Detachment

"Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you." -Ali ibn Abi Talib
“Detachment is not that you should own nothing, but that nothing should own you.”
– Ali ibn Abi Talib

Our Milwaukee house finally sold last week. Objectively, three months on the market is not bad. However, given all the stress that came with ridding ourselves of terrible tenants, preparing the property for sale, and then crossing our fingers after each of the open houses our realtor held… it’s felt like an eternity of hoping. And then an intense week of scrambling to make sure all the paperwork is signed properly in front of a notary public, and that all the funds are available to cover the shortfall between what the sale price was and what the remainder of our mortgage was. Our buyer got an excellent deal; the house became very expensive for us.

However, as Ali ibn Abi Talib notes so profoundly, there is a significant release in disallowing some thing or circumstance to own you. Your thoughts. Your energy.

So hubs and I have spent the weekend decompressing from the stress of it all–some of which, I’m sure, contributed to the fact that hubs is on his second week of fighting a nasty bronchitis, and I’m a week into a debilitating cold/flu. We cuddled up to watch “The Spy Who Dumped Me” (which had its humorous moments, but wasn’t particularly special–aside from having two female leads in an action/adventure comedy). And the next night, to watch the first handful of episodes in season 2 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” The photography in this show is lush, and whoever came up with the visual idea of flipping the world on the pivot of the points of the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower was a genius. The show continues to have strong dialog and characterization. I love the Susie character. On the other hand, the flippant disregard of the kids as anything other than background props keeps nagging at both hubs and me. The other oddity: The baby in the piece… is maybe a year older than hubs. It’s strange to imagine that such stifling times were actually recent history.

As a related point, I recently read an article about how women were written out of the history of science. Contrast that with reporting in The Atlantic last month about this century’s robber barons: The owners of the Gilded Age of Silicon Valley.

Why is it that even still, as a woman, it’s so difficult to gain some kind of traction within the cultural zeitgeist? Possibly, it’s related (at least in the publishing world I pay most attention to) to what Kameron Hurley wrote about for Locus Magazine: The “everybody already knows” phenomenon… that somehow never reaches the newbies to the conversation. It seems most of this could be explained by a generally human disinclination to share our foibles, false starts, and failures.

But, and this relates back to the pain of coming up with a huge pile of cash to be able to sell our house: fundamentally, as a society, we like to measure success by a bullshit metric: How much money did that thing earn? I say bullshit metric in earnest, because a metric should be applicable in all circumstances. A ruler is never going to measure an inch as anything other than an inch. However, a pile of money? The ways to accumulate (or lose) that are so diverse and range from laudable to execrable, so why (and how?!) would it count as a singular signifier of worth?

So we’ve been philosophizing and reminding ourselves of the happy times we enjoyed in Milwaukee. We’re no longer homeowners, and given how we drained our savings to achieve that, we won’t be for some time again–if ever. But we’re finding value in maintaining the serenity of our home and the health of its inhabitants, so maybe I’m going to be able to return to my WIP again someday soon. And be OK with the fact that there are times in my life when life overwhelms me so I don’t have the energy to sit and write. At least this week, for the day job, I was able to churn out a 10-page research report, so that appears to have loosened the writing cogs to a certain degree. It’s been two weeks since I wrote the 218 words that crossed me into the second half of the story, but thought and words are percolating there again.

As for my other goals, my FitBit says I averaged 8 hours and 9 minutes of sleep last week and 5,578 steps per day.

There are only 10 days left in this iteration of ROW80, so I’m well aware that I won’t be finishing Team Alpha this time around. But I have gotten other things done that needed doing, so I’ll continue putting one foot in front of the other. And I’ll likely report back again next week. Until then, I recommend checking out how the other ROW80ers are doing.

Being Thankful, Finding Gratitude

In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.It’s been a strange, wordless month. It only occurred to me in the past few days that maybe the reason I’ve buried myself in other people’s books all month (my Goodreads challenge page indicates I’m well on my way to doubling my “normal year” of reading) was related to the unheralded second anniversary of my miscarriage. That experience killed my dream of parenthood and my sense of who I was meant to be. It’s been difficult not to live in nihilism since then, since, really, who would actually be interested in any legacy I might leave behind?

The feelings rumbling around in me since election day came to a head while I was reading Sunshine, by E. Xia. It’s an excellent novella whose central conceit is that the female protagonist’s mother literally dreamed her into existence. When her parents are killed in a car crash, then, she fades from reality.

He couldn’t imagine it. What it felt like to see yourself fading, disappearing by inches, knowing it was because no one cared enough. What it must have been like to drift through the world, not quite part of it, but bound to it just the same.

At the meta level, it’s a fascinating commentary on women’s status–from the mother’s perspective, she validates herself by producing a child. From the daughter’s perspective, she becomes nothing more than light and shadows without anyone remembering her. There are other layers, too, of the moon maiden and mirror maiden legends, and how much it ends up taking out of the people who do the emotional labor of managing relationships and perceptions. While it could be classified as a sweet paranormal romance, the feelings are purely human, and the book is permeated with a strong sense of becoming.

What punched me in the gut, though, was the story-inspired thought that maybe I had imagined my child so vividly, that I trapped them in that in-between state of not-becoming.

So I’ve been sitting with my feelings. Hubs and I have watched two movies this week. “Juliet, Naked” was the gentle exploration of choosing relationships and who you want to be/become. “Downsizing” was actually thematically similar, despite its marketing. While the first was sold as a rom/com, it wasn’t the stuff of laugh-out-loud funny. The second was sold as a comedy, but its focus was much more slice-of-life and how the banal can become surreal. Neither was what we expected, but both were excellent and led us to some interesting discussions.

We’ve been keeping up with our walking (FitBit says I averaged 5,662 steps/day last week), and, with the holiday this week, our sleeping as well (FitBit says I averaged 8 hours 9 minutes per night last week).

Yesterday, finally, I looked at my WIP again. And even added 218 words. So I’m past the mid-point. It’s all downhill from here, right?

😀

Some other recent thought-fodder for me included an author who wrote a meta review of disaster films, and concluded that survival entailed … being white and speaking English. Given that my WIP could on some levels be considered a disaster story… I paused for a minute. But {{mini-spoiler}} the story also includes the death of a white, English-speaking person, so maybe I’ll give myself a pass for this round. A very different opinion piece had that author concluding he only wants to live until age 75. His thesis about the “American Immortal” hit home and has me considering interventions and health care from yet another perspective. Finally, fun science reporting gave me a sonic interpretation of the sunrise as seen from Mars.

Hopping back to the theme of this post, (and really, the theme of the week, given the US celebration of Thanksgiving) I find it interesting that there are so many voices in the world around us that pile on to individuals, plowing them under with self-doubt. Finding ways to be grateful for small things helps me ride that wave, so I’m happy to share this week’s image to remind others to rebel… by liking yourself. Discovering and cherishing those beings and experiences that light you up.

Interestingly, the theme for this week’s ROW80 check-in is the excuses we make for not having dedicated the time we hoped to the tasks on our lists. There are still 25 days to go in this round, so I suppose there’s a chance I’ll still finish Team Alpha this round. Especially now that I’ve identified the underlying emotional paralysis. But I’m also going to continue practicing self-care. If the last bits of my emotional energy are only sufficient to cuddling with hubs and the furbabies, I’ll live with that and work on my WIP when my energy comes back. Meantime, reading and watching shows has been feeding me emotionally in different ways, so I know those escapes will continue to entice me. I recommend the same for everyone else struggling with the exigencies of the season.

Book Review: Tangled Lights and Silent Nights (anthology)

Tangled Lights and Silent NightsI was recently given the opportunity to review a charity anthology for The LifeAfter Project via an ARC. The book was published November 4, so I’m slightly behind on posting my review… Some of my favorite authors participated in the anthology, supporting the organization’s mission:

The LifeAfter Project aims to reach out and provide assistance for those who struggle with thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, or domestic abuse. All these things are related to mental illness. Our goal is to educate, inspire, and spread awareness. We hope that our efforts will help eradicate the stigma associated with this insidious epidemic.

Given that support, it should not be surprising that the range of stories included everything from high fantasy to mystery to romance to humor to poetry–every “genre” of person has had some experience with the issues associated with mental illness, so it was thoughtful of the organizers to include such a range of styles in the collection.

On the other hand, the strength of the individual stories varied widely–some had significant editing issues and some were not to my taste.

However, in keeping with my standard practice, I will call out the particular stand-outs of the anthology, because any one of them would be worth the $0.99 it takes to buy the whole set, and your taste might differ from mine–or you might find a new author to investigate.

Knowing my well-documented love of the Katie stories (I reviewed To Katie With Love when it came out in 2013), I was thrilled to see a short told from Cooper’s point of view. Revisiting the well-meaning terror of Silvia and the twin foils of Dean and icy blonde reminded me all over again of how much fun that series is. For me, this one alone is worth the price of admission.

Other strong contenders were (in order of appearance in the book): “Yuletide Homicide: A Liz Boyle Short Mystery,” by Kate Birdsall, “A Merry Mugging,” by Claude Bouchard, “Holiday in Hartland,” by Gail Cleare, “Some Carry-Tail: A Gabriel & Orson Story,” by Victor Catano, “The Christmas Jacket,” by Diane Byington, “A Gift for Momma,” by Debbie S. TenBrink, “Father Christmas,” by Timothy Woodward, and “And Mercy Mild,” by Justin Bog.

Many of these tie in to other, stand-alone books, as well as being authors who are new to me, so I’m happy to have had a short introduction to their styles and themes. Reviewing the list, it seems those with particularly strong redemption arcs–like in the Liz Boyle mystery, the “Merry Mugging” story, “A Gift for Momma,” “Father Christmas,” and “And Mercy Mild”–were the ones that spoke to me the deepest. Catano’s “Carry-Tail” story was pure, fun revenge and had just the right touch of magic in it. “Holiday in Hartland” was also about redemption, but on a generational scale, so felt like a different flavor altogether–and managed to wring a few tears from me.

Overall, given the charity these authors have chosen to support and the strength of a number of stand-out stories, you really can’t get much better bang for your buck–especially if you’re already a fan of these authors’ related works. I would highly recommend the anthology for those reasons.

Survive with Fantasy

Sometimes we need fantasy to survive the reality.Another week with profoundly troubling national news against the backdrop of a lot of being busy meant my library card got tagged for action again. This time, I checked out Gail Carriger’s Prudence. I’m having a hard time deciding whether it was because I was truly exhausted or because this iteration of the series of series that started with Soulless just didn’t suck me in the way so many of her other books have. I very much enjoyed the ending and the philosophizing on the nature of what a progressive government should look like among the characters in Carriger’s steampunk world. I’ve also already checked out Imprudence, since I’m curious to see how the additions to the cast stir things up. And I would absolutely recommend this third series in the world Carriger has built for steampunk and new adult fiction fans.

I just may be over stories that feature such young protagonists.

The one article I’m going to share this week that deals in worrisome study results, should actually be taken as an exhortation to reduce the amount of stress in our lives. A different study highlights the real source of the difference the Head Start program has made for some of America’s kids. And a profile of Ina Garten that closes with the quote “This isn’t the final thing I’m going to do, but it’s the next step I’m going to take.” is worth reading. For an entirely different perspective on the direction the world is headed, Vox aggregated 23 charts and maps that show that even while we live through darkness, there are a number of things about our world that are actually improving.

Finally, to really give your smile muscles a work-out, enjoy this aggregation of videos of a dog who enjoys the hell out of jumping into leaf piles. I’m actually considering what it would take to build a pile like that for KouKi, since she would be the one to have that kind of reaction out of our current three.

Hubs and I watched episodes 2 and 3 of the newest Dr. Who series this week. It continues to shine with strong writing and characterization, as well as unexpectedly rich emotional arcs. There are potentially other candidates for our stay-at-home date nights, including the rebooted Charmed, and a movie hubs stumbled across with Michael Peña in a non-comedic role, called Extinction. Honestly, we have such a backlog of movies to watch, it will be interesting to see what comes out on top of the pile. But the theme of the week is strong for both of us: We really need the fantasy in order to survive the reality.

As for my other trip into a made-up world… my WIP only advanced 883 words over three days of writing this week. I’m coming up on the halfway point of the book, and am having to consider carefully how and when that action really ramps up to fall appropriately in the pacing. Based on my calculations, if I can somehow get to the point of averaging 1,000 words per day, I can finish this book by the end of November. I may actually make that my NaNoWriMo-adjacent goal, since I don’t want to make the mistake of starting something else new while I’m in the middle of my current WIP.

My Fitbit says I averaged 4,866 steps per day last week as well as 7 hours and 49 minutes of sleep.

So for as “behind” as I’ve been feeling, at least some habits are sticking. And I’m grateful that I have a safe haven at home where I can enjoy others’ creativity. Until next week, check out the other ROW80ers’ progress, and I’ll return with my next check-in.

Being A Light

Build someone up. Put their insecurities to sleep. Remind them they're worthy. Tell them they're magical. Be a light in a too often dim world.We had house guests this week. It doesn’t happen that often, so when it does, we spend a week in a flurry of deep cleaning the house and shopping for groceries. The irony of this is that this means we’re tired when our guests arrive. And are flattened when they leave.

This time wasn’t really any different. But our visitors were family, and it had been years since we’d seen them, so it was nice to spend time together. And to revive my mother-in-law’s recipe for spedini–celebrated by cooking them together with friends and reminiscing over the many, legendary meals she cooked for all and sundry.

Underlying that was worry for a friend who recently lost their father. And another friend who is struggling with burn-out. And the fact that our Milwaukee house is still on the market.

News reports about Vancouver struggling with the influx of money from China, or that the same behaviors pathologized in poor people are lionized in the rich, or that inequality in pay in Silicon Valley means 90% of residents make LESS than what they made in 1997 when adjusting for inflation, don’t soothe those concerns. The humanity of western doctors being intimidated by the invention of thermometers only reminds me in a different way of how easily human egos are bruised and retreat into defensive anger.

So reporting about the winners of the latest annual Nikon microphotography contest, and new footage of a rare deep-sea cucumber were the anodyne I needed.

As well as enjoying the latest installment of Dionne Lister’s Witchnapped series. And Seanan McGuire’s first in her InCryptid series, Discount Armageddon. Both were exactly the kind of escapism I was craving–light romantic tension in worlds where the protagonist is trying to find her footing among all kinds of crazy. I think adding those two to my Goodreads challenge means I’ve read more books this year than I have in quite a while. And another author friend of mine reached out to ask if I could review a charity anthology prior to its release in early November, so that number is in no danger of stalling out. At the moment, I have Gail Carriger’s Prudence checked out from the library as an eBook, so it is likely to be a curious tension for me for the rest of the year–whether I read, or whether I write.

As for my WIP, I added 1,688 words this week, surprising myself with two quite productive writing nights when I was wiped out from the combination of work and home-prep duties. I seem to recall this having happened in the past: When I’m at just the right level of exhaustion, my brain lets go and my fingers fly, and all of a sudden I have more words than I expected. I’m just at the half-way point, and am actually excited that I don’t seem to have the “floppy middle” syndrome I’ve faced in the past… There might be something to my attempt at hybridizing pantsing with plotting.

Because of all the to-ing and fro-ing in the house, my average step count last week also jumped–to 6,650 steps per day. Naturally, something had to give, so my average hours slept per night dropped to 6 hours 54 minutes, with an abysmal low of 4 hours 48 minutes Sunday night. And hubs and I had more than enough socializing this week than to have time for keeping up with our shows.

So while there is great uncertainty about a huge number of things, this week’s quote is my reminder: Do what you can to be a light for the world. There’s more than plenty darkness out there; don’t let it swallow you. Even if it means you are just cleaning your house. Or cooking extra food. Or escaping into fiction. Or whatever it is that nourishes your soul.

I’ll be retreating into our home nest this week to do what I can in the way of being the light over the longer term by generating more of my story. I encourage you to do whatever it is that makes you shine brightest. And to go check out how my fellow authors are doing in their pursuits of their goals.

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