Night falls, the world goes still

I’m still here, and in spite of the lack of blogging, I’ve been busy.

First and foremost, I’m still working to finish the YA fantasy novel. I got to about the 70% mark and hit that point of doubt that so many other writers talk about. One of my favorites is this essay by Neil Gaiman. It is just so comforting to know that a master of the craft hits a point of “nobody will ever read or care about this and there’s nothing good about it” the way I do! It took a 2-hour rant to Sarah for me to figure out my issue.

Sometimes I just get stuck; I think all writers do that. For me, sometimes the stuck is mental/emotional fatigue and I just need to take a break from writing. Sometimes it is my own doubt throwing up a boulder in my way and I need to shove it aside so I can keep going. And sometimes that stuck is a sign that there is something wrong with my story and I have to stop to figure it out. I know other writers who just write and solve their problems as they go, but that’s rarely worked for me. I like an outline, a chapter-by-chapter sketch of my scenes and beats. And sometimes the outline I have isn’t the one I should be telling.

This time, it was very much that. And the only way I get loose is to sit down and talk it out. Out loud at Sarah, usually. She’s very patient. I begin at where I’ve stopped and work backwards, twisting and turning the story like a Rubik’s cube. I question my characters, their motivations, their plans. If I had been assuming X is a villain for Y reason, I extrapolate how the story changes if X isn’t a villain, or if their reason isn’t Y anymore. I leave nothing untouched, perfectly happy to rewrite everything not yet on screen and anything already in the text. And after 2 hours (and, for some reason, it is ALWAYS 2 hours), I find my way to the right twist that lines up all the blocks and the Rubik’s cube is complete — and so is my outline.

So, plus side, now I have a path to the end that I’m excited about, that does several things I really wanted to do and didn’t know how, that feels like the right conclusion for everyone while yet leaving plenty of threads open for sequels. Now I just have to write it all down.

Second, I’ve been querying. Sadly, nothing to report. But I’m not feeling discouraged. My list of agents to query is long and full of amazing people I would be thrilled and honored to work with on my journey. The rejections aren’t landing as painfully as they did on the last book I queried, and I think it’s because I’m in a better place for myself. Also, I have a better relationship with my writing vs with the business of publishing. I know this isn’t my only shot. I’ll keep writing books. There’s no deadline to finding my way here. The process does take up effort and spoons, but I’m okay expending them and I feel hopeful and excited still.

Third, work is a lot, but nobody comes here to read about that.

(Nobody comes here to read anyway, but I appreciate you if you find me someday!)

Fourth, we have been watching A LOT of hockey. With the Buffalo Sabres, the Minnesota Wild, and the Columbus Blue Jackets — and a subscription to ESPN+ — there is usually at least one game a night, and often two. They’re not all *good* mind; all three teams are struggling this year. But when they play well, even if they lose, they’re fun to watch. And with college football ramping down, having hockey is a constant source of excitement and fun.

Fifth, it’s holiday season, so there’s a lot to do. I hosted Thanksgiving for 9, watched the parade (of course!), and basked in the afternoon of good food and better company. Sarah and I even got our gift shopping done already! We have a million things to wrap and send, but at least we don’t have to figure out any more presents. Are we going to bake this year? Make cookies or something special for Christmas Day with friends? Who knows! Not me, anyway. It depends how we feel about it next week, probably. But maybe!

Lastly, it’s the part of the year where it gets dark early and stays dark long into the morning. Every part of my body thinks I should be hibernating right now, and naps are common. I also find that I’m more introspective and less outgoing as the darkness descends. I like this time of year, the cold, the quiet, the stillness. I like the night of the soul leading to the solstice and the celebration of Yule when the light returns. There’s a peace in the solitude of the late nights lit only by our electric fireplace and my laptop. It’s restful, and restorative, but not very productive.

If you want to find me being active these days, visit me on BlueSky. It has replaced the bird site for me, and while I’m not much more prolific there than I ever was on Twitter, I’m making some attempt to have a presence. Of course I’m still here, too, but I don’t really post memes here and such. I figure if you want the silly, it’s going to be on the spur-of-the-moment site. This is the long-form me, and I am inherently less amusing at length.

Anyway. I’m here, I’m writing, I’m doing okay. I’m busy, and my attention is going many directions at once, but I’m centered and grounded where it matters. And although we’re not quite to the point of looking ahead to 2024, the view from here has some light on the horizon.

As this is a season where there are almost no songs written for me and my spiritual affiliation (I do not do Christmas carols), I thought I would share this one instead. This is a wonderfully entertaining meditation on that space between traditional religious music.

I give you “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” by Steve Martin:

Stay safe, all!

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Clouds roll over the hills

There’s a weird sense of added responsibility working through this YA project of mine. I’ve been writing for ages, and much of that writing has been shared. But never before have I had this sense of “what story do I need to tell for the people who need it most?” like this.

I think it’s because I’m so cognizant of how much I was impacted, changed, inspired by the books I read when I started delving into the YA shelves. To be fair, the biggest changes in me probably came in the MG category, especially anything and everything written by Bruce Coville. But YA stories have a way of building out a blueprint for how a person finds their place in the world. It’s an explicit part of the genre for a reason — those who are on the cusp of stepping out from what is known (childhood home, middle/high school) look ahead to a new world (maybe college, a job, living independently).

For me, Middle Grade was formative in the sense of “who” — who will I become? What choices will I make that are true to myself? Who do I want to live with inside my head? And YA was more about “how” — how do I take who and what I am and walk into the world with them? How do I balance all the fears ahead of me against the inevitability of facing them?

So actually sitting with a YA project and trying to bring it to life, I keep thinking about me when I was reading YA and what I needed. I know a good portion of YA is also read by adults, and if anything, that makes it even more important that I get those core themes right. If I have one chance to demonstrate a path, it needs to be one that is full of courage and integrity. If I ever get the chance for my book to land in the hands of a teenager, I want that person to gain something of themself that they can carry forward.

A theme that keeps coming out in this one is that we become the hero we wanted to save us once. And I am, have always been, the writer telling the stories I needed once before, too.

It doesn’t really change the meat of what I’m writing — the characters are the same, the plot continues on — but it makes me quite self-conscious about those meta pieces while I’m figuring out how to structure a scene. It’s an added layer of complexity. And it’s a good challenge, but also a slightly intimidating one.

But, I guess, if I let writing intimidate me, I’d never have gotten this far in the first place.

A friend send this song to me. It’s Bastille’s “Pompeii” but reimagined by composer Hans Zimmer. I liked the original song just fine, but this really changed it for me. Somehow, it brings tears to my eyes. There’s something that hits differently with those lines about the city we love and how it feels that nothing has changed — even though it has. The song was always nostalgic for me, and now it triggers thoughts of different days in different places and the life I lived then in a new way.

Also, it being Hans Zimmer, the whole thing sounds like it belongs at the emotional climax of a movie, so there’s that.

As I work on my YA chapters tonight, I’m going to carry this feeling. This deep memory of the books I read and how they changed me. This cognizance of the guideline my story might be to someone someday. This story told for the me that once was, and the me that hasn’t changed very much after all.

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“Oh so that’s what worries me…”

So, why haven’t I been posting lately?

Few reasons. Work has been a lot. It’s generally good, and I really do like my position, but it’s a lot. Many nights I’m on until 7 or later (though I get to make up for that by sleeping in), and it just…takes up room in my brain. Like devoting a spare bedroom to a friend who is here to stay for an undetermined amount of time.

Also, we’re gearing up for CONvergence and there’s too many things to do to list without actually downloading the proper task list and calendar. Again, mainly positive, but many mental resources go towards emails and logistics and supplies rather than blogging.

(And we all know I’m not exceptionally fond of the blogging. Of course it’s expected as a writer, but…anyway. Different rant.)

(Oh! Also! Sarah and I wrote a new song for CONvergence! It’s really good!)

Anyway.

I think the biggest reason I haven’t been posting is because I just don’t want to ramble about the query process.

Yes, I’m querying the Urban Fantasy novel I finished last year. It’s been beat to hell and back by my awesome readers, and I’m about as happy with it as I can be. I love my characters. I’m happy with the tone and voice. I think my plot works well and I like how the stories interweave along the way. It even has a title!

But the query process…pleh. It’s like school all over again. I enjoyed reading books in school; not so much writing book reports. I know why the process is what it is. I see the value in it. It’s just difficult.

And every writer who has ever queried has probably blogged or Tweeted or TikToked on that point at length. About how hard it is to get the query letter juuuuuust right. About how frustrating writing the perfect synopsis is (haven’t managed that one yet). About the time spent searching for and learning about agents to find someone I would genuinely love to partner with on my writing career. About the heartbreak of rejection.

Honestly? It’s taking up a lot of space in my head, but it doesn’t need more than that on the blog. There’s enough negativity about the process out there. And inside me.

But I’m okay. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. And I don’t have to adore these parts of the process to still find it well worth the effort to try my best.

I do wonder what will become of this chaotic blog, though. I’ve had it a long time, and there’s some legitimately weird moments of life (and my cycling brain) captured here. Is having a blog nobody reads an asset? Is having a strange-as-hell blog a problem?

You know what? That’s a problem for Future Me. Future Me and Future Me’s agent (oh that construction hurts my brain) will figure it out.

Current me should get back to the tug-of-war I’m having with my synopsis. Either that or take a break from it and go back to writing chapters on the new novel.

This new one is fun and I’m kind of digging the YA vibe, honestly. Not sure I’d commit fully to never writing anything else, but it’s an interesting switch to be sure.

Here, have a song translated through Google too many times and now it makes no sense. But the “Pants!” bit makes me laugh every time and that’s worth something!

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2021 in Writing, 2022’s Slow Start

Most years I’ve posted the wordcount for writing in the previous year right after the writing year ends. Which is November. October 31st is my last writing day of the year, typically. November got complicated and December was worse. January has been chaotic, but at least it’s a little less emotionally fraught. Work is demanding in a new and stressful way, which takes some of the energy that normally would go do daily writing or being creative or just…anything besides sitting on the couch under a blanket and watching reruns of Murder, She Wrote.

Hey, don’t hate. MSW is fucking amazing.

Anyway. It’s been cold, and Sarah and I are back in our form of quarantine because of omicron, and the world is dark all over again in new and painful ways. And everything is exhausting. Work is exhausting. CVG is exhausting. Choir is exhausting. Writing is exhausting. Trying to deal with people is exhausting. Trying to deal with people who have feelings about me is exhausting. I don’t think I’ve written a word in a week, and I don’t feel rested, either.

But I’m here. And I am trying to make good choices when I can. I’m exercising most days at least for a while. I’m drinking water when I remember. I choose to watch things with Sarah (when she’s up to it) that make me feel good. I read stories before bed that lift me up instead of feeding my insecurities. I’m looking ahead at the next job I want inside my company and working on how to get there. I’m not hating on myself when I fall down.

And that’s…about as much as I can really ask of myself right now.

Here is the writing summary for 2021. I did only write really 3 works if you count part 4 of the TMOI series as a single novel. It can also be read as 12 oneshots for 14 total works. Either way, I don’t think it matters. I managed 300k words in the second year of the world coming to an end, and that is worth celebrating.

I’ve been working on an MCU fairy tale, but then after that I want to go write another original novel. I have…40% of it figured out. Which is to say, I have my main characters, my world, and my narrative style. I’m just…lacking in plot. I’m working on it. I decided I didn’t want to go back to the urban fantasy I started previously because I just can’t get my head around parts of it. So I’m starting over.

It’s a tough time to be stretching for creativity, but I need that stretch, I think.

The one good thing I can say about *waves at everything* is that…I’m not any more scared of most things than I was before. I’m better than ever at getting shots and having blood drawn without passing out, though that may just be repetition with all the damn tests I have to get on a frequent basis for my illness. I don’t know that I have much improved my self esteem when it comes to my writing or even singing, but I don’t think it’s much worse, either. Events that rocked me to my core didn’t tip me over. I’ve questioned if I can keep on doing all the things I do, but less so whether or not I’m worthy to do them.

In a world where so many people, lives, hearts, minds, spirits are broken, where so much tragedy and fear has overwhelmed every day of the last nearly two years, I didn’t lose those things. I lost other things, lots of them. But I didn’t lose myself.

I’m having trouble getting the MCU fairy tale out of my brain, but I think that’s partially because of aforementioned exhaustion (especially the work-related stuff), and partially because I’m not sure what I need from it. Usually my writing is about saying something I believe and simultaneously feeling something I feel as deep as I can. And with this one, I don’t think I’ve figured out how to really do either.

Which, maybe I should just pause and write the original thing and feel my stuff, and then see how the MCU fits upon return. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened, even if it’s annoying. I like being able to start and end a project all at once!

Don’t mind me. I’m just fussy about myself. I hold to standards I would never so much as suggest to anyone else because I always want to push myself. I can do better. I can be better. I can work harder. I can be smarter. And if I can be, then I want to be. Even when I might be better served taking a break.

There’s a balance in here somewhere. I have no idea what it should be. I’ll keep working on it.

But that’s the trick, isn’t it? Keep working on it. Keep trying. Try harder. Keep stepping forward. Keep failing. Fail harder. Get up. Make more art. Art harder.

There’s a universe inside me. A million stars around which orbit a billion stories. And I’m going to tell them all for as long as there is breath in me.

If we’re all only as much as what we create to leave behind, then I’m going to leave a library.

I know nobody reads this thing except maybe…3 or 4 of you? So I’m ending here to see if I can churn out a few more words tonight. But I leave you with this song. I’ve spent the last several years building up playlists of music for writing, but the vast, vast majority of it has been vocal. Somehow, now I’ve turned around and I really want non-vocal music for writing. I have a playlist of 122 songs, some brand new to me, some I’ve loved for literal decades.

But one of my oldest is this. It’s the 2nd track on the first piano CD I ever owned, bought in middle school. The first track is one intimately tied to spiritual practice. But this one has always just helped me quiet down and think.

So if you need a moment of peace, here’s “Nightfall.”

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Song of Women

I haven’t been feeling well the last two weeks — a flare up of my mystery illness which we now think may be psoriatic arthritis. I’m on 2 drugs for it, both of which suppress the immune system, but every now and again either stress or really bad sleep for several days in a row get to me and my immune system powers back like it’s charging the beaches at Normandy. Sometimes typing hurts, sometimes sitting up hurts, and sometimes none of it hurts, per se, but it’s akin to having mono and just being physically wiped out and exhausted all the time.

What energy I’ve had, I’ve been pouring into writing. My goal is to finish the 4th and 5th parts of the big MCU rewrite by the end of October. It’s aggressive, and may not be possible. But I gotta try.

So, in order to save energy for writing, this is about the sum of the update. To make up for its brevity, have a song I am completely obsessed with right now by the incomparable duo of Lzzy Hale from Halestorm and The Hu:

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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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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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