blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
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.


About My Girl

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

In books, film, and general media, some aspects of country living are presented as “true” when those aspects are really “true when viewed through the experience of city dwellers.”  This does make me sigh, particularly when plot points turn on those aspects.

I was born and raised in Southern California, but lived in a more rural community during high school.  Then, after many more years of city living in two different states, I moved to rural Indiana.  The nearest streetlights of town (population 1,000) were over five miles away.  The nearest true city (population around 10,000) was ten miles away.  I lived in a very small house that was nearing 100 years old, but had been wired for electricity only two years before I moved in, on a riverside farm of about 130 acres that I shared with the landowners.  My closest neighbors were Amish.

I was far enough from town that now, living three miles from the city outskirts, I hardly consider myself living in the country.

Moving from city to country prompts folks to choose one of two paths–adapt to the experience, or adapt the experience itself.  The first step of the latter involves the instillation of outdoor lighting systems to banish the night.

I can’t tell you often I hear country nights, or nights before artificial lighting, described as pitch black.  As someone who used to walk around on 130 acres at night, I can assure you night walks are not akin to a blindfolded stroll.  Nights are not terrifyingly dark by default.  Darkness depends, of course, on available moonlight, but also atmospheric conditions and vegetation.  On a clear night, less than a half-moon provided light enough for comfort.  A full moon’s brightness made hikes up and down the ravines safely possible.

But the moment you look at anything brighter than the moonlight–in fact, in you look directly at a bright moon–everything else will look pitch black.  The rods in your eyes use certain pigments to see in low light, and those pigments break down in bright light to prevent the light from overloading sight.  It can take over half an hour for those pigments to build back up.  So if you’re turning a flashlight on and off, looking at a campfire, going in and out of the house, or–as in the case of reporters–spending most of the time staring into good lighting–the night will indeed look pitch black all the time.

Patience reveals another aspect.

Nighttime sound in the country can also be described very poorly by those who live with constant background sounds.  Such sounds become so pervasive, they cease to be noticed.  Air circulation fans and traffic are two common sources.  That noise covers smaller sounds of footsteps, conversations, breezes through leaves, and the passage of small animals.  You won’t hear the murmuring of a casual conversation taking place on a porch a quarter mile away.

In the country, sources of ambient noise might be moving water and/or wind.  That’s about it.  Being still reveals low sounds of small nocturnal creatures–their movements, their calls, their feeding.  The yip of a coyote carries a long, long distance, as does the whoo of an owl.  From my front porch on the farm, I could hear the clopping of hooves for long minutes before the buggy came into sight.  (Amish neighbors, remember? :)   From my back porch at my current home, I can hear most cars on a back country road when they’re still two miles away.  When I see a character be caught off-guard by the sudden appearance of a vehicle on a country road, I know the writer hasn’t spent much time outside his city limits.

All that quiet stillness will make one very aware of how much noise a clothed human body makes when it moves.  While it’s true feet cause noise on the ground, the sound of moving fabric can give away one’s position as well.  These days, humans would make easy prey for any stalking animal.

There are times that I deeply miss living on the farm.  Even the days, the ones filled with hard work in the July heat, were wonderful.  An interlude.  The in-between.  The time I needed to leave behind an old self and find the new.  But it’s the night–usually in spring and fall, usually when the moon is near full–that I miss most of all.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
...but I do a little dance of joy when some random reader gives me four stars at Goodreads.

I don't have many readers.  (I've done no marketing whatsoever, and am not looking to do much until November, really.)  But I'm so proud--no, honestly, relieved--that strangers have given Sword and Chant an average now approaching four stars on Goodreads.  No two- or one-star ratings.  Whew!

Putting something out there without the endorsement of a third-party publisher is a nerve-scratching decision.  It's nice to know that at least a few strangers thought it a good decision.

And now that my happy dance is done... back to work on Sand of Bone.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I received a message earlier today that my dear friend Patricia had entered what will likely be her final hours.  One of the primary people with her is a woman I've spoken with only once and never met in person, yet I've heard so much about her just as she has heard much about me.  We've been connected through Patricia and, somehow, a part of each other's lives as a result.  Her message today included, "Thank you for being part of this rich and special village."

So I did normal life stuff because Patricia would hate it if I just sat around.  (I could hear her: "Really, love, things still need to be done.")  I planted seed and seedlings in the garden because working the earth with my bare hands is life-affirming.  And I drove empty country roads for awhile, leaking tears.

Then, while writing this post, I received word she had passed away.

Dev asked me how I felt.  The answer is, Adrift.  I feel as if a primary anchor of my life has been lost beneath the waves.  Patricia came into my life as I transitioned from stupid teenager to young adult.  She made me into a decent Shakespearian actor.  She taught me how to actively choose and build friendships.  She was there when my first marriage fell apart.  She took me to the walls of York, and I watched her play the harpsicord in Castle Howard.  She and my sister stood beside me when I married Dev's father.  She was in London when I went into labor with Dev, but she called the hospital and we talked between contractions.  She read every novel I wrote, and laughed with me over my first attempt to write a sex scene.  (Really, it must have taken an iron will to read the entire thing before laughing.)

More recently, she was the first person I called when Dev's father passed.  She got to know Dev when he was a little boy, and as a teen on the edge of adulthood.  Over the past two years, she reintroduced me to myself--the full and creative self I unwittingly left behind when I moved across the country.  We spent a handful of wonderful days together in January.

And you know what I remember most of all? Laughter. No one laughed like Patricia.  I can hear her so clearly.  I can envision so many times we laughed together.  But you know what?  I rarely remember what we were laughing about.  I just remember the joy.

The most honest thing I can say about Patricia is that, were I writing her as a charater in a story, y'all would accuse me of writing a Mary Sue because no real person could be so smart, witty, talented, driven, compassionate, courageous, and happy as she.  No one could be so loved, by so many people, from around the world.  But she was. Is.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This time of year, both Dev and I tend to feel a little unsettled.  Out of sorts.  Akin to waiting for the other shoe to drop, even though the first one is still in hand.  We talk about those feelings, and we talk about why we have them.  We talk a lot about his father.  Last year, the conversations were shorter, harder, not much more than necessary.  This year, they've been far ranging and deeper.  Such is the healing process.

Part of my healing involved writing, for the first time, about some of the overall experience and disease progression with Dev's father.  I'm hoping that writing will in some small way help another.  But the process did leave me feeling more raw and vulnerable than I expected.

That was my state of mind when Dev interrupted my shower to tell me my cell phone had been ringing and ringing.  When he told me the area code of the caller, an area code from California, I knew.  I listened to the voicemail, then sat on the bathroom floor and sobbed.

My dearest friend in the world, the woman who has known me almost a quarter-century, the director who taught me not to fear the depths real acting required, the English prof who loves fantasy, the friend who lives in my heart...  Her cancer has overwhelmed her.  Her systems started shutting down Monday, and she asked to have the pain taken away.  Yesterday she was moved into hospice care.

Her heart still beats.  She is no longer consistently aware of her surroundings.  The drugs required to keep her pain-free also keep her, mostly, asleep.

In a mad rush, I started making calls to coordinate everything so I could hop a flight tomorrow morning.  Then I got in touch with a mutual friend, who met Patricia at the same time I did and has also maintained a close relationship.  Since he lives near, he has been able to be at her side in the last weeks.  He asked if I planned to come out, and I was honest.  Yes, I was planning to, but not because I needed closure on the relationship.  I was coming so she would know I love her, and will always love her.

And he said she was in the same place I was.  She didn't need closure.  She knows our friendship doesn't need closure.  She didn't need me to be there to watch her die.  She wants me to be happy she has lived.

Those words lifted a massive burden from my shoulders and put joy in my heart.  He and I spent about half an hour talking about our dear friend, about the woman who--in many ways--made us who and what we are today.  I know, deep in my heart now, that I won't regret not flying out there to visit what is left of her.  She has already moved on.  If the universe if exceedingly fortunate, she will return to again show scores of people how to be strong and gentle, wise and child-like, open-hearted and powerfully directed.

I cry because--no matter how much we talked and shared, no matter how much we did together and learned from each other--we barely polished the surface.  I rejoice because--no matter how many things we never had the chance to do, no matter how many conversations we never finished--my life and lives of so many others will shine because of her influence.

I don't need closure because our friendship will continue.  Our relationship will always influence me, guide me, and evolve as my understanding of her life expands.

I grieve because I didn't have time to give her as much as she gave me.  Eternity wouldn't be long enough for that.

I don't know why I, of all people, was blessed with her friendship. But I do know my life was touched, changed, and illuminated by a goddess of creation.
blairmacg: (Default)

Today was a wellness appointment day, when I see seven clients in seven hours.  Over the summer, I only schedule two such days per month, but in the winter, it can be four or five days.  More than that, and I start referring clients to other people.  I just can't handle that intensity more often--the reason I set aside all hope of ever being a fulltime counselor.

That hour with the client is spent discussing the details of what they eat, what they drink, what they take, what they do, what they think, and what they feel.  New clients, accustomed to delivering their health complaint in 90 seconds or less, can't imagine why we need a full hour.  But I'm not there to connect Problem A with Solution B.  The goal is to educate the client about why diet and lifestyle choices impact how--and how well--life is lived.  We go through everything they're taking, prescription and otherwise, and make a list of things to discuss with their physician.  We discuss research versus hype, assumptions versus reality, and why the latest obscure herb they heard about on Dr. Oz might not be worth their time to hunt down.

But the most important segment of the appointment is the Sustainability Assessment--or, as I tell clients, the process by which we find strategies to sidestep their excuses.  ;-)  And I do mean strategies.  Not guilt trips, not intellectual reasons, not shaming statements.  Instead, we discuss, step by step, how changes can be made.

Example: A client was trying desperately to get her sugars under control, but was struggling with cravings and habits that crept in every time she tried to change what she ate.  She'd do well all day then, on her way home, would stop at the corner store to pick up the local newspaper.  And a root beer and a candy bar.  She absolutely couldn't walk out without those treats.  Her dietician had told her all about the healthy choices she could make instead--low-salt nuts, a high fiber fruit, and so forth--but the client would still end up with the other treats in addition to the healthy ones!

So I suggested she have the paper delivered to her home.

That one action--the choice to focus on behavior rather than the food that went with the behavior--opened the door for her to examine other choices.  It gave her a different perspective, a renewed sense of control over her habits.

Usually I'm completely wiped at the end of the day, often because a couple of the appointments are folks who don't want to be there, who were talked into it by a friend or family member, or are there to engage in a debate about allopathic versus alternative medicine.  (I don't debate. I just start printing off research for them.)  But today was a good day--some new clients who couldn't wait to use their new knowledge, a returning client ready to take the next step, and two clients doing so well I won't need to see them again unless something goes sideways. 

I left the office late, but invigorated.  Folks had made changes to their lives that actually did change their life.  Other folks had new hope for situations they'd been told they'd just have to live with.  And one woman walked out knowing the changes she'd made had saved her marriage.

Every time I think I just can't spend another day giving individual appointments, the universe sends me a day like today.

To top it off, I drove past the new dojo on the way home and admired the awesome signs that were installed today.

blairmacg: (Default)
It has taken me ten thousand words to discover the karate book has a trio of recurring challenges: stumbling through transitions, facing the imposter syndrome, and the struggle I have with process-versus-results.  The sledgehammer of realization came when relating my struggles with kata: the manner in which I learn and refine my forms reflects how I approach life.  Suddenly and at last, I have a structure for this book.

Then I thought about Chant, and realized its characters often struggle with transitions, processes, and some form of the imposter syndrome.  Then I thought about the characters in written and outline-only novels I've been working on--the Indy project, my old Velshaan novels, the Drunk, the Slaughterer, and so forth--and even my shorter works.  All but two (I think) focus on resisting/ignoring/facing transitions, process and/or imposter syndrome.

How odd, suddenly realizing what the writing projects of two decades have in common.

Over the past six months or so, I've been aspiring to approach life differently.  Oddly enough, that's the same span of time I've been training kata in an entirely different manner.  Sensei must be sick to death of telling me to yield, to relax my chest, to move rather than step.  "No tension--BAM!--no tension," is his instruction.  When I get it right, it doesn't feel as if I worked hard enough to generate as much power as I am.  It feels like magic.

I'm looking forward to ther aspects of my life feeling as such.

Perhaps this discovery of theme and connections is the underlying reason I wanted--needed--to work on this project above all others.

Wax on, wax off.

Makes sense, yes.
blairmacg: (Default)
FABULOUS health news from my dear, dear friend.  We are extremely happy.

The three of us spent over two hours taking in delicious Italian food last night, talking until we were ready to crash.  I even had the chance to talk through my writing plans and intentions, one artist to another, and received the level-headed analysis I needed.

Today, after breakfast, Dev and I took a hiking trek above Lake Lopez.  Lovely views, but I have indeed forgotten what it requires to hike in mountain terrain (mainly, well-developed lung capacity!) and in warm, dry weather (your own water).  But it was wonderful, and I now have the comforting muscle soreness that tells me I worked hard, but not so hard that I'll suffer tomorrow.

Tonight we're off to see the production of Romeo and Juliet, after a dinner at the local Lebanese restaurant.  Tomorrow, we shall play at...something.  We'll figure it out.

I feel younger when I'm here.  I feel happier and more energetic and lighter.  I'm sticking to my plan.  Three and a half years from now...
blairmacg: (Default)
The dogs are at the kennel, my suitcase is packed, the travel papers are printed and in hand, and the alarm is set for 5 am.  I'm heading to California for a quick turn-around trip that's pleasure disguised as business.  I'm re-connecting with some old theater friends and associates, scoping out other opportunities, spending half a day in a setting for the Indy writing project, and spending one entire day with a woman whose friendship has been part of my entire adult life.

It was pretty crazy for me to cram this in to the schedule right now.  After all, I leave for another trip in less than three weeks.  But I need this trip, these contacts, this time with my friend, and this future-hopeful planning.

I have a crappy three-hour layover in Kansas City tomorrow, which I shall merrily fill with finalizing feedback on beta-reading projects.

The Indy project has a section that takes place north and inland of Santa Barbara, where I lived while in high school.  I've been toying with the idea of starting the story there, with the next part to take place in Indiana, because the backstory of the Indy project interests me as much as the actual story.  I figure I'll do a little immersion, the write a couple chapters to see if it's compelling enough to be its own tale.
blairmacg: (Default)

I spent three years living on a 130+ acre farm. About 80 of those acres were farmed organically--alfalfa, sorghum, and vegetables. The rest of the land was wooded hills, ravines, and river frontage. I've been missing the farm lately, though lovely mornings like this chase the longing away. My current home isn't as middle-of-nowhere as the farm, but it's far enough from town to be peaceful.

It feels and looks more like April than February. The spring-like weather has me antsy to start the garden. The good news is I've an open invitation to harvest as much from the farm as I'd like over the growing season. On the other hand...I still want my own big garden.

blairmacg: (Default)

Via [ profile] sartorias, I see submissions are open for Viable Paradise.

This is a Viable Paradise entry for those folks who have gone searching for Viable Paradise information--hoping it will help them decide to apply--and somehow ended up at my little LJ.  I know I went looking, and read every little comment I could find.  (I did that for years before I actually sent my writing sample along.)  There are posts about my VP experience on the LJ, too.

Most folks want to know what the experience was like, if the workshop really made a difference in the writing, and if attending is "worth it."  Short answers are: life-changing, absolutely, and without a doubt.

Want to know more? )

I have yet to read a review of Viable Paradise that said, "Total waste of my time!  Didn't learn a thing!  Not a single valuable experience all week!"  So even if you're not certain the workshop is "right" for you, give it a shot.  You will not come home empty-handed or empty-headed.

Do you have questions?  I know I did.  If you think I can help, ask away.

ETA: Links to my fellow VPXV-ers (with more links to be added...)
[ profile] aanna_t, Fran Wilde, Kelly Lagor, [ profile] tbonejenkins, [ profile] jazzfish, [ profile] aamcnamara,

blairmacg: (Default)
This last year ended up being so very different from anything I could have predicted.  I learned so much about people, and about myself, but in ways I never would have sought.  Yet learn I did, those lessons of love and mortality and loss and parenting and doing what I never thought I'd have the strength to do.  I didn't know what raw emotion was until I held someone as he died.  I didn't understand grief before I lost someone I wish I'd had more time to love.  I didn't understand parenting until I realized I'd have to do it alone.

Then I learned lessons about reconnecting with lost friends and making new ones, rediscovering cool parts of myself I buried years ago, and reigniting my passion for creating and creative people.  I didn't realize how lonely I'd been until I not only opened my arms to people I hadn't spoken with for years, but to new people I hope to know better in the years ahead.  I didn't know how flat and closed I'd become until my old California friends reminded me of who I had once been.  And until Viable Paradise, I had forgotten how critical--how vital--it is to surround one's self, as often as possible, with people who thrive on the glory of creation and exploration.

Great big lessons, all of them.  I am grateful for all of you who helped me learn those lessons, and for those who will help me learn lessons in the year ahead.

If I made resolutions last year, I can't remember them.  I don't think I made a single one.  I felt depressingly out of control at the time anyway.  This year, I am committing to practice greater kindness, to ask more questions than I answer, to give more than I take, to let myself enjoy more than I fear.  I want to spend more time zip-lining--literally and figuratively--and less time fretting over the possibility of falling.  I will be a better parent, a better sister, and a better daughter.  I will strive to be the kind of person that the wonderful people in my life deserve.

I have but one writing commitment this year: I will publish in a pro market.  Short story, novella, novel, whatever.  That third sale will cross the SFWA-eligibility threshold.  To meet that commitment, I'll have to do all sorts of things like write new stuff, revise old stuff, get feedback, give feedback, and send stuff out.  But the actual commitment is the sale.  Nothing less.

That's it.  I'm going to make it happen.  Period.

blairmacg: (Default)
My sis is a flight attendant, so you can guess where she must be on busy travel days.  Our family has grown accustomed to flexible holiday celebrations and last minute changes, and this year is no different.  As of Saturday, we all decided to move the family dinner to Friday so my sis could be there with her kids.

But it is different, because it's the first year without Dev's father.  I thought to mitigate that by finding a place for Dev and I to volunteer Thursday.  Well, this has apparently been a bumper year for volunteers, and there isn't much room for a couple more.  (Who would have thought?)  I still have a couple calls out, though.  We shall see.

If nothing comes through, we do have standing invitations from friends to join their families for the day.  My folks would also be fine with us getting together for an "unofficial" Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving.  But we may decide to do something completely different.  Right now, we're leaning toward a long hike in the woods followed by a fireside dinner.  It's supposed to be a lovely, sunny day.

Dev and I are both doing okay.  Neither of us are on the verge of falling apart over the holidays.  But we're quite aware of who won't be at the family dinner.  Everything feels weird.  Even feeling good feels weird.  In fact, feeling good and happy sometimes makes me feel guilty, which would make Ron roll his eyes.  He'd be pretty pissed off if Dev and I stopped living, if we stopped enjoying life.  So I guess we're just stuck with the weirdness.

I am thankful, first and foremost, for my fabulous, kind, strong, and intelligent son.  I am thankful for my goofy, loving dogs.  I'm thankful for my family.  I am grateful for the new friends I've made this year, and for the old friends who are stuck by me for so long.  And I am thankful for the time I had with Ron, right up to the end.

My you discover new blessings, and hold tightly to the old.



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