Merry Christmas, and an Angry New Year

Apparently Sunday blogging didn’t happen yesterday. Instead, I had some needed downtime, in which the most strenuous thing I did was to draft a map of the island country featured in Ryswyck, to show to an artist I would commission to draw it properly for the book. I would show it here, but a) there’s a reason why I’m hiring someone else to draw the map and b) I digitized and edited it at its full size to retain the details, and this post wouldn’t support an image that size.

Meanwhile, the items on my production schedule for the book are slowly coming together, though we’re still in the stage where things happen discretely instead of in linked chains of tasks. I expect it to pick up as spring comes on. Currently on my writer’s easel is a novella-sized treatment of the aftermath of the book, which if it edits well will serve as a sampler of the ‘verse and an intro to the second book in the series, which has been storyboarded and a few scenes sketched in. I’m doing my best to take advantage of the post-winter-solstice surge that is part of my creative rhythm.

It’s only in recent years that I have noticed that pattern enough to take advantage of it; for a long time I was too relieved that the torturous contraction of autumn was over to realize that it had an effect on my writing too. Not just the amounts of production, but the qualities of it change: less maudlin, more driven.

Which brings me to today’s subject. For Christmas, I gave my closest friends a copy of Rebecca Traister’s new book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. It’s a short, trenchant treatment of the current situation we find ourselves in, and the attempts our society makes to obscure the power of anger in women by belittling or demonizing it. Just days ago I woke from a vivid dream about a fascist corporate takeover in which propaganda was spread printed on women’s shopping bags — seemingly friendly advice crowded in little text boxes and meme-sized photos: “Remember, if you start to feel angry, just remember that you’re a bad person, and the feelings will subside.” This morning I woke from a dream in which I went to a guru’s office in part to report that someone had rifled my briefcase bag and taken valuables from it, only to receive a bulletin later that I was banned from the building because being angry over the theft had made me dangerous and disruptive.

I used to have the luxury of thinking dreams like this were due to the idiosyncrasies of my brain and my life experiences. That’s a luxury that’s long gone for everyone.

The funny thing is, if you can get over the bone-deep suspicion that your anger is a sign of depravity, you can get a lot done. When I conceived Ryswyck six years ago, its dangers were all hypothetical, its moral imperative the stuff of parable. I worked on it slowly, stymied at times by mental and emotional obstacles. Then suddenly, there was nothing hypothetical at all about a post-post-apocalyptic tale in which the principle of courtesy becomes the last hope of people mired in a dehumanizing war. I was galvanized into action and wrote the last two-thirds of the story in a fever of fury. Then followed, of course, the long process of beta reading and editing and market research. Pressing to find the place of velocity.

We think that anger is no more than a feeling, an outrage inflicted upon us by the people or the situation that is making us angry. It’s that, to be sure. But finding something to do — not about it, but with it, in it — transforms it, transubstantiates it into something life-giving, even joyful. It becomes something we want to offer to the highest.

What we choose for our highest is the next perilous point.

So, for the New Year I wish you the anger to offer and the best place for offering it, and in those in-between times, a means of cheer and relief. I’ll be on the fencing strip, myself. Cheers!

Catgut my tongue

One of these days, I keep thinking, I’m going to write one of my snarky posts for this blog; I mean, it’s not like I don’t have anything to be salty about. But today is not that day.

The approach of Christmas is always one of those prismatic times, where we touch the meridians of previous experience and feel them thrum. I wound up plucking and strumming a lot of my own inward strings this week, some for the sake of sermon composition and some because, well, because it’s just the nadir of the year and I wind up doing that in the holy dark. So for my post this week I will just share two of the things in the cedar box of my heart and let them stand as commentary on the whole.

The first is a poem I wrote several years ago, as a response and counterpoint to Psalm 80. That psalm is one of the readings for this day, and while I was working on my sermon I remembered that I had written the poem, remembered the inward aridity that had begged for expression; and so afterward I dug the poem out and reproduce it here.

Flower Cross (Psalm 80)
The real problem with determinism
Is the hardening of allegory into concrete.
All those lessons I failed to learn,
All those unhappy endings that meant even less
Than I thought, all the glacial grooves of pathology
That started before me and will not end with me,
And which I fought so feebly and uselessly,
Become the antarctic mutterings
Of ice shelves scouring themselves
Over and over. In heat or in cold
The aridity is all.


I could crumble to dust where I stand.
At one time I could taste the hot salt
Of my own tears; then I could taste
Only the memory; then nothing at all.


Oh, look at me, look at me,
Let your face open to me in recognition
Like the doors that do not exist
For me to beat my fists on.
If you know me, tendrils will rise
And curl over the dust, running
With warm green sap, twining about me,
Threading below my fingers and over the palms
Of my open hands outstretched, dripping
In pale green finials of blossoming filigree,
Heavy with nectar, ringing with scent
Like the cicada’s song from where I stand
To the sun-sparked newborn shore.


Like new evening and new morning I would be
In the moment you saw me.

Yet even in such a time, one can be shaken into real tears without warning: I remember during that same period, one morning close to Christmas, I was driving alone on a country road eastward into the rising sun, and NPR was interviewing Eric Whitacre about his virtual choir. Then they played the piece he had written for it, and all of a sudden I was shedding uncontrollable tears, the gold-white light flaring as I wept and listened.

This kind of thing is so not like me. I am contained whether I want to be or not, my emotional reaction time slow, my sense of awe or worship or grief always slightly out of orb with my surroundings. Even music, which often reaches me uninhibited, doesn’t unhasp my control. Except, obviously, for a very few pieces. I don’t know what it is about this piece that does it to me, but it nearly always does. I get the sense sometimes, when people talk about this piece, that it fails to be truly highbrow in some unspoken way — a little embarrassing, maybe, a little overearnest. That could all be true. But it will never matter, not to my guts and tear ducts.

May the light break over you, like the songs of the morning stars, this holiday.

Of arts and crafts

Once, watching a friend create a delicious meal in her kitchen, I observed a distinction that I had often had in mind about creative endeavors: that there is a difference between a person’s art and their craft. Craft, as I feign it, is a thing you can learn, become enthusiastic about, even take to a satisfying level of mastery. But art is more than that. It’s the ability to take that endeavor’s internal rules and see how to bend them, even break or replace them, to make something unscripted, something previously unimagined — by one’s self at least.

For my friend in the kitchen, cooking was her art: she could follow a recipe, but she could also reverse-engineer one. She could take what she had mastered about cooking food and do something new with it; she could create, with joy and (sometimes only medieval words will do) maistrie in her own domain.

Cooking is not my art. I have managed to develop some craft, but the kitchen is not what I would call my natural domain.

All the same, it’s stimulating and salutary to take up crafts from time to time, new and old. I immersed myself in two crafts this weekend, and it was a great deal of fun. I joined my friends and their baroque jam band for a Beatles-themed Christmas concert; and while I was at it, I borrowed a friend’s camera and practiced composing shots of my friends playing while the chorus (me) was resting.

Neither music nor photography is my art. I’ve been a player of flute and piccolo, an ensemble singer, a self-appointed rhythm section in church (friends don’t let friends clap on 1 and 3!), but despite all those years of practice and effort and enjoyment, I don’t have the ability to intuit a musical situation and jump into it the way my musician friends do. My musician friends don’t go off-piste: the piste is wherever they say it is. And it sounds wonderful.

I’m not a photographer either. But recently I’ve been so sick of my crappy phone camera that my friend (possibly to stem the tide of recreational complaining) lent me his camera to practice taking shots with. I got a few good ones and probably a large number of unremarkable ones; photography as a craft, for me, is pretty satisfying.

Writing is what I consider to be my art. I work at craft, refine it, revamp it, but in the domain of words, the piste is wherever I say it is. Of course, unlike with music and photography and the visual arts, everybody speaks a language — and everybody has an internal world that they believe contributes to the sum total of positive meaning in the universe. Which it does. So to jump into the situation and start articulating what it means, besides being a creative enterprise, is a very brash act.

I’m not a particularly humble person, but there’s a point where ego simply gets left behind and what remains is a realm of divine stubbornness. I think every person who has discovered that divine stubbornness has found their art: regardless of whether they achieve recognition or confirmation of their quality. The rest, as the poet says, is not our business.

People look east

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Even though I’ve been blogging on various platforms on and off for close to twenty years, it’s been a while since I made a regular practice of it. After all, it’s not one of those things one has to do. And twenty years ago I had a lot of youthful assumptions about the significance of my chronicles of daily life that I don’t have now. Now, of course, people upload pictures of their meals to Facebook — including me, sometimes — and microblogging is now a thing. Long-form blogging has sort of taken on a sepia tinge.

But now that I have my own space for it, I’m taking it up again. Because it’s not so much the chronicle as the gestalt that seems significant to me now, and the less pixellated the better.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, a season I have loved since I first came to know it, in part because it speaks to our true condition at this time of year. Advent doesn’t pressure us to be merry. It doesn’t center itself on consumer connectedness, and if it plucks at the elbows of our priorities at all, it is to draw our attention to what’s outside the stream rather than plunge us more deeply in it. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it gives full weight and acknowledgment to the narrowing range of sunlight as winter solstice approaches. It’s the cool, crisp shadow to the frenetic joy of the holiday season.

Every people who experiences this contraction of daylight has a tradition like Advent, that braids together a thrumming sense of anticipation with the recognition of darkness. And my characters, I reasoned, would be no different. So I fashioned for them the solstice holiday of Lightfall, complete with chant and bonfire and the Midnight Reel. And a bawdy songbook. And a cadenza in the darkness, sung in each community by a chosen voice:

This was the hour, she sang, when darkness seemed to have mastered all. When all that had been home was a country of forgetting. When the air was a burden and the ground an uneasy resting place. An hour when even the balefires were dimmed to ashes, swallowed in the wake of the poisonous inferno.

The bad times had made it so that the only possible worship was to make a virtue of loss: in the long generations since, every people had crept their way out of darkness little by little, but no one ever forgot that the love of wisdom was found in making offering. And there was always something one could give over. To make an offering, even of defeat and loss, was to kindle a light. All darkness apprehends its own ending.

From that moment of offering in the darkness, the light opens out again, little by little: both literally, in the reel of the earth’s axis, and figuratively, as we find our way and recover our lives, our breath, our joy. In Ryswyck, events drive on and the light contracts to its deepest dark; and from that moment hope and possibility widen out again, invisible at first but gathering its strength.¬†

It’s the days after winter solstice that I find my creative resurgence, after the losses of the fall. And this is the sort of image I steel myself with when reading the news headlines, when workday business closes after sunset, when I contemplate the uncertainties of my own life and the lives of my communities and the fruits of my daily efforts.

All darkness apprehends its own ending.

Hey, what’s the big idea?

So, I appear to have a new author website: a genuwyne, public-facing, on-purpose address on these here Internets. Because I also appear to have gone into business for myself, as a purveyor of words that I wrote.

Writers, as a rule, aren’t inherently attracted to public-facing, on-purpose entrepreneurship, especially when it comes to words they’ve written. But there does come a point at which one has to spit on one’s hands and tackle the learning curve: and so here I am, climbing gear and all.

Because even if writers aren’t natural entrepreneurs, most of us are seized with the conviction that we have meaning to offer the world through our words: and I am no exception.

For the past six years I have struggled mightily to bring forth a project that, like all worthwhile projects, nearly defeated me more than once. I’ll be saying more about that project, and its sequels, in future posts, and as the release date draws near. For now, I will only say that the world in which I conceived this story of courtesy in desperate times, and the world in which we live now, are so widely different that the story has been thrown into sharp and urgent relevance, as if laid over with a differently-vivid color frame.

It’s a frame and a story that I am eager to share.

This blog will be my regular outlet for topics related to writing, reading, craft, narrative, and fun, with a dash of recreational complaining added for flavor. Check out the manifesto on the top menu for a taste.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to a site I am happy to toss money to every year: the best ambient noise generator site on the planet. I’ve returned to this site again and again for inspiration, and since the hardworking proprietor has recently gifted us with the ability to combine stems for unique sounds, I made a generator to evoke the sentinel comm tower at Ryswyck, the titular school of my forthcoming novel.

Enjoy, and see you again soon!

L.