Shopping The F’list: A List of Beloved Handmade Holiday Recommendations

Nicole Kornher-Stace (AKA: “One of the Most Amazing Writers in our Generation”), author of the acclaimed Archivist Wasp, its even more acclaimed sequel Latchkey, Desideria, and The Winter Triptych had the most MARVELOUS idea on Twitter/Facebook the other day.

She, like many of our clever, renaissance-minded friends, makes and sells beautiful things to augment in her living. With the holidays coming up, she figured, we could all compile among us who makes things, where you can find them, and provide links, in a sort of cozy virtual bazaar, where the merchants are all friends.

SOME OF MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS:

1. Betsie Withey‘s WEARABLE TEXTILE/FIBER ART at TheFaerieMarket on Etsy.

(A while ago, I did a threepart blog called “Art for Art” about Betsie, with some of her friends and clients contributing pictures of themselves wearing her art, occasionally accompanied by stories and poems!)

 

 

2. Nicole Kornher-Stace‘s VEGAN CARAMEL SHOP at feedyourface on Etsy.

I’ve ordered from her when friends are feeling especially down and need something delicious FAST. I’ve ordered from her for myself, just because I was feeling the CRAVING. I will order from her again and again. But don’t trust just me. Just on Facebook today, a friend ours said:

“I can vouch for these omg!” – Kelsi Morris

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3. Meenoo Mishra‘s JEWELRY SHOP at  MinouBazaar on Etsy.

I got a pair of Meenoo earrings for my birthday last year–glorious! I love wearing them! And, most dear to my heart, my husband (then fiancé) and I commissioned her to make me my engagement necklace with a Herkimer diamond his sister sent us. She was a great communicator, fast, elegant, and skillful. I wear that necklace more than any other piece of jewelry.

Below you can see the earrings and necklace separately (with some Betsie flowers on both occasions!)

 

 

4. Alanya Belethil‘s ART AND JEWELRY SHOP at Belethil on Etsy.

I found Alanya around 2012, I think. I was (blush) probably “ego-surfing” for  my name, and found the title of my poem “The Sea King’s Second Bride” linked to a beautiful piece of jewelry: wire-wrapped gold, seed pearls, and alluvial larimar, she said, in the description, was inspired by my poem. I contacted her and thanked her profusely. But, being a poet, I said, I could not afford to buy it! She sent it as a gift. It is precious to me. Her work is so intricate and elfish, as if a true artisan of Lothlórien were working among us.

Below you can see a picture of the necklace, “The Sea King’s Second Bride.”

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PERSONALLY RECOMMENDED BY FRIENDS:

1. Kelsi Morris does Yarn Subscription Box (monthly, quarterly, or as a three month gift/trial), as well as learn-to-knit kits that have everything you need to complete the project you choose. PLUS: free shipping in the US and Canada! Find out more at KNIT ME!

2. Stephanie Marie Thrasher at ToYouFromMePinkyLee on Etsy sells “pins, stickers, prints, and other fun nostalgic flair.”

3. Jenn Reese sells T-shirts, stickers, et cetera, at Tiny Tiger Jenn Reese Designs on TeePublic.

4. Lisa Mscichowski at HyfisHouseofCharms sells CHARMS!

5. Daisy May Essentials is a shop that sells goat milk products, such as soaps and lotions. I was informed that they raise their own goats for the goat milk used in their ingredients, and comes recommended particularly for its lotions.

6. Jeanne Kramer-Smyth sells some of her jewelry designs on her friend’s Etsy shop, Capital City Kayak. To know which jewelry designs are hers, check out her “Jewelry by Jeanne” Pinterest page.

Recommendations from Amal El-Mohtar‘s Twitter Feed–many from whom I’ve bought before!

ANY OTHER LINKS TO SHOPS YOU OWN, OR THAT BELONG TO YOUR FRIENDS? Put them in the comments! 

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“There’s a crack in the wall…”

When we did our spontaneous Train to Everywhere project earlier this week, I did, in fact, make an attempt at a poem. I wanted to be like ALL MY COOL FRIENDS who were doing the same.

I did post that bit of doggerel to Facebook, but not in the end-result virtual anthology I flung up here on the blog. It seemed too trite on the one hand, but not funny enough to stand up to the limericks and higgledy-piggledy poems I found so amusing. So I omitted submitting myself to myself.

Over the next few days, however, I grew increasingly restless. I wanted to write a train poem too! I was JEALOUS. ITCHY. COMPETITIVE WITH THOSE OTHER 36 POEMS I LOVED TO WATCH BLOOM OUT OF THE PIXELS!

Since moving to New York a year ago August, trains have become inextricably entwined with my life. I have a 3.5 hour super-commute (one-way!) to work, and that’s not to mention all the intracity traveling. I’ve been having BIG FABULIST THOUGHTS about trains, like FRANK O’HARA levels of NEW YORK MYTHIC.

Anyway, so I sat down with my pretty yellow journal and I scrawled out a first draft of something. By the time I finished typing it out and tweaking it, it was 1.) Way longer than any of the other poems we put up, so it still didn’t fit, but 2.) Maybe a poem I actually really liked, and 3.) A thing that might fit the requirements for a poem for an anthology I’m contracted to contribute to sometime next year . . . !!!

Which is to say, I can’t chat about it too much now, and I still must revise and revise, and have several poet’s eyes upon it, but I think that this thing, this sub for next year I was vaguely worried about, has taken a shape I find . . . pleasing . . . even in its nascent form.

I haven’t been writing much poetry lately–not since I started writing songs, really–and nothing that has pleased me as much as my own earlier poetry used to. Not lately. Not in two years at least.

But I felt something crack open a bit. Some wall I’d built, for whatever reason. And I just wanted to say thank you for playing with me, poet friends. I can’t wait till “Wyrm City” is in a state (of draft and possibly of publication) to share with you.

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The Train to Everywhere: A Spontaneous, Virtual Anthology of Poetry

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I took this picture at train station.

The next morning, my husband, Carlos Hernandez, says: “I love it. Looks like the cover of some poetry book.”

Me: “Write a poem that would belong in said poetry book?”

Him: (opening doc) “All right. A little short one.”

We posted the picture and poem to Facebook and Twitter, with a challenge that others write the poetry of this non-existent anthology.

What happened? A virtual florilegium of poetry.* Literally. And metaphorically.

A few pastiches, a few parodies, even a limerick (the poet called it a “base limerick,” or at least intimated that all limericks were somehow base, but I don’t agree! Or maybe I just like base things. I am, after all, unapologetically fond of puns, so my taste is questionable), and many others with that soaring depth of precise introspection that gave me the Good Shivers.

This sort of thing used to happen on LiveJournal a lot–take, for example, the Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes. But not often on Facebook.

With the permission of the poets, and all credit due to their enthusiasm, I post these here.

And, oh, by the way. Anyone who wants to add their voices, go ahead and leave a comment here!

*(See, Amal. I trust you are reading this.)

THE TRAIN TO EVERYWHERE

By All of Us

1.

Do you worry
like I worry

that you will die
and become a ghost

who must forever
ride the Northwest Regional,

endlessly rumbling
toward a destination

that, while you lived,
meant something?

2.

When the end did come
The sun rose over the land
Humans were not missed

3.

If only I could look up
from rails that tie my feet
firmly
mired in unwanted journey
if only I could look up

4.

Scoured from the tracks,
the train was forgotten by all who were waiting to catch it.
A glimmer of light and the scorch of cooked air
the only trace it had ever been.

Somewhere in the minds of those
stood on the wind shuttered platform
there was a feeling
of a lost connection
For the rest of the day they could not place
where they should be
, unused tickets forgotten in their pockets
the only reminder of a train
no longer due

5.

Almost winter sunset
on the railroad tracks
is like my life:
High contrast
Off center
Repetitive
Converging on a point
I can’t yet see.

  • Avery Bowen

6.

I have eaten
the TRAINS
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for TRAINS

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so TRAINS

7.

A hazy sun shines
A vanishing point nexus
A tilted train track

All converge far, far
Away— a lost horizon
Shrouded in the mist

Trade waiting alone
For the journey home to him
And his open arms.

8. Tie by tie

Beneath our rattling tubes of transport
Beneath the hazy skyed sun
Tracks march in straight lines, gentle curves

Born lines on a plan
On a map
In someone’s minds eye

These tracks built
Tie by tie
Even spaced
Patiently aligned
Foundation

Lines of patience
Impatiently watched
The sun sees all

9.

Envying the rails
The infinite possible
Traversing each gate.

  • Rebecca Maines

10.

Sat on the porch of their trailer
At dusk
They watched trains
shudder by
To destinations
they would never see

  • Steve Toase

11.

The wealthy summoned the beast
And fed the faceless poor and foreign into her maw
Bones of trees
And gleaming rail touched with rust
As bloody iron stitched the land
Her heart swallowed the memory of forests
And roared as she endlessly delivered the unfortunate to the veil
The bison and the cattle that replaced them

12.

The train shattered the silence of the dawn
disturbing the only peace they ever knew.

  • Jocelyn Barnhart

13.

so much
depends
upon

a sepia
train
track

shiny
with frequent
usage

beside
the train
station

14.

He rides and rides the rails
But never arrives at
The vanishing point

  • Dave Munger

15.

Lines above: electric links.
Lines below: strict lanes for locomotives.
Lines across: stitched under the road rails.

The silvergold sun stared through
the clouds, the lines, the wounded world.

16.

Shall I cover my behind?
Do I dare to drink champagne?
I will wear my grubby parka and go walking in the rain.
I have heard the tuneless singing of the train
I do not think it will stop for me.

17.

A road is a liar
Slickly promising control:
Hop behind the wheel early, you’ll zip along the tarmac
Get there with plenty of time to spare,
Right?

Never mind
The flaggers and orange cones of construction
Endless traffic lights of doom
A tiny helmeted child scootering heedless across the street
As the digital dashboard minutes tick you
Into a world of rushed entries and sheepish apologies.

Equivocation is a road’s middle name.

But a train track, now,
That’s another tale.
An old one.

You hoist yourself up metal steps
Through a door swept open
Find a seat next to who knows who
Tuck your ticket into the slot provided

Settle in
Wait for the smooth or jolting start
Knowing nothing you do
Will slow or hurry
Those hard wheels
Along that cold steel.

  • Els Kushner

18. Third Rail

they told me keep on the straight and narrow
they told me with their teeth grit tight,
keep on
straight, and narrow, and iron wavering
and try not to look into the sun

there are two tracks, they said, and then picked one
said this is yours, only walk to the right
keep on, straight and narrow, unwavering, Good
keep your head down, your breasts bound, your hair done

they said there is no space in the middle,
told me this with a threat in their eyes
keep on
straight, narrow, unwavering, Good, docile, soft, patient, pretty, quiet

there are two tracks, they said; they were lying
there is room to the left and the right
there is space in the middle, and good that’s no Good
and other paths if the train doesn’t come.

19.

Don’t you know there’s bright, somewhere?
Somewhere the air is luminous, spins
silver out of industry when it recedes, spins
Find-Your-Way tracks as it leaves, weaves
rigid lines into a glamour of iron and steel,
into a Way we can take to
Somewhere Else.
But that Leaving, that Receding, see,
it has given us these tracks;
these sharp lines, metallight
to mark our progress.
The leaving is forever.
The lines run long, and endless.
But don’t you know there’s bright, somewhere?
A luminous air, just there —
Just there.

20.

Those rails must
Lead outta here
A road somewhere
Away from the yards
The harvested rust
And scraps of years
Wasted on moaning
To the train’s long whistle

I wanna run down the track
I wanna see what lies
On the other side of
The trash and dust
Come with me
Or wait till I get where the
Tracks and the rust all end
And I’ll drop you a line

  • Kris Dotto

21. Tracks

She hides in right angles and straight lines,
Crossing at the light,
Keeping off the grass.
She stands
Straight as light poles, as bars on windows,
As tightly wound braids.
If there is a song within her
It is the crickets at twilight.
It is the creak of a broken door.
It is the thrum and surge and whistle of the trains
Passing her by.

Even her dreams of escape
Are shining parallel tracks
Going on
Forever.

22.

Autumn train —
still the sun remembers
Summer’s warmth

23.

Look –
see the tracks
disappear into a
field of wildflowers
stretching to greet the
early sun.

Look –
see the cars full
of people of long ago
now and tomorrow
faces carved by time
and love.

Look –
see the ground fall
away from the tracks
rising into blackness littered
by stars.

Look –
uptown. downtown.
Now boarding.

24.

There once shone the sun o’er the tracks,
Its light glinting sharp as an axe.
Did the rails run conjoint
To an infinite point
Or recede to a gray parallax?

25.

The cat and the mouse made room on the tie
I knew they were friends, and we waited
Friends for true, and we waited.
The trains don’t come, the strength to stand
it hasn’t come. The sun dims, low as a friend.
Mouse in the pocket, cat on the shoulder.
Time to rise, time to rise.

26.

Clasp it, wires,
Praise its wavelengths
And all their frequencies
Bless us, near star
You who power us all
Directly or at removes
The rooted and the winged
And those that roll on rails

27.

Do I need to say again?
I am a Traveller.
And in search of a destination to
Soothe my soul.
You too are in a way Traveller,
But our poles are apart.
I am moving towards south.
And you’re towards north.
Still I am okay.
At least we both are Travelling together
On a same land.

28.

the sky draws lines
infinite
each half as small as the last

shrinking as the sun sets past the crossbeams
its energy sapped from the wires
as it fueled another journey

29.

A long train creeps by
the city’s on the other side
of tracks to which she could be tied
prostrate and also waiting
but in vain
for her oh-so-handsome hero
or a swiftly moving train.

  • Lisa Marie Farver

30. A haiku

Train tracks, lives, and loves
Converge on the horizon,
And the sun warms all.

31. Romare

rolling past the houses alongside the track
he would peer out his windows into other lives
faces emerging between curtains
foot stomping and fiddling on porches
glimpses of humble dinner tables
women hanging clothes and beating rugs
he’d paint the impressions left on his retina
By then reduced to shadow and motion
skin gone from brown to blue
surrounding eyes silver as the dusk
he’d paint them in paper
cutting up newsprint, putting
all those awful words to better use

32.

All things parallel must converge,
At that strange infinite place, that nondescript meridian,
Where the one eternally meets the other,
Where all possibilities flourish,
In the domain of sunrise, the tomorrow of all tomorrows.
Until that time, until that undiscovered instant,
We must travel our parallel gradient,
Always following, always followed,
Side by side, in no particular order,
Through the construction of our terrestrial dreams.

33.

As the sun rose
She looked in vain for the five o’clock eastbound train.
“Where is my lover?” she cried.
“With his cold steel wheels and hot electric power?
“Is he only late or am I once again forgotten?”
She waited impatiently for the answer.

34.

Photography class,
A study in perspective,
Shot caught, homeward bound.

  • Allison Souter

35.

These tracks are infinite, though they appear to fade
I’d give up my last breath if I thought it’d make you stay
You say you must continue but anywhere that takes you will always be too far
My love for you can’t be measured, your footprints left on my heart forever mirrors a symmetric scar
I wish we had forever, though enough it’d never be
Nothing can replace or mimic how much you mean to me
I plead please just reconsider, my tears flowing like a river no matter how much I wanna stop
I believe what we have is bigger and I won’t accept it’s not
These tracks break my heart for taking you away
I’d give up my last heartbeat if I thought it’d make you stay

  • Marie Ang

3g. A Conversation Between Poet Father and Poet Husband

Part 1: A Dissenting Opinion 

A freight train embarks from Vancouver
And blocks my path oeuvre and oeuvre.
I can’t leave my house
Nor return to my spouse.
I say CN sucks like a Hoover.

Part 2: Just Went For the Joke

Higgledy-piggeldy
don’t ask Rory Cooney
to write you some verse for
a poetry prompt:

His rhymes are so tortured
and his wit such a scorcher
you’ll just feel chomped, clomped, plonked,
stomped, tromped, and whomped.

  • Carlos Hernandez

 

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3rd Time’s the . . .

So, I’m writing, or attempting to write, a short story for an anthology called Beyond the Veil. I made a good story start in July, in a notebook, writing in a world I’d written before. But the content was sad in a way that was extra sad after the year we’ve had, and I didn’t feel like returning to it.

Then I started another story, a vignette-y, Queens-y, New York-y story that had some EXCELLENT SENTENCES, full of, you know, “Muscular Velocity” (which remains my favorite thing anyone has ever said about my writing, Amal, thank you very much), but it wasn’t coalescing into a story, even though Hernandez assured me, “There are many rooms in the House of Fiction,” and I believed him, really I did, but I was unhappy, and then I was stymied.

Then I sat down today, and looked through a bunch of old files, old drafts, half-finished stories, or finished drafts of things that were never good enough that I’ve forgotten about, and I found “The Loveliest.” That was the working title at least, and it caught my eye, because I remember writing a poem called “The Loveliest” in my late teens, and I remember that the poem had been based on a vivid dream I had.

Indeed, upon opening the file and reading, I realized that this was a story based on that same poem/dream, and I must have written it toward the end of my time living with my mother in Rhode Island–before my roommates moved in, before Carlos, before I moved out, and moved here, to New York. So circa 2013, 2014-ish.

It’s a full draft, but a young one, but it definitely falls under “fairy encounter,” and definitely of the “unusual” variety. Good enough for an anthology, with a bit of elbow grease and a lot of re-thinking.

I’ve decided, for example, that the protagonist is a ghost–or rather, becomes a ghost pretty quickly in the natural course of things. Tragic accident with a swan boat, that sort of thing. You understand.

And so, the story, whatever I end up calling it, deals with three characters: one dead, one river-dweller stone-speaking not-human-at-all person, and the living mother whom the dead woman has left behind. The intersection of three worlds, lines of communication running between them, how we can learn to love in the language of water and stone, and where a pair of red shoes can bring us . . . it’s all very pleasing to me.

I got fussy after six hours of writing and I was only halfway through, but then I took a walk (without my phone!) and became enthusiastic again. A good lesson for me!

I don’t think much of the old draft. Like many of my first person narrations that try to be hip and contemporary and this-worldish and relevant but also With Really Cool Neil Gaiman/Kelly Link-like Weirdness (), it all ends up reading as shallow and snarky to me, more like a cheap knockoff of every urban fantasy protagonist ever than like a slightly deeper, passionately admiring knockoff of our Literary Greats. I’ve always just been more interested in my own first person POVs when I have them gamboling around a secondary world. (Maurice.) But I realize I must stretch myself.

Anyway, I like writing a Rhode Island story, especially now that I am gone. It’s a kind of love letter to a place I’ve given up–and not without sorrow and a troubled heart. I know I can still go back to visit, and I do, but it’s not the same. And that’s as fair a definition of “haunting” as any, I suppose.

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A FaerieCon Reflection from 2012

I found this in my files, searching vainly for inspiration. Terri Windling’s name caught my eye. I thought I’d re-post here, for you.

Flowers

FaerieCon: The Things They Don’t Tell You

(Written in the hotel lobby, 11/10/12, just before a Grove of Green Men came and blessed Terri Windling-Gayton.)

What you rarely see in movies is the adjustment of a corset, the straightening of belt or goggles, the folding of something inside out, outside in again. You rarely read in books of the hat that tumbles off (unless it somehow promotes the narrative), the scarf that begins to strangle as you speak, the stubbed toe, fallen flower barrette, slipshod lock of hair.

Faeries don’t get glitter in their eyes in Hollywood. Their horns don’t wobble (well, except in Legend). They only fart to make mischief, not by accident, not embarrassed. Elves never tangle their morning coffee to-go mugs with their drooping satin sleeves—and the distant, silver sound of elvish jingle bells is so much louder, so awfully loud, when it’s outside your hotel room door.

And we never think, do we, of the way a wing can put out an eye? A well-plied wing is pretty deadly. Perhaps the faeries use them like steel-edged fans. Perhaps there is a whole faerie martial art of wing-fighting. But we, putting on wings like a backpack, aren’t aware of the damage they can do.

Wing Katas.

Wing Kung Fu.

Aerial Combat.

I loved dancing last night to the Hungarians (Moon and the Night Spirit) and to Tweganda, too. To feel sweat slide between my shoulder blade—to be aware of breath. (Are faeries aware of breath? Do faeries sweat?) But I think I shall go barefoot to the ball tonight. I’ll last longer. Even glittery flats get tiresome. How people dance all night in heels, I’ll never know.

I do not even know what day it is. Saturday?

There was a Russian belly dancer, featured. A tiny tattooed ice blond, with white and black feathers sweeping back and out from her head, like those winged helmets you sometimes see in art. She was like a Valkyrie—a strange mixture of warrior and magpie, yet also delicately painted all over in butterflies. She was sinuous and sinewy—she had perfect control.

She was like the heroine of an urban fantasy novel, the kind who could do damage to the creatures of darkness in 5-inch heels by night, and still manage to hold down her day job at a fashion magazine. She would totally date a vampire-hunting werewolf AND a zombie-slaying vampire AND a dragon chieftain mafia lord simultaneously.

Do such very fey, incredibly cool, eye-crossingly gorgeous women ever feel ugly? Or hungry? Do they get cramps when they bleed? Do they bleed?

What is it about beauty that is so impenetrable?

***

(Written later that night, in conclusion.)

Terri said, after the Grove of Greenmen (having bestowed her with blessings and a quite large nut) rustled off down the escalator, “That’s what we need more of. This theatricality.”

And it was true, too, that somehow the Greenmen, leaf-garbed and hearty, with their wooden staffs and loud singing, brought theatre into the room with them. And yet, there was also a sincerity of ritual about them that was wholly itself—that I’ve seen in certain churches or solstice celebrations—that seemed to spring from the same seed theatre came from. Something more primal than theatre.

It went something like this—but don’t quote me:

“Leaf and thorn, leaf and thorn

All that dies will be reborn

Horn and grain, horn and grain

All that falls shall rise again”

And even when they got tangled up in the impedimenta of this century—the aforesaid escalator, the microphone wires, the amps—they maintained this sincerity. And bawdy jokes were part of it, and so was prayer. And in the midst of all this theatre, a remembrance of those lost to us, and of those who lost everything to the hurricane. And it was beautiful—beautiful!

Just as the faeries of FaerieCon were at once glamorously otherworldly and heartbreakingly human, so too were the Green Men mere mortals in make-up with the hearts of the oldest gods.

***

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NaNoWriMo 2018? REALLY? I’m in.

Just signed up to do NaNoWriMo this year. Says I’ve been a member for 9 years. That means I wrote the first draft of Miscellaneous Stones 9 years ago. Yup. I keep saying 10, because I thought it was 2008. But it must’ve been 2009. That’s good to know.

Anyway, I thought I’d try to get another draft of that weird angel ghost novella out. Carlos and I will be NECK-N-NECK COODLE CO-CHALLENGERS in this! >.>

My working title is still THE TWICE-DROWNED SAINT. (Actually, it’s a lot longer, one of those “Or,” titles Liz Duffy Adams writes such splendid monologue about, but that will do for now.)

Here’s the image I’ve chosen for it (the river in Zurich, from our January trip), for the NaNoWriMo website.

The website is . . . a lot . . . fancier . . . than I remember it from nine years ago. I’m not sure about that. I’m not sure about it at all. I GLARE AT IT SUSPICIOUSLY, since I don’t have a lawn.

Twice Drowned.jpg

 

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What to write, what to write . . .

It’s a beautiful night, after a beautiful day, give or take a few cockroaches at the periphery, now dead. I read Jess’s new story: full immersion, deep, for revision suggestions. I wish I weren’t so slow at it, but there you have it. Still, a delight.

Mostly, I listened to Changeless: Book 2 of the Parasol Protectorate, and it does make me snort out loud. It’s snarky and very colonial-y and only a few characters are really clever and are constantly rolling their eyes at everyone else, but there are airships and ether and bustles and gizmos, and I half-listen as I go about my chores, or go on walks. The narrator, Emily Gray, is fantastic.

I have had the most delightful week and a half at home. This weekend is World Fantasy, and when I get back, I’m off and away recording again, the third of an Amish Romance Historical series, so this catch-up time in my Actual Apartment with my Actual Husband has been invaluable.

And since I turned in my novella revisions to Ellen Datlow for Desdemona and the Deep, and my novel revisions for Miscellaneous Stones: Necromancer to my agent Markus Hoffman, bless his patient, encouraging, jazz trumpet-playing self, I’ve found myself . . . twiddling my thumbs.

See, I have a short story due for an anthology soon–though I did get an extension for it–and while I have a great many words written (both in a notebook for one story idea, and in a document for a whole other story idea), I am notably lacking in enthusiasm for either. I’m hoping some breath of delight will carry me away to something that actually sustains my interest. Really, all I want is to write long form right now. Maybe because I’ve been doing it for so long.

Ah, well. I should just GIRD MY LOINS and BEARD MY LIONS, as it were. Write something.

That’s all for now. You can tell I’ve been home awhile, and not writing fiction. How can you tell this? BECAUSE I AM WRITING A BLOG ENTRY, IS WHY! This is what my twenties felt like. It feels good, now, too. Indulgent. Oh, terribly indulgent. I no longer have a LiveJournal community for whom posts like this were standard. I don’t even cross-post to LJ anymore. Just to Facebook, and occasionally Twitter. To whom am I talking?

Oh, yes. Sita. Hi, Sita!

And to all of you out there. Hello, you darlings. And goodnight.

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On the Eve of Our 1 Year Anniversary

For Carlos Hernandez
by C. S. E. Cooney

Cartasespagnolas

Beloved, when I broke

your saucer the other day

(from that demitasse set I bespoke for you especially

hand-painted like the Cartas Españolas you’d bought

with money from the poem about your abuela, who taught you

trick-taking games with those same cards)

I wept

 

what metaphor was this? What import accidentally enacted

when I shattered the saucer on our new gray stone floor while putting away the dishes?

Has my love, too, grown casual? Too lackadaisical, too careless, the extraordinary

turned common, the celebratory comet of excess fizzled to a mere “used to”?

have I ceased to see you? Like a shard swept into shadow, like a splinter

waiting for the roughened callous, the late night drink of water, the lonely hour?

 

Don’t cry, you cried, rushing to my side

Everything in this house is made to be broken

It must be; I’m so clumsy! And besides, I did it! 

I broke it! From another room! With my mind!

It was my fault all along–there is nothing here that is irreplaceable

But your tears break my heart, my heart!

 

what is the greater gift:

the painted saucer–or its fragments?

now tidied away so cheerfully

but with an inward fierceness, a blazing vow of something better

something even finer for my love

in our future?

cartases2

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Apex Predators: The Speed Painting Music Video

Once upon a time, when we were courting, I wrote this song, “Apex Predators” (AKA “Sexy Monsters”) for Carlos Hernandez.

Now, it’s on my new album, Corbeau Blanc, Corbeau Noir. All this music is available for FREE, or PAY WHAT YOU CAN, at Brimstone Rhine‘s Bandcamp!

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A little later upon a time, Carlos commissioned my muralist/artist cousin Robert Riedel to do one of his FAMOUS SPEED PAINTINGS about (and to) the tune of the song. I even get the original copy!

But YOU ALL get THIS!

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On the Occasion of My 1st D&D Game

On a writing retreat in the Misty Mountains, I mean the Cloudlands, I mean the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, I had an opportunity to play my first game of D&D.

Oh, the EXCITEMENT this incited in my Facebook Flist! I haven’t gotten so many approving like-emoticons since getting married!

Many people asked me, “What took you so long?”

My answers varied from, “My native reluctance,” to “An instinctive wide-eyed wariness of anything new,” to “Because I pretty much SCARPER every time someone MENTIONS RPGs!”

I’m not necessarily proud of any of those answers; I feel a bit cagey about them, but also honest.

Other people asked me, “What did you like best about D&D?”

My answer? “The limitations.”

Several friends invited me to expand on this, so I’ve been thinking about it.

I find it really interesting that people think I’d be a “natural” at D&D because I’m an actor with improv training, and a writer with storytelling training. The reality was that those aspects of D&D were the least interesting to me as a player, partially because D&D, mechanically, seemed to be more about decision-making through dice and combat protocol through dice.

There I was, with a heap of dice in front of me I didn’t understand, and a character sheet (pre-made, as this was a one-off game) that had so much information on it it was hard to absorb it all, and suddenly the game had started. It was a simple storyline, and our characters were fairly stock. Still, I could tell there was a lot of room to explore within those cut-outs–sort of like Commedia dell’arte, eh?

But even though I had the dice, and a heap of information at hand, I did not know how to use them, or what it all meant. It was a learn-as-I-go sort of situation.

A game, to me, is most enjoyable when I understand the limits–or maybe I should say “the structure.” In my brain, there is a kind of pleasurable click, as when I learn a new formal poetry structure. Until I understood about stresses and syllables and rhymes and lines, a sonnet was just sort of a neat little maybe kind of boring and occasionally incomprehensible slag pile of words. A sonnet became much more interesting, however, as I grew older and started studying the ARCHITECTURE of it, word by word, line by line.

(Sort of like, come to think of it, when a building becomes much more than just an antiquated heap of bricks belonging to a political celebrity when you think, “Gosh, to build Monticello, Jefferson first had dozens of enslaved people level a frikkin mountaintop and then make the bricks of his house OUT OF THAT DIRT.” That house becomes more interesting, certainly–and more awful, more endowed, more worthy of study, of a lasting emotional connection–which is as much rage as it is awe. . . Can you tell I was just in Virginia?)

Right, back to games.

So, as a first time player, thrown into a game that was pretty short by D&D standards (2-4 hours?) but long by my standards (games longer than 40 minutes with no visible count-down mechanic–as in Mysterium or Fiasco, where you are watching the game end even as you play it–make me, still kind of n00b to games, a trifle anxious), the most interesting things about D&D for me were not, in fact, the improv or the storytelling.

With the first, I was not familiar enough with the game, or comfortable enough in my character, to improv with ease. Individual turns were short, my understanding of the decision-making process still fairly muddled. With the second, plot-wise, the storytelling was mostly in the hands of the Dungeon Master–and those of the players who really knew how to use their dice. I contributed some, but not enough to be wholly invested in the outcome of the story.

What I did enjoy:

  1. Watching other people–the expert players–sink their teeth into the game. The way they consulted their dice verged on the oracular, and they seemed to take such a distinctive, unholy glee is rattling the bones and casting them down. Very sensual!
  2. Learning on my feet: that each individual die has its own distinct function and meaning; that the Dungeon Master has all kinds of secret stats on NPCs that effected game-play in unpredictable ways; that I could use what I found on my character sheet to influence my decisions–that the function of the sheet was to both impose limits on improvisation and to act as prompts for improvisation.

In this way, I actually had fewer decisions to make than I thought, but could make more powerful, specific decisions using the character sheet. But I had to figure all of that out as I went. Because I was learning the game, it was different than really playing it. My enjoyment came more from learning than from playing.

People have asked me if I will play D&D again, and have offered many RPG alternatives to D&D as well.

They are very excited for me–which I find endearing, but I also feel guilty because I can’t quite match that excitement yet. It’s all still too new for me, and new things make me more wary than excited. I will try to be different, and better, and change my attitude, but that’s more of a life-goal, so . . . WE’RE WORKING ON IT.

I think I would be willing to do another D&D campaign–albeit a short one. I’d like to go in a bit more prepared. Now I know, for example, that D&D is a combat-heavy game, and the mechanics are dice and stats. I don’t know that, on the whole, I’m really very interested in episodic combat quest games. I know that I don’t have any desire to meet for a long-running game, but I would at this point be willing to devote an entire afternoon/evening to a single long game, just to say I’ve done it.

And yes, I’d be willing to play other RPGs, but it’s not because I fell instantly in love with the idea of them.

Again–none of my actual enjoyment came from the highly trained (and maybe a bit stuck up) acting and writing parts of me, but from the audience and student parts of me, which are more generous and interested in trying new things as a rule.

Perhaps the other stuff will come in time.

But, actually, what I think I’m finding–and this may not prove ultimately true, as I try to remain flexible and be open to surprises–is that, in the realm of games, my preference is for short, humorous, medium-strategy party games.

I like a 40 minute game that’s fast and elegantly designed. I like card games with interesting art and intricate lay-out. The cards, you see, are the poetic limitation, but within that limitation, a game can be infinite. I like a game that’s easy the first time, but gets more complicated the longer you play it. I like tile games, and decoding games, and I really, really like collaborative games.

Theatrical impov, voice acting, storytelling? Not so much.

See, those are my JOBS. AND I LOVE MY JOBS. But I pretty much give everything I have to them.When I go to games, I’m not really interested in WORKING. I want to play. And that might mean, in the end, that I just like a different kind of game than an RPG.

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