Time Is Not A Pony Ride*

Autumn is coming. **

Every year I always find it interesting how you can feel it, even in the midst of 90º+ days, if you stop long enough and just listen. Some of the trees are already almost bare, and while much of that is due to the recent 5-week mini-drought, you can almost hear the trees sighing with fatigue, ready to shrug off this wet, soggy spring and dry, punishing summer to sleep for a while, and try again next year. It’s a smell in the air that at first comes only on the occasional breeze, but gradually deepens and stretches itself out across the land. In spite of the fact that I’m not a huge fan of winter weather (I can never truly get warm when it’s cold outside) I welcome the autumn. Just like the trees I’m worn down by the incessant heat, and I feel their need for rest pulling at my heart. Everything needs to sleep. Everything needs to dream.

Yesterday I planted four raised beds of beans and peas, the first time I’ve ever tried a fall crop of them. There was one bed of Provider, one of Royal Bush (a very pretty purple color), one of Piggott peas, and one of Crowder peas. Beans and peas are one of those things I’ve never really mastered, mostly because I can never figure out if I’m harvesting at the right time, or, if I am, how to preserve what I’ve picked. In any case, we’ll see.

 

*David Byrne

**Doesn’t sound as dramatic as GRRM, but there you have it.

The Persistence

Sometimes writing feels like an exercise in pointlessness, like I’ve punched some ticket to that great waiting room in the sky and I’m doomed to forever circle success, floating along with fat, naked, unbaptized babies and wholly contented pre-Christian native tribesmen. To date, I’ve logged over 500 rejections since I started doing this seriously in 2008, and most of the time, the psychological toll those 500 carry far outweighs any successes I’ve managed to pull off. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never get better, never master the craft I’ve devoted so many hours to learning. Some days, I don’t even know what keeps me submitting and submitting and submitting when I’ve been told no so many times.

Every once in a while, though, the universe throws me a bone, just enough to make me keep the faith, and keep on writing. This week, it was finding out that Ellen Datlow mentioned me in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven. My name isn’t on the cover, of course, and I don’t even have a story listed in the table of contents. Instead, there was this tiny little tidbit, referencing work published in the always fantastic Goblin Fruit:

Some of the darkest poems in 2014 were by Megan Arkenberg, Sally Rosen Kindred, Seanan McGuire, Lynette Mejía, Shweta Narayan, Sonya Taaffe, and Lindsey Walker.

That sentence was encouraging; on seeing it I did a little victory dance inside my head. I’m getting somewhere, even if my steps are small. I’m getting somewhere.

Is it fame and fortune? No, of course not.

But it’s something.

Watermelon in Pantyhose

It’s hard to even think about gardening in this weather. Before 7am and after 7:30pm are tolerable, but in between the heat index hovers around the 105 – 110 degree mark. Not pleasant.  Still, gardening is my meditation, and my exercise, so, like the bats who wheel and loop above the courtyard, keeping the mosquitoes off the premises (mostly), I creep out after the sun sets or, more rarely, before it rises higher than the trees.

Most years I let my vegetable garden just go to hell come late July/August. By that time the heat has long-since done in the tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn I planted in March; this year it even took out the strawberries I’d planted in the cinder blocks that line my raised beds. This year, though, mostly on a whim and that gardener’s problem of never being able to pass up a rack of plants at the local home improvement store, I came home a few days after the 4th of July with several watermelon plants, along with a couple of Halloween pumpkins, some squash, two eggplants, and four tomatoes that claimed to be heat tolerant. Lo and behold, all these drought-stricken weeks later they’re all still alive (mostly). More surprising still, the watermelons seem to be thriving!

Now, to be fair, I didn’t just plunk them in the ground and walk away. I’ve kept them well-watered and fertilized with worm compost tea and Epsom salts. At the moment, I’ve got somewhere between 5 and 10 fruits hanging from the vine, which runs up a trellis the LOML and I constructed from a cattle panel. This brings up another problem, however, as watermelons tend to get quite heavy as they grow. A little magical Internet research and voila! A use for all those pairs of pantyhose I’ve kept around since the 90’s!

watermelon in drag

A watermelon in drag.

Coming along nicely.

More potential wearers of women’s undergarments coming along nicely.

 

On the Making of Magic, Pt. 2: An Invocation

Writing is hard, and I don’t mean do-I-put-a-comma-here hard; I mean the overwhelming majority of my working time consists of me sitting in front of the screen, just staring at it. Usually, eventually, something comes to me, but it’s very, very rough and has to be gone over again and again, the seams ripped out and resewn together in different ways until I can look at it and not shudder. Even then, it often ends up abandoned. I have a folder with hundreds of unfinished pieces in it; times when I thought I had the nugget of something extraordinary, only to discover dead ends or (worse still) that what I was writing was ordinary, clichéd, or just plain uninspired. Heinlein said you should always finish what you write, but for me that would just be murder. Sometimes I can come back to a piece later, and figure out how to fix it, but more often than not, dead just means dead. I move on.

Then there are the days when I sit down at the computer and the words come easily. Those are the magic days, when I’ll wake up with the first line of a story or poem sitting there in my fingertips, just waiting for me to write it down. On those rare occasions it almost feels as if someone else is in control, and I’m just the typist sent up for the day from the secretarial pool. I’m sure there are any number of books or blog posts dedicated to explaining how to “beat writer’s block” and bring on this state of creative frenzy, but for me it remains magical and a bit mysterious. Enough so that, rare as they may be, those days more than make up for all the others spent staring at a blank screen or an absurd amalgamation of clunky sentences.

The only invocation I know is a burning curiosity about everything in the world. I have books on ancient history, permaculture, genetics and Pre-Raphaelite art. I spend hours in bookstores, libraries, and museums, my head bent at odd angles as I peruse titles or study the tiny details of paintings. I spend even more time outdoors, studying the patterns in nature: weather, the seasons, how things grow and change. My invocation to magic isn’t about begging for inspiration; it’s about filling myself with a million bits of knowledge, things that can coalesce into ideas, poems, stories. I often joke that writers are jacks of all trades but masters of none, but in a sense this is not only true, but essential. Whoever said “write what you know” was only half right. There’s nothing wrong with writing about the familiar, of course, but the best writing comes when we fill ourselves with the world. Like any true magic, it can’t be tamed or trained to show up on command, and I’ve learned to live with that.

After all, that’s what makes it wonderful, isn’t it?

On the Making of Magic, Pt. 1: A Manifesto

I don’t blog here very often, mostly because I lead a chaotic and over-scheduled life, but, partly at least, because I’m ambivalent about the whole concept of author blogs–the audience building, online community engagement, and marketing strategies that writers are frequently encouraged to employ for the purpose of making one’s voice stand out amongst the ever-increasing din of the modern world. When everyone is speaking at once, author or not, one must inevitably raise one’s voice louder and louder, it seems, in order to be heard, and I, to put it mildly, have little to no interest in a shouting contest that involves a billion other people. I’d prefer to just sit back here at the back of the room, like I’ve always done, and observe the bedlam from a bit of a distance.

Also, although I was something of a political spitfire as a young, piss and vinegar-filled college student, these days I rarely even express political sentiment beyond sometimes reposting the odd meme that catches my eye on Facebook. That isn’t to say I don’t still have my piss and vinegar-fueled, far left political opinions; I just rarely express them outside the confines of my own small circle. Just as with the authorial self-promotion, I don’t really have any strong desire to try spend my days attempting to shout louder than everyone else around me. And let’s face it: honest, sincere political discourse with an eye toward understanding and compromise is dead in this country. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.*

That being said, however, I am a writer, and write I must. I feel the same drive to mark out my little piece of territory (virtual or otherwise) as the next person, and with it comes the desire to not only tell the stories, but to provide some kind of personal context for them—to wrap a little piece of myself up and present it to whomever takes the time to come by and take a look, as it were. These are the truths of the world that I’ve found, collected and kept precious like the box of stones and feathers and bits of metal I collected as a child. These are my fireflies in a jar, the posters on the wall I fall asleep under each night. This is my magic, and this is how I make it.

Broken

It’s 32°F right now outside my window. Yesterday, it was 81°. Twenty-four hours ago  I was wearing shorts and working in my garden; today it started snowing. I know it’s nothing like the shit the Northeast is having to endure, but jeez, I wish spring would just get here already. I’m hanging on, trying to keep myself from falling into the abyss of depression I can never seem to avoid in winter, but I need the sun to come back soon. If I lived in the North, I’d have to be medicated. I’m sure of it.

All I want to do is go back to sleep. Wake me up in May.

Yesterday was spent catching up. On submissions, which had been stacking up for two weeks; on grading my kids’ school work (ditto); and on a thousand other projects I have going at any one time. Growing summer vegetables from seed. Sorting and tagging our mp3 collection. Revising fiction. Finishing the horse paddock. House repairs. Editing the thesis.

Seriously, I could go on and on. Ad nauseum. The problem is, I never know when to stop, and just finish what I’m working on. I have this theory, or habit, or whatever you want to call it, where I keep myself excited and engaged with the world by adding more stuff to do. I spend my days checking off little subtasks that never seem to add up to any one big thing. Or maybe they do, and I’m just so immersed in the ‘doing’ of it that I never take the time to come up for air.

I read somewhere that true gardeners never actually take the time to enjoy their own garden; when they look around all they can see are the flaws, the unfinished beds, the weeding that’s been neglected. I think it’s a very accurate description of my gardening style, but also my life in general.

 

I Have Faith But Don’t Believe You

Two pieces of wonderful news as I woke up yesterday morning. First, my poem, “The Time of Last Scattering,” which appeared in Star*Line 37.1, has been nominated for a Rhysling Award. It’s a huge honor to be nominated among so many poets I admire. I am truly, absolutely, thrilled by the news.

Second, I learned that my poem, “Robot Love Song,” will appear in an upcoming issue of Ideomancer, a beautiful speculative fiction journal that highlights some really wonderful fiction and poetry. My poem, “Visiting Hours,” is currently live there, along with works by Mary Soon Lee, Bogi Takács, Alexandra Seidel, and others, so go check it out.

This weekend, like every weekend with decent weather and no social or child obligations, was spent working on The Homestead. Much was accomplished: laying out three new vegetable beds, spreading and compacting about twenty fuck-tons* of dirt and limestone to build up the road into the horse paddock and get a handle on the mud problem around the gates; cleaning out one of the three nearly blocked drain culverts on the property, edging and nearly finishing mulch around one of the flower beds. After a couple of months with little or no chance for yardwork, it was welcome, though we were both utterly exhausted at the end of the day.  Still, it was a good kind of tired.

This weekend as I worked, I thought: Writing keeps me sane, but gardening keeps me happy. Maybe it was a childhood spent making mud pies or roaming the forest; maybe it’s my wild imagination that carries me into the woods for night after night of dreams, but for whatever reason, I need to be outdoors as much as possible. I need to be barefoot, with the soft grass beneath my feet and mud between my toes. I need to make things grow in the earth. Otherwise, I just grow increasingly miserable, and nothing will help it.

Currently it’s warm and cloudy outside, the dark, windy weather before storms that I so love. Unfortunately I’m stuck inside today, catching up on all the work I neglected in order to be out there Saturday and Sunday. My office has windows, though, so there’s that.

 

*This is an actual unit of measure, equal to roughly 10 craploads.

 

Post title: “Don’t Swallow the Cap” by The National.

Half in Love With Easeful Death*

Yesterday morning was a mad dash to beat the rain, as I like to plant new things then to avoid the task of dragging a hose over to water them in. We sort of made it, if you don’t count a couple of short showers and some misty drizzle. The downpours held off until late afternoon, though, so I call it a success. The big accomplishment was putting in the raspberry bed, including the posts and wire trellis to hold the canes. We now have three of this variety: 1 blackberry, 1 muscadine grape, and the aforementioned raspberry. If I can manage to keep them alive, we are in business, berry-wise anyway. While we were out there I also planted the new Anna apple tree, to replace the one that died last year. Barring catastrophes, the vegetable garden goal this year is three more raised beds, bringing the total to eight, not including herbs, the berries, and the orchard. It’s a huge endeavor, this garden, so we’re working on it in stages, because otherwise we’d do nothing but that for months on end, and that sort of thing is just impossible around here.

The big writing news is that, after working all afternoon and half the evening (thanks to the Loml getting everyone out of the house for a few hours in the afternoon), I finally have a complete working draft of my master’s thesis. Including the short stories, it comes in at 112 pages, which is REALLY long for a master’s, but the stories go where they go. Now all that’s left is a couple of months of revision, my defense, and getting through this semester’s workshop class, and I’ll graduate in May. I’m so relieved; I’d really started to think that I wasn’t going to make it this semester either, and the thought of dragging this already-two-years-overdue degree out any further is almost more than I can bear. The work caused me to miss the deadline for this week’s Codex Weekend Warrior flash story, which sucked, but there’s only 24 hours to work with. As it was I didn’t make it to bed till 1, sleep till 1:30.

Onward, excelsior, etc.

*The title of this week’s poem, and maybe a short story.