Last night I dreamed that I’d invited everyone in B’s class – plus parents and siblings – to drop by our house for tapas after school. The trouble was, I didn’t know how many people were in his class, or how many family members they had, or how many of them were actually going to show up, or what kind of food they liked. I had to make tapas anyway, because I’d committed to it, and so most of the dream was spent racking my brains for things that would be good to make and would serve lots of people (I calculated that we’d need about 5 gallons of tapenade. I was going to make it in one of those big orange Home Depot buckets, as if it were grout).
It was only after I woke up and was staggering downstairs in the dark that it occurred to me that this was an anxiety dream, and that I’d been having anxiety dreams pretty much every night for a week or more. Some had been more anxious than others. The one where my husband fought 18 zombies had hardly seemed to count, because he’d defeated them (I was pretty useless, though, and I can’t pretend the onset of zombie apocalypse is a cheerful, optimistic scenario). Others were worse. I don’t remember them all, only that after each one I thought to myself, “That was weird, having an anxiety dream when I’m not actually anxious!”
How many anxiety dreams do I need to have before I set myself down and ask my brain what’s going on? Many, apparently.
A friend recently told me the etymology of the word “hypochondria,” which didn’t always signify imagined illness. It originally meant something more akin to melancholy. The Greek roots mean “under the ribs,” right where the stomach and liver reside. And that, in my experience, is where anxiety (depression’s partner-in-crime) is felt. A knot at the solar plexus, or a stab, or a fizz if it’s very light.
That last feeling is easy to dismiss. I’ve been dismissing it. My brain, always smarter than I am, has had to yell at me in my dreams just to get me to notice. I’m mentioning it here so I can’t just bury it again (which is tempting).
I am anxious. Maybe it’s about revisions. Maybe it’s about the drought we’ve had this summer (I think this under-rib fizz may have started in July, when the city was choked with wildfire smoke; it was ominous and end-times-y). Maybe it’s about upcoming travel (I’m going to Singapore!) or upcoming public speaking (I’m teaching a workshop — in Singapore!). Maybe it’s all these things, plus a few more, together in just the right proportions.
There are ways out of the labyrinth, always, but you can’t start looking for them until you fully admit you’re there.
So here I am.
It’s always hard to get back to the blog when you’ve been slacking. And I really have been slacking, although not always without reason. I cut my finger quite badly at the end of July — three stitches, I named it “Frankenfinger” — and then I had to sulk for a while, even after it healed, because it hurt to type.
I can finally say it doesn’t hurt anymore. It just feels like there’s a bead under the skin, so when I touch surfaces I don’t exactly feel them. I feel the lump of scar tissue in my finger. That hurt for several weeks, but now it doesn’t. I’m back to typing normally.
Which is good! I have a novel to revise, after all. I have you lot to occasionally amuse. I spent much of August reading, so I have a few interesting thoughts stored up. Maybe.
Anyway, I hope you’ve all been well and are ready for September. We’ve had some November-grade rain set in, here in Vancouver, and it’s such a relief after a dry spring and summer. I’m not such a fan of relentless sunshine.
More tomorrow, perhaps, now that I’ve finally broken the ice.
This interview with Cassie Clare and Maggie Steifvater is circulating on the Twitters today, and I found it thought-provoking. Writers do indeed have kind of a peculiar relationship with readers in this day and age, and when readership crosses over into fandom it can become even more fraught.
(I know Cassie Clare is a particularly polarizing figure – I remember this from my Goodreads days – but she’s also a human being trying to juggle the conflicting demands of fame and creativity, and as such she has my interest and my sympathy.)
There have always been reclusive writers; Salinger comes to mind, but he’s hardly the only one. I totally get that impulse. Fame can be anathema to creativity, for some of us. I want to say it’s an introversion thing, but who knows. I need more data to make that claim. There’s a special kind of scrutiny reserved for writers, however; we are expected to be wise and witty at all times. For me (and I don’t believe I’m alone in this), the idea that people are watching expectantly, waiting for me to be brilliant, is death to brilliance. My wit is, in my experience, a bit like Michigan J Frog:
That is to say: busting out all over when left to its own devices, limp and croaking when a funny dance is demanded of it. I am happy to perform – I quite enjoy an audience – but it has to be in my time and on my terms.
This doesn’t mean no one should scrutinize my work or attempt to engage me. More that I can explain my own rules for the “wedding math” Stiefvater mentions: I will smile back if I have the energy to spare, if you’ve caught me at the right time, but that isn’t always the case. If I don’t engage, it has everything to do with me being self-protective of that recalcitrant singing frog. It’s nothing personal. I love you all and deeply appreciate your enthusiasm. My first duty, however, is to my health and work.
So I did an interview with Lauren Zurchin at Lytherus. It’s long, but go listen if you like, and by all means enter the Shadow Scale giveaway. Thanks to Lauren for the good talk and the opportunity!
Before you watch it, I experienced a moment of intense brain-farting during this interview as I was talking about my trans friends, and I am worried that my clumsiness will make folks (real people, who matter to me) feel hurt or unloved. It was one of those times when you say something and it just doesn’t sound right, and then you flail around like the proverbial bull, knocking porcelain shepherdesses off the shelves. I am thoroughly embarrassed by it, and I’m sorry to be such a verbal klutz (there’s a reason I’m a writer and not a talker).
Here’s a little lesson in the use of the word “trans” today (as I understand it, as was outlined for me by the patient friend I turned to as soon as this interview was over, because I knew I’d screwed up). Usage is evolving, which is kind of exciting really, but it means that if you’re as old as me, and were actually alive during the time of the Roman Empire, it’s easy to get confused and stumble. Trans is not just a prefix anymore, but is becoming a stand-alone adjective. “Use it the way you would use queer,” said my friend, and that’s a useful guideline.
Because here was my brain-fart: I uttered the phrase “trans friends,” and my sad, wee brain thought “transfriends,” with trans as a prefix. It means something slightly different as a prefix, when it’s used in words like transubstantiation or trans-unsaturated fatty acids or Trans-Siberian Orchestra. As a prefix, it means “across,” and so I got absurdly snagged on the idea of how one could be an across-friend.
It may seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but 1) I really don’t want to hurt people with my bungling, 2) I really am embarrassed, in particular because I knew this and knew better, 3) the only way, in my experience, not to get hung up on words that are emotionally or politically charged is to say them more often. To practice. Alas, practice means sometimes hitting wrong notes along the way.
If you watch the video, you may find that there’s some other place I’ve dropped the ball without even noticing (we two Southern white ladies talk about diversity and PoC characters and we do our best but there’s so much potential there). Do not be afraid to let me know. This is why we came down from the trees (as another friend of mine likes to say), so we can talk and work and make things better.
…I was on The Morning Show Toronto to talk about Shadow Scale. Before I went on there was one other guest waiting his turn, a gregarious black man who introduced himself as Chad, asked me about myself and the book, and then took a picture and had one of his assistants post it to Instagram. The whole time I’m thinking, “His voice sounds really familiar! I feel like I should know who he is. He’s not Isaac Hayes, because Isaac Hayes is dead — but who is he?”
I quietly asked one of his assistants, embarrassed for the man himself to know I couldn’t place him, and she was like, “Ever watch The Wire?” No, I’ve never watched The Wire. “How about The Walking Dead?”
I love The Walking Dead. He’d played Tyreese. I felt pretty silly, but in a way it was nice because we’d had an actual conversation without me fangirling all over him.
Anyway, that’s my little brush with fame for today. At least I managed not to be too embarrassing. I’ve had fans of my book worry that they said something silly in front of me — please don’t feel self-conscious about that! We all do it, and I think I was only prevented by not knowing who he was for most of the time. Sometimes it really is better to have a slow reveal.
I want to write about Terry Pratchett, and I don’t even know where to begin. He wrote so many wonderful and consoling things about death (or, y’know, Death) that I feel the tiniest bit guilty for being so very sad he’s gone. I feel like I should be able to face it with some kind of humorous equanimity, something like:
“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” — Good Omens
Ahahahaha! And yet. I has all the sad. I’m afraid I’m going to have to play it straight.
I never read any of his books until I moved to Canada, and even then I had several false starts. I tried reading The Colour of Magic and I didn’t get very far. It looked like a pile of undifferentiated jokes to me, and while the jokes were individually hilarious, in a heap they were rather overwhelming. It was like eating nothing but cake, all the time. Another one that I remember disliking was Maskerade, which as far as I could tell was nothing but a send-up of Phantom of the Opera. It was funny enough, for what it was, but I honestly couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
I’m not sure why I kept trying.
Well, that’s not quite true. I kept trying because I had just moved to a foreign country where I knew no one outside my own household. I kept trying because I missed my friends back in Philly, and I’m pretty sure they were the ones who’d recommended Pratchett to me in the first place. I kept trying because I really, really needed a friend right then, and miraculously, I found one.
Going Postal was the book that finally opened the door for me, the one that made me realize there was a human behind the mountains of jokes, a human who was preoccupied with many of the same things I was. The Tiffany Aching books followed close on its heels, as well as Thud!, and by the time I’d gotten through those I felt like I knew exactly who I was dealing with.
And he was something remarkable, something I’d never quite seen before. He was using the twin fists of humour and fantasy to punch the world in the face. These were, in fact, extremely serious books about difficult and hard-hitting subjects, but he’d disguised it so cleverly that you couldn’t quite tell. I think the mask did slip a bit in his later years, and that was why I found his more recent books more accessible. I find it easier to read the early ones now that I’ve glimpsed the wellsprings beneath them; his preoccupations have been the same all along, and now that I know what to look for I see them everywhere, shining like diamonds.
I wrote a little tribute to him on the Terry Pratchett Appreciation Tumblr a couple years ago, and I don’t think I can sum up his influence on my writing any more perfectly than this:
Nothing was out of bounds, not death, love, politics, or religion. A fantasy writer could say exactly what needed to be said and could run any thought experiment conceivable. It was a revelation, and it set me free.
I cried when I learned that he had died, and I cried again later that day when a middle-school student asked me who my favourite writer was. “Isn’t it amazing,” I said, “how deeply books can move you, and what a strong connection we can feel to someone we never met?”
I used to call him, only half-jokingly, my long-lost time-travelling twin, or my spiritual uncle, because we were preoccupied with so many of the same kinds of questions. We didn’t always come to the same conclusions, but his were always humane, hilarious, and well worth considering.
“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” —Reaper Man
Thank you for everything, old friend. I’m going to miss you.
It’s been a long day and I have to get up early to fly to Seattle, but I just wanted to say that the party at Kidsbooks was just wonderful. Thanks to everyone who came out for it. My husband didn’t take a lot of pictures because our friend Liz was taking a LOT of pictures and her pictures are the best. But here’s one of me pontificating:
I also got some flowers from the lovely folks at Doubleday Canada. Thank you Amy, Pamela, and Trish!
That’s not very coherent, but it’s all I’ve got tonight. Thank you everyone who sent me kind notes or happy tweets today. It was the best book birthday ever.