, overheated landscape for sweat to collect in and run down into my collar. I had been surprised at first that there was hardly anyone else in there besides the young guy at the counter in front, but then I realized there was no air conditioning. There was only a tall fan blowing the dry air around as it oscillated, ruffling the edges of the tabloids in their racks every few minutes. But at least the sun was out there and not on me.

I finally grabbed some stuff at random including two or three different drinks and headed up to the register. When I got there, I was in line behind two women.

The shorter of the two caught my eye first because she was pretty. She had light brown hair that was thick and wavy and her face had that clean, smooth skin that only young women have, like a glow they are born with and that life will gradually rub off. She was standing quiet while the other woman was having an irritated conversation with the store clerk. The woman was irritated, anyway. The clerk had a goofy smile on his face that might have indicated he was over his head.

I realized that this woman was pretty as well, though you could not see it so clearly at first because of the over-sized heavy glasses she was wearing. Her hair was dark and straight to her shoulders and she dressed like a Jehovah’s Witness going out to call on householders while her companion was in neat casual wear and flip-flops. There was a resemblance and I thought they might be sisters.

The woman in glasses was tilting her head at the clerk as if she suspected that he had just made an unfunny joke. “Excuse me?”

“I said, she doesn’t have any ID so I can’t sell her the cigarettes.”

The woman blinked at him. “She’s a married woman. With children.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s old enough to buy cigarettes.”

His adversary took a step back and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she looked at the other woman, but got no help. Her companion stood, looking off into the distance, as though the conversation was not about her but about something else; something she did not find interesting.

Then the clerk said, “But I’ll sell them to you.”

The woman’s head shot around to him. “You’ll sell them to me.”

“Well, you’re obviously old enough.”

The woman closed her eyes again and sighed, although it did nothing to reduce the tension she was almost vibrating with. “Very well.” She put a candy bar on the counter and looked at her companion, who pulled a bill from the pocket of a cigarette purse and handed it to her. She laid it on the counter and scooped up the change and the candy and handed the change back to her companion, who stuffed it in a pocket with one hand while picking up the package of cigarettes with the other.

The woman in glasses, shaking her head, went to the open door. She looked back at the clerk, though it was not clear what expression she wore.

The clerk and I had stopped moving. He was looking at her expectantly.

“I’m in junior high school,” she said, and stepped out of the store into the sunlight, which made her bright around the edges and somehow diminished.

Her older sister had opened the cigarette pack and lit one with a disposable lighter. She took in a deep drag and smiled at us, a weak, dreamy smile, and she shrugged. Then she walked out herself, her flip flops squeaking on the store linoleum. The tall fan caught the plume of her exhaled smoke and dispersed it into the flapping pages of the tabloids.

Outside, the junior highschooler had unwrapped the candy bar and taken a vicious bite. “This world is fucked up,” she said as she strode out of view.

The clerk and I looked at each other from the corners of our eyes.

“You want a bag?” he asked.

 

The End