using my words

I have been trying to find a way to say this that will not make the wrong people–which is really pretty much anyone–feel like I am guilt-tripping them.

I am pretty short of social/chatty email these days except for a very small number of the most usual suspects. While things may have turned a corner in terms of getting adjusted to this med, I am still not to the point where things are what one might call “good” or more to the point “highly functional and able to do things like drive and arrange for social outings and stuff.” So if you are a friend of mine and find that you have the time/energy for social/chatty email, that would be a good and useful thing to do. I would appreciate it.

This is the sort of request that is very hard to phrase for two reasons. The first is that I really, really do not want to nag or guilt-trip. Really. The second is that when you ask something like this and then do not get it, that is not always easy. And I have had the “I would like to hear from you more”/”yes I could do that” conversation with a couple of friends in the past and then not heard from them more, like, at all, and that was with individuals who knew that I was talking to them specifically and personally; a more general request is deliberately not meant to be a burden on anyone (anyone! really!) and yet leaves open the possibility that everyone will be unable to do an email blathering about what they read or what they are thinking about ancient Greek wind instruments or what line of paint color names they have thought of next, and will hope that someone else will take their turn at being helpful.

Still. Things have gotten enough better that I can say that this is a thing that might help make this next bit a little less rough. So I am saying.

Cooking vs. gardening

I’m still working on revisions. I have two kinds of writing process. This kind is cooking. The other kind is gardening.

When I’m cooking, I have one project that I am working on, and I will work on it until it is done, and most of the work (vast majority) I am doing goes towards it. I will still sometimes open a file and write notes or even sometimes complete scenes on another project, so that I don’t lose those ideas (/complete scenes). Sometimes when I’m working on a novel, I write short stories in the middle of it. The longer it takes to write a novel, the more likely it is that I’ll write short stories in the middle of it. The longer it takes to write a particular short story, the more likely it is that I’ll write another short story in the middle of it. Or a novel. Things happen. But when I’m cooking, I might do bits of side project–I might finish chopping the rest of the broccoli that I’m not using in this particular stir-fry, so that it’s ready next time I want broccoli–but I’m not going to start cutting things up for stir-fry and suddenly find that I have chopped everything in the kitchen. Cooking is about knowing the task and working steadily towards the end of the task, which is the meal. Yum.

When I’m gardening, I’m not writing any less, but it’s less focused. I will write a thousand words on one idea and a thousand words on another. Sometimes less–sometimes it’ll be 500 words on a project, or 200. For some people this is a really bad sign. It means that you’re completely unfocused, that you will never get stuff done, that you’re just noodling around with things and enjoying the idea of being a writer without ever finishing anything. At this point I think I can stop worrying about that. I have the assurance from long experience that while some stories never reach the point where they get finished, many to most of the stories that I work on this way do. Most of the stuff I work on in “gardening” mode gets to the point where it’s ready to be “cooked”–it reaches a critical mass where I’m ready to just work on it until it’s done. So it’s not actually something I should feel bad about. It’s not pointless, it’s practice. It’s weeding, tending the soil, picking off aphids. Keeping the whole garden growing.

The weird thing about how I’ve been writing lately–other than the fact that it’s been a lot for months now–is that I haven’t been having to tell myself not to stress about what comes next. That’s…totally unlike me. It’s totally unlike me in general, and it’s not like I am going through a period of less stressing/fussing just now in particular. (Hahahaha no. Seriously, um, no. Nearly everyone who has vertigo ends up with at least some degree of anxiety, and I’ll tell you why. Because it is somewhere on the spectrum from stressful to producing of clinical anxiety to not have a reliable sense of the vertical and to fall over and stuff. Seriously, just on a physical level: your body wants a vertical. And to not fall over, and to not throw up, and stuff. Your body has opinions on that stuff. If you haven’t had vertigo problems, your body might not have made them known. But trust me, they’re there.)

So anyway: it’s not like I’ve generally become a more laid-back, chill person. I’m just…feeling like, yep, there will be a thing that I write next, and nope, I don’t have to be absolutely certain whether it’s Wielding the Stars or King of Flowers, King of the Sea or The Winter Wars or something else on the list or something I think up tomorrow in the shower. A few years back I was asking people to remind me that I didn’t have to figure out what book to write next, and apparently that’s become an automatic function for the time being. Which: cool, okay, plenty else to worry about, thanks, brain. The part of me that can’t resist poking things with a stick is kind of going, “But…why are we…?” But never mind, that part! We’re fine. We will write something else next. It’ll be fun. So okay then.

short list…sorta

I have a very short to-do list this week, because nearly everything on my to-do list is large. I’ve handled the birthday present shopping and the letter writing and most of the errands and calls to get things fixed and thises and thats, or else I’ve put them off to next week.

So basically there is a flowchart with two questions on it, each with two outcomes. 1. Do I have a glass of water readily to hand? If not, get one. (This is not about some nonsense someone came up with about an abstract number of glasses of water everybody should supposedly drink every day. This is about the med I personally am on, which turns people into raisins. Seriously, this stuff makes you turn your head around and drink from the shower, because the length of time to wash and condition long hair is too long to go without water really.)

2. Do I feel good enough to work on book revisions? If so, do so. If not, go curl up on the couch with someone else’s book.

Seriously, that’s…pretty much the list. I have a couple of stories to work on also. But I have the revision letter from my insightful agent, and I don’t have a lot else on the list for the week, and (possibly not coincidentally) I’m not up for a lot either, so…it’s sort of a pure feeling, when it comes right down to it. Everything is very straightforward. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. No, that’s something else. Drink the water, pet the dog, revise the book. Yes. That’s the one.

Books read, late February

Michelle-Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden, eds., Rocket Dragons Ignite: Daily Science Fiction Year Two. I make a policy of not reviewing books I’m in, and I’m in this, so, hey: this exists, I’m in it, I read it.

Alan Bradley, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. A mystery series that has a definitive ending other than the death of its author or its main detective is like a dancing bear, and this is no exception. Compared to the delights of the early series, this is not nearly so good, but goodness, look at that! it ends at all! The long-term plot threads are wrapped up, Flavia is more or less launched in the direction we have long suspected she would go…but while I sat down and read it in one big gulp in an hour, there was a lot about it that felt a bit perfunctory the minute I thought about it. I still recommend the series, and I expect that if you get going and like it, I’m not going to be able to talk you out of getting the last tidbits you can about who Dogger is and what happened to Flavia’s mother and that. But the exuberance of the first few was just not there for me in this series ending.

Susan Chitty, Gwen John, 1876-1939. All sorts of interesting tidbits in this bio, but uff da, what a mess these people made of their lives. It was like they were all 22 from age 15 until their deaths, and they forgot to pick someone to be The Sensible One in their group of 22-year-olds. Also I will never look at Rodin statues quite the same way again. My main complaint of Susan Chitty is that she never found a way to refer to her subject other than by both names, even though there is no indication that John went by “Gwen John” compulsively (and in fact every indication that she did not). And 200+ pages of “Gwen John, Gwen John, Gwen John” started to get to be a bit much. I understand that John is a common male name and so might feel funny for a female subject, and that on the other hand one might not feel chummy enough to be constantly calling one’s subject Gwen. Get over either one problem or the other.

Kate Elliott, Cold Steel. Very much dependent on the earlier volumes, so if you want to read this, you probably already know it. I was mostly interested in the worldbuilding, which did not get developed much more in this volume, but the momentum was enough to carry me through happily enough.

Isabel Greenberg, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. The stories in this were mostly too similar and not twisted enough–“here is almost a Cain and Abel story but not quite, but not doing anything very interesting with the differences.” So mostly I would read them and want to say, “okay, and?” The “and” was the art. (It was a graphic novel.) Unfortunately I am the wrong audience for “weak story, nifty art.”

Anne Higonnet, Berthe Morisot. Quite well-done bio that managed to explain, without going into long digressions, the social and economic forces that led to women artists (particularly Morisot but also others) being a force in Impressionism in ways that were less possible earlier. Discussion of who could afford to paint and what would previously have kept people from it, as well as lots of personal and interpersonal stuff. Very pleased.

Bennett Madison, September Girls. This was the other thing I read in a gulp from the library yesterday while not feeling good. It’s very YA, male protagonist with some chapters of female perspective. I enjoyed it well enough, but I kept noticing how white it was, because I kept expecting it to be a plot point. Because “here is a town in North Carolina that is filled entirely with white people and all the crap jobs are done by teenage blonde girls” did not occur to me until most of the way through as potentially not signaling something interesting about plot, until…there was nothing political it was signaling about the plot. It’s just that everything else I’ve read about that regional setting…anyway, I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to say: nope. So there was that then.

Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety. A very long novel about the personal lives of French Revolutionaries. Screamingly funny in parts; I am still giggling about where the women started imitating Desmoulins. Having come to Mantel from her later work, though, I was a bit startled that she wanted to do something so conventional as these very well-known and central figures’ lives. Further, I felt that the explanation for the final rift was…I’m actually going to hope that “beneath her” is not inappropriate here. Certainly the very ending left a bad taste in my mouth. Not enough to ruin me on Mantel in general. I just felt that she was seeking for an interpersonal complication for something that politics entirely well explain, and also that the interpersonal complication she came up with was, in context, not great.

Jaime Lee Moyer, A Barricade in Hell. Discussed elsewhere.

Marie Rutkoski, The Celestial Globe. Sequel to her previous MG novel. I was a little disappointed because this one was set in Elizabethan London, whereas the one before it was set in Bohemia of the same era. Bohemia: little-used setting, very interesting. London with Queen Elizabeth, John Dee, Shakespeare, Marlowe: not at all little-used, been done quite well by quite a few people. I’m hoping that the third in the trilogy returns to a solidly Central European setting, because I found that a lot more unique and interesting.

Howard M. Sachar, Farewell Espana: the World of the Sephardim Remembered. This book was interesting in parts but not very well-organized. It was not entirely clear that it was going to start with Spain and then go on to the different regions and treat each mostly-temporally-sort-of, so when I got to twentieth century Jewish-Turkish-Armenian complicated relationships rather abruptly halfway through the book, I was pretty startled. Some gaps filled in, but this should definitely not be your first or even your third volume of Judaica/Jewish history/Sephardic history.

Mark Siegel, Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson. Discussed elsewhere.

Johanna Sinisalo, It Came From the North: An Anthology of Finnish Speculative Fiction. Kindle. Interesting stuff I couldn’t get elsewhere, although I don’t really like having excerpts of longer works in an anthology. I know tastes vary on that, but that’s mine. It contained the single most disgusting short story I’ve ever read, Carita Forsgren’s “Hairball,” which was good enough that I kept reading despite being more grossed out with every page, but uff da, what a thing. I was much more fond of Maria Saario’s “The Horseshoe Nail” and her time traveling blacksmithing and consideration of what suits which people, and also of Tiina Raevaara’s “Ospreys.”

S. E. Smith, The United States Marine Corps in World War II: Vol. II: Battering the Empire. Grandpa’s. This is all first-person accounts from much closer to WWII, from Marines and journalists who were with Marines. As such, it’s fascinating and valuable, and I’m looking forward to Vol. III. It does bear some caveats; there is a certain amount of racism of the sort that tends to be encouraged in war, and it has not been filtered or softened by time (or any other force) in these accounts. It’s particularly fascinating to watch some of the more virulent racists and how their racism was shaped entirely by propaganda cartoons, because I only know what they’re talking about because I’ve seen those cartoons. I’m referring to the idea that the Japanese, as a people, have buck teeth. At the time this was apparently considered a thing. From the perspective of someone who has seen a great many Japanese and Japanese-Americans while not at war with them, it is as though someone decided that all Germans have either gigantic chins or weak receding chins. I can think of Germans and German-Americans with either trait, but it’s just not a generalized ethnic trait at all. And the buck teeth thing is like that: you think, “What were they talking about?” You can picture the cartoons and think, okay, that’s what they were talking about. But when you try to picture actual Japanese people, you can’t make the propaganda link up with any statistical trait. It makes you wonder what we’re thinking now is just “how [group] is” that our grandchildren will look at and go, “Uh…what are you talking about? No, seriously, what are you actually talking about?” The other thing in this book that was just heart-rending, that I wished for more of, was the account of the surgeon. He was talking about the casualties, and his attitude towards the psychiatric cases was particularly interesting, because he treated them as real but beyond his expertise. This particular surgeon–maybe typical? hard to tell?–would basically say, “Sure, yep, stomach pains,” about the shell-shock cases who claimed they had stomach pains but didn’t check out with any injuries/illnesses, and give them water and leave them alone, saying he tried to talk to the first one and made him cry, so he figured psychiatric work was beyond him. And…I think that’s so much more interesting than the movie version we have, where either you have the gruff military doctor barking at soldiers to get back to the front, or else you have the understanding healer who can talk it all out, the Hawkeye Pierce if you will. This guy talked about how he was a lung specialist back home, how this was all beyond him, and he just didn’t want to make some poor shell-shocked kid worse. Really glad somebody bothered to write it down.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, War Master’s Gate. I am really torn about this book. Philosophically I completely approve of what Tchaikovsky is doing here. He is making the plot arc bend towards an ending! He is not just wandering around endlessly complicating things further and having his characters do ever more stuff and find ever more interesting bug species! This is good! This is what we like! Shaped plot arc, determined action, hurrah, this is artistically satisfying. But in my heart of hearts, I can’t help it, all I really want this series to do is wander around meeting interesting bug kinden and finding out what their different powers are and how they live and what they look like and what their habitats look like. Basically I want Lonely Planet: Bug People. I am not proud of this urge, and it is not one that Tchaikovsky should indulge in me. I will dutifully go and buy him doing the artistically better thing. But bug people. That is what I am reading this set of gigantic fantasy bricks for.

Michael Wolf, Chinese Propaganda Posters. This is what it says on the tin: it’s reproductions of lots and lots of Chinese propaganda posters. They’re sorted by category and translated into English, French, and German. There are some very ordinary ones and also some completely alarming ones like “how a gas mask is supposed to fit properly on Comrade Horse and Comrade Mule” and “we need a whole mess of children to haul this gigantic peach of immortality to Chairman Mao, that is just how much immortality the Chairman needs,” and of course the ever-popular “send your propaganda artist out in the street to look at babies, because I have seen Chinese babies and they do not look like spherical pinkish kewpie demons.” Fascinating stuff.