Changing Rituals

I was going to call this post “Pandemic Bites,” but that seems too flip.

Years ago, before I was married, I’d take “staycations” a lot. I’d take a week off work—longer, if I could arrange days off around long weekends—and I would be home, free of obligations. I’d sleep in, watch what I wanted on TV, not worry about what I was eating or when. This was largely pre-internet, but I had a computer I could play games on, and if I felt like it I could connect to Usenet for some on-line socializing.

It was heaven. For about three days.

I’m an introvert. I’m not anti-social, but I’ve never liked large gatherings. This has caused issues with friends over the years; some had a hard time understanding why I didn’t want to spend my weekends bouncing between parties thrown by various people we knew. (In fairness, those parties were often awful: thick cigarette smoke, loud music I didn’t get to choose, mating dances I didn’t really understand.) I like people just fine, but I like to be able to pay attention to all of them, which means a small get-together is far less likely to completely exhaust me.

Three days of I-can-do-anything-I-want-without-accountability pretty much did the job for me. After that, I needed to go somewhere. Buy groceries, and say “thank you” to the cashier. Flip through records (yes, I know I’m old) and discover a band I’d never heard of, while eavesdropping on the conversations around me. Sit in a food court on my own and people-watch. Introvert socializing.

I miss it so much.

The Kid and I started shopping together when she was one day old. Spouse and I had taken her to our local supermarket, and the cashier had cooed over the baby and asked how old she was. “A day,” I said, well aware I was shocking people. And the thing is, people weren’t shocked because it was a crazy thing to do; they were shocked because we could do it. Because I was on my feet with enough energy to buy food. Because we were both conscious after spending a night with a sleepless newborn.

It’s been a weekend thing her whole life. She’s almost 16 now. On Saturdays we run errands, and we stop at a fast food place for lunch. (The location varies, but we have favorites.) We sit, and she’s on her phone and I’m on my iPad and we occasionally chat or share tweets or videos, and we’re idle and cocooned among a whole lot of other people. Sometimes, after we leave, we’ll talk in the car about people we saw, or conversations we overheard. General impressions. She’s thoughtful, and observant, and often really funny. She has a good grasp of the light-hearted absurdity of the human condition.

I miss you, strangers at Wendy’s.

I finished my eyeball. Some of you follow me on Instagram and have seen it, but since Instagram is weird I’ll post it here, too:

I feel a sudden urge to blink.

What’s fascinating is it looks so much better in the photograph than it does on paper. (I’ve used Photoshop to size the image, but it’s otherwise unaltered.) On paper I can see the pencil strokes, and the erasures, and all the unintentional scribbles. But some of it’s distance, too: when I was drawing the eyelashes, I was convinced they were a mess, but I’m pretty pleased with them now.

I’m trying to draw a whole face. Turns out that takes more than just individual components. Like writing: one good scene, one good character doesn’t make a story. Funny, that. It’s going to take me a while, and it’ll take me longer than that to draw a face I really like.

My book designer had a hardcover copy printed of my short stories. Got it in the mail yesterday. I had no idea he was going to do this, and it’s so pretty.

It’s a funny thing. I bundled the stories for kicks, really. There aren’t enough of them for a For-Real Book, but I liked the idea of being able to ebookify them so I could have them on my iPad. It kind of took off from there: I hired a designer for the book (he’s a friend as well as a pro), and released it on my first book’s anniversary. It’s on Goodreads now because someone asked me to put it there. (Goodreads is interesting; it’ll give you an Amazon link even if the book isn’t for sale on Amazon. If you click on the button for this book’s listing, it’ll give you search results for the title, and wow, there are a lot of hunting books out there.)

I have no idea how many people have downloaded it. I have no way of counting. This is completely OK with me.

I feel rather foolish, sometimes, still wanting to write. My publishing experience was dire. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the reasons don’t matter except as object lessons in what not to do. (Title for next book of short stories: OBJECT LESSONS.) The thing is, I’m clear about some of it. I know what I’m doing. I know how to write. I don’t doubt my mastery of language, and no, I’m not Shakespeare, I will never be Shakespeare, and I don’t aspire to be Shakespeare. I’m a decent writer of pulp, which makes me happy, because that’s the kind of thing I enjoy reading. Not everyone wants to read what I write, or likes it when they do, and I have no objection to that. I’ve had trouble getting past the first few pages of books other people adore. Art is art, and which particular works of art touch you is deeply personal and requires no explanation, defense, or apology.

What’s hard about all of this is how much my clarity has been eroded. The hardest part about writing anything now is shutting down the voices in my head. That may be why I wrote so many short stories, after decades of staying away from the format: if I can get the idea down in a single sitting, I’m much less likely to get in my own way.

I’ve been re-reading REMNANTS OF TRUST, which is a pretty good book, and I can say that here only because I have documented evidence that other, more important people thought it was a pretty good book. It’s the last book I wrote before my first book was published. I remember getting the editorial feedback. I remember the bits I argued about. I remember the changes I thought about, considered, made in one way, yanked or altered at the last minute because I was never really happy with them.

My God, it was fun. It was the last time I had fun in this business.

I’m having a killer of a time with my current book. It’s the next series book. I know what happens, and I know where it’s going. So why has it been so hard to get this out? Because I keep hearing the voices in my head: this is too serious. Too much melodrama. Everybody hates Greg. You lack the skills to pull this off.

Except they’re not my voices, and I know it. My voice, when I can shut up the others, is as clear as it ever was: I know what I’m doing. Not everybody is going to like what I’m doing, but I absolutely know what I’m doing.

Speaking of REMNANTS, I’m going to be tedious and post the cover again, because I love this cover.

I mean, there was no window in this scene, but who cares?

Chris McGrath, the cover artist, follows me on Instagram. He liked my eyeball. I am happy.

I’ve been learning React.js, which has been way more fun than I thought it would be. (I always did enjoy the UI stuff. One of my early computer splurges was Microsoft FrontPage. Somewhere I still have the book I bought for it; it outlined a simple method of creating 3D-looking graphics that was so very satisfying.) There’s a lot about it that reminds me of Angular.js, which is what my last computer job was using (although I mostly got experience with jQuery there, because I kept getting farmed out to other teams). So far, though, it’s pretty clear and easy to use, although much of that may be down to the instructor for the video course.

But it’s also reminding me of some things I don’t like about software these days: specifically, version skew. The course I’m taking is well over a year old, and the instructor is using Chrome extensions for debugging. Which not astonishingly look very little like the same Chrome extensions today. Getting the hang of debugging this stuff is critical, but it’s a speed bump, having to translate what he’s doing on screen into what I’ve got in front of me.

Software has turned into the stuff you do when you’re in between figuring out how to make open-source toolkits play nice together in your specific environment. Which would be fine, if I didn’t want to, you know, write software.

Get off my lawn, you damn kids.

While we’re all here trying to figure out how to function without the option of actually going out and doing a thing, the cats are supremely happy. They have all of us, all day, all the time, and as far as they’re concerned this is how it should be. In the morning they circle and hustle us downstairs, where they sleep until feeding time, after which they sleep until they hustle us upstairs. Then they goof around in our bedroom until they get booted out, after which they wait until we wake up and they can start all over again.

Ripley, aka Zoidberg, aka Tiny Cat. (N.B. she is not tiny.)

We are warm, mobile furniture, and they love that.

I don’t have a point with this post. We’re healthy here, so far. I’m grateful for that. We’re all getting a little bouncy, like the walls have become superelastic; maybe that’s just me. We’re mind-bogglingly privileged to be able to sit here, and be safe, and have enough.

Turns out I can be thankful for all of that, and the rest of my life is still a thing.

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