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Monthly Archives: September 2014

An Open Letter to My Husband on the Occasion of Our Sixth Anniversary

Dear Ryan,

You know my history with previous boyfriends, and I know yours. We’ve both had experiences that have left us damaged, closed and wary. We’re still unpacking that baggage; even though it’s so much easier going through it with someone committed to helping you find the proper place for it, it’s an exhausting process. You’ve been so patient and understanding dealing with my baggage, and you’ve been so brave dealing with your own. It amazes me, how far we’ve come together.

I never, ever would have thought that I would be here with you ten years ago. I had settled in to the idea that perhaps I was meant to be alone, that there were too many incompatibilities with other people to really be intimately tangled. But you reached out, past your fear and through my own, and here we are: still together after six years of marriage. It’s one of the things that to this day allows me to move past any hesitation I might feel. The last time I did something despite being afraid of the risks involved, it was the best thing that ever happened. I don’t regret it; haven’t even thought about regretting it.

I’ve watched you as we’ve built our lives together. Now that we have a home, a refuge to come to from the world, you’ve gone out and done great things. You’ve rediscovered your love and talent for writing, you’ve published two books, you’ve gone to Clarion. The dream that you’ve always had is coming along nicely; there’s still work to do, and by no means is it certain, but watching you turn back from your rejection of being a writer to accomplishing what you have has been an incredible joy to me.

You inspire me. You encourage me to go out and do the same thing, to take a look at all the dreams I had when I was young and shape them into something real with the wisdom of adulthood. Without you, I would have had a much more difficult time finding my footing. I feel rooted and boundless at the same time; I have a much better sense of myself, and so much more compassion for others.

Before we were married, I had no idea how important it was to signify our bond that way. But standing there in that church, in front of the community we were part of, to solidify our relationship and share the strength of it with those that we love…it changed me. I don’t see myself as a befuddled outsider, struggling to comprehend the bonds that other people share. I see how I’m connected — to you, to our friends, family, coworkers, to everyone. You opened that door, that next stage of my journey.

And in the six years since, we’ve walked together through pain and difficulty, success and comfort. The support you provide has been invaluable, and the pushes you’ve given me towards my development are appreciated beyond words. I love you so much. I’m glad to have helped you in the ways that I have, so happy to share my love with you, and I look forward to doing it for six decades more.

The future is very bright, my love. I can’t wait to share it with you.

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Working in the Nooks and Crannies

Writing 150There are still too many projects but not enough time, but I’m beginning to think this is just the way of things as you get older. There are always so many things you want to do, but for some reason there’s just not enough time and/or energy to get to them.

Right now I’m still trying to make writing, reading, eating and exercising a priority though I have to admit I’m not doing the best job of it. I was having a conversation with a friend last week about the problem I have with focus. I can carve out a chunk of time for myself to work on a specific project, but when the time comes to actually sit down and do it my brain just…slides off the task towards something else — anything else, really. I’ll check email, or Facebook, or texts, or Tumblr. As long as it gets me away from the uncomfortable feeling of moving forward on a story, then it’s fair game.

There are a number of reasons for this, and some of them are tougher to deal with than others. There’s the ever-present fear that the mere act of creation is somehow whittling away the potential of a story: instead of something grand, each word I choose makes it something concrete. It’s strange to think that laying the track for a story is also, in its own way, an act of negation. When you’re pushing the story in a different direction, that’s the direction it’s going in. It won’t have the chance to go anywhere else — not really. How can you be sure that your direction is the best one? You can’t. And that’s kind of terrifying. I really care about doing right by my ideas, even though I know I might not have the chops to do that. So what can I do about that? Practice, of course.

I can say that the fear of creation is enough to put me off-track, but I also know that there’s a far more mundane cause. I just haven’t been in the practice of concentrating on one task. Whenever there’s a break in workflow, my mind immediately slips to the half-dozen other things I could be paying attention to in that moment. It’s hard to set those things aside, allow myself to have the break or breath of air, to dive back down immediately.

This week I’d like to try to address that. Whenever there’s a pause at work, or I find myself with a minute or two of downtime, I’ll try my best to be mindful of the opportunity and work on…something productive. Think about a writing project, let myself get a little further piecing together a character and their motivations, noodle around with the themes or ideas in a story I’m reading. Part of the way you get over the fear of something is to confront it head on, to immerse yourself in it as much as possible. I love the idea of opening myself up to the worst that could happen, experiencing it and moving on from it.

Yes, it is quite possible for me to tell a bad story, even an atrocious one. Storytelling is really hard, and there are any number of pitfalls waiting for the unwary teller. Sometimes, all you can do is fall prey to one and try to scramble your way out.

I’m working to do that with the story in my Pathfinder game. I’ve run it for over two years and 35 sessions now, and there are still a number of issues with it; the system is giving me fits, but those wounds are more or less self-inflicted because of a jam I’ve gotten into myself with changing a few things. The Butterfly Effect bit me in the ass, and several levels later I’m still trying to navigate the crosswinds.

I think I’ve focused too much on making the scenario work for the setting in the past, without making sure that the story was engaging enough on its own. I’m resetting things so that I’m focusing on making a story worth telling — one that’s interesting to me and populated with fun characters and interesting settings. I’m certain that not everything is going to work, but hopefully enough will work that the story will find a better footing. And even the failures can be fun.

So that’s what’ll be on my mind while I’m waiting for a process to finish or my bus to come. What are the concepts that I want to play with here? How do I plug that into a big fantasy adventure? And how do I connect those themes to my different players, who all have their own hooks and perspectives? Challenging? Sure. But it’s one I like the idea of leaning in to.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2014 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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The Patreon Saint

Reading 150I’m a grown-ass rabbit, and I love comics. They’re a fantastic medium to tell a story with! The best of them marry arresting visuals with great dialogue in ways it’s very difficult for anything else to do. You can travel thousands of miles or thousands of years in time from one panel to the next, and if you do it right the reader just accepts it without missing a beat. My favorite comics combine wonderful, likable characters with amazing settings that you just can’t look away from. You guys, they really are the best.

With the rise of the Internet, comic creation has become a much more democratic process. Comic strips like Penny Arcade or PVP or Order of the Stick have gone from side projects to astoundingly enormous enterprises thanks to the steady growth of their fanbase, and the willingness of the audience to help creators maintain and expand their vision in exciting ways. I really dig this direct feedback; audiences can react to comics in real-time, creating a dialogue between artist and reader that’s electrifying for both.

One of the most recent mechanisms for that direct feedback and support is Patreon, a service that artists, essayists and creative types of all sorts can use to ask for monetary support from their audience in exchange for early access or special features surrounding their work. It’s very exciting to me to see a community build up around these artists, willing and able to support them to do more of what they love. So I joined, and immediately found a few projects that I think are well worth sending a few bucks a month. Here they are, as a sort of signal boost. If you aren’t quite sold on supporting them, that’s fine — but I highly encourage you to go to their website and read their work. It’s all great!

Rick Griffin (Housepets!) — I think this guy is the most established of the folks I’ve found so far. He’s been writing Housepets! since 2008, and his artistic style has improved greatly since then. In addition to the webcomic, he writes and draws other comic stories, has self-published a few furry sci-fi novellas and even does personal commissions when he has a break in his busy schedule. I really like Housepets!, but I’m really intrigued by his other projects too. I love that he’s dedicated and productive enough to flex different muscles, creatively.

Kory Bing (Skin Deep) — This is a long-running comic that I’ve only recently discovered. I fell in love with it immediately, though. Skin Deep is about a shadow world of fantastic creatures living among and along-side human beings, and what happens when a college student is suddenly thrust into that world. The kernel of the story is nothing new, but what really stands out are the characters and the richness of the setting. I could spend ages reading about Michelle, Jim and the gang, living their lives in amazing, lived-in places both fantastic and mundane.

Root (The Dawn Chapel) — The art here is just top-notch. SO GOOD you guys. I’m not even playing around. Root has some of the most gorgeous, colorful watercolors I’ve ever seen — just about every panel of his comic is print-worthy. The Dawn Chapel is an anthology of sorts, where he takes you to many different worlds filled with great characters and amazing stories. There have been early viral comics, including Firefox and the Singing Birds, but his longer stories (like his current one, The Way Back) are so enjoyable.

Jen (Thunderpaw) — I’m not sure HOW I discovered this, but Thunderpaw is a great motion comic in the growing genre of “pet apocalypse”. Ollie and Bruno are anthropomorphic dogs whose masters have disappeared and world appears to be in chaos. Divorced from every comfort they’ve ever known, they have to find a way to survive in this strange and dangerous new world. Jen has created a kind of comic that I’ve really never seen before, and it’s GOT to be intensive to make each new page. But she’s taking advantage of the “webcomic” format in a really exciting way!

Louise Wei and Dave Hodgkinson (Panda and Polar Bear) — This comic kind of goes the other way; it’s a really simple, spare slice-of-life comic strip that immortalizes anecdotes between small but feisty Panda and enormous, grumpy Polar Bear. It’s cute, and Louise makes the most of every brush-stroke and word of dialogue. The style is irresistible to me, and I have to admit I’m a big fan of Polar Bear.

There are a LOT more comics, short stories, essays, photo-journals, games, podcasts, craft projects and other things to support on Patreon. I’m really stoked about the ability to help creative folks follow their passions and build this community of supportive and passionate fans. Do any of you guys use Patreon? If so, what are some of your favorite projects there? Feel free to leave a comment to point me in that direction!

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Comic Books, Furries, Reading

 

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Making an Author’s Disaster Recovery Plan

Self Improvement 150One of the constants of my life has been a distinct lack of consistency. I’ll start many projects with the firm belief that I’ve cracked whatever problem has prevented me from seeing something through to completion in the past, lay it all out so that I see the path to victory before me, make a post about it telling people where I’ll be going over the next few months and then…nothing.

What happens is this: Once I switch from a high-level, overall project view back towards the trench-work of the project, it gets really difficult to overcome my inertia. Or, once I’ve managed to do that, to keep productive inertia going. All it takes is one bad day where I come home exhausted, or a spontaneous and fun thing that would wipe out my plans for the evening, and then I’m done. Once I’m off-track, it’s easier to stay off-track. And then, once I’m ready to hop on again the shame of being off the wagon for so long makes it uncomfortable enough that I delay that again. So forth and so on, until it’s months later and I can quietly declare my latest bid for organization and discipline a failure.

It’s a frustrating cycle, to put it mildly. I want to finish things. I want to share those finished things with all of you. I want to be the kind of person who says he’s going to do something and then do it. But for some reason I’m just not and becoming that person feels like a very long road of hard work and reflection away.

One of the things I’m learning about project management is that you have to plan for failure. The longer and more complicated a project is, the more failure points there are — and you have to drill down towards each one and make a contingency plan for it. This is actually really difficult when it comes to figuring out failure points for personal projects, because you have to take a long, hard look at your worst impulses.

For example, what happens to that short story when you decide to spend those two hours scheduled for Saturday work on a movie, dinner and a ton of alcohol instead? What happens to preparation for your Pathfinder game on Tuesday evening when you’re mentally exhausted and spend the hour you’ve set aside for it playing Facebook games instead? What happens with the blog when work swallows up more of your free time and mental energy than you were expecting?

These are pretty difficult questions to ask myself, let alone answer. But you have to if you have a hope of cultivating the discipline and consistency you need in order to be a writer. It makes for a good thought exercise — if the trials of Job were to somehow befall me, how would I find a way to keep creating?

That’s where I am right now, in multiple aspects of my life. I know myself well enough to know the common pitfalls that will derail me, and now I have to step up my game of cat-and-mouse with future, shittier me. I have to find ways to deconstruct every excuse and trap for myself ahead of time, clearing any possible obstructions between myself, my failing resolve and my goal.

What are some of your pitfalls? What do you do to navigate around those?

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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Friday Fiction: When the Whales Rose

Writing 150(This is the result of a writing exercise suggested by my dear husband. So if it’s weird, blame him! Please, let me know what you think of it in the comments.)

I wiggled a little before I sat down on the comfortable, warm thatch of straw I had so meticulously placed on the sand. It was perfect — the sides were high but not too high, the bottom curved just so to match the shape of my body. My tailfeathers draped behind, and I could feel them just dipping into the sand. It was packed just enough to be solid, but give against my legs. Just perfect.

I sighed and opened my beak to taste the salt in the air. The sun was high and bright, but the breeze from the ocean protected us from the heat so it wasn’t too bad. The water came in to the shore in a roaring whisper, then hissed back to expose the wet surf. I felt my lungs inflate when the water came in, over long seconds. I felt the air rush over my nares when the water retreated. My heart-rate was slowing in time. My feathers were unruffled, as smooth as a horse’s flank.

There were a few of us on nests, all in a line. Not too many, but I preferred the quiet just the same. I looked down the beach at a few of the other girls, and they nodded back at me, their sharp bills cutting an arc through the air. We didn’t know each other; we just knew the reasons we came here. They were all the same, of course. We wanted to lay the blue egg.

It hadn’t been a good couple of months for me. Drummond had flown off to a “business trip” weeks ago but hadn’t called since and didn’t leave an address or a phone number behind. His phone was disconnected, or the voice-mail box was full. We were having problems, but I didn’t think he would just up and leave like that, not without trying to make it work. Chicken shit. He never did have the spurs to do the right thing.

After that, every morning I laid bright eggs — yellow, orange, white. They didn’t get much money at the market, just enough to get by, but it was an uphill struggle all the same. Some of the mammals liked the bright shells; the yolk inside, they said, kept them up, kept them alert. But that wasn’t a way to be all the time, and too much of that stuff made you jumpy, or angry, or worse. There wasn’t much room on the market for that kind of mood, not with people on pins and needles to begin with.

Maybe that was why there were so few people at the beach. The news was full of sea reports, and that made people nervous. Helicopters caught sight of vast, dark shapes moving from the open ocean into shallow waters, and most people hadn’t taken that as a very good sign. We hadn’t heard from the whales for years. Not since the treaty. They kept the water, maybe some of the coast, but we got the land and sky. That had been the deal. It was a good deal, and it had held for thirty years.

There really was no reason to break it now. We hadn’t done anything, and as far as we knew neither had they. So that was that. No stress, no worries. Just the hush of the ocean, the slow of my heartbeat, the image of that blissful feeling I’ll have when I stand up from my nest and look down to see the most beautiful blue egg I’ve ever seen.

I smiled, and closed my eyes. I felt the weight of my egg dislodge inside of me. I took a deep breath, in time with the ocean, and I imagined that the whole world breathed with me. It was time.

It passed without trouble, without pain. It couldn’t have been smoother. Some days, it feels like it’s fighting you, that weight, like it wants to rip out as much of you as it can before it goes. Not this. It was easy, as smooth and round as a gizzard stone. I had a good feeling about this.

The ocean seemed to roar its approval. I exhaled, and opened my eyes just as the first scream reached me. I looked down the line of sisters and saw them transfixed on the shore, eyes rimmed white with horror, feathers puffed so that they lost the shape of their bodies.

Just like that my heart leapt in my throat. I followed their gaze to see the waves rushing onto land in weird shapes and shadows moving within them. The tops of them bulged instead of cresting, and then broke to reveal vast domes of blue, black, grey skin gleaming in the sun. The domes kept rising and rising, until they became the immense, impossible bodies of whales.

Their fins left the water slowly, like they were breaching. I had heard stories about them doing that, coming up for air and slamming back down into the water. But they weren’t going down; they just kept rising, higher and higher into the air. Their shadows fell over the beach, and everyone panicked.

I couldn’t feel my wings any more. I was frozen to the spot until another bird buffeted me with her wings, shrieking at me to run. I blinked, and I rose, and I reached down for my egg. Some closed part of me was flapping inside a cage, cawing and cawing, but it felt distant. Then I saw my egg, and that cage door opened.

The egg was black. Shiny, like the skin of the whales trumpeting overhead. As dark as death, as a void, reflecting my own horror back at me.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Furries, Writing

 

The AFI Top 100 Films: Citizen Kane (#1)

The AFI Top 100 Films: Citizen Kane (#1)

Entertainment 150Citizen Kane (1941)
Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten and Dorothy Comingore
Written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles
Directed by Orson Welles

This has been a really hard review to write; I’ve had to think a LOT about Citizen Kane and why I thought about it the way I did. I completely understand why the American Film Institute has crowned it the greatest American film of all-time, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling curiously cold every time I think of it. Citizen Kane is, without a doubt, a technological masterpiece — but there’s an emotional distance that keeps me from truly engaging with it.

The film opens with the death of its protagonist, Charles Foster Kane. Alone in a tremendous mansion, he drops a snow globe and whispers the word “Rosebud” as it crashes to the ground. A newspaper reporter, curious about why the last word of such an important figure was so cryptic, tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. He interviews a number of friends, lovers and associates of Kane to get a feel of his life — and we learn about the man himself through the remembrances of the people he came into contact with.

So much of what we have come to take for granted in modern cinema — time-bending narratives, montages that cleanly track the change of characters over long periods of time, cinematographic composition — came from this movie. It’s mind-boggling to think how many staples of American cinema were conjured out of whole cloth here. Credit where it’s due: Citizen Kane created an immense chunk of film history when it arrived.

But maybe there’s something about its greatness that will always hold me at arm’s length from the work itself. Logically I know that what I’m seeing on the screen is genius, but it’s hard to be engaged by it. It feels like so much focus went into how the story was being told that the effect of the story suffers a bit for it.

I don’t doubt that Orson Welles, as co-writer and director, told the story exactly the way he wanted to tell it. In fact, his fight for creative control of his vision is legendary. Every shot was constructed in an exacting fashion, and he went to great lengths to make sure the story unfolded on the screen with the pace he wanted. You have to admire the certainty of his vision, and the uncompromising nature of its realization.

Charles Kane, however, is hardly a sympathetic figure. He starts out with the best of intentions, running for office and taking over a local newspaper under the ideals of populism, but his ambition and ego get the better of him in short order. It’s interesting that Kane’s dedication to his ideals wills him to great things, but his pride over his accomplishments warp those ideals to the point that they become far more self-serving. His ego is there from the beginning, where it comes off as high-spirited and charming, but even with the first bit of success you can see the road he’s headed down. And there’s not quite enough sympathy for him to wish something better for him. You see the dark side of his personality come out and instead of seeing him as a tragic hero, you think “Of course that was bound to happen. It really couldn’t have gone any differently.”

 

There is really nothing little about you.

“Awww shucks, I’m just one of the little guys!”

The central conceit — why did Kane say “Rosebud” with his dying words? — doesn’t quite provide me with enough motivation to care about the mystery being uncovered. Perhaps there’s a fundamental idea that I either don’t understand or don’t agree with, but the answer we’re given and its meaning fails to garner any sympathy or sense of tragedy from me, either. Kane lived the life that he chose to live, without sufficient self-awareness to know how he alienated everyone he had gotten close to. His circumstances were sad, sure — but you never get the sense that this weighed on him. When you come down to it, Kane is a man of naked, almost endless, ambition, and it doesn’t feel like there’s more to him.

And the movie lives and dies on this outsized figure. Perhaps upon repeated viewings I’ll see him as more of a complicated, sympathetic and tragic character, but this time around it simply feels like he has these ideals that are incompatible with the reality he’s in. His stubborn refusal to accept things as they are leads him to his professional success. But it’s also devastating for his interpersonal relationships; he treats people with the same inflexibility that he does the institutions he’s fighting against. His friends and lovers crumble the same way the powers that be do under his persistence, but the end effect is a lot less admirable.

Perhaps it’s the fact that he has this power — and it quickly corrupts him — that makes him less sympathetic than most. You never get a sense of the man behind the will, or at least attempts to humanize him don’t come across that well. From what I know of Welles himself, this makes sense. He, too, was a man of enormous ambition and drive.

And what that got him was an institution of a film that deserves its accolades and historical regard. Personally, though, there’s just not a lot here to embrace.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in AFI Top 100, Reviews

 

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It’s the End of Summer, Start Falling

Self Improvement 150The summer of 2014 was a pretty crazy one for me! Most of it has been structured around Ryan’s trip to Clarion, the associated Write-A-Thon and all of the lessons I’ve learned since then. It turns out I needed to take a bit of a break from writing after that, just to process what I had done and return to the desk with a greater understanding of what I’m about.

Now that August is behind us and we’re looking ahead to the season of turning leaves, cooler weather and hot drinks, I thought I’d take a little time to think about how I would like to spend it. Where do I want to be by the end of the year? What would I have liked to accomplish?

There are a few things that I’d really like to focus on over the next four months: writing, reading, exercising, eating. You know, the basics. I think of them as the four things that encourage both physical and mental health, two sides of the same coin. You have to exert the proper effort to keep yourself in fighting shape, and you have to make sure that you’re intaking the right things to fuel that effort.

For writing, I’d really like to get more consistent. A friend of mine intimated that his goal for word count is 500 a day, 3000 a week — I think that’s pretty strong, so I’m going to shamelessly steal it. That word count will only count towards short stories (both preparation and writing) and the Pathfinder game I’m running. Blog entries will be their own thing entirely, hopefully focused on over the weekend. Putting in the effort consistently, grinding out the words every day rain or shine, has never been one of my strong suits. I really need to learn how to do this if I’m going to get serious about writing.

For reading, I’d really like to read short stories and novels in both the science-fiction/fantasy and furry fiction “genres”. There’s a ton of great stuff out there in each space, and I think there should be more folks who are really invested in the literary traditions that have been built. I have a unique perspective, and I’d like to get better at thinking about fiction critically. Part of that means reading as many stories as I can and breaking them down to see how they work. I’d like to post critiques and thoughts about these stories as I go, just to get into the habit of talking about them, sharing them with all of you.

For exercising, I really need to get a bit more flexible than I am! I’ll be trying to settle into a routine with body-weight exercises and stretches/yoga so that I’m toning myself and making it easier to get in running and biking. For the next few months I want to focus on cardiovascular health and mobility — those are pretty easy spots to hit with a minimum of, say, going to the gym or needing special equipment. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m going to need to remove as many barriers as possible to getting exercise. Otherwise, it’s just way too easy to make excuses.

Finally, for eating, I’m going to have to retrain my palate towards healthier food. I love carb- and sugar-heavy things at the moment, and that really needs to shift towards fruits, vegetables and lean meats. I don’t think I’ll do anything as crazy as Whole 30 or Paleo right now, but cutting down on carbs — or at least being a lot more mindful about the carbs I do eat — is absolutely necessary. It’s going to suck for a while, but I need to push through that if I ever hope to slim down and get rid of this rather impressive spare tire I’m sporting at the moment.

So those are my goals, in broad terms. I’ll have to develop a plan to make sure I actually stick to those, and that’s fairly exciting. I know I talk a lot about my interest in project management, and it sounds really boring, but there’s this exciting bit of alchemy in taking these vague, broad, big goals — “I have to eat better.” “I have to write more.” — and figuring out how to actually turn them into working, flesh-and-bone plans of action. Drawing a line from desire to doing is pretty satisfying.

So that’s my fall — as usual, putting my head down and trying to calm the mind from being flighty and thoughtless. Every time I put a new plan together, it’s a little stronger. I learn from my mistakes, incorporate more personalized protection against pitfalls, have a bit more willpower. I accept that I might not reach all (or even most) of the goals that I’ve set, but striving for them gets me closer than I would be otherwise.

 
 

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