Perish perfectionism

I’m sick today, but well enough to write. In fact, I particularly wanted to write to see whether being sick helps keep my occasional ceaseless perfectionism in check. Indeed, it does, although maybe a bit too much. The end result was an exploratory exercise, wherein I write in a slow circle around a subject and learn a lot about it as a result. These aren’t usually suited for inclusion in the book, but they give me a good view of what I might write that would be. It’s like a spyglass fashioned of words; I can see where I need to go, off in the distance.

Anyway, by nice coincidence, today Ellen Kushner’s Twitter feed had a link to a blog post by Terri Windling: When Every Day is Judgment Day. She intersperses her own and others’ thoughts on perfectionism with pictures of a lovely dog. That’s win-win, as far as I’m concerned. And don’t neglect to listen to the song at the end, which is worth the price of admission all on its own.


To Shorten Winter’s Sadnesse

Here’s another of my favourite wintertime songs. Sorry the visuals aren’t much; there were surprisingly few versions to choose from on the old YouTubes.

That’s by Thomas Weelkes, whom you may know as the composer of such popular hits as “Hark, All Ye Lovely Saints Above,” and “O Care, Thou Wilt Dispatch Me.”

I don’t have much to tie this one in with writing, except to say that the Madrigalians sing it sometimes, and singing helps keep me writing happily and well. Singing is Old Nappy to my writing’s Black Stallion.

Suddenly realizing that a) that’s a pretty obscure reference anymore, and b) “Old Nappy” is not exactly a pleasant-sounding name for anyone, even a horse. OK then! Thanks for reading. I’ll be over here in a corner, gazing upon other horrors from the catacombs of my brain.


I know it’s not winter everywhere now. My sister, who spent a couple years in Australia, never fails to chide me for being northern-hemisphere-centric. This song, however, is about summer, and if you could use a little bit of warmth right now, this is for you:

It’s an ancient and famous Irish song, and the title as given means “Summer, Summer.” It is more commonly named after its refrain, “Thugamar Féin An Samhradh Linn,” which means “We bring the summer with us.” The song is traditionally sung upon Lá Bealtaine (Beltaine) in May to mark the beginning of summer, but I actually think it works well as a winter song in this wistful rendition. Summer seems more remembered than present here.

We bring the summer with us. We have to, in wintertime.

I listened to it this morning as I wrote before the sun came up. I half wonder whether this might be my new Iarla song for the next novel. I’ve had go-to Iarla songs for each book — “A Nest of Stars” for Seraphina, “Glistening Fields” and “Foxlight” for Shadow Scale (which was such a perilous book it needed two).

This song is so simple that it’s a particularly good introduction to Iarla’s voice. What amazes me is the control he has, the precision and deliberateness of it. The voice is an instrument, as surely as the piano or fiddle, and there are years of training and practice behind every ornament. It’s very nuanced singing, very controlled, and yet it’s not stiff or obscuring. He’s so skilled that he makes it seem like there’s no artifice at all, only transparent, honest emotion.

I’ve learned a lot about writing voice from listening to him, as unexpected as that sounds. I’ve learned that I have all the tools I need at my disposal; that I can choose which ones to use, depending what I want to create; that there are times to hold back and times to fling everything open; and that you should always know more than you show.

Writers — singers, artists, all — bring the summer with us in full knowledge that somewhere else it’s winter. We don’t forget, but make sure each echoes into the other, wistfulness and warmth all intertwined.

2015, I’m coming for you

Happy New Year, friends! It has dawned sunny here in Vancouver, which should absolutely not be taken as a portent for things (especially weather) to come, but is welcome nonetheless.

For the last several years, I’ve been playing my friend Arwen’s New Year Naming Game (I don’t think that’s what she actually calls it, but that’s how I think of it). It involves looking at where you are and where you’re going and coming up with a single word that you hope will sum up – or at least be a recurring theme in – the year to come.

One word. It’s not easy!

I’ve been over-thinking it, as ever. Records on clay tablets indicate that I’ve been doing this since 2012, and my words have been (in order) Perspective, Art, and AUTHORITY (in all caps, as you might imagine). The latter, in particular, was super helpful (last year’s post explains why), and I think I may be at a point now where I am feeling confident in myself again and can afford to back down a little and relax.

And… I was going to pick something else, but now that I think about it, RELAX may just be our winner. Why not? In all caps, of course, with an implied OR ELSE! hot on its heels. There’s a lot coming up this year with the potential to make me anxious, but I see it coming and I have good tools for dealing with it now. I just need a periodic reminder to let go, take care of myself, and breathe.

What’s ahead, as you gaze through your spyglass at the year to come? What word will you carry with you, or scrawl across the top of your map?