Monday, April 25, 2016

Do What You Love (Badly)

A while ago, the Spousal Unit and I were talking about our high school days, and about doing sports in particular. (I was a track rat who specialized in throwing heavy objects because I was even worse at jumping and running; he was a swimmer and water polo player.) I love to hear tales of his wild days, and the torturous regime of practices his coach put him through. One of his teammates subsequently tried out for the U. S. water polo team, and the whole group often went to the regional championships in California.

I asked him, “Do you miss it?”

“Well,” he said, “I was never very good.”

“That’s not what I asked. Do you miss playing?”

He was quiet for a moment and then said, “Yeah. Yeah, it was fun, and I miss it.”

I once read that, if you ask a group of kindergarteners if they’re artists or dancers or singers, they will generally agree in a heartbeat that they are, in fact, totally talented. And they have fun with it. But if you go back to the same group of kids a few years later, and ask which of them identifies as an artist, very few will raise their hands.

I think that’s sad. (I also have this cockamamie theory that our warped view of talent and creativity worsens the epidemic of mental health and substance abuse issues in our society, but that’s probably a post for another day.)

A lot of us, like my spouse, have absorbed the idea that after a certain point, if you’re not demonstrably good at something, you lose the right to enjoy it. You’re off the team, as it were. Maybe it’s a self-inflicted judgment, or maybe a host of bad reviews and snarky comments have worn down hope. And attempting any kind of creativity as a business proposition is its own special kind of hell. Trying to balance the need to make things and the need to eat, putting your deepest and most fragile self on display and hoping no one utterly stomps on it . . . That’s a tough life.

Yeah, that.

I’m small potatoes in the writing world, but I’ve listened to a lot of other writers—amazing writers, people you admire—and they all struggle with keeping that love of creating alive. Maybe there’s a point where someone is so successful and popular and beloved that they never, ever feel bad about their work. But I haven’t met that writer yet, and I kind of suspect that if I did, that writer would be, you know, dead.

In some ways, this is a great time to be creative. You can reach an audience anywhere in the world, make connections and collaborations to an almost unlimited degree. At the same time, it’s easy to feel lost, with the relentless sense of competition, calculated cruelty, and looming invisibility, especially when you factor in the tendency of every artist ever to feel inadequate to the task.

My first crochet project--sort of oddly shaped

I think I mentioned that I’ve been learning to crochet over the past few months. Slowly, and badly. The Spousal Unit tells me scallops are ‘in,’ but I think he’s just being kind about the wobbly edges of my projects. But you know what? I’m having fun crocheting badly. I am sucking magnificently, with some pretty yarn and shiny hooks. It’s good to have a reminder that being brilliant is not the be-all-and-end-all of existence, and learning to love new things and take risks should be a big part of life.

What if we all made the choice to do what we love, regardless of whether or not we met anyone's standards--even our own--of 'good enough'? And what if we reached out to others and encouraged their efforts, not with false praise, but genuine affection and appreciation? If we're all going to suck anyway, what if we did it with joy and enthusiasm?

So while I’ve recommitted to growing and improving as a writer, I’ve also given myself permission to do it badly and enjoy it. Unlike ballet—or brain surgery—writers get unlimited revisions to make things better. The magic happens as much from love and joy as from hard work. I don’t want to forget that again.

I'm learning to be okay with this.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Tomorrow, when I make the drive from Buffalo to Maine, that will mean I've driven all the way across the contiguous United States on my own.

From the Maine coast . . .

To the Oregon coast (and many points between)

Before he died, my great-uncle Ed visited every state in the U. S. I'm up to 32 now, so I need to plan some new travels soon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Snippet: Prophecy of Bone

The prosecutor leaned close, her breath stinking of sausage and stale beer. “Do you hear them? They want blood, and yours will do.”
Through the dull roar of pain a sharper howl reached his ear, a wild animal with many throats. He couldn’t make out the words, but he suspected this stout, humorless woman was right. “You are willing to bet . . . your office . . . on my guilt?” The words tangled on his tongue, and he drew on the last dregs of his strength. “I saved General Tugg . . . from an assassin in Kethmira.”
She snorted.
“How I came to his . . . notice.” He flexed his fingers, shocked at how cold they felt. “For your sake . . . I hope your protector has more power.” Dev choked and something wet erupted from his chest and sprayed over his chin. Blood, probably, from the taste. The pain seared his chest, lanced down his back. At least he wouldn’t have much longer to wait for death, he thought. “Neera,” he whispered. That would be his last regret: that she would have to bury him, so soon after her husband.
A booming crash shuddered through the thick stone walls of the building. Another followed close after, then another. The prosecutor was barking orders to subordinates outside the cell, but the words no longer made sense to Dev. He wondered if death would come as a bright light, the way his father’s people taught, or if he would find himself in a slow-moving river full of blossoms, as his mother had sung of before her own demise.
Someone cursed loudly, right in his ear. He’d have flinched away from the spray of spittle on his ear, but he couldn’t move his arms and legs.
Another resounding crash gave way to the sound of squealing metal. Dev found himself flung back, in mind if not in body, to the train accident: Pain. Noise.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Latest publications

Hey, everybody! Just a quick update to let you know where to find some of my new work. In a couple places, it's even free to read. Everybody likes free, right? Okay, here we go:

The second half of Uncanny Magazine's issue 9 is online. My poem "The Book of Forgetting" is here. (But you should also read the excellent poems by C. S. E. Cooney and Brandon O'Brien. I'll wait.)

If listening is more your thing, there's also a podcast.

(And as a sidenote, there's a companion piece, "The Book of Longing," that's here.)

Another poem, also available online, appeared in issue 2.3 of Mythic Delirium, which you can read here.

And if fiction is more your thing, I've got some stories in anthologies. There's "Cover Her Ghost in a Feathered Cape" in Ruins Excavations from Hadley Rille Books, which you can find on Amazon here. And if you want something even spookier than ghosts, there's "Wandering Swallows" in the Triangulations: Lost Voices anthology here.

ETA: Also also, because I'm forgetful, I didn't mention the Angels of the Meanwhile anthology, which you can check out here. All proceeds go to help my friend Elizabeth McClellan through some tough times, and there are a whole bunch of fabulous authors featured!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

How did you know he was the one?

Last week, the Girl!Twin called home from college. I miss having her around, and it was a good talk. I’d posted on Facebook about the day her dad proposed to me, and how I hadn’t taken him completely seriously at first because it was April Fool’s Day.

This is the Girl!Twin, headbutting a goat. As you do.

She asked, “How did you know he was the one?”

[I should add a caveat here: I don’t believe in The One. I do think some people are more suited than others, but a mature, basically decent human being can build a life with any number of potential spouses. We all have so many choices in life, so many varied experiences. And the idea that you have to somehow stumble upon the one right person, at the right moment? That seems like way too much of a crap shoot for my tastes.]

One of these fabulous beasts is the Spousal Unit.

Looking back, I can’t say there was one defining moment when I looked at the Spousal Unit and thought, Yep, that’s the one. More like a series of moments, when I saw the pattern of our lives intertwining, when I recognized in him someone I’d enjoy being with for the long haul.

But there was one conversation early on, which caught me off guard in the best way possible. It was late 1990, early 1991, just before the first Gulf War started. The future Spousal Unit were driving around—probably headed out for shakes at that great little place off campus in Provo that doesn’t seem to exist anymore—and discussing current events. I don’t recall what we disagreed about. It wasn’t an argument; I just expressed my opinion, and then commented that he probably wouldn’t want to date me again.

I do remember, vividly, what he said next: “I think it’s sexy that you’re smart. I’m tired of dating girls who couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map.”

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how badly I needed to hear that from my significant other. I’d dated a few guys before that, some of them nicer than others, but not one of them—not a single one—ever made me feel that the quality of my mind was important. I’d long since decided not to play stupid for anyone, because that’s a horrible way to live, but I’d gotten used to boys politely ignoring that part of me. Having any measurable degree of intelligence was at best the sort of defect that someone could overlook if I had enough acceptable traits. I’d never imagined that holding my own in a discussion of geopolitics might be a selling point.

That’s the story I told my daughter. And I said, “The right person for you is the one who loves your whole self.” Too often in life, we accept less-than because that’s how we see ourselves. Even the good parts of us can make some people feel uncomfortable. But that’s not the kind of person you want to wake up next to for the rest of your life. The right one fuels your good ambitions, because they already see the culmination of them in you.

It’s good to be loved for being a whole person.

We were both fairly intelligent people until we had children, and we've been wrong and stupid pretty much every day since then. True story.

[Side note: If you ever meet the Spousal Unit, and happen to ask him who’s the brains of the family, he’ll probably say it’s me. Apparently he’s known for bragging me up behind my back. But you should not believe him, because he’s an absolute whiz at a number of things that stump me, and he’s one of those people who’s always willing to learn something new. Which, to my mind, is one of the best measures of intelligence.]