lazy Sunday afternoon

It’s 42° F and sort of cloudy here today, following a couple of days of the sort of cold where just stepping outside is enough to remind my nose that it was broken once. They were busy days, Friday being what it was in a calendarish sense and Saturday being full up with an excursion into the city for writing critique group (my turn to submit) and location scouting for my husband’s next movie. We brought the husky along, since his separation anxiety sets an immutable stopwatch running any time we leave him home alone. (Five hours to the minute, max. Four and a half is better. Past that, there are… consequences.)

Today, in contrast, is a slower sort of day. And yet.

And yet tomorrow the Kickstarter for Trajelon launches. Because I’ve done this before, I know that means I’m about to step into the whirlwind.

It’s the deep breath before the plunge, as Gandalf the White tells Peregrin Took.

Yatsuhashi

It was September 2001. My husband had only just found employment again after being unexpectedly fired over the summer, and we were deep in the depths of financial stress. Then, that thing happened that happened in September of that year. It was a bleak month.

We got a phone call.

The couple who had bred our Shiba Inu, Kishu, had just overseen the arrival of their final litter of puppies: two feisty females. They were hoping to place them in homes that already had a member of the family. One of them was already spoken for. There was one left. Were we interested?

Oh geez. We were interested, sure, but could we afford it? We’d been talking about getting a friend for Kishu because he was alone much of the day when I was at school and my husband was at work. And this was our last chance to give him a *sister* sister.

In any case, things were pretty grim and we could do with a pick-me-up, so we agreed to at least meet her.

It should be obvious to anyone that this was a trap. I mean, puppies. Of *course* we were charmed by her, and of *course* we went home and talked about how we could make it work.

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Yashi and Stephen in October 2001, puppies together.

A few weeks later, when she was old enough, we brought home our bouncing baby girl. Yashi was a handful from that first car ride onward. But OMG was she cute. Our little Cinnamon Cookie. Just a tiny, spunky ball of fluff and naughtiness.

She belched, she swore (in dog, of course), she murdered (birds), she stole (her brother’s bed and pretty much anything else she wanted), she ate everything she shouldn’t (toys, clothes, shoes, glasses, TIN CANS), she destroyed furniture — she was Trouble. She probably would have flicked cigarettes and guzzled six packs if given the opportunity. I can’t even recall how many times she ran away from home like a rebellious teen. The most notorious of those escapes, we found her five days later, two cities and three freeways away!

We had many nicknames for her, and I believe they paint quite a picture: Spike, Teeth, Evil, Demon, Furanha, Furricane, Tank, Goat, Weasel, Princess Fizzbitch, Beast, etc. When people saw her, they would inevitably move in to pet her and say, “Oh she’s so cute! Does she bite?” The answer was yes. Yes, she would bite. Though she was but little, she was fierce. Kishu, bless him, did his best with her (and totally loved her,) but at the best of times you could tell that his feelings about her largely consisted of “Ugh,” and “Really?!”

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Yashi (left) and her brother Kishu (right)

As an adult Shiba, she grew to a petite but solid 18 pounds, decidedly cinnamon but with obvious cream in her family makeup. And boy could she EAT. We always said she had a cast iron stomach, because there was nothing too spicy, too bold, too potentially poisonous for her.

Food or not, she ate whatever she wanted. Including, one year, an entire giant dark chocolate Easter bunny. We were certain that was going to be the end of her, but she shrugged it off just like she shrugged off everything else that should have kept her down. (She was up and jumping within three hours after being spayed. Crazy beast!) Not even eventually having a dog brother who was approximately 7x her size and could fit her entire body inside his mouth made her blink. She bullied him just like she bullied everyone else — adorably and with sassy impunity.

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Yashi and her new little brother Jiro, who did not stay little for long.

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Yashi and a much older Jiro — how the tables turned!

As she moved from puppyhood into middle age, she started to lose some of her tankiness but none of her sass. Her appearance was deceptively delicate. When it became clear that she was shrinking, but was also indestructible, I hit upon the Cuteness Singularity Theory. Yashi was immortal, I reasoned. Nothing could harm her. But you know the (totally scientific) principle of how, if you take a normal-sized thing and make a miniature version of that thing, the miniature version is like exponentially cuter, just on principle? If Yashi were to keep shrinking, and keep getting cuter, she would eventually reach a point where her smallness and cuteness were just too much to be supported by the laws of physics, and she would collapse into a Cuteness Singularity like a neutron star, thereby destroying the entire universe.

It seemed more plausible than Yashi ever expiring of natural causes.

When I left Arizona in May of 2015, she stayed behind with my son Stephen, her chosen human. By that time, they had developed a very special bond and separating them was unthinkable. She did not do well while watching us pack up the house for our respective moves. It’s heartbreaking to me that my last memories of Yashi are of watching her sink into panic and despair while her home slowly disappeared around her. I know that she and Stephen were an essential comfort to each other in that chaotic time.

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My last photo with Yashi, May 2015.

It was a difficult transition for everyone, but team YashiStephen pulled through it into a place of some calm. Stephen said at the end of 2019 that it had been a good year for him and he was happy.

But somehow, it turns out, Yashi was not actually immortal. I’m still stunned about that and I’m not sure how to process the information. I was waiting for her to cause the Cuteness Singularity death of the universe. I was not expecting to find out that she was in the late stages of dementia and fading fast. At her last vet weigh-in, she was only 10 pounds. It is a terrible situation to face, but ultimately, human caretakers have to make the compassionate decision about our furry friends’ end-of-life arrangements. I respect Stephen like hell for giving her 18 and 1/3 long years of life, and I respect him for choosing to send her off in love and snuggles.

Yesterday, on January 20th 2020, he said goodbye to his little buddy, his sheeb, his tiny princess.

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Little old lady Yashi with her boy, before the end.

You were a goodbad dog, Princess Yatsuhashi, and we love you. Thank you for taking care of my boy when I couldn’t. Sleep well, sweet beastie.

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A younger Yashi with her boy after a day out — all smiles.

Round and Round

You know that thing where you feel fine all week, but then as soon as you hit the weekend/your time off, you crash hard with some sudden mystery illness? Only you weren’t actually fine before, you were just managing to push through because you didn’t have a choice, and then when you finally have a minute to rest, your body can’t keep pushing anymore?

Yeah, that thing?

That happened to me in a big way after my rather naïve post about not having anything major on the horizon for the first time in forever. I should have known. I should have known.

The health stuff hit me hard this past June and has not let up.

The truth is, I’ve been doing my best to push through chronic pain and snowballing health issues since *checks watch* oh, about 1997. Back then, doctors told me I was too young for [insert symptoms I definitely actually was experiencing despite their dismissal] and that I just needed to focus on losing my pregnancy weight. That was, of course, total bullshit.

I’m still whirling around on the diagnostic carousel at the moment (and trapped in insurance bureaucracy Purgatory,) but there is mounting evidence that in fact I was right all along about what I tried to tell my doctors I thought was happening and now the matter has come to a head.

So, that’s neat.

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This of course is my way of explaining why I utterly, completely, and in all other ways abjectly failed to do any of the book promotion that I had every intention of doing over the summer. Sorry, Mornnovin. I love you, but you have sort of become the neglected firstborn child. Because now it is time for me to begin thinking about all of the pieces, parts, and processes that will go into bringing Book 2 to life.

While still juggling this health crap.

I do have hope that we’re approaching some answers and a treatment plan that will see me starting to feel more human soon. In the meantime, it’s book-planning season.

Luftpause

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To be blunt about it, the last few years of my life have been crazy. It has often felt like I was caught up in a hurricane — a sense of rushing wind, of not knowing where I was being swept to or how fast or where I would land. Some of that motion has been of my own making, but it has been no less disorienting or tumultuous than the storms that came from elsewhere.

Earlier this month, after finally delivering the last copy of Mornnovin to the last Kickstarter backer who was due one, I found myself suddenly between chaoses long enough to take a much-needed beach vacation with the best man in the world.

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If we look exhausted, it’s because we drove through the night to get there.

As I was sitting on our shady balcony in the nice sea breeze with the soothing crash of the surf in my ears, I realized that for the first time in I-can’t-remember-when, there would be no major thing waiting for me upon our return home. There would just be… life, such as it is.

After swimming dizzily in the void of that realization for a few minutes, I decided it was a good moment to take a breath and have a look behind me. I opened up a Word file on my laptop and started a bullet-point accounting of everything that had led to me being in that moment with that man on that beach.

The resulting list starts with Jiro’s death in December of 2013, ends with leaving for vacation on the 6th of this month, and pared down for brevity is ten pages long. So many things were happening to me or needed to be done that it’s no wonder I felt like my whole world was in the air.

Our return home did not end up being quite as leisurely as I expected, what with an immediate dog crisis and the revelation that there are ongoing issues with the hardcover edition of Mornnovin (ugh), among one or two other annoyances. (Why does the office suddenly smell like vomit?) But once the dust settled even from those issues, it is still true that for the first time maybe ever, I’m getting to just kind of go along and mostly do my own thing for a minute.

I’ve got stable housing, a supportive partner, a great dog, I live in a climate that isn’t killing me, and for the first time in my life I’m more or less earning adequate money to handle my expenses. I have to spend more of my time than I’d like every day running around satisfying the demands of capitalism, but we all have that. It’s pretty much just me, my guy, our doggo, and our art.

In some ways, it feels like my fantasy series and my life are both starting Book 3 at the same time. And maybe that’s why I’m not sure yet where it’s going to go.

It’s going, though. They both are.

Perhaps finally at something like my own pace.

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Great news, and some just news

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photo by Jamie Carey

Two weeks ago, on October 13th 2018, I had the joy and the privilege of exchanging marriage vows with the most wonderful man I’ve ever known. It was a mad, chaotic day, but I came out of it joined to someone whose perfection as a counterpoint, friend, and partner to me cannot be adequately expressed. That’s the great — the greatest! — news.

The just news is this:

With wedding planning and the last of the formal wedding responsibilities now in my rearview mirror, it’s my intention to dive headlong into the work necessary to self-publish Book 1 of my fantasy trilogy (with Book 2 to follow as soon as I’ve paved the way.) Watch this space for more news on that front as it develops!

And there’s even a dog, too.

 

When you drop everything you’ve ever known and run away to start a new life on the other side of the country, that’s bound to be a wild ride.

Hooboy, has it been.

The downs have been pret-ty low – loneliness, a gutting betrayal, housing insecurity, unsafe living conditions, doglessness, broken foot, PTSD – but oh man. The ups.

When I fled Arizona, it wasn’t so much as a faint notion in the back of my mind that I might meet someone new and fall madly in love. I was honestly just looking for safety, independence, seasons, and the freedom to write.

Last week I celebrated three years legally divorced from my abuser. And today I hold in my hand a license to marry a partner so ridiculously perfect that even at my most fantastically creative I couldn’t have custom-designed him in a lab to be this wonderful.

So yeah, it’s been pretty wild.

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Me Too

I wrestled for a while with the decision of whether to post this here. I always intended this space to be more about my writing than about me personally, although I do realize that my life is not disconnected from my writing. In the end, I concluded that this might help explain why this space has been largely neglected for the last couple years as I sorted out some real-life stuff. It has been a transitional period, and not an entirely smooth one.

Here’s why.

CW for graphic discussion of rape and suicidal ideation.

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and how far others must come at times

For the last few days, I’ve been dog-sitting, which really is to say that I’ve been on a paid writing retreat with a sweet side of dogs. It’s basically perfect, except for the dogs’ notion of what constitutes acceptable personal space when I’m trying to sleep.

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The house I’m in right now is in a cute little borough adjacent to mine, a bit further removed from downtown and a bit more rural. Over the weekend, I needed to put something in the mail. By the miracle of modern smartphone magic, I was able to locate the nearest postal branch, about three miles away. Being from Phoenix, Arizona, I barely registered the distance. That’s nothing by car in a city of flat, straight grids. That would practically still be inside my neighborhood.

I proceeded to follow the disembodied robot voice’s directions for those almost three miles – down backroads, between hills, under bridges, across three towns each smaller and older than the last – finally to a small blip of a borough that literally consisted of little more than a steel factory, a very interesting Eastern Orthodox church, and the brick post office. With every wooded downhill bend past yet another sign welcoming me to the township of _______, I felt ever more acutely how far I am from the place that spawned me. It wasn’t a feeling of homesickness, exactly, because I very much do not want to be back there. But it was definitely a realization of just how far I am outside of what I’m familiar with in this place. A kind of environmental culture shock.

It was, in the moment I was able to articulate the nature of the weirdness I was feeling, surreal and disorienting. It was a moment I didn’t want to be having, my intense hatred for where I came from and my breathtaking relief to be where I am now coming at one another from strange directions and doing battle upon the field of my contentment.

I’ve been remembering that feeling at odd times since then, the sense that I am in a foreign land and just a little bit lost here, and reminding myself that I haven’t even left the country I was born in.

Defensive Softness

Ever since coming to Pittsburgh, I’ve been so excited about everything that it’s been a real bear not to write about it all the time. Did you know there are seasons here? And that there’s water in the rivers? Did you know it’s possible for animals that aren’t lizards, snakes, or skyrats to appear within city limits? That architecture can be beautiful as well as functional? I didn’t – certainly not from living in Phoenix! I’m finding out for the first time in my life that it’s possible to really love your surroundings and be pleased to be where you are.

Actually, I had a very strange moment of realization while taking the curve in the road that brings me out of the woods and onto the bridge toward home, when I became aware of the flutter in my chest and the grin on my face: what I feel sometimes as I’m getting to know my new home is the jittery glow of an emerging romantic love for a place.

There’s a coffee shop just on the corner (that sells really reasonably-priced tea, I might add) where I often go to do my writing or editing if I feel like stepping out for a bit. The attitude here is different from what I’m used to. I’d have to characterize the in-public atmosphere of Phoenix as capitalistic. You go in, you buy the thing, you leave. No loitering. Hanging around long after you’ve spent your money is rude. Here, it’s absolutely, Hey, pull up a chair, have a drink, stick around. You’re working on something? Check it out, that guy’s working on something too. Let’s all work on things together. On Wednesdays they have a rotating schedule of food trucks on the street outside. This week was baked mac-n-cheese with lobster.

In the fall, I watched the leaves turn for the first time. (That’s also a real thing that happens, apparently!?) There’s basically a forest in my back yard, thanks to the giant park and conservation area that’s within walking distance from my place. (Oh, also, it’s possible for things to be close enough to walk to. Another facet of reality one would never pick up on in Phoenix.) I get to walk to the forest any time I like to enjoy the leaves of autumn, or the winter snow. (Snow!) There are always dogs having their walks too. Actually, there are just a lot of dogs in general in Pittsburgh. It’s wonderful.

When I make my daily drive into downtown, the view of the Golden Triangle and the river and the bridges when it swings into view around that one bend is always breathtaking. It still makes me happy every time I see my elf tower. At night, the lights on the Monongahela are magical.

There are squirrels in the trees behind my building. On days when I do my writing outside on the porch, I am often witness to some pretty intense squirrel fights. They make this chittering noise when trash-talking each other that still takes me by surprise every time I hear it. I did not know squirrels were so intensely angry.

Moments of First keep happening all the time. My first snowfall was an indescribably beautiful one, alone in the silence of a world asleep in the hour before dawn.

And I’m learning, as I continue to discover how I fit within this new world, that I’m maybe not the person I’ve always thought I am. That maybe some – or most – or all – of my hardness has been the hardness of the desert, of defense. This might be a midlife crisis if I thought discovering softness within myself was something to be worried about. Ten years ago I would have. The human I’ve been trying to become has other concerns. I refuse now to apologize for my capacity to feel.

I love living in a place that doesn’t ask me to.

Delicious Divorce Cake

The internet certainly has changed the world we live in. The rules of social engagement are different now and still shifting. It’s hard to navigate them at the best of times, especially when you’re autistic; throw social media into the mix and everything I think I know about the correct way to handle people and the delivery of news is… possibly wrong? Maybe? Or maybe I’m a trailblazer in the quest to open up new ways for us introverts to talk to people without having to actually talk to them?

Ahem. Getting off track.

This year has seen some massive changes in my life. Massive. Whom do you tell first? To whom must you speak privately before it’s a gaffe to talk about it on the Book of Face? Which things do you talk about? Which are none of the public’s business? How do you write publicly about private subjects that you nevertheless feel you should be open about for the greater good? (Pause while you echo, “The greater gooooooood.”)

Which is all to say that, finally having satisfied the (I believe) expected protocol of letting my private feed in on some of the massive things I’ve been working on this year, I think it is now acceptable to speak in public spaces as well.

As I stated some weeks ago, I finally escaped my own personal Hell in Arizona. To put it delicately, that Hell consisted of more than simply the location. It was ruled over by a particular person with whom I am no longer legally entangled, as of this month. Consider the suggestion box open as far as what type of cake is most appropriate for celebrating Sweet Sweet Freedom.

Big things happened on the road to that escape; it’s been a busy year. The upshot is that I am in a much better place, surrounded by good people, I’m safe and happy, and I’ve just finished editing the w-i-p – which is now no longer a w-i-p! This final draft is ready to be shopped, baby.

Onward and upward.

This isn’t really a post

It occurs to me that I haven’t updated the blog in so long that people probably think I’ve abandoned it. Or that I’ve invented a one-way time machine, noped out of 2015 for a year when we’re finally not still debating over whether some kinds of people should be considered objectively and legally better than other kinds of people, and will never be heard from again. Or that every device with which I connect to the internet was eaten by giant bear-sharks.

Happily, none of these are the case.

I have, however, been having an extraordinarily busy and stressful few months. The busy is finally over and the stressful soon will be too. By the end of this month, I should be in a position to write an actual update and then get on with business as usual. By which I mean, poking the blog with a stick every few weeks (rather than months) when I realize I should probably remind people that I exist.

So consider this post a placeholder. More to come.

But in the interim, I can drop one piece of good news: I am now a resident of Pittsburgh, PA. The desert and I are no more.

A Day of Endings

As the calendar closed out on November, I knew it would be possible to finish my novel by the end of the year now that my personal Novel-less Non-Writing Month (NoNoWriMo – I think it has a certain ring to it) had passed.  I knew the finish line was in sight, and had been making slow but steady progress toward it since my breakthrough in September.

What I needed, I determined, was to force myself to write in sprints, and that was exactly what I did.  Madly.  Barring necessary days off for the various Christmas concerts I had to perform, I wrote pretty much continuously from the 3rd to the 15th with very little time allotted for non-essential things like food and sleep (and definitely none for housework.)  It got even harder to take breaks for human necessities after I’d written the climactic scene and its immediate aftermath and knew that all I had left was to manage a bit of denouement.  When I woke up from a jittery three hours night’s sleep on December 16th, it was with the knowledge that I had only one scene more to write, and I would have a completed manuscript.

I’ve talked before about the fact that it was The Hobbit in particular of all books that first got me interested in the idea of being a writer and inspired my love of the fantasy genre.  So it was beyond appropriate that I got to celebrate finishing my novel by attending the opening night screening of the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films.

My state going into the film was, I would have to say, euphoric.  Maybe a little swimmy, a little disconnected.  I hadn’t really eaten or slept the way a person sort of needs to for at least the previous week, and I was stumbling suddenly under the weightlessness of a six-year burden removed.  I lead with all of this because perhaps it contextualizes my response to the film in some meaningful way.  My state coming out of the film was something else entirely.

I’m going to try to get at why that was.  My thoughts are helped along by the fact that I have now been able to see the movie a second time, on the proper amount of sleep and sustenance and having had some time to come down from the I-just-finished-my-freaking-novel-after-six-years high.

My very spoilery thoughts about The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, such as they are, beneath the cut.

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