Cleaning out, moving forward

When your husband gets home from work and says “What’s with all this water in the basement?” and your reply is, “Uh… what water?”

…you know that’s not going to end well.

In our case, it meant our water heater had sprung a leak. Thankfully there wasn’t any real damage, but since the tank was in the back part of my library closet, it meant hauling literally everything out of that closet so the plumbers could get in and replace the water heater.

Nothing stirs up ghosts like going through a whole closet’s worth of journals, papers, magazines, printouts, and three-ring binders, when you haven’t cleaned them out in over a decade. Some of those ghosts were benevolent spirits, like the handful of emails from my art teacher back when I was first married, and though she passed away last fall I could hear her voice in those lines, telling me yes, to do what I could to get published, but also to trust my HP (Higher Power) to give me the life I needed, even if the path wasn’t the one I might be expecting.

There were also old bogeymen, faded echoes from controversies and conflicts of years past that had long since lost their power to scare me. It was a good reminder to read through old printouts of emails and think of what a incredibly big deal some situation felt like, and how now it’s shaken into the dust of memory. (It struck me, particularly, how much in my twenties I felt the need to respond to everything, particularly if it felt like I was defending my creative work. The claws came out quick and sharp back then, and I realized how much I’ve learned, in the years since, that sometimes silence is the best response — especially for my own sake.)

I found training materials I’d kept from one retail job that reminded me of the things I miss about working there — and materials from another retail job that reminded me exactly what I hated about it. I found printouts of fanfics and stories from when I first discovered furry fiction, and I remembered what it was like to first explore that world and its tropes and possibilities, what it was like when I felt I was more a part of its community instead of on the edges.

And of course, I found old originals of my own work, too — the two novella-length quasi-medieval fantasies I wrote in high school where I turned friends and teachers into characters (and sometimes even let them have a say in what happened to them), as well as the middle grade fantasy that was my first completed novel, the one I thought I’d sell to a major publisher (back when there were still more than five of them and you didn’t have to have an agent to send them your box full of paper and get a form letter in return). And, when I realized that none of that material was still available in electronic form, I had them scanned to PDF so I could feel like my archive of early work was safely backed up, whether for someone else in the long future or even for myself someday to return to.

Now everything’s been sorted and reorganized (and many, many pounds of paper recycled), and my binders of short stories and poems are all neatly labeled and lined up on a new shelf. The library’s looking better than it has in years… and now all that remains is to get myself to the desk in there, and write some material for the “Short Stories, Volume VI” binder that sits empty and waiting.

Another nice bit of loose-end-tying-up that happened recently was finding a home for a piece of flash fiction that I’d been shopping around for a few years. Every time I was about to give up on it, I’d find one more market to send it to — and then, by the time that market rejected it, I’d find just one more. I skipped the stone of that story across more than four years and sixteen markets, until at last the seventeenth loved it. It may not be good form to mention how many rejections a story has had, but I note it here as a mark of triumph for this odd, rather dark little tale.

And it even got artwork. *beams proudly*

You can read “Ashes of Roses,” my somewhat undead take on “Beauty and the Beast,” by clicking on the cover below.



2018: I Dwell in Possibility

That’s my theme for 2018, by the way. Near the end of 2017, I ran across the concept of having a “theme word” (or whatever they called it) for each year, as a focal point. I couldn’t find just one word that quite worked for me, so I borrowed a phrase from Emily Dickinson instead. (It just barely edged out “Reclaiming My Time.”)

In this case, “possibility” was code for “my constants are gone, my routine is shot, I feel pretty much adrift here, and I have no idea what’s going to happen in 2018 but I’m still trying to hope things will get better”.

Or, as I put it in this tweet:

I meant to write a lovely memorial blog post for that mentor back at the end of September, but I couldn’t, and then it was October, and I still couldn’t put anything together, and then it was November, and I tried to get into the RAWR Write-a-thon in hopes of getting something else (anything else) accomplished before the year closed, to feel good about, and then I fell behind on that but had good intentions of catching up to a revised goal, and then just before Thanksgiving our cat seemed to suddenly stop eating, and it was lymphoma, and we hoped we’d have maybe a month or so, and it turned out to be a week, and the week was beautiful and precious and also utter hell, and less than two weeks later I was laid off, which wasn’t a big surprise and actually was almost a relief, in some ways, but it still meant more scary unknowns and upheaval, more loss of the Way Things Were, and then there was Christmas, with all its attendant Things to Get Through and Halfway Enjoy As Possible, and then it was just cold and gray and… well, here we are.

And if you think that was a long sentence, try living it.

So now the first month of 2018 is almost gone. Job-wise things are hopeful; I still hate transitions of any sort, but I start training with a new company next week and I’m hoping spring will bring positive long-term changes. Unlike the previous times either of us were laid off, we’re not under major financial stress from the loss of income, though it’s going to take a little longer to pay off the credit card again. As always, things could be worse, even though by this point it feels superstitiously risky to say things like that.

I still feel guilty that I haven’t used much of my time “off” for writing, and I remain unsure how to find my way out of the slump I’ve been in for over two years. My only consolation is that it won’t be hard to double or even triple my output from previous years, given that in both 2016 and 2017 my only completed projects were one piece of flash fiction each year. Yeah, I also wrote a lot of notes and fragments, so it’s not like I gave up completely, but you can’t exactly share notes and random bits, and that’s what I long for — to be able to have something new to share again, so I don’t feel so completely out of the loop and the conversation, like everything’s passed me by and readers have all moved on to better and far more prolific authors, who are able to write no matter what’s going on in their lives, because they are Disciplined (Real) Writers Who Deserve Nice Things, and I’m not, so I don’t. I’m tired of feeling that way, and it seems finishing something is going to be the only way to deal with it… and yet I still can’t seem to get going. And since most of my online socialization is with other writers, I’ve withdrawn from a lot of that over the last year or so, because when everybody’s talking about what they’re working on or their latest short story publication or their shiny new book, after a while it just gets kind of depressing.

I’ve also been frustrated by how Three From Waynesboro has progressed (or, more accurately, not progressed). I started the blog with a lot of excitement, but it’s become something I’m having to force myself to see through just for the sake of completion. (This blog post here is me procrastinating on catching up over there.) For various reasons, 3FW hasn’t developed into the kind of project I envisioned, and now that I no longer have that relevancy of the 25th anniversary of the episode, the whole thing starts to feel like a series of missed opportunities and bad timing — but leaving it unfinished would be even worse, so I have to push through. At this point, based on the rough schedule I’ve outlined, it looks like it’ll go through May or even June, depending on how much detail I go into.

Besides 1) completing 3FW and 2) finishing basically anything else on my list of writing projects, my other goal for 2018 is to finally overhaul my website so that it’s more modern and (most importantly) mobile friendly. I’m looking forward to cleaning house there, updating some things, reorganizing others, so that when I actually do have something new to show off, I’ll have a better place for it.

Interestingly, I’m still deciding whether I really want a blog on the new site or not…