A Slap

So these last few weeks have been a great growth time for my writing. I have revised two out of my four novels (Whose Hearts are Mountains and Prodigies) to give more of a development of character at the beginning instead of barreling into the plot immediately. I am working on a third, Apocalypse for the same, and the fourth, Gaia’s Hands, is going to require a lot of work, especially now that I know it’s a romance novel. 

And I would never have known to do this without rejections from agents sending me to developmental editors and beta readers and books about writing. I haven’t been revising just to pay my dues; I really feel like I have a better product because of it. 

My mother once told me it took two people to paint a picture: the artist and the person who slaps the artist when they’re done. At this point, I feel like I need a slap. I need someone to read something and tell me if I’m done. 

And then, in my next set of queries, what if I don’t get accepted by an agent? What’s next? I have really no idea to be honest. I suspect it will feel like a slap in the face.

Wishing for a Thunderstorm

I was hoping for a thunderstorm today.

I love thunderstorms, with their gushing rain and big booming thunder. If I weren’t so aware of my mortality, I would stand in the thunderstorm and scream with the lightning.

Thunderstorms are cathartic, clearing the air of heat and dust, clearing my mind of stagnation. Changing the topic from waiting to doing. 

The color of the dewy grass after the storm cheers my heart. It makes me feel like rebirth is possible.

I will have to wait till tomorrow, apparently, and even then the forecast might be gentle rain or misty drizzle. I’ll accept those, even knowing I will miss the more dramatic storm.

Heaven and a Cup of Coffee

“I feel like I’ve died and gone to Heaven.”

I thought about the phrase this morning while drinking the best cup of coffee my husband’s ever made, and I wondered what that would actually be like. I know that different people’s notions of heaven differ, but many of them seem to look like life on Earth except, maybe, with less material goods, more leisure, and more happiness*.

If this is Heaven, I can’t help but think I will have feelings other than joy and a deep contentment. I’ll have left all these people I know and a life I’ve stated as “pretty darn good”. Won’t I mourn my lost life? Won’t that perfect cup of coffee make a poignant reminder of my mornings on Earth? 

Wouldn’t I get tired of my perfect coffee every day? Part of what I love about our coffee in the morning is the fact that my husband and I order the varieties we want to try, Richard (husband) roasts the beans, and we critique the resulting brew. Wouldn’t we lose something if the coffee wasn’t of our production? 

So I think of Heaven, and I worry a bit. Because if Heaven is that perfect cup of coffee, I’m afraid I would be bored before long.


* Less materialism seems to be a predictor of happiness on Earth as well, so there might be something to this vision.

**My notion of Heaven is that I will become a traveling soul with consciousness that can zip across Heaven and Earth at the speed of a thought. As I travel,  I will quickly lose more and more memory of the material of Earth, and I will only be a force for good.

A Pretty Good Life

So today is my one day of summer break. My online class (the one I’m taking) starts tomorrow while the internship I’m teaching starts Tuesday. But those classes will still give me plenty of time for writing because I’m stuck here anyhow. 

So what am I doing for summer break? Baking some bread. Editing some writing. Making my own personal recipe of thousand-year-sauce chicken. Planting some lamb’s ear and garlic chives. Drinking more coffee. Petting the cats. In other words, business as usual because, frankly, I have a pretty good life.

Girlie-Girl working hard on a Sunday.

Richard is making more coffee while I type this. The cats are lounging in various areas of the house. Eric Satie’s Gnossiene No. 2 is playing on the stereo. It’s chilly outside, but it will warm up by the time I’m ready to plant new plants. 

There’s a new, beat-up spider plant in the window. I’m going to try to give it a good life, too. I mean it’s really beat up to the point where I think I need to remove most of the biggest leaves. But it will survive and so will we. 

Daydreaming a Summer Break

Sorry to keep you all waiting, but I had to finish grading final exams for my last class. I’m officially done with my semester, which if you read yesterday’s post, doesn’t feel like an ending at all. I’m wondering if going tent camping in my backyard would feel like a vacation. At my age, it would probably feel like torture.

Honestly, if I could afford a travel trailer, I’d park it out at the nearby park for the summer just to feel like I’d gotten away from people. I like that idea — it would make a perfect writing retreat. Home away from home, and even wifi (not excellent wifi, but passable). 

A cabin out in the woods would be nice. If it had wifi. I need to have my internet to monitor students and the like. 

I’m just not ready to break the shelter-in-place and be in space with lots of people. I’m certainly not going to take the face mask off the few times I’m anywhere near people. 

It just doesn’t feel like summer without my little writing retreat.

The Seasonless Year under COVID-19

I can’t tell what season it is.

In academia, we have a defined year with three seasons. It starts in fall with the first day of classes, and fall semester ends with Christmas. In January, the spring semester rolls around, and it’s of slightly different character than fall semester, lacking the tinsel and greens of December and adding the bacchanalia of Spring Break. The school year ends at the beginning of May, and even though I supervise internships and take an online course for my Disaster Mental Health certification, the change in routines — no faculty meetings, flexible schedule, time to take a vacation — marks that a season has passed. Until the end of summer, when we start preparing our classes for the school year.

I have no such thing this year.

We started online classes in March, which made the school year feel like an endless prep period, typing on our computers and missing the face-to-face interaction. I’m answering emails from students at 9 PM and at 5 AM, so I feel like I’m always working. We’re going from that to summer — but the freedom of travel has evaporated with COVID-19’s sequestering.  So I’ll spend the summer working with my interns online using Zoom, and the flexibility of my time will not matter. Days are melting into a sameness, and that sameness is work without any defined boundaries. 

I admit that I’m getting a decent amount of writing done because I have to do something with the time I’m not working on student stuff. And I’m grateful that I can shelter in place, as my age and weight makes me at risk for a more severe infection. But I find my rejoicing at summer terribly muted, because there is no summer. I wonder when there will be a summer again.

A reading that seems to corroborate my current feelings:

Reattempt at first chapter of Apocalypse

This is a potential first chapter to Apocalypse to set up a feel for the characters and the setting — the “before”. One of the big problems is that I’m not a big description writer — I try to do those things as concisely as possible and I’m not sure they’re enough. Sigh. 

At Barn Swallows Dance, the sky was still deep indigo and the air slightly damp when life began to stir. The early risers made coffee in their homes’ small kitchens; the late risers slept blissfully unaware of the small commotions of the dawn.  

Micah Inhofer, as farm manager, showed up to the farm half an hour before his staff, checking his phone in his makeshift “office” just inside the sheep barn, surrounded by friendly bleats from the Welsh Mountain flock. He ran a long hand through a shock of black hair and consulted his notebook. The cows would be milked, and the milk pasteurized for the collective to drink and make yogurt from. The eggs would have to be gathered, all the animals fed, the produce picked. 

In the commercial kitchen that served the whole sixty-odd members of Barn Swallows’ Dance, Mary Rogers, dark and slender in white chef’s gear, poured beaten eggs into the line pans of old bread drizzled with cinnamon syrup to make french toast casserole. 

Nearby, Shelby with her blue spiked hair cut up a large bowl of strawberries and added sugar to them. Early breakfast was more than just breakfast; it was the ritual that not only started the day, but cemented the residents’ sense of belongingness. 

“How are the raspberries doing? Have the birds gotten to them yet?”

“They’re doing fine, and we should have some in a couple weeks. They’re in the Garden. They’re protected from the birds there.”

Mary nodded. The Garden took care of its residents.

Outside, Jeanne Beaumont-Young, stocky and grey-haired, pulled coffee out of the solar roaster, taking a whiff of its richness, and brought the bowl inside to be ground and drunk. The early morning was like church to her, and coffee was its sacrament, which meant she was its priest. She smiled at her metaphor and put it away, feeling more comfortable with the science of roasting coffee beans.

Her husband, Josh, meditated in the Garden as he did every morning, a slight young man in the orchard entwined with vines and surrounded by herbs and berry brambles. A practitioner of Shinto, he focused on the spirits of the garden that Jeanne had designed and the collective had planted. The spirits, he believed, tended the two acres of orchard and food plants from the moment it had begun to grow. Now it was the Garden, and one could hear the capital G in the way people spoke of it. 

He heard a rustling of leaves and smiled, knowing he was welcome in this clearing in the orchard, which he considered the heart of the collective.

Gideon Stein strode back from the shower house he had built next to the small collection of tents that housed summer residents, feeling the chill against his bare torso and legs and a twinge in his back he attributed to middle age. He entered his own ger, a white conical tent with blue markings he had painted himself. He changed out of his shorts into jeans and t-shirt, then braided his long brown hair into a plait that hung down his back. He reminded himself that he needed to look at the latch to the pasture the sheep and goats shared at the moment, because the goats had managed to almost break the latch in their attempts to break out of pasture. He couldn’t help but admire the goats’ chutzpah. 

He thought about his former life as an architect and his most renowned work, the Frazier Dream Bridge in Vancouver. He couldn’t live that high life anymore, because the costs of stress were frenetic energy alternating with crippling, deadly depression.

 He had come to Barn Swallows’ Dance to recuperate, perhaps even to hide from the press that had named him a dangerous visionary. 

Sometimes he wondered what he was called to do.

In a house at the other edge of the collective, Rita Yilmaz looked down in fond exasperation at her oldest, Ty, who sprawled across every inch of his bed, still asleep. The twins, silent as always, stood behind her; she knew they smirked at their unruly brother. Her children’s hair, flaming red unlike her own black curls, reminded her of her long-gone love and the message he had just sent her, to meet him that night behind the Commons. Perhaps there would be another child. Perhaps he would leave again in the night. Zoi was a force of nature, and an enigma, she thought. 

“Ty!” she shouted. She prodded Ty’s shoulder and Ty, tall and slender like a sapling, grimaced and opened his eyes.

Ilsa Morganstern, general director of Barn Swallows’ Dance, downed her morning medications as she sat on her bed. There seemed to be more medications every year; by her early eighties, that meant a lot of pills to swallow. 

She thought about her morning announcements to the collective for early breakfast. Nothing too pressing: a pothole had opened on the north exit, there would be make-your-own sundae for dessert that night, the women’s rugby team from the university would arrive the next day for their summer session; Gideon and Larry had pitched their tents in the tent camp. 

No crises, Ilsa noted with satisfaction. No fires, no tornadoes, no crop failures thus far.

She knocked on wood.

Laurel Smith hadn’t slept. Like every morning, she put on her coveralls and checked the pockets to make sure she had the keys to her small house in the collective. She would milk the cows before early breakfast; after breakfast she would muck out barns. She regarded her deceptively petite build; she could shovel manure faster than the men in the barns; her strength had always been her most employable trait. 

She could remember nothing of her other skills and education before the attack that left her without memories, without a past, without an identity. She would skip early breakfast, to avoid revealing these secrets about her life.

Elsewhere, in a place where daylight and night had no meaning, Adam sat in a vast expanse of a room barely lit by a glow that emanated from Adam himself. The walls were uneven banks of tiny black crystal, the floor a flawless sheet of milky white that seemed almost a molten blue in the shadows. 

Adam himself looked human, if genetically blessed; his long black hair flowed like water across his shoulders, and his fine-boned Asian features possessed uncommon beauty. He wore black jeans and a t-shirt, clothes that mimicked the humanity that he watched over, and perhaps envied.

This was InterSpace, the place where Archetypes lived, maybe barely existed, in the space between atoms, as beings of energy who could shape their space with their will. Adam’s world, at that moment, consisted of the walls and floor and the comfortable leather chair he recreated from a memory of Earthside, out of the stuff of InterSpace.

In his hands, Adam held a lock of hair braided into a circlet — golden blonde, the pure tones of an Archetype like himself. A contrast to his own jet-black hair. A memory of love, however brief; something that Archetypes were not supposed to experience. 

A memory from six thousand years before in a life left waiting for something.

Waiting for the legend to come full circle, when he could reveal himself again.

Luke Dunstan, an Archetype, rued giving in to the Triumvirate.
He sat down heavily, appearing as a man of average human height, with flaxen-blond hair and a weathered face. He stared at the perpetually burning bonfire outside the vast cave his consort Su had constructed from the matter of InterSpace. The limitless space held the appearance of stars in a night sky. However, no artifice would make the formlessness of InterSpace more like the warmth of Earthside.

The fear that usually lay quiescent in him burned cold like the bonfire — a fear for humanity, the humanity that the Archetypes had been created to protect from their harsh tribal history. He buried his head in his hands, feeling every minute of his six thousand years of existence. 

Luke remembered the discussion, thousands of years before, with the three fellow Archetypes who called themselves the Triumvirate. The four sat in a room with a long marble table traced with gold, conjured up in InterSpace from a memory of Earth. The walls stood as  black crystalline arrays and the floor as milk-white glass, the natural state of InterSpace. 

“You tricked us. We meant to steer humans’ destiny,” the pre-Etruscan, with his waves of chestnut hair and pale skin, stated flatly, pounding a fist on the gilded table. Light emanated from his fist, from all the men, leaving the rest of the room in shadow.

“Humans are meant to lead, not be steered,” Luke, new to his life as an Archetype, countered, heedless of the chasm opening up before him.

“So you believe,” the Ubaidian debated, materializing a goblet in his hand. He drank of it deeply. “I disagree. They quarrel with each other and strike each other down. They do not learn. They need to be led, and you have destroyed our chance to lead them.”

“They should be allowed to find their own destiny,” Luke argued. “You cannot do it for them.”

“I think you will find that we can and we will ultimately guide humans’ destiny, and that the Council of the Oldest, whoever they are, will not interfere.” The pre-Etruscan smiled. “It’s only a matter of time.” He leaned forward. “You may play games, but we do not. There are three of us, and only one of you. Three against one — we could end you … “

Luke capitulated out of weakness, the weakness of a newly born, unworldly Archetype. He made the bargain to save what he treasured most, without seeing the loophole that put all of humanity in danger.

Luke remembered, and spent his long life ever vigilant for signs the Triumvirate would gain control.

And nobody, not those who slept in nor those who worked before dawn, nor those who lived in a world without sunrise, knew how rapidly their lives would change in the subsequent days.

Feeling discouraged about my writing

I’m feeling a bit discouraged about my writing this morning.

All I’ve been doing is editing, and editing more than one work’s beginning. This gives me a pretty myopic view in many ways, as I’m focused on the first moments of the work, trying to give my readers a setting to react to.

I’m feeling very discouraged. I’ve been doing this for, what, seven years? And I’m still fixing mistakes. And I don’t know, through all this, if I’m getting any better, if my work is getting any better. I don’t know if it’s worth it, because I don’t know if I’ll ever get published. Or, if I self-publish, if I’m good enough to get published. I don’t want to be published until my stuff is good, really good, and I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to get there. 

I need a breakthrough, not a breakdown. And I don’t know if I can find my way to it.

Monday Morning

Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Monday morning, which seems a lot like every other day in this pandemic — I have two cats at my workstation (the corner of the loveseat in the living room), and I’m drinking coffee.

Today is work (the ordinary type where I have to grade final exams for classes) and work (the writing type where I look at what I’ve written and what it needs). I’ve done fixes on Whose Hearts are Mountains and Prodigies, and it’s time to apply it to Apocalypse.

You see, now I know what my problem is. I started right into the action and didn’t give the story its moments to develop characters and scene.  I hope I’m doing it right this time.