Fic and Fandom and Fanart

I’ve written before about the symbiotic relationship between me as a writer of fanfic and the fanfic fans who read what I write, about how they can inspire me and fill me with joy. I’ve also written, though, about how I really only write fanfic for myself, because I have no other choice. Like any author, I have stories that stamp up to me and grab me by the nose and scream “WRITE ME NOW DAMMITALL” and won’t leave me alone until I satisfy them. That’s the creative life, I think.

But sometimes — sometimes — I do write for others.

The glorious thing about a really small fandom is that we all get to kind of know one another. When you’re one of a very small number of contributors to a fandom, you kind of get all the fans, because they are looking for any content they can get. It gives you the chance to get to know them, to form relationships, to collaborate if you so desire.

It’s not something I ever went looking for, but YE GODS am I glad I found it.

The Mighty Max fandom is tiny. I mean, for serious, it’s tiny. The number of people who remember the show is small to start with — the number who like it still and like it well enough to go seeking fan-created additions is miniscule. If there are more than 500 of us online who actively consume Mighty Max fan-stuff, I’d be shocked. I only ever get around 100-200 hits on any given MM story, and fic isn’t everybody’s thing so I don’t expect to grab the whole community. In a world where every person and their great aunt has read/written/drawn for/imagined/begged for Harry Potter fic, to say nothing of the rest of the art, crafts, etc., that is a drop in the ocean.

But just because we are small does not mean that we are not mighty, or that the fans who join us are not awesome. Because they are.

Yesterday a piece of art was debuted on Twitter to me by a friend in the fandom. We are not IRL friends — this is a person who read my MM stories, liked them, and sought me out. It is also a person who has such an amazing capacity to see what I’m doing with my writing and build on it. Now, this person tends to build out in one direction and I tend to go in another, but that’s what makes it so very excellent all around. Because now I have my work, my writing, my headcanon, and I’ve triggered an alternate universe that’s fleshed out and detailed and awesome in its own way alongside it.

But the thing…the thing is…

FANART.

Let me say it again.

FANART.

I love fanart. I love anything that people can draw for me, but most especially from my stories. My ability to draw is FUCKING ZERO, folks. I can’t manage a decent stick figure. I have absolutely, utterly no visual arts ability. I just totally suck at it. It’s weird, because my imagination is so visual. When I’m writing, I can picture my characters and their movements, their expressions, where they stand, how they hold themselves — it’s all in my head. But I just cannot reproduce it one tiny bit.

And, so, because my imagination is so visual and my ability to draw is so thoroughly nil, it makes me so, so, so profoundly happy when somebody draws something that I imagined.

This particular picture is of a recent OC I introduced into my long-running Mighty Max series, and it just about made me cry. It’s so perfect in every respect. It captures almost identically how I had envisioned the character — not just his look, but his attitude. His posture, the slightly defensive way he holds his shoulders, the pride in how he pushes his chest forward, the vaguely sour expression (since is a good guy who has made some pretty awful decisions and now his choices are no longer quite his own).

AND THEN THE SHADOW THING.

I just love every part of it.

But this is just one piece of art. This particular friend has drawn me dozens, I think — bits of character interaction that I wrote or didn’t write, bits invented in that alternate universe we chat about over email, wacky “what ifs” that made me laugh on awful days. But it so perfectly illustrates the point about the relationship between writer and reader.

This OC, and this particular MM universe, came out of my head. Birthed like Athena from the head of Zeus, it sprang from me nearly fully formed, and strode out into the world demanding to be seen and respected. But once that universe existed, it draw to it the kind of people who really understood what it was about, and they offered me much squee and enthusiasm. And from that came new ideas, and new energy.

I didn’t necessarily start writing the stories *for* my fans, but the energy to prioritize those stories over other projects certainly came from them.

But now that I am 19 stories deep into this series, I can say that the dynamic has changed a little. Because the 20th story that is being written right now would not exist without this particular friend, and without the pictures, energy, thoughts, speculations, and commentary. It’s not just that I wouldn’t have launched into Fate Is A Gift #20 without the support, but I don’t think FIAG20 would be what it is becoming without the input.

I am a better writer because I get feedback, and because I can share my own fangirl happy with another. I am a better writer when someone else says “Hey, what about X?” and I think to myself, “I TOTALLY didn’t think about that, and I’m not going to go that way, but that sure leads me to Y and Z!” I am a better writer when I get those random emails and Twitter pokes with a picture or an insight, because it keeps me thinking and that keeps me focused.

Today got away from me — I had 3 meetings and had to take a 2 mile walk in the middle of the day in order to set up to purchase the condo on Wednesday. But I am ready to finish the next chapter of FIAG20, and I have the pieces of the rest of it in my head. And I am absolutely positive that I wouldn’t be to this point if not for that constant and enthusiastic interest and speculation and excitement.

So, I don’t normally write for others, but FIAG20…I might be writing it for a particular fan.

And you know what?

After pages and pages of ideas and insights and alternate versions and FANART…this fan TOTALLY DESERVES IT.

And if for literally nothing else, for this UTTERLY STUNNING depiction of Bran:

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I’m From Minnesota

So, I’m still pretty wiped out after the concert this past weekend. Due to personal stresses, I ended up not singing in it at all — instead, I opted to fill in as stage manager, logistics master, and general get-shit-done-person behind the scenes. I always do a certain amount of that before concerts; now I just did them during as well. It wasn’t as mentally or emotionally satisfying as actually singing, but it also wasn’t as mentally or emotionally exhausting. However, it was AT LEAST as physically exhausting, so there we are.

Rather than ramble with half the energy to do an entry justice, however, I offer you this song. I came across it a little while ago and it makes me happy. Partially because it is SO TRUE. Every Minnesotan, born and/or raised, that I have made listen to this song agrees as to its accuracy. I’m a transplant, but I’ve been here almost two decades, and I can confirm that this is very much the Minnesotan experience.

Also, it makes me laugh.

The TCWC concert was all about home, and what home means to people. Home has been on my mind, too, as I move in and unpack and turn this condo into home. Home is also the people around me, like Sarah in the next room or a person who is some mix of dear friend, brother, and platonic life confidant sitting on the floor of my den. Home is not just brick walls and windows, but the society surrounding it, the people and culture, the rhythm of the land and streets and skies.

One home has recently changed, another never will. And the third is Minnesota, in all its weird and wonderful glory.

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Home

Well, the hiatus is over and we are finally home.

Shifting from a house to a condo has been an interesting process, with no few adjustments that came easier than expected. Honestly, it’s a relief not to have to think about picking up branches, pulling weeds, planting gardens. At this moment, I really only miss one particular space, and I’ve been too busy to think about it much. That space, of course, is my quiet, sacred space. It will end up being shared with the bedroom, and when I pull it together enough to set it up, it’ll probably be fine.

But otherwise? Dropping from ~2,000 square feet of space to 1,272 hasn’t felt like a great loss, really. Sarah and I never really needed to be spread out that much. We’re enjoying the open layout that lets us snark back and forth from kitchen to couch without having to bellow. Being downtown is hugely fun; already we’ve walked more than we ever did in the suburbs. Groceries, going out to eat, visiting people — it’s all an easy stroll instead of needing to drive (at least when it isn’t freezing!). We’re part of the world now, not just sitting in our individual cookie cutter house.

The condo is 12 floors up, which means we have a beautiful view. We face northeast, both the direction and the neighborhood, so we can see the place where the Mississippi curves from north-south to east-west when it hits downtown. Funnily enough, the view is also a perfect metaphor. We’re across the street from the top of the nearest building, so my windows are directly across from their big air conditioning thing. But I literally just need to look past the obvious in the foreground to a beautiful background. Every single person who has come over wanders out to our balcony, and they just stay there. They go out to “take a peek” and vanish for 5-10 minutes. It’s pretty fun to watch.

Once we started moving stuff into the condo, we immediately felt that we had come home. It was surprising to me how quickly we adjusted. Parking in the underground garage and riding an elevator became normal, even comfortable. It was going back to the house to clean it out that seemed strange. We walked the house on the last day and wondered why we ever thought we wanted or needed so much space, so much yard, so far away from the heart of the city. Really, I think a lot of it comes down to lifelong assumptions and expectations. The American Dream is still kind of the standard in the communities in which we were raised, and that means a house and yard kept immaculate at all times. That’s how you progress, right? You go to college, get married, buy a house and a dog or maybe have some kids, and you live in a good neighborhood where you can drive into the city sometimes for special occasions.

You don’t have to deconstruct that scenario very far to see the many implicit economic, social, and racial biases. (Also ecological impact of individual homesteads instead of more efficient communal living.) And we weren’t as knowledgeable about these things ten years ago, but we are now. And once you see the system, once you see the barriers raised to those who don’t have the same levels of privilege, well, I think you probably only have two options. You apologize for being part of the system, or you opt out of it. And Sarah and I have white privliege acting for us, but we’ve been on the wrong side of the privilege power dynamic, and we are always happier defying it.

But we didn’t just move to make a political statement. It’s just *better* for us here. The yard was a huge stressor for both of us, as well as various aspects of home maintenance. Being 12 stories up in the air with no yard to mow, no trees to trim, it lets us focus on other things. Having a built-in assumption of walking means more regular exercise as well as more time in the urban community. And there’s such a different experience looking out the window and just seeing the house across the street from looking out to see half of the city, the mighty Mississippi, and a humongous sky.

(It’s taken me 2 hours to write even this far, because I keep getting distracted staring out my own window. I think I could look at that river view for the rest of my days and never tire of it.)

The thing the house gave us wasn’t status or security like it gives to others. That’s not what we wanted. It did give us space to host our friends and family, but we just have to be a little creative and we can recreate that space just as well. This condo has places we can reserve to host parties bigger and more comfortably than we could at the house. (It also has an indoor pool, which I fully expect to make use of during some of those parties.) What the house gave us was a home base for the people who fill up our lives. And that is something that isn’t tied to an address in suburbia; it lives with all of us everywhere we live.

Which isn’t to say that we are sorry for the years we spent in that house. In our almost 9 years there, we loved that house. But it wasn’t the right fit anymore, and that’s neither bad nor anyone’s failing — things change, we change, the world changes, and priorities change. Add it all up, and the time had come for us to move.

Of course, living here will be far easier than *moving* here. Until Saturday, the room I am currently sitting in was wall-to-wall boxes. Storage won’t be a problem once we get it all organized, but in the meantime it’s a DISASTER. But we make some progress every day, and with everything we set into place, we’re more sure that this is where we belong.

It’s not that different to me from settling into Minnesota after being from New York. It’s a change, for sure. But the adjustment fits against my edges — not identically, but equally easily. Louise Fitzhugh wrote, “There are as many ways to live in this world as there are people.” (I think. It’s hard to be sure when my copy of Harriet the Spy is in a box somewhere. It’s close to that, anyway.) And, for me, there are right ways and wrong ways. This condo, this is the right way. The house was the right way too, for a long time. But now it would be wrong. The suburbs would be wrong.

Frankly? Anything that doesn’t give me this view of the Mississippi would be wrong.

This coming weekend is the TCWC spring concert and it’s theme, appropriately enough, is “home.” All the songs are about finding home, or losing it, or creating it, or not knowing where it is. And while the choir community has long been a home to me, this time when I sing those songs, I’m going to be thinking about my place halfway into the sky, with the river to the north and west, the sunset streaking across the balcony, and the room that was mostly boxes and is slowly growing itself into a den.

I have very much come home, once more.

(However, even if I have found my hallelujah, I sure can’t find anything else! Time to unpack more boxes!)

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Sorry!

I didn’t mean to slip into blog silence territory last week, but things with the house and condo are moving so fast, something had to give. And it’s got to give this week, too. And probably next week.

I’m just giving myself permission to go dormant on the blog while I figure out everything else. But I’ll be back, probably with tales of moving adventures and Many Feelings about leaving the house behind.

Until then, I need to work on everything that gets me to that lovely point of post-moving reflection.

See you around!

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House update, and also query update

Well, life sure moves fast. At this time last week, I was figuring out how to finalize preparing the house for showings. Today, the showings are done. We got 2 unbelievably strong offers in the first 3 hours of showings, and now we’re working through all the paperwork and approvals to get the house sold. On the plus side, that means a minimum of people wandering through our house! On the minus side, it’s a lot of extra worry to try to get everything in order, from bracing for the invasive inspection (which we hopefully pass) to negotiating all the little stuff like closing costs and move-in dates.

At the same time, we’re starting the process of packing and purging, trying to cut down on the “stuff” we have and keeping only that which we want or need or use. Sarah and I are both habitual packrats, so we keep a LOT of stuff. We also have a habit of forgetting what we have, sticking it in a cupboard or box and losing track of it. The move to a condo forces us to downsize, and also to have more awareness around what we really own and how much space it takes up. Some things, like books, we will keep 95% of the time. Things like VHS tapes? Yeah 100% of those are going away unless there’s a really, really good reason to preserve one or two. But overall, it’s helping us get organized and it’s helping us reduce our stuff.

Not that that process is any fun.

Somewhat accidentally, this week also corresponds to me sending my 50th query on the current novel. 50 was the goal — I promised myself I would send the novel out 50 times before I gave up on trying to publish it. Thus far, I’ve got no bites from agents who want to represent it. However, many (if not most) agents have a 4-8 week turnaround on responses, so there are certainly no shortage of agents out there who may yet look at my query and jump on it. But, on the other hand, this may be the end of the process for now.

I actually did get one R&R, a revise and resubmit, and when I can breathe and think creatively at the same time again I will probably make the changes requested and see if that still appeals to them. I’m not 100% convinced that such changes make for a better story, just a different one, but, on the other hand, publishing isn’t about ME AND MY ART AND THE PURITY OF MY WORDINESS. It’s a business. Publishing is about selling books and making money. And if I want to publish a book the traditional way, then I need to be willing to set my story aside and make the changes that will sell. I don’t necessarily have to feel them in my soul; I just need to be flexible enough to make them real.

So, what now?

Well, it is spring, the time of new beginnings, new growth, new life.

I start over.

The current novel is not the first I’ve written — it was the 21st. It won’t be the last, either; I’ve written 2 since then and am working on the third. It wasn’t even the first original novel I’ve written, and it won’t be the last. I have ideas for a dozen new original novels. That’s the nice thing about writing so much — no one story, one novel, one work is the be-all-end-all of who I am and what I do. I do love this novel. I love it and I want it to be in the world.

“But wait!” you say. “Couldn’t you just self-publish it?”

Yes, but not really.

Is it technically possible for me to format the novel, get some kind of artwork, put it into a downloadable format, and sell it on Amazon or Kindle or whatever? Of course it is.

Is it a good idea for me, personally, to do so? No. No it is not.

Self-publishing works well for certain people and certain genres. Romance, for example, does better with self-publishing because of the voracious appetite for new books that readers of romance possess. But even then, the successful authors who actually make money through self-publishing do a hell of a lot more than just formatting the book and making it available for a dollar. They do self-promotion through social media, reading groups, conventions, message boards, podcasts, etc. They put in a huge amount of effort to get their books in front of audiences. They work with other authors to cross-advertise for one another. They network until they have thousands of followers who will loyally retweet and reblog and share their efforts to get their books read.

It is a metric fuck-ton of work. And you know what? I’m probably not cut out for most of it.

I have been a Marketing Analyst. I know about SEO. I know what it takes to get people to click on your site, and to get them to stay there. I know how social media networks disseminate information to one another. I know that you might need to get 10,000 “likes” before you get even 1 sale. And so the amount of work needed for me, from my laptop, to do all that is disproportionate to the amount of interest and patience I have in doing it. There’s a reason I am no longer a Marketing Analyst, and a reason I was never an “influencer” on social media.

So, yes. Technically I could self-publish it, but I’d be doing myself and my book a disservice. I am not cut out to be the single mouthpiece shouting into the void to get readers. I can support the professionals in it, can maintain my Twitter presence and my blog, can show up where I am told to go, but I can’t generate that much content, that much presence, that much effort on my own. It would take spoons not just from writing, but from living.

Therefore, no. It’s traditional publishing for me, or maybe nothing at all.

It’s sad to put the novel in a drawer, if that’s what happens, but it’s not the end of the world. I gave it a good shot. I didn’t give up or get disheartened, and I made it all the way to 50+ rejections (and one R&R so far). I learned what it feels like when those rejection emails come, and I got used to filing them and forgetting about them. I got my query letter read, but the novel wasn’t the right fit. So I’ve learned a lot about the search for an agent, even though it will probably end in failure.

But that failure will serve the next novel, and the next. And the ones after that.

Because I’m not giving up. I’m already an author. I’m an author because I have written novels. I’m a writer because I think about writing ALL THE TIME. I’m not published, but publishing status doesn’t make me any less an author or writer. It just means I’m still not getting paid.

And who knows? Maybe in 3 weeks someone will email and say “Hey, finally got to your submission and hells yeah I want to rep you!” Maybe the next novel will be the right fit that this one wasn’t for the market or the agents or the random swing of what is currently popular. Maybe the novel 2 or 3 from now will sell and my agent will say, “Hey, do you have anything about dragons I could work with?” and I’ll be able to pull it out of a drawer. Maybe something I can’t even imagine will happen.

So I’m not sorry for having gone through this process even though it has been unsuccessful. I’m not in the slightest sorry for writing the novel, even though nobody bought it. Writing is a journey, and I’ve learned from everything I’ve ever written, every short story, every novel, sometimes even these blog posts. If the answer is that I need to learn a little more, or find slightly different timing, I’m okay with that.

It’s not like the ideas will dry up in my head any time soon. In fact, I’ve got about 30 more ideas to write than I will have time in the next year or two. And since I get a new and usable idea about once a month (and many, many not-usable ones every day), that deficit will continue to grow. Which is how a life based on producing art should be, in my opinion. The day that I run out of things to write is the day I quit breathing.

Except not, because at this rate, I’ll still die with 30+ unwritten stories on my list.

It’s like trying to put the thread in a sewing machine when it’s already running. And in this, I am just fine with always being a few steps behind. This isn’t a race I can ever win. It’s not a race I ever WANT to win.

And if this particular sprint to publish is over, then I guess I need to go find the next one.

(Possibly after figuring out the whole house-selling, condo-buying, stuff-purging, moving thing.)

(But, with my luck, not.)

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Take these lies and make them true

Okay, so I’m more than a little swamped trying to deal with the house thing. As I ranted at length on Twitter, turning your house into a space that will sell to someone else means basically depersonalizing it to the extreme. Not only does it have to be scrubbed floor to ceiling, literally — I actually washed freaking walls this week — but it means the house has to take on what I call MAXIMUM CONFORMITY. No nerd pictures, few personal items. No clutter, even when that clutter is a representation of self.

Do we remember me talking about Defiance? About being myself no matter the cost?

I HATE THIS SOOOOO VERY MUCH, FOLKS.

But there’s also about 15 things I need to get done, like putting paint on my ceiling where it got spots from, you know, life. So I’m going to go do some of that.

I leave you with this, because why not?

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Home, home on the range of expectations and feelings

I know I missed yesterday. Sorry. My brain is just ALLLLLLL over the place these days, particularly with choir and CVG heating up and now this house-condo thing. I’m DREAMING about condos now. It’s pretty weird.

There’s a big mental shift that I’m working on making that has to do with space and ownership and identity. The American Dream (™) is really about the 2 cars, 2.5 kids, dog, picket fence, perfect yard with the hand-painted shutters thing, and it’s not just an ideal state; it’s kind of the default assumption of success and adulthood. Living in your apartment in your 30s? Oh, you must not be grown up yet or fully ready for the responsibility? Prefer to live in a high rise in an urban center? Oh, you’ve chosen your career over a family environment.

The judgement isn’t from people close to me, but it’s certainly there in society. This idea that “a man is king of his own castle” and therefore no man is complete without a domain that can be measured in acres and a flawless green lawn. In my case, I’m no man, but I feel a similar pull. There’s something deeply embedded in the sinews of my chest that says “Claim territory! Own a piece of land! Four walls shared with none!” And it’s hard to ignore.

I have absolutely no idea how much of this is some kind of innate instinct left over from our days in the caves and how much has been programmed into me by the society in which I live. Given the sheer numbers of people who live very happily in apartments and such all over the world, I’m kinda thinking it’s the latter.

I get caught up thinking about the tree out front of the house. It’s a river birch with 3 forks, which is just so very appropriate for me spiritually. It’s MY tree. How will I feel when it’s no longer my tree, when it is someone else’s tree? When someone else might cut it down? How will I feel when there is no tree which is MINE?

But then I stop and I wonder — why do I need a MY tree at all? Why can’t I make friends with any tree I pass? I’ve certainly had trees that weren’t mine in the past, trees at summer camp, at college, at homestays abroad, that I loved and leaned on and let go. Why do I need MY tree and MY yard and MY little patch of earth?

And what I’ve learned about myself is that I think it’s a security thing. I think the idea of “this is my land and I own it and no one else can tell me what to do on it” eventually translates to “here I can be safe and nothing can threaten me that I don’t control and I could live off the land if I had to” — which is a total lie because one third of an acre can’t support any human being, let alone two, and half our yard is rocks. But it’s a feeling, almost primal, this sense that the boundaries of the territory mean security and safety, and to give those up and live in the sky with neighbors a wall away is to invite danger.

When, really, the opposite is kind of the truth.

Sure, there won’t be land to grow our own food, but we don’t do much of that anyway (and Sarah will grow tomatoes and kale on any balcony for me because she is the BEST). Sure, I’m sharing a wall with others, but I’m not sharing my LIFE with them. The wall is cement and not going anywhere. And the truth is that home invasions are a much greater risk in a detached property, no matter how nice the neighborhood, than they ever will be in a secure building with finite tenants.

And, yes, a condo means a Homeowners’ Association, which means HOA dues and the HOA being allowed to decide things like what color the front door is or if we’re having all the windows washed today. But they can’t decide to take my home away from me. They can’t decide to tell me what kind of furniture I can have or prevent me if I want to put my bedroom in the middle of the kitchen. The building is shared, the amenities are shared, the decisions about upkeep are shared, but the space within is still mine. It’s just not the whole castle anymore — simply one room in the keep.

It’s still a loss in some ways. I’m going to miss MY trees. I’m going to miss the family of ravens that hangs out, and the murder of crows that regularly fills up every tree on the block. I’m going to miss the generations of mixed gray and red squirrels that have lived in our backyard — we’re up to the 5th, I think — and their antics. I’m going to miss having certain dedicated spaces which I never had to share. I’m going to miss having space to spread out when I really need it.

But there are other things to gain. A condo means a pool and a workout room. It means a green space maintained by others. It means a view of the river, and that heals my heart just by itself.

And what I have to keep telling myself is that the space really isn’t any more or less mine in the first place — it was always mine and Sarah’s. And if she let me take this corner for my space, or gave me that area to meditate, it was always shared and agreed upon. And that won’t change. We’re probably going to steal a tiny bit of money off of our down payment to buy a wall bed (the kind of bed frame where you can fold the whole mattress up into a cupboard and get back all your floor space) not for guests, but for ourselves. Because then the bedroom can still double as that space of mine — I just need to fold up the bed and it’s big and open once more. It won’t be as simple as just going downstairs, but it also means I’ll sleep surrounded by the things that make me really feel safe.

Similarly, Sarah is giving up her dedicated space, kind of her version of a man-cave with her comfy but ugly chair and her Nintendo. But the Nintendo can go out in the open and the chair can live in the den with my office and ALL THE BOOKS and that’s okay, too. Because she needed a place she could isolate herself when there were too many people, but she’ll still have that. And she’ll also be able to hide in it when I’m actually working, or writing, and not be 3 floors away. She might actually use it more often because of that.

And we’re also gaining more of an open layout than we have. We’ll be able to cook dinner while watching hockey, or lounge on the couch while others are playing games at the table. Right now the split between our kitchen/dining room and our living room is a constant source of wanting one thing in the other place. This will fix that.

But maybe the biggest thing we’re going to gain is time and freedom. We won’t have to think about shoveling and snowblowing a driveway. We won’t have to remember to plant flowers so our yard is appropriate, or mow the lawn when it’s long, or check the siding for storm damage, or watch the trees to see if they need to be trimmed. The stuff that makes homeowners’ insurance so expensive is the stuff we really don’t like about having a house in the first place. I won’t have to wonder if our basement is going to flood, or if the ice on the sidewalk is too thick to break up. I won’t have to plan time for breaking up fallen branches to put them on the curb.

Bad stuff can and does still happen in a condo — the neighbor leaves a bathtub running and it floods the unit below — but the building deals with it collectively, which takes the onus off the owner. And bad stuff can happen anywhere; it actually feels better to me to be in a place where the community as a whole is responsible for it rather than just Sarah and I.

The downsizing of stuff, eliminating furniture we don’t want or need in smaller space, is hard in a different way. I’m a HUGELY sentimental person. If you give me something, no matter how stupid it is, I kind of assign all the meaning YOU have in my life to the plastic cheap thing that was just meant to be a joke. It makes it hard for me to let go of things, because it feels like betraying the person who gave it to me. But I’m going to have to.

In another way, this is a relief. Stuff is a weight, a worry, too. Sarah and I both do better when we live by the rule of “you can’t bring it home if you don’t know where it’s going to fit.” We’re not hoarders, but we’re generally only semi-tidy and we like our level of lived-in clutter. Our space will never be in any magazine, good or bad, but you can tell from any angle exactly who lives here when you look around. Paring that down, first to sell the house, then to fit into the condo, is a stretch for us both. But I think it’s healthy.

No, we’re not watching that show on Netflix. But the concept applies.

In the end, the things we truly treasure aren’t going anywhere. Gifts from beloved friends and family will still be displayed just as prominently — if maybe more strategically. The bookshelf my great grandfather hand-made for my grandmother because he was so proud of her interest in reading will be with me until I die or it falls to pieces. We’ll lose some excess end tables and shelves and sweaters and books (maybe) and little fuzzy silly things and knickknacks, but we’re not going to lose anything important.

And we’re not losing anything important when we leave this house behind, either. I won’t have MY tree, but there will be trees on the property or down the street or in a friend’s yard that I love, too. I won’t have MY yard, but I also don’t spend any time in my yard, so I’m not going to lose much even if I miss it on a conceptual level. I won’t have yards of open air between my walls and the next person, but I’m not sure those yards of open air ever made me feel safer.

There will be a loss. There will be grief. I will absolutely, certainly, without a doubt cry when we drive away from the house for the last time. But I also know myself. I know how I adapt. I know that my heart can ache for a loss and just as quickly rejoice at something newly gained. And I know it won’t be long before I’m looking out at that river from my window and feel nothing but wonder and security and peace in my new home.

It isn’t living the American Dream (™), but I’ve never intentionally aspired to it. What I’ve aspired to is finding a home where Sarah and I felt safe, could live with relative comfort and ease, and involved minimal stress for us both. The house we love, for all its good points, doesn’t necessarily answer that need. So that means we have to make the leap and try something new. It will have its own drawbacks and uncomfortable surprises, but at least I won’t have to dodge wasps while trying to help Sarah weed a rock garden.

George Bernard Shaw wrote something I have almost always found to be true: “You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.”

Of the somethings I stand to lose, none of them are myself, and I am interested to learn which ones I never really needed in the first place. This house has been my home, has given others a home at times, and I’m going to miss it. But home doesn’t lie in the bricks and walls. It lies in the heart.

And my heart is very much ready to build a home high in the sky, overlooking the river.

(And the pool isn’t a bad addition, either.)

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Take Me Home

I should have a lot more to say right now, but, honestly, I’m still pretty tired. Two weeks on the road crowned by 12 hours straight of driving (including 5.5 hours where we didn’t even so much as stop for gas or a bathroom break) plus getting the ACTUAL GODDAMN FLU made for a pretty exhausting experience. But ultimately good, and I’m glad I did it.

I’m more glad to be home, though.

Maybe next week I’ll get Sarah to type up the Chicago swearing list from this trip and I’ll post it, if I want to immortalize my profanity. Maybe.

For now, though, I give you this song. It’s probably in the top 15 songs of all road trip anthems for Sarah and I. The “Hits” album by Phil Collins is one that we regularly played in my first car journeying back and forth in our initial years as friends when we would visit one another during breaks from college. That CD, and Phil Collins in general, became symbols for our hours in a car together, singing and laughing and talking. Before we were anything (everything) else to one another, that was a CD that kept us company.

The last track on the CD is “Take Me Home.” Different people think it’s about different things — being under a totalitarian government, or in a mental institution. But there isn’t that kind of darkness or eeriness in the original video, and if that’s how Phil Collins wanted us to understand the song, he’d have made it clear, I think. (You CAN read that into it, if you want, but I choose not to.)

To me, it’s always been a song about the push-pull of wanting to be elsewhere, and wanting to be home. The push-pull of being trapped somewhere, and of leaving it. The complexities that make home troublesome even when home is where you belong. And, in the end, it’s about accepting those complexities, making the journey, and still wanting to find home afterwards. It’s about that sense that makes home different from anything and anywhere else in the world, a sense that other places counterfeit, but only belongs to one.

Sarah and I used to sing this at the top of our lungs missing Carleton like a limb. We were fine in our parents’ homes, but we were better there in the world we had defined for ourselves. We felt trapped even when we were happy and welcome in the towns of our births, because home no longer belonged to those places of childhood — it belonged to our futures. We used to sing this song and count the days until we could go back to Minnesota and recapture that feeling of home that was the new place we wanted to belong.

This time, we sang it about Minnesota again, but with less longing and more intention. There is nothing wistful about it anymore — we aren’t stuck waiting for a summer break to end before we can undertake a journey to where we belong. We choose when to leave, and we can choose to return. And we can choose to make our return all in one long day, speeding across the miles that keep us from where we feel at home.

And we don’t mind leaving, knowing we can return. Even if we do, temporarily, forget what makes home feel so uniquely special, and that forgetting drives us to return ever faster so we can know in our bones once more that we are back. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and there is nothing quite like walking into our house after 12 hours striving to reach it, and knowing we can finally and truly rest, safe and secure in the place we made ours alone.

We traveled thousands of miles, scores of hours, to reconnect with where we began. Now we’re home, where we belong.

And at some point, I’ll stop being so damn tired. But it’s a worthwhile tired. It brought us home safely, in spite of everything that happened along the way.

Until then:

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Don’t Look Back

My whole life has been full of music. My parents tell stories about my dad’s rock band (apparently as a toddler I tried playing his drum kit), about my propensity to sing along to anything I heard from the moment I could control the sounds I was making, about the happy hours I could spend with a single record or tape playing over and over again.

My parents were into rock music in the 70s and 80s, bands like the Doobie Brothers, Boston, the Eagles, The Guess Who, REO Speedwagon. Also Genesis and Phil Collins — dad being a drummer and all. I knew Beatles music, or Elvis, but it was the next wave of rock music that was the soundtrack to my early years. Long before I was old enough to care about the radio, even before I was drawn in by the siren song of Disney soundtracks, I was finding myself in crashing, harmonious, soaring rock music.

For most of my life, my anthem was “Music is the Doctor” or “Dangerous,” both by the Doobie Brothers. Those two songs and “China Grove” were the perfect songs to capture exactly how it felt to be alive to bitty me. Not necessarily the words, but the feel. Although, the older I got, the more music meant to me, and the more I could feel the burning recklessness in my veins that makes “Dangerous” such a fantastic song. Music taught me at an early age to shout, to dance, to dare to be loud and insistent, to feel the drum make my heart speed up to meet it.

Every significant step I’ve ever taken has had music in its wake. Not just that songs continued to speak to me, that music helped me understand my feelings. But every time I took a leap, there was music. When I got in the car to drive to college, knowing in my heart of hearts that I would never be the same, I chose my tunes carefully and they carried me to Minnesota. When I needed to gather my courage before a daring admission, I cracked up my best songs to give me the edge I lacked. To this day, when Sarah and I set off on a road trip, the very first thing on our list is music. Even before Diet Coke.

Songs come and go; those I couldn’t live without 5 years ago are a fond memory that I find easy to skip now. New music demands to be played over and over, old music rediscovered like a lost friend.

But there are some that are permanent.

“Don’t Look Back” by Boston is one of these.

“Don’t Look Back” was on the second mixtape my dad ever made me, and quickly converted me into a full-fledged Boston fan. I’d had “Rock and Roll Band” on the first mixtape, but something in “Don’t Look Back” was ready for me when I was ready for it.

It’s a deceptively simple song. Not a lot of lyrics for something around 6 minutes long:

Don’t look back
A new day is breakin’
It’s been too long since I felt this way
I don’t mind where I get taken
The road is callin’
Today is the day

I can see
It took so long just to realize
I’m much too strong not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind

It’s a bright horizon
And I’m awakin’ now
Oh I see myself in a brand new way
The sun is shinin’, the clouds are breakin’
Cause I can’t lose now
There’s no game to play

I can tell
There’s no more time left to criticize
I’ve seen what I could not recognize
Everything in my life was leading me on
But I can be strong

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind

Oh the sun is shinin’ and I’m on that road

This is the song that helps me take a deep breath, close my eyes, and lift my head up. The song where I focus forward on what is coming, on what I want to create. The song that helps me let go of my fear, my doubt, my insecurity, and just take a step.

It goes quiet and soft in the middle. Everything drops but the barest guitar and drum beat. Stillness before motion, patience before determination. And then the song bursts back to life. It flies and dips and wheels like a freed bird. And it doubles down on the message once more.

The whole message is about being strong enough to keep going. Being strong enough to make changes, even fundamental ones, to keep from being trapped and pinned down and unable to fly. “Everything in my life was leading me on, but I can be strong.” I can break free. I can look at the road unwinding at my feet and walk it, even not knowing where it leads.

Next week, we begin a road trip that will last almost 2 weeks. No idea if I’ll be posting while I’m gone — kinda depends on what sort of Mondays I’m having, I guess.

And as with all adventures, there is always a chance at heartache, or struggle, or loss. There is a chance that I’ll take one step too far and lose something precious. But the trade-off is this: if I don’t take the steps, if I don’t make the attempt, then I lose myself instead. Risk versus reward isn’t just for the stock market or sports games. It’s for life.

And sometimes you have to take that step. Sometimes you have to stand up and start walking and never look back, even when everything around you wants you to hold still. Sometimes you have to trust to your own strength and let it carry you. Sometimes you have to dare leaving everything behind to find out what you really have, where you really are, and where you belong.

I’ve made so many choices in my life that were good and bad. That worked out in some ways, failed miserably in others. But I try so, so, so hard not to live with regret. You can’t go live a single second over. You can’t get back the ones that are lost. You can’t get a do-over, no matter how badly you want one. So I make the choice in the moment that I can live with, and damn the consequences. I couldn’t live with myself not taking chances, not giving my all, not fighting for that next step forward.

Everything I’ve ever gained has come because I left something else behind.

I’m sure I’ll miss my house when I’m sleeping on spare beds and in hotel rooms for 2 weeks. I’ll miss my cats, my people, my routine, my ability to relax in my own space. But it’s an adventure still, with the future unknown. And I won’t be sorry I’m going, no matter how it turns out. Because there is something to learn on the road out there. There is always something to learn.

Most of my best insights have come while behind the wheel of my car, facing an endless stretch of highway, Sarah at my side, singing at the top of our lungs.

Watch my Twitter account if you’ve a mind for it — all my one-liners get worse and Sarah dutifully transcribes them for me. If you poke me, I may or may not respond, depending on where I am and what little adventure we’ve stumbled upon this time. If we have any odd encounters (burning trucks, flooded roads, that thing with the pigs), I’ll try to remember to include them in an entry when I get back.

Every change, even a temporary one, is worth the risk. Every breath taken free and fierce and fearless is worth the cost.

Next week, I’ll be breathing free, singing loud, and finding myself on that calling road one more time.

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Only Love

I had a very long weekend including an emotionally difficult concert, so I’m not even going to try to string words together.  Here’s one of the songs we sang. Honestly, I’d have to listen to our recording to be sure, but I think ours came out better. Theirs is more technically accurate; ours had a lot more soul and passion and heart.

Either way, the message stands.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness.  Only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred.  Only love can do that.” — Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr

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