April Blizzard and Binary Stars

When we had the snow-covered Ostara, we thought that was a little silly.  Predictable even for Minnesota, but silly.

The April blizzard of this past weekend, though?  Not silly.

Downright ridiculous.

The pile of snow at the end of our driveway where the plow bunched it up was WAIST-HIGH on me.  And filled with chunks of snow balled together so firmly we started making jokes about finding the anatomy of dead snowmen.  We took some pictures, but it is difficult to show the real scale of the wintry disaster that has descended upon Minnesota when it is supposed to be spring.

All the evergreen trees on our property look like some variation on this, if they aren’t broken in half:

Here is what we called the “Four Shovels of the Snowpocalypse:”

And here is the courageous team of my wife and our two Clanmates who live nearest — it took all four of us to dig out the driveway and rescue a couple of the trees.  We didn’t even bother with the sidewalk, as you can see. Anybody who needs to come see us can come in the driveway until the thaw:

There’s a reason #Minnesnowta is trending right now.  Utterly ridiculous.

If Sarah and I were different people, we might be actually upset if this blizzard were to keep us from spending this week in some kind of special way.  But we won’t, because we don’t do that sort of thing.

This week is our 15th anniversary.

Now, due to the vagaries of recognition of non-straight marriages and the shifting politics that have occured in the past 15 years, Sarah and I have 3 separate anniversaries.  Late August of 2013 is the date on our marriage certificate, because that’s when we could gather our friends and family in our backyard the summer Minnesota legalized same-sex marriages.  But that was a very informal ceremony — Sarah wore a t-shirt, I was in shorts, and we interrupted the vows midway through for me to dodge away from a wasp. It was a beautiful day, though.

In 2010, we had our “official ceremony,” which is the one where I wore the awesome dress, Sarah wore a suit, both our sets of parents came, there was an exchange of rings, and we made our vows public for the first time.  In 2010, we didn’t really know if or when marriage would be legal in the state of Minnesota, or in the US. But by then, we had been together 7 years, and we knew we were going to be together to the end.

For that ceremony, we wrote the song we call “Binary” because that’s what we are — a pair of binary stars, forever in orbit around one another, defining one another, inseparable.  Born together, bound together, alive together. And in the end, wherever it ends, however life closes, we’ll be together.

But it’s 2003 where our relationship began in truth, and that’s where I count from.

We had been friends for more than a year when things changed between us, and it had been a very difficult year for us both.  We had seen friends get together and grow apart, we had faced some very painful experiences and realizations, and we were in the midst of that growing season that happens in college when, for the first time, you lift your head up in the world and realize you are going to have to start defining yourself for yourself.

Sarah was a huge part of my process figuring out who I could be, who I wanted to be, and she was really the first to believe in me so very thoroughly and unflinchingly.  She was my best friend, the person I felt safest with in all the world, and I was changed for knowing her.

But in April of 2003, our relationship changed over the course of about 3 nights.  It was a slightly slow revelation, like the movies in slow-motion, where we both came to understand that we wanted to care more for one another than anyone else.  We even made jokes about how we might someday fall in love and get married, but we didn’t think a relationship with a spouse could ever really be what we were together.  It was a scary two days to take that to the logical conclusion of “maybe we just need each other.”

Five weeks later, Sarah asked me to marry her while calling me a goofball at the same time.

A year to the day later in April 2004, I asked her to marry me in return.

Fifteen years has changed us both in ways neither one of us could have imagined.  We’ve been through dangerous illness, the breakup of families, financial struggle, and a world which sometimes was downright horrible to us (there’s really nothing like having to walk through a line of virulent protesters to get to the wedding of a pair of gay friends).  We’ve been through rounds of therapy, alone and together, we’ve had moments of utter despair, and we’ve seen each other through dangerous depression.

But not once — not once– in fifteen years, have I ever wanted to share any of that with anyone more than Sarah.  And no matter how bad or unhealthy things got, I never wanted to do anything but make it right with her.

All people talk about marriage needing communication, and respect, and a sense of humor, and patience, and generosity.  And all those people who say those things are correct. If you cannot be completely and totally honest, completely and totally yourself, without even a shade of fear in front of the person you married, then you will never know freedom or trust.  If you cannot look at the person you chose to share your life and think they are 100% in the wrong, totally off their rocker, and still fully think they are an awesome person whose opinions, though wrong, deserve to be heard and treated fairly, then you cannot really stand as equals.  If you can’t laugh until your head spins with the person you married, can’t share jokes and snark and puns and terrible songs and all the rest every single day, then you’re missing out on a lot of joy. If you cannot force yourself to take a breath in a heated moment even if it feels you are putting your chest through a cheese grater, you’ll never be able to be quiet when the person you married most needs you to listen.  And if you can’t love completely, unconditionally, would willingly give literally anything without a second thought, then you have missed what it really means to cherish someone else.

Fifteen years with Sarah has been a lifetime of laughter and joy and crazy moments and tearful exchanges and daily cuddles — and it can never be enough.  Fifteen years on, and sometimes I just look at her sitting at her end of the couch with her laptop and start to cry because I love her so damn much and I cannot, cannot hold it all inside because I could never be big enough to feel this much.  Fifteen years from the start and I know I am a better person, a kinder person, a more understanding person, because I have become so for her. Fifteen years has not flown by, it has soared.

Fifteen years I have belonged to Sarah, heart and soul, and will until the universe collapses into nothingness.

We don’t celebrate it — the blizzard doesn’t do a damn thing to impact our plans because we never make plans.  We never exchange gifts. We never buy flowers. We don’t always even remember the milestones. Every single day is a blessing with Sarah, and every day is worthy of celebration and trumpets and grand gestures because I love her that much every day.  I don’t ever stop thinking about it. I don’t ever become numb to it. Love is wonder, and I am still lost in wonder to this day.

We’re probably going to spend our anniversary watching cartoons and hockey and YouTube together.  Nothing more special than that, because there is nothing we could do that would be special enough to rival what I feel every single time I have the privilege of holding her hand, or giving her a hug, or flopping an arm over her in sleep.  We don’t celebrate the specific days because every day for fifteen years, even in the worst of times, has been a celebration.

Sarah is in my life, she chose me, and I get to spend every breath being hers.  And by being Sarah’s, I have become myself.

“Binary”

It is said that the earth was born when the moon crashed into her sky
A striking explosion of soul meeting soul
It is said that the mountains were born when the lands once parted collide
The inevitable draw of gravity’s pull

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

It is said that we walk in the sun when we sing to the dawn
No more separate than binary stars
Like the comet-flung quarks running free in their strange-colored fire of night
Wild wholeness in being who we are

When all the flowers fade
And all the rainbows fall
Wherever it ends when the last glory calls
My life began with you

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

It is said that we’re all a soul split in two and fallen from space
And peace lies only in being one
It is said that love is new like the butterflies in spring
That it grows by the days
But our love was old when the moon was young

So stand here with me
As you’ve stood all along
Your hand was in mine before my first song
And my arms will hold you tonight

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

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Still flying on

This song is called “O” by Coldplay, and it has really spoken to me lately:

Flock of birds
Hovering above
Just a flock of birds
It’s how you think of love

And I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly always
Sometimes they arrive
Sometimes they are gone
They fly on

Flock of birds
Hovering above
Into smoke I’m turned
And rise following them up

Still I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly away
One minute they arrive,
Next you know they’re gone
They fly on
Fly on

So fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I’ll fly next to you

Fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I can fly with you

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Warrior

I’m still fighting my way through this downswing, though a restful weekend certainly helped.  A friend brought food and comfort over on Friday night, and she leached some of the leftover anguish from the Rise Up concert from my heart.  And though the storm goes on, I stand a little stronger against it today.

There are storms in every corner of the world, and in every corner of every human heart — no one is unique in that way.  And, like I said last week, because pain is relative, one person cannot necessarily say or know that another’s storm is easier or gentler than their own.  Some storms are outside us, a society which is cruel or biased or unjust. Some are inside, like my downswing or the damage done to someone by another. Some are both, a cycle of judgement by the world which reinforces and strengthens the ice daggers within.

We all fight battles, big and small.  Some stand on a national stage and fight for their people against an oppressive power.  Some crouch in a darkened room and fight despair inside. Some do both, sometimes all at once.

But it all stems from the same choice, the same decision —

“I can and will fight.  I can and will a warrior be.  It is my nature and my duty.”

The TCWC’s Encore does a version of this song which…well.  Make sure you hear it sometime when we perform, and we will blow you away.  It’s very, very much worth it. Sarah and I also performed it at CONvergence last year with the help of a friend.  Hopefully I’ll get our version on YouTube soon.

This week, I give you this song.  For whatever storm you are battling.  For whatever darkness seems too deep. For whatever fatigue beats you down.  For whatever surrender seems too easy.

Don’t give in.

We are all fierce warriors.  In the world, in ourselves, for causes great and greater, because no cause worth fighting for could ever be small.

It is the humanity in us all.

 

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Spoons, and the songs that tell painful true stories

I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday.  We were talking about how each of us is doing, how we’re holding together through a rough patch, and we rounded to the topic of spoons per the Spoon Theory.  It’s an analogy coined by Christine Miserandino, if you don’t know it, and it helps illustrate the effort that it takes to get through the day with limited energy or health or pain tolerance or illness.  Healthy, fully-able-bodied people don’t have to count their spoons because they don’t have to think about the energy expenditures of “everyday” activities. But for those with a chronic illness, or mental illness, or an autoimmune disorder, or a disability, even tasks that might be described as “normal” simply aren’t.

I’ve been close to running out of spoons a lot lately as this downswing chews up my energy and ability to cope.  Half the world feels like it’s uphill, or at the top of a flight of stairs, and while I *can* make the climb, it takes something out of me to do it, something I don’t get back easily or quickly.

This literally was my situation this weekend at a choir concert where we had to go up and down several flights of metal stairs and my knee chose not to work without pain and a brace.

But the concert required me to give up spoons in more important ways, too.

It was a collaboration between the TCWC and the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus.  The concert was called “Rise Up!” and was a call to action for social justice. It was fun to be invited, of course, and to share the stage with the ever-outstanding TCGMC.  It gave us a chance to sing a few songs we’ll be performing in May, to really work towards something early in the season.

But, most importantly, the concert MATTERED.

This wasn’t a concert for singing “Kumbaya” and telling child-friendly versions of the world we hope to live in someday.  This wasn’t a night of celebrating our shared humanity and looking into that potential with optimism and hope.

This was, in many ways, a brutal reckoning of the world as it exists today.  And I choose the word “brutal” very deliberately.

We did sing songs about rising up together, about the brave people in whose footsteps we walk, about speaking out for those in need.

But we also sang songs about rape and about murder.

The TCWC will be performing “Quiet” by MILCK in May — it’s a powerful piece that was written to be performed at the Women’s March in Washington DC in 2017 and relates to the silence around sexual harassment and sexual assault, domestic violence, and even depression.  You can find it here.

After two months of practice, I could mostly sing the song with strength and defiance and not feel the biting of my own ways of identifying with it.  I was prepared for that much.

I wasn’t truly prepared for “Til It Happens To You” and the heart-breaking story that accompanied it as told by by a strong, brave man willing to share his rape experience with a room of a thousand strangers.

And on the heels of that, I was even less ready for “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.”

I wish I could tell you that you don’t really have to listen to them, that you can accept that these songs exist without needing to engrave them on your heart.  I wish I could tell you that our world is a better place than this, that the pain of people who are suffering, who are being hurt, who are being killed — I wish it was the exception.

If I’ve ever hated anything in my life, I hate that this is the norm.

I hate that this is what our world is, hate that I can’t say it’s a new thing, hate that I can’t pretend I didn’t know it was this bad.  I did know. I’ve seen it everywhere, from the day my eyes opened. Even if I didn’t know what I was looking at, it was there.

I hate that in this world where we are capable of so much beauty, so much art, so much love and kindness and wonder and wisdom, that we are just as culpable of such harm and hate and evil.

And I hate that it cost me spoons to be a part of that concert, to stand and sing those songs, to hear them sung, to know their painful, inhumane truth — when all I had to endure was singing.  If it cost me spoons to be a part of a call to action, what does it cost those for whom the action is most necessary just to live?

It isn’t my fault that I’m a white cis-woman.  That I don’t have to live under the same kinds of fears of people of color, or people who are trans.  It isn’t my fault that I am able-bodied and I don’t have to live in a world that constantly mistreats disabilities.  It’s also not my fault that I am a woman who married a woman — and sometimes we both have to live in a world which can be frightfully cruel and punishing just for that fact.

We are all exactly what we are, and we all have our own challenges.  I remind people (and myself) sometimes that pain is relative. For example, I’ve never broken an arm, so if I did, I imagine that would be the worst pain in my life.  But someone who has been shot, or stabbed, might think that a broken arm is nothing in comparison. And they’re right. Every person only knows as much pain — or as much joy — as they’ve ever experienced.  And you can’t compare my pain to yours, only show empathy and respect for both.

But I know, as a woman married to a woman I actually do know, that the pain of being a part of a concert which was important, which was necessary, which was needed, is absolutely nothing to suffering under the reasons WHY it was important and necessary and needed.  To be reminded of the horrors is nothing to living them.

Even so, I still had trouble with my spoons.  The number you get at any given moment doesn’t neatly correspond to the number you need, and it isn’t constant from day to day or even minute to minute.  Some days, I don’t have to count them. But right now, in this downswing, I do. And right now, in this downswing, I handed them over to be a part of something painful, something necessary.

And it can never be enough.  It’s like the thing about “thoughts and prayers.”  If giving up all my spoons would make the world better, I would do it in a heartbeat.  But it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just pray and hope that somehow the world will spontaneously improve.  The only actions that work are *actions.* Protesting, voting, having difficult conversations, donating, raising awareness, calling out cruelty where it happens — we have to put boots on the ground, hands in the air, votes in the boxes, dollars in the hands of those with the right power, and words in the minds of people who need to hear them.

This concert was not an *empty* call to action, after all.  And I have work to do. We ALL have work to do.

But right now?  I still don’t have the spoons.  My bipolar brain can only do so much, and today it can’t even do that.

So, for now, I’m going to keep hunting for spoons.  I’m going to dig them up, find them in shadows and tucked-away corners.  I’m going to hoard them like a dragon with its treasures. I’m going to find as many as I can, to get me through until I don’t need to count anymore.

And then I’ll trade the spoons for another round of actions.

Because it is a privilege that I can choose to do so — and all I can do is make it count.

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Downswing

So, I hit a downswing last week.  I warned you at the start, didn’t I?  That sometimes things would go sideways because sometimes my brain decides to shake itself all out of balance and all I can do is hold on for the ride?  Well, sometime last week, apparently my happy brain chemicals decided to check out for a while and here I am in a downswing.

They’re all different, at least for me.  I’ve never been inside anybody else’s head, of course, but for me, every round of depression is different.  Sometimes they’re violent and frightening, like a storm in my head and I’m never more than a half-breath away from breaking out sobbing.  Sometimes they’re so subtle, so sneaky I don’t even realize I’ve slipped into Downswing Bizarro World until they let up and I look around and go “huh, that’s different.”  Sometimes they’re insidious, with a hundred little voices filling up my thoughts, pretending to be me, pretending to speak truth, and telling me every second every awful thing they can come up with to cut into me.  Sometimes they’re more physical, the symptoms manifesting like a cold or PMS, and I’m just tired and achey and not sleeping and everything else like being down with a cold minus the cold.

This one has been part physical and part mental.  The physical aspect has been draining. My energy reserves have been low no matter how much sleep I got or how much I ate or how much I rested between other things.  It was an effort, mental and physical, to get up and do something, anything, and then an impossibility to do more than one; I’d sit back down and have to start all over again.

The mental part has been some mix of the constant voice of self-hate and a propensity to be easily overwhelmed and need to escape.  Which was kind of terrible timing.

Since we had planned to have 18 people in the house on Sunday for Ostara.

I don’t celebrate Easter — not being Christian will do that.  But I do celebrate Ostara, and I invite my Clan, my family-who-are-friends-who-are-family to come join me.  Sarah and I cook a bunch of food, hide plastic eggs in the yard, and prepare baskets of chocolate and goodies (and other non-food goodies for those who prefer) for everyone.  And everyone else brings something to share and games to play, and we take a whole afternoon and evening to eat and have fun and spend time together. The kids come, too, and they get their own egg hunt, and then the last few years they’ve vanished into one room to play Legos.

I couldn’t actually tell you how I got the house ready for Ostara this year.  I always get less tidy when I’m heading for and then in a downswing, and this was no exception.  But, this time, I had to fight almost to the point of tears to get up and do things, from the grocery run to setting up chairs.  It was maddening and exhausting and I truly didn’t think I’d manage it. Even with Sarah helping as she could, there’s a freaking metric ton of work to do for that many people in the house.  Cleaning, cooking, organizing…

But then, this is my Clan, my family.

And the truth is, if I’d failed, it would have been okay.

If I had needed to cancel Ostara completely, they’d have understood.  If I’d been okay to host, but couldn’t do the food, someone else would have taken it over for me.  If I’d not been able to set up chairs, someone would have come early to assist (as it is, a few people did come early and they mopped the kitchen for me).  If I’d left the house a mess, everyone would have been fine. There would have been no judging, no disapproval, no blame.

Because this is my Clan, and they are amazing.

I spent a huge portion of the party in whatever room was quietest.  Games happened at our big table upstairs, and I hid out in the downstairs with the people not playing games just talking.  And that was easier than being surrounded by noise. I played with the kids a bit, but less than other years because to have the energy to be good with them was simply beyond me.  I didn’t fuss over the food or the mess once things got going, and I didn’t worry about if everyone was individually fine or having fun or happy. I just…settled into a comfortable niche and let everything else go.

And it was all okay.

I wish everyone in the world had a family like this.  I wish every family was like this. This Clan of mine…it’s based on trust, on respect, and on love.  And there is room for us all to be whatever and whoever we need in it — and we’re all okay with that. So if I am having an off week, or if someone gets horribly sick, or if someone needs help, it’s all fine.  Nobody can be everything to everyone, but there is probably somebody in this group who can be what someone else needs for a little while.

All I really needed on Sunday was to be around my Clan, to sit at the side and see them playing together and having fun, and to know that I was perfectly safe, that I was wanted, that I was loved.  That’s all I needed. And that’s what they give me.

My family is the BEST.

The downswing goes on and I’m as tired and downtrodden and self-hating as I was before, but I know it’s okay.  I know it’s temporary, it’s Brain Out-of-Order Come Back Later time, and it’ll pass. I know that if I get in a jam I can’t handle, or if things go so far sideways I’m falling down, there will be a boatload of people I can reach out to for help, and one of them will come.  I know that tomorrow may not be better, or the day after, but that ‘better’ is out there. And I just have to hang on until I stumble on it.

And one day I’ll open my eyes and go, “huh, that was different” and it will be over.  And I might be annoyed that I missed Ostara and had to spend it in a downswing, but even that is okay.  Because my Clan will be here next Ostara, and the one after that, and all the parties in between. My family isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.

My downswings are sine curves, so they never truly bottom out and fall off the graph.  They can go pretty damn far down, but not forever. At some point, the graph will curve and I’ll be heading up above the suckitude again.  And, in the meantime, even if it feels like falling, I won’t hit bottom. I’ve got too many people to catch me.

And even my downswing brain can’t take that away from me.

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Cartoon song challenges

While March is busy coming in like a lion…

No, scratch that.  See this?

That’s outside my office at 4pm today.  And here’s outside my house shortly thereafter:

March is NOT coming in like a normal lion.  This is March coming in like some kind if Dire Ice Killer Undead Stormspirit Lion.

Anyway.

While March is proving that winter is not yet over in Minnesota (and apparently intends to go out fighting), here’s something else entirely:

First of all, people are awesome.  People who make this stuff, who embrace it, who dive into the fun and nerdy and fantastically wonderful are AWESOME.

Second of all, I have so much respect for whoever composed that piece and made it all work.  I do a little of that at the end of the year for the TCWC and it is HARD.

Third of all, what I really want to know is this —

Can anybody actually sing the lyrics of every song all the way through?  Because I can’t, and I’ve tried. But I also don’t KNOW all the songs. I can track what all the themes are, but some of them are from things I’ve never watched and don’t even know if they have lyrics to start with.  I keep meaning to look up the ones I don’t already know so I can finish it in my head, but…

This is what I do when I’m bored sometimes.  Find something like this and learn it cold.

I’ve already (mostly) mastered my ultimate favorite:

Although, if I’m going to get off, which I do about 60% of the time, it always happens right at Guinea-Bissau.  I get that far and then just…pleh. I usually miss a few beats to swear in frustration and then I come back in at Crete and, according to Sarah, sound very pissed off until the end, as if everything from there on has personally offended me — which it hasn’t, of course.

But if Rob Paulsen can do it, why can’t I?

Oh, wait.

Because he’s AMAZING.

Never mind.

These random thoughts and more during a snowstorm.  Welcome to March!

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Rebalancing My Writing Triad

I tend to believe that the ability to write a good story is born out of three separate facets: inspiration/creativity, skill (maybe also talent), and discipline.  You have to have an idea worth writing about, first of all, an idea strong enough to carry you from beginning to end whether you’re writing a 1,000 word drabble or a series of novels.  You have to have the ability to write a story well, balancing rhythm and plot, avoiding the black hole that is exposition, and knowing how to get the raw idea into words on a page that are in the order you intend.  And you must have the inner discipline to get it done.

For all of 2017, I struggled with writing.  Ultimately, I was able to bang out my goal 1 of 3 that I carry any given year, but neither of the other two.

Goal 1 = produce one chapter/oneshot per week to post in the following year, a total of 47 weeks of content (since I don’t post around the TCWC concert or CONvergence or the holidays).

Goal 2 = produce a minimum of 300,000 words.

Goal 3 = write an original novel

Yeah, I know, it’s ambitious as hell to have that sitting there on my shoulders year after year.  But the only way I get better is by working harder, and the only way I work harder is by pushing myself.

The thing is that, in 2017, I didn’t run out of ideas, and I didn’t lose any ability to create words and put them down in order.  But my sense of inner discipline suffered hugely due to all the stress around the things that happened in 2017 and the world it became.  This wasn’t “eh, I don’t feel like it” — it was “I can’t get a deep breath because I’m in a near-constant state of low-grade anxiety attack and who can think about one thing when everything else is happening?”

I know for a fact I’m not the only writer who had a year like that.

The discipline I’d honed in the years prior held me up and I got things done even when it seemed impossible.  I pushed through, I made Goal 1, and I’m happy with the content that is going up this year as a result.

But that push also exhausted me.

It’s the end of February 2018 right now.  In the past, eh, 5 years, I’ve written a novel in the Jan-Feb block pretty consistently.  But this year, I’ve definitely been feeling the effects of burnout.  I have no fewer ideas, but the mental and emotional energy to make anything happen with them has been low (also, the world has not improved much, so all that anxiety remains).

I decided I needed to do something really different to break the cycle of exhaustion and to give my brain a different stimulus than my usual “write write write!”

So, last week I made a list of 47 fandoms with which I feel mostly comfortable, one for every week of posting that will be needed in 2019.  Then I combined about 4 different lists of writing prompts.  Some random number generation and cross-referencing later, and I ended up with a list of 47 fandoms with a prompt next to each and every one.

My new goal is to write a oneshot for each of these fandom/prompt pairings.  I’m going to try to keep them all around 5,000 words or more, but I’m not asking myself to turn any one of them into a novel.  They’re just oneshots.  Short, sweet, fun stories.

For me, it’s like exercising a really different muscle.  Writing at length takes a certain mix of skill and focus and long-term planning.  I have to plant seeds even if I don’t know what they’re going to grow into or how I’m going to use their fruits later on.  But writing short stories feels like a burst of energy and focus, like lighting a firework and letting it explode, rather than having to till the land, plant the flowerbed, water it, weed it, and wait for it to grow.

I started this new process last Wednesday.  Since then, I’ve completed 2 of the oneshots and written more than I did the entire months of January and February until that point.  And I feel energized again.

It’s kind of a weird exercise, and weirder still for me to think that I might go this entire year without writing a novel.  On the other hand, if I get these 47 oneshots done quickly, I might have the end of my year completely free and clear of any pressure (since the 2019 Goal 1 will be done) and might find a novel in me yet.

What I’m learning about myself is that I really can write no matter the circumstances.  If it’s hard, I still get it done, even if it’s like dragging thorns out of my skin to get there.  If it’s easy, it flows from me as easily as breathing.  And sometimes I need to change the rules of the game to keep myself in the best shape.

My writing triad is in pretty good shape, even if I’ve had to bend it a bit in the last year and a half.  I’m still full of ideas and the will to write.  I still love the language and the act of putting thoughts into words.  And I still have the drive to push, to make writing happen no matter what.  I had to tip the triad up and balance it on a different point to make it stable for now, but that’s okay.

Maybe it’s not so much a triangle as a wheel, and once I soften those edges, it’ll get back to rolling along.

Writing is such a journey to me.  It’s an innate part of who I am and how I interact with the world beyond the TCWC or CVG or the people in my life.  It’s inscribed in my heart and stamped on my soul.  “Property of Writing.”  I belong to it as much as it could ever belong to me.  And through writing, I have found better parts of myself.  I’ve *created* better parts of myself.

It’s not *easy.*  Of course not.  Nothing worth having ever is.

And writing?  Is definitely worth it.

Even one short story at a time.

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We Are

Dr Ysaye Barnwell, composer for Sweet Honey in the Rock, has written some of the most inspiring, moving, powerful songs I’ve ever had the privilege to sing.  From her soul comes “Would You Harbor Me?” and “Wanting Memories” and “No Mirrors in my Nana’s House.”

If you don’t know them, go find them.  The originals, if you can.  Lots of choirs, mine included, sing them, but there is nothing like hearing them in the voice of Dr Barnwell herself.

One of those songs was one the TCWC performed a few weeks ago.  And also a few years ago.  It is just one of those songs that stays in my heart.

When stuff gets hard, or the world turns cold and dark and cruel, or when I just need to remind myself WHY IT ALL MATTERS, this is one of those songs that reminds me.

We Are

For each child that’s born, a morning star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers.
We are our grandfathers’ dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

We are
Mothers of courage
Fathers of time
Daughters of dust
Sons of great vision.

We are
Sisters of mercy
Brothers of love
Lovers of life and
the builders of nations.

We are
Seekers of truth
Keepers of faith
Makers of peace and
the wisdom of ages.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers.
We are our grandfathers’ dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

For each child that’s born, a morning star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.

WE ARE ONE.

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More With Less

Sometimes, I think the whole process of moving out into the world, from childhood to adulthood, from student to member of the workforce, from novice to expert, is all the same process of learning to handle more with less.  More work with less sleep.  More stress with less certainty of success.  More emotional upheaval with less retreat to recover.  More expectations with less room for error.

Eventually, the time comes when a person is going to need something to backfill all the ‘less’ that has been sacrificed to the ‘more.’  And how a person goes about that is as unique as the person.

For me, it kinda depends what I need.

If I need meditation, or just calming the hell down, I turn to this song, specifically written and arranged to help people relax.

If I need a 1 minute giggle, plus some insight into something totally random, I find something from QI.

Or maybe I dig into the archives of MST3K.

If I need my faith in the world restored, I go watch Matt Harding’s videos.

Or maybe this from The Trevor Project.

If I’m feeling nostalgic for the place I grew up, or I want to get emotional and feel the blood thumping adrenaline of my favorite sport, I’ve got the Buffalo Sabres 06-07 season opening.

And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head that helps.  A handful of videos that can reset my head and give me a little more to handle the less.  If I had to, I could list dozens of songs and stories, each of which can bring me back to a better place.  Each of which can make the world seem less heavy and more manageable.

Sometimes you really do just have to buckle down and handle the more with the less you’ve got.

I hope you have your own ways to even the score and get a little more back, too.

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Worth Believing In

Let’s just preface this with — when a movie means something to me, I couldn’t give the smallest amount of rat piss whether or not it is deemed “good” by the internet or Rotten Tomatoes or the critics or anyone else.  Meaning isn’t something that gets assigned by a quorum of critics and a weighted score.  Meaning is personal.  Meaning begins and ends with the person who is the “me” at the front of it.

Most of the collective wisdom of the internet will tell you that “Secondhand Lions” is not quite bad enough to be awful.  It’s “schmaltzy.”  It’s “molasses-drenched” (I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds very sticky).  It’s “sentimental.”

Well, fine.  I’m sentimental too.  What’s your point?

But whether or not you fall in love with Robert Duvall and Michael Caine as a pair of retired brothers sitting on a wealth of stories and experience, whether or not you snort every time Haley Joel Osment’s voice cracks at the perfect moment, and whether or not the split narrative of loneliness in Texas and adventure in Africa (complete with B-movie stylings) works for you — there’s something to be gained in this movie.

Shake your head at the rest of it if you will.

But listen when Hub McCann starts to speak.

Around the midpoint of the movie, there is made mention of a speech given by Hub McCann, the “what every boy needs to know about being a man” speech.  Which, truly, should be reframed as “what everyone needs to know about being a good person” because there is nothing that applies only to men here, and everything that applies to us all.  We only get a piece of it, but it’s more than enough:

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most — that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love, never dies.  No matter if they’re true or not, a man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in.

This speech, like the “invincible spell” of my favorite anime magical girl, has stuck with me a long, long time.

I am a deep, old-school believer in things like courtesy and honor.  I believe in treating others gently, with full respect, and with sincere kindness — no matter how I feel about the kind of day I’m having or how I felt one moment before I looked into their face.  I believe that every time I give my word, that is an unbreakable vow and oath; if I say I will do something, even if it is difficult, even if it comes late, even if it has to be shuttled amidst all the wreckage of my life, I will get it done.  I believe in the promises that bind people, and I believe in leaving every encounter, every person, every place, every situation, better than I found it.

These are the things I choose to believe in, because, to me, they are worth the effort of that belief.

And it doesn’t matter that the person right behind me in line will be unkind to the cashier, or that I may keep a promise, but someone may not keep one to me.  It doesn’t matter that someone weaves through traffic igniting ire and frustration in their wake.  It doesn’t matter that the weight of my word given may mean little or nothing to the stranger who receives it.

I can’t control the other people in line, or the rude driver, or the person whose promise will never be kept.  I can only control myself, and give into the world that which I believe is worth giving.  So I give my best.  I give my kindest.  I give my honor.  Even if I never get them back.

So I choose to believe that the rude person in the check-out line is deeply worried about money and is stressed and not sleeping, and has no more emotional energy to show respect.  I choose to believe that the dangerous driver is racing to get to someone in need, perhaps a hospital, perhaps a child who is scared and alone.  I choose to believe that the broken promise is not broken maliciously, but at the end of someone’s rope, a choice and a sacrifice made so that something more important may be accomplished instead.

And therefore I smile at the cashier, and hope my smile will be what they remember at the end of the day.  I repeat my mantra for rude or inconsiderate driver, which is “may you get where you’re going safely and harm none on your way” because that’s the only thing that matters in the end, and I forgive the broken promise.  It’s not self-indulgence or being holier-than-thou.  It’s not me being smug that I have done the right thing and someone else has not.

I choose to believe in the best of people.  Because people are worth believing in.

For every human being who is terrible, who is selfish, who is cruel, who is callous, there are people who are gloriously kind and loving and selfless and generous and true.  And I will not let myself be counted amongst those too caught up in the world inside myself to remember the worlds inside others.  I will be the best damn human being I can, and I will treat everyone who crosses my path with that much dignity and respect and kindness, until I have no breath or blood left.  I choose to believe that people are amazing, that people are capable of fantastic good, that people all have something of value, something unique, to share and give.

Because any alternative is not worth believing in.

And you know what?

I’ve yet to be proven wrong.

When I tell my CONvergence team that I think they’re awesome, that’s not hyperbole.  That’s not false praise.  It’s because they astound me with the work they’re willing to do, with the efforts they undertake, with the kindness, dedication, focus, effort they bring to our team and our convention.  When I tell my team that they are a group of people I trust and respect and cannot wait to work with, it’s because they are, and it’s all true.

It’s been said that a person becomes what they believe themself to be.  And that’s certainly true — but it lacks the active part of choosing to believe.  We don’t just become what we think.  We become what we do.

I choose to believe in honor and courtesy and kindness and respect, and that is what I will do in this world.

But we also become what others believe about us.  And when my CONvergence team tells me that they trust me, that they respect me, then I become a better member of the team.  When they tell me that I am doing my job well and am helpful in adding my part to our collective efforts, then I am able to do even better and double down on my efforts.

I think we all become some mix of what we choose to believe, and of what others choose to believe.

But we can only choose for ourselves.

So I choose to believe in the things worth believing in, and I choose to believe in the inherent goodness and value of people.  People on the street, in the store, in their cars, in the hallways, in the world.  Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not for every single one of them on every single day of their lives.

People are always worth the effort of belief.  Always.

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