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.”



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.


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.


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!


Stepping Up

Well, last Monday was a bust because I was unexpectedly in California, and this week has been largely dominated by the same. That, and a whole lot of painting in our condo hallways which makes my brain get woozy periodically.

I’m preparing for a pretty monumental life change — leaving my company of nearly 13 years to join a startup company in a completely new industry.

My job is the one place in life I tend to show the least defiance and courage, because ultimately taking care of Sarah and making money have to come first — so I have to swallow my personality just to make it work. Or, at least, I did. But change needs to happen and it needs to happen now.

I’ve passed the point at my current position of “busy but with some downtime to take a breather” to “frustrated beyond the point that it is negatively impacting my life” and that’s usually the last sign a person needs to get out. I haven’t been really challenged in a long time, and the more that goes on, the dumber I feel. I’ve always been the sort of person to rise with the level of difficulty — maybe not to the top, but enough to balance the rising waters, anyway. I was never a straight-A+ student, but I was a comfortable A- student at least even when I took the leap from public school to private, and then from high school to college. The difficulty rose, and so did I.

By the same token, when there is no challenge to meet, I sink. And not just with work or school — everywhere. My writing has suffered, and only now am I realizing the impact my job has had upon that besides everything else. My spirits suffer when I spend most days traveling the short spectrum between annoyed and ready-to-pull-my-ribs-out-of-my-chest-with-my-bare-hands frustrated. Spending my workday drenched in mud makes it hard for me to relight the spark inside for anything else.

So I’m making a change, and a big one.

Honestly, I have no idea how this will impact my life. I’ll have to work harder than I have in years, and yet my boss is adamant that he doesn’t intend for this to take over my every waking moment — no 60 hour work weeks or working all weekends. I’ll have to be sharper, more accountable, cleverer. I’ll have to stretch and screw up and try again on a daily basis. I won’t be able to spend my workday frowning at my computer and wandering over to YouTube. I probably won’t be able to spend it writing, either.

But I haven’t spent the last however-many workdays writing in the first place because creativity dies in this morass of boredom and frustration anyway.

It’ll be an adjustment, a big one. If my workdays fill up the way I anticipate, I’m going to have to actively carve out writing time in my evenings and weekends as I haven’t for a few years. I’m going to have to be more careful about scheduling everything from a daily workout to laundry to make sure I’m putting my actual job first in a way I haven’t for the last 2 years. I may even have to get used to traveling for work a tiny bit, at least once or twice a year.

But I’m ready for this. The new company is one whose mission isn’t just “make money,” but in fact rooted in helping other people, in building a better, healthier, more respectful world. That’s something I can actually care about. I’ve never since college had a job that paid money for something I valued, something I believed in, something I could feel. I think that will help me a lot.

But even so, I have reason to worry.

We’re singing a song for this season in the TCWC whose lyrics begin with:

What is the meaning of success?
What does it mean to me?
How do I get there?
Do I have reason to be scared?
Do I?

The song ultimately answers the questions by pushing forward, the refrain being “one step, take another step, step up.” It’s encouraging, and a pretty fun song, but it does kind of gloss over the part about actually being scared. It jumps from the reasonable human reaction of fear to refusing to give up, but there’s a piece that has to be overcome in the middle there.

And, yeah. Something of this magnitude, something that is job-related so it determines if Sarah and I are okay and can afford our lives…

Yeah, I have reason to be scared.

But I read something in a fic a little while ago that has been helping me a lot:

“You’re not nervous, you’re excited.”

It’s actually a real thing — biologically, the sensation of nerves and fear is pretty similar to excitement. It’s all in our human perception that tells us if that jangling in the stomach is a happy kind of sensation or a debilitating one. And while this might not work on generalized anxiety, for me, for a certain kind of fear, it does work.

While I’ve been interviewing for this job, when I was unexpectedly brought to California to meet with the company, all along I have reminded myself that I wasn’t nervous about talking to these people or making this leap, not scared to step way outside my comfort zone — but that I was excited to try something new and learn what I could do. It’s helped more than I can say. I need the reminder pretty frequently, but it’s helped. I found myself in a conversation with the company’s founder and I wasn’t afraid and nervous and unsettled; I was eager and enthusiastic, and that wasn’t false. It was my excitement in the place where nerves had begun.

Next week, I get to find out if this works on stagefright as well.

So there are a lot of unknowns about the coming weeks and months. Nobody knows how this change will impact my writing or my life — but it can only be a good thing, because the current state is damaging. I wish I could say that being stimulated at work would lead to a new burst of creativity and I would get back to writing the way I want. But maybe it’ll be more like CVG and it’ll take spoons I need for writing instead, and my production won’t increase even though my happiness and quality of life will. I don’t know.

But I’m willing to find out. I’m willing to walk away from 13 years of stability (and frustration) for something new and unknown. I’m willing to leap and figure out the landing on the way down.

It’s one step forward. One step up. It’s going to take a lot out of me, but it may give back even more. It’s a chance worth taking and a risk worth making.

I’m not nervous. I’m excited.

And it turns out? I really am.


Heroes, Misfits, and Rebels

The Rebel Girls concert went so, so well, and people were in tears at times as we talked about the women and girls who have changed and are changing the world. From Harriet Tubman to Malala, from Abigail Adams to Greta Thunberg, we sang and spoke about women’s courage, women’s choices, women’s actions, and the changes that came from them. Me, too, thinking not only of the figures of history that paved the way for me, but the people in my own life who changed my own little world.

As Ann Reed says in her song “Heroes:”

“One life can tell the tale,
That if you make the effort, you cannot fail.
By your life you tell me it can be done,
By your life’s the courage to carry on.
Heroes appear like a friend
To clear a path or light a flame.
As time goes, you find you depend
On your heroes to show you the way.”

It’s also true that we are what we pretend to be. Want to have more courage, or charisma, or to live boldly? It doesn’t happen because you wish for it — it happens because you pretend for it, and eventually it becomes truth. By the same method, the people we see as our heroes become our blueprint for ourselves. The people we revere, we respect, we cling to, they are the mold we set for ourselves.

All of my heroes are rebels.

As part of a getting-to-know-you exercise with my Operations team, one of the questions I’ve added to our list is “What fictional character(s) best represents you?”

For myself, I have to choose 4. It *just so happens* they align nicely to the elements.

Air = Leonardo of the TMNT. This is where my leadership happens, grounded in the ability to just keep going, to lift the burdens of others, to be first one in and last out, to bleed for the protection of those I call my own. This is the peace of mind I seek, the insight, the stillness of meditation and the reverence for honor. But it’s also the unexpectedness of me being silly after I’ve been staid and solid too long. It’s the ability to see through a situation and find a path home.

Fire = Li Syaoran from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles. This is the burning intensity of my ability to dedicate myself to a course of action and follow it to the end, NO MATTER WHAT. This is my loyalty, my devotion, my love. It’s also my courage, burning with the power of a lightning strike, to fight and fight and fight and never let the darkness of doubt win. It’s my ability to accept failure and stand back up and try again. It’s also my ability to take the hardest road, knowing it will hurt, but being willing to defer my own ease for the sake of what lies at the end of the path.

Water = Lacus Clyne from Gundam SEED (Destiny). In utter contrast to the previous, this is where I am soft and warm. This is love and emotion and gentleness and patience. This is the wisdom to know when to listen. But it’s also a steely strength of its own — not to fight, but to endure and resist. To sing the song of peace against the storm. To hold up others in their own battles, providing a safe refuge for them between the fires. To heal what is broken.

Earth = Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel from the MCU. Stubbornness. Not the burning refusal to be defeated as Syaoran, but the part that chuckles at failure and says, “huh, that was cute” and tries again. The ability to grow from something damaged, something incomplete, and embrace what lies within. The confidence to be grounded, steady, with an even temperment in the face of stress and a joke in the face of danger. This is also probably where my own independence streak lives, not doing the work or facing the troubles for someone else or for any high ideal, but because I am Defiance and hear me roar.

They are all rebels and troublemakers, every one of them. Leo, who lives under the honor of his family still lives his own life by his choice, in spite of the human society and enemies that hunt him. Syaoran…well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say the dude is willing to challenge everything, even the makeup of spacetime itself, if he has to — and he cannot and will not apologize for doing what he must for the person he loves. Lacus is literally a rebel, joining a faction that takes no sides but the side of humanity and peace in the midst of a war and inciting people to follow her. Carol finds that she is on the wrong side of a war and leaps to at the chance to finally free herself from her constraints and claim a new place for herself.

They aren’t my heroes, per se, because my actual heroes are all real flesh-and-blood people who inspire me to live in this world with its rules and find ways to break them. But they are rebels who get to the heart of who I want to be. The rebel I want to be.

I came upon this quote while reading a fanfic sometime in the last couple of weeks, and I emailed it to myself so I would remember to post it at some point:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
― Rob Siltanen

Now, I know that this is a quote that came out of a marketing meeting and was used to sell Apple products. I know that. But it doesn’t make the point less relevant just because it was invented purely to sell computery things trading on the reputation of a CEO.

Truth is truth wherever you find it, from a fortune cookie to a line scrawled on the sidewalk.

And the truth is? I’m a misfit and a rebel. I have been since I was 3 years old. My earliest memory is from when I was about 4, and I crept away from the backyard into the woods, because I wasn’t supposed to go there, but it was alive and interesting and I wanted to see what the world looked like on the other side of the hill. I can remember being 6 and getting in trouble in kindergarten for not wanting to play house or dolls — I wanted to build a fort under a table and pretend to be a family of dogs taking shelter from the storm.

I’ve never been what anyone wanted of me, and I’ve never done things the way others did. And I’ve never been sorry about it, either.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get the chance to change the world per this quote above, and I’m certainly no genius. I’m not even a hero, and my name won’t ever be sung alongside the names in Ann Reed’s song.

But I’m okay with that.

Sometimes, being a rebel means living quietly in a manner which is solely yours, no one else’s. The world is full of quiet rebels, donating money to causes, marching in protests, playing the game of capitalism, and yet their spirits fight every day from their homes and cars and dreams. To be a rebel doesn’t mean one must be famous to make a difference. And any difference, no matter how small, counts towards the greater whole.

Maybe I’m not the rebel who will push the human race forward. But you better believe I’ll be right beside her starting to walk and backing her up.


Rebel Girls are Never One Thing

This week is concert week for the TCWC. Which also means I have limited spoons this week and I need to conserve them. So I’m giving myself permission to write a short blog.

This concert’s theme is “Rebel Girls” and all the songs are about powerful women through history and today, from Abigail Adams advocating for women to have the right to vote in the Articles of Confederation to Malala and Greta Thunberg. Encore’s doing “Warrior” about finding the courage to step up and speak, and Elizabeth Alexander’s “What’s Keeping You From Singing?” which is about women helping each other find joy.

Another of the songs is “Never One Thing” by May Erlewine. The choir sings it with a lot of spirit. A lot of the women in the choir have been rebels themselves, and I love seeing them rejoice in owning that power. And I love sharing that feeling of “I will not be pinned down or pigeon-holed” because I am right there with them. There will be a lot of grinning and rocking out on this one.

And, of course, my favorite is the song inspired by the Charlotte Tall Mountain poem I posted not long ago. There isn’t a good video for it, unfortunately. That’s the one that’s going to dig into my heart and set me free.

Plus, we get to sing a version of Ann Reed’s “Heroes” which is just…if you don’t know it, go hear it. Truly. And feel that litany of names and know that every one of them helped build the world brighter for all of us.

Really, this whole concert is about women’s courage, and about Defiance. It is about changing the world, laughing, never backing down. It is about refusing to be defined by expectations and doing the thing that needs doing.

It’s going to be a good one, especially if I can keep from tearing up every other song. Either way, I’m going to be in my element.


Bullying and bad dreams — and better days

Last night was apparently the night for bad dreams — I had them, and so did Sarah. Both of us have the unique skill/gift of remembering our dreams virtually every morning, so when the dreams are vivid, or upsetting, they tend to stick with us.

Mine were all about my personal bullies.

In eighth grade, I transferred schools and became the only new person in a class of 48. Yup, 48. That was hard enough, entering a group that was so small, that had been together since 5th, knowing nobody and being a true outsider. But I did my best to make friends, or at least get along with people, and before midway through the year I had found myself three or four friends. We would do long phone calls and hang out during free periods and they even came to my house once. It was fun, and it filled a hole in my life where I had lost most of my pre-existing friends when I made the transfer.

Now, I will be honest, I was a weird kid. Hell, I’m working my way towards 40 and I’m STILL a weird kid. I never could keep to topics that were “normal,” preferring to chatter about the most recent story I’d dreamed up, or what I’d read about Bigfoot being real, or experiments into ESP. The first non-fiction book I ever took out of the elementary school library was a book about unknown phenomena from aliens to Nessie, and my interests continued in those veins for years. Still do, to be honest.

I wish I remembered what happened. Things got odd between these new friends and I sometime in the spring, but I don’t recall the specifics. What I do recall is one awkward bus ride and one of them asking me something and not liking my answer. And by the time they got off the bus, we were no longer friends.

It was a sad and lonely time for me. Now I was stuck the rest of the school year with no peers at all I could talk to, no one to do homework with, no one who would sit by me. The rest of my classmates were fine, but they all saw me as an outsider. So they’d chat with me politely, but nobody ever invited me to hang out or actually attempted to include me in conversation. I was on the outside of every group but one, and then all at once I was on the outside of every group.

But I got through the year and hoped high school would be better. After all, in high school the class side would double. New people would come in and I would no longer be the only outsider. And, for a while, it was okay. I made a few friends through both sports and classes. The groups shifted and the dynamics of the 84 people in my grade loosened up a little. Plus, on a much larger campus, there was room for me to hang out in secluded spots so I was no longer forever stuck surrounded by people who would not engage me.

That peace didn’t last, however. Because two things happened:

First, the friends I made gravitated to the friends I had lost for the exact same reason I had befriended them in the first place. We were all nerds of one kind or another. We were all the socially awkward outcasts with in-jokes and interest in stuff off the beaten track. We were all a little too smart and a little too strange.

So my friends that I had made began alternating who would hang with whom, me or those I had lost. They would apologize to me. “Sorry, I said I’d eat lunch with them today. You don’t mind, right?” and go spend their time with those who had cast me out. And it hurt. But I couldn’t begrudge them. After all, they were good people, funny and clever, and I would have liked to be there myself. So I would shrug and try not to let the hurt get to me.

But the second thing was worse. Because one of those former friends decided to become my nightmare.

Of the former friends, one decided to take it to a new level. No one really ever knew why. Or, if they knew, no one told me. But it became another common refrain: “Geez. He really hates you. I mean, he HATES you. It’s really bad.”

He wouldn’t speak to me — ever. Even if we were in class groups together, which happened, or were doing something with an after school activity and happened to cross paths. He would not acknowledge my existence with anything other than a lethal glare. That, by itself, was difficult for me.

Then the drawings started.

I was not, ever, an attractive teenager. I had braces, bad skin, and hair that could kindly be called “frizzy.” (I still have 2 of the three some days.) Accordingly, I had almost zero self-esteem. They all knew that.

The bully would draw pictures of me, with sort of creepy frequency. I figured it was a way to blow off steam at the most readily-available target. The pictures were deeply and profoundly unflattering, both recognizable as me and monstrous in their execution. Torn from pages in notebooks, or taking up full half-sheets, the pen drawings exaggerated everything I hated about myself in loving detail.

And I saw them. I was meant to see them.

Sometimes they would appear on my desk in a class. Sometimes my new friends would hand them to me apologetically. Sometimes one would be waiting in the quiet spots I tended to frequent away from the bulk of my classmates. Once I even found one in my coat pocket.

Now, I don’t know to this day if the person who drew them was also the person delivering them, or if there were multiple hands in this torment. I’ll never know. But I know that someone was cruel enough to draw them, constantly, and someone was cruel enough to ensure I was aware of them. And, at least sometimes, they were delivered by people I did like and trust.

There was never any physical abuse in any of this. But there didn’t need to be.

For the entirety of high school, it continued. The silence, the pictures, and the split custody of my friends. I got into the habit of simply not eating lunch on days when my friends would sit at the table with the bullies. I would do homework, or read in the library, or work on music in the choral room. Anything to avoid being by myself in a lunchroom where every single person knew my name and knew why I had nobody. I never told anybody what was going on, and I never asked for it to stop. I never said a bad word about the bullies — not out of fear, but out of respect. Because as cruel as they were behaving towards me, I still thought them good and decent and deserving people.

As an adult, looking back, I feel so, so sad for the person I was, and how little I thought I deserved.

My friends should have been better, and I should have demanded such. Choosing to spend their time with people who made my life miserable because they were funny should not have been acceptable. Not if they were really friends. There is nothing okay about sitting and making jokes with someone who shows cruelty to others. But I was too lost and immature to ask for better, and I assume those who were my friends were too immature and caught up in their own lives to realize their role in perpetuating the cruelty against me.

By the end of senior year, however, I already knew those friendships were too weak to stand. Of the three people I had counted friends in high school, only one truly seemed to care about me. And she had made it very, very clear to me that she was not intending to carry anything from high school to college with her, including relationships. I’ve always been affectionate — that’s my nature. I think it did not work with her own. And that was fine. She was very clear about her expectations, and that was kinder, perhaps, than pretending to be closer than we were.

I left for college and have never, ever looked back. Nor will I. There will be no high school reunion for me, because there was no “union” in the first place. The school itself got me into the college that helped me redefine myself and create the life I now lead. That is its value and I am grateful for it. But there is nothing for me there with those people who knew my name and never gave me the time of day at best. And there is nothing worth revisiting with those who sought to bring me pain and isolation for years.

After the nightmares of last night, I did a bit of Google searching and found the three main people who started as friends and became points of sorrow thereafter. Anyone is surprisingly easy to track down if you know their full name and general location, after all.

The true bully, the one who drew pictures, has become semi-famous in his field. When I came upon a picture, my heart went into my throat and I was momentarily 16 years old again and just as hurt and lost. Even now, a thousand miles away and surrounded by loving people, he can still hurt me in remembrance.

I thought, for a moment, about contacting him through his website. Demanding to know if he remembered what he had done to me, how he had spent almost four and a half years making my life miserable. Finding out if he recognized the pain he had caused, deliberately, intentionally, constantly. Asking if he would admit that his treatment of me trickled down to everyone else I might ever have befriended and left me adrift. Seeking any kind of apology or acknowledgement.

But just as quickly, I discarded the idea.

Nothing good can come of it. Either he doesn’t care, still, and feels he was in the right at the time (or that his actions, while unkind, were not “bad enough” to warrant my seeking him out 20 years later), or he has done his own soul-searching and come to his own conclusions about his behavior, and he has to live with that guilt, too. Slamming back into his life would open up those floodgates for us both. And, the truth is, that an apology might feel good, but it isn’t going to make anything change. It won’t rewrite the history of those years. It won’t give me the chance at relationships with those already spread to the world. If he doesn’t care, then I am the only one who stands to get hurt all over again. If he does, then I don’t owe him my forgiveness or chance to make amends.

Life isn’t like the movies where the estranged people find one another after a long separation and cry and all is well ever after. One who was hurt does not owe their pain-maker a chance at redemption or a cinematic reconciliation. If it helps the one hurt, then of course it is a good thing — but if it does not, if it does not serve the person already in pain, then it is not worth the doing. Because it is the need of the one who was hurt that comes first.

And I have nothing I want to hear from that bully, so I have nothing to say.

Bullying doesn’t have to be physical, punching in the bathroom and worse in the locker room, to do lasting damage. It doesn’t have to be screamed insults or whispered comments to scar. Bullying takes many forms, as many as there are ways to hurt, and each and every one of those is valid. I was never hit by a classmate, never teased before my grade, but I was a victim of bullying nonetheless. Me and millions of others. And the shadows of that experience colored the first few years of my college life, until the roots I put down in Minnesota became strong enough to beat back the weeds of high school.

Last night, my dreams decided to remind me about all that I endured, and the harm it caused to me. But today, in the fading sunlight, I choose instead to think about how far I’ve come.

I was bullied and alone. But I am not anymore.

I’ve become strong enough to stand up for myself, to demand appropriate and respectful treatment, to defend others when a comment is aimed to hurt, even unintentionally.

I’ve found for myself people who are supportive and kind, people who would not sit idly by while someone spoke of me in a hurtful manner, people who would not choose to sit at a table with one determined to torment me.

I’ve learned that, while it may be a human response to lash out at others in your own selfishness when you are hurting, too, that I don’t have to take it from anyone. I’ve gained the confidence to be able to say, “I get that you’re not okay, but what you’re doing is not okay, also. Now do better.”

I’m happy in this life that I’ve built for myself. I have now far more than I ever dreamed I could find in those dark high school days.

And every one of you who reads this blog is a part of that.

My high school bullies are behind me. Thank you for helping me build the road ahead.


Back from hiatus, I think

I’m sorry about the long silence. In the last month, there’s just been a lot going on. It’s not about me specifically, but it’s all personal, family-related stuff, so I don’t feel comfortable making it public. But, suffice it to say, many hospitalizations, scary calls/texts, and a great deal of pre-grief soul-searching has been underway. Not a fabulous month, all things considered.

I’m okay, though, because I have the greatest support network in the world.

What’s been odd is that this month has also been one of my most productive in 2019. I’ve written more, edited more, been more inspired, than I have all year. I think, at some point, I hit maximum crisis level. There’s a limit as to how much anxiety and fear and grief and loss and terror a person can feel at one time while remaining able to hold a job every day and do grocery shopping and not fall into unhealthy habits. And I can honestly say I’ve been pretty damn healthy this whole time. I’ve had to be. I’ve let myself cry when I needed to, and given myself permission to forget about it all and watch cartoons when needed. I’ve worked out many if not most days, listened to music, and come up with new story ideas.

I think I saturated my brain so hard, only work and creativity could exist alongside the rest of it.

Still. It’s reminded me how strong people are. People all over the world feel that and far, far worse every day of their lives, and still sing songs, write stories, pen tiny poems that scream their hearts. People can do amazing things to survive, to keep themselves going, to find a spot of joy and a bit of self in the morass that life sometimes gives us. People survive by finding wings and taking flight, even if they cannot move their bodies or escape from cement walls and bars or find even one moment of safety and peace in the day. People are resilient.

And I’m trying my best to be resilient, too.

I don’t always feel okay. There’s a lot still that rips at me, and I think I’m becoming increasingly afraid of getting texts from certain people. But I know the difference between being okay and knowing I’m going to be okay — and I’m going to be okay. Even if everything goes as south as it can go, if it all falls apart, I’ll grieve. I’ll cry and know a deep and terrible loss. I’ll never be the same. But I will be okay. I will be surrounded by those who love me, and they will hold me up when my own resilience gives out. And if the stories and writing haven’t left me now, then they’re never going to. I am a writer in good times and bad. I have it easier when life is easier, but I have it regardless, too.

So I’m going to try to get myself back into this posting habit. I may not always have much I can say, because sometimes the words can’t get through the muck of the rest of it. But I’m going to try. Because I’m still here. I’m still writing. I still have myself, and my courage, and when everything else is gone, I have those who love me.

I hope — I truly hope — that anyone who ever stumbles across my bit of the internet can say the same. And if you’re one of mine, then you should already know that you do.

I leave you with this. I’ve been watching a lot of auditions on YouTube lately (X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, America’s Got Talent, Idol, etc.) because either they are wonderful and soul-affirming, or they’re complete train wrecks and cringey-funny. And different days, I’ve needed different answers. But today was a soul-affirming clip.

It wasn’t what I expected, and it made me feel things I didn’t expect, either. But, then, life is rarely what I expect. And even when it is tragic, it is also still so beautiful.


Welcome to 2019

I’ve said before I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. It’s nice to point at a specific date and say “that is when I’m going to change,” but it’s far more important to be able to do it without any particular event or milestone to signify it. A change made for oneself is more genuine when it isn’t made on the timetable of the Gregorian Calendar.

But I can set goals for myself. In no particular order, here they are:

1.) Continue (or get back to) writing.

I didn’t really stop writing last year, but I sure as hell slowed down. Now I’m at 2 years in a row of about half the productivity I would like from myself. This is a little weird given that I have enough stuff to post every other day for pretty much the duration of 2019, but it’s all short. I already have a 3-novel idea for fic sorted in my head that I’ll start putting together as soon as I have fewer other, more immediate chores to accomplish (like dishes and laundry). However, once I churn through those, we’ll have to see how things are going. Depending on #2, my additional goal might be to write the next book for querying. As always, I want to make sure I have enough weeks of content for 2020, but there’s an additional pressure to get stuff written — if all works out as I dearly hope, I might find myself with less time and capacity for fic writing in the future.

This was a conversation with my copy-editor; she made the point that actually publishing a work is going to take away from other writing time as it is, and publishing means being ready to write the next in the series or the next series, which leaves even less space for fic. She asked me what I would want to make sure I got written if I was someday soon not to have 47 weeks of fic to post. It helped me immediately prioritize my writing. I do want to get this new 3-novel thing done, but then I need to go back to my roots and make sure I’ve put enough into my stories and my ongoing series to know that I could walk away for a time and not feel that I’ve left my fandoms hanging.

(Which really means the next entry or even 2 in Fate Is A Gift.)

Beyond that? I’m hoping this is the year I get back to 300,000 of finished writing (not started and incomplete stories). Even if they’re oneshots, even if they’re short, even if they come in fits and starts, I want to get that production back. I miss it.

2.) Continue querying.

It would be NEAT if I could make this goal “get published” but we’re trying for realistic expectations here. The thing about publishing, besides that it is a business and that cannot be underestimated, is that it is a sphere in which I as an author have very little control. I can write the story. I can edit the story. I can query the story.

That’s where my control pretty much ends.

I can’t make agents want to represent me. Even the best query in the world won’t mean that my novel is the one an agent is looking for. Even a kickass query letter that gets me requests for full manuscripts won’t guarantee that the agent doing the reading becomes an agent wanting to sign me. That’s just reality.

And then for publishing, it’s that all over again. Even having an agent doesn’t guarantee that the book will get picked up by a publishing house. It doesn’t ensure it’ll make it into the world. And it absolutely, positively doesn’t mean that it’ll get read or earn much in the way of actual money. Other than being a good person who is honest and kind to work with, and taking feedback as politely and thoughtfully as possible, there is literally nothing I can do with this process.

So I can’t set a goal of “get published” or even “get an agent.” I can only set a goal of querying my 50 agents as I told myself I would for the current novel. If none of those pan out, then I write the next one and query it. Getting to those 50 might be tough, not because there aren’t 50 agents who are amazing and who I would love to work beside, but because that means bracing for 50 rejections. It’s a lot some days. But 50 is the magic number I gave myself, and come hell or high water, I’m going to try.

3.) Improve upon the exercise plan.

Last year, the transition to working from home also meant a transition to being able to work out during the day. I got away from it in the couple of months with the chaos of the holiday season and the Illness of Fuckery, but I want to get back to it. Events in my personal life in 2018 drove home how fragile we all are as people. The slightest thing can stack up and leave you dead on the floor before you even realize. Exercise doesn’t prevent cancer; it doesn’t promise a long, healthy life. But it does help.

Any time I faltered last year and hit the “do I REALLY wanna go work out today?” stopping point, I reminded myself that exercise isn’t just what helps me be healthier now. It is also an investment for the future. And if working hard on my exercise plan today means I have a better shot of making it to my 100th year healthy and of sound mind, that I have a chance of spending all those years with the people I love, then I am going to give it all I’ve got. I really, really want to be here for the long haul. And that takes work.

4.) Be a better CoHead to CVG Operations than last year.

I got thrown into CoHeadship last year due to circumstances somewhat behind my control. For the most part, I think I did okay. But there is always room for improvement, and with all the exciting changes to CONvergence for 2019, there’s also a whole extra bundle of work to be done. I’m not asking myself to be perfect. I’m not expecting myself to make zero mistakes. But I am setting the goal for myself that I will feel more comfortable as a CoHead this year by putting in more and better work ahead of time. I am setting a goal of managing my time and my resources (especially mental/emotional) better at Con. I am setting a goal of taking on a little more weight now that there is more to be passed around, and fewer shoulders to bear it. Last year was the year of chaos. This year, I am hoping, is the year I get into a rhythm which I can sustain for a few more.

5.) Sort out the housing situation.

This one’s a little unexpected. So, we’ve been thinking a lot about selling our house and buying a condo in downtown instead. Much of the discussion has been around the logistics — how much space would we give up? what’s it like living in a dense, urban setting? how do we get all our stuff and crap out of the house? — but the origin point of the idea has to do with various limitations. I have an absolutely fatal allergy to wasp stings. The next time I get stung could very well kill me. Which means I can’t go outside for the entirety of spring, summer, and fall. I can’t mow the lawn, can’t weed the garden, can’t even hang out in my own backyard in a lawn chair. So, not only are we paying for property I literally cannot use, but it also means that the work of that property falls almost entirely to Sarah, and that is profoundly unfair.

There are other pieces, too. My job situation is currently stable, but should that ever change there aren’t a lot of options in our neighborhood. There’s a good chance I’d end up having to commute to the city, and even a bus ride means 50 minutes or more out of my day each way. That’s a lot of time to take away from Sarah, from writing, from CVG, etc. A lot of the reason I’ve never really considered leaving my current job is BECAUSE I don’t want to have to deal with that commute. But living downtown would mean I could swap jobs if I so desired and I could simply walk to work. (Though the preference is still working from home because it ROCKS.)

There are concerns, too. We currently live a bit over a mile from some of our dearest friends and we see them a lot — that would change. We currently have everything from a dentist and a vet to a favorite tea shop and Indian restaurant in our area — we’d have to find new. We don’t know how we would feel about collective living spaces if, for example, the walls or floor/ceiling were thin and it had an impact on when (and how loudly) we could watch our movies. And we are utterly, almost fanatically picky about space. If it isn’t absolutely perfect, we won’t be happy in it. It took us the better part of a year to find our current house. And I think living here has made us even more picky.

Which, in its own way, is a good thing. It means we can walk into a space and know instantly how we feel about it. And while there are some things we can compromise, there are many more that we won’t.

So my hope would be to make a decision this year. Either we find a condo and buy it and move into it, or we scrap the idea for a couple of years and focus on making improvements in this house instead. Honestly, I want the condo more than I want to stay here, partially because I do feel so trapped with nowhere to go (whereas Minneapolis has a SKYWAY), but I also think that taking away the worries would help me a lot. How many nights have I had to run and peek in the basement worrying about flooding? How many winter storms did we anxiously watch, knowing we’d have to shovel the driveway? How many nights did I hear weird sounds in the neighborhood and brace for a home invasion? A condo would have its own problems, but it might do wonders for my baseline, nagging sense of worry.

But we’ll have to see.

So that’s my 2019. Write, query, exercise, CoHead, and condo. No matter how it all turns out, it’s going to be a roller-coaster of a year — and that’s just speaking about my life, not the wider world and its myriad doings. And we’re already on the first hill.

Therefore, to close, I’ll borrow this line from the movie “Parenthood” — because it’s never been more appropriate for me, I think:

You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.


Great Moments

Next week will be the last post until January, FYI. Lots to do in the meantime!

Last night I caught the last part of the 2004 movie Miracle on TV. It’s my all-time favorite sports movie, but it’s also probably in my top 10 movies ever. I cannot get through it without getting a little teary. Really.

If nothing else gets me, and there’s plenty that can, the “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” game-call always does it. The rawness of that emotion…well, there’s a good reason they used the original call from the live broadcast rather than getting Al Michaels to redo that line.

The Miracle on Ice was a hockey game, fundamentally, but it was such a moment in world history, too. And it was the proof that hard work and trust can take you farther than anyone will ever expect if you never, never give up. The entire world was against them, but those twenty young men chose to believe in what Herb Brooks told them — that they could stand against everyone and win. And Herb Brooks believed because he saw more than talent or greatness in those boys. He saw trust. He saw dedication. And he saw courage.

Herb Brooks changed the way the USA looked at hockey, and the way it is played to this day in this country. He did it by looking deeply into the game and its players, and finding more than others had seen. He saw that you can’t win games by putting 20 “best” players on the ice; you have to win by putting the right 20 players on the ice. Not 20 players who play perfect games individually, but 20 players who play one perfect game together.

He expressed himself in a very unique way sometimes, and his Brooksisms were legendary among the kids he coached. For years, I used to have some of them written on a note at my desk. The note got lost in an office move, but rewatching the movie brought them back. They’re not always kind, but they are always invigorating.

“You don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.”

“You can’t be common, the common man goes nowhere; you have to be uncommon.”

“Boys, I’m asking you to go to the well again.”

“The important thing is that those twenty boys know in twenty years, they didn’t leave anything on the table. They played their hearts out. That’s the important thing.”
(This last was from the movie, not an actual Brooksism.)

As I’m looking ahead to 2019, there are a lot of unknowns. I don’t know what the world will look like in a year. I don’t know if I will be able to get an agent and publish a book, or if I’ll put it in a drawer and try again with something else. I don’t know what other seismic events will shake my emotional landscape.

What I do know is that I can’t possibly avoid being surprised, and that it’s as likely to be a good surprise as it is to be a bad one.

For myself, sometimes I’ve found that when it is difficult to look forward, it is easier to imagine looking back. The future holds anxiety and who-knows-what. But if I imagine looking back at 2019 in 2039, then I can figure out what it is I’ll want to see. I can’t know about the events, but I can know that I will want to be able to say that I gave my best, that I didn’t back down when it mattered, that I never gave up. I can know that, whatever comes, I want to be able to stand up and say that I didn’t leave anything on the table.

I look back at 2017 and 2018 and I see the fruits of despair and worry and dread. I see the stresses, the cracks. I see the times I gave myself a break and forgave myself for needing time and space and whatever else it took to stay mentally and emotionally healthy. And those are all okay.

But I want to do better in 2019.

I want to be able to look back at 2019 and know that I went to the well again and drew water from the bottom of the world. I want to look back at 2019 and know that I didn’t let myself fall into the messy habits of 2017 and 2018 — that I pulled myself back up to my better habits, my stronger work ethic. I want to look back at 2019 and know that I accomplished something. Whether that is a published book or 300,000 words of writing, right now, I dunno. But one of the two, at the least.

If not both.

What’s the point in aiming low, after all?

In the famous speech Herb Brooks made to his team before the 1980 medal round against the USSR, he says this (I highly recommend watching it because Kurt Russell knocks it out of the park):

Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight.

One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them and we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.

You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight.

This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em. This is your time! Now go out there and take it!

I don’t know if 2019 is my one game. I don’t know if it’s my do-or-die. But I don’t know that it isn’t, either. I don’t know that 2019 isn’t the year that everything hangs in the balance.

All I can do is act like it is.

All I can do is know, when 2019 is closing, that I didn’t leave anything on the table. That I went to the well again and again and it never ran dry. That I fought to be uncommon, even when the world made me feel too small to stand.

2019 may not be my time.

But it might be.

Do you believe in miracles?