Plans Are What Happens While Life’s Making… Something, Something



I said yesterday that today I was going to talk about my plans. I kind of wish that I had just pressed on ahead and shared them yesterday. I was counting on the idea of another day of sleep to give them additional clarity, but instead I find them a lot less solid and coherent. Yesterday I was thinking that today, I’d just have a few simple bullet points, maybe a paragraph each, explaining the major things going on and what I’m doing with them. Today that kind of clarity escapes me.

So let’s talk about the big one:

Tales of MU… no, it’s not abandoned or over. I made a mistake this past summer when I decided to relax and just accept a slower pace for updating as a good thing instead of constantly striving to get a schedule more frequent than once a week. My reasoning was solid (people had a hard time keeping up with the story when it was multiple times a week, and I had a hard time keeping up that pace), but… I need to strive, man. I need that struggle. Not only should my reach exceed my grasp, but it must, almost axiomatically. If I reach only for what is in my grasp, I find my grasp shortening commensurately.

At the same time… man, is this a terrible time and place for me to be trying to kick anything into high gear. It’s the holidays. There’s work going on in our house. There’s personal stuff. And even if I know that easing up on the throttle doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that the problems associated with opening her up have gone away. I need to do something different here.

And that brings me to another point: I do need to do something different, frequently. I need to juggle things around, try new things, write new things, do different things. Be a serial writer some time. Be a tabletop game developer sometimes. Be a poet sometime. Write short stories sometimes.

I’ve tried dividing my days up into segments, but it’s too hard to switch tracks creatively in the middle of the day from one thing to another. I’ve tried the same thing by dividing weeks up into days, but then I can’t predict where my good days and bad days will fall and I wind up abandoning the schedule to work around them. The truth is that I do my best work on Tales of MU—or anything else—when I’m totally immersed in it, living and breathing it. But I can’t do that all the time for anything.

So the new plan is to switch off not on an hourly or daily basis, but in larger chunks of time… big enough that I can have some momentum going, that it doesn’t matter if I have a bad brain day or if my office environment is disrupted or whatever.

My thought is I can spend a few weeks (or maybe a month) just utterly focused on Tales of MU… not posting every day, but writing every day. Not with the goal of writing X chapters in Y days, but writing as much of the story as I can.

I think this answers my need for urgency and immediacy in my writing without being in the “write and then publish immediately” trap which leads to sub-standard writing, odd pacing, and missed deadlines. It gives me the room I need to see the big picture and to polish things up without taking away from the urgency. It lets me be both reflective and quick.

And then? I’ll post the fruits, at the sedate pace of one chapter a week.

Say I spend four weeks writing the story. When I’m trying to do a chapter every week on top of other things, it’s stop and go. Every week I’m starting over, dipping myself back into the world, figuring out where I’m going, looking for traction and building speed. Instead of that, I just… keep going. Maybe I come up with 7 or 8 chapters. Maybe I come up with 10 or 12.

And when I’m done, I publish those chapters, one a week. While they’re first playing out this gives me time to do other things, be other things. Do game stuff. Be a poet for a while. Write some short stories. Take a creative break. I’ll know how many chapters I have, so I know at what point I have four of them left and then it’s time to start over.

If I somehow only get four chapters done in my four weeks of MU time, of course, I keep writing… but if that happens very often, then I’ll know that this system’s not working as intended and it’s time to try something else.

Now, this is something I just came up with this week as a plan of action, not something I’ve been doing all along. And I know “Tales of MU will resume in four weeks” is not the news that anyone wants to hear, but that’s where we are. Next week’s going to be a lot of family time, so it’s going to be more reflection and brain storming and getting back into the characters’ heads and the logic of the world and its plots than actual writing… this seems like a better use of my time than trying to hammer out a chapter. Subsequent MU Writing Blocks will not be coming after so long an interruption so they might need less of a lead-in time, but to be clear, this lead-in week is part of the four weeks.

That’s what’s going to happen with Tales of MU. For the next four weeks, Tales of MU is what I’m going to be doing, creatively. It’s not all I’m going to be doing, period, but I feel like at this point the other items on the agenda merit their own posts.

Now, four weeks from today—the point at which I wrap the first writing phase up—is December 18th. That means the week following it would be the first week of posting. I don’t really like having Friday as a posting day (as I’ve mentioned before, it’s often the most chaotic day in the house), and that following Friday just happens to be Christmas. We’ll make it Monday, the 21st… eve of the winter solstice. Seems like a fitting day for light to come back after a long period of rest.

That’s the big bullet point on this post for people who don’t care about reasons or process: Tales of MU returns December 21st, and if this goes to plan, it will continue posting once per week with some regularity.

Internet, I have had a heck of a week.



I had a pretty decent weekend and was really ready to tackle this week head-on, but… things kept happening. First, website problems. Later, server migration to fix the website problems led to more website problems. Between those things, we found out that my boyfriend Jack’s job is ending. At the same time, we had a plumbing issue that rendered our kitchen sink unusable and necessitated a plumber visit, which we spent one day “on call for” in case they could fit us in (they couldn’t). Then I had a very worrying sore throat and drippy nose, a week before I’m visiting family with immune system and respiratory issues. Then the plumber came over along with our landlords, and when they left the back door and the door to the unfinished basement and root cellar were both wide open and we were minus one cat.

Everything else kind of paled in the face of the missing cat. We turned the house upside down and searched out every human accessible/visible nook and cranny of the unfinished, dirt floor basement and the “root cellar” which is just the hollow space under our back porch, accessible through a gap in the basement wall, and searched the obvious places for a scared cat to hunker down in the yard. We put out food, drink, and a warm bed in case she was outside and came home in the night, and then turned the house upside down again.

It turned out she was under the porch, up under the wall of the root cellar where we couldn’t reach. She was also scared out of her mind, hissing and growling at anyone’s approach. I suggested we leave her alone until she got more hungry than scared, but Sarah pointed out that a cat might be able to squeeze her way out from under the porch into the yard, and that other animals certainly could. We’d recently trapped a rat who got inside that way.

So I lured her out as far as I could with a plate of dinner and then grabbed her and carried her upstairs. We have two cats. One of them doesn’t mind being picked up and occasionally enjoys being carried around the house like a baby. This wasn’t that cat. She associates any holding with having her mouth forced open and pills shoved down her throat, and always fights. I couldn’t let go of her, because if I did she’d run back for what seemed like the safest place, and it would be that much harder to get her out of it.

Mark Twain said that in carrying a cat by the tail, you learn something that can be learned in no other way. I wasn’t carrying Tommy by the tail, of course, and I’m not sure what I learned from it, except that you can endure quite a bit doing something for the sole reason that it has to be done, which is something I knew but that perhaps I needed a refresher on. I’m grateful that it was winter and so I was wearing long sleeves. I bled in a lot of different places, but none of them deeply.

Tommy was missing long enough for me to have gone through all the likely scenarios and figured out what I would do in the event that they became necessary. It seemed impossible to me that she was in the house proper and very unlikely she was beneath it. (I did not realize how extensive the nooks back up under the porch were, as Sarah did. She’s lived in this house far longer than anyone else.) I made the back porch as welcoming as I could, even providing a pan of litter, making a bed out of her cat carrier and covering it with a blanket and putting one of my worn t-shirts in it. I was preparing to start calling shelters the next day, make flyers, and even go so far as to talk to my neighbors.

But then she was found, and then she was back in the house. She was as scared as I’d ever seen her when I carried her up, and a scared cat is an awful lot like an angry cat only angrier. I let her go as soon as we were clear of the basement and the door was mostly closed, and her tail was big and bushy like a raccoon’s, she was so on edge. I thought it would probably be more than a week before she would come near any of us, and a long time after that before she’d trust me in particular.

Five minutes later, though, she wasn’t just back to normal, she was sweeter and cuddlier and more trusting than she’s ever been.

It was the place that had scared her, and the experience of finding herself in a place full of strange sounds and strange smells. Once we brought her out of the cold, dark place, there was nothing left for her to be scared over. She nuzzled me and snuggled up to me like I was her new personal superhero.

I would have said “after finding herself trapped”, but we didn’t close the basement door the whole time she was down there. She felt trapped, evidently. Probably she found herself down there while the plumber was working and ran for cover, then didn’t trust that the coast was clear. The racket we made looking for her probably made her more anxious, and then I repeatedly stood on the back porch—inches over her head!—calling her name and holding food, sprinkling cat nip. I kind of felt like a jerk when I realized that.

When I started this post, I hadn’t intended to tell the full story of Tommy’s catabasis (Get it? Cat-abasis?) or any particular detail of the week, just mention the low-lights, but I apparently needed to get this out. It was a very emotional day. As I said, I was already making crisis plans when Sarah took a deeper look in the high, dark corners of the root cellar and found her. When I woke up Wednesday, I had a hard time believing that I didn’t need them, but I was ready to get back in and tackle the rest of the week.

…and then I found that my website was unusable.

So it goes.

Internet, I have had a heck of a week, which has been part of a heck of a few months, which has been part of a heck of a year. You know parts of it. Others aren’t mine to tell, or aren’t things I’d like to share. But I appreciate the goodwill and patience you have shown me, and all the messages asking me how I’m doing and making sure I’m alright, even when I’m not able to respond to them.

I’ve been making plans, in between dealing with the crises of the moment. Tomorrow I’m going to share them.

H.P. Lovecraft was always a terrible choice for the World Fantasy Awards.

From its inception in 1975 through 2015, the World Fantasy Awards have given out trophies topped with busts of H.P. Lovecraft. Following a well-organized campaign spearheaded by many respected fantasy authors and fans, it was announced that this will be the last year that these statuettes will be used. While the campaign enjoyed broad support, of course there is a small but equally dedicated cadre of naysayers deriding it as “political correctness”.

The fact of the matter, though, is that H.P. Lovecraft was never actually a good choice for something called the World Fantasy Awards. It just happened that the first World Fantasy Convention was organized around and included a large number of his friends, fans, and proteges. The inaugural event had a Lovecraft theme, and primarily because of that, it stuck.

But H.P. Lovecraft was a notorious racist, and this makes him unsuitable not just because he had “the wrong opinions”, as some would have it. His racism is not unrelated to the work for which he’s honored, and it’s not a thing apart from the man, or the message sent when he is used as an ambassador for the excellence of an entire field.

His apologists have defended him with arguments such as “Yes, but he was a product of his times,” and “Yes, but what he thought in his private, day-to-day life is completely separate from his work,” but both these arguments are fairly easy to demolish.

H.P. Lovecraft was virulently and vociferously racist even for his time, and it came out in his work. Earlier this week I saw someone claiming that his racism and generally regressive viewpoints were a result of his belief in the universe as a bleak, terrifying place in which he and the entire human race along with him were essentially meaningless. I think this is garbage and that not only is it wrong, but it is exactly wrong; i.e., completely backwards.

We don’t write about fantastic threats and then have our day-to-day fears and prejudices shaped by them. Rather, the stories we tell reflect what we are afraid of. All of the “Aliens As Communist Infiltrators” stories that came out at the height of the Cold War did not create a fear of Communist infiltrators, but were created by such a climate. All the old folk stories and fairy tales that involve dangerous encounters with strange folks in the woods did not create a fear of meeting strangers in dark places but came out of them.

And H.P. Lovecraft’s disgusting beliefs on white racial purity and the inferiority of other people did not come from his habit of writing stories where unfathomably Other beings interbred with (white) humans and created monstrosities that threatened to destroy the world as we knew it; rather, the stories he wrote were allegories of his fears and prejudices.

But even without reading into the allegories of “cosmic miscegenation” within tales like The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow over Innsmouth, his naked and unallegorical racism is still there on the page. He treats the discovery of mixed heritage among human races as being exactly as horrific and mind-shattering a revelation as interbreeding between humans and primordial beings. He refers to other races as separate species and depicts them as animalistic. At one point in the Herber West, Re-Animator cycle, he wrote the following description of a Black boxer:

a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs

The entire point of this story, not incidentally, is to establish as a scientific principle that Black people are not only a separate race but a separate species, one between “true humans” and animals. This loathsome notion is also at the center of the one of few of Lovecraft’s works that is acknowledged even by his supporters as “Okay, yeah, maybe this one is a little racist,” a disgusting bit of doggerel verse called “On The Creation of [slurs]”.

I really hate to reproduce even one word of such patently racist text, but I feel like it’s important to show that even in one of Lovecraft’s most “mainstream” works, these ideas are present. It’s a major plot point in that segment of the story. He used his Herbert West story to advance a pseudoscientific notion that upheld his racist bigotry.

But you know what? Even if we can demolish the notion that his racism was informed by his “mythos” writing rather than the other way around, it ultimately doesn’t matter which came first. The fact is that the racism is there, not just in the man, dead in his grave, but in his work, as living and vital as it was when he first put it to paper. It’s there.

And every time someone was handed a trophy bearing his form and visage as a recognition of their outstanding work in the field of fantasy, they were being asked to tacitly cosign the idea that he is some sort of exemplar for this field, that whatever they wrote is only laudable because it measured up to his example.

I have my own thoughts about H.P. Lovecraft’s skill as a writer, and I know that even a lot of people who condemn him as a bigot disagree with me on this point, so I’m going to get into this. I will say that even if he had been the greatest writer who ever lived and even if you personally could get past the racism, he was still always a terrible choice to represent something like the World Fantasy Awards.

Why on earth would you ever pick someone so provincial (to use a more polite term than is warranted, but it better illustrates this particular point) in his outlook to represent the whole World? Why would you pick someone who was scared of the world beyond his picket fence, terrified of his neighbors, repulsed by his fellow astronauts on Spaceship Earth, and utterly horrified by the grandeur of the cosmos and the possibility of worlds beyond our senses to represent the best and brightest and most imaginative authors in the field of fantasy?

H.P. Lovecraft wrote stories where books could usher in the end of the world. H.P. Lovecraft wrote stories where imagination would lead you to death and insanity. H.P. Lovecraft wrote stories where curiosity didn’t only kill the cat, but made the cat pray for death to a cold and uncaring universe. H.P. Lovecraft wrote stories where the only thing you’d find through the looking glass, at the back of the wardrobe, or out beyond the stars was madness, depravity, and despair.

These things have no existence apart from his racism. His fear of the unknown, of the different and the strange, cannot be separated out from his racism.

Even if you could ignore it—and why would you?—H.P. Lovecraft would still be the Grumpy Cat Macro of fantasy writers: “I had a flight of fancy once. It was horrible.”

And this man represents excellence in fantasy?

I don’t think so.

General Life Update

Mostly because of the hurried holiday shenanigans at the end of last week, I started this behind where I wanted to be on Angels of the Meanwhile, and have been in a deepening pit of depression over what seemed like yet another inevitable failure to deliver until I happened to look back at the last post on the subject just now and realized I had built a week’s padding/fallback date into it. I could wish I’d remembered that or seen it sooner so I wouldn’t have lost so much time this week to anxiety and despair.

One of the most perverse things about mood disorders is the way they make everything harder, everything worse. I have not only gotten very little done this week, but I was surprised when I looked back at my blog and realized that last week was Halloween week and I posted a bunch of creepy stories and poems, including that “Minotaur” song I’m very proud of and that creepy trick-or-treating story which I actually wrote just over a week ago. Yet I started this week literally feeling like I hadn’t done anything for weeks, and the feeling has only deepened and lengthened over time, and the less I felt like I’ve done, the less able to do anything I felt.

Weirdly, the phony feeling that I didn’t accomplish anything last week paralyzed me this week, but realizing it’s the end of this week and I haven’t actually accomplished much with it doesn’t faze me. Nothing like cycling through depression to make you realize how subjective reality is, and how much of that subjectiveness is down to chemicals and the physical state of your brain. Experiments with rats show that the level of dopamine in the brain directly impacts that brain’s ability to see effort as being fundamentally Worth It, which impacts the ability of the brain to choose it in the first place. That’s not the only thing that goes on with depression, but it’s not a small thing.

Not everything going on in my life is neurological or chemical in nature, of course (except insofar as everything about life is chemical), but the depression makes it harder to deal with the other things or work through them. Just before I started this update post, I made an emotional processing post. In the past I’ve wound up in cycles of repression because I was actively censoring myself from processing in public, which is an important coping mechanism for me. This time it wasn’t an active decision, just the same bleak pit that was stopping me from doing much of anything else.

Anyway! All is not gloom and despair in my life right now. One bright point: after years of frustration with the design trend away from physical keyboards in smart phones, I got myself a tiny handheld USB keyboard that is small enough to slide into the pocket of my cellphone case. What little I’ve accomplished this week writing-wise happened because I can now comfortably write at a reasonable pace using my phone, whether I’m lying on the floor or in the bathtub or sitting around somewhere waiting.

It’s not always convenient to have my phone propped up somewhere that I can see the screen as I’m doing this (though I’m fortunate to have an exceptional ability for reading small text far away), but I don’t always need to see what I’m writing in order to write. In fact, sometimes it’s better if I don’t. Which brings me to the other great thing about the tiny keyboard: it allows me to use from my phone. The immediately previous blog post was written entirely there and then copied and pasted as-is into the blog as a formal test run.

So, to sum up: I’m a week behind where I wanted to be on Angels but not where I need to be to deliver by when I said I would. I haven’t written much, but I’m well situated for writing way more words way more often from here on out.

Processing: Of Passion and Choice

Maya Angelou said to never make someone a priority in your life if you are only an option in theirs.

That is sound advice as it goes, but I wonder often if we don’t carry it too far in assuming that the goal should be to find someone worthy of being your priority, rather than matching option for option.

Or perhaps the mistake is seeing it as a dichotomy. “Option” and “priority” are not opposites; a person may have any number of options in life to which are assigned different priorities. So perhaps the advice might be stated more accurately (if less pithily) as “never make someone a higher priority than they make you,” or “never treat anyone as a necessity for whom you are only an option.”

For my part, I would rather be someone’s highly-favored option than their bleak necessity.

It’s not just that I am not very good at being needed. I can’t stand it, in a close to literal sense: I can’t stand up under it. I am too weak too frequently to withstand the weight of another human being’s need for long.

It is a terrible thing to be both weak and needed, and a terrifying one to be needed and know that sooner or later the weakness will come.

I would rather be chosen than needed, again and again each day, even if it is not every day and even if it might not be forever.

I would rather know that each time someone comes to me, it is because in that moment they decided it was exactly what they wanted than because they felt they must absolutely do so or die.

You call that true love? I call it the approximate effects of an around-the-clock sniper detail.

Conventional wisdom says that if you want to experience unconditional love, you should get yourself a dog. It does not say why anyone should wish to experience such a thing. What does it even mean if someone is always happy to see you? What does it signify if someone loves you not in spite of your imperfections, not because of them, but in complete and perfect ignorance of them?

Give me a cat instead. When a cat is excited, it means something. When a cat is annoyed that a human is missing or out of place, it is not because the cat needs attention but because the cat would like the option. And while this is no great model for human relationships, it certainly seems more meaningful to me than a dog’s unfailing gratitude.

I don’t want to be the missing piece of your heart returned to you. I want you to be a whole person who enjoys my company. I don’t want to be you entire life. I would much rather be a neat addition to a full life. Let me be a bonus, an unexpected value-add.

Don’t ever try to base a relationship around need in the long term. It may be nice to feel needed, every once in a while, but it’s nothing but a chore to actually be needed. It is exciting at first, but then it wears thin and it wears you down and if you never learn the trick of choosing one another over needing one another… well, then, sooner or later you’ll feel like you’re in a relationship because you have to be more so than because you want to be.

You can’t leave because you need them, and even more so, because you know they need you. But obligation is not love, and obligation breeds resentment.

I know my stance on all this sounds terribly unromantic, and that it runs counter to a lot of the prevailing cultural narratives about love, but just try looking at your partner every day and thinking: this is the choice I make. Affirm to your partner that they are your pick, your choice, that you choose them again and again (and then pause for giggling to subside if either of you are pokeyman fans). Remind yourself that your partner has chosen to be with you. Truth is this is likely more accurate than any melodramatic “need” talk, and when you get right down to it, more flattering.

I think the reason we pull back from thinking about relationships in terms of choices—options—is that a need seems more absolute. If you believe someone chooses you, you have to be aware they could have chosen someone else, or simply chosen to pass. If you feel like someone is choosing each day to spend their life with you, you are also going to realize they could choose otherwise.

But obligation is not love. Love can create obligations, but an obligation cannot engender love. And every day in every state in this country and in every nation on this earth, a relationship ends between two people who swore passionate oaths to each other that they needed each other like a fire needs oxygen, right up until the point that they didn’t.

I don’t wish to feel that kind of need, whether within myself or from another person, and I can’t change that about myself any more than I could turn a cat into a dog.

I cannot make myself any different than I am. The only thing I can do is make myself plain. I am fuel for nobody’s fire. I am the blood in no one’s veins and the breath in no one’s lungs. I am who I am and I am where I choose to be because it is what I want.

That is a passionate declaration, and it’s the purest romance you’re likely to find outside of a story where the lovers die at the end.