Writing for Me

So, I’m currently in the process of having my novel read by a set of beta readers who will hopefully help me pound it into shape like a lump of dough that needs to be pummeled. It’s a difficult process, and a scary one, because it’s always tough to put something you pulled out of your soul and ran through your brain into the hands of people who might think it stinks.

On the plus side, writing and posting as much fanfiction as I do, I’ve had lots and lots of practice giving my writing to people — total strangers, even — and let them hate on it. And you know what? I don’t really, really remember the hate and the flames (except for that one person who said my story was bad because it was X-character-centric and they wanted the story to be about Y instead, which, oh well). But I do remember the good things people say.

One of the most striking recently, though, was someone telling me that they were surprised I could write so much in advance.

Now, the “normal” way of doing fanfiction is to write a chapter and post it. And then write another one and post it. And so on and so forth. That’s the common way most people do their fic, it seems. And I did that when I was starting out, mainly because I didn’t have much practice, I didn’t know how much I would even want to write, and, oh, I was in college and kinda busy.

But as my experience grew, and my interest grew, I found that the write-and-post method started to irk me — mainly because it became too easy for me to leave some works unfinished when the shine came off the writing of them. There were 2 notable fics I began which languished for YEARS, one for almost a full decade, before I could force myself to finish them. And I found that I didn’t like being that kind of author who could leave stories abandoned or on hiatus. I completely understand why others do, but, for me, it weighed on me.

So somewhere in the late 2000s, I started writing in advance, and only posting the beginnings to stories when the ends were completely done. By the early 2010s (2012 for sure but it could have been earlier), I was writing an entire year of content in one year and then posting it in the next. And I’ve never looked back from it.

But the reviewer who asked me about it made the point that they gain so much inspiration and motivation from feedback, they couldn’t really imagine being able to write in its absence.

On the one hand, I don’t know that I’m necessarily without feedback, since I do get feedback on stuff that I’m posting (hello current fic with regularly 5-8 comments on every chapter which is pretty good for me). The feedback isn’t on the story against which I’m currently banging my head, but feedback and encouragement always help, regardless of the specific subject.

But the more important point is one I decided when I first got into fic:

I’m really only doing this for myself.

Everyone I know who is an artist of any kind *wants* to have their art appreciated. They want it shared, and, ideally, sold. I don’t think I could name a single person I know who does any form of art who *wouldn’t* want to make a living by what the can create and share out into the world. And I’m no different. I’m going to try to publish the current novel, and if that fails, I’ll try the next and the next. If I could support Sarah and I by writing alone, HELL YEAH I would do it.

But if I can’t, or if nothing I write ever goes to a publisher and shows up in a bookstore, that’s not going to stop me from writing. Because I’m not writing for recognition, or money, or fame, or some weird sense of entitlement. I’m not writing because I think my stuff is so good, others should totally read it.

I’m writing because if I couldn’t, I’d be screaming instead.

Writing is in my heart, my soul, my blood, and my brain. I can’t go 12 hours without thinking about a story currently in progress, one I have on my to-write-someday list, or one I might revive with a sequel or series. I can’t watch a good TV show without wanting to find new stories from it, and wanting to make my own. I can’t drive down the ever-loving street without having random set-ups for short stories or novellas pop into my head.

Singing is breath to me, and writing is thought. That’s just how it is.

And before I ever had fans on my fanfic sites, before I ever had friends who would hungrily consume anything I wrote (as long as they knew the fandom), I was still writing stories in my darkened apartment that I thought literally nobody would read, and I wrote them anyway.

If I wanted fame and a host of fans, I’d be writing exclusively Sherlock, Supernatural, and Harry Potter fic — those are the ones with ALLLLLLLL the fans. Those are the fics that get hundreds and thousands of likes and views and comments and everything. If I was writing for the sake of gaining a huge audience, that’s where I’d be.

Not so much Mighty Max and Gundam Wing and CCS and TMNT.

But it’s also not necessarily about the number of fans. Some people write just for the very small audiences, like the ones you get with Mighty Max. I think there are about 7 of us in the world these days who really care about the fandom. And those other 6 have all become my friends, because who else are we going to nerd-squee at about our favorite Cap-Bearer? With all my fandoms, no matter how small, there is always *someone* who wants to read what I wrote and has feelings about it.

But, truth be told, I don’t write for them, either.

I write for me.

(Okay, I might write a little bit for Sarah, too. Because sometimes she wants a particular story and I really can’t deny her anything and why would I want to?)

I don’t write fanfiction, or original fiction, or novels, or poems, or songs, or anything else for anybody but myself. I don’t write them to *be read.* I write them because otherwise I would choke on them. It’s kinda that simple. And I would write them with no internet to post them to or no publisher to make them into books. I would write them on cave walls if I had to.

I put this quote up more than a year ago, and it is certainly no less true now:

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be… This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” — Abraham Maslow

There are people in the world who will never feel like “real” writers or authors unless some publishing house somewhere has paid them and printed their books. And there are people in the world who will look at ME and my library of 22 novels and 2.5+ million words written and never see a “real” writer or author.

To them, I simply say: You’re wrong.

Because if you write, you’re a writer. If you author a story, no matter the length, you’re an author.

I am a writer and author.

And if not one of my stories had ever traveled farther than the My Docs folder on my harddrive, I would STILL be a writer and author.

So the reason that I find it simple to write with no feedback, the reason I can sit on chapters for a full year before posting them to my fanfic accounts, is that I don’t need the feedback to breathe. I don’t need the reviews, the hits, the kudos. They’re nice, certainly. They make days far better when I get a happy comment or an insightful message. But the response isn’t the fuel of writing. It is the side-effect.

The fuel of writing burns inside my veins and is twisted up in my existence.

And whether I get to publish this book I have out to my betas or not, nothing changes. If not this one, then maybe the next one. Or the one after that. And there will always be fic in the meantime.

But even if that all stopped? If the internet went dark and books vanished and the world stopped telling stories?

Come find me. I’ll be in a cave somewhere, writing novels on stones and leaves, singing stories to the very stars. For as long as there’s breath in my body, there will be stories to tell. Even if no one else is around to hear them.

*I’m* around to hear them. And that is more than enough.

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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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