Zen and the art of bathrobe maintenance

I’ve been trying to make sense of a few peculiar things I’ve been noticing lately. Bear with me while I suss these out a bit.

* * *

The question of how much life is enough life has been bugging me again lately, but it’s coming in at an odd angle this time.

I’m happy. Like, legitimately, substantially, and meaningfully happy. And not just for brief moments here and there, but this has become my default setting over the course of the past year.

So I’ve been trying to figure out why this feels so… wrong.

Is it because I’m not used to feeling this way consistently? Is it because I’m no longer reaching for things that gave me so much motivation in the past? Is that reaching a property of age or personality? Does comfort beget stagnation or does only desire beget desire?

With so many people dying in the last few weeks, it’s been kicking up some feelings (and gave me my first panic attack in a while). Seriously, beyond Bowie and Rickman, there were a handful of others that hit people I know and am close to, not to mention my Schrodinger’s parent situation continues – which I can no longer be sure if I’ve hit acceptance yet or looped back to denial because of the complete communication vacuum. Sigh.

Anyway.

I’ve been asking myself lately that same question that a few years back caught me so flat footed and triggered my last major bout of depression:

If I were to die this year, would I be happy with how things went?

Instead of the firm and visceral “No” I replied with a few years back, I now find myself thinking, “Yeah, whatever.”

I’m a bit surprised by the answer. I’ve always felt like one life could never be enough to feel and do all of the things. It’s one of the primary reasons I love fiction – it lets me live so many other lives, to feel as many things as I can before I die. And I want to feel everything humanly possible before I go.

When I first asked myself that question, I had a whole list of things I had never experienced. Basic life things, too. Like loving someone who loves you back, among others.

So I thought about all of the ways in which I was unhappy and spent the last three years systematically changing those parts of myself and my life.

As a result, I have lived a lot of life in the last few years. I have felt so many god damn feelings and I have gotten all the big life stuff sorted that had been causing me irritation or anxiety.

Now I can honestly say that if I were to spend every week of the rest of my life doing the things I’m doing now with the people I’m doing them with, I would be wanting for nothing.

I should feel accomplished and pleased with myself, and to a certain extent, I do. But beneath that, there’s a question: what now?

I don’t have an answer to that. And I suspect that’s what’s been making me uncomfortable.

* * *

One time, two of my friends were talking about what the hell they should do with their lives. One friend threw out the question: What would you do if you suddenly had more money than you could ever spend in a lifetime?

That’s a useful question in a lot of ways – a way to parse through the bullshit you have to deal with everyday and whittle down to that which you’re passionate about.

(No surprise that my answer would be that I would write full time.)

It’s also a really horrible way to approach something you’re passionate about. (How do you work towards writing full time? Wait, let’s unpack that. Holy shit that’s a lot of fucking work. And oh, hey, look, that’s something that’s no longer a viable option for the vast majority of writers out there who don’t win the Powerball, let alone ones with chronic and expensive health problems like THIS writer has).

But there’s another question that’s equally relevant:

What would your perfect day be?

(Coffee, reading, yoga, writing, see friends/watch movies/read/play music)

While achieving that Powerball dream would be nice, it’s extremely unlikely (thank YOU, colon!). But that perfect day? I have that day pretty damn often. I’m having that day so far (minus yoga – fuck you, head cold).

You’re sometimes closer than you think to what it is you want.

So while I’ve been neglecting my writing a bit over the past few years, I have been tirelessly working on rearranging my life and seeing a therapist to finally get my head sorted so I can have more of those perfect days.

So maybe I do have an answer to the question, “What now?”

Maybe I’ll pick one of those ridiculous fantasies I had as a kid (rock star/cranky writer in full-time bathrobe) and start working on that. At least now, my failure mode will be “life I have right now and am enjoying immensely.”

Happy new year. Go do a thing.

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An embed, a song, and a slugabed

Today marks the first day of the longest vacation I’ve had since I dropped out of grad school. And unemployment did not really count as a vacation as such.

And oh, how glorious I shall be in my full sloth regalia.

So this is what I’m getting up to tonight: I’m gonna watch the 1979 animated version of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I have not seen in probably 20 years.

Then maybe I’m gonna sit around and listen to this song for a while:

Balance.
Repetition.
Proposition.
Mirrors.

Most of all, the world is a place where parts of wholes are described
within an overarching paradigm of clarity and accuracy.
The context in which makes possible an underlying
sense of the way it all fits together,
despite our collective tendency not to conceive of it as such.

But then again, the world without end is a place where souls are combined,
but with an overbearing feeling of disparity and disorderliness.
To ignore it is impossible without getting oneself into all of kinds of trouble,
despite one’s best intentions to not get entangled with it so much.

Meanwhile,
the statues are bleeding green.
And others are saying things much better than we ever could;
as the quiet become suddenly verbose.

And the hail’s heralding the size of nickels.
And the street corners are gnashing together like the gears
inside the head of some omniscient engineer.
And downward flows the garnered wisdom that has never died

Then finally,
we opened the box, we couldn’t find any rules.
Our heads were reeling with the glitter of possibilities, contingencies…
but with ever increasing faith we decided to go ahead and just ignore them,
despite tremendous pressure to capitulate with fate.

So instead, we went ahead to fabricate a catalog
of unstable elements and modicums and particles.
With not zero total strangeness for brief moments which amount
to nothing more than tiny fragments of a finger snap.

Meanwhile,
we’re furiously seeing green.
And the map has started tearing along its creases due to overuse…
when in reality it’s never needed folds.

And the air’s withholding the sound of its wellspring.
And our heads approach a density reminiscent of the infinite productivity of the center of the sun.

And therein lies the garnered wisdom that has never died.

Expectation –
leads to disappointment. If you don’t expect something big huge and exciting…
usually…
I dunno,
just, uh yea…”

Merry Merry y’all.

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A Glass Case of Emotion

I’ve been getting preoccupied lately thinking about what it means to feel alone versus what it means to feel lonely.

There are circumstances in which they overlap: in the wake of heartbreak or loss, during a bout of depression, during periods of isolation, etc. But as I’ve managed to finally sort out a lot of the thoughts and beliefs I had previously about myself that enabled these two things to coexist I was surprised to find that while I no longer feel lonely, I still feel alone.

On a certain level, it just a human thing. You’ll never experience life through any other eyes but your own. The only emotional experience you’ll ever have is in the body you have now. Of course you’re alone. The only constant in your life is you. But it feels strange to me, to be out with friends or at home with the GF, and to still feel alone.

It’s not distressing. It just is. But I have begun to wonder how normal it is to feel this way all the time.

As I’ve become more aware of this general feeling over the past few months, I’ve been wondering how this aloneness quality has informed the decisions I’ve made in my life. As though sorting through the consequences might tell me if it’s fine to feel this way or if it’s making things subtly worse.

Probably the biggest thing it’s influenced is the way I’ve structured my life, since I’ve always believed that the only person I could count on to take care of me was myself, a lot of the decisions I’ve made about school and jobs and the way I live my life have carried the unstated assumption that I’m in it alone, so I better not fuck anything up because there won’t be anyone to catch me.

It’s an approach both cynical and sensible.

On the cynical side, it means my default setting in life is to not trust anyone to support me. Ever. This doesn’t mean I can’t accept support (well, it did for a long time – I still sometimes get a bit squirmy about it). But it does mean I never expect it.

So it’s hard to write about whether that does more harm than good because there are compelling arguments to be made for either side.

It has meant that I’ve made decisions in my life to ensure that I can always take care of myself (and I’m fortunate to have been privileged enough to be able to get the kind of education I got and have the job opportunities that I’ve had). That has meant stability, which, when you’ve been struggling with depression off and on for your entire post-pubescent life, is really fucking important.

It has also meant that I periodically hurt the people I am closest to. I have had some hard times in the past few years. Since my default setting is to cloister myself away and deal with things by myself, it became a source of profound irritation to those who love me and just wanted to help.

I don’t know if it’s even possible for me to feel any other way. This has been such a big part of my personality, and between the chronic health problems and the mortality questions dug up this year, that part of feels emboldened.

Maybe on that existential level, accepting that you’re alone can be protective. But on the day-to-day level, it can be damaging.

I suppose maybe the reason it’s been bothering me lately is because now that I’m not feeling depressed anymore and everything’s actually going well, it’s thrown into stark contrast how it has and continues to inform the relationships I have with other people.

Which means I recently find myself getting trapped in an argument with myself about what I want versus what I deserve. And I can really see how my depression helped foster a massive rift between them.

And it feels uncomfortably selfish because of what it means to me to deserve something. To deserve something is to receive something of equal value to your worth. Who gets to make that determination of worth? The other party. Which puts a ceiling on what you deserve based on someone else’s determination of your worth.

I’m incredibly lucky that the people in my life aren’t shy about telling me why they value me. What I mean to them. It has helped me more than I can say in recalibrating my feelings of my own worth. But as a question it still makes me uncomfortable.

And like any existential question, pondering it is as unsatisfying as the end of this blog post is.

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Deep in the Iris

I’ve had this song on a loop for the past hour while I’ve been working on finishing the rest of the outline for the book.

 

There’s something that gets me in that line she sings in the pre-chorus.

“Because we experience the love that we think we deserve. And I guess I thought I didn’t need much from this world.”

The whole song is about the consequences of falling in love with a broken part of yourself.

It’s a familiar sentiment.

As I was outlining and listening to this song, it got me to thinking about the difference in the kinds of things I’m putting in this story versus the stuff I typically put in stories.

I joke around sometimes with my friends that if your only knowledge of me is from having read the stories I’ve published, you would never guess those stories came out of me.

When I was starting out writing, the strongest emotions I was having at the time were all negative. Depression. Hopelessness. Despair. So I wrote a lot about sad people.

After a few years of not selling stories, I started writing about people who were angry as well as sad. I’ve never really been an angry person, but there’s not much drama in sadness by itself. Despair is a pit that saps the motivation to act, so my stories would be full of angst, but nothing much would happen. Adding in anger allowed my characters to do things. Adding in the anger is what helped me to finally start selling stories.

But if you meet me, I’m never outwardly angry or sad. I only share my best parts when I’m interacting with folks outside of my close friend group and therapist’s office.

Earlier this year, I started wondering why the hell, then, am I always only writing about the broken bits? It took the better part of this year working on a few different short stories to slowly pull myself out of the habit.

I’m not mad about how long it took me to have that epiphany. I don’t think I would have been capable of it before now. I’ve been struggling with existential questions about how I wanted myself and my life to be ever since I left grad school. It takes a long time to figure that shit out, and I’m not saying I’ve got everything figured out, but I’ve figured out enough of the big stuff that I’m finally in the headspace that I can write consistently without getting sidetracked by my depression.

So I made a conscious decision to put some of my favorite parts of myself into this book alongside the broken bits (everybody’s got broken bits). And once I finished the rest of the outline, I have to say, it finally feels like it might be the book it always deserved to be.

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Weird Fishes/Arpeggios

And that’s another NaNo under my belt.

Did I win?

Oh, hell no. I didn’t come close to the 50k goal NaNo has you shoot for. I had a different goal for this year.

My goal is to finish this entire 100k book by the time Rainforest rolls around again at the end of February. Which means my goal is 25k per month.

Did I win in that sense? Fuck yea.

And I have to admit, I’m liking this revision rewrite quite a bit so far.

Ask me how I’m doing again in January and we’ll see what kind of an answer I’ll give then.

* * *

I adore Spotify.

I spent most of this Thanksgiving break having a decadent staycation, so I was parked on the couch a lot either reading or writing (or mainlining Gilmore Girl episodes with the GF – MY GOD IT’S FULL OF BANTER) and listening to music.

A friend of mine had sold me on using Spotify a while back and since I actually started using it in earnest (following artists, using the radio stations, checking out the recommended artists and albums, listening to the discover weekly playlists). It’s gotten to the point that I listen to it so much (in the car, all day at work, all weekend at home, etc) that the algorithms are doing a really fucking spiffy job recommending new music to me.

Like Dntel. My first thought upon hearing them was, “Holy shit, they sound like Postal Service!” And then a quick google search confirms that this band is the non-Gibbard half of Postal Service. Imagine my surprise when this song popped up:

And here’s Cold Cave with their New Wave/Depeche Mode-tastic song, Confetti:

I totally listen to New Wave the way my dad used to listen to Classic Rock when I was growing up.

Thank you, Spotify, for creating a synth-addled monster.

* * *

I finished reading my Hugo Book Club book for this month, Ringworld. I did finish it. I was not expecting it to be 350 pages of bitching, and cartography.

I have to say, I’m getting pretty sick of saying things in this book club like, “I bet this was a really progressive/awesome/cutting edge back when it was published, but I just could not get past the rampant sexism.”

Glad to have read it, though. I enjoyed the crap out of googling Deviant Art drawings of the Puppeteers.

Now I’m gonna go finish reading Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radsch trilogy, thank you very much.

* * *

Most exciting of all, I got to go into a studio all day Sunday and record banjo and ukulele tracks for my band’s next two EPs.

I’d never recorded in a studio before. Dan was awesome and supportive (and got me through the one song that I didn’t have any concrete parts written for) and a great dude to spend the day with talking with through a microphone.

I did learn that I should probably bring a more comfortable seat for the next time I’m sitting down for 10 hours of recording.

Banjo is a really unforgiving instrument. It’s bright. Excessively so. Getting a rich texture to it meant arranging four mics around me. Which then meant if I changed my body position at all, the tone would change. Which meant that if I fucked up a single note (which is plainly heard thanks to how damn bright the banjo is) we would have to record a replacement track to drop over the mistake. Which meant I couldn’t move at all once we started recording a song.

My ass fell asleep more than once.

My back was killing me this morning so I spent today sleeping on the couch in the loving embrace of my prescription muscle relaxers.

But god damn, do those recordings sound good.

Can’t wait to hear the EPs after my bandmate’s done mixing them.

* * *

My thanksgiving week was exactly what I needed it to be. Hope yours was too.

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Community Subsidized Fear of Commitment

A few months ago, the girlfriend and I were on a date at San Diego’s version of Coney Island. We sat on the boardwalk, drinking overpriced beers and started talking about ways we could save a bit of money by cooking meals at home more.

I brought this up not because I’m struggling financially, but because it’s been mystifying to me to see how in the past few years I’ve gone from getting by okay on a graduate student salary, to racking up a bit of credit card debt this year making a TOTALLY ADULT salary. I eventually got up the courage to sit down and figure out where the hell all of the money had been going. I found there were two areas of spending that stood out – eating out and books/media.

I blinked twice at the books/media number, but that was about as far as that went.

But the eating out one really made everything else pale in comparison.

HOW could I spend that much money every year on eating out? WHAT THE HELL HAVE I BEEN EATING?!?

Then I remember how I occasionally like to pick up the entire check at a nice restaurant. Or have an extravagant evening with my witches with really expensive beer or bourbon and a Postmates delivery. And how delicious beer is. And how much I like the coffee shop down the street from me. And oh, hey, cafeteria pizza.

I mean, I’m not sad about spending money on those things. Since the c diff infections have been defeated, I’ve been ecstatic about being able to eat things other than rice, toast and pedialyte.

So we agreed, it would probably be a good idea to cook more meals at home.

I suggested the brilliant-in-a-way-that’s-indistinguishable-from-insanity idea of getting a CSA box.

The GF likes cooking. I don’t mind cooking. I’m vegetarian and she’s mostly vegetarian. Vegetables are fucking rad. Seemed like a good idea.

And anyone who has ever gotten a CSA box before knows where this story is going.

I feel bad about wasting food. It’s why I would only usually buy things at the grocery store that could sit around neglected for a bit before I decided to do something with them. If I bought a zucchini because I vaguely thought that zucchini is a vegetable I enjoy when I was wandering through the produce section, that zucchini would go bad. So I only bought vegetables when I had a plan for cooking with them in the immediate future.

And for some reason I thought that having a shitload of vegetables delivered every two weeks would change those habits.

As a result, the last six weeks of our lives has been marked by a swath of rotten/forgotten vegetables. But I have learned some valuable lessons from all of this:

  • Google, garlic, onions and olive oil are my dearest friends.
  • Homemade balsamic vinagrette is cheap and fucking delicious.
  • Tomatoes go with everything. EVERYTHING.
  • Recipe times are a fucking sham.
  • Suggested amounts of garlic are woefully inadequate.

I also have to say, going an entire week without spending any money because you finally have the basic cooking staples around the house is a really fucking good feeling.

And homemade pumpkin soup will make EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVER LOVED FILTHY. But it will be the best soup you have ever put in your mouth.

We’re getting some kind of weird mutant squash tomorrow. I’ve already got the recipe picked out, and we’ve already got nearly everything to make with it.

Now I just have to figure out how the hell to open a pomegranate.

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Definition and Overture

I learned the definition of the word “ennui” when I was pretty young, and when I became an angsty teenager I thought I had finally and viscerally understood it.

But ennui has so many facets beyond the shallow understanding of a selfishly bored youth. There’s boredom, sure. But also tedium. Weariness. Privilege. Decadence. It’s meaning shifts, connotations changing with culture and time.

As such, my feelings around it as a concept have shifted. I stopped tagging my existential frustrations with its name. It became a concept reserved to shade a particular kind of hopelessness – the antithesis to the kind of optimism that I’ve cultivated and clung to for most of my adult life.

Last night I got hit hard with a wave of ennui in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long while. Part of it due to what happened in Paris. Part of it due to the same kind of bigoted outrage that popped up around the retirement of the Lovecraft head as the World Fantasy award. Part of it due to the reappearance of well-worn trains of thought.

Hopelessness. Despair. Defeat. Pointlessness.

It made me tired. It made me weary.

There’s a certain point that can be reached where optimism and foolishness begin to feel like the same thing.

* * *

So I’m reading Sandman Overture this morning as the sun fades in and out behind the clouds through my bedroom window.

To my inspiration, it feels like coming home. The light brushstrokes of beauty, the allusions to the rise and fall of entire worlds of dream, the feeling of a deeper connection between all things – time, love, death, hope, despair – where everything can and does mean everything else. It cultivates a “floating leaf” headspace (as Patrick Rothfuss puts it in the Kingkiller Chronicles books), one where the semantic barriers between concept and thought and feeling becomes porous. Where everything bleeds into everything else.

It’s a place where optimism and foolishness are the same thing. Where inspiration grows from ennui, and melancholy is a sweetness on the tongue.

And for a moment, it makes me glad this is a story that does not end.

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Three Stooges Syndrome

There’s this scene in the Simpsons where Mr. Burns goes to the doctor and the doctor informs him that he has every disease imaginable. They call it Three Stooges Syndrome. Mr. Burns mistakingly believes this as evidence of being indestructible.

After this past year I have to say, I’m starting to feel a little bit like Mr. Burns in that regard.

* * *

I made a weird art project for Youtopia this year.

I started going to this festival a few years ago with my circus family. They told me it involved camping and was awesome and that I had no choice and I was coming. They have never steered me wrong when it comes to awesome things, so I went.

And it was, as promised, fucking awesome. Full of so many strange and wonderful art projects and people, it feels like wandering into another reality where everything hopes to catch you flat-footed in awe.

This year we all decided to make a theme camp and give back. I was totally on board with this. We got our art grant applications funded and managed to build a camp that delighted, challenged, educated and entertained people. It was a complete success, considering we pulled the whole thing together in three months after deciding last minute to do it.

Since we had a camp this year, I had always wanted to do some kind of weird art project that might evoke in others that same feeling of delight the art at Youtopia evokes in me.

So I bought a shitload of crappy bulk stuffed animals and some embroidery thread, cut the animals into pieces and sewed them back together in creepy mutant arrangements, then stuck them in a cheap birdcage and hung it from a tree. I called it the Nightmare Menagerie and attached a bunch of index cards and a sharpie to the cage. The rules were to take a card, write a childhood nightmare on the card, put the card back in the cage, take any animal they’d like, sleep like a baby.

I didn’t know if anyone was going to even look at it, but a steady stream of people would wonder what the hell a birdcage was doing hanging from a tree, walk over to investigate, then spend  time writing nightmares, comparing different mutant animals, then walk away with their weird prizes.

It really made me think about how those folks were interacting with it. What they initially thought it was. The first thoughts they had after reading the instructions. The conversations sparked by those memories. Their reactions to the different animals, and why they picked the one they picked.

And man are the nightmares weird and diverse and wonderfully strange and idiosyncratic.

I am planning on doing something with them at some point in the future. And I’ll probably make another menagerie for next year.

* * *

I got to go to therapy and for once talk about how everything is actually totally fine at the moment.

And while it was a bit awkward to not have anything in particular to talk about, it felt really fucking nice.

Nothing is really bothering me at the moment. I’m healthy (thank you, poop transplant). My friendships and relationships are totally fine and I feel close to everyone that I care deeply about. I’m not really anxious or teetering on the brink of depression anymore. Day job’s great. Writing is actually going (thank you very much NaNo), and I have fun and exciting band stuff coming up.

This year has been so unbelievably fucking stupid at times, I really didn’t think I would make it to this kind of emotional place for a while. But I’m here, thanks to the stupid amount of work I’ve been doing to try and figure out how to human better over the past few years.

I feel like I’ve ALMOST got this how-to-life thing finally figured out. For now at least.

* * *

As I said above, I’m doing NaNo again this year. I love NaNo. I try to do it every year and I’ve lost more times than I’ve won, but for me the benefits of making myself sit down every day to write outweigh the total words I wind up producing.

I spent a good deal of time both last year and this year re-outlining this thing to get it ready for when I was ready to sit down and sacrifice three months of free time, and I’m happy to say because of that, the writing is actually going. And since I decided to add a second POV character, I actually reclaimed some of the joy of drafting this time around too.

Coupled with the aforementioned feeling of everything being fine, I’m letting myself be cautiously optimistic the NaNo habit might actually stick around for more than a few months after November’s over.

I’ve got to take advantage while everything is still fine. Because, y’know. Three Stooges Syndrome. Temporary indestructibleness is about the best you can hope for, after all.

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House of Cards

I hurt my shoulder the other week by being exceedingly lazy.

We’ve been having a heat wave off and on the past few weeks here in SoCal. It promised rain a few times and even delivered once. They promised again tonight so I’m sitting around waiting for it to rain so I can then sit around in my apartment listening to Radiohead and typing while it’s raining.

I’ve been playing this game on my phone lately. It’s like guitar hero, except instead of pre-chosen songs, it digs through your entire music library on your phone, analyzes the sound waves in it, then spits out a friggin’ ribbon of hypnosis. I get so sucked into it, not because, oh hey sensory overload-graphics, but also because I have SO MUCH music on my phone. In fact, even my computer hard drive is mostly made out of music.

I just start clicking the random song button until I find something that makes me squee or raise an eyebrow. The patterns the game produces are 90% well-synced, with a bit of wobbly bits in each. For an on-the-fly kind of thing, I’m actually pretty impressed with it. And you can up the number of keys, the speed of the notes as they’re falling and the difficulty of the patterns. The levels are mostly meaningless. Normal is the one that most feels like you’re drumming your fingers along with the music on your pant leg or the drivers wheel, so that’s the one I stick to.

So I’ll find a song like House of Cards off of Radiohead’s In Rainbows and I get swept up in all kinds of memories around that song – like finally fucking seeing Radiohead at Sleep Train back in 2007 and how my friends sat with me in the parking lot after the show for approximately forever because the guy you were seeing at the time was making you feel like shit for having gone to the show and you didn’t want to go home.

Or how on Easter when you were 11, your dad gave you Pablo Honey, which was the very first CD you ever owned (and how you always forget to mention he gave you Live’s Throwing Copper that day too).

Then you remember you’re playing a game and find you didn’t really miss any notes while you were off thinking about other stuff.

This then makes you wonder if you’re playing too much of this game.

* * *

So yeah, my shoulder kinda hurts from laying around hypnotizing myself.

* * *

I also started reading Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show. It’s been a while since I’ve read a Clive Barker book. My dad gave me his collection when I moved away to college. He’d been reading them for years before giving me The Thief of Always. That was also when I was 11.

I adore Clive Barker books. I always have. Because of that I’ve been a bit afraid to read them since there are only so many of them (he took a long break from writing new fiction). So when I was hanging out with John and Stef the other night, watching a bunch of Woody Allen movies, John and I got to talking about Clive Barker. He mentioned that The Great and Secret Show was his favorite Barker novel. I had never read that one, despite having read Everville, its sequel, back when I was 12. Of course, I own a nice hardcover copy of it that still smells kind of like my dad’s cigarettes.

I’ve been reading that lately and enjoying the ways in which it slowly digs into you and startles you with moments of deeply sad beauty.

I was trying to describe Clive Barker to a friend of mine the other day. It’s kind of like reading Gaiman, except instead of walking away from it with a feeling like the world is a fundamentally good place, you feel like the world is full of pain, but that pain can be beautiful.

* * *

My friend Fran was in town at the end of last week for a pit stop at Mysterious Galaxy on the book tour for her first book, Updraft (go buy it – seriously). I was delighted to take her around to some of my regular spots and introduce her to a lot of my favorite people (not to mention I got to point her in the direction of the pool at the Lafayette).

I’ll say this: I never get tired of being proud of my friends. This feeling is only augmented when I get to be proud at them in person while dragging them from one shenanigan to another.

* * *

It’s still not raining. In fact I just had to go murder a cricket that decided the shower had the best acoustics in the house for its chirping. It’s chirping didn’t keep the same beat as House of Cards on the stereo and the sound of the absence of rain.

Now I’m wondering if that dead cricket did actually know that.

* * *

These are distinctly wonderful things.

anxiety

Go check out the artist’s site and check out the rest of the drawings.

* * *

Maybe it’ll rain tomorrow.

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Video Games and a Dash of Weird

I’ve been playing a lot of Guacamelee lately. It’s a brilliantly designed game as far as game mechanics go. It’s really rare to get a game where the levels are a perfect balance between fun and challenging, so that you are required to develop a certain level of badass competency in order to continue on in it.

And because the game mechanics are so well-designed and intuitive, becoming a badass is inevitable. The fighting system is fast, responsive and enables creative combos. It’s a platformer that focuses on the really well-developed fighting system so that periodically throughout levels you’re stuck in a room with a series of onslaughts of enemies that you must defeat to move on. And they’re fucking hard progressions – VERY cleverly done in a lot of cases.

The levels themselves are like that too – forcing you to use ALL of your available arsenal to accomplish things that seem impossible. You have to use your chicken power, ability to shift between worlds and fight combos just to get across a room with no enemies in it. And forget about the infuriatingly simple treasure rooms where it’s you, a puzzle of obstacles and a treasure chest.

Not to mention the ridiculous storyline, the humor, the constant nods to the world of Metroid.

It is an absolute joy to play.

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I am a total sucker for the Metroidvania style of games. My absolute favorite game from growing up was Super Metroid. It’s still one of my happy places. I downloaded a copy onto my borrowed Wii and got a shitty knock off SNES controller that plugs into the Wiimote so that if I wanted to spend an afternoon totally dominating at a video game, I could.

I love video games. I’ve got so many fond memories growing up that revolved around one of our game systems (we had a BUNCH). Getting up early one Saturday because my brother and I were determined to beat Bubble Bobble on two player. Figuring out glitches in the battle mode of the original Mario Kart so you could drive around once a match was completed wreaking mayhem. Memorizing the head-to-head maps in Goldeneye from too many hours playing it at friends’ houses. Learning to play the Mario 3 songs on the guitar because I was just laying in bed playing my guitar and my brother was sitting on the floor playing Mario. Beating Super Contra two player (with the Game Genie – but that counts because FUCK CONTRA – seriously with the severely limited lives??).

Despite all of that, I don’t play video games all that much. I have a short attention span and go through periods of feast and famine of interest. I’ll pick up games that I think I’ll like, or I’ll download things that sound promising, but I lose interest pretty quickly and any game that takes more than 10-15 hours of gameplay is gonna get dropped.

It’s also hard to find really good games that don’t integrate some element of first or third person shooting. Those games are really stressful for me because I’ve got fat fingers. I will almost ALWAYS fuck SOMETHING up when I’m trying to do something precise in a game. In a platformer, whatever. I’ve got infinite lives and continues. I will beat my head against a wall until I get my fingers to do the thing I know they should be doing. In a first person shooter, though, I panic, make more mistakes, then have to start the level over.

It makes me sad because it leaves games like BioShock, or Dead Space, or Fallout out of my reach.

But man, when I find a game that I click with… I had that with the two Portal games, Jak and Daxter, Arkham Asylum, the Stick of Truth, Shadow Complex, and now Guacamelee.

So I’m pretty happy right now.

* * *

I’ve been finally making some progress on a short story I’ve been putzing around with for a few months. I got the first scene done, which had been my sticking point. I couldn’t get past it until I had the right pieces in place, but I kept not being able to figure out what all those pieces were. Now I do and they’re (for the most part) there.

Now I can finally move on and write this as the kind of story I want to write it as.

* * *

That’s one thing about writing that has gotten really frustrating lately. I’ve always known what kind of emotional tone I want a story to have at the beginning and the end. That’s always the first step in building a story for me. The bitch of it when I was starting out was how the fuck story worked. Now I feel like I know enough about how stories work, how they do the things that they do, that I can actually SEE the nuanced emotional path that weaves through the story, and how that is reflected in the characters, plot, setting, and themes. But because I can see the nuance of it, I’m pushing myself outside of  the comfort zone of what skill I’ve acquired so far. And I’m trying to do it all at once.

What this has meant lately is that I am totally in love with a short story idea, but when I sit down to write it, I’ll get maybe 500-700 words in before realizing that I’m not hitting the notes I want to be hitting. So I scrap it, go back to chew on it for a while, have an epiphany, sit down, write, realize it’s not doing what I want it to do, wash, rinse, repeat.

I’ve maybe written 5000-7000 words on this story, but I just couldn’t get it to go.

But now it’s going. So yay.

If this is whatever my process is turning into, I think I’ll be okay with that.

Eventually.

* * *

Also: watch the movie Frank if you haven’t already. Jeebus what a deeply weird and despairingly hopeful movie. It is skillfully done and the tone it strikes is so novel and brilliant. And to top it off, they’ve done a rare thing and captures the entire feeling of the movie perfectly with this song from the end (no spoilers):

* * *

Also, maybe use today to go and find out just how talented all your friends are.

I love you all.

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