Writing Year in Review: 2020

Last time on “Kelly actually posts a blog about writing,” I said that 2020 was going to be my year of writing victory. That I wasn’t going to let the failure to produce of 2019 continue into 2020. That I was trying new balances of CONvergence versus my own creative work. That I was finding my way by being flexible and taking new chances.

I started the year well. By using Sarah’s trip to Chicago at the start of November as a writing retreat, I had several days of uninterrupted work and a goal to accomplish on a timeline. That was the beginning, but not the end. I started an original work, but stalled on it a few months later, needing time to work through some things in my head. I pivoted back and dove into fandom with the help of a friend who is an endless supply of inspiration, ideas, art, and smiles. By the end of May, I had finished two full novels, already better than 2019.

The fact that I did the bulk of the work on the second of those during the March-May period of the initial uncertainty around Covid helped encourage me. June’s creativity was stymied because I was putting a lot of energy into BLM and the protests in Minneapolis. But my brain was awake again, and ideas were always close to the surface.

Then, two things happen in July. For one, I got sick. That made writing difficult when I couldn’t get my fingers to move, or couldn’t sit at a table , or couldn’t hold a laptop on my lap. But I also got hit with a story idea so compelling, writing was the only thing I wanted.

I decided that, if I can’t save or fix our timeline, then I was going to rewrite the MCU instead and give them a better future in our place.

I began the typing on MCU part 1 at almost the exact same time as the flare-up, but being sick and hurt made every moment of writing all the more precious. And so by the end of August, I had finished it at 99,000ish words.

The beginning of September brought a change to my job as well as my now-fluctuating health, so even though I kicked off part 2 right away, I lost a lot of time to those two things. I had a new boss, a new set of priorities, and the continuing adventure of waking up to wonder which joints would refuse to work. But the story was still there, still needed to be written, and it still fed me in ways nothing else could. So I fought with myself, carved out times in the evenings while Sarah worked or played on her computer, and made my long days even longer.

Last week, I finished MCU part 2 at 136,000ish words. There are at least two more parts to go.

It feels really good, I’m not going to lie. It feels really good to come through so much this year and still be able to hold up truly substantial wordcounts for myself. It’s nowhere near my peak, of course. But it is the biggest step on the path I could have made. And now, with the MCU burning in my head, I find myself thinking about last winter’s abandoned original novel — and planning ways to finish it and begin the querying process again.

Because if querying ends in heartache again, I now have all the proof I could ever need that I can write anyway. That adversity can’t stop the creativity in me, and if I put in the work to go with it, I can still make stories in the darkest of times and the darkest of timelines.

For anybody playing along at home, here is the 2020 writing total, and my all time totals:

What isn’t represented here is the MCU-specific stats. I’m tracking those in their own sheet where I can keep all my notes and the changes to the timeline and everything else. And what that tells me is that my words per day average for the MCU fics is 2,353. But that’s for all days from the start of the project through today. If I look at my daily totals (which I record, because I’m a nerd), then I find that my average writing on days I wrote anything at all is 5,587. I am basically writing a full chapter every time I sit down to work on it.

I have a ton to improve on. I need to keep up this momentum and bring the rest of my rewritten MCU to light. I need to go forward with the next original novel and try to birth it into the world. I need to get back to posting to this blog more than once a month or so. There is so much room to grow, but today I know I can do it. I came through Covid and this horrifying year and still created stories worth having and sharing.

It’s one more line of resilience inside me, one more pillar to hold me up. One more folding of the steel in my heart to make it stronger and sharper. Every dark day I stand up a little more is one more dark day that I can get past. Every failure, every disappointment, they become the stones beneath my feet as I climb up the hill.

And I’m still climbing.

2020 saw me overcoming. May 2021 bring even better days.

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The little dreams we dream are all we can really do

I know I haven’t posted in a while. It’s been eventful in the time in between.

I got sick in July. Pain and tension and cramping got into my body, my bones, my tendons. Some days I couldn’t even open my hands for hours at a time. And the pain was so great I barely slept. We saw doctors and had tests (14 separate vials of blood taken is TOO MANY), and ultimately discovered that I have an auto-immune disorder which has led my immune system to attack me in every joint it could reach.

They put me on medicines to suppress the immune system, balancing dosages with what side-effects I could bear versus how long they took to kick in versus what took the pain away. For a couple of weeks, a friend who tested negative for Covid came to stay with us just to help out. I couldn’t grip a plate, or hold a cup sometimes, or put on my own clothes. It was exhausting in every way. Not just the not-sleeping due to pain, but the strain on my body of being in constant pain, and then the strain of adjusting to the drugs. I slept more than I did anything else, I think.

But the one thing that held up was my spirit, actually. It was so profoundly unpleasant, but only a little scary. Because I learned that even if I couldn’t bend my fingers, I could still think and tell stories. I could sing. I could listen to music. I could talk Sarah through panic. I was still me, wholly and fully. Loss of mobility made it harder, but I didn’t lose myself along the way. I knew that if the worst happened and my body was about to change dramatically and permanently, I would be okay. Because I would remain. I am more than the sum of flesh and blood and bone.

Now that I’m starting to come out the other side of it all, as we slowly decrease the doses of drugs and see what I can tolerate and what causes me to relapse, it helps to know that this was something I could endure. Something I beat. Something I didn’t allow to cut me down.

Today is hard for a different reason.

I have trouble with birthdays. Mine are always complicated. The birthday parties I mostly remember from childhood were never simple. Always there was some kind of drama, some kind of thing that went sideways. As a very little kid, teachers will make sure to celebrate a birthday kid at school, make treats happen, all of that. But because mine is so close to the start of the school year, often the first or second or third day of a new year, teachers didn’t get that sorted out right away. And I got forgotten. Later, as my birthday celebrations became less a gathering of family that included cake and more deliberate parties with friends, the drama got worse. People fought right on top of me, sometimes leaving me to retreat from my own party. And after eighth grade, no one really celebrated with me anymore because I didn’t have friends then. It took the building of my core of people in college for birthdays to mean something new.

Birthdays, if you ask me, are the times when we look at a person with whom we share the world and reflect on how glad we are that they exist. And I’m as bad as the next person at remembering all the important days of all the people I love. They’re in my calendar, but sometimes they get lost anyway. So I can’t resent anyone or be upset when I get forgotten, too. And I don’t.

Birthdays are the worst day to feel lonely, though. And with Covid, with the fact that I haven’t seen the people I love since fucking March, the fact that I’ve only had a few hugs since then, loneliness is never far away. We’re all stumbling through as best we can, and we’re putting our own safety and that of the people around us first, and that’s all good and important.

Those conflated feelings, though, of being alone, of not being wanted, of not being celebrated, they don’t play well in a Covid world where I can’t hold the people I love close.

What adds a dimension of complexity to all this is that I really just don’t like being the center of attention. We’ve held parties before, notably last year when stuff was so hard, and I find myself shrinking away from standing in the center. It’s one thing to lead, to organize, to communicate and coordinate. But there is something else about actually having everyone’s eyes on me, being the focus of all that interest. In so many ways, I would rather be a stage manager than the star of the show. As badly as I sometimes want to be seen and heard, the majority of the time I just want to make everyone else shine and hide in the dark doing my part to make them glorious.

So of course I could have organized something for myself as I did for Sarah’s birthday a month ago. I could have set up a CAH game online, or a chat, or a shared watch-along movie thing. But the burden of standing in the spotlight is just too much. I’m so tired still from being sick for two months, and I’m worn down by the lack of true interaction. Even if we could be physically in the same space, I wouldn’t probably want to be putting together the day and coordinating the fun. I just want to curl up with the people I love and be held for a while. That’s pretty much it. I want to know that I’m not alone, that I’m not forgotten or overlooked, that the people I love haven’t found reason to quit loving me because I’m not there.

Some feelings stay with us our whole lives. Mine, I think, more than the trauma of specific events, is the pervasive cloud of loneliness that marked every day for the first twenty years or so of my life. That constant isolation. And while I have come far enough to know that it was not deserved or earned, that there is nothing about me that warrants abandonment, those feelings remain. I don’t have to blame myself or think that I am awful and that is why I was unwanted in order for the old cold of loneliness to find its way to me.

I wish we lived in a world where I could run around and get a million hugs today and every day for the next month. I wish we lived in a world where I could be there for everyone else going through hard times, worse times, stressful times, as more than a voice over a computer or lines in an email. I wish we lived in a world where today’s rain didn’t have the chance to bring out the melancholy in me because I would be doing something with people.

I wish I lived in a world where Covid never jumped to humans, where my immune system didn’t go haywire and need to be punched down into submission, where birthdays were reminders of love and friendship rather than isolation and apathy.

But the good thing is that “this, too, shall pass.”

Someday, we will have a vaccine for Covid that works and saves lives and allows us to gather in person again.

Someday, my immune system will chill the hell out and quit trying to bite my joints in half, whether by the flare up ending naturally or the medicines stabilizing it.

Someday, even if birthdays always carry a bit of a cloud over my heart, I’ll have the choice to spend them celebrating and enjoying time with the people I love.

Someday the world will look brighter. I have to believe that. I have to fight for it. I have to stand up and beat down the circumstances of the world just as I beat down the destruction of my ability to move for myself. And, I still believe, that if enough of us hold up the good, hold it up unyieldingly, hold it up not in fear or anger, but in hope, that the storm will pass and the rainbow will herald the sunshine.

I crawled out of a lonely life into one filled with people I love and who love me in return. I dragged myself through pain that made me cry just to open my fingers from their cramped claw shapes. And now I’m going to take my evening and, rather than wallow in what can’t be, build something new.

I’ve been writing in a quantity I haven’t seen since the fall of 2016, and this time my energy shows no sign of abating.

If I feel melancholy, I’ll hold onto all the good things. The good days to come and the ones I’ve already been granted. If I feel lonely, I’ll poke Sarah for hugs. If I feel hurt and weary, I’ll sing my way back to cheer. I can’t control what is, can’t help the fact that it’s a rainy, grey day without any company but Sarah, but I can control me. And if I can’t manufacture better feelings, then I’ll get them the old-fashioned way. I’ll fight for them.

Because if there is one thing I can ALWAYS do, it is rise and soar above any cloud.

The Sunday after there was laughter in the air
Everybody had a kite
They were flying everywhere
And all the trouble went away
And it wasn’t just a dream
All the trouble went away
And it wasn’t just a dream

In the middle of the night
We try and try with all our might
To light a little light down here
In the middle of the night
We dream of a million kites
Flying high above
The sadness and the fear

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Dark is what brings out your light

As I look out at the world from my windows, I have the privilege of a view of the Mississippi winding its way into downtown Minneapolis and the green of a neighborhood filled with artists, families, and immigrants. But the view at nighttime, while impossible for me to capture on a camera phone, is always the one that arrests my attention. All cities look the same at night, you know. There are streetlights, lights in kitchen or bedroom windows, office buildings with their signs, bridges, and cars going by. I can look out my window at midnight and be looking at Minneapolis, or San Francisco, or Beijing, or all three at once. The shape of buildings and the skyline may change, but we are all small points of light in the darkness.

Life hasn’t been kind to us lately — the world is full of fear and pain and hatred, and many of these come to roost in our very backyards, our streets, our homes. Those we love may have been touched by illness, or taken from us. Those we love may have suffered violence, or we have suffered it ourselves. We may have turned off our social media or our news channels to seek a moment of peace amidst the political chaos and rhetoric of destruction.

And amidst so much that causes harm, fear, pain, it is more important than ever for us to be lights burning brightly and steadily. For us to be the warm glow of a candle, the illumination of a lighthouse, the eternal burn of the moon and stars. The more difficult it is, the more necessary it becomes that we shine. For ourselves, for those we love, for everyone who follows in our wake and finds their own path by our light.

So I meditated to this poem set to music. The music is powerful (and many who have sung in choirs will be familiar, as Frostiana is a choral staple) and this particular version uses pictures from the Hubble Telescope as accompaniment.

CHOOSE SOMETHING LIKE A STAR
by Robert Frost

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud-
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something!  And it says ‘I burn.’
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

In the night when you look out your windows, I hope you remember that we’re all the same steady points of light in the darkness. And as the days pass and our world continues to spin, I hope that you find something like a star to follow, not only to find your own way, but so that you can also illuminate a path for those that come after you. Every light in the darkness, every star in the sky, makes the world brighter for us all.
Thank you all for being part of the light in my world.

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PRIDE

I’m not gone, I’m just focused on other things right now. Work has exploded (not in a bad way — I’m less bored than I’ve been in years and I’m feeling really proud about what I’m doing even when I’m working many extra hours) and the world is a tough place right now. This weekend should have been Pride in Minneapolis, and I should have been out there with my community celebrating. Instead, we’re all inside.

And yet, our people come through. We, in our history of resistance by every means necessary including fighting back against oppressive police behavior, find ways to stand up. Against hatred. Against violence. Against illness. Against indifference. We stand up and we wave our bright colors and we sing in loud voices and we refuse to be unseen.

I think, at heart, it’s because the LGBT community is fighting for the right of every single person to be precisely who they are, and no less, without fear or reprisal. It is Courage. It is Honor. It is Defiance. It is following the rallying cry from within. “I will not be anything or anyone but myself, and nothing you can do, no law you can pass, no public opinion you can spout will change who I am in the quiet of my own heart. Say what you will, do what you will. I am here and I am alive and I will never stop being myself.”

So take Pride, and every day if you can, and live with that as your own banner. No power in the universe has ever been forged greater than the light of truth in your own soul. Breathe that light brighter, sing it to the skies, and you will find yourself a star.

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Minneapolis protest

I think everything that needs saying is being said by those whose voices need to be raised. I’ve been active on Twitter, trying to make sure the right information and the right perspectives are passed on. If you want to know where I’m at with the protests, the police violence, and then the fires and looting, find me there.

In the meantime, here’s a link of organizations that currently need support. Minnesota Freedom Fund and Black Visions Collective are both pointing folks who want to donate to these links as they aren’t getting the same level of exposure right now. So if you’re looking for a cause to support in Minnesota today, use these: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yLWGTQIe3967hdc9RSxBq5s6KKZHe-3_mWp5oemd7OA/preview?pru=AAABcpTi6i0*9FFWa8rhVq21iWql-vfD-A

Otherwise? The only thing that matters right now is:

#BlackLivesMatter
#BLM
#GeorgeFloyd
#JusticeforGeorge
#DefundthePolice

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Weird Sources of Wisdom 1: Labyrinth

As I was falling asleep at one point over last weekend, a line came into my head and stuck with me. It was one of those throw-away lines from a cartoon, and yet, as it crashed into whatever I’d been halfway to dreaming about, it made an odd amount of sense. Of course, I promptly forgot which line it was as soon as I fell asleep, but I remembered it happening. So I decided to start connecting the bits of wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years from odd places. These aren’t philosophers or classic writers. But you don’t have to be an ancient font of wisdom for your wisdom to be true nonetheless.

So, let’s start with Labyrinth.

If you’ve never seen it, you gotta fix that. Like now, today. Go find the movie and watch it. We can be friends again afterwards. If you just need a reminder, here you go:

There’s so much good in the movie, not just the fun and the puppets and David Bowie being the absolute king. It’s knowing who you are, where you’re going, what you really believe. Are you Hoggle, struggling to find the inner resolve to choose a path that frightens you? Are you Didymus, caught up how things should be done instead of looking to see how they can be done? Are you Ludo who just needs to be given a chance?

Labyrinth was one of the first VHS tapes I owned, and one of the first DVDs, too. It was also a soundtrack I listened to constantly my first year at college as I was on my own journey to figure out my way forward. But it goes farther back than that. Labyrinth was one of the four pillars — four shows/movies that pretty much defined how I saw myself and who I wanted to be while I was growing up. We’ll get to the other three another day.

So — the pieces of wisdom that Labyrinth embedded in my soul?

“Things are not always what they seem in this place, so you can’t take anything for granted.”

The little worm says this when Sarah is first running through the labyrinth. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it exchange, particularly afterwards when the worm makes its own assumptions (and thus doesn’t happen to mention that Sarah was face to face with a path directly to her goal). The labyrinth itself is always changing, evolving, and what was a path through turns into a dead end as soon as you quit looking at it. The only way through is to remain flexible on your feet and in your thinking. Question what you see, question what you assume, question what you think you know. And be prepared to be surprised.

“It’s not fair!”
“You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

It’s a harsh moment for Sarah, having her constant refrain called out. But Jareth is right — she DOES say it a lot. And, if you look at it, a lot of what Sarah considers “not fair” is really just “not the way she wants it to be.” “Fair” would be everything working out the way she wants regardless of anyone else’s needs or motivations. Sarah is self-centered, and doesn’t see that things that don’t seem fair to her are not therefore intentional slights or deliberate attacks — sometimes they are people trying to meet their own goals. Sure, Jareth isn’t making this easy for her, but he isn’t supposed to. Sarah is only the hero of her OWN story, not his. And when Sarah quits judging the actions and choices of others against what she wants, she loses a lot of her resentment, too. There are genuinely unfair things in the world. But there’s a huge difference between injustice and people getting in each other’s way by existing. A hero’s tale wouldn’t mean anything if everyone just got out of her path and let her win without a fight.

“The way forward is sometimes the way back.”

Okay, I like this one even though it’s trite. It comes from that “wiseman” with a talkative bird hat that Sarah and Hoggle meet after getting out of the tunnels under the labyrinth. Sarah asks for advice, and this is one of the lines he spouts while dodging quips from his hat. The hat insults him, but the point is still well intentioned. For me, I think specifically that it’s the emotional context where this works for me. Sure, I can push on, tackle the journey ahead of me without hesitating, but advancing my steps might mean unraveling me in other ways. Getting to the finish line and getting there with no spoons, fully burned out, exhausted — does it count as a win if I lost to get there? So I think it’s not just about realizing that sometimes you have to take a few steps backward to move forward, but also think about how those moves impact you on multiple levels. There is usually a way to move that won’t cut you apart.

“You have no power over me.”

The whole speech Sarah quotes at the start of the movie and then in her final confrontation with Jareth has always meant a lot to me. I used to have it up on the wall next to my dorm room in college. There’s courage in it, and defiance, and endurance. But it’s that last line that really drives itself into my heart. Jareth is all-powerful, and yet he is begging Sarah to fear him. From her obedience comes his power. And it’s so true in the world. It’s SO TRUE. So much of the world is predicated on a complicated set of social contracts. “Don’t correct an authority figure.” “Be polite even if it means allowing someone else to be rude.” “Don’t make waves.” “Don’t make a scene.” It’s garbage, all of it. Of course, I believe in being polite, and in being respectful, and in generally showing kindness. But I’m not going to let the unwritten social morays keep me from asserting my own power. Social rules say not to stick your nose in if somebody is being bullied — but the power of a bystander stepping up and saying “Enough” is greater than anyone realizes until it happens. Expectations can pile up like bounders on your shoulders, but you don’t have to play by them. No one, NO ONE has the power to make you anything but what you choose to be. And to exercise that strength is to be oneself, fully and unapologetically. And, like Jareth, those who would demand obedience and find none are themselves rendered powerless.

“It’s only forever, not long at all.”

This is my favorite line in the “Underground” song. I used to hang onto the “No one can blame you for running away” part, but that was when I was still struggling to find my way in a place I’d chosen for myself. But that “It’s only forever, not long at all” has always stuck with me, too, and far moreso after I no longer needed to run away. There’s something flippant to it, but it’s deep, too. Because forever is just the series of the next one. Telling myself I’m going to do X thing every day for the rest of my life feels daunting. But telling myself I’ll do it “next time” and then, after the day after that, “next time,” and after that, “next time” — those next times DO add up to forever. I’ve seen it used as a model for people trying to get out of habits or get in them, from changing their eating patterns to exercise to prayer or meditation. Critically, it also works on dealing with something difficult. Sure, balancing a level of stress and seeing no end to it can crush you. But taking a deep breath and saying, “I only need to do this today” is liberating. And then, when tomorrow becomes today, “I only need to do this today.” It makes the longest and heaviest of loads something quantifiable, something limited, something within the scope of endurance.

Put that way, “I’m going to write stories forever” becomes too short. Because I only have today to write stories. And then tomorrow. And someday my tomorrows will run out, but the story ideas won’t.

Forever could never be long enough, put that way.

I guess, when you consider that this was a fourth of where I began, there’s no real surprise I ended up where I did. After all, I did find my way into the Underground, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather spend my forever.

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Spring Defiance

It’s May the Fourth, which has specific relevance to Star Wars fans everywhere. It’s also the beginning of May, which some circles may connect with Jonathan Coulton’s “First of May” song, which is about something ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.

Anyway.

The beginning of May to me is the celebration of relentless spring. Having lived most of my life in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, April never really feels much like spring to me. There’s too many blizzards yet to hit (anybody remember a couple of years ago and multiple feet of snow being dropped on Minnesota?), too many cold snaps that keep the leaves from unfurling and the flowers from wanting to poke out of the ground. In warmer places, spring has come and the march to summer is in full swing by the first of May, but for my lifetime, May is truly the point of no return on winter.

(Which isn’t to say I’ve never seen a snowstorm in May. Unfortunately, I have.)

There’s something about that momentum, that refusal to backslide. Yeah, the weather may play tricks, but there’s no holding back the life and warmth and rebirth in May. The sun is brighter, the sunsets and sunrises more colorful, the trees are greening, and it is a rolling tide of life that will not be denied. Some people watch the spring rise out of winter and see a gentleness of life waking up; I’ve always seen it as an act of defiance.

“Ha. You thought the cold could stop me? I’ll show you!”

So it is doubly appropriate that Sarah found this PBS clip and showed it to me. Because the butterflies, no matter how delicate, survive even winter and return to flight. The cold can’t dampen their spirits forever, and once they begin to take in the energy of the sun, what begins as a trickle turns into a flood of flight and color — and nobody could contain them all.

Even from a balcony, even in the midst of quarantine, the soul can still fly. And if all I can do today is fly and refuse to be pinned down by the state of the world, then that’s what I’m going to do. Today I am warm enough to shake off my wings and soar.

See you in the sky!

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Diamond and Rough

The patterns of how I listen to music are a little strange, I’ll admit. I can go a year without ever feeling the urge to regularly play anything less than upbeat except in very specific circumstances (meditation, a writing playlist associated with a story, etc.) and then suddenly find myself pulling out all the slower, sadder, more contemplative songs in a single rush. Part of this, I think, is that I tend to prefer happy, energetic music except when I’m in a downswing. But also, I am one of those people who strongly reflects internally what is happening around me externally — so happy, cheerful, kickass, positive music helps me create a positive feedback loop to carry me into that same mindset. So I listen to slower or sadder music far less frequently.

And yet, when I do, it never fails to have an impact on me.

A second circle in the Venn diagram that is how-Kelly-listens-to-music regards source and/or language. I have a deep and abiding fondness for songs that come from something I love, so I have a lot — A LOT — of soundtracks. Especially with vocal music, I find that I can attach very specific feelings to songs that happen during particular scenes or sung by certain characters, and they stick with me long after the shine is off the original source. A movie I wouldn’t bother sitting through for a half-decade might not speak to me, but that one song sung in that one dramatic moment can still bring me to tears.

Since I watch and enjoy a lot of anime, there is a whooooole list of wonderful songs that can evoke those kinds of emotions, but whose language I don’t understand (other than a word here or there). For those songs, I try to learn them — both to sing the Japanese correctly and to be able to recall at least the broad strokes of the translation. As I said when I wrote about the poetry of Izumi Shikibu, Japanese poetry really speaks to me, and song lyrics are no different. They may not always readily translate to English words, but the feelings are universal.

If there is a third circle in the Venn diagram, it comes down to songs I can really sing. There are lots of songs I can sing, but they don’t always work in my range. Songs sung by men in the low tenor range mean I have to sing them up the octave, and that is not always the right choice. Some women’s voices just don’t match for mine, so even if we share the range, I sound like a strangled turtle trying to put together the same notes. And there are some songs I just love, but would never really want to sing except for myself with nobody listening (see all songs about sex, for example).

One song that has spoken to me since I first heard it is “Diamond Crevasse” from Macross Frontier. It’s such a moving song, the sorrowful and loving lament of saying goodbye to someone too soon, too unexpectedly. It ends with a line which is translated as “I wish the planet would whisper to me that I’m not alone.” Since I first heard it, it seemed exactly the song to express loss and love and the loneliness that comes with grief.

In a COVID-19 world, there’s a lot of grief. Even for those who have not (yet) lost people they love to the virus, we have all lost something. We have lost hours, days, weeks with the people we love whom we cannot see in person, cannot hug, cannot console. We have lost days in the spring, birthdays, evenings of sunsets gathered around a meal. We have lost a kind of innocence, the certainty that the world works the way we predict. We have lost mental health and resources, jobs, patience, and hours of sleep.

I had been thinking for a while about starting up posting songs on YouTube again, just idly, but that idle fancy took on new life when choir rehearsals stopped. Apparently I can’t go that long without needing and wanting to sing, to share music, even if no one is listening. And singing to myself at my desk or while doing chores just didn’t fulfill the need sufficiently. So I combined my feelings about COVID-19 with the songs I wanted to put into the world, and I created this:

The words are mine, in that I interpreted the translation and rewrote it to fit the actual rhythm of the words. Japanese can, beautifully, say so much so simply, but it still does so in a lot of syllables. I had to add and stretch a lot to make the words fit in the melody correctly. But I tried to keep it as directly tied to the original as possible.

I recorded the audio in our bathroom, singing into Sarah’s laptop, which has the best microphone of the working microphones we currently have available, and then filmed the visual separately a week ago as the sun started to set on our balcony. I still think of it as “emoting off a balcony” and I’m sure it looked funny from below, but I had to do something. Just standing still and singing facing the camera didn’t do the song justice. You can’t see that I have streaks of purple and pink in my hair in the style of the character (Sheryl is sung by the artist May’n) but they were there. We took a total of four takes, and this was by far the best of them, both in terms of lighting and in terms of me not getting weird.

Also, the video doesn’t do justice to the fact that it was COLD out. My sweater (a frankensweater made by the awesome sluagh on Etsy) kept my arms warm, but the bar under my hands was ICE COLD and it did not improve as I touched it. I had goosebumps on my goosebumps, and poor Sarah, who was operating the camera, was colder still. Between tries, we had to duck inside so I could hug her a while.

But it came together, and that’s what really matters.

I have a hard time listening to myself sing — all I hear is everything I do wrong. Similarly, I can’t really speak to how I look on camera because I only see imperfections. It’s a song called “Diamond Crevasse” but it’s hard for me to think about my own performance because all I see is the rough. That’s just me and my insecurity; it doesn’t mean it’s true. And even if the whole song was rough, there is still sparkle somewhere in there, and I have to hang onto that. After all, even if I totally screwed it up (and I don’t think I did), the song itself is still beautiful in any form.

And, no matter how I feel about my looks or my sound, I know I put my heart into the song. I put all that loss and grief and missing people into it, but also the love I have for everyone I can’t be with right now. The first time I practiced it with the English words, I had to stop as my throat closed up and I found myself getting teary thinking about how many people I long to see again. Even in the last take, the one Sarah mixed into the audio, I think you can still hear when I quit being a stoic performer and started to feel what was behind the words. “Diamond Crevasse” is a song about loss, but it is a song about love first. And I sang it out of love, as well as missing all the people I miss. And that’s the only part that really matters.

I’m going to try to do more of these, and Sarah might even do some with me. Together, we’ll put together the happy songs to make people smile, or the quiet ones that reflect our feelings. Or, maybe we’ll write our own instead. Either way, we need music. And I need to put it in the world.

It’s long been my belief that we can put good into the world even if it only touches a few people, but that good is no less valuable for its small impact. The world could use every single particle of good we can give it right now, and I may not be able to serve in big ways, but I can feel a song and share it. If nothing else, I can do that much.

And maybe, if I keep singing off my balcony (or waving while emoting) I’ll be able to help someone else remember that they are not alone upon the planet…

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Powerful Gay Music

Sorry about missing the last couple of Mondays. In spite of sheltering at home, there’s still a lot going on, including a new and positive, albeit heavier load at the job, and generally keeping myself and Sarah on top of our health and emotions and needs.

Also, Friday was our 17th anniversary, as I ranted at length on Twitter.

17 years is a long time, and yet it flew by. I look at Sarah and still get all twitterpated, not butterflies in my stomach nervous, but more “holy CRAP I get to hang out with this perfect person who I adore and I never have to leave her side!” It’s a heady feeling. I never get tired of walking into a room and knowing she is there. It never feels like I get tired of her, or would like a break. Even when things are tough, I could more easily quit having limbs.

But I already did this ranting on Twitter, so that’s enough for now.

Instead, have this beautiful short from YouTube. It popped up at exactly the right time, and Sarah and I both enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes the simplest stories are the ones you need, and this was precisely the fairy tale we wanted on our anniversary.

(Also, I HIGHLY suggest watching it with captions on. Thus the infinitely appropriate to Sarah and I title of this entry.)

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When we look up sometimes

It’s beautiful and sunny in Minnesota today, and I actually managed to sleep some last night. I haven’t looked at Twitter in more than 24 hours, and so I’m feeling okay.

So here’s a happy song. It makes me feel a little better, being reminded that there are still beautiful moments in the world even when it feels like everything is going to hell. And that the only thing that can lift me up right now is myself, if I “keep on keeping at what [I] love.”

I wrote more than 6,000 words this weekend. So I definitely did something right.

The only thing I can control is myself, and sometimes not even that. So I’m going to let the happy song play, and put whatever good I can summon into the world today while I’ve got it.

The sun is shining, and today, so can I.

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