Small Things

When the world falls apart, small things become huge.

It’s been over a month since we lost Editor Cat. A couple of weeks ago, we acquired kittens, who came with a cold that they gave to Laser Cat, who became quite ill. She spent a couple of days in the hospital getting a hydrating IV and more x-rays than any cat in the entire state. Now she’s home, and not eating much, and sleeping a lot, and sneezing, and I worry.

I have two friends who have lost people to suicide in the last few weeks.

Laser Cat is a strange creature. She showed up on our doorstep in 2008, the afternoon of an ice storm that took out our electricity for nine days. She was declawed, and covered in ticks, and weighed less than five and a half pounds. We took her to the vet, put up a couple of posters, and, when nobody claimed her, called her our own. She’s damaged, psychologically. She howls when she’s held, great long, low sounds that she sustains without perceptibly inhaling. She’ll bite and slap people with those clawless paws when she’s really had it. And she’ll climb up next to you if you’re upset, and purr for a while, and even let you pet her, until it becomes too much and she runs away.

I know a child who keeps asking if her family will be allowed to stay. Nobody can tell her. She was born here. They are legal immigrants. It shouldn’t be a question. She should be worrying about school dances and getting good enough grades to get into Algebra I. She should not have to think about any of this.

Laser Cat is on the mend, sort of. I bounce between optimism and deep anxiety. She is sleeping a lot, and she still has a cold. Sometimes it takes me a while before I can coax her to eat. Tonight I couldn’t get her to eat at all, but she had been up earlier, wandering around where the dry food is, and tonight she fought me off much harder than usual. So: She didn’t eat, but she seemed stronger. More pissed off. Much more Laser Cat than she has been. The vet prescribed her an appetite stimulant which will be delivered tomorrow–it was compounded, and there were no local pharmacies that would do it, so it had to be mailed–and I get to see how easily I can get her to take a pill. I hope she bites the hell out of me.

People I know, who claim to agree with me on substantive issues, are bouncing on the “identity politics are responsible” train, as if the entire history of this country hasn’t been identity politics, just not the kind they’re talking about. I get unspeakably angry, which isn’t an emotion I handle well.

The kittens are growing. One of them put on a pound in a week. He’s going to be massive. He has huge panther feet and a long nose, as if somewhere in his bloodline there is Abyssinian. The other is still tiny, a little black and white girl, picture-perfect kitten cute and tough as hell. She’s the instigator, the first one to pounce, the last one to curl up and settle down. She takes us utterly for granted. Neither of them has the kind of psychological injury that Laser Cat has. They are deeply curious about Laser Cat. It turns out Laser Cat’s formidable glare works pretty well on kittens.

I would like my Laser Cat back. I would like one thing to go well, to have one reason for optimism, to have one sign that there is a path forward–different, difficult perhaps, but forward.

Small things become huge.

Presidents are elected, every time, based on domestic policy. Sometimes it’s vitally important. Sometimes it’s bullshit. But every single president in my lifetime has been almost entirely absorbed, while in office, with international issues. Domestically, it’s pretty clear how this is going to go, and it’s a fucking shitshow and I’m glad they at least lost the popular vote because that does suggest there may be enough of us to hang on. Which won’t save everyone. It already hasn’t saved everyone. But it may save some.

But internationally? The domestic stuff depresses me deeply. The international stuff actually frightens me. And it’s not just the ignorance–it’s the deep incuriosity, and the facile idea that xenophobia will solve everything. This is Planet Earth 2016. There is no way to draw into your own borders and cover your ears and wait for the rest of the world to decide whether or not to blow itself up.

I realized, a while back, that you can tell a lot about people based on who they mean when they say “us” and “them.” The US has always had this romantic view of itself as a melting pot, a home for everyone. And no, it’s never been that, not for everyone, not easily for anyone who does not have white skin, white ancestors, a white name. But it’s a goal to strive for, and it’s hard to look at all of this and think that I am surrounded by people who have deliberately shoved that goal aside in the name of fear.

I have sympathy for fear. But real people have been hurt, are being hurt, will be hurt, because some people are amorphously afraid. I can have sympathy. But I cannot forgive.

We don’t know how old Laser Cat is. Our best guess is that she’s roughly ten. Not a young cat, but by no means an old one, not really. All of my cats live a long time. I’m counting on many more years of Laser Cat, and at the same time I am holding my breath for her to make it to tomorrow so I can try feeding her again. There has been too much loss lately. She is one cat, rescued on an unlikely day after having survived weeks in the woods with coyotes and no claws, and we love her and small things become huge.

The world changes and the pendulum swings. What is an annoyance for some is life and death for others. One step back for me, twenty steps back for someone else. I am lucky. Am I strong? What’s the definition? We all need strength. We cannot draw into our own borders and cover our ears. This is the world we are in. This is now, and this is us.

Ways to Cope

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say post-US election, but I find myself uncharacteristically short of words. So here are some words from others that have resonated with me:

And some actual, concrete things you can do to help:

  • Places to donate. There are more than this. Your home town undoubtedly has organizations and resources that could use some help right now. Google can help you.
  • If you write – whether or not you’re currently published – consider this.
  • If you see anyone being harassed, help however you can. (This seems like a reasonable strategy.) If you can’t intervene, find someone who can.
  • Be public about your position. Be counted.

And remember, we are all in the world every day. Some of us are going to be more vulnerable through all of this than others. We can reach out to people who are more at risk than we are. We can stand up and be proudly inclusive, and live by what we believe. This has always been important. It’s especially important now.

REMNANTS OF TRUST: or, What’s Revenge Got To Do With It?

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I didn’t know, when I started this book, that it was going to be about revenge.

Revenge is a funny thing. It seems to be a pretty strong human instinct. You hurt me; I hurt you. Scales get balanced and all is well, right?

Except it doesn’t work out that way. It should—eye for an eye, and all that—but it doesn’t. Because revenge fundamentally means becoming what we hate, and that in itself has consequences.

I’ve had the opportunity for revenge a few times in my life—emotional, not physical. I got in one good last shot at a cheating boyfriend, which changed absolutely nothing. I said one of those things you can’t ever take back to a family member once, in the middle of a fight—they stopped yelling at me, but my sense of triumph lasted about a millisecond before I realized what I’d done. I was able to verbally eviscerate a friend who had disappeared on me, months after she’d done it. And of course you know where people’s sympathies were after that.

I have a temper, an imagination, and a brain. Revenge should feel marvelous. And in reality, it’s a grain of sand tossed into the black hole of hurt and loss: all it does is suck more out of you, and change nothing.

Raman Çelik, in this book, is in about as good a position as a wronged person can be: he’s been assigned revenge. His ship is essentially destroyed, a quarter of his crew murdered, and his official orders involve getting the people who did it, whatever it takes. License to kill. Hooray! Except…all of his people are still dead. And his ship is still destroyed. And his professional future is still uncertain. And who is he supposed to kill? Who is behind this? Who is responsible?

Raman is the ship’s captain. He knows who is responsible. And so there is vengeance, the only thing he can bring himself to feel, only it’s not just the perpetrators that need to be dealt with, is it?

Raman is a pro when it comes to psychological manipulation. He’s the Steve Jobs guy who makes you cry in the elevator on his way to a meeting where he motivates people to create something brilliant. He’s an accomplished asshole. He knows himself really, really well. And he’s never been powerless before, and he has absolutely no idea how to cope with it.

Powerlessness is the seed of revenge. It’s a great hunger that tells you the only solution is to strike out as violently as you can. Intelligence and rationality are nothing in the face of it. It swallows everything. It’ll swallow your life if you let it.

And that’s part of Raman’s attraction to—and frustration with—Guanyin. More than anyone else he knows, she has a clear notion of exactly what in her life she does and does not have power over. She’s not always happy about it, but her anger never becomes fantasy or denial. (The fact that she’s pregnant in this story is not an accident: pregnancy is a primal way of being out of control.) She can be angry with Raman for the path he is choosing, but it never occurs to her that she can or should be able to change him.

Her clear-eyed acceptance of reality is soothing to him. And soothing is exactly what he doesn’t need.

The ultimate problem with revenge is that it doesn’t fix anything. The US prison system (to get political for a moment) is a real-world example of this: we can’t decide if we want revenge or rehabilitation, so we end up doing neither with any effectiveness, and the gaping black hole stays hungry. Revenge isn’t about justice or moving forward or letting go: it’s is about clinging to a past that is set for eternity. It’s hanging on to the rock while you sink to the bottom of the ocean.

That friend that I eviscerated so long ago. I can look back on our argument, on what destroyed our relationship, and recognize that she had culpability there. I can recognize that I did, too. I can see what led up to it, that it wasn’t a single moment of loss. I can see the people around us, some of whom bore far more of the blame than she did. I said awful things to her, and had my revenge, and I still carry the scar of losing her and knowing that I can’t go back and undo it. Ever. Because she died a few years ago, a young woman, after I had not spoken to her in twenty years, after our lives had been apart far longer than they had been together.

Without knowing I was doing it, I wrote her this book. I didn’t intend it as either an apology or an explanation, but perhaps, on some level, it is both.

And for me at least, it’s also a reminder of how important it is to let go of the rock, and swim like mad for the light.

The Romance Thing

I actually wrote this a while ago, and tabled it. But here, on the cusp of the release of REMNANTS OF TRUST–which is also not a romance novel–it seemed like a good one to resurrect.


WARNING: This post contains spoilers for THE COLD BETWEEN, although if you’ve read any reviews, they’re probably spoilers you’ve already seen. Still: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

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If you want to discuss genre, it’s probably closest to say that I write military SF (or possibly space opera).

But the first two chapters of THE COLD BETWEEN read very much like a romance novel. (You have to skip the prologue to get the full effect of that, which is part of why the prologue is there.) I always liked that about it. I like the idea of launching the story with an intimate and personal incident, something private between two people. Something nice.

Because boy, it runs off the rails pretty quickly. There’s not a ton of nice in this book, and I wanted to have a little bit of time when Elena could actually be happy and not angry and stressed out. I wanted to let people see the sort of person she was most of the time, the kind of person who could believably be someone’s best friend and trusted colleague.

And to me, it was very clear from the beginning that these two people weren’t going to have a life together.

Elena loves her career. Loves it. More than that, she loves living on a starship. She loves space and travel, and the sound of machines. It’s in her blood, and it gives her strength and comfort. Trey, on the other hand, loves his home planet. He has longed for home for decades. Even feeling ostracized by his fellow colonists, not to mention his own family, there’s a contentment he gets from being there that nothing else in his entire eventful, productive life has ever given him.

How can these people stay together? Spoiler: They can’t. And I wrote it that way on purpose.

Y’all know I’m no spring chicken. I’m 52 years old. I was nearly 38 when I got married. I have a couple of exes for whom I wish nothing but loneliness and unrelenting misery. (Pretty sure grudge-holding is my superpower.) And I have a couple with whom I would sit down for coffee, catch up, and listen with delight to what I hope are the lovely things that have happened to them since we parted.

Because for me, while love was not always Happily Ever After, it was also not always acrimony and bitterness. For me, as often as not, love was real, and nurturing, and not meant to last any longer than it did.

I wanted to write about that: the sort of truly loving relationship that ends not because of betrayal or foolishness, but because sometimes you’re not headed the same way as your partner, and that’s all right. You can be sad, and wish things were different, and still know that the best thing for both you and them is to part.

I love reading romance novels, but I didn’t write one. I enjoy happy endings, but sometimes the best choices life offers you don’t give you a Happily Ever After option, and it doesn’t mean your life is over or you have to be miserable. Or celibate. Or never fall in love again.

I wanted to write that kind of love story, because that kind of love has been part of my life, and I suspect I’m not alone.

There’s sadness in the ending. I love Elena and Trey together. They are so good for each other in so many ways. He helps her see shades of gray. She helps him choose happiness. I cried when I wrote their last scene together. It’s a sad thing, that their paths are so divergent.

But they do not belong together.

In its own way, this book does have a happy ending, despite the severing of Elena and Trey’s romance. The romance is a piece of the story, not the point of it. The point of it is a bunch of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. There’s mystery, and friendship, and mistrust, and misunderstanding, and lies, and explosions, and betrayal. Melodrama.

And if it’s enjoyed as such…that’s exactly what I intended.