blairmacg: (Default)
2017-05-29 10:50 am
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(no subject)

Still getting used to Dreamwidth...

I did not intend to let our little corner here lapse into silence for nearly three months. The reasons are mostly boring–having to do on one hand with a job possibility that did not come to pass, and on the other hand with freelance projects that indeed came to pass (but on an uncomfortably tight deadline for even a fast writer) at the same time extensive home remodeling kicked into high gear.

I also did not intend for the first post in forever to be on the topic of grief. I would have preferred the Patreon re-launch, truly.

But I also made a commitment to be honest and open about grief because it so rarely is discussed once “the expected” period of mourning is over. So here I am, Memorial Day morning, typing despite an ocular migraine, because I spent half of yesterday weeping.

That… was unexpected. Yes, I’ve been immensely stressed all the way around, yet thinking the weekend would be fine regardless. Yesterday being race day, we had the whole family over. I had a drink, started showing off what we’ve been doing in the basement to my sister, then spotted the pictures my son had just unpacked.

And there was the framed show poster from when my late husband and I were dating, and the sole professional photo of the three of us when Dev wasn’t much more than a year old. And this one.

I lost it. I cried, then apologized for crying, then cried again, then assured everyone I was fine. I went into my half-finished bedroom to work on a few things once everyone else had left, then started crying again. At some point, for reasons I don’t know, I crawled into the closet to huddle up and cry some more. I pulled it together to get something to eat and act sociable for awhile, then made an excuse to go for a drive so I could cry again.

It’s been six years since my husband’s funeral. It’s been four years since my best friend’s memorial. Now another dear friend is starting chemo. I just… lost it.

Today, I’m feeling all cried out. I’m tired. Tired. Usually, I attend a service or ceremony to mark this day, but I am still under the bedcovers. I absolutely must work on the freelance project today. I’m thinking it’ll all happen in my pajamas.

So… There it is. That grief and loss thing, feeling bigger for a few hours yesterday than it has in a long, long time because–if I’m painfully honest–it is cranked up by the terror of losing my recently-diagnosed friend as well.
blairmacg: (Default)
2017-05-07 06:09 pm

(no subject)

Is this thing on?

If so, who is here?
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2017-03-04 10:04 pm

Logan: The Movie I Saw Might Have Been Different

So my son and I saw Logan a couple nights ago, and I mentioned on Twitter that I nearly walked out about ten minutes in. What I didn’t add was that I wanted to walk out and throw up. Neither the urge to walk nor the queasiness happened because the film did anything wrong for me. Instead, it was because the film depicted something so incredibly well, I took the gut punch before I even knew it was coming.

So this is not a review. It’s a reaction. Mild spoilers shall follow in this post, and might show up in comments should folks choose to chime in.

First, a review-ish thing unrelated to the gut punch: The fight scenes are incredible, and not because they’re all fancied up with slow-motion or odd lingering close-ups or flashy weapon manipulation that actual fighters won’t bring to an actual fight. No, my darlings, the fights in Logan are logical and smart. They are swift. They are economical. And those are the two traits a fighter who is experienced—and, frankly, plagued by a lifetime of scars and reduced stamina—will demonstrate in real life. Fighters who survive don’t become flashier as they age. They become efficient.

Now for the gut punch.

Many people have mentioned the aspect of abuse and trauma survivorship. I was hit with something else early in the film.

Caregiving.

Spoilers are below the cut for courtesy.

Read more... )
That’s the movie I saw.

What movie did you see in Logan?

#SFWApro
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2017-02-15 05:10 pm

Even the Deer Are Different

I could go on and on and on about the differences between Colorado living and Indiana living. The landscape, the diversity, the climate, the opportunities...

But I'm going to tell you about the deer.

Indiana has white-tailed deer. Colorado has mule deer. I could go on about differences in their mass and height, but the real difference is in attitude.

White-tailed deer are anxiety ridden things, truly.

If they're browsing at the side of the road and a car comes by, they panic and bolt. They often bolt in front of the car.

If they're browsing in a large field and see or hear something disturbing, they panic and bolt. They often bolt toward a road. Where cars are.

And if they're just moving from one field to another, they leap onto roads. When cars are passing.

If the deer is calmly crossing the road, and a car comes close, the deer will sometimes stand in place, or stutter-step back and forth before bounding off. But—and here's the crazy part—that deer will often trot out of the car's path... then change its mind and dash the opposite direction just in time to get hit by the car whose driver thought the deer was (reasonably) going to stay ten feet away.

I lived just outside the edge of town. I saw this a great deal.

Once upon a time, my late husband was driving on 465, the major highway that encircles Indianapolis. He didn't hit a deer. The deer hit him. Slammed right into the side of the car, buckling the rear door and shattering the window.

White-tailed deer are skittish and unpredictable.

Mule deer, on the other hand, don't give a fuck.

Mule deer browse on the side of the road. And when I say "side of the road," I mean they're right there. Two feet from the pavement. They really
don't care about the traffic. They might look up now and then, but it's passing curiosity and nothing more.

If they cross the road, they usually do it as a mosey, and they'll make eye contact as they do it. "Go ahead, hit me," the even stare says. "Just wait until you see what I can do to your car."

(I should mention mule deer look a damn sight more solid than white-tailed deer, too.)

And before they cross the road, I swear they look both ways.

I've come upon mule deer while driving, and they don't spook like white-tailed deer do. They just give me The Look, and keep on with their mosey.

My oddest mule deer moment came when I was driving home from Tai Chi, on a well-used road with development on one side and open hills on the other. I rolled up to a stop sign, and glanced both directions before moving forward.

And caught my breath.

Out the passenger window of my little Hyundai sedan, I could just see the chest and chin of a huge mule deer. I had to lean over to see his antlers. He was massive. And he was just standing there, close enough I could have touched his muzzle were I in the passenger seat (and dared to roll down the window), waiting for me to get the hell out of his way. Sure enough, as I rolled forward, he strolled across the road behind me as if he had all the time in the world. And he looked at my tail lights as if thinking, "Yeah, you better move along, bitch."

But the most unsettling mule deer moment came last fall, when I'd run away to a local campground for a couple nights. My little Tanner-pup spotted a collection of mule deer, ran to the end of her lead, and barked like crazy. The mule deer looked up from their browsing and advanced on usEven Tanner decided it was best to shut up and back down.

White-tailed deer were annoying and dangerous.

Mule deer... I don't want to mess with them at all.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2017-01-26 03:32 pm

The Novel Marches On

I know I’ve been rather blog-quiet lately. There are two reasons for that.

First, y’all know I love my job giving whiskey tours. And I’m not working that many hours, all told. But making the transition has been a bit rocky in terms of time management. Some things had to give, and longer online pieces were the pieces that fell to the wayside for awhile.

Second, I’ve been struggling a little with my “online presence.” Frankly, I don’t even like to couch it in that term, but I haven’t another that’s any better. Weighing where I speak about what, and in what terms, and how often or seldom

Y’see, my online presence has always been just… me. Not Me Writer or Me Not-Writer. Just me. At the same time, Online Me has almost always been separate from Real Life Me, mostly because the majority of people I interacted with in daily life had little if any interest in Online Me and related pursuits. And Online Me always felt free to be me, but now that people I know in real life are hooking into Online Me, I feel all weird and exposed.

It’s all mixed up and jumbled and judged, and all the boundaries are smudged, and I’m second-guessing every time I consider posting here (and LiveJournal) because I’m certain you’re not interested in that, and my goodness this used to be so natural and easy, and maybe I’m posting on the wrong day for people to actually have time to read it, and am I really going to use that photo again, and I think I’d be infinitely happier if Facebook went away forever.

*insert flailing arms*

I’m figuring it out, slowly but surely. The closer I get to feeling certain, the more I realize what I’ve posted in the past is exactly what I want to keep posting going forward. It’s my attitude, not my content, that needs to settle down and move forward.

So you can look forward to more writing posts, more fighting posts, more disconnected musings on grief and puppers and wellness and whatever, and when the weather shifts, there will be the return of posts about camping and gardening. (Yes, gardening. My current yard is a sliver given mostly to puppers, so we’ll be experimenting with hay bales and the like.)

In the meantime!

Flesh of Strife has been steadily growing, and as it grows, the plot for the last novel in the series, Ash of Life, becomes clearer. There is fun stuff in there, and hard stuff, and true stuff, and kind stuff, and hopeful stuff.

Another novel, completely unrelated to the Desert Rising series, has taken form. I have been ruthless against its demand to be written right now, though. Flesh and Ash must come first, because that’s what my darlings are reading.

And the cookbook! We’re almost there! Right after Superstars next week, I’ll be sending out a final round of recipes for testing. Other recipes have been adjusted according to the fabulous feedback people so graciously offered. Some of those adjustments were in ingredients, but most were in the instructions, and I’m so grateful folks put a meal on the line to discover my errors.

The Patreon novella is still moving forward, and is in desperate need of a new section or two in February.

And my Patreon is still there, and I am amazed and grateful every month for y’all’s support there. It keeps me going, truly.

So… Here we are. A confession, a meandering, and an update all in one.

And if there’s anything else you want to know about, please tell me because I’m obviously having a hard time figuring things out in isolation these days.

#SFWApro
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2017-01-03 02:48 pm
Entry tags:

Merry Camping Ahead...

See that beautiful thing? It’s my Christmas joy, given by my brother-in-law as part of our family Secret Santa exchange.* He joked that he bought me one so I’d stop borrowing his. I told him it was his own fault for suggesting it would be a great camping accessory.

Yes, it’s great for emergencies--it’ll jumpstart a car, forex--but it’s the camping applications that make me love it so.

The last time I took my BIL’s charger along, I tested how much battery power it took to keep my Kindle and phone fully charged over three days. By the end of the experiment, I’d recharged my used-until-dead Kindle three times, and my used-not-as-much phone twice. The charging unit’s battery level had merely nudged down to around 97%.

Coming experiments will include discovering how long it’ll run my laptop, and what affects the power drain. The first attempt got around six hours of active laptop and wireless use (in addition to the two-ish hours I get from the laptop battery).

My writerly camping trips are about to get WAY more productive. Or at least differently productive.

Y’see, the usual writerly camping trip tends to revolve around plotting and editing, with some handwritten first drafting. Truly, I love writing by hand, and part of me misses the days when I wrote first and second drafts with black extra-fine Uniball pens on college-ruled notebook paper in a three-ring binder. But... I’ve also grown accustomed to the greater speed a keyboard allows me when my thoughts start running ahead of my cursive.

This lovely unit will permit me to flip open the laptop at those moments without fear I’ll suddenly run out of power before finishing.

Of course, now I desperately want to hide in a wooded campground for three days.

Alas, January!

On the other hand, March isn’t that far away...



*Our family shifted from the gifts-for-everyone model to Secret Santa many years ago, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is move into the holidays without massive financial and shopping stress. We draw names at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, keep our draw secret, then exchange the gifts on Christmas Eve. Yes, the kids still get Santa presents, and special presents from parents.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-12-23 02:30 pm

My Dearest, Darling Patrons

Most of you have stuck with me for an entire year now, and I can't tell you how much your support and faith means to me.

I'm enough of an introvert that I don't experience writing and creating as particularly lonely endeavors, but they can certainly be fertile ground for bouts of doubt and anxiety.

Seeing your support, month after month, turns doubt into confidence and anxiety into determination.

We'll still get an Article of Violence this month, but I also wanted to do something extra for you.

Thus you have a story--not a holiday story, precisely, but one of and for the heart.

May your holidays be wonderful, and the coming year filled with hope.

Love,
Blair

About My Girl




#SFWApro
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-12-01 03:55 pm
Entry tags:

Cookbook Call!

We're getting closer...

Working on this little cookbook has been a blast. As I've said before, I don't know if anyone really wants it, but I really wanted to do it. This is my way of nurturing myself and y'all.  This isn't a huge cookbook--we're looking at about fifty recipes, and some random chitchat all told--but I hopeful it'll be helpful.

Now I'd love to include you in the process!

I'm on the hunt for recipe testers. You do not have to be a professional cook. You don't even need to be a good cook. I just need someone willing to follow the recipe, and give me honest feedback that includes if and how well the recipe instilled confidence in the cook, and if it produced the desired results. Testers are welcome—nay, begged to—offer any other comments, suggestions, and feedback.

Every recipe tester will be acknowledged in the cookbook (unless anonymity is preferred), and receive the completed cookbook in ebook format. There might be a few tester-comments that'll make their way into the book, toom with appropriate permission.

Below is the list of recipes I'm looking to test, and am looking to have feedback in by December 23. All you need to do is go down the list, choose what sounds good (or ask clarifying questions first), and let me know in the comments what you'd like to test in your own home. I'll email or direct-message the recipe to you within twenty-four hours.

A couple of general notes:

--A couple of the recipes are crockpot-only, but most include instructions for more than one cooking method.
--If you're looking for recipes that'll match certain dietary guidelines, let me know and I'll point out the ones that'll match.
--Most of the meat-containing recipes also include notes on being flexible with meat options.
--Some recipes are far less expensive or more expensive to test than others. If this is a concern but you still want to test, please drop me a private note and we'll make something work.
--If you've cooked one of my publicly-posted recipes before and have feedback—and it doesn't matter if that recipe is included below!—do feel free to pass it along.

Here are your current recipe choices!

Bacon BBQ Chicken
Balsamic Pork
Beef and Cabbage
Broth from the Carcass
Chicken Broccoli Cheese
Cilantro Lime Chicken
Coconut Curry Chicken
Ham and Asparagus Alfredo
Lentils and Rice
Lentil Soup
Peanut Chicken
Potato Nutmeg Soup
Roasted Turkey/Chicken
Sausage Dressing Bake
Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
Spinach Bacon Mac and Cheese
Tortilla Soup

Recipes coming soon:
Soup (Yes, all kinds of soup, in one recipe. Trust me.)
Beef Stew
Chicken Salad Three Ways
Pork Carnitas
Spiced Meatballs
Brussels Sprouts with Bleu Cheese Balsamic
Squash, Summer and Winter
Fried Apples
Sweet Corn Cake
Sloppy Joes

Anything sound interesting to y'all?
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-11-25 09:43 pm
Entry tags:

This Is How I Nurture

I began the month with great hope of making marvelous progress on the novella I'm serializing at Patreon as well as the third book of Desert Rising. That... became a struggle. Oh, I've made some progress, but not at all what I wanted.

Instead, I've made marvelous progress on the cookbook.

I have no idea if anyone, anywhere, will have any interest in this thing, but wow have I been motivated to work on it.

Y'see, I can't feed y'all from here, so putting together and sharing recipes is the next best thing. A nurturing thing. An attempt-to-give-comfort thing.

Someone asked me the cookbook's "theme."

That would be, "Stuff I Like To Cook and Eat That Doesn't Cost A Fortune Or Take Forever To Make." Yeah, there are a couple more complicated and/or expensive ones, but they're the great minority.

I mentioned on Twitter that I'll be looking for recipe testers pretty soon, and I'll make sure to announce it here in case there are interested folks. And if you've already tried one of the recipes I've posted here in the past and have comments, concerns, problems with it, and so forth, please let me know!

And now I continue, this time with Lentil Soup.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-11-22 12:25 pm
Entry tags:

Here's Your Caramel Sauce!

Later today, I'll be "practicing" caramel sauce with my nephews. It's an awesome, easy, and decadent thing to make for the holidays. I started doing it on Halloween when Dev was little because I could easy get him and his friends to eat apples before trick-or-treating. :-)

All you need are five ingredients—water, sugar, butter, cream, vanilla—and you'll want all them measured and at room temperature when you start the process. Caramel is pretty easy, but the cooking process moves quickly. The one way you can almost always ruin a batch is to interrupt the process once you start.

Also, don't use anything plastic to stir and whisk while cooking. It will melt into the caramel. Eww.

And do use a whisk. It's so much easier to get a smooth final sauce.

Okay! Ready?

Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream (I've used whole milk in a pinch, but the sauce will be thinner)
2 Tbsp butter cut into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla (optional)

Combine the water and sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves completely. (If you want to be picky, be careful not to let sugar granules cling to the sides of the pan. They can sometimes encourage your caramel to re-crystalize as it cools!)

Now: Once the sugar-water starts bubbling, don't stir anymore. Just swirl the pan now and then to make sure the heat is even. Adjust the heat as needed to keep a steady and, um, non-violent? boil. Then watch the liquid turn a lovely pale amber. It should be about he color of fresh honey, NOT as dark as you'd think for caramel.

It might take about ten minutes or so.

A little at a time, whisk in the room temperature cream. Please be careful pouring the cream into the hot sugar liquid. I don't want you burned by the splatter. Been there, done that, don't want to go there again.

Remove the pan from the heat immediately, and whisk in the butter.

Add vanilla, if you'd like.

If you want salted caramel, now is the time to add your kosher salt. Maybe half to a full teaspoon, depending on your preference.

If your sauce seems too thin, warm it—stirring constantly—over low heat. But keep in mind the sauce will thicken as it cools!

If your sauce seems too thick, stir in a little more cream, a tablespoon at a time.

That's it! Drizzle it over pie or ice cream or sliced apples or cake or popcorn or nuts or just your spoon...
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-11-13 12:17 pm
Entry tags:

Grounding In Real Life

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.


Grounding and energy generation—the basis of so many combat and meditative arts in real life, and referred to directly or indirectly in a multitude of fictional magic and fighting systems. In the latter, it’s often described as rooting, or as drawing from the earth, or in other non-specific and spiritual-sounding ways. Gripping the earth with our feet, sinking or connecting, and other aspects of energy use.

I’ve also seen some rather ridiculous demonstrations that can best be deemed Karate Magic or Sensei-Fu—the great and powerful master who uses a pinky finger and hand-wave-um to send faithful students tumbling and sprawling as a demonstration of great power drawn from the earth and channeled into superhuman chi. Here’s an example of what happens when self-delusion walks into reality.

Ahem.

I’m more of a practical gal, I suppose.

Yes, I could say grounding gives you a connection to the earth beneath your feet—and indeed modern research demonstrates an incredible energy exchange when one walks barefoot on soil—but that isn’t extensively useful in a sudden and unexpected fight.

Think about it: the notion of “grounding” as tapping into the earth’s energy means you cannot expect your powerful techniques to work if you’re on a boat, on a plane, in a high-rise, or having to defend yourself within the confines of a spaceship. Or, for that matter, on a yoga mat on the gym’s second floor. Grounding might make one feel connected with the earth or with the universe, but that’s the result of the act rather than the act itself. It’s a metaphor that has, by some instructors and fiction writers, been taken way too far.

Grounding is not a spiritual act dependent upon the Think Method.

Now, I’m not trash-talking fictional magic systems that depend upon inherent elemental power. Frankly, I love elemental magic. (I’ve this little series called Desert Rising, after all!) What I don’t much love is the pseudo martial arts training that presents earthly grounding as a reality-based component of non-magical fight training and skill. What I really dislike is seeing those fictional depictions show up in real-life training folks have paid good money for.

Example: One of my Viable Paradise instructors has extensive Aikido training, and the depth of his skill—and therefore the quality of his instruction—is evident in every line of his body. I recall studying him during one discussion session, when he was merely standing off to one side. I remember thinking to myself, “If I tried to punch him, I’d be the one falling over from the recoil.”

(Is that an odd thing to think? Probably. Unless you tend to think about this stuff all the time. Honestly, I didn’t want to hit him!)

But why did I think that? It wasn’t because he was stiff and stoic. It wasn’t because he played at puffing out his chest and acting tough. It was because he was so obviously balanced, stable, and comfortable. He was both stone and sapling—solid and rooted and flexible.

And when I caught a glimpse of him moving through a couple techniques, that sense of solidity in motion remained.

That’s grounding. For reals.

***

The most bland description, and therefore the most useful and educational place to start, is simple: grounding is the use of biomechanics to choose how and when your body moves.

Grounding comes down to choosing one’s structure—or, perhaps even more basic, one’s posture. If you’re wavering or falling over often, posture is often to blame. If as a martial arts student, you’re stumbling when you strike an opponent or a heavy bag, your posture is again most often to blame.*

Certainly I can tell a student to “sink.” To “connect with the ground.” To “find their stability.” If I’m not a very skilled teacher, I keep repeating those things until the student either finds the right body alignment through trial and error or, as is often the case with intermediate students, quits in frustration. (There is a reason, my darlings, why so many brown belt students drop out…)

So… fix the posture, and fix the technique, right?

Well… yes and no.

Grounding involves the coordination of muscle groups we don’t usually think about. You let your knees bend a little. You take the muscles of your pelvic floor and “lift” them toward your diaphragm. You straighten the outward curve of your lower spine. Bonus points can be earned for being able to tense and relax the upper inner thighs while keeping your knees aligned over your feet. (Just the inner thighs, mind. Tensing other parts of the thigh actually reduces your ability to move quickly.)

Now drop your shoulders (I add that part because the one thing the majority of adult students do when thinking about what the rest of their body is doing is tense and lift their shoulders) and align those shoulders over your hips. Adjust your chin so your eyes are level and your ears are aligned between your shoulders—not in front of them or behind them. Take a deep breath that expands deep in your belly without lifting your shoulders or pushing out your upper chest.

Go ahead and try it. I know you want to.

Those instructions are the bare bones, nothing more, and they are not the only words and actions that will produce results. They are simply the ones I’ve learned. I could toss in koshi and gamaku, chat a bit about the stability of the muscles connecting ribcage to pelvis, talk about the expansion of vertebrae spacing and the shape of the bottom of your feet… There are as many ways to verbally describe the process as there are applications of it.

On the other hand, were you standing in front of me, I could touch your body in four places to help you identify the muscles we’re talking about,** push your shoulders and hips a couple times, and have you grounded. At least in that moment.

Then I’d tell you to shake out your limbs, walk a circle around the mat, and try it again. We’d do this until you could identify the parts of your body that were tense and the parts that were relaxed, with both touch and words. Then I’d have you run kata or spar, and randomly ask you to ground yourself and explain the process. Yes, yes, I know fighting doesn’t involve words, but our intellectual processing does, and though words can get in the way of physical learning at times, deeper understanding and lasting learning usually includes them. The ability to define something physically and verbally ensures your “thinking” brain will eventually get out of the way so your body can do what it must.

Eventually, you’d be able to settle your body into a grounded posture without running a mental checklist. And I’ll tell you now—that feels really, really good.

So… that’s it, right? Grounding in a nutshell!

Nope.

Grounding when you’re standing still is pretty simple, truly. The real learning comes into play when grounding must be done while punching, kicking, blocking, evading… When one must be in motion. When grounding isn’t about connecting with what’s beneath your feet, but about choosing your body’s structure as it moves.

It sounds like a contradiction at first, the grounding while moving thing. But consider what I said above—that grounding isn’t dependent on the physical ground—and it’ll begin to make sense.

If I bump your shoulder, you’ll shift to absorb the force. Do you shift at the waist or the shoulders? The hips? The knees or ankles? If your feet move, where do they go? What happens to your chin? What do your arms do? If your body rotates, how much and in what direction?

Those answers are all part of grounding.

***

Musicians ground themselves with posture proper to their instrument in order to play their best. Backpackers adjust their loads based upon biomechanics in order to reduce strain and injury. Artists know the alignment of their bodies affects the translation of vision into intention. Workers who lift heavy loads learn the importance of using certain muscles more than others. Increasingly, athletics is using science to coach promising athletes by deciphering micro-movements, joint rotation, and ligament/tendon coordination. And there is an entire field of workplace ergonomics dedicated to determining the proper physical alignment for everything from answering the phone to deboning chickens on an assembly line.

There is nothing magical and mystical about fighters doing the same thing.

Accepting—indeed, being excited by the prospect—that grounding is, ahem, grounded in science that can be studied and understood by any average person doesn’t in any way detract from the skill required to achieve it and the awesome results of practicing it. Understanding enhances those things.

Now consider that knowledge in light of writing about fighters and their training.

How long will it take a new fighter to understand and implement grounding if their teacher tells them to feel the earth and sink, and waits for the fighter to figure it out?

How long will it take a new fighter to understand and implement grounding if their teacher demands an exact posture because the needs of war won’t wait upon a student’s soul-searching?

The methods of training depend upon the urgency of the need. Soldiers who have the luxury of three, four, or five years of training without constant threat of deployment will be taught differently than those who have a couple weeks at most before losses on the front line require them to step into hand-to-hand combat in defense of their territory. Ye gads, I’d certainly hope they’d be trained differently!

The same goes for the teaching of grounding. When it’s a more spiritual and internal quest—a personal search for a connection with self and the greater world—we can afford to take our time with ambiguous and interpretive language. When it’s intended to support a fighter’s ability to fight—to survive—practicality rules.

And in real life, there are scant few reasons other than ego or inexperience to withhold specific information from students.

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting. But Patrons have access to exclusive content and other benefits as well. So if you find it valuable and helpful, thank the patrons, and consider becoming one yourself!

#SFWApro
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-10-31 11:12 am

New Connections and the NanNo Thing

I was not as enthusiastic about MileHiCon this year for a couple admittedly ego-centric reasons, and because I was tired and had had such a wonderful and unique Sirens experience. But I'd made commitments, and so I went.

Thank. Goodness.

At the SFWA meeting, I in-person connected with Nathan Lowell--a wonderful indie writer I'd communicated with online, and waved to once at another local con. We chatted until needing to run off to respective panels, then met up again for whiskey in the afternoon. Eventually we were joined by three other writers--indie writers!--from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and I much enjoyed the three-ish hours we all spent together sharing experiences and encouraging more connections. There were dog stories, too, which makes everything more wonderful.

So now I'm looking at connecting with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, joining their indie publishing group, and picking brains about audio books and the like. And I'm looking at enjoying it.

(That last bit is important, you see, because I've determined life is too short to deal much and long with assholes. Yes, this limits my opportunities. Yes, I'm fine with that.)

Next year, I won't be at MileHiCon, though. It's the same weekend as Sirens. So I did spend some time convincing the folks I met they'd like to check out Sirens. :-)

As for NaNo... I've mentioned elsewhere I'm not doing the "real" NaNoWriMo. Truly, signing up on yet another website, proving my wordcount, and so on does not appeal to me. Besides, I'm starting with a pile of already-written material that will be shuffled in with newly written material, and methinks that's not in the NaNo rules. But for the first time ever, the month of November is one during which I can give writing more time and focus because I do not have children at home, holidays with family do not require extensive travel, and my son's early December birthday doesn't require much planning. Thus I'm doing the nose-grindstone thing for thirty days.

So this is what the next Desert Rising book looks like this morning:

IMG_20161031_100742_615

Most of that will end up trashed or set aside for another novel, since it was first written years ago. Today's task is to shuffle through those piles and pull out all the pieces I might want to use going forward, to integrate those pieces with the existing multiple-viewpoint outline, and translate those pieces onto the Magic Index Cards that will permit me to write the novel.

In other news, I'll be making three frittatas and homemade caramel for apple-dipping so we can have a Halloween family dinner + trick-or-treat this evening.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-10-27 01:59 pm

Sirens Is Now My Home

If you’ve read most any other person’s experience attending Sirens, you’ve an inkling of what I’m going to say.

Yes, it is an amazing few days—surrounded by women and men (why, YES, men do attend Sirens, and enjoy it immensely) who celebrate who they are, and what and who they love. The conversations are far-ranging and tightly-focused, curious and passionate, overlapping and attentive. The interactions are both open and intimate. There is space and there is affection. Questions and affirmations. Challenges and comforts. Embracing old friends and picking up where we left off last year, and embracing new friends with the anticipation of connections yet to be formed.

Three cool things in particular, but in no particular order:

First: Conversations about grief and grieving. Not many opportunities come about in daily life for those. People close to me are much more interested in making sure I’m “all right,” which to them means I’m not expressing loss and longing. That makes it easier for me to talk about grief with people I don’t see all the time; they tend to be more curious than concerned, and curiosity is what opens doors in search of answers. Those chats are emotional gold for me—the chance to share in the hope it’ll help someone else, yes, but also the opportunity to better understand myself and the process.

Second: The Sirens Fight Club. Hooking up with women who understand the subtle and overt challenges of choosing to train—to openly enjoy—combat arts is exhilarating. Truly, I wanted another entire weekend to spend with these women, and I knew so within the first few minutes of our meeting. We’re going to plot out a proposal or two for next year. Truly, between us, we could offer a multi-day workshop!

Hmm…

Third: Laurie Marks. I’ve said before I am grateful for, and humbled by, the female fantasy writers who “raised” me in this crazy world of storytelling. Laurie was the first published writer I’d ever met, the first to teach me about critique groups, the first to give me feedback on my very first attempted novel. I was nineteen and stupid and arrogant and ambitious, and when she told me I used too many gerunds, I had to go home and look up the word (in an actual printed dictionary, no less!) because I hadn’t a clue. We lost touch a few years later, and the more years that passed, the more awkward it felt to pop back into her life with a “Hey, remember me?”

Twenty-five years passed that way.

Nervousness remained as Sirens came closer, until I passed Laurie in the hall on the second day and re-introduced myself.

And was given a full smile and a tight hug and an invitation to lunch with her and Deb. Catching up was wonderful and too brief, but there isn’t a shred of awkwardness or nervousness on my part remaining. There will not be a horrible time-gap again!

All of that was Sirens for me.

The conference will be in Colorado again next year, but this time up in Vail at a marvelous luxury resort that—and this is the incredible part—will cost little more than the rooms down in Denver.

You want to do this, my darlings. You want to do this so, so badly.

You want to come to Vail in October, when it might be clear and merely crisp at sundown only to give way to snow-covered mountainsides by sunrise. When we will celebrate the women of fantasy who not only hold power in their own right, but wield it as well. Women of strength. Women of magic.

Women we all know.

Women like you.

#SFWApro
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-10-19 04:22 pm

Sirens! Tomorrow!

Sirens begins tomorrow!

(Well, Sirens Studio is actually already in progress, but I couldn’t swing my schedule into alignment until the conference itself.)

But I am excited! I pick up a friend at the airport tomorrow morning, then head to the hotel to meet up with existing friends and meet some new ones. A couple folks have volunteered to help out with “The Movement You Don’t See" (it’s a low-low-impact workshop, but I did want to demo a couple things that some might find uncomfortable), so I’ll get to meet up with them, too.

My son has been such a good sport, helping me decide what to leave in and take out of the presentation. My inclination is to teach a three-hour class, so keeping it all within an hour is a bit of a challenge.

So if you’re attending Sirens, find me and say hello! If you’re in the Denver area and not attending, drop me a line if you’d like to BarCon for awhile anyway!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-09-28 12:41 pm
Entry tags:

Wolf Kisses

I wept.

My son and I spent an afternoon at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center located near Divide, Colorado. Their work and their goals are both simple and incredible and difficult: restore native wolves to their necessary role as a keystone species in the wild.

If you’d like a primer on why this is important, check out the remarkable changes–mostly unexpected benefits–that resulted from re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone.

Part of our visit included a tour of the facility to “meet” the members of their pack. Mexican grey wolves, grey wolves, coyotes, red and swift fox… We had the opportunity to greet them all. While some creatures were of course more shy than others, it was obvious from the animals’ confident posture and, frankly, their willingness to walk away that they felt neither fearful of their human companions nor needful or dominating them.

Then Dev and I had the opportunity to meet some wolves up close and personal. We entered a two-acre enclosure with a pair of guides, took a seat among the trees, and waited to see if the wolves were interested in us.

Two of the three were. The third, I swear, snorted and rolled her eyes before trotting off to ignore us from a distant. She’s not all that interested in humans.

But her packmates, Kekoa and Keyni, are.

Wolves are big–not silly “big bad wolf” big, but big enough to make their wishes and presence known. They most certainly are not dogs in wild clothing; they are distinctly different in temperament and behavior. Sure, the wolf was happy to have a backscratch… but don’t try to ruffle the ears or snuggle closely. And when a domesticated pupper might come when called even if she doesn’t want to, a wolf is so extremely not interested in such human-centric niceties.

Kekoa gave me a few wolf kisses, but it was Keyni who nudged him aside to straddle my lap and nuzzle closer any moment I paused in my petting and scratching.  Kekoa did indeed love my son, and did not want to wander far from him.  And Keyni was more than happy to pose for final pictures once he scented the hunk of raw beef in my hand.

(Note: The pics can be seen here.  I've spent now 45 minutes attempting to upload pictures and links to LJ, and it's really not interested in them. I've decided my new rule is 15 minutes spent battling for basics before moving on.)

In the middle of all of it, we humans made an attempt at howling. The wolves obliged us with a response, with the coyotes joining in, and the calls and answers went on for minutes, echoing through the trees, and I stood there and wept knowing that I, for just a few moments, was part of it.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-09-26 04:41 pm

A New Martial Arts Home

Last week ended up being incredibly and unexpectedly busy–and for a spectacular reason.

I found a new place to train.

This is not a small thing.

I moved to Colorado a year ago, mind. Though I didn’t spend every moment of the last twelve months seeking out a new dojo-home, I invested a great deal of energy looking up schools and instructors online, asking around, and spending more than a few hours sitting or standing in parking lots watching classes through storefront windows.

That watching-classes part quickly became depressing. I wasn’t looking at how marvelous the students were. I was watching how instructors managed their class and interacted with students… and never once came away thinking, “I’m impressed!” In fact, I never walked away thinking, “Wow, good job.” I wasn’t looking for a school that taught the exact art I’ve learned for the last fifteen-ish years–that’s impossible for many reasons--but was looking for quality instruction and school community.

Yeah, I’m picky. And I don’t apologize for it. But it did leave me with nothing but exhausted options by summer’s start. Then summer was too crazy-busy to expend energy on the search. Then I hit September, was tipping into depression at the prospect of letting yet more months pass without a martial arts home.

So I expanded my search and found a listing for a small school a few more miles away. Rather, I re-found it. It’s a school I’d set aside very early in my search because I thought it was a little too far away. But now that I know non-highway routes and backroads, it’s fairly easy to get to.

I sent off a little note eight days ago asking for a get-to-know you appointment. Last Monday, I received an answer. Tuesday morning, I arrived to meet the husband and wife team running the school. I started classes that evening, and have since spent about ten hours training.

And I feel MARVELOUS.

After observing my kata, the head of the school said I had plenty of the yang and he’d like to teach me the yin. He started me on a couple forms–White Crane and Tai Chi–and shared the applications of the movements so I’d start with an understanding of the form rather than its mere memorization.

Husband and wife invited to come in to train during any class I wanted. I love what I learned, I loved how he taught, and during the evening classes, I absolutely loved the camaraderie and collaborative work between all students.

And when he said he’d been waiting for someone who wanted to also teach, I started getting all teary-eyed.

And the topper: I spent Saturday morning observing their kids’ classes, and got all teary-eyed again. They teach young people the way I like to teach young people. They give their young students the respect, attention, and open-heartedness I was looking for.

I am in the right place, and I’m so very glad I chose to be picky.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-09-15 01:45 pm
Entry tags:

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot -- Camping Edition

Hooray, camping again at Lake Pueblo!  I've been down here four times now--twice camping, twice hiking--and absolutely love the openness, the dryness, and the off-season quiet.

The first time I camped at Lake Pueblo, at a lovely site overlooking the lake, ended early because the winds came up so strong.  I was afraid the tent was going to snap, so packed it in.  Turns out that was a good thing, since an unexpected blizzard was roaring in.

This time?  Stray shower, maybe a thunderstorm, said the forecast.  Winds gusting to 20mph, said the forecast.  That's nothing, my darlings.  I've tent-camped through Indiana thunderstorms strong enough to spawn tornadoes within a couple miles of my campsite.  I've tent-camped in inch-an-hour rainfall.  I've tent-camped in a desert windstorrm.  So 20mph winds with maybe a little rain?  I was not concerned.

So after a fantastic day that involved a lovely hike, proofreading 250 pages, and sausages roasted over an open fire for the pupper and I, I sat outside while the last of the fire burned down.  The moonlight from the east was bright enough to wash most of the stars from the sky.  Off to the west, I saw a couple lightening flashes in the distance.  I took the moments to stash this-n-that in the tent or the Jeep (I don't much like last-minute dashing when other options are available), stirred out the coals so they'd burn down faster, and got myself and Gambit settled in the tent.

It wasn't fifteen minutes later that the first wind gust slammed the tent hard enough to knock a tent pole against my head.  No warning, no preliminary breezes, nothing.  Zero to whatever-speed in a single gust.  I tried everything I knew to do, inside the tent and out, but lost the battle.  For the first time in my camping experience, the wind was strong enough to yank one of the stakes out of the ground.  And when one stake goes, the strain on all the others increases.  In a minute, half the tent was levitating and the other half was considering the same.

Alas, this happened when Gambit and I were still inside the tent and--in the fashion of one with an overactive imagination--I envisioned my dog and I entangled in the tent, blown over the steep hillside, landing in the lake, and dragged down by the weight of the tent and everything in it.  So I wrestled the tent flap open far enough to shove Gambit outside, thinking even if he ran off, he'd be safer anywhere but inside the smooshed tent, then got myself out too.

I remember finding the car keys and jamming them in my mouth.  I remember yanking the poles out of the tent and folding them just enough to fit on the back seat.  I remember dragging the tent halfway under the Jeep so I could lie on the ground (Did I mention the nigh-constant lightening, and the fact I was standing on a high point beside the lake?) and find by feel the valve that would deflate my mattress.  Yeah, that might sound like a stupid thing to consider, but I couldn't wrestle the mattress out of the tangled tent, and the tent and all its contents was going to take off if I let go.  I remember stuffing the tent--along with the sleeping bag, mattress, clothes, and assorted stuff--into the back of the Jeep.

At some point, I had opened a door so Gambit could jump in the Jeep.  I don't remember doing so, but the poor pup was shaking on the front seat when I finally got in the car.

I guess I could have stuck around for awhile to see if the wind died down enough to risk setting the tent back up.  I opted to head home instead.  I didn't know if a pole had snapped (It hadn't. Near I can tell, one end of the pole yanked free of the pin.), or if the weather would get better or worse (I'd lost all connection on my phone), or what the state of everything inside the tent was, seeing as it was now all wadded up in the Jeep.

I drove home.  Got there around midnight.  It took over two hours this morn to sort out and untangle the mess I hauled out of the Jeep, but nothing is terrible or unfixable.  It was just... messy.

I'm thinking that the next time I camp at Pueblo, I'll choose one of the sites set back from the lake views, where junipers and gulches and some such will break the wind before it kills me.  I'm thinking I can damn well drag a chair to one of those views during the day, and sleep in peace at night.  I'm thinking I need to remember more about my desert camping youth than my Midwest camping middle years!


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-09-09 11:20 am

Sirens in Six

In just about six weeks, Sirens will begin in Denver. This year's theme is Lovers... so of course I proposed a fight-related workshop.

(Hey, I wasn't the only one! Amy Boggs is presenting "Love is a Battlefield: Weapons and Methods for When Love Goes Wrong.")

The workshop I'll be presenting is "The Movement You Don't See." We'll be discussing and using pieces of kata to explore and understand things like power generation, grounding, and the like. It won't be about "pretty" kata, but its practical applications. And though movement will be a part of it, intensity will be low. I want participants to understand and be cognitive of the internal experience of fighting stances, strikes, and the like. Once we add the adrenaline of intensity, those thoughts are processed differently. If there's time, I'd love to go over some of the "hidden" pieces of kata and its grappling implications.

Here's an added cool thing: Anyone can sponsor a Sirens workshop or panel for only $35. Alas, it's too late for sponsors to be listed in the program, but if you sponsor "The Movement You Don't See," I'll make a grand sign indicating your sponsorship--your name, or "in memory of," or, "in the name of," or "prefers anonymity." Heck, I'll make the sign no matter who you sponsor!

So if you've the inclination, head over to the Sirens page on sponsorships and support, and check out the listing of Accepted Programming. $35 is all it takes!


468 x 60 Banner
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-09-06 04:53 pm

The Incredible Judith Tarr

It is my honor—and I mean that truly—to host author Judith Tarr today.

I first read Tarr’s work in the 1990’s, and continue to be swept up in her stories the moment I read the first page. Her novels encompass the fantastical and historical traditions fantasy readers yearn for, and entwines them with characters who are vibrant, real, flawed, and ever striving. Among my favorites of her works are the White Mare’s Daughter and Arrows of the Sun. Both open trilogies filled with marvelous things. The Washington Post said of her work, “Judith Tarr is as confident in describing the battlefields of war as she is in exploring the conflicts of love,” and I must say I agree completely!

So when it looked possible to include Tarr’s newest novel in the Weird Western bundle—and as a debut!—I was biting my fingernails until she said yes. This woman of sharp observation, honed craft, and polished wit tempered with wide life experience has offered you, my darlings, an opportunity to read Dragons in the Earth through StoryBundle before it’s available to anyone else.

And on top of all that, she agreed to answer a few questions for me!

Dragons in the Earth takes place in Tucson and surrounding areas. I’ve a love for the desert myself, and your respect for the land of your adopted home comes through in your work so strongly. You mentioned elsewhere your reasons for settling in the desert. What has surprised you about desert living? Is that a warning or an enticement?

As I’ve said elsewhere, I moved here for my health. What I didn’t expect was for it to be as livable as it is. “It’s a Dry Heat” is true. I can’t handle humid heat at all, but here, while it’s challenging (and I have to be out in a lot, with the horses), it’s amazingly tolerable. It does not hurt, either, that we build for it, design for it, and plan for it. We make the most of what cool we can find or manufacture.

The other surprising thing, from the being outside all the time standpoint, is that while the desert is notoriously full of snakes, scorpions, and attack cacti, swarms of biting insects are remarkably rare. I can be outside at night without getting eaten alive, and horseback riding in warm weather doesn’t require six layers of Kevlar and a quart of fly spray per horse. We do get barn flies around the summer rains, and mosquitoes if there’s standing water, but it’s nothing like what I dealt with every spring and summer in New England.

I moved from Indiana to the foothills of eastern Colorado, so I completely understand the joy of (mostly) insect-free outdoor enjoyment!

Now, I’m a dog person. A dog person who adopts rescue pups and helps others understand their adopted dogs who have “a past.” What I’ve loved about reading your accounts of working with horses, on your blog and through Patreon, is comparing your explanations of equine communication to canine communication. Can you share a little bit about communicating with horses—the nonverbal exchanges, the predator-prey alignments, the differences between mares and stallions—and the depth you chose to include in your novel.

Now this could be a book.

And it is! Right here, folks can find Writing Horses—your fantastic guide to including horses in a novel without triggering horse-knowledgeable folks to throw said novel against the wall. Or across the stall.

Or a library!

As briefly as I can put it, horses communicate through movement, through body language and through what can be best be described as manipulating energy. They’re extremely subtle, and extremely complex in their interactions. Humans are at a severe disadvantage here; we’re focused in our heads, we’re loud, we’re clumsy, we lack nuance. Horses are extremely patient with us, but it’s a rare horse who doesn’t eventually just give up and stop trying if it’s constantly exposed to oblivious human body-screamers. That’s the checked-out barn potato but also the crazy spookmonster who freaks out about everything.

If a human tries to communicate with a horse on the horse’s own level, even if the effort is at best a clumsy approximation of what a horse would do, the horse tries very very hard to accommodate. That’s especially true of sensitive horses, and horses raised with the expectation that the humans will try to pay attention.

Then things happen. Like you’re longeing your horse on a 20-foot line, and not saying a word. “Riding” him from that far away. Moving him, changing his gaits, with tiny shifts of your own weight and attitude. Or you’re standing with your horse and you’re breathing with her and she started off anxious about something outside, but now she’s breathing slow and deep along with you, and the anxiety is gone. And stays gone as long as you keep that focus.

Magic.

Mares and stallions? Ah, the myths. Most basically, stallions aren’t the wild hormonal maniacs they’re made out to be. They’re strongly controlled by their instincts, yes, but it’s the mares who control them. Which means human women get along great with stallions. Better than men. A man can be a rival, but a woman is the alpha mare, and he’s wired to defer to her.

Just recently I was going to ride my stallion, but one of my mares wanted the session. As I led him past her, he went nutty. She was driving him off his tiny head with her targeted mareness. I seriously could not get him to focus–and he’s well trained, very smart and wise, and bonded to me. She manipulated him right out of the session. So she got the ride, and he calmed down the minute he was back in his stall with his pile of hay.

And these aren’t even ancient Powers hiding on a ranch outside of Tucson.

Well. Maybe that’s not actually true.

Dragons in the Earth puts together a bunch of elements we often associate with isolation and solitude—a desert setting, caretaking, spiritual and magical undercurrents. What choices and opportunities do you find this provides your characters and their developments?

It lets the characters be very much a part of the landscape and the climate and the overall spirit of the place. At the same time, since that isolation happens just a few miles outside of a city of half a million humans, on land that’s been occupied continually for millennia, there’s the option of entering the urban energy sink and using that to power certain aspects of the magic. Which I will be contemplating for the sequels, because Tucson Magic is a real thing, and it’s urban as well as desert and wilderness.

That’s the thing about the city, in fact. Twenty minutes outside of a heavily populated area is desert or mountain or forest. There’s real wilderness out there. Mountain lions and bears. Bighorn sheep. Saguaro forests. Then you turn around and drive down and you’re in the mall or the University or the barrio.

And even there, you’ll find tiny enclaves: houses with a pipe pen and a couple of horses in back, a garden that’s been there since the Spanish Colonial days, an old sacred hill that looks down on the inner city. There are thousand-year-old pit houses in the middle of the city, or at highway interchanges. And cutting-edge aerospace and biotech, and the airplane graveyard out by the air base.

The stories write themselves.

Would you share your most memorable desert experience?  Your most memorable equine connection?  Either or both?

Oh gosh. There are so many. The mare manipulating the stallion with her hormones–that was a couple of weeks ago. She does things like that all the time. So do the rest of the horses.

For pure desert experience, one of my favorites was a couple of years ago. A writer friend was in town researching a book, and we went down to the Presidio and poked around the remnants of colonial Tucson. From there we headed to Saguaro National Park West, and back in time: we climbed Signal Hill to see the petroglyphs. It was the summer Solstice, 109 degrees F, and we were up on the edge of the sky, where the old ones left messages for the gods and each other. That was a very Tucson day.

What’s coming up next for you, and how can folks who love Dragons in the Earth be informed?

I’m working on a sequel to my space opera, Forgotten Suns, and also on the next Tucson Magic/Horses of the Moon story. I talk about these things intermittently on facebook (with much horse and farm detail), and more often on twitter, where I’m @dancinghorse. Twitter is a good place to find me.

I also have a Patreon, where I post bits of horse and farm news and snippets of fiction. That’s here: https://www.patreon.com/dancinghorse

As a Patreon supporter myself, I can highly recommend it!

Thank you so very much for your time, Judy!

Judith Tarr’s current new release, Dragons in the Earth, is available exclusively through  StoryBundle until September 8!



If you’re ready for more, check out Dancing Horse Farms for information on Tarr’s writer mentoring, and her Horse Camp for Writers.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
2016-09-01 02:10 pm
Entry tags:

The Drunkard at Patreon

For years, the Oster merchant Neb has been nagging at me to finish his story. For years, I've been trying to do so. But now--thanks to the whisper of another character who said simply, "It's me, ma'am. Don't worry about them."--the story is rumbling along apace. A truly, not a moment too soon. I needed a break from the heaviness that can be SheyKhala.

The Drunkard is set in the same lands as my novels, and readers will recognize reference to the land of Osterloh as the enemy not yet fully seen in the current storylines. We have threats and fights and battles and blood-hungry beings... but your narrator Neb is a sharp-tongued man with a knack for odd phrasings and secrets that are both softer and harder then he's really comfortable talking about. And no matter what you might hear, he'll have you know he is held in the highest esteem by those merchants who share his penchant for almost-licit dealings, and can count on any of them to nudge the border guards at the proper moment and with the appropriate coin (supplied, of course, by Neb himself).

The dear folks currently supporting me on Patreon will have exclusive, patron-only access to the novella as it unfolds. The first part is up at Patreon now. For a dollar a month, you can join up! I'll also be revamping my Patreon page and offerings in the coming month, so if you've some patron-input you'd like to share, please do!

So here's a taste of The Drunkard.

Um... wait, I didn't mean it quite that way...

Ahem.

The Drunkard

Here’s how those storytelling dimwits begin the tale:


He rode into town at sunset, just as prophecy had foretold. The folk feared to meet his cold stare as he reckoned the worth of their lives against the risking of his own, for he alone could deliver them from the ancient evil that had descended upon Entibar.


Pah.


Blah, blah, PAH.


First of all, there was no prophecy. Just some babble from old Plegar, who forgot more often than not to pull up his trousers before tottering into the hostel for breakfast. There was no impressive arrival, either. Near as I could figure, the drunkard staggered out of some tavern in Jendayi, passed out amongst sacks of goatswool in the back of my wagon, went overlooked at the border crossing from Calligar to Osterloh, and slept all the way to Entibar. That’s where I found him—just as I’d pulled the wagon alongside my humble mudbrick home—when I tossed a half-empty jug of cheap Calligari wine over the back of the wagon bench.


He yipped like a puppy over that little tap on the head.


"Who in all hells are you?" I demanded when he lurched to his knees. He answered by puking over the wagon's side. By the look of his shirt and open longvest, he'd given the same answer numerous times before since his last visit to the laundry.


I drew the knife I kept secreted under the wagon bench, then climbed down the wheel. The knife wasn't much, but I could stick him if I had to. Or run, despite my stiff back, and yell loud enough to rouse a warrior before the drunkard caught up. I lived outside town, but there was a watchpost over the hill. Someone would hear me if I made an effort.


The man wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. I assumed there were eyes behind the ropes of dark hair slung over his face.

"Gimme a drink," he slurred, his voice raw from retching. "Gimme a drink, old man."


I'm older, not old, so I kicked a cloud of dust at him—an insult that said I'd rather bury him than look at him. "Your last drink is in the dirt, dunghead. Scrape it up and take it with you."


He pushed his hair back to reveal bloodshot eyes amidst circles of bruises. Someone had given him the what-for with both fists. Probably someone familiar with his fine deportment and sweet discourse.


"You're not... Where am I?"


"In my wagon, dunghead."


"But I'm supposed to be..." He stared at his shaking hands. Without another word for me, he snatched up my wine jug like a dying man who'd found the elixir of immortality. I gaped as he gulped. I'd never seen a man so frantic for wine.


"More," he croaked when he'd drained the last.


"This isn't a hostel," I snapped back. "And I'm no hoskeep looking to please a customer."


"You don't want to see me sober, old man."


"I don't want to see you at all."


The drunkard swayed from the wagon's edge far enough to reveal what I'd not noticed before. A very long dagger, like those worn by Calligari warriors for the sort of up-close fighting Osters like me had nightmares about. There was peace between Calligar and Osterloh now, but it was still new and not universally favored.


And I'd thought to poke him with my knife, which now seemed as menacing as straw. Limp straw. My late wife always told me my temper would escort me to my grave.


He jerked his longvest over the dagger as if I'd forget it if I couldn't see it. "Don't run," he said. "Just gimme the drink, I'll be gone."

"I'll get to the watchpost and bring back warriors before you can blink. Sober warriors."


"Don't. Run."


I ran, forgetting to yell. Behind me I heard the clatter of my wagon's gate, then a solid thud. I rounded my home's corner and fell against the wall, sucking air through clenched teeth. My back was in worse shape than I thought.


All I heard was the rustling of tamarisk trees. Unless the Calligari was traipsing tippy-toe over the gritty earth, he wasn't pursuing me. I tightened my hold on the knife and peeked around the corner.


That drunken Calligari was sprawled face down in the dirt. The wagon gate hung open above him. I'd been meaning to fix the latch for a month, and decided the gods loved me enough to have made me procrastinate. If they loved me more, the Calligari had broken his neck. I squinted, counted to twenty, and never once saw him twitch.


I whispered, "Deliver me from malice and dishonor," then kissed my knife's blade as I'd been taught decades ago, during the few months I'd trained as a warrior. A fighter's life hadn't agreed with me then, and my present aversion remained quite hale.


Once I convinced my back it wouldn't hurt any worse if I moved than it did standing still, I faced my wagon. Goatswool wasn't a tempting prize for thieves, but silver was stashed amongst the wool, and those coins were necessary to keep me in the apothecary's good graces. My back wasn't getting better, and I suspected my knees would soon vie for attention. Without a medicinal or two, my trading days were finished, as well as my ability to meet other obligations.


So I determined to summon the watch after my silver was stashed elsewhere. No sense in encouraging questions I didn't wish to answer. I hadn't spent fourteen years guarding my nearly-licit trade dealings to have them spoiled by a drunkard.


Up close, he looked near enough to dead to be of no concern. Knife set on the wagon bench, I crept past him and hauled my aching self up the wheel. I'd be lucky if my back didn't cinch up in mid-reach. Fortunately, I never had to endure such torment. Unfortunately, deliverance came on the edge of the dagger that suddenly appeared between my arm and ribs.


"No time left," the Calligari said, his accent hardening. "Do you have another jug?"


A dozen answers of good wit came to mind, but none were so sharp as that dagger, so I merely sighed. "Two, to be precise. Beer."


He withdrew the dagger without so much as snagging my sleeve. "Fetch it."


"My donkeys—"


"Won't die out here. Keep wasting time, and we will."


Oh, lovely. I'd trundled home a drunkard bent on killing himself and present company if I couldn't keep him soused. I eased down from the wheel and faced my captor. He stank of sweat, mildew, and his recent digestive troubles. No squint-lines framed his blackened eyes, which bleakened my outlook for the future. Calligari warriors were half-crazy by nature, and this one had the aid of fermentation and youth to bolster his madness. I thought one last time of racing for the watchpost, my aching back be damned. But he kept his dagger ready, and running with a blade skewering my thigh would likely prove beyond my abilities.


"I shouldn't be here," he muttered.


"On that we agree."


He flinched, then bared his teeth as if angry I'd had the audacity to overhear him. "I can't fight the demons today."


I snorted, and hobbled toward my home. "No doubt your 'demons' are more terrible than anyone else's troubles."


"Pray gods you never find out."


I found myself abruptly and utterly lacking in curiosity, and opted against begging divine intervention. Since the gods had proved fickle with their favor, I'd be more particular with my prayers.



There's more to Part One--not to mention the many upcoming parts!--so if you're interested in going forward, please check out Patreon for more information.!