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Resting in Peace

You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.

This week we lost one of our friends. Not to COVID but to cancer, diagnosed just a month ago. We watched from a distance as the disease ate through his vitality and tore open his family’s hearts. As much as funerals are painful to attend, not being able to comfort his widow in person, when she was one of the few to do the same for us after my miscarriage, has been its own kind of torment. Flowers will never mean as much as the solidarity of shared presence or a hug.

Of course, the reason for being confined to our home was the Virginia Governor’s stay-at-home order. Since my work is tied to software development, this has been a relatively easy transition for us–we like to spend our days together. Being on what amounts to a retreat while the economy crumbles and people around us worry about the invisible boogeyman of a virus, though, has challenged even my capacity for Sitzfleisch.

I’m using breathing exercises more often–including this one from the Navy SEALS. And I’m really grateful that I haven’t been inundated with virtual events as described in the MIT Technology Review.

And I’m interested to read how quickly the natural world can rebound without humans being in the way. Plague-ridden pasts have introduced a number of social changes. It will be fascinating to watch to what degree our work lives evolve as the population begins to emerge from these restrictions.

All of which is to say, I’m still on a reading binge more than a writing binge. My need for escapism and enjoying somebody’s Happily Ever After far exceeds my ability to write further in a post-apocalyptic story that has some uncomfortable parallels with what we’re going through. Goodreads says I’m now 10 books ahead of my reading challenge schedule. The only thing likely to slow my reading down in the next few weeks is that hubs is making great strides on recording his newest album, so I’ll be playing with my layout and design tools again to pull together the packaging for his CD. I’m grateful at least one of us is able to exercise our creative voice while we’re living through this latest “unprecedented” societal experience.

It may well be that I have to pursue one of my alternate plotbunnies to rediscover my own creative voice. Luckily, I binge-bought book covers for a few of them a couple months back, so if I do, there may be a surprise release later this year. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Introverted, Isolated, or Quarantined?

"Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide." -D.W. Winnicott

It’s been about a month since my last post, and in that time life in America has come to the kind of grinding halt very few could have anticipated. I’m one of the lucky few who has a job that I can do entirely from home–though I do worry for my younger colleagues who have no roommates or pets, and the impact of so much isolation on their mental health. I’ve taken the unusual step to ask to connect privately via hangouts for non-job-related purposes, though, to be honest, I might just be looking for another excuse to share pictures of my beloved furry angels.

From their perspective, a pandemic might actually be heaven on earth: Nobody is abandoning the pack to go hunt dollars or find nourishment or run those mysterious human-centric errands that seem to crop up with distressing frequency. In fact, it is remarkable to note just how much can be accomplished with an Internet connection and the means to communicate using its channels. One could almost feel we’re the best prepared to ride out quarantine orders that we’ve ever been. Reading an article late last month about how people are using their home spaces to “cocoon” as opposed to hosting get-togethers was in some ways oddly predictive for how we’re being told to take refuge at home. In the same week, I read reporting about a business development idea in Tulsa driven by the concept that more people can work from home these days, and cities should lure those remote workers to locations where work-life balance can be more easily pursued.

I do notice, though, that work-life balance can be more difficult when you’ve been sequestered. I’ve seen exhaustive articles and training on how to make sure you don’t get sucked into being available for longer than is healthy. And then there’s that quiet, evergreen, background knowledge that career advice for women is gaslighting.

Which brings me back around to my writing. You would think that having an extra hour a day from not needing to commute would mean I’d be deep in the writing flow. Especially given all the recent speculation on topics that typically prime my creative pump: How religions would respond to proof of alien life; why we should NOT colonize space; why we SHOULD colonize Titan. Or even a discussion of consciousness as a field that is as pervasive as space-time.

Instead I’ve been reading other people’s fiction (six books last weekend might be a record even for me). Or worrying about the dear friend who was diagnosed with stage 3-4 pancreatic cancer almost two weeks ago. The weight of worry that pervades everything these days makes it hard to find the energy to do much more than maintain some minimal baseline status quo. We’ll see where I end up next month. In the meantime, the news that brightened my day was that hubs’ song Kintsukuroi is still in the top 40 of the European Indie Music charts. Maybe his creativity will rub off on me at some point soon. Until then, stay safe and think deeply.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi Virtual Book Fair

C.L. Cannon's Fantasy & Sci-Fi Book Fair - featuring 100+ free and discounted books. Enter to win a Kindle Fire, your choice of 2 bookish candles from Wick & Jane, and a Dragon-themed adult coloring book. Runs from February 21 to March 25.
Includes The Builders and Planet Seekers: Team Alpha, by Tonya Cannariato

Quick update to let you know I’m participating in C.L. Cannon’s virtual Fantasy and Sci-Fi Book Fair for the next month. My books The Builders and Planet Seekers: Team Alpha are both half off in honor of this event.

For the moment, this is about as creative as I’m able to be, as my day job has taken up longer hours in the past month or two as we gear up to travel as a team to participate in a workshop. Naturally, that means articles about traveling (and how much flying messes with your body) and how unnatural it is for us to have a day job have been catching my eye. To wit, an interview with Jeffrey Pfeffer who argues that the way we work is killing us. Another on the bizarre nature of corporate-speak, more clearly described as garbage language. And a third that outlines the extra stress of being a night-owl forced to work a 9 to 5 schedule.

In some ways, reading about these studies makes me feel every one of my years. Which made running across an article titled “An Ode to Being Old” refreshing. As well as reporting on how marriages improve with longevity. As we celebrated our 22nd anniversary earlier this month, I can attest to the silliness factor.

🙂

All of these articles have bearing on my current protagonists, and I’m glad I followed my heart in making them both older than 50.

In other news, Gayla and I were given the gift of a writer’s retreat… on a cruise in September. We’re both looking forward to getting to see each other again, so it was interesting to run across an article on the importance of just spending time with friends. And another one on the nuances of “nice”.

So life is happening, even if that means I haven’t had the energy to invest in writing more fiction in recent weeks. But thoughts continue to percolate, so I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, enjoy the savings on two of my newest titles.

Super

Writing might seem a little bit hard when you start, but once you've written for a while you will learn that it is, actually, even harder.

Today marks the end of the 2019 American football season, and I’m holed up in my office, mostly avoiding the commotion. Seems about par for the course. Except that this year started with much more social activity than is the norm for us–including an extended visit from a friend we hadn’t seen in fifteen years.

The upshot of all this is that I’ve only written 500 words on Team TaoRuti since the new year.

As the meme indicates, experience with writing means considering all the angles while you’re in the middle of the slog. And thinking about the implications of choices even while you’re making them.

It’s not that different from life, actually.

But when you control the narrative, the echoes of those choices have weight and bearing in ways that aren’t so obvious as a newbie. With experience, they can become almost paralyzing. And then you read about the behavioral flaws common to humans, and you realize … that’s actually also a common human experience. So is mental fatigue. That last article made me wonder: is there such a thing as conditioning yourself to “be productive” on the regular? Then there’s the research that shows the level of impact of “luck” on “success”, too, and it becomes a wonder that anyone can sustain effort.

On the science research side of my reading, I discovered Christopher Medina-Kirchner, and his journey in learning about MDMA. His persistence in the face of ridiculous odds are on the one hand a heartbreaking case study about pseudo-science and class oppression, and on the other how scientific research takes guts and doggedness to break through stereotypes and preconceptions.

Two other thought-provoking articles have been tickling my brain recently, too. One on a team that appears to have proven the quantum entanglement of time. (For all you Outlander fans…) And then there was a vaguely disturbing summary of technical advances that have led to some cyborg-like implants to broaden the scope of human senses.

I hope all this percolates in a way that allows me to power forward with my own words. Certainly, I’ve enjoyed beta-ing for some of my writer friends, figuring out how to go back to weave in those bits of foreshadowing that underline the protagonists’ arcs. And being on that side of the experience reminds me it’s a good thing to return to Zen Mind, Beginner Mind state. I can always go back to edit… once I have words on the page.

So it’s back to the word mines I go.

On Teeth and Failures

"You will never forget a person who came to you with a torch in the dark." -M. Rose

It’s been a minute… I’m always amused that when I make plans, life throws obstacles at me. In this latest case, my dentist decided my jaw had healed sufficiently that it was time to come back in for the next step in my oral surgery series at the end of November. And we had an unexpected house guest early in the month. And of course all the cooking that comes with Thanksgiving–even though I only contribute appetizers these days. (And my nieces’ and nephew’s appetites have hit that uncertain point in adolescence where they eat … strategically? I came home with a LOT more deviled eggs and hot artichoke dip than I would have ever guessed, given how popular those offerings have been in the past.)

So. No NaNo win for me this year. And, honestly, I’m starting to think I’m an experienced (dare I say, trained?) enough author at this point, that I’m not sure I will again. These days, I spend much more time considering where I’m going than just running with the next random plot twist to pop into my head. I’m still only at the halfway point of this novel, and have yet another new deadline.

As part of my process change, I now read out loud to hubs for his feedback. Reading out loud is also effective at pointing out where language is repetitive, weak, or stilted. It’s just slow. And coordinating our schedules to make it happen is also an interesting exercise. But so far, it really does seem like my writing continues to improve book over book. (If I’m allowed to say that myself. 😀 ) Hubs is also massively helpful when I’ve backed myself into plot corners. That last was my real downfall in November: I couldn’t figure out what would make an effective bridge between the plot point I’d just completed and the next plot point… in two chapters. I spent a week just considering possibilities.

Along the way, I read about things like the dangers astronauts face from space radiation; research on a global fertility crash; and all the ways humans have tricked themselves into believing in time. Then there was the excerpt from a new book that talked about the storied history of women’s work in the kitchen. Given the experiences I’ve had with my Instant Pot, there was a lot of resonance in the thesis that our labor was always assumed, and never offset by understanding the impact of those hours we’re obligated to work outside the house.

Which ties logically to a summary of ten well-known authors who had interesting day jobs. Counterbalancing that was an author who documented all the ways the American Dream is killing us. Particularly relevant in my experience: the profoundly ingrained “sense” that if you work hard you will be rewarded, as well as its toxic corollary that if you’re facing hard times you must be lazy and are therefore available to exploit. Taking that argument a step deeper, that “billionaire-ism” could be a religion, I ran across this quote:

If you find yourself in possession of one billion dollars, and keep it, then you are willfully refusing to stand in solidarity with the whole of the rest of the human species.

Tom Whyman, November 5, 2019, “The Outline”

These thoughts all play through my mind at night as I weave plot points and worry about my day job responsibilities. So I lie awake with relative frequency. (Shout out to @farmgeek who tweeted my WHOLE mood today: “Spare a thought for all the struggling writers of dystopian sci-fi having to compete with this current reality.”) So articles that reinforce my sense of being a congenital night-owl, or that talk about the romance of sleep are particularly apt to catch my eye. Or an article on the nature of consciousness that concludes after a thoughtfully logical argument that:

Consciousness may be fundamental in nature—an inherent aspect of every mental process, not a property constituted or somehow generated by particular physical arrangements of the brain.

Bernardo Kastrup, September 19, 2017, “Scientific American”

These things all weave into my storytelling in ways obvious and subtle, and underline my feeling that each of us is in some way an individual stew, brought to boil at different temperatures and pressures and flavored to range from spicy to bland… to disastrously burned and congealed. I’m glad there are enough Dodo videos in the world to remind me of the good people out there, but I’ll warn you now, the assholes in my stories will be dealt with appropriately to their crimes. If I can just finish writing the book.

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