blairmacg: (Default)
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: (FeatherFlow)
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.


Spoilers are below the cut for courtesy.

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

What movie did you see in Logan?

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
It's that time of year again, though it seems to have arrived earlier than past years. Usually, by my recollection, I don't end up feeling quite so sensitive until March, or especially May. Then again, that might be simply my impression.

I've been... overly sensitive for the past week or so, even as my writerly self--the one so thrilled and willing with story and character and creation--resurfaced in this new environment of family and encouragement. It's been like having sunburned feelings: you know the person touching you doesn't mean to cause pain, but even back-pats of encouragement hurt.

Then yesterday, when my mother was doing nothing more than trying to schedule a dinner for either Sunday or Monday, I just about bit her head off for no reason. Then I tried to laundry, and ended up stuffing clothes in the washer while tears ran down my face. Then I tried to cook supper, and ended up with the same result. Then I went to apologize to my mother, but what came out of my mouth instead was, "My 40th birthday was when I knew Ron was going to die."

Until those words spilled out, I really hadn't aligned past grief with present hurt. But there it is, doncha know, because grief is an unpredictable thing. It isn't malicious (at least mine isn't). It is instead almost too polite, apologizing for popping up year after year, and trying to be so subtle it leaves me confused and seemingly unable to identify it for days or weeks.

And the words, while true in an emotional sense, weren't true in a factual sense. I mean, yes, I spent my fortieth birthday in a VA hospital, helping Ron eat the first meal he'd been permitted in a couple days and arguing with doctors who wanted to put him on blood-thinning medications when he'd almost bled to death internally a few days before. But I didn't know he was going to die so soon for a few more days. (And I am still bitter and angry that I was the one who, after reading his test results, diagnosed him and told him the diagnosis weeks before a doctor got around to it.)

But the emotions rule, this far removed from the date. And my heart will always link my birthday with losing Ron--even though another four months passed before we lost him.

And I thought I had all that under control after figuring this out last night. Then I read this from Kathryn Cramer, and lost my shit all over again.

At the time Ron was diagnosed, we'd been living separately for almost three years, but we never divorced and we did remain close. There are times I still feel as if he's simply lost, and I'll find him if I walk into the next room even though he's been lost for five years now.

So... I think we're having a family dinner on Sunday. It'll probably be okay. I'm giving myself permission to leak emotions all over the place if I feel like it. The feels aren't going away, and though the feels aren't pleasant, having them is not a bad thing.

They exist. I exist. One cannot miss what one did not love, and love is not a thing to be left behind.

Wedding 1996

blairmacg: (belt)

(The following article originally appeared as content for Patreon backers on November 21, 2015.)
This is an odd article to write, and not at all what I expected to be writing.  After all, I've a fight scene break-down in the works, a post on chokeholds in the wings, and an interview set for after the first of the year.

But right now...  Well.

On the morning of November 21, I sent messages of encouragement and excitement to a past student of mine preparing to test for her Sandan rank (3rd degree black belt), and exchanged cheerful notes with my own teacher, Shihan, of more than a dozen years, who'd be overseeing the test.

Then all my karate contacts on all social media platforms went quiet for a few hours, as one would expect during a long and demanding test.  But what followed was not the  outpouring of celebratory pictures and comments tempered with tales of hardship.

Instead, I found a smattering of brief comments, then a bunch of longer ones, expressing loss and grief.

Shihan's sensei of four decades had died unexpectedly, and Shihan had found out ten minutes before bowing onto the mat to evaluate the efforts of almost three dozen students prepared to prove themselves worthy of the black belt.  He made the announcement to students and observers, dedicated the day to Hanshi, and began the test.

Had it been Shihan who'd passed away, he would have wanted the same thing.  And you know what?  So would I.

This is not an article about my loss and grief.  Truly, I met Hanshi only a scant handful of times so my sense of loss is removed, more of an empathetic reaction for those who were close to him.  This writing is instead about continuity and legacy, understanding how those things contribute to the formation of a fighter's mindset, and how a fully realized mindset creates an authentic fighting character.


The style in which I've trained for fourteen years is indeed a family style, founded in 2001 with Hanshi's encouragement and approval.  The founding couple have four sons, all of whom run at least one dojo. Three of the daughters-in-law also teach.  Six of the nine grandchildren hold a junior black belt; two are still far too young.  The eldest grandchild, who became one of my own first students way back when, earned his adult black belt at the last test I observed before moving to Colorado this year.

When the family gets together, a large chunk of time is spent adjusting details of form, sharing discoveries made through studying historic materials and diverse styles, discussing stories of martial artists who'd influenced them, and making modifications to teaching methods that improve student learning and achievement.  There are in-depth discussions and physical demonstrations on a million other details that would eventually be handed down to thousands of students.

Ten skilled martial artists with collective experience exceeding 250 years...  Believe me—when I was fortunate to be present at those gatherings, I knew enough to understand how much I'd learn, as a martial artist and a writer, by silently absorbing every single moment.

As you might imagine, such a tight group of primary instructors results in an amazingly high level of training consistency throughout the style.  The angle of punches in Pinan Shodan is precisely the same for every student at every dojo.  Every dojo teaches the same methods of utilizing body mechanics over brute strength.  All students learn the same wrist control to deliver nunchaku blows.

That level of scrutiny is essential to preserving the best of martial arts study and evolution, and to ensuring every student is held to the highest standard.  Truly, it's pretty simple to make a student smack the top of their foot against their opponent's head.  It takes a trained and focused teacher to teach a student how the angle of the stabilizing knee will affect the kicking leg's targeting and control, how the turn of the hip should be engaged, what the tension (or lack of) in the upper body will produce, where the hands and elbows should be during the kick, and what the body should prepare to do next.  Establishing and demanding that level of exceptional consistency and results is also essential to the continuation of smaller family styles.

But after sitting on black belt review boards dozens of times over the last decade or so, after watching hundreds of students from all the dojos test side-by-side, I can usually surmise each student's primary instructor after watching a single kata or a handful of self-defense techniques.  The differences lie not in technique, but in style and bearing.

The rhythm of a fight.  Whether the student most often breaks right or left.  If the student strikes or throws first under pressure.  It's in the way deference is given to instructors, how confidence is shown in a fight or in answering questions, and how community support is expressed even in the midst of harsh competition.

And we discuss and reinforce the behavior we most want to see in our fighters, because we understand the strongest fighters have the potential to be the most resilient leaders.

So our students are the ones who lend their weapons to fellow tournament competitors who forgot theirs.  They're the ones who'd give up their own class time to help a struggling classmate earn the next level of kata, spar with students half their size in order to teach and encourage, hug a classmate who was crying over the death of a pet, or pull me aside for an awkward conversation of concern about a fellow student who was being teased at school.

And as we worked on strong a kiba dachi, or talked through the impact of weapons bans on karate's development, or compared the way to throw a classmate to the way to throw a enemy, we talked of all those things.

Y'see, what we teach creates continuity.  How we teach creates legacy.  That's why instilling values in a fighter is a fundamental goal of any instructor or any style at any level, even if the teacher doesn't realize it.

In the writing world, influence matters.  Sure, there are the "masters" of our genre, who are widely or narrowly recognized as ones who impacted the field, whose works are foundational to understanding the evolution of a genre.

But then there are writers who influence us in more personal and, frankly, more important ways—the writers whose support and encouragement pushes us to strive for improvement, who demand we do our best, who teach us how to interact with fans and other writers, who believe we have the ephemeral gift of storytelling that will move readers as deeply as they themselves have been moved.

Influence matters in the fighting world as well.

Yes, there are the masters most students learn of early on—those who founded their particular style, or whose identities have become more legend than fact.  But, also as in writing, the most important influencers are the ones much closer to us in time.

The teacher who gives our first hard-earned nod of approval, who shows us how to deal with the pain of injuries, who teaches us how to interact within a rank-based society, who believes we can find inside us the grit and confidence to stand firm when faced with a terrifying fight.

To view the totality of fighting is to understand the interplay of continuity and legacy.

Just as surely as the body has been trained, so too has the person's character.  When we respond, how we respond, and why we respond is coached and modeled by those of higher rank and technical skill.

Students who are bullied and mocked throughout their training will come out the other side a wildly different fighter than one who is supported and cherished.  A person taught to treat their attained skill as a new responsibility will behave differently than one taught to treat it solely as a personal accomplishment.  New people are seen as potential community or presumed enemy.  Interruptions are potential or possibility. Creativity is enthusiasm or disrespect.

So despite the impression given by certain how-to books or zealous students of the All-Perfect Superpower Martial Arts Style, technique and ability demonstrated in a fight are secondary—in both real life fighters, and the fighters in fiction—to the person's character as a fighter.  And that character isn't formed by hours on the mat or studying old documents or watching (if they exist) grainy films of masters. It's trained into the fighter by present and present-day influencers who provide context, purpose, and connection.

In other words, believing technique makes a great fighter is like believing good grammar makes a great storyteller.


Chances are you're a reader.  As a reader, you'll have specific reactions to events or conversations because you're reminded of a story or character.  You'll have specific priorities when you pack for a trip, purchase furniture, consider lighting, allocate your resources, and a million other things.

You're a reader even when you're not reading.

And don't even get writers started on how writing permeates their lives!

It's no different for fighters.  And yet, writers tend to take on their fighting characters in compartmentalized ways.

Some of that comes from the great distance between what many writers know about fighters and fighting, and the level of fighting they want to include in their stories.*  Some is caused by the rabbit-like proliferation of "How To Write Fight Scenes" books, and the tons of articles that define a fighter's "mindset" as what the character does and doesn't think about in relation to a fight.

So writers end up creating characters who fight—and some who fight very, very well—but who aren't fighters if they're not fighting.

This is wrong.

There are all sorts of stereotypical "tells" used to attempt demonstrating a fighter's mindset: Always know the exits, never sit with the back to the door and/or always sit with your back to the wall, take cover after a loud noise...  While none of those things are inaccurate, they're collectively as deep as signaling your character is a "reader" by adding glasses, a ragged paperback, and a tendency to ignore one's surroundings.

That's just not good enough, my darlings.

"Mindset" isn't what comes and goes when violence is present or absent.  Mindset is what the fighter understands about where she fits in the world. Mindset is constant and ever-present.  Legacy and continuity—the way-back of knowing a fighting style's origins and evolution, the present-day influence of one's teachers—is what provides everything but technique.

And, no matter what those fight-scene books infer, technique is not mindset.

In Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee, you'll find a martial artist whose fight training seeps into every aspect of life.  The main character has been trained to be aware of every detail of his body and physical responses during a fight, and has been taught by example to be an example to others.  Lee extends that natural awareness into every scene.  She gives the reader an authentic fighter whose mindset is fully expressed and incorporated into the character's life.

In Gemini Cell by Myke Cole, you'll meet a highly trained military man who must endure impossible circumstances, and yet even his humor is that of a fighter determined to win.  There is one moment, when the character chooses reading material, that encompasses everything about the character's fighting mindset.  His choice not only sticks it to his primary opponent, but connects him with his past and underscores the balance of his strength.  It is a fabulous moment of deft craft that you'll recognize the moment you read it.

So if you're writing about people who fight—who have supposedly trained to injure, maim, and kill others—you'd best understand and determine how training and perspective will affect every single other incident, interaction, reaction, and decision.

The driving priority might be kill the enemy or it might be defend the weak.  The ability to harm another human being might be taught in the context of attaining power or preventing harm.  Personal achievement is a reason to expect the deference of others, or an opportunity to share something new.  The world is presented as filled with dangerous people in need of constant vigilance, or a mostly peaceful place with occasional eruptions of violence.

Or all those principles, abilities, achievements and assumptions might be presented as opportunities to find the balance between what you expect from yourself and what you expect to teach others.

In light of all that, you'll understand why "sits with the back to the wall" is an incredibly simplistic storytelling tool.


On November 21, Shihan made a decision to once more train the character of his highest ranking students, and members of his own family, who'd come to demand excellence, endurance, and determination from those who sought to be honored with a black belt.  In doing so, he offered everyone present an opportunity to learn and understand a way to deal with personal loss when others are depending upon you.

Certainly many of the younger students and newer families would understand the outward reason, the stated reason, for dedicating their test to Hanshi's memory.  And they wouldn't be wrong to accept honoring his memory as the reason to move forward with the testing of all their skill and might.  That is indeed what fighters are expected to do for those who have passed on.

But the older students, the ones who'd been around long enough to understand the cultural priorities of our style and dojo, knew the reasons tucked beneath the surface and understood the day's black belt test was a reinforcement of the purpose that connects past with future.  They understood that continuing with the test despite their own shock, hurt, and wonderings of why was only in part about honoring the dead.

It was also about the students and families who'd worked hard, planned for the event, and were ready to prove themselves part of an unfolding lineage built on martial excellence and inclusive humanity.

Because we don't fight for the past, and we fight just as much as we must for the present.  What we truly train for, what we believe is worth risk and sacrifice, is the fight for the future.

And that mindset matters far more to a fighter's choices than how well they can throw a punch.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This would be so much easier, in one sense, if Ty didn't have a tail that almost never stops wagging.

Ty's tail is a wonder in itself. So wonderful, in fact, it has its own set of nicknames. Kangaroo tail, tail of destruction, Great Destructo, thwap of joy.

When Dev competed at the State Fair, most other dogs would keep their tails still and down through their obedience trials and showmanship displays. But Ty? He'd stand in his showmanship pose, perfectly still except for the tail--which would speed up the moment the judge's attention turned his way. He'd go through his obedience exercises with the tail up and wagging. The only time it might stop was during the down-stay--the pups are required to lie down for a set period of time regardless of noise and distractions--when the day was warm enough Ty might doze off. Even the judges who saw Ty but once a year remembered him as the dog with the ever-wagging tail.

In our home, there is nothing breakable or spillable within 30 inches of the floor or a foot from a table or counter's edge. There are no stacks of paper, either. The tail of destruction trained us well. It can send a heavy coffee mug spinning with a single blow. It can scatter hundreds of manuscript pages with a merry sweep. We try to quickly train any new visitors by explaining their drink must stay in their hand, or be placed in the precise middle of the coffee table, but I've lost at least a dozen wine glasses over the last ten years. (And while his tail certainly can't reach as high as the breakfast bar, Ty was--until this last year--perfectly capable of helping himself to anything on the counters.)

If you stood at Ty's hip when he had a sudden fit of overwhelming joy, his tail would hit hard enough to hurt. There's a place on the kitchen doorway, near where Ty has stood for three years in anticipation of getting munchies and treats, that no longer has any paint on its edge.

That tail has operated as a rudder when he swam in rivers and ponds, visible just below the water's surface as it swayed lazily from side to side. We used to joke about Ty's ability to multitask. He could swim, drink water, and wag his tail all at the same time! Truly, one of my regrets is that it's too cold for us to give Ty a final opportunity to swim. He loves it so, so much.

And even now, when he's spending all but a few minutes every day resting and sleeping, that tail wags when someone makes eye contact, pets him, says his name (and any nicknames, and any mention of love), when Gambit sits beside him, when Gambit plays with his toys, when people-food comes near... Everything triggers the tail to wag.

Dev and I talked last night about whether we'd made the decision (our appointment is for Tuesday) was made too soon. We came to the conclusion we've reached the point that there will never, ever be a time that isn't "too soon" or "too late." As long as the tail wags, we'll wonder if it's too soon. But if the tail stopped, we'd know it was too late.

And we made an agreement that neither one of us needs to "be strong" for the other. (It's a habit we share, alas.)

So today, I'm writing while Ty sleeps on my foot. All I have to do is whisper, "Ty-baby Handsome," and the tail gives me half a dozen thumps.

I'm disabling comments here--not because I haven't appreciated the words of support y'all have offered, but because I simply can't respond to them right now while also continuing to function. Fortunately, I've pretty much purged from my life everyone who'd utter the phrase "just a dog" in my presence.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Dev and I saw "The Judge" last night.  It's brilliant.  It pulls and pushes and stabs and hand-holds in all the right places.  I expected Robert Duvall to be wonderful, and he exceeded expectations.  Pride, humility, humiliation, complex love... he was incredible.

I don't know what I expected from Robert Downey, Jr., but it certainly wasn't anywhere near the fabulous performance he gave.  Too often, films of great emotion dip into melodrama.  Downey, even though he played a character striving to be larger than life, used whispers and asides and subtlety.

It was also one of the most difficult movie-watching experiences I've had in some time.  There are scenes that hit grief, regret, and longing for second chances.  Again and again, the film took hold of my heart, broke it, and refused to let go.  To be more specific would spoil the film, so...

Minor Spoilers Here... )

Go see it.  Then be kind to those you love.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I just found out the father of one of my students was killed Saturday.  His truck stalled on railroad tracks.  He got his son out, but didn't get himself out of the way in time.  The train hit his truck, and the truck hit him.  His son had only minor injuries.

That son--he's my student--is the oldest of three kids.  My secretary and I were talking about the family this evening, wondering why the boy wasn't in class tonight.  The family has had a rough time of it in the last six months, but things were finally smoothing out.  I still remember the man's kindness and optimism as he waved and said goodnight last Friday.  He was so proud his son had just been promoted to his next belt.  He was happy, smiling for his children and his wife.  He was only 32.

The viewing is Thursday.  I'm trying to figure out something we can do with the dojo to be of service.

I just...  I just can't hardly think.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Today became one of those days interrupted by a sudden and overwhelming flood of regret and grief. A young man I know posted a picture on Facebook of himself holding his two-year-old son, and I couldn't stop the "Why did my son have to lose his father?" that welled up. It wasn't in anger. It was just... loss.

I suppose I was primed for it. This morning, Dev and I hung some new pictures, including a multi-frame collage of pictures of him and his father. Dev seemed really happy with it. It's me who keep tearing up over his loss.
And it seems we've watched more than a couple movies in the last few months that include a character arc of "Father does something incredible to save the say" or "Father returns to child's life after child achieves plot point X." It just gets tiring, after awhile, watching stories where the reward is a restored parent and/or parental support because, you know, Dev won't get that no matter what he does. He could figure out time travel, cure cancer, and bring all the nations of the world into joyful agreement—and his father (or ghost of his father) isn't coming back to tell him he's done a good job, to say all he had to do was really-deeply believe, to tell him he's proud.

Sigh. The fact those storylines so trouble me might indicate I have an Issue, yes?

I can't discount the time of year, either. We spent January and February in and out of the hospital as doctors confirmed the diagnosis three years ago. Geez. Three years.

As for Dev, he seems to be doing fine. In fact, he's so damned self-aware, it's frightening. He talks about his dad, what reminds him of his dad, what he misses about his dad. When he tears up, he acknowledges it for what it is. Sometimes, he'll talk of how he had a bad day because he wanted to talk to his dad, and couldn't.
I know, without a doubt, that Dev's emotional awareness and stability comes from the focused efforts of his father. I learned from the same person, but Dev learned earlier, easier, before life had scarred him all up. So now, watching Dev deal with grief over losing the very person who taught him how to deal with grief... There I go getting teary-eyed again.
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: (FeatherFlow)
Trigger heads-up: This post contains information relating the death of Dev's dad, including mention of the physical process and emotional reactions.  It will make most people uncomfortable, and will likely disturb others.

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One of the (countless) challenges of being a single parent is helping a child maintain a healthy relationship with the other parent.  Barring mental, physical, and emotional abuse, the child's well-being is nourished by both parents, both relationships.  Doing anything that undermines one relationship or the other does nothing but hurt and confuse the child.

This gets extremely challenging when the other parent has died.

There are days when the temptation is to ignore any wrong done by the late parent, to let the child remember him as almost holy.  There are days when the temptation is to relate those past wrongs as the reasons some things are tougher than they should be now.  And then there are days when the wish--the desperate wish--is that the other parent was still alive to step up and step in.

Today was one of those days.  Dev did something, and I reacted.  Then I overreacted.  I hate it when I do that.

Until this last year, even when we were separated and angry with each other, I'd call my late husband to let him know what was happening, to get his take on this son-raising challenge.  He and I would talk it through.  Sometimes we'd figure out ways I could better talk with Dev, sometimes he'd step in to be the other supporting figure pointing out that Mom was most certainly In Charge, and sometimes he'd be the bridge between Dev and I.

So after I quit overreacting, and Dev and I had gone to our separate corners, I tried to imagine just what his dad would have said.  Then I practiced different ways to present those thoughts in a way that wasn't overly sentimental or that sounded guilt-inducing.  The tone with which I'd ask, "What would your Dad have said today?" would mean more than the words.

Fortunately, Dev and I both came up with about the same ideas for answers to that question, and we sealed our agreement over moo shu and fried rice.  I don't know if Dev will make the needed behavior change for more than a couple days, but at least it's covered for today.  Tomorrow, we'll see if we have to do it all over again.

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A couple weeks ago, I mentioned I could feel the story immersion coming.  Today, over at queen, I commented that I was very close to that point.  The only thing standing between me and the final Chant revisions is the garden. 

One cannot tell the seasons to stop turning so I can plant my veggies in July instead of this week.

So I have this constant hum running in the back of my mind--not only Chant, but a little of everything, roiling around just below the surface.  When at Viable Paradise, I finished a completely new short story for the first time in years.  With Chant revisions, I delved into focused revisions for the first time in ages.  Now, the dam is set to burst.  Every incomplete project I've neglected is banging on the secret doors of my imagination and demanding to be set free.

I know it's bad when every subject that crosses my mind, any topic I discuss with any person, ends up with me voicing the phrase, "It's kind of like that part of the writing process when..."  However, I am giving nearly equal time to, "It's a bit like karate because..."

And I recognize, too, that I'm more than willing to welcome that obsessive state of mind in order to avoid thinking overly much about what was happening this time last year.  Dev and I are talking about it, we're keeping the communication open, but I'm filling my spare moments with all sorts of stuff to keep my mind from wandering into places I don't want poked.

So I'm going to ride with it, and take the opportunity to re-up on my paying-the-dues part of being a writer.  But I am planning to replace "butt in the chair" with "body in the hammock."  As soon as I finish planting the garden.  And the new trees.  And organizing for the garage sale.

Okay, maybe I'll let the garage sale slide.

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My brain is struggling today.  I've had hours to get a bunch of writing done, and my progress is pitiful.

I'm fighting the temptation to quit everything, buy an RV, and spend every penny of my savings just taking my kid on a driving tour around the country.  Or skipping the RV and flying to Tuscany instead.  Or taking a cruise to Japan.  Or anything other than the daily munande and required tasks that are supposed to matter yet seem so meaningless today.

Hearing of K.D. Wentowrth's passing troubled me deeply.  She taught me a lot about writing.  I'll never forget her advice to "mutilate the cows" on the first page.  She had a wicked sense of humor.  She's one I wish I had known better, had spent more time with.  But there was always next year.

Does it make you a grown-up to have finally internalized the fact that there is a horribly limited supply of next-years? 
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Yeesh.  For the last two weeks, I've felt as if I'm spinning my wheels and making no progress on anything.

I've felt that way's true.  Many projects need my attention, and they are not always the projects to which I'd like to give my attention.  The result has been so much swinging between what-needs-doing and would-rather-do, very little forward motion was made on anything.  Then I'd feel guilty the required work wasn't any closer to being finished, and frustrated I wasn't any closer to doing what I want to do.  Then I'd avoid all of it by cleaning the baseboards or some such.  Then...

Then I just had enough of it.

My to-do list has been revamped, in detail, to include each step of the process.  What was formally "Finish 'stress' book" is now a twenty-point entry.  I got two of those points finished today, thank goodness.  One of those tasks was to streamline the outline.  This isn't intended to be a definitive look at all aspects, causes, outcomes, impacts, interventions, and opinions, so I need to keep my focus.  I don't have to include everything, address every possible question, and mention every point of research.  And it's those sorts of things that bog me down when I'm putting non-fiction together.

I'm already feeling better, and doing my best to let go of the sense I'm falling behind because I'm not doing everything at once.

And as a friend pointed out, this is a rough time of year.  It was in the late winter/early spring months of 2011 that we came to understand Dev's father's diagnosis, and when we all moved into my parents' home for hospice.  Dev and I are working extra hard to be consciously kind to each other, and to take a little extra time for hugs, playing with puppies, and remembering good things.  Maybe I'll say more about that later.
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A bit of a tough writing day.  Revisions are making me happy, but I hit a pair of difficult chapters.  The first tells of a massacre that wasn't supposed to happen.  The second includes grieving for another dead character while caring for the body.  The recurring images, the snapshot memories, that pop into my mind have not been pleasant.

This is different from grief.  At least, I think it's different. It centers on visual memories of the event rather than missing the person who died.  But I don't know what I'd call it. 

I write about this stuff because I'm trying to figure it out, and because I know it's affecting my writing choices--not because I'm seeking sympathy.  I'm not depressed, or even feeling especially bad.  I'm feeling...out of step and unsettled.  And very, very glad I'm past those scenes.

One more awful scene comes up before the end of the book.  Just one more--in addition to all the other revisions--before I can call it done and place it in the hands of betas.

In the meantime, I should have more time tonight.  I'm down to about 31K remaining from the draft.  The end is in sight.  The next project is waiting.  I'm getting impatient, and forcing myself to be meticulous rather than speedy.

Omni aside: One of the advantages of omni pov is the ability to shift focus without chopping the writing up with scene and chapter breaks.  I find I toss that advantage out the window when writing combat scenes.  In those cases, the chops give me the pacing I want.

Completely unrelated: A hawk perched on the porch right outside my window earlier.  I had the passing consideration of what the neighbors might think if I fashioned a hawk feeder to go beside the standard seed dispenser.  Then I thought of what a hawk feeder would need to be filled with, and promptly lost interest.

And on the off chance someone reads here who doesn't read there: [ profile] jimhines has a cool discussion going about writing and martial arts.

That is all.  I'm off to get a tad more done before taking Dev to his final driver's ed class, then coming home to work a little more.

blairmacg: (Default)

I'm more bummed than I thought I'd be over missing ConFusion this weekend.  That was one of the cons I'd made a habit of attending, in the years before life went sideways.  I didn't know anyone up there, I rarely knew anyone who was showing up, but it was a weekend to get away and relax and write in my hotel room without interruptions.  I could have gone this year, but mistakenly gave this Saturday as a date to schedule clients.  And I'm booked solid.

I do have ReaderCon to look forward to, though.  I'm already registered--con and hotel--though I may need to leave pretty early on Sunday.  (Karate camp starts that evening.)  [ profile] skzbrust has convinced me I should also attend Fourth Street.  The scheduling on that one will be very easy or utterly impossible, depending upon the dates of Dev's summer obligations,* which I should know by the end of February.  I may even attempt Loscon this year since Dev has reached the age of preferring to spend his long weekend hanging out with friends than family.

Revisions are making me happy.  I see much more that is right in the new version than there was before.  I may end up with more time than I thought I'd have in the coming week, so I'm hoping to make the halfway point.  This would be going much faster were I not completely re-typing the manuscript, but re-typing is forcing me to consider every little thing--essential, since my goal is a subtle reshaping of the omni narrative voice.  Most of the changes I'm making aren't marked on the page.  They simply happen as I type along.  It's a bit like putting someone else's story in my own words.

And today I realized (admitted?) why one section of revisions took so danged long.  A beloved character dies, and other characters face a crisis while still actively grieving.  It wasn't writing the death and burial scenes that stopped me cold; it was the scenes of grieving that followed.  Is it any surprise that slowed me a bit?  No.  Is it surprising I didn't even consider it as the problem?  Yeah, I'd say so.  It bothers me to be so unaware of what my mind is doing in the background of daily life.  More characters will die before the book ends.  I wonder if it'll stop me cold again.

In the meantime, onward.  I have a few hours to burn tonight.  Let's see how far I can go.

(And part of me keeps hoping aaaaaaaall my Saturday clients cancel so I can drive up to ConFusion.)

*The kid is scheduled to attend flight school and a law enforcement career camp, as well as work as a counselor for karate camp.  If the dates this year are similar to last year, I'll have him at home for only one week in June and one in July.  That will be very, very strange.

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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.

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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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Fog is the metaphor used to designate confusion, distorted thoughts, muddled perception.  It's supposed to hide important landmarks that tell us where we are, the direction we should take, the dangers to avoid.

But I've always loved fog.  When I lived on the California coast, it would sometimes creep in during the pre-dawn hours, and I'd feel as if I were waking up in a secret world.  Someplace special and between.  Other times, it would roll in slowly over the afternoon and take away the sunset, leaving instead a gentle, inexorable dimming of light into night.

When I lived on the farm, fog didn't approach.  It appeared.  The cooling day would raise smudges of white from the fields.  Without a breeze, the clean smoke would thicken and stretch to fill the valley pastures.  I couldn't see the river from my porch on those days, but I could still hear it.  I still knew it was near.  Fog forced memories to take the place of sight.

Dev just came out of his room a few minutes ago to give me a hug.  He said the father had died in the story he was watching, and he just wanted to sit with me awhile.  We cried a little, talking about how we missed having his dad around on Halloween--even though Ron hated Halloween.  And Dev talked a little about how he figured Thanksgiving, his birthday, and Christmas would have sad times, too.  Yeah, kiddo, it'll be rough around the edges.

But Dev is talking about his dad more and more, bringing up memories good and bad.  Asking to visit places we used to go as a family.  Wanting to know more about the life Ron and I shared before he came along.  Wondering aloud what his dad would think about how he's doing with school, with 4H, with his plans for the future.  He is sharpening his memories of his father, yet softening the ragged grief.

I mourned a great deal while at Viable Paradise.  There was finally the right combination of time, space, privacy and understanding.  Talking about it helped some as well, even though I was certain it wouldn't.  I'd always get stuck on explaining the situation--Ron and I were separated for years yet never divorced, and lived together again from his diagnosis to his death--rather than just saying what was true.

What's true is that I miss my son's father.  I miss the man who shared some part of my life for nearly twenty years.  I miss my friend.  And since coming home, the grief over what I miss has been a different sort of mate.  Less haunting, more companionable.  Less about loss, and more about love.  More like fog.  Special and between.  Gentle and inexorable.  Made up of memories that fill the empty spaces.


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May 2017

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